Valhalla in Norse mythology represents the paradise of warriors who fell in battle.
The word comes from the old Nordic language Valholl and means “hall of the slain”. The Vikings held their councils and parties in such large halls with spread tables full of food and mead. Valhalla is such a huge hall full of gold that belongs to Odin. Over time, the Viking paradise was confused with Valhalla, but the afterlife in Norse mythology is much more complicated. The land of the gods is called Asgard, and there are several halls and palaces here. Each god has such a hall palace. Depending on the way you died and the place you occupied in Viking society, you ended up in such a place. The warriors who had fought valiantly and died on the battlefield with swords in hand were reaching Odin’s Hall. They were chosen by Odin and led here by the Valkyries, warrior maidens riding on winged horses.
Only half of the warriors killed on the battlefield reached Odin in Valhalla. The other half reached the goddess Freya, on the Folkvangr field.
The warriors of Valhalla were known as Einherjar and they did nothing but feast and get drunk, fighting each other, until the coming of Ragnarok when they will be called by Odin. This myth appears very often in Germanic and Viking heroic legends.
In front of this hall stands the golden tree Glasir, and the roof of the Valhalla hall is covered with golden shields. Around this hall live strange creatures such as:
– the deer Eikthyrni that eats the roots of the tree and from its horns a liquid flows into the magical spring Hvergelmir, the source of the rivers of the whole world
– the Heidrun goat that eats the leaves of the magic tree and produces mead for the warriors
Valhalla appears attested in the Poetic Edda, writing from the 13th century, but also in the writings of Snorii Sturluson. Valhalla has inspired numerous works of art, literary works, but also elements of popular culture.
WHAT DOES VALHALLA LOOK LIKE IN NORSE MYTHOLOGY?
Even Odin himself tells us in the poetic Edda what Valhalla looks like. He talks about a huge hall, shiny and golden. From here, Odin chooses every day the fallen warriors worthy of this privilege. Valhalla has walls covered with racks of spears and ceilings covered with golden shields. On its benches are chain mail, in front of it is a wolf and an eagle flying above.
Odin’s home is in Asgard. And before entering Valhalla you must pass the holy doors of the great Valgrind Gate. Valhalla has 540 doors through which 800 warriors can exit at the same time. Through these doors, the einherjar will come out to fight the wolf Fenrir at Ragnarok.
Also in Valhalla, we find Thor’s room, called Bilskirnir. This hall has 540 rooms, and Odin tells us that this is the largest hall in Valhalla. So here we mean by Valhalla not just a hall, but an area of Asgard, the realm of the gods.
We have reports from other Viking legends about this place. In some, it is said that the last warriors who arrived here are made to bring water to wash their feet, take care of dogs or horses, maintain the fire or feed the pigs. Therefore, there is also a hierarchy here. Probably depending on the merits and prestige on the battlefield and in the life of the fallen warrior. You just wouldn’t have made Siegfried or Ragnar feed the pigs.
The Vikings believed in these places. And from their legends, we understand that these places were natural for them and you could get there if you followed certain commandments. Thus, we have the legend of King Gylfi who decides to arrive in Asgard disguised as an old man. He wanted to know the source of the gods’ power. But the wise gods knew of his arrival and prepared a series of illusions for him. When he reached the Valhalla fortress, the ceiling seemed untouchable. Also, the king sees many warriors who were drinking or playing games, and others fighting. The king sees three thrones, and on them sit the rulers of the gods. The king is told that warriors who fell in battle become Odin’s adopted sons. Valkyries serve mead at the warriors’ tables. They are all sent to the battlefield after those chosen by Odin and decide the victory. Some believed that they were the wives of these warriors.
The king wonders how so many people can live in the same place, all the warriors from the beginning of time. But it is explained to him that they are only half, and they still will not be enough against the wolf Fenrir. The king wonders what Odin feeds them with and is shown the boar Sæhrímnir, prepared in a magical cauldron, which is eaten every evening by gods and warriors.
Odin has in Valhalla two wolves, Geri and Freki, and two ravens, Hugin and Munin. The king is also told that Valhalla is so big that it still has accessible rooms for warriors.
HOW DO YOU GET TO VALHALLA?
The Nordic peoples were among the few cultures that created a mythology that did not necessarily promise the eternal continuation of life in the afterlife for the souls of the deceased. They believed that the world was headed for a final destruction called Ragnarok, and gods and humans would have to fight in a cosmic battle. After this Apocalypse, a new world will arise with new gods and a new human race.
In Norse beliefs, Odin himself had ordered the burial laws of the Vikings. These laws say that all the dead must be burned at the stake and a mound built to bury them with all their possessions during life. Their ashes must be brought to sea or buried in the ground. So the dead will reach Valhalla and visit it.
In Valhalla, heroes such as Sigmund, Eric Secure-Bloody, and the gods arrive.
Those who died of disease, old age, or other reasons ended up in Hel, in the realm of the dead. Only the warriors reached the land of Asgard, the home of the god’s Aesir and Vanir.
MODERN INFLUENCES IN GAMES, FILMS, ART, AND LITERATURE
The “Valhalla” concept, both philosophical and material, continued to have influence even after the Middle Ages until our popular culture today. Examples include of course the famous castle built by Ludwig I of Bavaria in the 1800s in the mountains of Germany. But also museums, works of art, literary works, and many others.
Also, among the famous references in art, we have the work The Ring of the Nibelung composed by Richard Wagner. During the First World War, there was also a Nazi magazine in Munich called Walhalla. But also a series of comics with the same name, written by Peter Madsen in 1986.
Valhalla also appears in the movie Mad Max: Road Fury from 2005, but also in games as famous as God of War, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla scheduled for 2020.
HOW DID THE NORDIC SEE DEATH, DESTINY, AND FATALISM?
The Nordics had a very fatalistic view of the world. They believed that the fate of every man and God was already fixed and could not be changed. The Norse personified fate in the Nornes, female mythological beings responsible for the fate of gods and men alike. They knew that they could not escape the fate that had been predestined for them, that they could not run away from it, so they had to accept it and believe that it was given to them by the Norns. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why many young Nordics from Scandinavia were ready to dress up in raids starting from Russia and ending in Ireland during the Viking Age. If their fate was to die, it was better to die gloriously in battle on a dangerous expedition. That way you could reach Odin’s halls and honor the gods in Valhalla.
So were the warriors of Valhalla destined to fight and perish in Ragnarok, the final battle. Valhalla was only a temporary home to help them prepare for the great war.
And the ancient Greeks had the Elysian Fields, the place where after death, the fallen heroes went to live in eternal happiness. The rest of the souls went to the Asphodel Plain and lived as in life.
HOW DOES THE BURIAL OF A VIKING TAKE PLACE? NOT ALL VIKINGS WERE BURIED ON SHIPS
Like many other ancient societies, the Vikings believed in the afterlife and based their belief on it. From the written texts and the archaeological discoveries, we find specific details about the burials of the Vikings.
At least about the Vikings on the Volga who sent their king to Valhalla in a huge burning ship. Human sacrifices were not forgotten either, a young slave offering to follow her captain in the afterlife. But before going upstairs, the girl had sexual relations with six men, so she could collect their “essence of life” for the deceased boss. But it is believed that these rituals were
Also, the Vikings believed that you can take your possessions with you in the afterlife. The Vikings believed that the warriors who fell in battle had to be equipped as such to reach Odin in Valhalla ready for battle. They had to bring their weapons, shields, and armor with them. So, you had to leave for Valhalla in a battleship. If you didn’t have a ship, then the mound of earth where your remains were buried had to have the shape of a ship. It seems that only high-ranking Vikings, kings, and chieftains could afford such a thing. And the famous version in which these vessels were set on fire at sea is not true at all, archaeological research has not revealed anything in this regard.
The Vikings also believed that if the dead were not buried properly, they could come back as ghosts to haunt the living. These undead zombie beings destroyed crops, causing defeat in battles and diseases. When a Draugr was identified, the Vikings dug it up and buried it again with more goods. Or they put a stake in his heart and decapitate him.