Welcome to the first official Medievalist Monday. This is the fourth week, which means we’ll be covering something related to Medieval Iceland. Because so much revolves around the idea of Valhalla in Norse mythology it seemed like a good place to begin (next month we’ll follow up with Ragnarok, the other big thing that pops up quite often).
In the Norse mythology, they believed that Valhalla, which means “hall of the fallen”, was the place where the the god Odin would house the dead that are judged worthy of dwelling there. Rather than a selection process of people who were good, the selections were brave and distinguished warriors who are being stored away in order to take part in the eventual coming of Ragnarok. These warriors are known as the Einherjar. And while you might think that Odin would be the one to judge these warriors, they are actually selected by Odin’s team of Valkyries. Yet not all warriors who die will go to Odin at Valhalla (although this is the one many dream of going to), but some are selected to go to Freya’s hall of Folkvang. Which is why many Vikings would go into battle and attempt to accomplish great feats: they wanted to be chosen for Valhalla.
What do they do all day in Valhalla? They are fighting, of course! They are always fighting, as the day of Ragnarok will arrive and they should be in the best fighting-shape, right? And after the battle, the warrior emerge healed and sit together around the tables in the great hall. This is something that was remarkably well-done in Rick Riordan’s first Magnus Chase book (a positively delightful read if you have even the least interest in Norse mythology!)
There are a few descriptions of Valhalla. It is rumored to have five hundred and forty doors. It is decorated with spears and shields and breast-plates (as if anything else would be fitting for a hall of heralded heroes) and is guarded by a wolf and an eagle. The best place to turn to for the source material on Valhalla, and other Norse mythology information, would be either the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda. But if you are the casual reader who is interested in Norse mythology, I can’t recommend the Magnus Chase book (soon to be books) enough.
The Vikings series on the History channel does a good job of capturing the essence of Valhalla and its importance to the warriors with this scene of dialogue: