In Norse mythology, a valkyrie (/vælˈkɪəri, -ˈkaɪri, vɑːl-, ˈvælkəri/; from Old Norse valkyrja "chooser of the slain") is one of a host of female figures who choose those who may die in battle and those who may live. Selecting among half of those who die in battle (the other half go to the goddess Freyja's afterlife field Fólkvangr), the valkyries bring their chosen to the afterlife hall of the slain, Valhalla, ruled over by the god Odin. There, the deceased warriors become einherjar (Old Norse "single (or once) fighters"). When the einherjar are not preparing for the events of Ragnarök, the valkyries bear them mead. Valkyries also appear as lovers of heroes and other mortals, where they are sometimes described as the daughters of royalty, sometimes accompanied by ravens and sometimes connected to swans or horses.
Valkyries are attested in the Poetic Edda (a book of poems compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources), the Prose Edda, the Heimskringla (both by Snorri Sturluson) and the Njáls saga (one of the Sagas of Icelanders), all written—or compiled—in the 13th century. They appear throughout the poetry of skalds, in a 14th-century charm, and in various runic inscriptions.
The word valkyrie derives from Old Norse valkyrja (plural valkyrjur), which is composed of two words: the noun valr (referring to the slain on the battlefield) and the verb kjósa (meaning "to choose"). Together, they mean 'chooser of the slain'. The Old Norse valkyrja is cognate to Old English wælcyrge. From the Old English and Old Norse forms, philologist Vladimir Orel reconstructs the Proto-Germanic form *wala-kuzjōn. However, the term may have been borrowed into Old English from Old Norse: see discussion in the Old English attestations section below.
Other terms for valkyries in Old Norse sources include óskmey ("wish maid"), appearing in the poem Oddrúnargrátr and Óðins meyjar ("Odin's maids"), appearing in the Nafnaþulur. Óskmey may be related to the Odinic name Óski (roughly meaning "wish fulfiller"), referring to the fact that Odin receives slain warriors in Valhalla.
Old Norse attestations
In the poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, a prose narrative says that an unnamed and silent young man, the son of the Norwegian King Hjörvarðr and Sigrlinn of Sváfaland, witnesses nine valkyries riding by while sitting atop a burial mound. He finds one particularly striking; this valkyrie is detailed later in a prose narrative as Sváva, King Eylimi's daughter, who "often protected him in battles". The valkyrie speaks to the unnamed man, and gives him the name Helgi (meaning "the holy one"). The previously silent Helgi speaks; he refers to the valkyrie as "bright-face lady", and asks her what gift he will receive with the name she has bestowed upon him, but he will not accept it if he cannot have her as well. The valkyrie tells him she knows of a hoard of swords in Sigarsholm, and that one of them is of particular importance, which she describes in detail. Further into the poem, Atli flytes with the female jötunnHrímgerðr. While flyting with Atli, Hrímgerðr says that she had seen 27 valkyries around Helgi, yet one particularly fair valkyrie led the band:
Three times nine girls, but one girl rode ahead, white-skinned under her helmet; the horses were trembling, from their manesdew fell into the deep valleys, hail in the high woods; good fortune comes to men from there; all that I saw was hateful to me.
Female figures and cup and horn-bearers
Viking Age stylized silver amulets depicting women wearing long gowns, their hair pulled back and knotted into a ponytail, sometimes bearing drinking horns, have been discovered throughout Scandinavia. These figures are commonly considered to represent valkyries or dísir. According to Mindy MacLeod and Bernard Mees, the amulets appear in Viking Age graves, and were presumably placed there because "they were thought to have protective powers".