A few weeks ago I went to Chicago, where the husband and I are in year two of a four-year commitment to watch Wagner’s The Ring Cycle opera series with some friends there. The Lyric Opera is releasing one of the operas in this series each year, which is pretty cool.
By the way, this was my husband’s idea. All opera is always his idea. He is much more cultured than me. Although opera is growing on me the more I am exposed to it and the more I learn about it—like most things, it depends a lot on the specific opera.
And I really enjoy The Ring Cycle series. It’s very hard-core fantasy, so other than all the singing, it’s right up my alley. In fact, many speculate that The Lord of the Rings series was based on Wagner’s work, though Tolkien adamantly denied it, and there are a number of similarities between the two stories.
Anyway. This year’s featured opera in the series was Die Walküre or, translated, The Valkyrie. It was cool.
Later that weekend with the same friends we went to see Thor: Ragnarok. As it happened, it also featured a Valkyrie character, played by the always awesome Tessa Thompson.
This is not a totally crazy coincidence. Both stories are inspired by Norse mythology, which has been fairly hot recently, in no small part to the TV launch of Neil Gman’s American Gods, and his more recent release Norse Mythology, which featured his own adaptations of several Norse myths.
Also, my husband’s family comes from Norway, so we always take special interest in Norse culture.
All of this is a long-winded way to say that Valkyrie have been on my mind lately, and I’m finding them quite captivating. And if something is on my mind, I’m researching it. (I might have to write about them for a novel sometime.)
So here are some cool things about Valkyrie.
The Valkyrie originate from Norse mythology, of course.
The name comes from two words: the noun valr (referring to the slain on the battlefield) and the verb kjósa (meaning "to choose"). So together, they mean "chooser of the slain."
As such, they decide which half from among the dead on a battlefield are brought to Odin’s Valhalla, the god’s hall for the slain. The other half go to Frejya’s afterlife field Fólkvangr
In Valhalla the warriors become einherjar, who prepare for Ragnarok. And then when they rest the Valkyrie bring them mead. It’s an okay deal, as far as afterlives go.
When not on the battlefield, Valkyrie are sometimes lovers of heroes or other mortals and are described as daughters of royalty.
They’re also known as oski, or wish fulfillers, and as helping spirits of the god Odin. In Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the Valkyrie are Odin’s daughters.
The Valkyire are often accompanied by ravens, horses or swans. In both Thor:Ragnarok and the Ring Cycle, they ride pegasuses. (Pegasi? Pegasus? I give up.)
The Valkyrie also fight at Ragnarok as protectors of Asgard.
But Valkyrie have a dark side, too. They don’t just choose from among the dead—the Valkyrie also decide with warriors die in battle. So, you know, don’t get on their bad side.
One portrayal (in the poem Darraðarljóð) goes so far as to depict the Valkyrie weaving the fates of warriors before a battle, using intestines for thread, severed heads for weights, and bows and arrows for beaters.
Valkyrie and similar beings can be found in other Anglo-Saxon mythologies, too, including German and English, and Celtic.
P.S. – Don’t sit around and wait for me to write something about Valkyrie, there are already a lot of great books about them out there! Here’s a list I wrote for BookRiot about that.