The Valkyrie is, in the oldest strata of belief, a corpse goddess, represented by the carrion-eating raven. The name in Old Norse, valkyrja, as well as Old English wlcyrge means literally, "chooser of the slain." The word for valkyrie was used by Anglo-Saxon scholars to gloss the names of the Greco-Roman goddeses of vengeance and retribution, the Furies or Erinyes, as well as for the Roman goddess of war, Bellona.

The Valkyrie is related to the Celtic warrior-goddess, the Morrigan, who likewise may assume the form of the raven. The Irish badb is at one and the same time a seeress foretelling the fate of men upon the battlefield and is also the carrion-crow or raven. (Rooth 228). At times the female seeress was replaced by the work of women's hands in the form of a Raven Banner:

..woven of the cleanest and whitest silk and no picture of any figure was found upon it. In case of war, however, a raven was always to be seen upon it, as if woven into it. If the Danes were going to win the battle, the raven appeared, beak wide open, flapping its wings and restless on its feet. If they were going to be defeated, the raven did not stir at all, and its limbs hung motionless.
(from the Gesta Cnutonis Regis of 1043, in Lukman 140).

Sometimes the blood-covered Valkyrie-prophetesses are seen themselves as weavers, as in the poem Darraarlj to prophesy the outcome of the next day's battle (describing the fall of Brian Boru to Viking forces at the Battle of Clontarf, 1014):

Vtt er orpit fyri valfalli
rifs reiisk rignir bli;
n er fyri geirrum grr upp kominn
vefr verjar er r vinur fylla
rauum vepti Randvs bana.

Sj er orpinn vefr ta rmum
ok harklar hfum manna
eru dreyrrekin drr at skptum
jrnvarr yllir enn rum hrlat
skulum sl sverum sigrvef enna.

Gengr hildr vefa ok hjrrimul
sangrr svipul sverum svipul
skapt mun gnesta skjldr mun bresta
mun hjlmgagarr hlf koma.

Vindum vindum vef Darraar
s er ungr konungr tti fyrri
fram skulum ganga ok flk vaa
ar er vinir vrir vpnum skipta.

Vindum vindum vef Darraar
ok siklingi san fylgjum
ar sj bragnar blgar randir
Gunnr ok Gndul r er grami hlu.

Vindum vindum vef Darraar
ar er v vaa vgra manna
ltum eigi lf hans faraz
eigu valkyrjur vals um kosti.

eir munu lir lndum ra
er tskaga r um byggu
kve ek rkum gram rinn daua
n er fyrir oddum jarlmar hniginn.

Ok munu rar angr um ba
at er aldri mun tum fyrnaz
n er vefr roinn munu um lnd fara
lspjll gota.

N er gurligt um at litaz
er deyrug sk dregr me himni
mun lopt litat la bli
er sknvarar syngja kunnu.

Vel keu vr um konung ungan
sigrhlja fjld syngjum heilar
enn inn nemi er heyrir
geirflja hlj ok gumum segi.

Rum hestum hart t berum
bregum sverum braut han.


Blood rains from the cloudy web
On the broad loom of slaughter.
The web of man grey as armor
Is now being woven; the Valkyries
Will cross it with a crimson weft.

The warp is made of human entrails;
Human heads are used as heddle-weights;
The heddle rods are blood-wet spears;
The shafts are iron-bound and arrows are the shuttles.
With swords we will weave this web of battle.

The Valkyries go weaving with drawn swords,
Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul.
Spears will shatter shields will splinter,
Swords will gnaw like wolves through armor.

Let us now wind the web of war
Which the young king once waged.
Let us advance and wade through the ranks,
Where friends of ours are exchanging blows.

Let us now wind the web of war
And then follow the king to battle
Gunn and Gondul can see there
The blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.

Let us now wind the web of war
Where the warrior banners are forging forward
Let his life not be taken;
Only the Valkyries can choose the slain.

Lands will be ruled by new peoples
Who once inhabited outlying headlands.
We pronounce a great king destined to die;
Now an earl is felled by spears.

The men of Ireland will suffer a grief
That will never grow old in the minds of men.
The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;
The news of disaster will spread through lands.

It is horrible now to look around
As a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.
The heavens are stained with the blood of men,
As the Valyries sing their song.

We sang well victory songs
For the young king; hail to our singing!
Let him who listens to our Valkyrie song
Learn it well and tell it to others.

Let us ride our horses hard on bare backs,
With swords unsheathed away from here!

And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands... The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north.

Weaving is an integral function of both the valkyrie and the Norn. In Beowulf we read of the wigspeda gewiofu (weavings of victory), creafted by the valkyrie. The valkyrie who can weave victory can also weave defeat, for the valkyrie had the art of the war-fetter, which allowed the valkyrie to bind a warrior with terror, or release a favored warrior from those same bonds. Like the Norns, the valkyries are intimately involved in weaving or spinning the fates of men. In this capacity, the valkyries were worshiped as disir, and offered sacrifices (disablot) as in Ynglingasaga Chapter 28.

Midway between the third and eleventh centuries, the Valkyries begin assuming a more benign aspect. Small amulets and pictures on memorial stones begin to depict the figure of the beautiful woman welcoming the deceased hero with a horn of mead to the afterlife. By this later time, the Valkyries as demigoddesses of death had their legend conflated with the folklore motif of the swan maiden (young girls who are able to take on the form of a swan, sometimes as the result of a curse). In her role as swan-maiden, the valkyrie can travel rida lopt ok log, "through air and through water." It is known that the swan was popularly associated with the concept of augury. See, for instance, the phrase, es scwant mir, (it swans me, meaning "I have a premonition or a foreboding").

If one could capture and hold a swan maiden, or her feathered cloak (alftarham), one could extract a wish from her. This may be why sometimes valkyries are known as swan maidens or oskmey (wish maidens), or perhaps they take this name from Odinn's appelations, Oski or Wunsc (wish). In his identity as the god cognate to the Roman Mercury, Odinn at times is found to carry a wunsciligerta (OHG, wishing-rod). Grimm makes the connection between the wunsciligerta and the sleep thorn with which Odinn enchants Brynhildr into the magical sleep, and also connects it to the enchanted spindle upon whcih folktale descendents of Brynhildr will prick their fingers and be cast into a hundred-years' slumber. Rocks associated with the valkyries Brynhildr or Kreimhildr are sometimes called spilstein or Chreimhildespil, derived from spille (spindle, fusus), or the stone might be called kunkelstein (distaff-stone).

The motif of the swan-maiden appears in the earliest strata in the sagas. In Helreid Brynhildar, a man named Agnar forced Brynhildr and her seven sisters into his service by hiding as they bathed and then stealing their swan-shifts. In Volundarkvida, the saga tells of three Valkyries who put their swan-shifts aside to sit on the shore spinning flax, and who consequently were wooed and won by three brothers -- here the oskmeyjar stay seven years with the brothers, only to fly away at the end of that time, never to return. In Hromundars saga Greipssonar, the valkyrie Kara appears in swan shape flying above a battle, shapechanged by the wearing of a alftarham (swan-shift). However in time, the valkyrie/swan-maiden evolves into a marchen character, Dornrschen, Sleeping Beauty, the Wnschelweib.

The descriptions of Odinn's hall describe the Valkries as foster-daughters, just as the einherjar (the chosen warriors of Odinn) are foster sons. See Grimnsimal 36, Gylfaginning 36) Freyja is said to be the first of the Valkyries, called Valfreyja, "Mistress of the Slain," she pours ale at the feasts of the Aesir (Skaldskarpamal 17) Other names for Freyja include:

* Mardll ("Sea-Shining", probably a kenning for amber)
* Hrn ("Lady of Flax")
* Gefn ("The Giving")
* Sr ("The Sow", "The Protector")
* Vanads ("Goddess of the Vanir")
* rungva ("She Who Pines for Love Lost")
* Skjlf ("Shield", "She Who Protects")

Although the sources are not clear on this, the cheif of the Valkyries seems to have been the goddess Freyja. Like Odinn, she received half of those slain in battle, but since ladies go first she was allowed first choice! Freyja possessed a magical cloak of falcon feathers that allowed her to take the shape of a falcon if she wished, making the swan maidens similar to the goddess by having "feather coats" or cloaks that enable their shape-shifting abilities and the power of flight.

The Valkyries appeared riding in a troop, often of nine war-like women:

br lima af Logafillom
enn af eim limom leiptrir qvmo;
hvar und hilmom Himinvanga
Brynior vro eira bli stocnar.
Enn af geirom geislar sto.
Helgakvia Hundingsbana I

Hlude wran hy, la, hlude
a hy ofer one hlw ridan,
wran anmode. a hy ofer land ridan,

r a mihtigan wif
hyra mgen berddon
and hy gellende garas sndan.


Then burst forth light at Logafell
and from those lights flashes leaped forth.
[The maidens rode] sublime under helmets on Heaven's Plain;
their byrnies were spattered with blood
and beams stood forth from their spear-points.

Loud were they, lo
when they rode over the barrow.
Bold were they, when they rode over the land.

when the mighty women
made ready their strength
and they sent forth the screaming spears.


Eiris sazun idisi, sazun here duoder
suma hapt heptidun, suma heri lezidun,
suma clubodun umbi cuoniouuidi;
insprinc haptbandun, unuar uigandun.


In days gone by, the idisi sat and they sat here and yonder.
Some made firm the fetters, some hindered the host
and some picked apart the chains;
escape from fetters, escape from foes.

There are several traditional names for Valkyries mentioned in the sagas and the Eddas:

# Brynhildr ("Byrnie of Battle" or "Mail-coat of Battle")
# Sigrdrifa ("Victory Blizzard")
# Sigrn ("Victory Rune")
# Svva
# Kra
# Hrist ("The Shaker")
# Mist ("The Mist" or "The Fog")
# Skeggjld ("Wearing a War Axe")
# Skgul ("Battle")
# Hildr ("Battle")
# Hilda ("Battle")
# Hildeberg ("Battle Fortress")
# Hildegund ("Battle War")
# Kreimhildr
# rr ("Power")
# Hlkk ("Noise", "Din of Battle")
# Herfjtur ("War-Fetter")
# Gll ("Loud Cry", "Battle Cry")
# Geirahd ("Spear of Battle")
# Grimhildr ("Mask or Helm of Battle")
# Randgrr ("Shield of Peace")
# Rgrir ("Counsel of Peace" or "Gods' Peace")
# Reginleif ("Heritage of the Gods")
# Gunnr ("Battle")
# Rta ("She Who Causes Turmoil")
# Skuld ("She Who Is Becoming")
# Gndul ("Magic Wand" or "Enchanted Stave" or perhaps, "She-Were-Wolf")

Terms describing valkyries include:

# Valkyrie ("Chooser of the Slain")
# Waelcyrie or Waelcyrge (Old English form of the word Valkyrie, also means "Raven")
# Walachuri (Old High German form of the word Valkyrie)
# Valakusj (Gothic form of the word Valkyrie)
# Valmeyjar ("Battle Maidens", "Corpse Maidens")
# Skjaldmeyjar ("Shield Maidens")
# Hjalmmeyjar ("Helm Maidens")
# skmeyjar ("Wish Maidens")
# Svanmeyja ("Swan Maiden")
# Hvt ("White")
# Hjalmvtr ("Helm-White")
# Birt ("Bright")
# Slbirt ("Sun-Bright")
# Alvtr ("All-White")
# Drsir Surnar (southern maids)
# Surn (southern one)
# Dsir Surnar (southern dsir or goddesses) (in Vlundarkvia and the Helgi lays)