Why Was Valhalla Important to the Vikings?

Since the Norse people did not leave behind written records, historians have had to decipher Norse culture from the works of later writers.

As a result, the available information is often inconsistent and sometimes unreliable. Despite this, scholars can make calculated guesses by combining textual and archeological sources.  

Valhalla was important to the Vikings as it enshrined their most cherished values, chief of which was bravery.

Only the bravest Viking warriors could enter Valhalla, making it the highest aspiration of a Viking warrior and a guiding light throughout their life.

This article will detail what the Vikings believed about this paradise and the glories that awaited them there. 

Also, see Did the Vikings Value Virginity? to learn more.

Was Valhalla the Viking Heaven?

Valhalla was not the Viking Heaven. However, it was just as important to Vikings as an afterlife destination as Heaven is to Christians.

Valhalla was important to the Vikings because it was their ultimate goal. 

They weren’t afraid to fight – and even die – on Earth (Midgard) because they knew dying a warrior’s death meant they’d end up in Valhalla, which was a paradise of sorts to them.

The goal of earthly life was to conquer, fight, and build up enough riches to take to Valhalla. 

Because of its importance as an afterlife destination, most people describe Valhalla as “Viking Heaven.” However, the concept of Valhalla differs significantly from Christian Heaven. 

The Norse worldview, like the Christian one, was indeed dualistic. However, for the Norse, the two sides of the coin were order and chaos, as opposed to the Christian dualities of good and evil. [1] [2] 

This crucial distinction underlies the many differences between the conceptualizations of Valhalla and Christian Heaven. 

Differences Between Valhalla and the Christian Heaven

While Norse Valhalla and Christian Heaven share the same level of esteem in their respective cultures, these two versions of paradise are different. 

Valhalla Rewards Bravery, While Heaven Rewards Virtue

Norse mythology’s dualism splits the primary forces driving the universe into agents of order and chaos. In contrast, the Christian worldview emphasizes the struggle between the forces of good and evil. 

Per the differences in the two value systems, the Viking heroes who clinch the prize of Valhalla are very different from the good Christians who go to Heaven.

For the Christian, virtue is key, but for the Viking, bravery in war is all that matters. 

Anyone Can Enter Heaven, but Valhalla Was Reserved for Warriors  

The determining factor for entry into Valhalla was bravery in battle, meaning that only warriors had a chance, and non-warriors automatically didn’t qualify.

In contrast, Christian doctrine holds that any Christian can enter Heaven as long as they live according to Christian principles. 

Thus, Valhalla was a more exclusive metaphysical enclave than Heaven.

Unlike Heaven, a Part of the Soul Could Enter Valhalla 

While Christians see the soul as unified and immortal, the Norse believed that their souls consisted of distinct components that may change over time. [5]

The Norse soul was thought to consist of the following:

  • A Hamr, which referenced an individual’s physical appearance and changed after death. 
  • A Hugr, which represented the constant aspects of a person’s character. 
  • A Fylgja, which represented a spirit animal unique to each individual.
  • A Hamingja, which housed a protective spirit that determined the degree of success in one’s life. It was related closely to an individual’s hugr and could be passed down along familial lines. 

Curiously, all the parts of a Viking’s soul need not end up in the same place after death.

Valhalla Had an End, But Heaven Is Forever

Norse and Christian timelines of the future differ significantly, a fact that extends into the conceptions of Valhalla and Heaven.

While Christians expect to enjoy eternal life in Heaven, the Norse believed they would perish along with the entire cosmos at Ragnarok, bringing Valhalla to an end. [7] 

Valhalla Was a Military Camp While Heaven Is Pure Bliss 

The differences in Norse and Christian ideas of virtue extend to the different perceptions of Valhalla and Heaven. For Christians, Heaven is a place to enjoy eternal life and is a space of joy, peace, and love

While the Viking Valhalla does make it sound like the Norse idea of a good time, it leaves room for constant military training and ends on the battlefield in destruction

How Did a Viking Get to Valhalla?

The Valkyries, female helpers of the Norse deity Odin, evaluated Viking warriors who had fallen in battle to determine their suitability for Valhalla. [3]

Only those with the highest Viking ideals of honorable conduct and courage on the battlefield would be granted access. 

The selection process reflected the martial and hierarchical nature of Norse society. It left out Norse farmers, traders, and artisans. 

What Was Valhalla Like?

Valhalla was the opulent hall of Odin. Here, accompanied by his ravens and wolves, the god would preside over the gathering of heroes from a throne.

The hall is described in the grandest terms. It was said to have a roof of golden shields that towered above long tables laid out with a sumptuous feast.

And it was large enough to need 540 doors and handle hundreds of soldiers marching through. [4]

What Did Dead Vikings Do in Valhalla?

In Valhalla, dead Vikings would feast and prepare for war

The feasting was said to be epic, with no shortage of meat and mead. A roast boar turned perpetually on a spit whose flame never died.

And a goat supplied an endless stream of mead from its udders for the warriors to satisfy their thirst.

The warriors’ only other concern would be to prepare for the battle at the end of the world, an occasion that the Norse referred to as Ragnarok

At Ragnarok, the Vikings in Valhalla would get to fight alongside Odin’s army. It was foretold that they would fail and the world would end. Their inevitable defeat did not dishearten the Vikings.

Fighting courageously in the fate of certain doom was the epitome of Norse virtue, and they were happy to perish along with the world in an honorable fashion.

Other Destinations in the Norse Afterlife

The similarities between Christian and Viking conceptions of the afterlife end with the dualistic outlook on life and the existence of a paradise.

There is no conception of hell in Norse mythology. However, there are several places a Viking can go to after death. [6]

Besides Valhalla, Viking realms of the afterlife include:

  • Folkvangr: the realm of the goddess Freyja
  • The underwater domain of a giantess called Ran
  • Hel: the underground world of the goddess Hel (not comparable to the Christian Hell)

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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