Ancient history

Valkiries (Valkyrie)

Last updated:2022-07-25

Valkyija:“She who chooses the dead”.

The notion of valkyrie, directly linked to that of death and destiny, has undergone a significant evolution over time, and its Odinic figure, chosen by Richard Wagner, only represents its latest avatar. There is perhaps at the origin the idea of ​​Goddess-Mother, one of them - Skadi - assuming the function of mother-death, the one who gives life being able to take it back. In this sense, the valkyrie could initially have been the tutelary spirit of a man, preferably a hero or, in any case, a warrior, whom she brought back to the other world. She could also have been the priestess of who knows what god of war:the operations of the cult in the ancient North seem to have been willingly carried out by women, and a representation like that of the historiated plate of the Gundestrup cauldron would attest that such a priestess could perform human sacrifices.

An idea of ​​election, of choice seems to have presided over this complex of ideas, as indicated by the very name valkyrja, in which valr designates men who have fallen on the battlefield (we find the term in val-hall) and the link between the spirit of death and the warrior seems fundamental. It is undoubtedly the nature specific to the transgressions of the valkyrie's reigns which dictated its partial assimilation to a bird (in particular a swan) or its identification with the will-o'-the-wisps, so abundant in the North at certain times, which one saw climbing marshes:this would be the Moor Leiche (bog corpse) of German traditions.

When the Nordic religion will move more clearly towards fateful aspects and thus take on an Odinic coloring, the valkyrie then becomes the messenger of the god of Fate and Death, responsible for executing his decisions during battles:it is Ôdinn who decides who will die, not her, and if she disobeys her master, she runs the risk of becoming an ordinary woman again, getting married and having children! Hâvamâl 129 (Poetic Edda) recommends that fighters keep their eyes lowered so as not to attract the attention of the valkyries.

In the Saga of Njcill the Burned (Darradarljôd 157), they are spinning sisters, ride horses and wield weapons (they are called skjaldmcer, sing.:"virgin with a shield").

Behind the image of the valkyrie, there is always an idea of ​​violent death, and of death willed by Fate. This is shown by their many names, most of them probably recent - Hildr, Gudr, Gunnr (Battle), or GSndul, GSll, Herfjôtur -, which refer to magical operations. One of them is named after one of the three Nomes, Skuld.

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