Wælcyrigean

Wælcyrige is the Old English cognate to Old Norse valkyrja  “chooser of the slain” referring to apparently beautiful females who would do the bidding of the gods, marking out some men to die and fare with them to the halls of the gods to enjoy a long afterlife of feasting and fighting. The so-called noble form of the Valkyries, as they are known in modern language, is an entirely Norse concept, known only in Norse literature within the writings of Snorri where he talks of maids of battle attending with the warband, bearing arms alongside them or taking part in rituals of divination that could foretell the outcome of any forthcoming engagement.

The Old English tradition does not appear to have been adapted from the Norse equivalent and, as pointed out by Pollington (The Elder Gods p.337), appears to be older and more independent than the Norse sources. The adjective “wælceasigea”, or “slain-choosing” is used to describe a raven in the poem Exodus, obfuscated somewhat by the notion of “beasts of battle” and that the raven was an agent of the war-god in the same was as the Norse Valkyrja were. The Vendel helmet motif (See below) of a warlike rider accompanied by a raven and an eagle is believed by many to encompass a similar idea, that the birds are spirits of the war-god, ready to take their fill of flesh from the battlefield.

Female figures with Wælcyrige-like qualities are common throughout Indo-European cultures, sharing ferocity in battle with the power to protect men. Ewing refers to groups of women who followed warbands and used their female ritual weaving magic to secure victory and had power in both the world of men and in the Otherworld, often involved in mead-cup rites in the hall and using their abilities of foresight to avoid disaster on the battlefield.

This ties in strongly with the Germanic cultural tendency to revere women as both life-giving humans, and also sacred, prophetic and numinous beings. The Wælcyrige is indelibly linked with the Matronae/Mōdru (Mothers) figures found at Hadrians Wall and also with the more earthly Idesa. Between them, the Mōdru and the Wælcyrigean represent different aspects of female spirituality from sexuality, to foresight, protection, violence, aggression, death and also of the sacred. These mighty female spirits, have also been linked to Mars Thincsus which has been widely attributed to be a cognate of Tīw, god of glory, inspired war and protector of the þing (assembly). On the other hand, the more human Idesa (Highborn women who may have supernatural abilities) could also be said to have taken on some aspects of Wælcyrigean attributes when plying their trades in foresight and determining the outcome of battles.

The Wælcyrigean are possibly referred to in the Wið Færstice charm as is makes reference to women wielding weapons, riding horses and threatening the living with considerable power, a mythic projection of the war-maids described above. The charm has been used as evidence of a Woden cult in England and thus may also link the Wælcyrigean to Woden in such a manner as befits the god of existential war.

The Wælcyrigean were believed to have worked their magic with spindles, spears and thorns leading to possible associations with bees and woodland spirits. They have also been linked as glosses for “Furies” and the goddess of war, Bellona. The term “wælkyrian eagan“ was also used as a description of Gorgons when translated from the latin original of the Narratiunculae Anglice conscriptae, when describing a stare that could turn a man to stone and thus an obvious link to death itself.

Vendel

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