Symbols of Alterlife – part 3 Walhalla
The Hall: (Tributary) "The honorable warrior, after receiving the drink [Dyrar Veigar], sets out from the Thing to visit kinsmen on the fields of bliss and to look at the wonders there, until the time comes for him to journey to Asgard. They travel west over Vindhelm's Bridge, Bifrost. Then the Aesir are there before them, and when they hear the rumble of Bifrost under the arriving riders, then Hermod-Odur and Bragi go to meet the princes, the ones arriving in Valhall who are considered heroes. Warriors and earls who die of natural causes also come to Valhall." (TAE XXV.3)I have previously mentioned the incorrectness of the concept that Valhall is a place only for those who have died in battle. The idea is based solely upon Snorri Sturluson's biased, Christianized account, which defies logic and the very idea of religious devotion. If one were to go to the Gods only because they were slain on the battlefield, this would have robbed Odin of some of the greatest heroes ever known in Midgard simply because they may have died a so-called 'straw-death.' Death would have been preferred to victory and, given the amount of strophes and prayers to the Gods for the latter, there is no way they favored the former. There is no source stating that warriors would commit suicide on the battlefield as they conquered their enemies, which would allow them to avoid death from sickness or accident at home. Victory, at least for some, would be repulsive, as it would always leave room for this possibility. The idea that our ancestors 'risted themselves with a spear-point' as a form of ritual suicide has been proven fraudulent, leaving nothing to back up this claim. That this ridiculous notion has proliferated for as long as it has is truly a poor reflection upon the academic community who never dared to question it.Think of the reverence we pay to our soldiers when they have died. Think of their coffins draped in flags while veterans stand over them in the utmost solemnity, saluting their fallen brothers. People die and families pay tribute to them, but when a warrior dies for his country we pay extra special attention. This is the very idealism behind Valhall. It is the ultimate tribute, from the religion of a people who fought for centuries against Roman imperialism. They fought for their freedom, as our soldiers do today, and the folk recognized the true value behind making this ultimate sacrifice. This is the symbolism behind Tyr binding Fenrir and losing his hand in the process—that war requires a sacrifice in order to bind Chaos. Perhaps the Christians realized the beauty in Valhall's imagery and wished to degrade it by only opening Valhall's doors to the battle slain, then removing Hel's realm of bliss altogether to demonstrate Odinist 'savagery.' By this standard only war is admired and peace is feared for the reverent, which contradicts the ancient prayers found for ár ok frið 'good harvests and peace.' All heroes go to Valhall and become EInherjar, no matter how they die; for our people need to honor their warriors, and because Odin needs them to fight by his side at Ragnarok. There are several symbols related to Valhall that we can examine in order to better grasp how our ancestors viewed this most holy sanctuary of heroes:
The Exterior: (Tributary) "It is easy for him to recognize, who comes to Odin and beholds the hall; its rafters are spears, it is roofed with shields, and breast plates are strewn on its benches. It is easy for him to recognize, who comes to Odin and beholds the hall, a wolf hangs before the western door, an eagle hovers over it." (XXV.2)"There are five hundred and forty doors, I believe, in Valhall. Eight hundred Einherjar will fare at once from each door, when they go to war with the wolf. One can surely say that it would be remarkable if everyone were unable to pass in and out freely. There are five hundred and forty floors, I believe, built in Bliskirnir-Valhall. Of all the roofed houses known, is this one the greatest." (XXV.10)
The idea that Valhall's rafters and roof are made of weapons simply delineates the idea that this is a hall for warriors, which is obvious. These weapons were given to a child at their time of initiation, and symbolized their status within the clan. Now they symbolize their status among the Gods in Asgard. The wolf and eagle on the door also represent the warrior motif, since they are symbols of battle as well. The wolf was thought to follow the greatest heroes to the battlefield, so they could feast on the corpses of those they have slain. As such, they were omens of victory and their howls would inspire the hearts of men to defeat their enemies. The wolf pack has always been viewed as the ultimate expression of unity, of a family or a tribe or troop working together for the good of the whole. Although in our lore wolves can be symbols of Chaos, as with Fenrir and his brood, they are also agents of the Gods, such as Odin's wolves Freki and Geri.
Eagles likewise signify conflict and victory and are often featured in poetic kennings as such. The eagle itself may be a symbol of the Gods as a whole (and thus the Einherjar are symbolized by the wolf? Cp. LXIV.11), since one rests in the branches of Yggdrasill, where Asgard is, and quarrels with the serpent Nidhogg via the squirrel Ratatosk. The Gods quarrel with the forces of Chaos over the heart of man, which is constantly balanced between the two. The battle between the eagle and the serpent is an age old symbol prevalent in many cultures.
The 540 doors represent the immensity of the hall, as does the 540 floors. We are told that the hall is so large that Yggdrasill itself pushes through the floor and further through the roof so that its red- gold foliage surrounds the hall. The number 540 is significant, for it is a derivative of nine (5+4+0=9, 9x60=540). Nine is one of the most sacred numbers of our faith as it is a multiple of 3 (consider the three wells) and it is the number of months in the gestation period before a child is born. Plus, the number nine is always the sum of its multiples, so it always returns to nine. For example 9x3=27, then 2+7=9; 9x9=81, then 8+1=9; 9x14,576=131,184, then 1+3+1+1+8+4=18, and 1+8=9. You can do this with any number multiplied by nine. You can also add any number that divides a circle and the sum will be nine (180=1+8+0=9; 360=3+6+0=9; 720=7+2+0=9, etc.). The total number of Einherjar that will venture out of Valhall to Vigrid, the battlefield where Ragnarok will be fought, is 432,000 (4+3+2+0+0+0=9). The period of gestation is significant because Valhall rests atop a mountain called Sigtyr's (Odin's) Berg, and the mountain is considered a symbolic womb in many ancient stories. The warrior enters a strange mountain somehow, goes on a grand adventure that transforms him, then he returns to tell the tale. This is indicative of the male initiation into adulthood, which has the same elements of Separation, Transformation, and Reintegration.
The Guardians: (Moral) "The wolfhounds who pace back and forth, guarding the tree's foliage, are called Freki (or Gifur) and Geri, if you wish to know: they watch the watchers until the Powers perish. They, the twin dogs, were strictly told to not sleep at the same time, when they were given the watch, one sleeps at night, the other by day, so no wight can enter, if they come." (XXV.2)Again, we have wolves or wolfhounds, who are Odin's companions, standing vigil over the hall and thus signify steadfastness and awareness, qualities greatly valued by any warrior. Just as he must be ready to face any foe at any time, the wolves stand prepared to alert the Gods of unwanted intruders. They are combined symbols of victory and vigilance and thus embody the warrior Spirit, with heightened senses and a keen eye. As we have seen, they also represent teamwork and strategy, as the pack signifies the tribe, for one sleeps during the day and the other at night so there is never any time when one of them is not on guard.
The Feast: (Transformative) "There will never be such a large number in Valhall that the meat of the boar Saehrimnir will not be sufficient for them. It is cooked each day and is whole again by evening. The cook is called Andhrimnir and the pot Eldhrimnir. By Andhrimnir, in Eldhrimnir, is Saehrimnir boiled, the best of meats." (XXV.7)We have already examined this symbol as representing the divine, creative elements of Water (Saehrimnir= Sea-Rime), Fire (Eldhrimnir= Fire-Rime) and Spirit/Air (Andhrimnir= Spirit-Rime) as well as the Underworld fountains. The 'rime' is the substance of creation, that which was made when the Spirit of Ginnungagap/Mimisbrunn brought the ice of Niflheim/Hvergelmir and the fire of Helheim/Urdarbrunn together. Thus the Einherjar feast upon the creative force that keeps them sustained until Ragnarok. The boar is both an earth and a warrior symbol, for there is the ancient belief that men, or the Gods that taught men, were inspired by the boar's use of his tusks to dig up food and thus come up with the plow and agriculture. The boar was also used as a symbol for warriors on ancient talismans and on helmets worn in battle. As originally heroes from Midgard, the Einherjar also embody this and in representing the Earth element, which requires the other three for sustenance and survival, all of the elements are fully represented here.The Goat: (Transformative) "The goat that stands over Odin's hall is called Heidrun, which bites from Laerad-Yggdrasill's branches; she fills the vat with the fair clear mead; that drink shall never fail. The goat Heidrun stands on top of Valhall and eats the leaves of that most famous tree. From her udders streams the mead that daily fills the vat that is so large that from it all the Einherjar satisfy their thirst. That goat is especially useful to them, and the tree she eats from is remarkably good." (XXV.9)As with Saehrimnir, Heidrun is a goat of plenty, bringing an abundance of the sacred mead just as Thor's goats give him an abundance of meat in the same manner as the Einherjar's feast seen above. As beings of the lore, the Einherjar must have their own mead, separate from that of the Gods, who receive it from a more direct source (the Byrgir Mead), and that of mortals who make it from the honey that originates from the horses of the Goddesses. Like the latter, however, Heidrun chews the leaves of Yggdrasill, then from her teats flows the most precious liquid, which has its origin in the sacred Underworld wells, as with all mead. In this sense, when we consider the Saehrimnir/Eldhrimnir/Andhrimnir symbolism, there is a definite correlation between the goat and the boar of Valhall.
The Stag: (Transformative) "Even more notable is the stag called Eikthyrnir, which stands over Odin's hall, and bites from Laerad-Yggdrasill's branches; drops fall from his horns into Hvergelmir, whence all waters rise." (XXV.9)Following the pattern of the blood/water/mead symbolism, which continuously overlaps in our lore, we see two animals chewing the leaves of Yggdrasill: Heidrun does this and mead flows from her teats, while water drops from Eikthyrnir's horns, which is rain. The idea is the same as that of the dew coming from the horses of Natt and the Valkyries: the stag enjoys the substance of creation, which flows from Hvergelmir into Yggdrasill's roots, and then the fructifying rains fall upon Asgard and Midgard, eventually returning to their source, the Underworld fountain "whence all waters rise." It is also interesting to note that the stag is often seen as a symbol of Frey, which relates to the passage on him being the Harvest God: "He controls the rain and the shining of the sun, and through him, the bounty of the earth." (XIII.4) Remember also that Frey killed the giant Beli with a stag's antlers when he and Freya were captives.
The Division: (Moral) "Freyja is the most splendid of Goddesses. She has a home in Asgard called Folkvang, and there she decides the choice of seats in the hall. She chooses half of the slain each day, and half belong to Odin. Wherever she rides into battle, half of the chosen-slain belong to her. Her hall Sessrumnir is large and beautiful. It is said that if the door is closed and bolted, no one can enter this hall against her will." (XII.5)The division of the Einherjar came out of the war between the Aesir and Vanir, which in turn corresponded with the war between the Swedes and the Danes. The Vanir had taken sides with the Swedes and the Aesir with the Danes, so each would take the fallen heroes who have descended from those lands. Of course, admixture and the vast extension of ancestry the further back you go must be taken into consideration here. Perhaps this is why there is a choosing by Odin and Freyja, for they would know where the heroes belong more than any other and we therefore leave it in their capable hands. In any case, one will be among the Gods in either Valhall or Sessrumnir if they have died among the valiant.
The Battlefield: (Transformative) "Each day the cock Salgofnir-Vidofnir, also called Gullinkambi, awakens heroes. Over the Aesir crows Gullinkambi, which wakes the heroes with Herjan-Odin. After they dress, they put on their war gear. Then they go to the courtyard and battle, the one attacking the other, such is their sport. When it comes time to eat, they ride home to Valhall to sit down to drink. All the Einherjar in Odin's hall fight together each day; they choose their victims, and ride from the conflict; they drink beer with the Aesir, eat their fill of Saehrimnir, then sit in harmony together." (XXV.11)
The Einherjar are not simply in Valhall so that they can be paid tribute to as Midgard's heroes. The fact is, Odin needs them, which is a great honor in itself, for they are to fight by his side at the Twilight of the Gods—Ragnarok. For this reason the warriors must be kept sharp, their skills perfected, their prowess constantly proven. So, they have the best training possible: all fight until they die, then they are reborn to fight again the next day. This is not to manifest some bizarre notion of a 'warrior's paradise,' thus denoting the false idea that our ancestors lived only for the slaughter, but rather was set up for the defense of the worlds when the final battle comes. I doubt you would find any seasoned veteran of any war at any time who would imagine 'paradise' as a never-ending state of conflict, but would understand the sense of duty and honor required for a position among the Einherjar. War is an inevitable conclusion of man's corruption and selfishness, which must eventually conclude in some form of downfall, followed by a great rebirth. As with all life and all entities, civilizations must also experience the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. At the same time, there must always be brave warriors willing to protect the innocent, indeed to even protect the divine order itself, with their bravery and their blood.
Valkyries: (Moral) "There are maidens whose duty it is to serve in Valhall, who with the Gods, delight in song and harp-playing. They bring drink and see to the table and ale-cups. These women are called Valkyries. They are sent by Odin to every battle, where they choose which men are to die, and they determine who has the victory." (XXV.14)The Valkyries are a popular Odinic image, and primarily convey the concept of feminine strength as they enter the battlefield to choose the slain. They act as guides for dead heroes journeying through Hel and then to Asgard. However, in Valhall they take on a more matronly role, which might be correct if we assume that the women who take on these duties are actually ancestresses. Their counterparts in Midgard were the women who stood by the sidelines of the battlefield to urge their men towards victory by reminding them of the cost of defeat, which could include rape, torture, and enslavement; depending on who they were fighting. As with women after the encounter is over, at night in Valhall the Valkyries feed and entertain the heroes, essentially taking care of them and preparing them psychologically for the final battle.Valkyries are essentially Goddesses of fate, which is emphasized by the fact that Skuld, the youngest of the Norns, is among their ranks. The word Valkyrie means 'Choosers of the Chosen,' and relates to their selecting of the heroes to take to Valhall 'The Hall of the Chosen.' The selection, as with Odin's and Freyja's division, becomes an act of fate, since only one's destiny can truly determine their path in this life and the next.
Valhall is the hall of the chosen heroes destined for the honors they are to receive. From the ancient tribal warrior who defended his clan from outsiders, to the Vikings who stood against the invasions of the Christian Franks, all the way to the soldiers who die on the field of battle to day to defend our country—they must be respected and valued for making the greatest sacrifice. This can only be done by celebrating their service and gaining comfort in the fact that they will be greeted by the Gods themselves in Asgard, in Odin's beautiful golden banquet hall.
Odisbook: The Book of Odr