Valkryie: Too good to be true?
Updated: Jun 26
After re-watching the incredible Thor Ragnarock and listening to an equally incredible History Hit podcast episode with Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir; I had to just find more information on the real Viking women Valkryie - that's if it is not complete legend from the Sagas.
The stories about Valkryie have always captivated us. Why so? I can hardly think of any other times where we have badass women on the battlefield; other than perhaps Boudicca and Joan of Arc. I personally believe the Vikings have such a reputation in history that we gobble up anything about them. Today with more and more people (finally) searching for more women in history, the valkyrie really present the opportunity to appeal to a lot of people to make engaging women history.
First things first, what even are Valkryie?
Well, this question isn't so simple. According to Norse Mythology, Valkyries are any group of maidens who serve the god Odin and are sent by him to battlefields to choose the slain who were worthy of a place in Vallhalla. They rode onto the battlefield on horses, equipped with helmets and shield. Some accounts actually say they flew through the air and sea. Old Norse literature refers to pure supernatural Valkryie, having the ability to cause the death of warriors they weren't so keen on; protect lives and ships of those close to them; and of course the previously mentioned flying. However, the literature does also refer to human Valkryie, which did also share supernatural power.
I know what you are thinking, by that definition Valkyries are of course too good to be true. As much as I wish that was how real Viking women were, alas not, that is of course pure mythology. Nevertheless, there is evidence that in the Viking world there were women warriors ie real-life Valkyrie.
The first most compelling piece of evidence for real-life Valkyrie is a grave in the Swedish Viking town of Birka. In 1878, archaeologists discovered a single 10th-century burial tomb believed to hold the remains of a great warrior.
The site was filled with a trove of weapons, including a sword, spear, shield and two horses, as well as a game board likely used to map out military strategies.
This tomb was one of two out of 1,100 tombs at Birka to contain a full set of weaponry, showing how high a status this warrior would have had.
The archaeologists presumed its occupant was a male warrior. However, researchers in 2017 conducted a bone analysis and announced that the warrior was actually female. Now, this is of course extremely compelling evidence that this warrior was an example of Valkryie. However, we can not conclusively say this was a woman warrior as this person could have identified as a man, being transgender. We, of course, cannot know for sure whether this was a Valkyrie or just evidence of really liberal Vikings (take some notes). Either way, this is incredibly interesting archaeological research and it sure points to there being Valkryie.
More evidence that supports there being Valkryie is a silver figurine which was found in 2012 in Hårby, Denmark.
The figure is only 3.4 cm in size. It clearly represents a woman with the knotted-pony tail and long garments, characteristic of other female representations in Viking art. The function of the figure is unclear. This could point to real Valkryie existing.
I know you sense the but coming and here it is. This figure does not seem like a realistic representation of what a Valkryie would be like. Firstly, long garments would be a hassle on the battlefield and secondly, an unprotected head is not a good way to go to battle with, for obvious reasons. This, therefore, does point to figure being just symbolic or spiritual. Yet we can not use this to prove Valkryie as we honestly just don't know.
I honestly could talk about Valkyrie all-day and probably debate their existence all-day too. The evidence really swings like a seesaw you take it pretty much both way. This is what I think makes this topic so much fun to discuss.
So to answer my own question: are Valkryie too good to be true? I am going to have to swing more to the affirmative. We don't have enough conclusive evidence to definitely say they did or didn't exist.
Am I going to stop imagining badass Viking warriors? No, definitely not.
Let me know what you think and any other evidence I may have missed! I am no expert on Valkryie just your average history lover.
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