A mighty hall of Odin’s making, Valhalla was the seat of Asgardian power and home of the gods. The great hall proudly stood in Gladsheimr, a region within the pristine realm of Asgard. Featuring hundreds of rooms and hundreds more doors, golden Valhalla was a truly palatial fortress. It was so grand, in fact, that Thor’s personal hall, Bilskirnir (“lightning crack”), was contained within Valhalla. The sprawling grounds of Valhalla featured the enormous trees Glasir and Laeradr, whose leafy boughs hung over its rooftops.
Towering over the surrounding landscape, Odin’s fortress was a monument to the glory of the Aesir—its ceilings were covered with golden shields, its rafters were made of spears, and its great benches were strewn with glistening breastplates. Valhalla also served as one of the principal sites of the Norse afterlife. According to Norse mythology, exactly half of all those who died in battle journeyed to Valhalla, where they would feast with Odin until the dawn of Ragnarok.
The name “Valhalla” was formed from the Old Norse valr, meaning “the slain,” and höll, meaning “hall.” Valhalla, then, meant “hall of the slain,” as it housed half of all warriors who had died in combat.
Valhalla through the Eyes of Its Master
Though rarely mentioned in Norse texts, Valhalla is richly described in every appearance. In the Grímnismál, of the Poetic Edda, Odin himself related several notable details of Valhalla’s construction. In the guise of Grimnir, a traveler wo was being questioned under duress, Odin listed the most hallowed locations in the Norse cosmos:
The fifth is Glathsheim, and gold-bright there Stands Valhall stretching wide; And there does Othin each day choose The men who have fallen in fight.
Easy is it to know for him who to Othin Comes and beholds the hall; Its rafters are spears, with shields is it roofed, On its benches are breastplates strewn.
Easy is it to know for him who to Othin Comes and beholds the hall; There hangs a wolf by the western door, And o’er it an eagle hovers.
Later, in the same text, Odin elaborated on Valhalla’s many architectural wonders. He claimed that Bilskirnir (Thor’s hall) alone contained five hundred and forty doors, and that eight hundred warriors could fit through a single door. During Ragnarok, when the armies of the jotunn march on Asgard, the warriors of Valhalla would stream forth from these doors to do battle on the fields of Vigridr.
Five hundred rooms | and forty there are I ween, in Bilskirnir built; Of all the homes | whose roofs I beheld, My son’s the greatest meseemed.
Odin also spoke of the magical creatures who roamed Valhalla’s rooftops. These included the goat Heidrun, whose mead warmed the bellies of Valhalla’s revelers, and the stag Eikthyrnir, whose horns fed Asgard’s rivers.
Heithrun is the goat who stands by Heerfather’s hall, And the branches of Lærath she bites; The pitcher she fills with the fair, clear mead, Ne’er fails the foaming drink. Eikthyrnir is the hart who stands by Heerfather’s hall And the branches of Lærath he bites; From his horns a stream into Hvergelmir drops, Thence all the rivers run.
Valhalla through the Eyes of Its Guest
In addition to the gods, their consorts, and their children, Vahalla’s halls teemed with the shades of fallen warriors whom Odin claimed as his guests. The All-Father kept one half of those who died in the heat of battle, while the other half were taken to Freya’s field of Folkvangr. Odin’s ghostly followers were collectively known as the Einherjar. According to the Gylfaginning, part of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, the Einherjar entertained themselves by fighting in the practice yard during the day and drinking mead all night long.
The Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, a poem in the Poetic Edda, described Valhalla from the perspective of one of the Einherjar: Helgi, a hero of Midgard who earned fame for his military exploits. Helgi eventually met his doom at the hand of Dag, the son of one whom Helgi slew in battle. Upon his death, Helgi was escorted to Valhalla by a valkyrie, the traditional escort of fallen warriors. Odin and the Einherjar celebrated Helgi, who was admired for his exploits, and offered him many gifts:
Helgi rose above heroes all Like the lofty ash above lowly thorns, Or the noble stag, with dew besprinkled, Bearing his head above all beasts, (And his horns gleam bright to heaven itself.) A hill was made in Helgi’s memory. And when he came to Valhalla, then Othin bade him rule over every thing with himself.
In Valhalla’s halls, Helgi enjoyed the pleasure of revenge. His enemies in life were forced to wash his feet and fill his cup. On the whole, Helgi’s account presented Valhalla as a place of unending gratification, a true paradise for the martial at heart. In this way, Norse mythology both motivated warriors and justified their brutal culture.
Valhalla persists in the popular imagination as the ultimate setting of Norse legend, a place perpetually shrouded in mist and mystery. The mythical hall has frequently served as inspiration for works of art and music. Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, featuring the famous “Ride of the Valkyries,” uses Valhalla as an important setting for its heroes’ mythic deeds. In more recent times, rock and metals bands such as Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, Manowar, and Amon Amarth have referenced Valhalla. One of Led Zeppelin’s most famous works, “Immigrant Song,” features the lyrics:
We come from the land of the ice and snow From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow The hammer of the gods We’ll drive our ships to new lands To fight the horde, and sing and cry Valhalla, I am coming!
Valhalla has been prominently featured in Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Various scenes in the Thor film series were set in the glittering, golden-domed palace of Valhalla, which dominates the impressive Asgardian cityscape.
The video game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla utilized a Viking Age setting and featured material from Norse mythology, including several references to Valhalla.