In Old Norse, Valkyrja means “chooser of the slain” and are core figures in Norse mythology, entwined as it is with battle.They are female figures who chose the warriors that will live in battle and those that will fall. Of those that die, the Valkyrie take half to Valhalla, the afterlife hall of the slain that is ruled over by the god Odin. The other half go the to Fólkvangr, the field of the afterlife ruled over by the goddess Freyja.
In Valhalla the dead warriors become Einherjar (“single fighters”) where they prepare for Ragnarök, a series of events, including a great battle, foretelling the death of a many major figures including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki, the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors.
The Valkyrie bring the Einherjar mead to drink while they’re preparing. Valkyries also appear as lovers of heroes and other mortals, where they are sometimes described as the daughters of royalty, sometimes accompanied by ravens and sometimes connected to swans or horses. In modern times the nature of the Valkyrie has been enhanced by choosing to highlight the finer points of their nature, but in earlier times they were portrayed as far more sinister. The name suggesting they choose the slain for admittance to Valhalla neglects that they not only chose from the dead, but also chose who was actually slain, and could use malicious magic to ensure that death was certain. A poem from within Njal’s Saga called Darraðarljóð has twelve valkyries sitting at a loom and weaving the destiny of warriors prior to the Battle of Clontarf. They used intestines for their thread and severed heads for weights. Coming upon a Valkyrie was described as “staring into a flame”, in The Saga of the Volsungs.
Valkyries are attested in the Poetic Edda, a book of poems compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda and Heimskringla (by Snorri Sturluson), and Njáls saga, a Saga of Icelanders, all written in the 13th century. They appear throughout the poetry of skalds, in a 14th-century charm, and in various runic inscriptions.