Sunday, September 27, 2015

Valkyries

The subject of the Valkyries came up in class on Tuesday, and I chose this as my topic for research on Thursday.  They are only mentioned very briefly in The Prose Edda.  It tells us that "they are sent by Odin to every battle, where they choose which men are to die and they determine who has the victory.  Gunn and Rota and the youngest norn, named Skuld, always ride to choose the slain and to decide the outcome of the battle."  This is all we really know about them from The Prose Edda.

I was interested to learn that there is dispute over what their name actually means.  The name is translated "chooser of the slain."  Some translations hold that they actually go into battle to choose who dies and who lives.  Others say that they look over those who are slain and decide who gets to return with them to Valhalla.  The name can mean either.  Some sources that I looked up said one or the other, but some said that they perform both tasks.  The only other thing we know for sure about them is that when the slain are not preparing for Ragnarok, the Valkyries serve them mead.  Overall, the controversy over the name is was what really piqued my interest.  It reminds me of how someone misinterpreted a part of the Old Testament and thought that Moses had two horns coming out of his head.  As a result, Moses has often been depicted this way.

I've tried to think of other figures in mythology that resemble the Valkyries in hopes that we can get a clue at what they were intended to be.  However, I cannot seem the think of any.  In most cultures, someone who brings death is depicted as dark and scary, like the Grim Reaper.  But the Valkyries seem less ominous and more like caregivers.  After all, they spend their downtime serving alcohol to dead guys.  Perhaps this is a clue in itself.  Since they are more like caregivers, maybe it is more likely that they do not decide who dies but only choose among the slain.

No comments: