Her Syndan Wælcyrian: Illuminating the Form and Function of the Valkyrie-Figure in the Literature, Mythology, and Social Consciousness of Anglo-Saxon England
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Edward John Christie
Dr. Scott Lightsey
Dr. John Burrison
The image of the warrior-woman, or Valkyrie, occurs, in a number of forms, throughout the Anglo-Saxon corpus. Her appearance and function in these writings may be subdivided into three primary registers: the named-appearances of the wælcyrge, unnamed appearances of the wælcyrge in the charms and riddles, and unnamed appearances of the wælcyrge in heroic verse. Since the mid-1800’s scholars have defined the wælcyrge in terms of the valkyrja, or Scandinavian Valkyrie figure, which is reductive and misleading and has caused an eclipse-effect in which the native elements of the wælcyrge have gone underestimated and undervalued. This is due in part to the scant amount of surviving evidence in Old English that references the wælcyrge. By closely investigating the texts in which the wælcyrge appears, I will attempt to demonstrate that the Anglo-Saxon conception of the Valkyrie figure is idiomatic, complex, and vastly different from the Old Norse conception of the valkyrja, and cannot be accurately defined by the same parameters which define the valkyrja.
The differing genres in which the wælcyrge appears also showcase the differing values and forms which differing demographics of Anglo-Saxon society held for the wælcyrge. Such a disparate range of value present in one character of folklore suggests that the wælcyrge was a multivalent figure within Anglo-Saxon folklore. At the liturgical level, the epic poetic level, and the folk-verse level, the Valkyrie image is revelatory of the complexities accompanying the native folklore of the wælcyrge. Many aspects of the wælcyrge are reflected in similar war-woman figures of pre-Anglo-Saxon, Germanic cultures, as well as in later, Scandinavian verses that post-date the usage of the wælcyrge in England. The function of the wælcyrge within a long tradition of Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian works shows that the native English war-woman was not a figure used in isolation, but was part of a medieval dialogic in which the female divinity as an agent of war, cunning, and death was paramount. The inherent complexities present in the Anglo-Saxon Valkyrie-figure are key to interpreting her role within the tripartite structure of Anglo-Saxon literature.
Purser, Philip A., "Her Syndan Wælcyrian: Illuminating the Form and Function of the Valkyrie-Figure in the Literature, Mythology, and Social Consciousness of Anglo-Saxon England." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2013.