Friday, 19 May 2017

The Valkyries: Chooser of the Slain

In Norse Mythology Valkyries are female warlike virgins, who are mounted on horses and armed with helmets and spears. They decide who will die in battle. They hover over the battlefield like birds of prey.

In ancient Norse mythology, before they were linked to Odin and Ragnarok, the Valkyries were sometimes represented in carvings as carrion-eating ravens. The original Valkyries, appearing on battlefields as soon as the fighting was over, would weave tapestries from the intestines of slain warriors and feed corpses to their pet wolves.
Between the 3rd and 11th centuries, the perception of the Valkyries changed and they became associated with Odin. On the battlefield the Valkyries chose the souls of the bravest slain warriors to become Einherjar, soldiers to fight for Odin at Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and the giants. Half of those who die in battle would go to Valhalla. The other half will go to the goddess Freya’s afterlife field Folkvangr. Freya always has the first pick, of the fallen Vikings. Odin allows some of the maidens to take the form of beautiful white swans, but if a Valkyrie is seen by a human without her swanlike disguise, she will become an ordinary mortal and can never return to Valhalla.
Once in Valhalla the dead warriors became Einherjar. (Old Norse "single fighters") Inside Valhalla the Valkyries changed clothes. Wearing simple white robes, they served the Einherjar fine foods, such as wild boar, and sacred wine made from honey. They would remain the Einherjar's servants until Ragnarok.
Valkyries were Odin's bodyguards and messengers. Mortals saw their flickering armor and light streaming from their spears. In the Middle Ages Scandinavians believed the northern lights (aurora borealis) were the Valkyries flying across the night sky. Valkyries usually appeared in groups of nine.

The Ride of the Valkyries is the popular term for the beginning of Act III of Die Walk├╝re, by Richard Wagner. The main theme of the ride was first written down by the composer on 23 July 1851. It is one of Wagner's best-known pieces.