Valkyries play a central role in poems and stories about legendary hero-warriors in Norse mythology. Riding on horses to battle fields and escorting the souls of dead warriors to Valhalla, Valkyries who are Odin’s handmaidens are depicted as main figures in several ancient texts.
In Valhalla, they welcome worthy warriors with mead, but Valkyries’ deeds are not always good and there are situations when they disobey the great Norse God Odin.
Valkyries are named in texts of the 12th and 13th centuries. Many of them have warlike names such as ‘Skögul’ and ‘geirskögul’, which means ‘struggle ‘, ‘Gun’, which means ‘battle’ or ‘Rist’ — ‘spear-thrower’.
One of these special women is Valkyrie Sigrdriva (Sigrdrifa) and we find a beautiful myth about her in a collection of Old Norse poems, “Poetic Edda “.
When hero Sigurd Fafnesbane (or Sigurd Völsung) met her, she was sleeping and dressed in full armor. Sigurd was heading south towards «the land of the Franks» (France). Suddenly, he saw a great light on the mountain, «as if fire were burning, which blazed up to the sky»
Soon he approached a castle. When he entered the castle, he saw a warrior lying within it asleep, completely armed. He first took the helmet off the warrior’s head, and saw that it was a woman. Her defensive armor covering the body was as fast as if it had grown to her body, so he ripped it from the upper opening downwards, and then through both sleeves. He took the armor off from her and she awoke.
When Sigurd asked her name, she then took a horn filled with mead, and gave him the memory drink.
Sigurd learned that she was Sigrdrifa, a Valkyrie. She said that two kings were in war with each other and one of them was a great old warrior, Hialmgunnar to whom Odin had promised a victory.
Unfortunately, Sigrdrifa defeated Hialmgunnar in battle.
As a punishment, Odin pricked her with a ‘sleep thorn’, a magical tool that could put someone into a long and deep sleep and declared that from now on, she should never have victory in battle, and should be given in marriage.
Odin’s intention was to teach her a lesson, but the brave Valkyrie responded that she had sworn a great oath that she would never wed a man who knew fear.
At the end, Sigurd asked Sigrdrífa to share with him her wisdom of all worlds and she provided the hero with all knowledge about prophecy, mystic wisdom and the art of inscribing runes.
In Germanic mythology, we encounter a shieldmaiden named Brynhildr. There are many striking similarities between Brynhildr and Sigrdriva.
It is fair to assume the two were one and a same mythological figure worshipped under different names in different countries.
Brynhildr appears in the Völsunga saga and some Eddic poems. In the Völsunga saga, she is depicted as a Valkyrie and daughter of Budli, a Swedish king.
Brynhildr was told to decide a fight between two kings, Hjalmgunnar and Agnar. Knowing well that Odin favored the older king, Hjalmgunnar, she decided the battle for Agnar. Odin disapproved of her actions and punished her live the life of a mortal woman. Brynhild was imprisoned in a remote castle on top of mount Hindarfjall.
There, she slept in a ring of flames behind a wall of shields until a hero named Sigurðr killed the dragon Fafnir, entered the castle and awoke her. The two fell in love and Sigurðr proposed to her with the magic ring Andvaranaut.
In Norse mythology Andvaranaut, also called Andvari’s loom, is a powerful, magical ring capable of producing gold. It was forged by the shape-shifting dwarf Andvari. According to the Völsunga saga, Brynhildr bore Sigurðr a daughter, Aslaug, who later married the famous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok.
It is worth mentioning that the history of Brynhildr also describes her contacts with the Huns. Interestingly, in 2016, a gold pendant depicting the Norse God Odin and his horse Sleipnir was discovered on a farm in Kungsbacka, Sweden. Archaeologists think the precious jewelry can be linked to the Heruli, the Huns and ancient Romans.
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