Eir: A Valkyrie or a Goddess of Healing in Asgard?
Eir was the name of a mysterious character in Norse mythology. Her name did not appear much in the myth. And when the major gods like Odin and Thor have become popular in the modern age, the name of Eir is being pushed into oblivion. Unpopular as she is these days, the character of Eir is intriguing for us to read about.
The reasons that made Eir an interesting character are she was mysterious and she empowered the women.
Eir was a mysterious
By far, no conclusion has been made about the original background of Eir. In fact, characters with obscure background were common in Norse mythology but regarding Eir, when she appeared in texts, she had a different identity.
Her name "Eir" meant "mercy" or "help". She was commonly alleged to be one of the handmaidens of Frigg as well as a Valkyrie of Odin. In some accounts, she was a goddess that oversaw the childbirth.
When mentioned as a Valkyrie, she went to the battles in Midgard with her sisters. However, when other Valkyries would collect the soul of the dead warriors to bring them to Valhalla, Eir would choose who to survive the battle and help them. She could help the wounded to get over the battle. Although Snorri Sturluson - the author of Prose Edda - didn't directly mention her name in the Aesir goddesses, he went on to say that Eir was among the important goddesses in Norse mythology.
In Poetic Edda, Eir was known as a companion of a spiritual being who was a kind and compassionate giantess Mengloth. The two were often invoked together in the healing rituals.
Lyfjaberg was the name of her abode. This could be a realm in Asgard. It was a sacred hill where she would live with the wights that she gathered. They were the wights of healing. Other healing maids were Hlif, Hlifthursa, Thiodvarta, Biort, Blid, Blidr, Frid, and Orboda. Legend had it that people in the past often made a sacrifice to these healing maidens in order to ward off illnesses and pestilence in their village.
Eir was a character empowering women in society
Her name "Eir" was commonly used as a kenning for women in skaldic poems and runic inscription. A stick found in Bergen, Norway dating back to circa 12th or 13th century read that:
Wise Var of wire ["woman of filigree," meaning "wise bejeweled woman"] makes (me) sit unhappy.
Eir [woman] of mackerels' ground [likely gold] takes often and much sleep from me
Many scholars explained this runic inscription that the first sentence means women made men miserable, potentially marriage made men miserable because "Var" was the name of the maiden of the wedding vow. And the second sentence means women often took a lot of sleep from them.
In ancient time, women were often associated with healing actions. In other words, the realm of healing was honoured to the realm of the women. For example, the Viking women were supposed to create the medicine and join the battle to help the wounded warriors.
Folk traditions had it that when a sacrifice was dedicated for Eir, white flower or Eirflower would be used. Also, she was associated with copper that was used in the healing rituals and ceremonies.
Before the Norse cosmos became male-dominated, the healing and medical care for the community in Norse countries were largely attributed to the women and the men were merely the helpers. Was this a way that the Norsemen once honoured their women?