The Valkyries ("Choosers of the Slain") were female servants of the god Odin who brought those who were doomed to die in battle to Odin's hall Valhalla in Asgard. They were described as beautiful young women that rode winged white horses armed in helmets and spears. Not only did they scout out the battlefields for slain warriors, but they were also Odin's messengers; wherever they rode, their armor would flicker light across the sky - this was later called "Aurora Borealis" ("Northern Lights").
The leader of the Valkyries was Freyja, the goddess of love and fertility that was cursed with the domain of war.
List of notable Valkyries
The Death of Balder
Odin's Valkyries attended Balder's funeral after he was murdered by Loki. Some of the Valkyries were named at this gathering, although it is believed these were only second or symbolic names - the text refers to Odin as the "Father of Battle". These Valkyries were: "Shaker and Mist", "Axe Time and Raging", "Warrior and Might", "Shrieking", "Host Fetter and Screaming", "Spear Bearer", "Shield Bearer", and "Wrecker of Plans".
Saga of the Völsungs
The most notable Valkyrie in the Saga of the Völsungs (Völsunga saga) was Brynhildr. A similar story also told in the Nibelunglied, where she is Brunhild, and later adapted into Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. She was ordered to decide the outcome of a fight between the kings Hjalmgunnar and Agnar. Although she knew Odin preferred to former, she decided in favour of the latter. For this, Odin punished her, making her live the life of a mortal woman and imprisoning her in a castle behind a wall of shields on the mountain Hindarfjall. She sleeps surrounded by a ring of flames, waiting for a man to rescue and marry her.
Sigurd (or Siegfried, in the Nibelunglied), heir of the Volsung clan and slayer of Fafnir the dragon, enters the castle and wakes Brynhildr by removing her helmet and cutting off her chainmail armour.Sigurd proposes to her using the Andvaranaut (the cursed ring of Andvari). Sigurd then departs for the court of Gjuki, King of the Burgundians, leaving Brynhildr. In his absence, Brynhildr is visited by Gjuki's daughter Gudrun (Kriemhild in the Nibelunglied).
Gjuki's wife Grimhild wanted Sigurd to marry Gudrun and so, made a potion to make Sigurd forget about Brynhildr. Sigurd soon married Gudrun and Grimhild, hearing of Sigurd and Brynhildr, sought to marry the valkyrie to her son Gunnar (Gunther in the Nibelunglied). Gunnar then tried to wake Brynhildr, but was stopped by the flames. He attempted to pass them using his own horse, and then Sigurd's horse (Grani). Sigurd then disguised himself as Gunnar in order to pass the flames, claiming Brynhildr's hand and staying with her for three nights. However, Sigurd lay his sword between them, to signify that he would not take her virginity. Sigurd also took the Andravanaut fro Brynhildr, giving it to Gudrun. Sigurd then returned home and Gunnar married Brynhildr.
Brynhildr and Gudrun later quarreled over whose husband was greater. Brynhildr boasted that Gunnar was brave enough to ride through the flames but Gudrun revealed that it was, in fact, Sigurd. Despite Sigurd's consolation, Brynhildr was enraged. She resolved to destroy Sigurd, by claiming that he took her virginity on Hidarfjall, inciting Gunnar against him. Neither Gunnar nor Hogni (Gunnar's brother, Hagen in the Nibelunglied) were afraid to kill Sigurd themselves, as they had sworn oaths of brotherhood. Thus they incited their younger brother Gutthorn to kill Sigurd in his sleep by giving him a potion of enragement. While Sigurd was dying, he thre his sword at Gutthorn, killing him. Brynhildr herself killed Sigurd's three year-old son and threw herself on Sigurd's funeral pyre.
The feud between Brunhild and Kriemhild may be inspired by the feud between the Visigothic princess Brunhilda, who married the Merovingian King Sigebert I of Austrasia, and her arch-rival, Fredegunde, who married King Chilperic I of Neustria. Their feud spanned generations and resulted in the deaths of both of their husbands as well as other family members.
- Crossley-Holland, Kevin (1980), The Norse Myths, Pantheon Books, New York, ISBN 0-394-74846-8