Valhalla

January 01, 2022 7 min read

Discover Everything About the Valhalla | Viking Heritage

Discover Everything you Should Know About the Valhalla

Valhalla is a legendary place in Norse mythology. It welcomes Viking warriors after their death in battle. But finally, what does it represent for the Scandinavian community? We tell you everything in this article.

Valhalla, a place linked to the gods

The first mention of Valhalla was made in 2 anonymous poems. The first honors the death of King Erik BloodAxe, who was killed in 954 at York, the English city conquered by the Great Army. The second honors the death of Hakon The Good of Norway, another great king. He also died in battle, in 961. These 2 texts described an aristocratic vision of life, since only a few privileged, carefully selected people have access to it.

The Poetic Edda describes Valhalla in this way: "Gladsheim is named the fifth, where the golden glow of this hall has become throughout the worlds, the legendary Valhalla here Odin chooses each day, the Einherjars killed in battle."

When we know the importance of the sacred texts of the Edda, we can immediately say that it is a mythical place. In the Nordic legend, there are 9 worlds including Asgard. It is in this place (built by the sons of Borr: Vili, Vé and Odin) that the Aesir lived, including Grimnir. This name is the other way to call the most important Nordic god Odin, rather classy isn't it?

These 9 worlds are built on the world tree, which happens to be the Yggdrasil. It is thus in Asgard that one found the fabulous temple of the divinities, the Val' Hall' uh. Etymologically, the word Valhalla comes from the Old Norse Valhöll. It is composed of valr, which designates the dead on the battlefield but also the animal horse, and hǫll, which means the hall. The Snori Edda can also mean the palace and this is also called the hall of the dead. The Frenchized form is Valhalle.

What does the Viking Valhalla look like? 

Discover Everything About the Valhalla | Viking Heritage

Valhalla is described as a very large palace. It is so high that according to some people, you can't see the top. Its roof consists of golden shields, probably made of birch. It is not surprising to see such an object, which is closely related to the Nordic culture. War spears were also present. The scalde Þjóðólfr of the Hvínir described it thus:

"Under the throws of stone,

the wise warriors

on their backs made the birch bark

The birch bark of Sváfnir's hall".

The Grimnismal poem says that the roof of the palace is covered with pure, glittering gold. Within Valhalla, there was the Hlidskjálf. This is the place from which Odin could sit and observe all the worlds and even the human world and the activities of everyone. The most powerful Viking god is sometimes called the lord of Hlidskjálf in Scaldic poetry.

Valhalla contains 640 gates. The main one is guarded by wolves and eagles flying above. This prevents any outside attack. In front of this gate, there is also the Glasir tree, which consists of golden leaves. It is said to be a metaphor for gold.

À l'intérieur, le palais dispose d'immenses sièges en cuir représentant des dragons et des bêtes légendaires. Il y a aussi des tables et des buffets bien garnis pour accueillir comme il se doit les morts. Ces résidents du paradis viking sont logés et nourris jusqu'à la fin des temps, ce que nous verrons plus tard. Mais enfin, qui peut accéder au Valhalla ?

Several places in Valhalla

Valhalla is the place where the most deserving Viking warriors meet. On the battlefield, they are chosen by the Valkyries, girls that the god Odin would have meticulously selected. Some warriors, who wanted to survive the battles, did not raise their eyes to the sky, so as not to attract the attention of the Valkyries who could make them perish in order to take them away.

It is important to know that there was a differentiation made between the places for the dead.

Discover Everything About the Valhalla | Viking Heritage

Helheim housed the dead of old age, illness and other deaths, which they felt were not worth honoring. The abode, abbreviated Hel for the house of the goddess Hel, the daughter of Loki. The various texts describe the place as dark, foggy and cold. It is populated by people like the giant Hraesvleg or Garm, who was a monstrous dog. The people who end up in the Hel carry a certain dishonor.

Fölkvangr, in homage to Freya, is the home of Vikings who fought to protect their families, clans or any other defensive mission. It is also called the "people's field" and is described as a place close to a rural paradise but also a place of rest and reward.

Valhalla is for the Vikings who perished while attacking. They dedicate their existence to war and it is therefore the most prestigious place for Scandinavian warriors.

A sacred paradise for the Vikings

When they arrived in this great paradise, the fighters took the name of Einherjar. They are "those who make up an army" and those who had died on the battlefield with a weapon in their hands.

It is for this reason that the Vikings have a certain attraction for combat. They do not wish to disappoint their god by being welcomed into heaven and this is what gives them their great strength to win.

You should know that the life of a Viking warrior was particularly short. The many journeys and plunders were very perilous and resulted in few Vikings living past forty. The endless life of sustenance in Valhalla was especially attractive to aristocratic warriors. Since it is known that many Vikings wanted to possess power, this represents a significant population. It is said that the Valhalla hall contained hundreds of thousands of warriors, about 614,400.

The most noble warriors and rulers were indeed in adoration of Odin. Farmers in particular worshipped Thor to ensure the fertility of their land. The Bilskirnir is a palace that housed the god of thunder.

Valhalla was therefore an important motivation for the Vikings. It allowed them to eliminate their fears in battle and thus to be feared by their opponents. The Scandinavian warriors could thus defeat superior forces, whereas another civilization might have had a loss of morale because of the many deaths on the battlefield. Some were able to have incredible abilities, such as the Berserker, who would go into a holy fury, making him overpowered.

The Christian scholar Snorri Sturluson taught us that Odin was also known as Valfather, the father of the slain. The Vikings who fell valiantly in battle were like his adopted sons. It was to enjoy such an honor that they were willing to risk a bloody death.

A diet for warriors

As described above, the warriors who arrive in Valhalla are welcomed with a great feast. They are fed and housed until the end of time. The Einherjar will then feed on the flesh of the boar Sæhrímnir. This animal comes back to life every night, to be eaten the next day. It is boiled every day by the cook Andhrímnir in his cauldron named Eldhrímnir. Only Odin does not eat. He only drinks wine as a meal and gives his food to his wolves.

As for drink, the Vikings drink the milk of the goat Heidrun. It is in fact mead, a very popular drink in this region of Northern Europe. In Valhalla, the goat grazes on the leaves of the Læradr tree. It is called Hléraðr in Old Norse for "the one who gives rest". This tree also feeds the deer Eikthyrnir. It is said that it drains so much water through its antlers to the world Hvergelmir, that all the rivers of the Aesir domain come from them.

The banquet, in abundance so that each warrior can eat to his end, is served by the same Valkyries who came to recover the Vikings who died in battle.

Ragnarok and Valhalla

Ragnarok | Viking Heritage

Every day, the Einherjar are awakened by the rooster Gullinkambi. They dress up, put on their armor and then go to fight each other in an enclosure until they kill each other, on the Idavoll field. If they can do this, it is because they then come back to life. The warriors then return from the enclosure with horses to have the first meal of the day, around 9 o'clock in the morning. This one will last besides a major part of the day. Every evening, the huge pig Sæhrímnir is eaten.

The Vafþrúðnismál, the third poem of the Edda, describes this moment:

"All the Einherjar

in the meadow of Odin

every day slay each other.

They point to the dead,

then, from the battle, on horseback they return.

Together they then sit, reconciled."

The warriors of Valhalla await the day when the 640 doors of the palace will open so that they can fight the war of Ragnarok, alongside the Aesir gods.

Snorri Sturlusson describes this moment:

"Eight [great] hundreds of Einherjar

will come out of each gate at the same time

when they go to fight with the wolf."

This battle represents the day of the end of the world according to Norse mythology and is called Ragnarock. This final battle, between the Aesir and the giants, signs the death of man and the various gods who take part in it. The battle takes place on the plain of Vigrid.

The Einherjar will face terrible creatures. The powerful Midgard serpent (also known as Jörmungand) that emerges from the sea, will spray poison in all directions and cause huge waves on the land. He will be killed by Thor, who will succumb to his injuries. The fire giant Surtr will set Asgard on fire.

This battle will cause many deaths. The wolf Fenrir breaks free from his chains and kills Odin. The god of malice Loki, who leads the giants in this battle will kill each other with Heimdall, his opposite deity.

The presence of Valhalla in the culture

The Viking paradise is a very well known place and quite evoked within the Nordic mythology. It is therefore logical to see it represented many times in different cultural works.

Valhalla gives its name to different music in the genre of heavymetal and particularly that of Viking metal. Bands such as Amon Amarth or Bathory have made it the title of one of their songs. The rock band 30 Seconds to Mars has made a description of it.

Visual works also refer to it. In the video game sector, the popular Final Fantasy saga frequently alludes to it. In Skyrim, released in 2011, the Nordic warriors' paradise is named Sovngarde. The Assassin's Creed saga, one of the best-selling, will also offer an opus at the end of 2020, Valhalla, on the universe of the Vikings. The Vikings and The Last Kingdom series also deal with the subject very often, while in Mad Max Fury Road, the Warboys hope to go to Valhalla.

The artist Peter Madsen created his comic book named after the Viking paradise in 1979. A Danish cartoon, released in 1986, is based on it and illustrates the Edda in prose. The composer Richard Wagner created the opera Twilight of the Gods in which a 6-minute piece is conceived as the entry of the gods into Valhalla. The play Valhalla, directed by Sara Lemaire and Anna Nilsson and produced by the Belgian company Petri Dish is another example.