Whoosh! Issue 14 -
November 1997

IAXS Project #317
By Brian Edward Lashmar
Copyright © 1997 held by author
7664 words

Introduction (01-04)
Synopsis (05-17)
Comparisons (18-23)
Common Scenarios and Storylines (24-31)
Themes (32-104)
     Women and Their Times (32-42)
     Revenge (53-65)
     Crossing Over (66-69)
     Loneliness and Neediness (70-73)
     Animus/Anima (74-81)
     Alphas (82-86)
     Wisdom (87-90)
     The Horse Motif (91-95)
     Redemption (96-104)
Politics and Shield Maidens (105-111)
Conclusions (112-114)
End Notes (115-121)

Brunhilde's Daughters


You pretend you're Thor and show me your

Composer Richard Wagner.

[01] This paper is an attempt to compare Richard Wagner's Brunhilde, the central character of the opera "Ring of the Nibelung" (hereafter "The Ring"), with the characters of four warrior women found in television and film: Valeria, Red Sonja, Xena, and Callisto. I will also attempt to explore some of the themes and scenarios found in these works as they pertain to the characters in review.

[02] Wagner's Brunhilde is not so much a single personality as she is a composite of the various "Brunhildes" of Norse and German myth. Wagner also fused the characters of Gudrun (also known as Kriemhild) and the Valkyrie Sigurdrifa into Brunhilde's Character. We find that there are actually three "Brunhildes" in the myths and poems. They are: Brunhilde Budladottir, the valkyrie and daughter of the sea king (viking) Budli; Brunhilde, shield maiden of the Huns and sister of Attila (found in the "Volsunga Saga" (hereafter VS) and in the "Elder Edda" and "Younger Edda" (hereafter Eddas); and, Brunhilde, Queen of Iceland (found in "The Song of the Nibelungs", hereafter The Song).

[03] Since a large portion of Wagner's Brunhilde character is borrowed from her sister-in-law Gudrun Gjukadottir, it is necessary to include Gudrun in all of our discussions.

[04] The following will be fairly complicated as many of the stories and myths tend to contradict one another. I will give only a very basic outline of the Brunhilde story as found in "The Ring" and I will try to point out the major contradictions with the myths [Note 01].


Wait! Can you hold it just there? XENA's on! Back during the

A scene inspired by "Die Walkuere".

[05] In the opera, Brunhilde is the daughter of Odin the king of the gods and Erda (Mother Earth). She is a valkyrie, and with her eight sisters she roams battlefields searching for fallen heros whom she takes to Valhalla to live with Odin.

[06] Against Odin's orders, Brunhilde tries to save the life of Sigmund and as punishment, Odin puts her in a deep sleep to be given to the first man who comes to waken her. She demands that she be surrounded by a circle of fire so that only a man who knew no fear could pass through to reach her. This Odin grants.

[07] Several years later, the hero Sigfrid (Sigmund's son) passes through the flames and awakens Brunhilde with a kiss and claims her as his bride. The two fall in love and pledge eternal fidelity to each other.

[08] Sigfrid possesses a ring of power that once belonged to Odin and the god hopes to regain the ring and use it to reassert his authority over the world. The ring was forged from the "Rhinegold" and a curse has been placed on the ring so that anyone who possesses it will die. Brunhilde gives Sigfrid all of her wisdom, her armour, and she lends him her horse, Grane. Sigfrid gives Brunhilde the ring. Armed with Brunhilde's knowledge and battle gear, Sigfrid sets out into the world to make a name for himself. Brunhilde remains at Valkyrie Rock.

[09] A fair bit of time passes and Sigfrid arrives in the Gothic-Burgundian kingdom at Worms on the Rhine. Here he meets King Gunther and his brother Hagen and sister Gudrun.

[10] Gunther has heard of Brunhilde and wants her for his wife. He does not know that Sigfrid knows Brunhilde. Gudrun sees Sigfrid and wants him for a husband, so the three Burgundians conspire to give Sigfrid a magic potion that will make him forget all other women and fall in love with Gudrun. Sigfrid drinks the potion, falls in love, and asks Gunther for Gudrun's hand. Gunther states that he will agree to the marriage if Sigfrid helps him win Brunhilde. Gunther is afraid to go through the flames himself, and Sigfrid has already developed the reputation of being the greatest hero that has ever lived. Sigfrid agrees.

[11] With the aid of a magic helmet, Sigfrid (disguised as Gunther) passes through the flames and claims Brunhilde as Gunther's bride. He sees the ring on Brunhilde's finger and takes it.

[12] Brunhilde and Gunther are married, as are Sigfrid and Gudrun. Brunhilde sees the ring on Sigfrid's finger and realises that it was Sigfrid who betrayed her. She is outraged and plots Sigfrid's death with the aid of Hagen and Gunther.

[13] Only after Hagen murders Sigfrid does Brunhilde learn the truth -- not only was Sigfrid innocent, but all the events leading to Sigfrid's death had been orchestrated by Odin in hopes of retrieving the ring.

[14] Brunhilde orders that a pyre be built and Sigfrid's body be placed on it. She takes the ring from Sigfrid's finger and puts it on her own. She then sets the pyre on fire, and mounting the horse Grane, she rides the horse onto the pyre and dies. The flames rise and engulf Valhalla destroying Odin and the gods, the ring is returned to the Rhine with the curse removed, and humankind is redeemed from the arbitrary rule of the gods.

[15] The German and Norse legends contrast "The Ring" in several aspects. In all stories but "The Song", Brunhilde commits suicide by stabbing herself with her sword. In "The Song" she lives and returns to Iceland. In all the stories, Brunhilde is a mortal woman of mortal parents.

[16] In all the stories, Sigfrid was either a willing participant in Brunhilde's betrayal, or when he realized what happened, he decided to keep quiet. In all the stories, Gudrun goes on to take her revenge either on her brothers ("The Song"), or Atilla (VS and Eddas). In all the stories it is Gudrun who orders Sigfrid's pyre be built. Also, Gudrun burns down Myrkheimr and destroys Attila and the Huns. Wagner used this story for the basis of Brunhilde burning Valhalla to the ground destroying Odin and the gods.

[17] In all of the stories, Brunhilde only learns of the betrayal several years later when Gurun tells her of it during an argument.


I REALLY hope this isn't poisonous.

A scene inspired by "Siegfried".

[18] Brunhilde is often depicted as being blond or red-headed. There is no description of her hair colour in any of the sources, but valkyries are always described as being very fair skinned with red or yellow hair. Sonja, Valeria, and Callisto, all match this criteria. Interestingly enough, Xena was originally cast as being blond; however, the producers decided to go with the black-haired Xena at the suggestion of Ms. Lawless.

[19] The best description of Brunhilde's physical traits come from "The Song".

434 Brunhild now had come, weapons in hand,
As if she meant to conquer some monarch's land-
In silks with golden brooches fastened in,
Beneath which gleamed the shinning whiteness of her

437 People say that, at the boss, her shield
Was three hands thick, and this the maid could wield!
A splendid mass of gold and steel so great,
Four of her chamberlains could hardly bear its weight.

440 They also brought the maiden a mighty spear,
Enormous in size, yet part of the battle gear
She always used. The stock was heavily made,
The point was sharp and true, a fearsome cutting blade.

441 I tell you, amazing tales have made the rounds
About how heavy it was. A hundred pounds
Of metal alone, they say, went into the spear;
It was all three men could lift. Great was Gunther's

449 But Brunhilde's strength was clearly an awesome
They brought a heavy stone up to the ring,
A mammoth piece of rock, huge and round.
It took a dozen men to lift it off the ground.

451 Back from her white gleaming wrist she rolled
Her sleaves, and took the shield in hand to hold,
And lifted up her spear. The games were on.
At the thought of Brunhilde's wrath, their confidence
was gone.

462 Straight to her place she went, with an angry
High in the air the maiden raised the stone.
She gave it a mighty heave-and how it flew!
Her armour clanging, she jumped after the stone she

463 The stone had traveled twenty yards or so,
And still the jump she made surpassed her throw.
Now the hero Sigfrid walked to the stone.
Gunther hefted it, but Sigfrid threw it alone.

[20] In Xena: Warrior Princess, there are many references to Xena's ability to leap great distances and her skill with weapons. We also view several examples of her great strength -- one of the best examples occurred in the episode CALLISTO (#22), when she caught the falling Callisto in mid-air with only one hand.

[21] Other strong similarities between Xena and Brunhilde include: In heroic literature they are the only two warriors to make use of distinctive war cries. Both women have special relationships with their horses. In "The Song", Brunhilde makes a vow that only a man who defeats her in battle will marry her [Note 02].

[22] In Red Sonja (Richard Fleischer, 1985), Sonja has made a similar vow: "No man may have me unless he's beaten me in a fair fight." It is interesting that she puts in the stipulation that the fight must be fair. Lord Kalidor replies: "So the only man who can have you is one who's tried to kill you -- that's logic." It should be noted that while Brunhilde lost the battle to Sigfrid, Sonja is the greatest sword fighter of her time and she never loses -- at best, the most Kalidor could achieve would be a draw.

[23] In VS and the Eddas, Brunhilde states: "But I swore a vow: 'I would marry no one who could know fear.'"

Common Scenarios And Storylines

Wake up! There's an irritating blonde saying something about
frying pans.

A scene inspired by "Das Rheingold".

[24] One of the most famous and dramatic scenes in all of opera occurs in the second opera of "The Ring". In this scene, the Valkyrie Brunhilde appears in a lightning flash during the battle between Sigmund and Hunting and shields Sigmund from Hunting's blows and gives Sigmund the opportunity to kill Hunting. Odin intervenes and breaks Sigmund's sword "Nothung" and kills Sigmund.

[25] In Conan the Barbarian (John Milius, 1981), during the battle between Conan and Rexor, Valeria returns as a valkyrie and shields Conan from Rexor's death blow with her sword and beats Rexor back until Conan can regain his feet. Conan goes on to kill Rexor.

[26] In Xena: Warrior Princess, the shielding scene has been used on several occasions -- the best example occurred in the episode COMEDY OF EROS (#46) when Xena shields the fallen Draco from the slave trader's death blow and beats the slaver back until Draco is able to take over and defeat him.

[27] In the Eddas and VS, Brunhilde is a mortal woman who becomes a valkyrie but is made a mortal woman again as punishment for defying Odin by granting the Goths victory in a battle. In "The Ring", Brunhilde is an immortal valkyrie by birth but has her godhood taken away by Odin as punishment for trying to save Sigmund. In Conan, Valeria dies and is transformed into a valkyrie. In Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena is offered godhood at various times but always refuses the offer [Note 03]. In Xena: Warrior Princess, Callisto steals godhood by eating ambrosia [A NECESSARY EVIL (#38)].

[28] In heroic literature, the breaking of weapons is symbolic of a loss of power and divine favour or divine right. The forging of weapons is symbolic of the attainment of power and divine favour. When Odin breaks Sigmund's sword in "The Ring", it is symbolic of Sigmund's loss of divine favour. Sigfrid reforges his father's sword and uses it to break Odin's spear. This signifies Odin's loss of divine right over humankind.

[29] In Conan, Conan's father forges a great sword, but Rexor and Tulsa Doom kill the father and then take the sword, then kill Conan's mother with it. Tulsa Doom gives the sword to Rexor. Conan breaks the sword and kills Rexor, then he uses the broken sword to kill Tulsa Doom. He later reforges the sword.

[30] In Red Sonja, Sonja is given a gift of choosing the best of her martial arts master's swords. She searches through the forge until she finds the sword she wants. Later she breaks Queen Gedren's sword with it and kills the Queen.

[31] To the best of my knowledge I have not seen the "Broken Sword Motif" used in Xena: Warrior Princess but I have not seen all of the episodes.


Women and Their Times

Uh...why don't we just let the horse carry

A scene inspired by "Goetterdamurung".

[32] In the pre-Christian sagas and Eddas, I suspect that we find both Brunhilde and Gudrun in their most natural element as both women and warriors. Both women are very feminine and both are better skilled in what are considered to be the womanly arts of the time such as weaving and tapestry.

[33] Both are excellent hostesses and both are considered to be generous and open handed. Both seem to treat their servants well and are loved by them. Both women are mothers who raise their children and both are highly regarded full members of their society. Since the story is basically a tragedy, both women have their share of problems and flaws, but this should not over-shadow the fact that these women may be very representative of women and women's roles in pre-Christian times.

[34] Both women go on various war parties and viking raids:

96 We were three, sister and brothers,
we seemed indomitable,
we left our own shores,
and went with Sigurdr. (Sigfrid)
We made our ships speed,
each commanded his own.
we roved, following our luck,
until we came to the east.

97 A king was first we slew-
we chose lands there;
earls surrendered to us-
this showed their terror.
By the sword we freed from outlawry
any we wished acquitted,
and raised to prosperity
whoever had nothing of his own.

From "Atlakvida"

[35] As a valkyrie, Brunhilde swore an oath of chastity, but the oath became void when Odin took away her powers. Still, she was determined to remain a shield maiden and would only marry the best of men. Gudrun is also of this mind, and they both love Sigfrid.

[36] No matter which version of the story we read, one thing is certain, Brunhilde was horribly betrayed by everyone in the story -- including Sigfrid and Gudrun. It should be noted that the readers at the time were very sympathetic to Brunhilde.

[37] Although Brunhilde was considered to be the greatest of the shield maidens, we are left with no accounts for her fighting abilities -- on the other hand, we have several examples of Gudrun's fighting skills:

44 Gudrun was savage
when she heard that sorrow.
The jewels burdening her throat
she threw off, everyone,
flung the silver so fiercely
that the circlets were scattered.

47 The high born lady saw
that they played a bitter game,
she gave her thoughts harsh purpose,
threw off her cloak.
She grasped a naked sword
and defended her kinsmen's lives-
showed her skill at fighting
where ever she set her blows.

48 The daughter of Giuki made
two fighters fall:
she struck the brother of Atli-
he had to be carried then:
she shaped the battle so,
slashed his leg away.
The second man she hewed
so that he did not rise again-
she placed him in death,
yet her hands did not tremble.

49 They made a dispute there
that won renown-
the feats of Giuki's children
outclassed all other deeds.
So men, said that the Niflungar, (Nibelungs)
while life was in them,
carved attack with their swords
-mailcoats were cut to shreds by them-
hewed helmets as valour gave them strength.

From "Atlamal in Groenlenzko"

[38] We can now compare these pre-Christian women with the medieval women of "The Song".

[39] In "The Song", Brunhilde is a great warrior and queen of Iceland, but she can only remain so if she does not marry. The laws of the time place a wife under the authority of her husband, and any independence that Brunhilde enjoys would be lost on her wedding day. Brunhilde devises the plan to only marry a man who can defeat her -- her thinking being that no man can do this. This is considered to be a prideful boast. Men fear her, but they do not admire her, and no one is sympathetic to her when she is betrayed [Note 04].

[40] Once Brunhilde marries Gunther and the marriage is consummated she resigns herself to being a "good wife" until she learns of the betrayal.

[41] Kriemhild (Gudrun) is portrayed as the perfect medieval lady and wife. She even meekly submits to a beating at the hands of Sigfrid:

893 "Lord of Trony, loyal friend, reflect!
I never bore you hate, but full respect.
Grant me reward of this in my husband's name!
If I insulted Brunhilde, he should not bear the blame.

894 Whatever I did I've since regretted roundly,
And he himself it was who thrashed me soundly
For saying what so weighs upon her mind.
My lord exacted penance, and that of the strictest

From "Song of the Nibelung"

[42] Compare this Gudrun to the one who killed two of Attila's brothers in hand to hand combat.

[43] It is interesting how in the Christian areas at this time warrior women had been reduced to the level of witches. The Anglo-Saxon Waelcyrgeans and the Welsh Guiddonnots were both associated with witchcraft.

[44] In "The Ring", Gudrun has been reduced to a mousey little house frau while Brunhilde is elevated to a goddess. There seems to be no place in the opera for strong mortal women. A very "Victorian" Brunhilde discovers that human women cannot play by the same rules that goddesses play by, and as she passes from her father's authority to that of her husband's (Sigfrid's), she realizes that she must give up her past.

[45] She takes on the role of "the woman behind the man". She gives Sigfrid all her knowledge, her armour, and her horse. She molds Sigfrid's natural ability with her teaching and makes him the greatest warrior of all time. Then she waits quietly at Valkyrie Rock while Sigfrid goes out into the world to make a name for himself.

[46] The creator of Red Sonja and Valeria was the American writer, Robert E. Howard. Howard was a man who believed in a world of strong women. Born just at the end of American westward expansion of pioneer stock in West Texas, he understood the need for pioneer women to be strong and independent. Families depended as much on the strength of their mothers as they did on their fathers' strength to survive -- especially in the dangerous isolated farm communities.

[47] It should also be noted that all the Howard characters were intensively re-worked by the producers in the film versions of his books, and so we are left with two very strong women. The screenplay writers tried to make them women of their time, just after the sinking of Atlantis; but we do see strong twentieth century influences on both women.

[48] For all her strength and independence we find that Valeria enters into what could almost be described as a co-dependent relationship with Conan that is reminiscent of the 1970s. Conan's own addiction (if I can use that word) is his obsession with revenge; and although Valeria is not a vengeful person, she gets caught up in Conan's cycle of revenge and ends up being the one who pays the price for Conan's revenge. It almost seems that even with all her qualities, the writers have decreed that she cannot be complete without a man and that she must choose a man on his terms [Note 05].

[49] Sonja has no problem living without men. She mistrusts all men and dislikes most. She is a woman who needs no one and when the time comes for her to chose a man it will be on her terms. It is interesting to note that when she makes the same vow that Brunhilde made, she stipulates that it must be a "fair fight". She will not be tricked into submission the way Brunhilde was.

[50] Lord Kalidor is Sonja's equal, neither is superior to the other. In the final fight scene with Queen Gedren, men are barred from the conflict. The struggle is between the two women and although the men are very capable, they can only helplessly look on from behind a locked gate as the fate of the world is decided between two women.

[51] Sonja may reflect a more 1980s view among women in that she can get along quite nicely without men but she is willing to cooperate with men for the common good. In Xena: Warrior Princess, we often find that men are irrelevant and they often seem to be ineffective. Xena and Gabrielle can take them or leave them, while Callisto wants no part of them. Callisto states, "Love is a trick of nature to get us to reproduce. I want no part of it."

[52] There is even discussion as to whether Xena and Gabrielle are bisexual or lesbian. In all our other stories, men were either dominant or equal, only in Xena: Warrior Princess does it seem that the roles are reversed.


Coming next week to the World Wrestling

Conan the Barbarian.

[53] The khan asks Conan, "What is best in life?" Conan replies, "To crush your enemies, to drive them before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women." Both the pre-Christian Brunhilde and Gudrun would understand and applaud Conan's words. They come from a society where revenge was a very strong force and the exacting of revenge was considered a duty. One thing that is true of all these women is that when they see themselves as being "wronged" they are all quite capable of exacting revenge. In this they are all the same. The only thing that seems to change is the extent of the revenge they take and their societies' view of that revenge.

[54] In pre-Christian Teutonic society there can be no such thing as too much revenge or excessive revenge. Revenge was meant to be excessive. That way people would know not to make you an enemy.

[55] Brunhilde's revenge on Sigfrid was considered fair and when she kills herself, the poets are sympathetic. What I find remarkable is that Gudrun would agree to having her body placed on the pyre beside Sigfrid's. Gudrun's revenge has come down to us as one of the great horror stories of all time. She kills the two sons that she had with Attila and she roasts their hearts and feeds them to him.

[56] She then kills Attila and burns down the hall:

With a sword-point she gave the bedding
blood to drink
with a hand eager for death,
and freed the dogs.
She flung before the hall door
a brand, and wakened the servants,
that bride with its blaze.
She let those acts atone for her

She gave to the fire all
who were inside
and had come from Gunarr's murder (Gunther)
from Myrkheimr,
the ancient rafters fell,
smoke rose from the temples,
the homestead of Budli's clan
and the shield maidens were burnt
in the hall, their flow of life staunched-
they sank into the hot flames.

From "Aklakvida"

[57] Note that she murders her two young sons, but she awakens the slaves and unties the dogs because only the "guilty" must die. Her revenge is focused and considered just and laudable by the pre-Christian poets and listeners.

[58] In "The Song" the poet may have some sympathy for Brunhilde. She is the only one who lives. Kriemhild (Gudrun) is considered to be a deranged monster who goes too far -- killing all, even the innocent to get at the guilty (In this case, the guilty are her brothers).

[59] Please note that in the Sagas and Eddas, Gudrun made peace with her brothers after Sigfrid's murder. Family was more important than marriage in pre-Christian Teutonic society. In "The Song" she kills her brothers. Marriage was more important than family in Christian Teutonic society.

[60] In "The Song", we witness Kriemhild's transformation from a virtuous young woman into a monstrous killing machine because of the traumatic event of Sigfrid's murder. In Xena: Warrior Princess we witness the same transformation in Callisto after the death of her family at Xena's hand. In Conan, revenge seems to be an obsession with Conan and he is willing to sacrifice everything to achieve it. Even Valeria's death can be attributed to Conan's need for revenge.

[61] Conan eventually achieves his revenge but he never finds happiness in his life, and no matter how great his successes, he is always troubled.

[62] In Red Sonja, revenge is seen as just and the goddess gives Sonja the power and ability to exact that revenge. However, her vengeance is tempered by being achieved in the context of fighting to save the world from destruction, and is not a goal in itself. In the 1990s we are ambivalent about revenge. We feel that revenge is wrong but at the same time we want it, and we are willing to deal with the guilt later.

[63] When dealing with revenge we see three aspects: there is the ideal that revenge is wrong; there is the extreme that revenge is good and necessary and should be total; and there is what we are willing to live with. This fluctuates in accordance to our stresses. The pre-Christian Brunhilde and Gudrun would have no problem. They would see all as one. What was extreme is what they were willing to live with and they saw it as the ideal.

[64] In Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle is the ideal. She sees revenge as wrong [Note 06]. Callisto is the extreme. She is total vengeance. She has her modern counterpart in nuclear retaliation. This is part of our foreign policy and even though we are willing to consider this option, we see it as madness. Many viewers feel that Callisto is mad. Xena is what we are willing to live with. She is the "measured response". Yet, she is much more. She has become our proxy. Xena gets revenge for everyone of us who ever felt they were mistreated. The old Xena was a murderer, but we were quick to forgive her. The new Xena only performs "lawful killings" and we cheer her on.

[65] In "The Ring", Vengeance belongs to the goddess. Brunhilde states that she is the only one who has been injured and that she is the only one who will exact revenge. However, she takes the "act of revenge" and turns it into an act of redemption through her self- sacrifice.

Crossing Over

[66] In many of the stories we find that crossing over to and from death is a major theme. In the pre-Christian poems, Gudrun only talks about it:

20 Do you remember Siguudr,
what we two swore,
when in bed
we lay together-
that you would come,
proud one, to visit me
even from death hero,
and I you from the world.

21 Build high, my lords.
the pyre of oakwood,
make it, under heaven
rise highest of all.
May fire burn
the heart full of griefs;
may sorrows melt,
that weigh down the heart.

From "Gudronarhvot"

[67] Brunhilde kills herself to be with Sigfrid in death. In "The Ring", Brunhilde also chooses to join Sigfrid in death:

Friends, let fitting
Funeral pyre
Be reared by the river here.
High and clear
Kindle the fire,
That the noble form
Of him the hero, may flame!-
His steed bring to me here,
To its master straight it shall bear me;
For my body burneth
To share in the honour
The hero soon we'll show.-
Obey Brunhilde's will!

From "The Ring"

[68] In Conan", Valeria says to Conan, "All the gods, they cannot sever us. If I were dead and you still fighting for life, I'd come back from the darkness, back from the pit of Hell to fight at your side." Valeria does come back, she returns as a Valkyrie to save Conan's life.

[69] In Xena: Warrior Princess, after Xena dies in the episode DESTINY (#36), she hears Gabrielle weeping and she decides that she must return from the dead.

Loneliness and Neediness
[70] It is interesting to note that for all their strength and independence, many of these women seem to be very lonely and needy. In most of the stories, Brunhilde cannot live without Sigfrid. She sums up the human condition:

Ever with grief
and all too long are men and women
born in the world.

From Helreid Brynhildar

[71] Gudrun, on the other hand, is a survivor. She outlives three husbands and dies in old age.

[72] Valeria sums up her years of loneliness, "I have never had so much as now, all my life I've been alone. Many times I've faced my death with no one to know. I would look into the huts and tents of others in the coldest dark and see figures holding each other in the night, but I always passed by. You and I, we have warmth --that's so hard to find in the world. Please, let someone else pass in the night. Let us take the world by the throat and make it give us what we desire."

[73] It is doubtful whether she could survive Conan's death, while Conan is never the same after she dies. From what we learn from Xena, one has to wonder whether she could survive Gabrielle's death. We know that Gabrielle can survive Xena's death [DESTINY (#36); THE QUEST (#37)].


If I let go, the blood will just pour

Xena "borrowed" Autolycus' body
in THE QUEST (#37).

[74] The shortest description of the animus is: The animus is the subconscious male aspect of the female, while the anima is the subconscious female aspect of the male. The strength of the animus/anima is different in all people, but people try to maintain a balance that is compatible with their environment.

[75] Wagner's Brunhilde, Sonja, and Xena all have a strong active animus. The animus can be a destructive force whereas the anima can be a creative force. It may be the projected animus that drives Brunhilde to conspire to kill Sigfrid. Only after she attains wisdom does she learn to control the animus.

[76] The name "Brunhilde" means "armoured warrior woman" and Dr. Robert Donington has suggested that her armour is symbolic of her powerful animus.

[77] Sonja seems to have control of her animus to a large degree, but it may be her animus that will not allow her to trust men. She is the greatest sword fighter of her time, and her sword may be the symbol of her projected animus.

[78] Xena may have the most powerful animus of all. Once again, because of our 1990s ambivalence, we allow Xena the right to be a warrior, but we do not allow her the right to be both a warrior and to be feminine.

[79] Both Brunhilde and Gudrun of pre-Christian Teutonic society were allowed to be both women and warriors. They did not need to submerge their femininity to be the great warriors they were. They were both accepted members of their society.

[80] In Xena: Warrior Princess, not only does it seem that Xena has sacrificed her femininity, but she must also exist on the peripherals of her society, showing up only when needed. She does not raise her own child, whereas both Brunhilde and Gudrun raised their children.

[81] Xena's great saddle horn may be symbolic of her powerful projected animus.

[82] To aid in our discussion, I wish to borrow the terms "alpha male" and "alpha female" from biology and primatology.

[83] Alpha males and alpha females are those members of a society who through their own will power and strength manage to rise to the top of that society. They become dominant to all other members of that society. They are the best of the species.

[84] Alpha males tend to be promiscuous and will accept both alpha and non-alpha females. Alpha females tend to be monogamous and very selective, accepting only alpha males.

[85] Not only is Brunhilde an alpha female, she seems to be the alpha of alpha females. Because of this, we can understand her rage when she discovered that she had been tricked into marrying Gunther. She believes that only Sigfrid is worthy of her and would rather die than remain the wife of Gunther.

[86] It is interesting to note that Xena does not exactly follow the alpha pattern. The evil Xena behaves more like an alpha male than an alpha female. She was promiscuous and not very choosey as to whom she slept with. This may be a reflection of her strong animus. The redeemed Xena acts like an alpha female. She tends toward monogamy and only chooses alpha males such as Marcus. Note that she is attracted to Ulysses but will not come between Penelope and him [ULYSSES (#43)]. In deference to the lesbian subtext, I should point out that if Xena were a lesbian the pattern still holds true since she would be in a monogamous relationship with a proto-alpha in Gabrielle.

[87] Both Xena and Brunhilde are seen as very wise women. I define wisdom as the marriage of knowledge and experience.

[88] We find that with innocence there are two kinds: There is immature innocence, that is, naivete; and there is mature innocence, which is wisdom (or, rediscovered innocence).

[89] The goddess Brunhilde, just like Gabrielle, has the immature innocence. Brunhilde and Gabrielle have much knowledge, but little human experience. It is not until Brunhilde becomes mortal and is subjected to human experiences does she develop true wisdom:

Me-had he,
The true one, to ruin,
To wisdom win for a wife!-
Ween I now what thou wouldst?-
All, yes all things-
All I wot now:
All at once is made clear!
Even thy ravens
Hear I rustling:
To tell the dreaded tidings,
Speed I them both on their way.
Rest thee! Rest thee, O God!

From "The Ring"

[90] It is unclear why Brunhilde develops instant wisdom. It may be because she was a god. Or perhaps her great sorrow has made all things clear. Or it may be that the Rhine maidens instilled wisdom into her. Xena had to learn her wisdom through the slow process of trial and error, and is still learning; but then the process is not nearly as traumatic as that of Brunhilde's.

The Horse Motif

Hey! This is much better than asphalt!

Faithful Argo runs to Xena's call
in THE QUEST (#37).

[91] Brunhilde's horse, Grane, is the only friend who does not betray her. Grane is more than just a horse, he is Brunhilde's most faithful friend. When Brunhilde is punished by Odin, the immortal Grane follows Brunhilde into mortality. When Brunhilde chooses to die, she cannot do it alone. She is now a mortal and cannot climb up a burning pyre. She calls on Grane to help her. She removes his harness and tackle because his aid must be voluntary since it will also mean his death. Her last words are:

Grane, my steed,
Greet thee again!
Know'st thou friend,
Now whither we're faring?
By flames illumined
Lies there your lord,
Siegfried, of heroes most high.
On meeting thy master,
Neighest thou madly?
Lo! how the flame
Doth leap and allure thee!
Feel how my breast too
Hotly doth burn;
Brightly glowing,
My heart it grips.
Could I but clasp him,
And by him be clasped,
With power and passion
Be held as his bride!-
Hi-Ya-Ho! Grane!
Greetings give thy lord!
Siegfried! Siegfried! See!
Gladly greets thee thy wife!

[92] Brunhilde leaps onto the horse, and the horse carries her into the flames.

[93] Argo is the only friend that has not abandoned Xena. Gabrielle runs out on Xena in THE PRODIGAL (#18), and a terrified Gabrielle hides behind a rock while Velasca is choking Xena in A NECESSARY EVIL (#38). It is Callisto who must come to Xena's aid. Argo was the only friend who followed Xena into exile from her army and her old life. Only Argo is always there for Xena and only Argo is totally non-judgmental of Xena.

[94] Dr. Donington has suggested that the horse is symbolic of Brunhilde's instincts. This may also be true for Xena. Wounded people such as Brunhilde and Xena tend to loose their faith in humanity and rely more on their instincts than on the people around them. In the end, Brunhilde dies friendless, except for the horse. She is left only with her instincts.

[95] Xena has friendship forced on her in the form of first Gabrielle and then Joxer. As she gains wisdom she comes to realize that part of the human condition is that people, even friends, sometimes let you down. As she comes to better understanding of this lesson, she will need to rely less and less on her instincts. They will always be there, just as the horse will always be there, but they will just be less important.

[96] Redemption is probably the most powerful theme in both "The Ring" and in Xena: Warrior Princess. It also occurs to a lesser extent in Red Sonja and Conan. The writers of the pre-Christian poems had no interest in redemption as a theme, and the medieval poem is considered to be a secular poem. In Red Sonja, redemption is seen as an act of salvation as Sonja saves the world from destruction.

[97] In Conan, Valeria redeems the dead Conan and brings him back to life by agreeing "to pay the price" by offering the gods her own life. Later, after she dies, she returns as a valkyrie to save Conan again.

[98] In "The Ring", redemption is the major theme of the opera. The whole story can be summed up as the voluntary self-sacrifice of a goddess in order to bring about the redemption of all of creation. Only Brunhilde can do this. She is the daughter of both Odin and Erda; therefore, of Heaven and Earth.

[99] Brunhilde's death ends the arbitrary rule of the gods, removes the curse from the ring, and returns the gold to the Rhine where it will be safe. Her death brings about the "age of Baldur".

[100] Wagner is determined that the audience understands his message, even to the point of spoon-feeding the audience by having the message recited rather than sung. This excerpt is the only part of the opera that is not set to music:

Ye friends, who retain
The flower of life,
What I now do tell ye,
Heed ye it well!-
Whe ye have watched while the flame
Siegfried and Brunhilde consumed;
Seen how the river-maidens
Went down into the depths with their ring:
Then Northward look
Out through the night!
If yonder the heavens
Aglow you behold
Ye all shall know-
That Valhalla's doom ye have seen!-

When gone as breath,
The gods shall have passed,
When all unlorded
The world I have left,
Yet the treasure my wisdom held
Won for the world shall be.
No goods, nor gold,
Nor godly display;
Not house or hall,
Nor haughty array;
Nor traitorous treaties;
Trammels and bonds,
Not cruel decrees
Of custom and cant;-
Happy in weal or woe
Let-but Love be your lord!

From "The Ring"

[101] Redemption is also a major theme in Xena: Warrior Princess. Xena is put on the road to redemption by Hercules, and each episode is a continuance of her journey. Even her return from Tartarus in THE QUEST (#37) is "forced" on her. She would rather remain wallowing in her guilt. But at M'Lila's urging and after hearing Gabrielle's weeping, she relents and resolves to return from the dead. Xena is not allowed to remain dead because part of her own redemption is to lead others to their own journey of redemption. M'Lila states that only someone who has known evil can fight it. Redemption is also seen as a journey of self- discovery and awareness.

Hey, Xeen, you take the ten on the left, I'll get the two on
the right.

Xena and Marcus, together

[102] In MORTAL BELOVED (#16), a Christ-like Xena descends into Tartarus to lead Marcus and the all the innocent souls into the Elysian Fields.

[103] Xena's own redemption was thrust upon her. Her return from death was also pushed upon her. Her companions forced their way into her life (Gabrielle and Joxer) and it may be her lot to lead them in their own journey of self awareness as it is theirs to aid her.

[104] We have seen Brunhilde at the end of her career, we see Xena in the middle of hers; only time will tell us Xena's destiny. We are only left to wonder if Callisto will also find redemption.

Politics And Shield Maidens

[105] Neither Richard Wagner nor Robert E. Howard were very likable men. Wagner was an anarchist, nihilist, racist, and anti-Semite. He was also an extreme German nationalist. Howard was a racist and a white supremacist who believed in a "white only" version of American rugged individualism.

[106] Although none of Wagner's operas can be considered to be racist in themselves, much of his other writings were. Also, when he was creating Brunhilde, he was not just creating a character in an opera, he was creating the spiritual mother of the German people.

[107] On the other hand, Howard's books are very racist. So racist, in fact, that when the films Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja were made, the characters were extensively re-worked to be made presentable to a modern audience.

[108] Needless to say, Adolf Hitler was a big fan of both Wagner and Howard. Brunhilde began to exemplify everything Aryan, and to this day she has not fully recovered her reputation outside of Germany. What makes this interesting is that if Brunhilde was the sister of Attila the Hun, she would have very strong Mongol features.

[109] Also, Wagner was a socialist, and he saw the Age of Baldur as the beginning of a socialist paradise on Earth. Both the films Red Sonja and Conan stayed as far from political controversy as possible.

[110] Xena: Warrior Princess, on the other hand, has become very controversial. But unlike "The Ring", which was purposely written to be political, the politics of Xena seem to be more fan driven. Perhaps Xena is more a series of re-actions rather than actions. The writers seem to be striving to keep up with the fans and they also try to be all things to all people, while trying not to offend anyone.

[111] This is not a criticism or to say that important issues are not raised -- such as, capital punishment, gay and lesbian rights, civil rights, etc. -- because they are. Also, thanks to Ms. Lawless' insistence, the show can be credited with breaking the Aryan stereotype when it came to warrior women. Because of Brunhilde, Aryan beauty became synonymous with all beauty so that even today the "European Goddess" look of tall, blond, blue eyed women is considered to be the bench mark of beauty. It took the dark skinned, black haired Xena to break this stereotype.


[112] I suspect that the characters of Sonja, Valeria, and Xena are heavily influenced by the character of Brunhilde. Also, I suspect that the character of Callisto may have been based on the character of Kriemhild.

[113] It is interesting to note that in each case, the producers have actually improved on the Brunhilde character. In Conan, Valeria succeeds in saving Conan's life while Brunhilde failed to save Sigmund. In Red Sonja, Sonja will only agree to a "fair fight". She knows that she is the greatest warrior alive, but she is also wise enough to realize that even the greatest warrior can be defeated by trickery. Whereas the pre- Christian Brunhilde is allowed to die, Xena must live and solve her problems. Wagner's Brunhilde dies to perform her act of redemption, while Xena must live to perform her act. [114] It is reasonable for the creators of Xena: Warrior Princess to go to Northern sources to find Xena. While classical Greek sources are excellent for researching male heroes, they are a poor source for female heroes.

End Notes

Note 01:
[115] For those who are interested in the subject I would suggest that they access Dr. Hannu Salmi's wonderful web site at: http://www.utu.fi/~hansalmi/

[116] Click on "Richard Wagner Archive", then click on "Operas", then on "Der Ring des Nibelungen". The reader will find an excellent synopsis of the whole plot written by Topi Ylinen, and an excellent summary of Wagner's source material by Dr. Jane Ennis.
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Note 02:
[117] In "The Song", Sigfrid is invisible and stands beside Gunther and wins the contest.
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Note 03:
[118] A good example is in the episode, TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (#32), where Xena turns down the chance to become goddess of desire and also goddess of war.
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Note 04:
[119] She is the only one who survives the poem, so maybe the poet had some sympathy for her, but none of the characters in the poem do.
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Note 05:
[120] Note that Conan can never become complete once Valeria dies, so it works both ways!
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Note 06:
[121] But Gabrielle is always quick to make excuses for Xena's evil past. Excuses that she is unwilling to make for anyone else.
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The Poetic Edda. Translated by Ursula Dronke. Oxford University Press, 1962.

Ring of the Nibelung. Richard Wagner. Fred Rullman Inc. New York, N.Y.

The Song of the Nibelung. Translated by Frank G. Ryder. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1962.

The Vosunga Saga. Morris and Magnusson.

Wagner's Ring and its Symbols. Robert Donington. Faber and Faber, London,1963, 1969, 1974.


Brian Edward Lashmar Brian Edward Lashmar
I was born in 1949 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; where I still live. I received a B.A. in Anthropology and a diploma in Addiction Studies from McMaster University. My hobbies include researching Medieval and Classical heroic literature; I also enjoy fly fishing for sunfish and trout. I hate computers for the godless contraptions that they are, but unfortunately, I'm addicted to one. I am a fan of Samurai movies and I admire the works of Inagaki, Kadokawa, and Kurosawa. "The Seven Samurai" and "Ran" are two of my favourite films. I have a dog named Suzie, and two nameless cats.
Favorite episode: THE PRICE (#44) and anything with Joxer in it.
Favorite line: Xena to Palaemon: "I was confused." BLIND FAITH (#42). Xena has many talents, and they include being a master of understatement.
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (#01)
Least favorite episode: GIANT KILLER (#27)

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