Norse full moon ceremony at Gokstad burial mound, Norway
Disputes throughout the ages have been ‘solved’ by combat. In Viking Age Scandinavia, sometimes a dispute became an unregulated duel called Einvigi, “single combat”, other times it was solved by a regulated duel called Holmgang “small-island walk”. This meant that all Norsemen had to be ready to fight to protect their property with their life, at all times.
In Viking Age Scandinavia, there was no regulated police force to take care of disputes. To keep peace and order, Viking society used a Viking ‘Code of honor’ system and a system of laws concerning property and crimes. In this self-regulated society, the Viking honor system was ingrained in everyone, and the concept of "honor" and of a "good name" was extremely important for the survival of the family or clan.
The Viking ‘Code of honor’ held that any apparent insult, deliberate or imagined, had to be paid for with money or blood. Honor had to be defended, or people would feel they could insult any member of any family with fear of consequences. This system left the choice of payment to the victim or victim’s family. If compensation was denied, Viking society demanded blood vengeance. This was justified revenge, which could be realized as arson or manslaughter.
Respect in the Viking community was a high priority, and any offence, in word or deed, or anything that might have hurt a person's honor, had to be dealt with in order to uphold that respect. Vengeance was not a punishment from the person whose honor was tarnished, vengeance repaired the honor of the injured person. Vengeance didn’t have to be directed against the individual who caused the offense, it could be directed at a close family member to the offender.
Grágás, the medieval Icelandic lawbook, permitted a man who was seriously injured, to avenge himself without penalty at any time, up until the time the case was brought to court. Sometimes, even when the law forbade vengeance, there were cases when public opinion demanded it. In Viking society, duels were an accepted way of making good in such situations.
The main Viking laws were rules for inheriting property and describing various crimes and their punishments. Anyone who killed a man accidentally, had to pay the man’s relatives what the man was worth, which depended on the man’s status. Blood feuds could be ended with one death cancelled out another death of equal value. The worst crimes were punished by banishment.
These laws were based upon the Ting (thing) system, the Viking legislative assembly and court, created through common-meetings that dated back to at least the 7th century. Norse legalities were created and disputed in a Ting, and there were many types of Ting in Norse society. The first settlers of Iceland were greatly influenced by their Norwegian roots when creating their own form of government, and the World’s oldest National Parliament is the Allting, or All-Thing, created in Þingvellir, Iceland in the year 930.
Not only did the Norse people have laws, we know what they were like. ‘Law and Order’ comes from the Old Norse words “Lov og Orden”, were legalities memorized and argued by a "lovsigemann" (law reader man). Every free man had to respect Norse law, including chieftains and kings. The Norse law system was democratic and included everybody as citizens, except slaves and outlaws.
If a person in Viking society was convicted of being a criminal, he or she was either fined or declared an “out-law”. Outlawry was one of the harshest penalties in the Norse legal system. Outlaws had to live outside of society and were forced to live in the wild. No one was allowed to help outlaws in any way whatsoever, and outlaws were free game for their enemies, who were free to hunt such a criminal down and kill them.
Whether it was a matter of honor, ownership, property, compensation, debt, legal disagreement, a contended fine, or to help a family member or friend, a duel could decide who was in the right. Hólmganga, the Old Norse for holmgang, was a regulated duel that was a common way of solving disputes. Anyone offended could legally challenge the other party to holmgang, regardless their difference in social status.
If the duel was agreed inland, then the holmgang would take place either on a pre-specified area, or on a traditional place that was commonly used for a holmgang. If the duel was agreed near the coast, then a small islet, hulme (holme) or skerry was chosen as the place where the holmgang would occur. A duel fought on small, deserted island, prevented cowards from running away, and limited possible interference from third parties.
Many descriptions of holmgang duels in the sagas begin with a recitation of hólmgöngulög, the dueling law. This law varies from one saga to the next, but there are similarities and detailed rules. A holmgang would take place 3 to 7 days after the challenge, and it had to be agreed that the holmgang would be won by first blood or by death. All weapons were allowed, though swords and shields were favorite weapons for a holmgang. Combatants were permitted a specific number of shields they could use, usually three, which could be used if an opponent's strikes broke a shield. The challenged was allowed to strike first and then the combatants were free to strike.
The Swedish Hednalagen, (Pagan law) is a fragment from a 13th century document from Västergötland in Sweden, which stipulates the conditions for a holmgang:
• If someone speaks insults to another man (”You’re not the like of a man, and not a man in your chest!” – ”I’m a man like you!”), they shall meet where three roads meet. If he who has spoken comes and not the insulted one, then he shall be as he’s been called: no right to swear oaths, no right to bear witness, may it concern man or woman.
• If the insulted one comes and not he who has spoken, then he shall cry ”Niðingr!” three times and make a mark in the ground, and he is worse who spoke what he dared not keep.
• Now both meet fully armed: if the insulted one falls, the compensation is half a weregild; if he who has spoken falls, insults are the worst, the tongue the head’s bane, he shall lie in a field of no compensation.
In Kormakssaga, it’s stated that holmgang was fought on an ox hide or cloak with sides that were three meters long. The hide or cloak was staked to the ground in a specific manner that is unknown. Then the area was marked by drawing three borders around the square hide, each about one foot from the previous one. Corners of the outermost border were marked with hazel staves, and holmgang combatants had to fight inside these borders. Stepping out of borders meant forfeiture and running away meant cowardice.
Also in the Saga of Kormak is mention of a sacrifice of a bull before the holmgang and there are many references about the sacrifice the winner made after the victory. In this saga, it’s stated that holmgang combat would normally end on the first blood and the winner would receive three marks of silver. This was intended to avoid unnecessary loss of life and excessive profiteering, and is confirmed in later Icelandic versions of holmgang. If the dispute was about a specific property, the most the winner could receive was the three marks of silver.
To begin a holmgang, the challenger had to recite the rules, traditional or those agreed upon, before the duel could begin. Rules determined the allowed weapons, who was eligible to strike first, what constituted a defeat or forfeiture. In Gunnlaugs saga, it is stated that when a man became weaponless, he was defeated, but losing a weapon did not necessarily mean defeat, as a duelist could use glima. In Egils saga, it’s said that Egill killed Atli in a duel by grappling with him and biting out his throat.
Some holmgang duels were resolved quickly, such as the one described in Víga-Glúms saga, where Eyjólf's first blow cut off Ásgaut's foot. Ásgautur then paid his opponent to release himself from the duel, and lived the rest of his life as a cripple. Some holmgang duels went on for a long time, and Þorsteins þáttur stangarhöggs tells of a duel between Þórsteinn and Bjarni that lasted so long that they stopped multiple times to rest and refresh themselves.
In Ljósvetninga saga, another form of holmgang is mentions. Here, the duel has four men on each side. The challenge was offered by Hrólfur as either a duel one on one with his opponent Eyjólfur, or with four men on each side. It was agreed that the challenger had the privilege of choosing who the additional men would be on each side, and Hrólfr chose mercenaries and robbers to fight alongside him.
If a holmgang ended with the death or incapacitation of a combatant, it was not considered murder, and the winner could not become outlaw, or have to pay weregeld. To win a duel was regarded as proof that the winner was in the right, because the Norse gods always helped the "right" man to win. The Norse god Tyr was often called upon for in a Holmgang, as Tyr was the Viking god of dueling and justice.
If the person challenged did not turn up for the holmgang, the challenger was considered the winner. If the offended party did not turn up for the holmgang, they were deemed niðingr (nithinger), meaning a nothing-person. This was a social stigma implying the loss of honor, with the status of coward or villain, and such a person could be also sentenced to outlawry.
Because of the massive consequences of holmgang, if a person was clearly outclassed, unable or unwilling to defend their claim, a capable warrior could volunteer to fight in their place. The law also gave a person involved in a dispute the right to choose a warrior to fight in their stead. This led to Viking warriors traveling from thing to thing as professional duelers, fighting for someone who didn’t have the ability or means to fight for themselves.
In most instances, both parties agreed to what the winner would receive, but in Norway, the winner of a holmgang could claim everything the loser owned. With such stakes, professional Viking duelists used Holmgang as a form of legalized robbery. Some claimed rights to land, women, or property, and proved their claims in a Holmgang duel, at the expense of the legitimate owner. Many sagas describe berserks who abused holmgang in this way. With this abuse of the Viking legal system, Holmgang duels began to be outlawed in the Nordic countries.
Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, "the Saga of Gunnlaugr Serpent-Tongue", describes the last duel to take place in Iceland, in the 11th century. This saga is about two Icelandic poets, Gunnlaugr Ormstunga and Hrafn Önundarson, and their love of Helga the Fair, granddaughter of Egill Skallagrímsson. Their competition for Helga resulted in a duel of honor at the Alþing, which ended as a draw. The next day, the law council abolished duels in Iceland. Gunnlaugur and Hrafn traveled to Norway to continue their duel, in which Hrafn killed Gunnlaugur, only to die himself shortly thereafter.
Christianity changed the Holmgang to an ordeal by fire. Járnburdr is the Old Norse name of the ordeal of grabbing a hot iron from boiling water and walking 9 paces with it carrying it with both hands to prove innocence.
With the increasing popularity of Viking fighting, friendly holmgang competitions regularly take place at Viking festivals around the world. These modern Viking duels are exciting to watch and thrilling to take part in, whether it is in training, show, demonstration or competition, and although they are not fought to first blood or death, there is still the element of danger and injury from the blunt steel weapons used.
Viking warriors headed one of the most legendary elite fighting units in history, the Varangian Guard. The Varangian Guard was a specialist fighting force in the Byzantine army, when the Byzantine Empire was the most powerful economic, cultural and military force in Europe. Viking warriors also formed the personal bodyguard to the Emperor of Byzantium, which became Constantinople, then later Istanbul, the most populated city in Turkey.
At a time when most Vikings were busy conquering or plundering in Europe, this unit of Scandinavian warriors was protecting Byzantine emperors, and fighting for the Byzantine Empire in the many wars it was involved in. Here, the Varangian guard often played a decisive role, as they were typically used at critical moments of a battle. These Viking warriors were tough and capable. They had weapons, armor, and organized training in order to function as the elite mercenary fighting unit in dangerous and decisive battles around the Middle East.
From the 9th to 14th century, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic warriors were part of this exclusive guard. The Varangians were not a specific ethic group, though the Byzantines used it to indicate any Norseman. The word Varangian is from the Old Norse word ‘var’ meaning pledge, and that pledge was to each other.
Norsemen who arrived in Byzantium did not automatically enter the Imperial Guard. This was a highly prized and very exclusive unit. The Varangian Guard received higher pay, and had the privilege to be among the first to loot and plunder after a victory. For the Viking warriors, who were members of the Varangian Guard, it was a singular high honor, to be called the “emperor’s axe-bearing barbarians.”
The first record of Vikings in Byzantium is in the year 839, when they were on their way home to Scandinavia via Germany. In 860, Byzantines faced a large Viking raiding force that terrorized Constantinople for ten days. In the year 874, Swedish warriors, called Rus, the Old Norse word for route, became the earliest members of the Varagian guard. As early as 911, the Varangian guard is mentioned in records, as mercenaries fighting for the Byzantine Emperors.
Around the year 1000, Vikings had become the primary body guard of the Emperor Basil II, who also used the Scandinavian warriors in his battles. While the Varangian Guard comprised of about 6000 warriors, it was rarely used as a single unit. Most often, units of 500 men were used, frequently to carry out orders that were particularly brutal, destructive, or dealt with political situations.
There are two main reasons that the Varangians became the bodyguard unit to the Emperor. The first was the sense of loyalty that was the core value of Viking culture. The second was that the Varangians came from distant lands and were indifferent to the political intrigues that enveloped the Emperor. The Norsemen were especially appreciated for their loyalty, and according to , the Greek princess Anna Comnena, a major source of information regarding Byzantine history, Norsemen in the Varangian Guard passed down this loyalty from generation to generation almost like a sacred heritage.
The connection between Byzantium and Scandinavia proved ideal for the recruitment of mercenaries. The rich empire had constant need for reliable troops, and Scandanavia’s warrior population looking to make their fortune, was the perfect match. In battle, the Varangian Guard proved itself constantly, and quickly earned a reputation for being the elite of the Byzantine army. A Byzantine chronicle tells of battles in southern Italy in 1018 against Lombards and Normans: "When the Emperor learned that brave knights had invaded his country, he sent his best soldiers against them. In the first three battles the Normans were victorious. But when they encountered the Rus, they were defeated and their army was completely destroyed."
Except for some names on rune stones, and small passages in some Icelandic sagas, very little is known about members of the Varangian guard. The exception is Harald Sigurdsson, who became known as Harald Harðráði, which means ‘hard ruler’ in Old Norse.
As a boy, Harald was forced to leave Norway, when his half-brother was overthrown. Harald made his way to Kiev in Russia, where his brother-in-law Yaroslav ruled. In the year 1034, Harald led 500 men to Byzantium to join the Varangian Guard, and eventually became leader of the guard.
After learning that his nephew was now on the throne of Norway, Harald decided to leave the guard and return home. In the year 1042, political turmoil overtook Byzantium, and Harald is credited with blinding the deposed Emperor Michael V. After being accused of misappropriating booty, Harald and his men had to sneak out of the city. Not long afterwards, Harald took the throne of Norway, and then tried to take the throne of England.
The Fourth Crusade that took place in the years 1202–04, all but destroyed the Varangian Guard. In a siege the Varangians defended the Balchernae Palace, until the siege ended with the flight of the Emperor Alexius III and the sacking of Constantinople. The Varangian Guard resisted little and eventually surrendered.
After the Fourth Crusade, some members of the Varangian Guard fought for Latin and Greek Emperors as they fought to regain the Empire. By the middle of the 14th century the Varangians ceased to be a military unit and were mostly employed as mercenaries before disappearing from records.
The prowess of the Varangian Guard is unquestioned and they are an exciting and interesting part of World history.
Hávamál is one of the most important documents from Viking Age Scandinavia, and is well described as the Wisdom of the North. This collection of ancient sayings attributed to Odin, is to Scandinavian culture as the Tao is to China, the Vedas to India and the Iliad to Greece.
Hávamál means "the high one’s speech", or Odin's speech, and Hávamál is a collection of wisdom and guidlines for living, written as a poem and attributed to the Norse God Odin. Hávamál is both practical and supernatural in content, and expresses highly valued ideals such as wisdom, friendship, morality, caution, courage, and commonsense.
No one knows who wrote the Hávamál manuscript, or if it originated in Norway or Iceland, but Odin’s advice for living is believed to be based on a source from around the 9th century, and reference to Hávamál is found in the 10th century Hákonarmál by Eyvindr skáldaspillir.
Hávamál is the most famous poem from the Elder Edda manuscript, (also called the Poetic Edda), written around the year 1270. The Elder Edda consists of 32 poems in all, written on 45 pages of vellum, or calfskin parchment. The Elder Edda manuscript is beautifully made and stunning to look at, with ornate letters and decorated capitals to each paragraph.
The term Edda was originally the name for Snorri Sturlason's book on poetry from around 1220, and the word Edda is believed to be related to the word meaning grandmother, which means stories from grandma's time, a derivation of óðr, which means writing. Together with Snorri's Edda, the Elder Edda is the most important surviving source on Norse mythology and heroic legends.
In the first part of the Elder Edda, there are three poems by Odin as protagonist, of which the first is Hávamál. Hávamál is presented as a single poem in the Elder Edda, but its 164 verses make Hávamál the longest of all edda poems. Hávamál itself consist of at least five independent parts:
Verses 1-80 are known as Gestaþáttr, Hávamál guidelines for living, or the ‘Hávamál proper’.
Verses 81-102 are about women, love and Odin.
Verses 103-110 are about how Odin got the mead of poetry.
Verses 111-138 are called Loddfáfnismál, a collection of gnomic verses similar to Gestaþáttr.
Verses 139-146 are called Rúnatal, an account of how Odin won the runes.
Verses 147-165 are called Ljóðatal, which is a collection of spells.
Although the Elder Edda was written in the 13th century, we know nothing about its whereabouts until it was found in Iceland in 1643 by the Icelandic bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson. In 1662, almost 20 years after it was found, the Bishop sent the manuscript to Denmark as a gift to King Frederik III of Denmark and Norway. The manuscript was named Codex Regius, or Konungsbók (King’s Book) in Icelandic, and was incorporated in the Danish Royal Library's Manuscript Collection.
In 1971 the Elder Edda manuscript was transported back to Iceland by ship, accompanied by a military escort, and is now kept in the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The only surviving source for Hávamál is contained within the Elder Edda, and this priceless document is considered one of Iceland's most prized possessions.
Hávamál is a reflection of its time, and the poems are as tough and resilient as the Vikings themselves. Hávamál’s insight remains timeless and as relevant today as it was in the Viking Age. It has been handed down from generation to generation, and there is still much wisdom and inspiration to find here, inherited from our powerful ancestors.
Norse Mythology is a representation of Viking Age Scandinavian people's collective understanding of the universe, nature, history, customs, culture and spirituality. It is their collection of sacred stories, passed down from generation to generation, for over a thousand years.
The mythology of the Vikings is full of powerful gods and goddesses, sacred dieties that are heightened versions of the individuals who worshipped them. Most of the Norse gods and godesses are fertility beings, who are strong, passionate, brutal, committed, vengeful, lusty, courageous, crafty, and imbued with a dark sense of humor. Virile qualities that were valued by the Vikings, and woven into their daily lives as part of everything they were.
The most powerful Norse god is Odin, the Allfather of the Universe and ruler of the Æsir, the main gods in Norse mythology. Odin reigns in Asgard, from Old Norse Ásgarðr, meaning "Enclosure of the Æsir". Odin’s grandfather Buri was created by the primeval cow Audhumbla, who is the origin of the Æsir gods. Odin’s parents are Bestla and Bor, and he has two brothers, Vili and Ve. These three brothers are the first Æsir gods. Together they killed the giant Ymir and created the visible world from his body. The brothers also created the first human couple, Ask and Embla out of two logs that drifted by. The Allfather then gave both Ask and Embla a heart and soul.
The Norse God Odin has had many relationships with different women. With the goddess Fjörgyn, Odin has a son, Thor. With a Jotun woman called Grid, Odin has a son, Víðarr. With the goddess Rid, Odin has a son Váli, and it is possible that he also had sons Hermód and Höd with unknown mothers. Odin is married to the goddess Frigg, and together they have a son Baldr.
Odin is the Viking god of war, death and wisdom. His hall is the largest and most majestic of all the gods halls, and is called Valhalla, from Old Norse Valhöll, meaning "Hall of the slain". Odin's home is Valaskjálf, meaning "Shelf of the slain". Here, Odin has a throne called Hliðskjálf, which means "Mountain shelf". From this throne, Odin can looks over all the realms of the universe, and this world to see what people do.
As the most important Norse god of war, and the one who brings victory, Odin uses trickery and deception to defeat opponents and reach his goal. The Allfather has a spear called Gungnir, meaning "swaying one" in Old Norse ". Gungnir can hit any target, and was thrown over the heads of an opposing army to start the battle. Odin receives half of those who have fallen in battle. These Viking warriors become Einherjar and will fight beside Odin against evil at Ragnarok. In Old Norse Ragnarök means "Fate of the Gods" or "Twilight of the Gods".
Odin has many animals around him. His horse Sleipnir, mean "Slippy" in Old Norse, and is untamable and the fastest of all horses. Sleipner has eight legs, can run over land, water, mountains and in the air, and can navigate through the worlds. The Allfather has two wolves, Geri and Freki, meaning "the ravenous" and "greedy one" in Old Norse. These wolves sit in front of his throne in Valhalla. The Prose Edda refers to Odin as "raven-god" due to his association with his two ravens, Huginn, meaning "thought" or "conciousness", and Muninn, meaning "memory" or "mind". These two ravens fly all over Midgard, the realm of humans, and bring information to Odin, according to the 13th century Poetic Edda.
Odin has a voracious for wisdom, and in his insatiable search for knowledge, Odin sacrificed one of his eyes to drink from Mímisbrunnr, meaning "Mímir's well" in Old Norse. Odin also hanged himself for nine nights from the world tree Yggdrasil to recieve understanding, rune secrets and knowledge. Odin has great magic and is the Norse god of spells.
Odin often travels to Midgard, and walks among the people. Here he gave the gift of the runes to humans, and through Hávamál, Odin gave good advice on how people should live their lives, both physically and metaphysically. The Allfather has been worshiped by people since the migration period, and the ruling class were probably those who worshiped Odin most. The Allfather was both generous and cruel, and however people sacrificed to Odin and got his blessing, they never knew how the outcome would be, because in the middle of a situation, Odin could change his mind. In the Younger Edda, Snorri Sturluson describes Odin as the ancestor of the Royal lineage in Scandinavia.
The Scandinavian people of the Viking Age, who were surrounded by and lived in raw nature, believed that everything in nature had a spirit. It was incredibly important for Vikings to communicate with nature spirits, the spirits of their ancestors, and to cultivate their own strong spirit.
No diety personified nature to the Vikings more than the Norse goddess Fjorgyn. The Old Norse name Fjörgyn means Mother Earth, planet Earth, or land that is earth. Fjorgyn is the Norse people's oldest living Æsir goddess, their main fertility goddess, and the personification of the fertile earth. According to the Prose Edda, everything that happens on the planet Earth is because of the goddess Fjorgyn.
According to Snorri's Prose Edda, Odin created the Earth and fell in love with her. Fjorgyn became Odin's first wife, or mistress, and bore him a son, Thor, the God of thunder. This union between the sky god and the Earth created the strongest of all the Norse gods, a product of the earth's power.
Fjorgyn nurtures the divine children and protects mortal children, and thus humanity. Everything we humans surround ourselves with is created by Mother Earth, and everything that lives and then dies becomes the Earth. Fjorgyn nurtures all living things and takes everything that dies. The Norse people knew that our planet was alive and had a life. They showed Fjorgyn respect and knew that they had to take care of her fertility, because without her, there is no life.
Vikings knew that the Earth was incredibly old and had powerful forces. They also knew that when they cultivated the earth she became more fertile, and because of this they had a much better life. Vikings used earth in sacred rituals involving life events. In Sigrdrífumál, the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa (Brynhild) teaches her magic spells to Sigurd, in appreciation for his rescuing of her. The verse she uses mentions Fjorgyn, and is one of the oldest recorded greeting we know from the Norse culture:
heil sia in fiolnyta fold
mal oc manvit
gefit ocr męrom tveim
oc lęcnishendr meþan lifom
heil sjá in fjölnýta fold,
mál ok mannvit
gefið okkr mærum tveim
ok læknishendr, meðan lifum.
Hail bounteous earth!
Words and wisdom
give to us noble twain,
and healing hands in life!
Hail to the gods!
Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom
and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.
In Norse mythology, Odin sends his Valkyries to select the bravest warriors on Midgard. These brave warriors are then chosen by the valkyrie to die in battle and accompany them to Asgard. Once they are in Asgard, the fallen brave are divided between Odin and Freya. Those chosen by Odin are called Einherjar, which means One-army in Old Norse.
The sole purpose of the einherjar is to fight as Odin's warriors. Every day they train and prepare for the biggest battle in Norse Mythology; Ragnarök, meaning "Fate of the Gods".
The einherjar stay at Odin’s hall called Valhalla, the 'Hall of the fallen'. In Vallhalla, the einherjar will be taken care of by the valkyrie, who will give the warriors mead and ensure that they thrive.
In the morning when the einherjer wake, they ready themselves with their armor, helmet, shield and weapons, and then go to iðavöllr for combat training. The einherjar continue their brutal combat training until sundown, when the fallen arise unscathed, and all ride back to Valhalla as good friends, where the valkyrie serve mead and meat from the boar Sæhrímnir, to the einherjar warriors.
The einherjar symbol is the Valknut, a symbol consisting of three interlocked triangles. Valknut is from the Old Norse ‘valras’ meaning 'killed warriors’ and ‘knut’ meaning 'knot '. This symbol found on various Norse and Germanic places, like runestones and the Osberg ship.
One of the Norwegian kings who became an Einherjar is Håkon the Good. It is the valkyrie Skogul who chooses that the jarl will die in battle and be with her to Valhalla. When Håkon arrives at Valhalla, he dreads meeting Odin, as he chose a different faith. But Håkon is welcomed by the gods, and the god Bragi tells Håkon that he has eight brothers in Valhalla, that he should drink of the Æsir’s mead, and that would possess the peace from all einherjar.
Eirik Bloodaxe is another Norwegian king chosen to be einherjer. In Valhalla, the god Bragi wondered who was making the sound of thunder. Odin replied that Bragi know it was Eirik Bloodaxe who would shortly be arriving in Valhalla. There was a reason for celebration new einherjer came to Valhalla, especially einherjer who were kings.
Einherjar are a confirmation in Norse mythology, that to live a bold life, a person can be reborn at a higher level, meaning to live with the gods. With the gods, the einherjar have one task, which is to fight at Ragnarok, and sacrifice themselves for the new world.
Valkyrie are female spirits who are Odin's warriors. The Old Norse word valr, means those who fall in battle, and kyrja means to choose. In Old Norse, Valkyrie means the 'choosers of the slain', which describes their mission.
Valkyries choose the bravest and most courageous warriors to fall on a battlefield, and determine the outcome of the battle. The valkyries then take the fallen warriors with them to Asgard.
In Asgard the Norse goddess Freya gets half the fallen warriors and takes them to her home Folkvangen, "the field of the warriors". The remainder of the fallen warriors become Odin's einherjar and stay at Valhalla.
In Valhalla, the tasks of the valkyrie are to serve Odin and the einherjar. Here the valkyries ensure that the einherjar have enough mead to drink, which is an important ritual in Valhalla. The valkyries are important to sacred Norse ceremonies, and in such rituals, the valkyries fill the drinking horn with mead that brings out memories.
Valkyrie were concerned that the dead were buried in kindness, and the valkyries accompanied Odin and Frigg to one of the largest ceremonies in Norse Mythology, that of Balder's funeral.
There are two kinds of valkyrie in Norse mythology. The original valkyrie are those that come from Valhalla. The other valkyrie are half human and half divine, who lived on earth as mortal women, then traveled to Valhalla after their death.
They are also portrayed as everything from beautiful sheild-maiden/hostess to fearsome spirits. The Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, between 1220 and 1241, described valkyries as semi-goddesses with shield and sword or spear. Poems and sagas written before, and after, Snorri, have described the valkyries as monsters who tread bloody battlefields in search of brave warriors.
It is written that valkyries are armed and dressed in full armor, with shields and helmets. Valkyries are skilled riders and ride their horses in herds, through the air, water and overland. When valkyries come galloping through the air can than see a glimpse of the bright light that may seem like a lightning flash across the sky. When they are on the ground, it may look like they are on fire.
Valkyries are lovers of heroes and other mortals, and some valkyrie were the daughters of kings. Sometimes valkyries can change into swans, and sometimes they have with them ravens, who they can communicate with. In the poem Oddrúnargrátr, the valkyries are also called óskmey, "wish maid", and in the Nafnaþulur they are also called Óðins meyjar, "Odin's maids".
Valkyries also have knowledge of magical abilities of the runes. They also have the power of healing and are able to give good advice on how people should live their lives. Valkyries advise on how people should behave at a Thing, Viking parliament, that a man should not argue with someone who is drunk, that he should not let a beautiful women seduce him, that he should not force young girls or married women to sex, to not be vengeful on people who have flaunted themselves, and to be brave in battle.
Some valkyries went against Odin's will, which meant that he punished them harshly. The most famous of these is the valkyrie Brynhild, whose name means 'armor battle' or 'shining battle'. Brynhild has seven sisters, all of whom are valkyries, and she is known as the strongest of the valkyries.
In the Poetic Edda is a short Old Norse verse called Helreið Brynhild, "Brynhild's journey to Hel". The poem describes Brynhild as a Valkyrie and shieldmaiden. During an important assignment for Odin, Brynhild disappointed the All-father during an important assignment. As punishment, Odin sentenced her to live life as a mortal woman.
Brynhild was imprisoned in a remote castle, where she had to sleep inside a circle of flames until a brave man came to rescue and marry her. The brave hero who rescued her was 'Sigurd the dragon slayer', and the story has a tragic ending.