The Valkyrie symbol: what is it, and what does it mean?

One of the best known symbols of ancient Norse mythology, the Valkyrie symbol is a sign of female power and prestige and represents the Norse way of life. In particular, it represents their views on death, destiny and fate. 

The Valkyrie symbol

Getting a Norse Valkyrie symbol tattoo has become increasingly popular, for both men and women, so you might see it here and there. But what does the Valkyrie symbol mean and where does it come from? 

Valkyrie symbols and meanings are mired in mythology and legend, which have been adapted and amended in many different versions over the years. But we’ve done some digging into the past to help you out!

Read on to find out all you need to know about Valkyrie symbol meanings and origins.

Who were the Valkyries?

First things first, who were the Valkyries? These traditional female Norse warriors are usually depicted as strong, beautiful armour-clad women who ride their horses through the sky over battlefields. 

Valkyries are female Norse warriors
Pic: Manfred Werner (CC)

The word “Valkyrie” comes from the Old Norse words val (“to choose”) and kyrja (“slaughter”), so it literally means “choosers of those who are killed”. 

And according to Norse mythology, the Valkyries did indeed choose which dead soldiers to be picked up and taken to Odin in Valhalla, where they would then remain for the rest of eternity.

The best-known Valkyries are Freya, who represents love, fertility, death and battle, and Brynhild, a highly regarded warrior and daughter of King Budli.

And it is Brynhild that the fictional character known as Valkyrie in the Marvel comics and films is actually based on.

What’s the difference between Shield Maidens and Valkyries?

Shield Maidens and Valkyries are often depicted as the same – they had the same jobs and a similar appearance.

However, the important difference is that Valykries are mythological figures with divine powers and ancestry, while Shield Maidens are of human descent. 

The Valkyrie symbol represents strength and female power
Valkyrie helmut and spear / Ed’s Toy Box (CC)

Confusingly, though, Shield Maidens are often depicted as also having super-human powers! The best-known Shield Maiden was Lagartha, the wife of Viking warrior Ragnar Loðbrók.

What is the Valkyrie symbol?

The traditional Valkyrie symbol has wings on either side to represent the Valkyries flying through the air on their horses, with a double or single staff running below the Winged Helm.

Some versions show the wings surrounding a Nordic Knot, which is also known as the Valknut or Odin’s knot and means “knot of those fallen in battle”.

Other versions have the powerful Helm of Awe symbol in the middle, which represents courage and fearlessness. 

The Helm of Awe is often in the centre of the Valkyrie symbol
Helm of Awe

There’s no writing on the traditional image, but Valkyrie symbol text, such as Viking runes, can sometimes be seen alongside the symbol itself.

The Shield Maiden Valkyrie symbol is similar to the traditional Valkyrie symbol, with wings, a long double staff and usually with a Nordic knot in the centre.

For more on Valkyrie symbols and meanings, check out our post on Viking tattoos and their meanings.

Where does the Valkyrie symbol come from?

Nobody really knows the Valkyrie symbol origins, but it is thought that the wings represent the speed with which the Valkyries can fly though the air, and that Odin’s knot is a symbol of the transition between life and death. 

What does the Valkyrie emblem symbolize?

The Valkyrie symbol has come to represent many attributes, in particular courage, physical strength and the empowerment of women. So it’s not surprising that the Valkyries have a loyal band of followers, who choose to show their support of Valkyrie Norse symbols through jewellery or tattoos.

What animals represent Valkyries?

Valkyries are often associated with birds

The Valkyries are most associated with birds, in particular black ravens. In Norse mythology, ravens would often accompany the Valkyries on the battlefields and when the Valkyries took away their chosen soldiers, the ravens would feast on the remaining bodies. 

Swans are also associated with the Valkyries, who are sometimes known as “swan maidens”, because they often disguised themselves as swans so that they could fly away.

If a male human steals a Valkyrie’s swan feathers, legend has it that the Valkyrie will fall in love with and marry him.

Valkyries are also associated with horses as they are sometimes depicted as riding winged horses over the battlefields.

Is Valkyrie good or evil?

The traditional characteristics associated with Valkyrie are bravery, strength, courage and fairness.

However, the Valkyries were also fearsome fighters who had the power to decide who would be bought back to life and who would remain dead.

In some stories, the Valkyries are depicted as cunning and scheming women who used these powers for malevolent purposes.

What is the symbol on Valkyrie in Marvel’s Thor films?

Sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed a symbol tattooed on Valkyrie’s wrist in the Marvel superhero and Avengers films.

This is not the actual Valkyrie symbol, but a stylised version that has been adapted with a trident added to the bottom of the staff.  

See also:
Where to find Vikings in Sweden
The coollest, craziest Viking hairstyles
All you need to know about Viking weddings

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Julia O
Julia O
1 year ago

Can you provide some examples where this “best known symbol of ancient Norse mythology” can be found, for example in a manuscript or on a rune stone? It looks like a thoroughly modern invention…

Gothi Grimwulff
1 year ago
Reply to  Julia O

It’s not. The origin of this symbol is the Max Payne movie. It’s not historical, at all.