The Valkyries

From A Brief History of the Vikings, by Jonathan Clements.vikings audible

Death in battle in the name of Odin was not a bad thing, at least in the eyes of the devout follower. For Odin was also the Chooser of the Slain, the valkojósandi. He had female assistants who bore the same name in the feminine form, valkyrjur, or valkyries, the terrifying furies of the Viking world. On several occasions in the sagas, there are comedic moments when Viking men seem meekly accepting of a situation, only to have a woman goad them into action – a woman’s worth was heavily reliant on that of her man, and the Viking wives could be fierce in their attempts to preserve it. The last bastion of Viking machismo, it often seems, lay not with themselves, but in their wish to appease their women.

The Valkyries were this furious nature personified, betraying a surprising terror and reification of female power. Their names are a catalogue of the things prized most by the belligerent Vikings, the famous Brynhildr is Bright Battle, but there are 51 others in extant sources. As with the Eskimos and their apocryphal twenty words for snow, the Vikings had many terms for discussing conflict. There was a Valkyrie of drunken brawling, Ale-Rune, and another of Taunts. To the Viking mind Battle herself was a woman, as were War, Tumult, Chaos, Devastation and Clash. The names of other Valkyries invoke images of war-goddesses to be appeased, or moments of belligerence personified: Extreme Cruelty, Sword-Time, or simply Killer. The most ominous is the Valkyrie that invokes that moment just before all hell breaks loose, Silence. Even Skuld, the Norn of Necessity, is numbered among the Valkyries on three occasions, her name perhaps better translated there as Blame. More prosaic misogyny may be found in others: Unstable, and the minor but still influential figure of Bossy.

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