Only battle-hardy warriors were granted access to the prestigious feasting hall of Valhalla, where Odin ruled. In the afterlife, the warriors kept on fighting for eternity, but enjoyed a hearty feast and ever-flowing ale each night, after their weapons were put to rest.
What Is Valhalla?
In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the banquet hall where warriors, and others Odin feels are worthy, go in the afterlife. The Nordic translation is the hall of the fallen. Valhalla forms an important part of the Old Norse worldview, a belief system that lasted from approximately 1000 BC to 1200 AD, ending with the arrival of Christianity. Authors suggest Valhalla is situated in the underworld, while other sources allege it to be in the center of Asgard, located in the sky.
Valhalla is mentioned in an important Norse text called the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson in the early 1200s, as well as in the Poetic Edda. The Ynglinga Saga, also written by Sturluson, conveyed the process of those entering Valhalla, beginning with the description of Norse funerary rites. Warriors were burned with all their possessions, in order for their goods to be available to them in the afterlife.
Valhalla has a roof of spears and shields, according to sources. It is said to be guarded by eagles and wolves. The revered warriors constantly practice their fighting skills so they will be ready to fight the wolf, Fenrir, and prepare for the final battle called Ragnarok. They are healed at the end of every day and able to fight again the following day, a reflection on the importance of battle in the Norse culture. A raging river, Thund, and massive metal gate, Valgrind, protects Valhalla’s entrances. According to scholars, Valhalla has 540 doors, each one wide enough to let 800 warriors pass through. After each day of fighting, the warriors are fed by the Valkyries in the great hall. The cooks use the meat of a mystical boar called Saehrimnir to make stew, to cater for all at the table. The boar is untouched again every evening and ready to be fed once more to the hungry masses. The warriors wash down their meal with copious amounts of mead and ale. Odin does not eat with the warriors, but sits at the table with his two ravens on his shoulder and two wolves at his feet.
Those who do not die in battle are sent instead to Niflheim, where Loki’s daughter, Hel, is in charge. Niflheim translates as the land of mists and, according to scholars, is a cold and icy place. Dying a peaceful death holds little reward in Old Nordic culture.
An epic poem called Beowulf mentions a similar Viking hall where feasting and drinking took place. In the Anglo-Saxon work, the hall is called Heorot and housed the feasting warriors. The hall allegedly became very rowdy and the noise annoyed a ferocious beast. The beast entered the hall when everyone had fallen asleep, and ate many of the warriors. Recent archeological discoveries in Aska, Sweden, using ground penetrating radar, revealed what is likely a feasting hall similar to Heorot, measuring approximately 50 meters in length. The site was initially thought to be a burial area.
The traditions and beliefs of the Old Norse encompassed a very different view than modern religion. They held that time was cyclical, that not only humans possess a soul or spirit, and that magic could change fate. They also believed in many gods and goddesses and lived in harmony with nature, which they considered sacred. They fought for honor and to survive in an ever-changing world, much like all of humanity does on a day-to-day basis.