Valkyrie Symbol

The Valkyrie symbol in Norse mythology and what Valkyries are really like

Valkyries are warrior deities that belonged to Odin’s war squad. These mystical enchantresses carry lots of significance in Nordic culture. The traditional Valkyrie symbol represents old Nordic views on death, destiny and fate. They also symbolize core virtue and attributes that Vikings aspired to and respected.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about fierce warrior maidens from Scandinavian mythology.

The Vikings were a group of seafaring warriors, explorers and traders who lived in Scandinavia from the late eighth to early 11th century.

Before the Norse people converted to Christianity in the Middle Ages, they followed their own mythological framework. Their vibrant pagan religion has as many as 66 gods and goddesses and numerous spirits and entities.

Each of these figures played an essential role in maintaining peace and balance in their community. The enduring images and symbols, like the Valkyrie symbol, are still meaningful to people in Scandinavia and the rest of the world.

Legendary figures from Norse mythology have gained popularity in recent years. Characters like Thor, Loki, Odin, Sif and Sylvie have been featured prominently in movies and TV shows.

Outside the pantheon of these deities, the Valkyrie stands out as a symbol of feminine strength and courage. These warrior women are depicted on a wolf, horseback or boar, carrying a spear while hovering above epic battlefields.

While people may not be as familiar with these mysterious and enigmatic groups of maidens as with Odin and Thor, Valkyries are just as fascinating as the famous figures.

Let’s look at the significance of the Valkyrie Norse symbols in Scandinavian mythology and address any myths surrounding the beauty, abilities, and roles of these enchantresses from the mythical world.

Valkyrie Symbol

What is a Valkyrie?

The word “Valkyrie” comes from the Old Norse term “valkyrja,” which consists of the word “val,” meaning ‘choose’ and “kyrja,” meaning ‘slaughter.’ When combined, the term literally means choosers of the slain.

According to Scandinavian mythology, Valkyrie served Odin, the chief god in the Norse pantheon, and was part of his personal entourage.

Their primary responsibility was to fly over battles and choose the most courageous fallen soldiers on the battlefield.

After they are picked up, the Valkyries escort them to the hallowed halls of Valhalla, the foyer of the slain ruled by Odin, where they would join the “einherjar,” an army that’s being put together for the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok.

The rest of the soldiers who die in battle go to the afterlife field called Fólkvangr, ruled by the goddess Freya.

What do Valkyries look like?

We can’t be sure what Valkyries look like because there were no primary written sources that describe their appearance. Viking culture was oral, and the information about their mythology and Valkyrie symbol comes from sources written during the early phases of Christianity.

The records that we do have describe Valkyries as women wearing elegant and regal costumes made with raven or swan feathers, but when there’s a war, they don their armor which consists of shields, helmets and chain mail corsets.

According to some stories, they might even sprout wings to help them fly over the battlefield.

Valkyries appear as beautiful maidens with typical Nordic features: snow-white skin, a statuesque physique, piercing eyes and long flowing golden or black hair.

What powers do Valkyries have?

The powers of Valkyries and the traditional Norse Valkyrie symbol are directly related to their duty as the choosers of the fate of the slain warriors. While most of them are mortals, daughters of royals and well-known warriors, they were bestowed with magical powers by Odin, ruler of the Gods.

They had the gift of clairvoyance, which enabled them to sense when a warrior would die. They could influence the fate of the slain by deferring their death, or they could let them perish in battle.

If they didn’t want a particular warrior to die, the Valkyrie would dive down and protect them, and if they saw one that was killed, they collected the body and transported it to Valhalla.

They controlled the fates of mortals with magical looms made with human heads for weights, intestines for threads, and used arrows and swords for beaters. They used these materials to weave the destiny of each warrior into a tapestry that would predict the outcome of the battle.

Valkyries also have superhuman strength that makes them agile and skilled fighters. They can move without being seen and, according to some stories, can take the form of an animal or bird.

Yet, as strong as they are, they are not allowed to fight in the battles that they witness.

Another interesting ability that Valkyries had was brewing and serving mead. The mead they concocted was not only delicious, but it had magical healing properties that improved memory, healed wounds and increased strength.   

Valkyrie Symbol

What does the Valkyrie symbol mean?

Valkyries are so much more than warrior deities that belong to Odin’s war squad. They represent old Nordic views on death, destiny and fate.

The Valkyrie Norse symbols also represent several core virtues and attributes that Vikings aspired to and respected:

Courage

Valkyries embodied the determined and relentless spirit of the Viking, and their full-body armor and sturdy horses reflected that.

Physical prowess

The Valkyries were strong and agile and, for this reason, was the personification of ideal warriors.

Feminine power

Compared to other medieval societies in Europe, Vikings were progressive for their times. They encouraged women’s empowerment, and Valkyries were the ideal role models.

Transformation and free-spiritedness

A lesser-known association with Valkyries is their association with men and swans. As swan-maidens, they are betrothed to men who steal their suits of swan feathers.

However, if Valkyries recover their feathers, they cause heartbreak to their mates. 

How are Valkyrie Norse symbols worn today?

The allure and prestige that the Valkyrie symbol carries have made it popular for those wanting to make a powerful fashion statement. Loyal followers support the Valkyries Norse symbols by wearing it on T-shirts and jewelry and getting it tattooed.

The origins of the traditional Valkyrie symbol are unknown, but it’s thought the wings represent the speed with which the Valkyries fly through the air. The Valknut or Odin’s knot signifies the transition between life and death meaning.

When depicted in its full glory, the Valkyrie has wings on either side, sitting on their horses, holding a single or double staff below a winged Helm of Awe, which represents courage and fearlessness.

Typically, there’s no writing, but Viking rune symbols will appear alongside the symbol in some versions.

Popular Valkyrie symbol tattoos include the portrait style where the Valkyrie is shown with a helmet and flowing hair with braids. Another elegant option is Valkyrie wings in an elongated form with densely feathered wings.

A full depiction of Valkyries mounted on a winged horse is the ultimate patronage to their majesty and traditional Norse Valkyrie symbol.

Are Valkyries good or bad?

Valkyries are regarded as virtuous and benevolent creatures despite their grim and morbid task. Highly intelligent and astute, they make fearsome fighters and wise leaders capable of choosing the right people to fight beside Odin in Ragnarok

However, Valkyries are not perfect. They are as fallible as any other mortal. In some accounts, they are known to show favoritism when on duty on the battlefield.

They would protect the fighters who were their lovers and lash out against those they didn’t like or were indifferent towards.

The romances they have with the soldiers could induce jealousy and revenge. Some had dark and sinister tendencies to take pleasure in the blood and carnage they saw on the battlefield.

This led them to deliberately provoke fights among people, especially when they were bored.

The visual depictions of them carrying out their duty supports the theory of their evil intentions. They used intestines as threads in weaving the fates of the Vikings, severed heads as weights and arrows and swords as beaters.

When a warrior’s fate was sealed, the Valkyries eerily chanted in unison with apparent delight.

Some stories portray them as scheming and shrewd women who used their powers for evil and malevolent purposes. They were not to be trusted as fearsome dark prophetesses of death and doom. They are considered as being unworthy of the immense power Odin gave them.

However, Valkyries and the Valkyries symbol are seen as good and ethical beings for the most part.

Valkyrie Symbol

What animals represent the Valkyries?

There are several animals associated with Valkyries. The most common type are birds — black ravens and swans in particular.

According to Scandinavia mythology, ravens would accompany the Valkyries on the battlefield. After the Valkyries chose and took away soldiers, the ravens would feast on the bodies of warriors they did not choose.

The swans have a more pleasant association. Valkyries were often called “swan-maidens” because they would disguise themselves as swans so that they could fly away unnoticed.

If a mortal male stole one of the feathers, the Valkyrie would fall in love with him and get married. The wings are featured prominently in the traditional Valkyrie symbol.

Valkyries are also connected with the animals they mount on when going into battles, such as winger horses, boars and wolves. These creatures can fly in the sky from where the Valkyrie could observe the battle and select the fighters they want to resurrect and take with them.

What are the names of famous Valkyries?

Most names of famous Valkyries are linked to the topic of war. For instance, “Brynhildr” translates to ‘amour battle,’ “Geirahöð” means “battle of spears,” and “Hjörþrimul” means “battle of swords.

Many of these names don’t always refer to a specific character and are used as descriptive terms to express the nature of the war goddesses. However, there are several Valkyries with established identities by their characteristics.

The most notable among the “choosers of the slain” is Freyja, who chose slain warriors she wanted to take to her own domain. The Valkyries could pick from the remaining warriors and take them to Odin’s einherjar.

Unlike Valkyries, Freya is associated more with love, lust, and fertility. Her link to death is understood in the context of the afterlife and the way toward a new beginning.

However, Freya is not part of Odin’s clan, so she can’t be considered a Valkyrie. By this definition, the most famous Valkyries is Brynhild (or Brunhilda, Brunhilde) of the Volsunga Saga.

After refusing to follow Odin’s orders, Brynhild was made mortal and put into a deep sleep. A hero would need to pass through the ring of fire that surrounded her. This story was the inspiration for the beloved fairytale, The Sleeping Beauty.

Another well-known Valkyrie is Hildr, featured in the Edda and the legend of Hedin and Högni in Ragnarsdrápa. In one story, she appears on the battlefield after the fight is over, walks around slain, and brings them back to life.

Once alive, the fighters start fighting each other again. This sparked the idea in Odin of resurrecting slain warriors for the battle of Ragnarök, and he established it as a practice.

Apart from these famous Valkyries, several others appear in the Nordic mythologies. Not a lot is known about them, but the ones we know about were leaders responsible for overseeing the troops of Valkyries.

The ones that stand out include Sigrún, which means “victory rune,” which gives the hero Helgi the power of speech. Eir protects the living warrior, while Thurd is caretaker of einherjar in Valhalla and is said to be Thor’s daughter.

Other recognizable Valkyries are Sigrdrífa which translates to “victory urger,” and Sváva meaning “sleep maker.”

Valkyries in popular culture

With their powerful symbology, it’s not surprising the Valkyries and the Valkyrie symbol have found their way into popular culture. They’re mentioned in TV shows and movies and are frequently mentioned in songs by Nordic bands.

Here are a couple of examples where Valkyries have been mentioned:

Valkyries in the arts

Composer Richard Wagner created an opera called “The Valkyrie,” a story about twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, separated at birth but who meet years later and fall in love.

“The Valkyrie” plays an integral part of the Ring Cycle, a story based on Norse mythology about a magic ring similar to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

The most prominent feature of “The Valkyrie” is the musical piece called “The Ride of the Valkyrie.” It’s been used in several movies, including “Apocalypse Now,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Italian painter Cesare Viazzi made a painting titled “The Ride of the Valkyries,” depicting spear-holding women riding the skies on their horses — a classic take on the traditional Valkyrie symbol.

Valkyries in military history

Valkyrie was used as a name for an emergency operation during World War II to mobilize a reserve army in Germany in the event of a civil breakdown due to Allied bombing. It’s been referred to in several movies and documentaries.

The most famous one is the 2008 movie “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise and Kenneth Branagh.

Valkyries in Marvel

Marvel Comics introduced the first Valkyrie character in 1970. The superheroine named Valkyrie Brynhildr is the leader of the Valkyrior, Odin’s shield maidens, and is distinguished by her enchanted spear called Dragonfang and her winged horse called Aragorn.

Onscreen, Valkyrie was first seen in the Marvel movie “Thor: Ragnarok,” played by Tessa Thompson. She is slated to appear again in the next installment of the series “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

Celebrating the Valkyrie symbol

No matter what you think about these fierce Nordic maidens of death, Valkyries continue to enchant and captivate anyone who learns about them. The Valkyrie symbol is timeless and will remain a source of inspiration for years to come.

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