Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Valkyries, Harpies, Angels, and Mother Goose

 Odin's Valkyrie - M. Snyder
Prehistoric survival required knowledge of approximate astronomy which was largely based on knowledge of the location of north (Duncan-Enzmann). At one time true north was not the North Star, but Deneb, the alpha star in Cygnus, the swan constellation in the Milky WayCygnus is also the location of the Northern CrossThis constellation is at the root of many bird mythologies, carried through time with oral tradition, mythologies, and children’s stories like Mother Goose. The importance of this knowledge was preserved in symbol and in tradition – feathered cloaks, bird goddesses, and fairies wings are a few symbolic remnants.

During the Paleolithic Era, 12,500 BC, mythologies and oral tradition began to symbolize the human condition. Stories about storks bringing babies, swans nurturing and comforting babies and taking their young souls to heaven if they died represented the importance of these animals in the life-sustaining cycles of the time. These stories connected birds with true North – Cygnus the Swan. Eider Ducks did comfort babies with warm down, and geese both comforted and protected young ones - with down feathers, and by eating dangerous snakes. By 9000 BC, during the Allerød, “mother” swans appear, anthropomorphic creatures created to symbolize the nurturing and protecting of little ones by nature and mothers. During the Boreal, 6000 BC, the mother-swans became human mothers with beautiful wings; these zoomorphic creatures became goddess-like in their cultural role. A thousand years later swan-mothers also comforted, protected, and escorted the souls of dead, brave young men to heaven.

By 450 AD, during the Hun wars (pledged destruction of all Romans/Germans from Iberia to the Urals, ending in Bohemia), these swan-ladies became Valkyries: beautiful war-like loyal women at the battlefield, fighting alongside the men, taking the souls of dead soldiers to heaven. Valkyries are associated with the bright rays of the sun - the Fire of the Valkyries; this ties them to the Sun-Child. Golden-haired women with dazzling white arms and armor, they accompanied the brave fighters on the battlefield, riding swift horses or wolves during conflicts and wars. During more peaceful times, Valkyries became family-oriented beings who married, had babies, and nurtured the good. 

These golden haired ladies of the battle became legendary warriors with swords and spears, and could decide the course of a battle, escorting heroes to Valhalla over Bitfrost (the rainbow). The heroes received mead (ambrosia) and were dressed in shining robes which are associated with clouds. Over time Valkyries became the ones to decide who was slain. Nymphs from Wotan’s (Odin’s) palace, messengers of the gods, and war-leaders, these beautiful women incited heroes to battle by their love and bravery, guided the soldiers, and tended to the wounded and the souls of the dead. They became known as Odin’s Warriors of Asgard (now lake Azov, north of the Black Sea), and are often compared with the more recent Amazon women, although by reputation Valkyries were less cruel. 

((A note about the origin of the Amazons: During wars, women and girls were captured and taken to breeding facilities called bitch-barns. The males were either killed or castrated and enslaved; the young boys were sometimes sacrificed to Moloch. The captive women revolted, uniting together to form a militia of fighting women. They rescued those they could. Over time they gained the reputation of strength; rumored to be cruel to their enemies, they became a powerful matriarchal culture. The origin of the word lesbian is from Lesbos - their home).

During centuries when the Church was struggling to gain power and unite straggling, diverse religious beliefs, many symbols and mythologies of prior millennia were changed, eliminated, or adopted for Christian mythology. Harpies appear about 300 AD, a result of the hatred of Valkyries by the Christian culture and, along with Pandora’s Box, they became purveyors of fear and evil. The beautiful brave Valkyries of the battlefield became the fearsome Harpies – winged, evil monsters with the bodies of birds, the heads of women, sharp claws, and a foul smell, who tormented souls with spite. The name harpie means snatcher, and they supplied the Underworld with souls of those who died before their time. Harpies - storm goddesses - were robbers and spoilers raging over battlefields, carrying off weak and wounded, and stealing children. Originally imaged as beautiful, winged goddesses (the Valkyries), they became monsters – half-birds, half-females. Angels became, in Christian mythology, what the Valkyries were for the goddess cultures. Winged and now male, angels are messengers of the gods, protectors of the innocent, escorting the souls of the righteous to heaven. One scripture does mention females with wings: “Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven.” (Zechariah 5:9). There is an interesting connection here between storks, women, wind, and Odin’s Valkyries. In some mythologies Valkyries maintain their ancient honor and duties.  

Michelle Paula Snyder
Michelle Snyder is a professor of mythology, and an author, publisher, speaker, and artist. She  did her post-graduate research at the University of Wales, decoding ancient and prehistoric symbolism, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales.  Her artwork has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio and founder of FREA.

Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Non-Fiction - Symbology:
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: Decoding Symbols through History
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Art and Symbols
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: ReVision
Symbology: World of Symbols
Symbology: Secrets of the Mermaids

Michelle Paula Snyder
Fiction – Fantasy Wonder Tales:
The Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time Lessons, First Book
Call of the Dragon and other Tales of Wonder
A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book one: The Lost Unicorn
 A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book two The Lost Mermaid 
A Tale of Three Kingdoms, book three The Lost Dragon


  1. Fascinating! I have been horribly ignorant on the subject of Valkyries. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Not ignorant, just didn't have the info. There is an advantage in researching for decades with a rocket scientist/historian - I get cool rare info and then write about it. Glad you liked it!

  3. Thank you for clarifying the role of the Harpy. I have had some confusion as to why they were "once beautiful and then became ugly face women with bodies of birds" or something like that (Wiki). I see now the transition of the symbology. Much appreciated.

  4. Discovering the why of things is a fascinating journey. Thanks for the comment!


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