Of the many pieces of Viking culture that have survived the passage of time, the concept of Valhalla is one that has seen a mild adoption into modern culture – especially within military cultures.
If you’ve been hanging around a few soldiers, you might have heard them say “Until Valhalla” (or even “Till Valhalla”) or seen a graphic with the phrase.
But what does it mean? And why is it still around? Keep reading to find out.
What does “Until Valhalla” mean?
The phrase “Until Valhalla” refers to meeting each other again in one of the afterlife destinations in Norse mythology. Valhalla is the anglicisation of ‘Valhall’, or the Hall of the Slain, and the most well-known of those afterlife destinations in the modern era.
After death, a Scandinavian of the Viking Age would have expected to end up in one of a handful of final destinations based on the character of their life and the circumstances of their demise – one of which may have been Valhalla.
In Grimnismol, the Hall stands bright and golden in Glathsheim, one of the realms of Asgard – the realm of the gods. Midgard is the “Middle Earth” where humans normally reside, so venturing to Valhalla means leaving the mortal world.
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Is it “till Valhalla” or “until Valhalla”?
Either are correct. The phrase “Til Valhal” in Old Norse translates to “Until Valhalla”. However, in modern English, “Till” and “Until” have nearly synonymous definitions, so either one can be used to convey the same concept. Other variations may also appear.
For example, a longer version of the concept, based on the language that Vikings spoke, could read as, “Until we meet again in Valhalla.” The phrase could also be marginally shortened to “Til’ Valhalla” or “‘Til Valhalla”, depending on preference.
Anyone arguing about the specifics of the phrasing is being both pedantic and incorrect. Most people shouldn’t care about the small difference, and it’s impossible to tell the difference between “Till”, “Til'”, and “‘Til” when spoken.
What are the requirements to enter Valhalla?
To get into Valhalla, a warrior must meet the end of their life in a heroic way during battle. Other forms of death do not count, according to the available sources. The restricted access would have served as motivation for Vikings to actively seek out difficult battles in order to reach Valhalla.
The death didn’t necessarily need to take place immediately during the battle. When King Hakon died from wounds received during a valiant charge well after he was off the battlefield, he was given a respectful burial and a poem that both detailed how he would be welcomed into Valhalla.
Do all soldiers go to Valhalla?
Not all soldiers go to Valhalla in Norse mythology. Aside from the core requirement that a soldier must die in battle to go to Valhalla, only half of them are selected to join Odin. Specifically, only those deemed worthy by the Valkyries and the goddess Freyja make the cut.
In Vafthruthnismol, the Ballad of Vafthruthnir, “Othin’s hall” is where heroes fight every day before coming back to rest and fully heal. The same poem describes the realm of Nifhel as the place where the dead go, which is presumably for those that don’t get into Valhalla.
First, the Valkyries select worthy heroes to join the prestigious section of the afterlife. Then, the draft is split into two halves. The goddess Freyja takes one half to Folkvangr, an afterlife realm that is described similarly to Valhalla as a comfortable place with a permanent battlefield for entertainment. The other half go to Valhalla.
Other aspects of the Norse mythological afterlife are less clear. For example, there’s still the question of whether or not later Christian influences after the Viking Age dramatically altered the concept of Hel to a more punishing place by the time of the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, both by Snorri Sturluson.
Why there was a key distinction between Folkvangr and Valhalla is also not precisely clear, since there are few mentions of Folkvangr in the available works.
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What was the meaning of “Until Valhalla” to the Vikings?
If a Viking mentioned meeting someone again in Valhalla, they would be suggesting that a heroic death in battle awaits the speaker and any listeners. It could thus be a way of saying farewell to someone you consider a worthy soldier, with the speaker being similarly worthy.
Whether or not Vikings invoked Valhalla this way with regularity is impossible to say for certain, but the concept of meeting a glorious death and entering Valhalla is more prominent than other afterlives in the Poetic Edda and other sources.
Why does the army say “till Valhalla”?
Modern military members may invoke Valhalla as a way of acknowledging the risk of death that all of them face. Notably, while not an official creed or motto of the U.S. Army, references to Valhalla are not uncommon amongst the service.
Valhalla represents a place where soldiers might meet their comrades again, providing solace to those who are lamenting lost friends and giving motivation to push through dangerous situations where death might come at any moment.
Users of the phrase may not be adhering directly to Norse mythology, either. Entrance to Valhalla required more than just being a warrior, but the modern military’s cultural use tends to overlook that portion.
In some cases, the phrase takes a slight turn to mean supporting soldiers and veterans until they reach Valhalla. The Til Valhalla Project sells a variety of apparel and other items with a section of the proceeds donated to veterans. While a noble purpose, there is no guarantee that many of those who the project helps would actually be selected by the Valkyries for Valhalla when they die.
Why do Marines talk about Valhalla?
Marines may also reference Valhalla as a way to pay their respects to fallen soldiers or mentally prepare for dangerous situations. As with the Army, the Marines do not have an official motto or creed referencing Valhalla, but it shows within the culture.
For example, an article on the Marines’ website is titled “Til’ Valhalla“, and the content shows how the concept is used both to honor the fallen and encourage the living. The USMC Drum Corps performed a piece called “Until Valhalla“.
Do people still believe in Valhalla today?
Belief in Valhalla in the modern era is widely separated between those who have adopted its cultural significance and those who follow religions like Asatro (Asatru, Ásatrú). The vast majority of modern references to Valhalla come from those who value its succinct depiction of a worthy destination for war heroes.
There are likely some amongst this group that incorporate it into their personal beliefs, but the rest do not believe that Valhalla exists exactly as depicted in Scandinavian culture.
The only modern religion to officially continue having a belief in Valhalla is Asatro, a revival of Scandinavian paganism. You might find the name with a slightly different spelling depending on the region where the branch operates.
But given the relative lack of direct sources for the old practices, these modern religions do not exactly reflect the beliefs of the Viking Age.
Til Valhalla: Final thoughts
The concept of Valhalla was highly important to the Vikings and the fact that it lives on today with a meaning not so far off from its original one is extremely interesting.
Whether it’s Vikings 1000 years ago sending off a fallen hero to cries of “until Valhalla” or the Marines today proclaiming “til Valhalla” (or “till Valhalla” depending on your preferred spelling) in very similar circumstances, there’s no doubt that that the meaning and symbolism of the term continues with some basic similarities.
While the specifics involving the goddess Freyja may no longer be used by those in military circles, it is certainly a great comfort for family and friends left behind to think that their loved ones may end up in Valhalla – just as it was a millennium ago for the Vikings.