The Valkyrie Symbol in Norse Mythology: What Does it Mean?


Norse mythology is a who’s who of legendary figures and a treasure trove of riveting stories. It is also a fountainhead for enduring images that are as profound and meaningful to people today as they were to the Vikings so many centuries ago. Take, for instance, the mysterious Valkyries, who may not be as familiar to people as the likes of Thor and Odin but are as enigmatic as any figure in Norse mythology.

The Valkyries are closely associated with the Norse god Odin, and Valhalla, the great hall in the Norse afterlife. These armor-clad warrior-maidens are tasked with selecting the most valorous among those killed in battle and may even have a say in who lives to fight another day and who does not.

Their significance in the overall context of Norse mythology cannot be overstated, and in some respects, the role that the Valkyries play in core narratives like that of Valhalla and Ragnarok may even be underappreciated. Read on to learn about Valkyrie symbolism in Norse mythology and its meaning.

Valkyries in Norse mythology
What do Valkyrie’s symbolize? See below

What is the Meaning of Valkyrie Symbolism?

The first clue to learning about Valkyries and the meaning of their symbolism can be found by examining the roots of their name. [1]

The word Valkyrie is derived from the Old Norse term valkyrja (its plural form is valkyrur), which in turn is composed of:

  • The word val meaning “to choose,” and
  • The word kyrja meaning “slaughter”
  • Thus, when taken together, the literal translation of valkyrja is “choosers of the slain,” and this is perhaps the task with which the Valkyries are most closely associated. 

According to Norse mythology, the Valkyries are warrior-maidens who serve as Odin’s personal entourage.

They are primarily responsible for hovering above raging battles and singling out the most valorous of fallen Viking warriors and escorting them from the fields of battle to the hallowed halls of Valhalla, where they will join the ranks of einherjar and fight to the death (again) during Ragnarok.

But the Valkyries are far more than Odin’s trusted squad of solicitors. In several key respects, the Valkyries represent the core beliefs of the Vikings, including most notably the concept of fate.

Although they are best known for hand-picking Odin’s dream team of warriors to face off against the forces of chaos, it is a battle they are destined to lose. And yet, in typical Viking fashion, they fight the good fight in the face of impending doom.

The Valkyries have also come to symbolize many of the attributes and virtues that the Vikings not only respected but aspired to exemplify, including:

  • Courage – donning full body armor and riding upon their trusted winged horses, the Valkyries have come to embody the Viking never-say-die spirit
  • Physical prowess – there is a close association between the Valkyries and the ideal attributes of a warrior, including strength and agility
  • Feminism – Viking society was surprisingly progressive for the times and empowered women far more than other the rest of medieval Europe, and the Valkyries are the perfect embodiment of this attitude [2]

A lesser-known aspect of the Valkyries is the association with swans and their relationships with mortal men. So-called swan maidens are Valkyries who become betrothed to men who manage to pilfer their enchanted suits of swan feathers. [3]

But should they recover their feathers, the swan-maidens leave their mates heartbroken. In this sense, Valkyries symbolize transformation and free-spiritedness.

Valkyrie warrior
Do people get tattoos of Valkyries? See below

Why Do People Get Tattoos of Valkyries?

Mainstream media has turned Viking figures like Odin, Thor, and Freyja, into household names, and social media has allowed even the most obscure aspects of Norse mythology to become common knowledge.

The popularity of Valkyries as symbols and icons has never been greater than during the modern era, and this is best illustrated (no pun intended) by the growing trend of Valkyrie tattoos.

Valkyries embody many of the core values and virtues that the Vikings aspired to, and this sentiment has carried over to men and women who are looking to get inked with body art that is unique and meaningful. 

Why do people get tattoos of Valkyries? Because of what they represent, namely:

  • Bravery
  • Destiny
  • Determination
  • Feminism
  • Honor
  • Valor

As far as tattoo styles, Valkyries are depicted in a number of different ways, but these are the most popular:

  • Portrait style – the helmeted head of a Valkyrie, with flowing hair or with braids, often depicted in profile, is a very popular way to tattoo these warrior-maidens [4]
  • Valkyrie wings – densely feathered wings, often depicted in elongated form (like a cloak) is an elegant but impactful representation of Valkyries [5]

For the willing and able, a full depiction of a Valkyrie mounted on a winged horse is the ultimate tribute to these mysterious figures from Norse mythology.

Why are Valkyries Important in Norse Mythology?

The Valkyries are best known in Norse mythology for the role they play in the selection of Vikings warriors killed in battle to join Odin’s army of einherjar in preparation for the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok.

They are credited with surveying the entire battlefield and identifying those deceased combatants who display the most valor in the face of death.

But the role played by the Valkyries in this process may be even greater than simply choosing from fallen Vikings to be resurrected in Valhalla.

According to certain Norse sagas and poems, the Valkyries have extraordinary influence over matters concerning the einherjar, including:

  • The Valkyries may have had the power to pre-determine which warriors would survive battles and which ones would die
  • In fact, in the story of the great hero Sigurd, a Valkyrie is punished by Odin for sending to his death a warrior that the all-father wanted to live
  • Valkyries are also known in some instances to protect warriors from death in the heat of battle [6]

It was not just in the resurrection from death that the Valkyries interacted with Viking warriors, but also in life as well. [7]

These warrior-maidens have been described in Norse sagas as mentoring combatants in the military arts as well as nursing their injuries. In certain cases, Valkyries became romantically involved with their charges.

Figures vary wildly as far as the number of Valkyries in Norse mythology, but there are certain warrior-maidens whose stature rises above the rest, and here are a few by name:

  • Hildr (“Battle”)
  • Sigrun (“Victory Rune”)
  • Brynhildr (“Armor Warrior”)

In the context of populating Valhalla with the best candidates for Odin’s einherjar, the Valkyries are indispensable. And although these efforts will all be for naught as is preordained by the fates, fighting the good fight knowing that defeat is unavoidable is the very essence of what it means to be a Viking.

Valkyrie statue
Are Valkyries good or evil? See below

Are Valkyries Good or Evil?

The Valkyries are tasked with a grim but all-important job. They are treated by most sources as honorable and generally benevolent figures, but there is an argument to be made that they are far more dark and sinister than they are typically portrayed.

In one saga, in particular, twelve Valkyries are observed prior to battle determining the fates of combatants in a very gruesome manner:

  • The fates of Viking warriors are woven on a loom where intestines serve as the thread
  • Severed heads are used for the weights
  • Swords and arrows are used as beaters

As each warrior’s fate is sealed, the Valkyries chant along menacingly and with seeming delight. In this particular instance, these Norse warrior-maidens are as fearsome as any dark figure in Norse mythology.

Conclusion

Good or evil, the warrior-maiden Valkyries rank among the most fascinating of all figures in Norse mythology.

Resources:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Source
[7] Source

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