Brynhild (Brünnhilde, Brunhild, Brunhilda) (warrior in coat of mail) In Norse mythology, a Valkyrie, daughter of Odin. Brynhild appears in numerous northern legends and myths. In the Volsunga Saga she is chief of the
Valkyries. When she disobeyed Odin by siding with Sigmund (Sigurd’s father), Odin punished her by putting her to sleep with a sleep thorn and surrounded her with a ring of fire.

Only a hero brave enough to ride through the flames could awaken her, a feat accomplished by Sigurd. On waking she fell in love with the hero, and he gave her a magic ring. Sigurd then rode off to the land of the Nibelungs. Here he was given a magic drink that made him forget his love for Brynhild, and he married Gudrun. In time he urged his brother-in-law Gunnar to seek the hand of Brynhild.

Gunnar made two attempts but failed to break through the circle of fire. Sigurd, disguised with the Tarnkappe (camouflage cloak) as Gunnar, rode again through the fire and received from Brynhild the magic ring he had previously given her. Thinking it was Gunnar who had broken the ring of fire to reach her, she married him and plotted Sigurd’s death.

After his death, however, she was overcome with remorse, killed herself, and was burned on Sigurd’s funeral pyre. The Germanic Nibelungenlied, in which she is called Brunhild, recounts her story differently. Gudrun is called Kriemhild, Gunnar is known as Gunther, and Sigurd is called Siegfried. The events are more elaborately drawn out, and the tragic elements form an important part of the work. Richard Wagner, in his four music dramas Der Ring des Nibelungen, for the most part, uses the names in the Nibelungenlied. However, he generally follows the plot of the Volsunga Saga.

Arthur Rackham portrays Brynhild in his illustrations for Wagner’s Ring Cycle.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante

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