The Valkyrie's Vigil
by Edward Robert Hughes.
The Valkyries (Old Norse: Valkyrjur, singular valkyrja - “choosers of the slain”) are a host of female figures in Norse mythology; they are a group of warrior maidens in service to the chief god Odin. Fierce and respected warriors, they are responsible for choosing who live and die in battle, singling out those worthy of paradise. In the aftermath of battle, the Valkyries carry those whom they have chosen off to Valhalla, an enormous and majestic hall that lies in Asgard. Once there, these eïnherjar, as they are now called, are shared between Odin and Freyja, with half of them going to Valhalla and the other to Fólkvangr, Freyja's realm. In Valhalla, the eïnherjar feast and make revelry, as they are served and cared for by the Valkyries themselves.
The old Norse people thought that Valkyries rode giant wolves, and that they had black wings which correspond to ravens; these two creatures both scavenge corpses on the battlefield symbolizing death and destruction. With the spread of Christianity the idea of what a Valkyrie was like changed more and more to a Romantic description of a beautiful woman.
Richard Wagner composed some operas, featuring Valkyries (German: Walküren, singular: Walküre). These operas are Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. They feature a story of a valkyrie Brünnhilde, her punishment for disobeying her father, and her falling in love with Siegfried. The music for the opening of Act Three of Die Walküre is very famous. It is called the Ride of the Valkyries.