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Valhalla - Viking Style


Many religions from around the world have some idea of an afterlife and Norse Paganism was no different. The great hall of Valhalla was where Viking Warriors who were slain in battle would be taken upon death. 

The name 'Valhalla' comes from the combinations of the Old Norse word for slain 'Valr' and the word 'hǫll' meaning 'Hall'. A literal translation of the name therefore would mean something equivalent to 'Hall of the Dead' or 'Hall of the Slain' in modern English.

Valhalla was mentioned in both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda and was said to be a huge and majestic hall which was located in Asgard and ruled over by Odin. Upon their death the slain warriors would be escorted to Valhalla by the Valkyries, where they would wait to be called upon by Odin to aid the Norse Gods in their final battle at Ragnarok. These dead soldiers who feasted in the great hall were known as Einherjar. 

Inhabitants of Valhalla

The Einherjar spend their days in Valhalla fighting one another in order to hone their skills for Ragnarok, however every night all of the wounds that they sustained are healed and they are ready to fight once again the following day. The food is supplied by two magical creatures; Saehrimnir and Heidrun. Saehrimnir was said to be a giant Boar who was slaughtered and eaten every night, he would come back to life again and again only to be slaughtered repeatedly for the Einherjar to feed upon. Heidrun was a goat who would produce mead from his udders, providing the warriors with an endless supply of their favourite beverage for to accompany their seemingly endless feasting. All this occurred whilst being waited upon by a host of beautiful Valkyries.

This would seem to have been a dream life for most warriors living during the Viking Age, for whom their real life was full of the disease, hardship and a persistent threat of violence. There was however the unfortunate reality that the Einherjar were present in Valhalla not as a reward from a benevolent and all loving God, but instead as a an expendable force to be used in battle at Ragnarok. 

What did Valhalla look like?

The hall itself was said to be located in Asgard, and this is the generally accepted location due to a number of mentions; including one from a famous poem in the Poetic Edda called 'Grímnismál'. There is however some speculation amongst historians that Valhalla could have been located somewhere in the underworld, due to its association with the dead and its name 'Hall of the Dead'. 

The outside of the hall was home to a number of creatures including a stag and the goat heidrun who was said to feast on foliage on the roof. The gate was guarded by a pair of wolves and eagles would circle above the roof. There was also a golden tree named 'Glasir' which stood in front of the doors to Valhalla and was described as being the 'most beautiful amongst all gods and men' in the Prose Edda. 

In the Poetic Edda the poem Grímnismál gives a good description of Valhalla. On the inside of the hall the ceiling was decorated with golden shields and had rafters made up of spears. There were many tables at which the Einherjar would feast that were surrounded by chairs made from the plate armour of slain warriors. 

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