Freya is *NOT* Queen of the Valkyries
I have seen this error floating around the Internet and repeated by otherwise thoughtful people for over fifteen years. Personally, I blame D.J. Conway and assorted “Goddess” oriented Pagans (yay. Let’s roll all our Goddesses into one SUUU-PER Goddess and call it a day. * sarcasm *) determined to leave a doggedly feminist imprint on contemporary Heathen practice regardless of what the lore and our theology actually says. It seems incomprehensible to some folks that the Valkyries, powerful warrior beings, who are choosers of the slain, are under the aegis of Odin, not Freya, and, in fact, not any Goddess.(1)
The Valkyries belong to Odin, so much so that I’ve even seen some scholars claim they were His hypostases. They are, at the very least, extensions of His will. (We see this, for instance in the story of Brynhild, who violates His will and is punished for it). (2) Certainly one of their other, lesser known names is ‘Odin’s maids.” (3) The Valkyries are, in some ways, like the Greek Keres. They hunt the field of battle and enact fate: they choose the slain who are then destined either for Valhalla, or for Folkvangr. Here we see the only connection that Freya has with the Valkyrie: She cut a deal with Odin to receive first pick of the battlefield dead. This does not make Her a Valkyrie, neither does it make Her Queen of the Valkyries.
Part of the problem may simply be linguistic confusion. Wyrd Dottir, in her article about Freya and the Valkyries notes:
“The word valkyrie is composed of two Old Norse words. The first valr means ‘corpses on the battlefield’ and the second kjosa means ‘to choose,’ thus the word valkyrie means ‘those who choose the slain.’
Freyja’s two poetic names that also share the root valr are:
Eidandi Valfalls (in the Skaldskaparmal) which means ‘Possessor of the Slain’
Valfreyja (in Njal’s Saga) which means ‘Mistress of the Chosen’”(4)
We already know that Freya possesses half the slain warriors, thanks to Her deal with Odin, and of those warriors She is their Mistress – they reside in Her hall Folkvangr and as such owe Her fealty. Apparently from there, it is a hop, skip, and a jump in faulty logic to handing over possession of the Valkyries too.
R. Ellis Davidson notes that from their earliest history, Germanic peoples “believed in fierce female spirits doing the command of the war god, stirring up disorder, taking part in battle, seizing and perhaps devouring the slain.”(5) That war God is Odin. He is a god of many things, powerfully among them battle and death.
As Mardoll M. put it in a recent conversation, “To have the Waelcyrge(6) select battle corpses for His Hall ( the Einherjar) is part of the All Father’s magic, ecstasy, and His war God aspects. It’s His Wod and His Wod is tied to death.”(7)
I think this is a perfect example of the need to guard against putting politics before the Gods, the tradition, and the community. It is certainly in part due to unquestioning feminist scholarship, and unlearned feminist adaptation of the surviving lore that we have seen this particular fallacy gain such traction and it actually is incredibly disrespectful to Freya. Freya is powerful. She is a Goddess with Her own areas of sovereignty, including war, but it diminishes Her to spread these untruths. It says She isn’t powerful enough.
- Though we do see the Goddess Eir listed amongst the Valkyries. Modern UPG, interestingly enough, connects Her with battlefield/combat medicine. The Norn Skuld, Who cuts the threads of one’s life, is likewise listed amongst the Valkyries. They are listed among them, not ever given sovereignty over them, which I find significant. What this says about Odin and His connection to fate I’ll leave for another post.
- Later Norse lore humanizes the Valkyries to a great degree moving them from occasionally being directed to guide mortal heroes to actually marrying mortal heroes. I personally suspect that later Christian writers conflated actual female warriors with Valkyrie much as we see actual female warriors being conflated with amazons by Greek and Roman writers. Likewise some scholars (like Rudolf Simek) associate them with the Disir, Idisi, or Matronae, powerful female ancestors, possibly warrior goddesses, or guardian spirits of the dead (one’s ancestral lineage?). It seems that quite a few different types of beings came to be conflated here, especially in later Anglo-Saxon writing. The Valkyries do bear some connection to the Nornir, but they are clearly not the Nornir who lay the laws of wyrd and direct fate (with the possible exception of Skuld). The Nornir determined fate, the Valkyries executed a very specific type of fate associated with death in battle, and in this function, they specifically obeyed and acted upon Odin’s will.
- Óðins meyjar, found in the Skáldskaparmál. They are also referred to as “Odin’s Disir” in the Guðrúnarkviða.
- See the full article here.
- See Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, 61-62.
- This is the Anglo-Saxon word for Valkyrie.
- Quoted with permission from a facebook conversation on May 2, 2016.