The Valkyries were the daughters of Odin, chief god of the Norse pantheon. They escorted the spirits of the bravest slain warriors, the einherjar, to Valhalla, Odin’s great hall. The name Valkyrie means choosers of the slain.
The einherjar were taken to Valhalla to prepare for the final battle, called Ragnarok. This battle would mark the end of the gods and change the fate of everything.
The Valkyries’ names were Brynhild, Göll, Göndul, Gudr, Gunn, Herfjoturr, Hildr, Hladgunnr, Hlokk, Hrist, Sigrdrifa, Sigrún, and Svafa. They were portrayed as beautiful young women armed with helmets and spears, and they rode winged horses.
The Valkyries also often acted as Odin’s messengers. According to the myth, when they rode forth on their errands, their bright, glinting armor caused the strange lights of the aurora borealis.
Some scholars have speculated that originally the Valkyries were priestesses. These were not beautiful young maidens in armor but old women who selected victims for human sacrifice. But the image of beautiful women taking the brave warriors up to Valhalla replaced this less pleasant image.
The nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner included the Valkyries in his operatic work Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung; 1869–1876), commonly known as “The Ring Cycle,” which is based on Norse mythology. One of the most familiar melodies from that work is the orchestral overture, commonly known as “Ride of the Valkyries.”