Valhalla: The Ultimate Destination for Norse Warriors
Valhalla: The Hall of the Fallen in Norse Mythology
Norse mythology is the body of myths belonging to the North Germanic peoples, stemming from Old Norse religion and continuing after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and into the Nordic folklore of the modern period. One of the most prominent and fascinating elements of Norse mythology is the concept of Valhalla, the hall where the god Odin houses the dead whom he deems worthy of dwelling with him. In this article, we will explore what Valhalla is, how one can enter it, what its purpose is, and how it has influenced popular culture.
What is Valhalla?
Valhalla is the anglicised name for Old Norse: Valhǫll, which means "hall of the slain". It is described as a majestic hall located in Asgard, the realm of the gods, and presided over by Odin, the chief god and ruler of Asgard.
The origin and meaning of the name Valhalla
The name Valhalla derives from two Old Norse words: valr, which means "the slain", and hǫll, which means "hall". The word valr has cognates in other Germanic languages, such as Old English wæl, which means "the slain, slaughter, carnage", and Old High German wal-dād, which means "murder". These words all descend from the Proto-Germanic noun *walaz, which refers to those who die in battle. The word hǫll is a common Old Norse noun that means "covered place, hall", and is cognate to Modern English hall. It developed from Proto-Germanic *xallō or *hallō, which in turn derived from Proto-Indo-European *kol-, meaning "to cover, conceal".
The name Valhalla thus conveys the idea of a hall where those who die in combat are hidden or protected by Odin. Some scholars have suggested that the hǫll element may also derive from hallr, which means "rock", and that Valhalla originally referred to an underworld or a cave where the dead were buried. However, this theory is not widely accepted.
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The location and description of Valhalla
Valhalla is located in Asgard, one of the Nine Worlds that make up the cosmology of Norse mythology. Asgard is the home of the Æsir, one of the two tribes of gods in Norse mythology (the other being the Vanir). Asgard is connected to Midgard, the world of humans, by a rainbow bridge called Bifröst.
Valhalla is depicted as a splendid palace, roofed with shields and spears, where the warriors feast on the flesh of a boar named Sæhrímnir that is slaughtered daily and made whole again each evening. They also drink mead that flows from the udder of a goat named Heiðrún. The hall has 540 doors, each wide enough for 800 warriors to march out side by side by side. The hall is guarded by wolves and eagles, and surrounded by the golden tree Glasir.
The inhabitants and activities of Valhalla
The inhabitants of Valhalla are called einherjar, which means "those who fight alone" or "those who belong to an army". They are the warriors who died in battle and were chosen by Odin to join him in his hall. They are accompanied by their wives or lovers, who are called valkyries, which means "choosers of the slain". The valkyries are female figures who serve Odin as messengers and escorts of the dead.
The einherjar spend their days fighting each other in a never-ending battle, as a way of training for the final conflict of Ragnarök, the doom of the gods. They use weapons and armor that are provided by Odin. They do not suffer any permanent harm or death, as they are healed every night by the magic of Valhalla. They also enjoy games, contests, and poetry.
How does one enter Valhalla?
Not every warrior who dies in battle can enter Valhalla. There are certain criteria and conditions that must be met, and some alternatives and exceptions that exist. The main factor that determines who can enter Valhalla is the will of Odin, who has the final say in choosing his guests. However, he is not the only one who has a role in this process.
The role of the valkyries in choosing the slain
The valkyries are the agents of Odin who fly over the battlefield and select the most brave and worthy warriors to join him in Valhalla. They are often depicted as beautiful women riding on horses or flying with wings, armed with spears and shields. They have the power to decide the outcome of a battle, by giving victory or defeat to the warriors they favor or disfavor.
The valkyries have different names and personalities, and some of them are associated with specific aspects of war or death. For example, Skuld means "future" and is also a Norn, one of the three female beings who control the destiny of gods and men. Rota means "sleet" or "storm" and is also a name for fate or fortune. Gunnr means "war" and is also a name for a battle-maiden or a female warrior.
The criteria and conditions for admission to Valhalla
The main criterion for admission to Valhalla is to die in battle with honor and courage, while fighting for a noble cause or a personal ideal. This does not necessarily mean that the warrior has to be on the right side of history or morality, but rather that he has to follow his own code of conduct and loyalty. For example, Odin himself is often portrayed as a trickster and a manipulator, who causes wars and conflicts for his own benefit or amusement.
Another condition for admission to Valhalla is to be noticed and chosen by a valkyrie, who may have her own preferences or biases. Sometimes, a warrior may have a special relationship with a valkyrie, such as love or friendship, which may influence her decision. For example, Sigurd, the hero of the Völsunga saga, was loved by Brynhildr, a valkyrie who was cursed by Odin to sleep in a ring of fire until a brave man would rescue her.
A third condition for admission to Valhalla is to be accepted by Odin himself, who has the ultimate authority over his hall. Sometimes, Odin may reject a warrior who meets the other criteria, because he has other plans or motives for him. For example, Baldr, the son of Odin and Frigg, was killed by a mistletoe arrow that was guided by Loki, the trickster god and enemy of the Æsir. Baldr was beloved by all the gods and men, and was destined to return after Ragnarök. However, Odin did not allow him to enter Valhalla because he wanted him to go to Hel, the realm of the dead, where he would rule as a king until his return.
The alternatives and exceptions to Valhalla
Valhalla is not the only destination for the dead in Norse mythology. There are other places where the souls of the deceased may go, depending on various factors. Some of these places are:
Fólkvangr: This is another hall in Asgard, where the goddess Freyja receives half of those who die in battle. The other half goes to Valhalla. Freyja is the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and war, and she has the right to choose first among the slain. Fólkvangr means "field of the people" or "field of the army".
Hel: This is the realm of the dead, where most of those who die of old age, sickness, or other natural causes go. It is located in Niflheim, one of the Nine Worlds, and it is ruled by Hel, the daughter of Loki and a giantess. Hel is a gloomy and cold place, where the dead live in misery and despair. Hel also means "hidden" or "concealed" in Old Norse.
Valhöll: This is a hall in Hel, where some of those who die in battle go instead of Valhalla or Fólkvangr. It is a place of dishonor and shame, where the dead are tormented by a dragon named Níðhöggr, who gnaws at their corpses. Valhöll means "hall of the dishonored" or "hall of the corpses".
There are also some exceptions to the rule that only those who die in battle can enter Valhalla. Some examples are:
Eiríkr Bloodaxe: He was a legendary king of Norway and Northumbria, who was known for his many battles and raids. He died in battle against King Maccus of the Isles in 954 CE. However, he was also a Christian convert, and his wife Gunnhildr had him buried in a churchyard in England. According to a saga, Odin was angry that Eiríkr did not die as a pagan, and he sent a valkyrie named Skögul to fetch him from his grave and bring him to Valhalla.
Hákon the Good: He was another king of Norway, who was the son of Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway. He was a Christian convert as well, but he was tolerant of paganism and respected by his people. He died in battle against his nephews, who were also his rivals, in 961 CE. According to a poem, Odin sent two valkyries named Göndul and Skögul to choose among the slain, and they picked Hákon to go to Valhalla. However, Hákon refused to go with them, saying that he wanted to go to heaven instead. The valkyries then left him alone, saying that he was too good for Valhalla.
Einarr Skúlason: He was a 12th-century Icelandic poet and historian, who wrote many poems about Norse mythology and history. He died peacefully in his bed in 1178 CE. According to a saga, Odin was impressed by his poetry and knowledge, and he sent a valkyrie named Sigrún to invite him to Valhalla. Einarr accepted the invitation and went with her to the hall of the gods.
What is the purpose of Valhalla?
Valhalla is not just a place of reward and pleasure for the fallen warriors. It is also a place of preparation and training for the final battle of Ragnarök, the doom of the gods and the world. Ragnarök is a series of events that will lead to a great war between the gods and their enemies, such as the giants, the monsters, and Loki and his children. The war will result in the death of many gods and beings, including Odin himself, who will be devoured by Fenrir, the monstrous wolf son of Loki. The world will then be engulfed by fire and water, and will be reborn anew with a new generation of gods and men.
The preparation and training for Ragnarök
The einherjar are aware of their destiny and role in Ragnarök. They know that they will fight alongside Odin and the other gods against their foes, and that they will most likely die in the process. However, they do not fear death, but rather embrace it as a glorious and honorable fate. They also do not resent Odin for bringing them to Valhalla, but rather respect and admire him as their leader and patron. They are loyal and devoted to him, and they are eager to prove themselves worthy of his favor.
The einherjar spend their days in Valhalla training for the upcoming battle, by engaging in mock combat with each other. They use the same weapons and armor that they will use in Ragnarök, which are provided by Odin. They fight with skill and ferocity, but also with camaraderie and sportsmanship. They do not harm or kill each other, as they are healed every night by the magic of Valhalla. They also enjoy games, contests, and poetry, which help them sharpen their minds and spirits.
The prophecy and fate of Valhalla
The prophecy of Ragnarök is recorded in various sources of Norse mythology, such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. It foretells a series of signs and events that will precede the final battle, such as the death of Baldr, the binding and release of Loki, the appearance of three winters without summer, the breaking of Bifröst, the sounding of the horn Gjallarhorn, and the arrival of various enemies and allies of the gods.
The fate of Valhalla is also predicted in these sources. It is said that Valhalla will be attacked by the fire giant Surtr, who will set it ablaze with his flaming sword. The einherjar will then march out of the hall, led by Odin, to face their enemies on the field of Vígríðr. There, they will fight valiantly and bravely, but they will be outnumbered and overwhelmed by their foes. Odin will be killed by Fenrir, and most of the einherjar will fall with him. Only a few will survive, such as Víðarr, the son of Odin, who will avenge his father by killing Fenrir.
The symbolism and significance of Valhalla
Valhalla is not only a literal place in Norse mythology, but also a symbolic and significant one. It represents various aspects of the Norse worldview and values, such as:
Warfare: Valhalla reflects the importance and prevalence of war in Norse society and culture. War was seen as a way of life, a source of honor and glory, and a means of achieving fame and immortality. The einherjar embody the ideal warrior archetype, who lives and dies by his sword, who follows his code of conduct and loyalty, and who strives for excellence and courage in battle.
Fate: Valhalla also reflects the belief in fate or destiny in Norse mythology. Fate was seen as a powerful and inevitable force that governed the lives of gods and men. The einherjar accept their fate without complaint or regret, knowing that they cannot change or escape it. They also trust in Odin's wisdom and plan, believing that he knows what is best for them.
Rebirth: Valhalla also reflects the concept of rebirth or renewal in Norse mythology. Rebirth was seen as a natural and cyclical process that occurred in various levels of existence. The einherjar experience rebirth every day, when they are resurrected from their wounds and return to their feast. They also anticipate rebirth after Ragnarök, when a new world will emerge from the ashes of the old one.
How has Valhalla influenced popular culture?
Valhalla has influenced popular culture in various ways, such as:
The artistic and literary representations of Valhalla
Valhalla has inspired many artists and writers to create works that depict or refer to it. Some examples are:
The Ride of the Valkyries: This is a famous musical piece composed by Richard Wagner as part of his opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. It portrays the flight of the valkyries as they carry the slain heroes to Valhalla.
Valhalla Rising: This is a novel by Clive Cussler that features a modern-day adventurer who discovers a Viking ship buried in Greenland. The ship contains a secret weapon that could change the course of history.
Valhall: This is a comic book series by Peter Madsen that retells the stories of Norse mythology from the perspective of two children who are taken to Valhalla by Thor.
The modern adaptations and interpretations of Valhalla
Valhalla has also been adapted and interpreted in various ways by modern media and entertainment. Some examples Some examples are:
Marvel Cinematic Universe: This is a media franchise that features various superheroes and villains based on Marvel Comics characters. Some of these characters are inspired by Norse mythology, such as Thor, Loki, Odin, Heimdall, and the Valkyries. Valhalla is mentioned as one of the possible afterlives for Asgardians, and it is shown briefly in Thor: Ragnarok, where Odin dies and joins his wife Frigga.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: This is a video game that follows the story of Eivor, a Viking raider who becomes involved in the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. The game features many elements of Norse mythology and culture, such as runes, sagas, skalds, and seers. Valhalla is depicted as a virtual simulation that Eivor can access through the Animus, a device that allows him to relive the memories of his ancestors.
Valhalla: This is a Netflix original series that is a spin-off of the historical drama Vikings. The series will focus on the adventures of some of the most famous Vikings who ever lived, such as Leif Erikson, Freydis Eiriksdottir, Harald Hardrada, and William the Conqueror. The series will also explore the mythology and spirituality of the Vikings, including their beliefs about Valhalla and the afterlife.
The current relevance and appeal of Valhalla
Valhalla has remained a popular and influential concept in modern culture, because it appeals to various aspects of human nature and society, such as:
Adventure: Valhalla represents a place of excitement and challenge, where the warriors can enjoy endless battles and feats of valor. It also represents a place of exploration and discovery, where the warriors can learn from Odin and the other gods about the secrets and mysteries of the universe.
Honor: Valhalla represents a place of recognition and respect, where the warriors can earn their place among the elite and noble. It also represents a place of loyalty and duty, where the warriors can serve their leader and their cause with devotion and courage.
Hope: Valhalla represents a place of reward and pleasure, where the warriors can indulge in their favorite food and drink, and share their stories and songs with their comrades. It also represents a place of renewal and rebirth, where the warriors can look forward to a new world after Ragnarök.
Valhalla is thus a concept that resonates with many people who seek adventure, honor, and hope in their lives. It is also a concept that reflects the values and ideals of many cultures and societies that have been influenced by Norse mythology and history.
Valhalla is one of the most fascinating and inspiring concepts in Norse mythology. It is a hall where Odin houses the dead whom he deems worthy of dwelling with him. It is a place where the warriors who die in battle are chosen by the valkyries to join him in his hall. It is a place where they feast on mead and meat, fight each other in mock combat, and prepare for the final battle of Ragnarök. It is a place that has influenced many works of art, media, and entertainment, and that has appealed to many aspects of human nature and society.
What does Valhalla mean?
Valhalla means "hall of the slain" in Old Norse. It refers to a hall where Odin houses the dead whom he deems worthy of dwelling with him.
Who can enter Valhalla?
Only those who die in battle with honor and courage can enter Valhalla. They also have to be noticed and chosen by a valkyrie, who serves as an agent of Odin. They also have to be accepted by Odin himself, who has the final say in choosing his guests.
What happens in Valhalla?
In Valhalla, the warriors feast on mead and meat that are provided by a goat and