In Name Only? A Critical Analysis of the Wælcyrge‘s Presence in Old English Texts (Old Norse Myth)

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    Recent scholarship concerning the wælcyrge – the Old English cousin of the Old Norse valkyrie – has had a tendency to assume the former as a sketchy, shadowy borrowing of the better-developed, full-bodied latter, by virtue of analogous nomenclature alone, with some notable exceptions (Chadwick, 1959) and Damico (1987). Contemporary investigations, following these leads, have argued for a new, distinctive identity for the valkyrie abroad via her named appearances in the OE corpus (Tullo, 2020), but also speculative deductions made from unnamed appearances (Purser, 2012). Whilst the broadening of thinking in any area of scholarship is always commendable, as is the questioning of traditional assumptions, speculation can too often take the place of fact-finding, or be too reluctant to admit its own natural limitations. This paper takes a step back to examine critically both exciting new research in this field as well as the traditional interpretation, and seeks to redraw the wælcyrge in a more tangible form. Too frequently, it seems, are conclusions drawn from terms, references and citations removed from their – often critically relevant – native contexts; for example, contentious kennings such as sigewif from the Wyð Ymbe charm (“against a swarm of bees”) and interpretations of monstrous, bloodthirsty females such as Grendel’s mother and Old Norse characters such as Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr, the battle-goddess invoked in the Jómsvikingsaga. By reconsidering these and other presumed alternative forms of the wælcyrge, this paper brings together some of the most speculative but also down-to-earth research to present the wælcyrge as not only very different from the blood-drenched slayer/beautiful psychopomp dualism of Old Norse tradition, but as a distinctly flesh-and-blood personality in the midst of God-fearing Anglo-Saxon England – and, perhaps, one of the earliest recorded victims of the early modern European witch-hunt.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2021
    EventDOING THINGS WITH OLD NORSE MYTH: A Research & Cultural Symposium on Mythological Processes - Reykjavíkur Akademían, Reykjavík, Iceland
    Duration: 25 Nov 202127 Nov 2021


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    • Old English
    • Old Norse
    • Mythology
    • Wælcyrge
    • Beowulf
    • Literature
    • Anglo-Saxon
    • Witchcraft
    • Gender
    • Poetry
    • Linguistics


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