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Norse Valkyrie vs Slavic Vila

It is hard to pinpoint the exact period in human history when religiosity we are all familiar today emerged and started to form itself with all of the colorful myths, supernatural stories, vivid deities and numerous super powered entities. It happened probably at some point around 10.000 BC in the same period of time when humans slowly progressed from being pure hunters and gatherers into next stage of civilization and started to build modern settlements with domesticated animals and cultivated plants. No doubt, religiosity, superstition and spiritualism existed all the way from the beginning in the history when our ancestors started to paint cave walls but only Neolithic revolution and invention of agriculture gave us enough free time to start daydreaming and to think outside pure survival. If we compare all previous beliefs with vignettes, we can safely say that the evolution of religiosity after Neolithic revolution began to fill volumes of graphic novels.

According to the theory, slowly after the beginning of the Holocene period, the first large prehistoric population of Eurasia that spoke Proto-Indo-European languages was formed. They were the ancestor of Indo-European languages and the source of Proto-Indo-European mythology from which all pagan religions arose in different areas of Europe and Asia. This is why we can easily compare different deities and see all the similarities they inherited from the proto times. Take for example gods of lightning, thunder and weather in general. The deity of these properties emerged in all different mythologies and Norse Thor, Greek Zeus, Roman Jupiter, Slavic Perun, Hindu Indra, Hurrian Tar and Hittite Tarḫunna and many others were no doubt based on Proto-Indo-European deity called Perkwunos.

The similarities do not end with the deities but also with other colorful characters from old myths. Last week I stumbled to one amazing piece of art in Churchill Park at Kastellet citadel in Copenhagen. It was 114 years old sculpture of Valkyrie by famous Norwegian artist Stephan Sinding. It was probably the best 3d/live action street art I have ever seen before. It reflects everything about what Valkyrie really is in old Norse mythology. The word literally means "chooser of the slain" and it is portraying a female figure guiding the souls of deceased Nordic soldiers either to Fólkvangr, Freyja's afterlife, or to Valhalla, Odin's immortality hall. Old Norse literature describes valkyries either as purely supernatural or human maidens with certain supernatural powers. Both types of beings were associated with honesty, splendor and gold, but also with bloodshed and brutality in battle.

In South Slavic mythology, a similar being vila represents a female supernatural being who is sympathetic to people, but she could also be vengeful and brutal. She is depicted as an extremely beautiful girl with golden hair, dressed in long, flowing robes and armed usually with bow and arrows. She exists on a luminal plane between nature and culture, between gods and humans constantly travelling between one realm and the other to interact with the heroes and villains of the epics. Even though both valkyries and vilas developed in different religious environments it is hard not to spot various similarities between the two. The whiteness and glowing quality of the vilas is mirrored in the description of the valkyries and both figures are to be found in the sky in most of their depictions with connection to lightning and thunder.*

The warrior aspects of the valkyrie are unquestionable, they are "vowed to war" and their role is primarily on the battlefield. The mythical vile are similarly portrayed and often described as wearing armor, with bows and arrows and envisioned as powerful, supernatural warriors. There are convincing resemblance in regards to the connection between vile and valkyries and heroes in the epics. Most often this relationship is a warrior bond, but this relationship can become both sexual and malicious. Just as a vila can manipulate heroes or villains to murder those of her choosing, so too the valkyries are reputed to play deadly games with the heroes with whom they associate.*

Although the nature of the valkyries' flight is portrayed as a magical ride on horseback whereas the vile most often fly unmounted with the use of bird wings, it is not uncommon for the vile to ride horses or deer. Both, viles and valkyries are often described to gather in groups within the epics and refer to each other as sisters. It is fair to suggest that the valkyrie and the vila are rooted in the same figure, their differences lies only within cultural difference between the Slavs and the Germanic peoples. Perhaps the most likely attestable age of the two figures lies back to the 6th century CE when the south Slavic tribes were still located in the North of Europe.*

From there, we could push the date back even further to the time of Proto-Indo-European times, especially if we extend this comparison to apsarā, beings with similar traits from Indian religion and mythology. Тhe various trios of birth-fate-death-associated women in Greek and Roman folklore also appear to origin from the same source. The direct ancestor of valkyries are most likely Proto-Germanic walakuzjǭ which stands for walaz (battle wound) +‎ kuzą (choice, decision).

Historical origins of vilas include the various traditions especially Celtic, Slavic, Germanic, English, and French folklore. The word 'vilenski' was used as an adjective, meaning "enchanted", but also became a generic term for various enchanted creatures during the late Middle English period. Nevertheless, the proto origin is no doubt the same as the valkyrie's, and south Slavic version, especially in middle age Serbia survived even the Christianizing the old beliefs and ended in colorful epics and poems of 14th century and later. Although, to be perfectly fair and precise, the mythological vila from the oldest myths and tales and folklorized one in epics and poems are somewhat different in a way that folklore is centered to human affairs, heroes, battles and supernatural beings only serve as a side story, so to speak.

Always, when I am reading or writing about old myths and tales I can't help but wonder how would one comparison be of a typical religious person from the old times and today. It seems to me that old stories were much colorful and picturesque than the ones from the religious beliefs of a singular god. Even a small things like simple walk through the woods would be different for somebody in BC times for a simple fact that from all they knew, not only natural plants and animals could be found there. For many, the forest behind the house could also be a magical gateway to the supernatural world and even the smallest unexplained event of natural behavior (like methane leak or weird animal demeanor) could be immediately linked to the supernatural. But this sounds like a nice topic for another story.

Image refs:

* A Treatise on the South Slavic Vila by Dorian Jurić
This article contains quotes/paraphrases from Dorian's theses

Goddess Zhiva (MPJ story):

Serbian Vampires (MPJ story):

Fairies of Naissus (MPJ story):


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