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Ero Sɘnnin's answer in How was it decided which warriors would go to Fólkvangr and which to Valhalla? seems to suggest that Odin gets to choose who enters Valhalla:

Valhalla is presided over by Odin, and to gain entrance to it, one must be chosen by him and his valkyries, the “choosers of the fallen.”

...

The only difference that is pointed out, is in the way that the dead are chosen to stay. Odin chooses for Valhalla, while Freya chooses for Folkvang.

This seems to be supported by Ero's (secondary) source: Death and the Afterlife, Norse Mythology for Smart People.

However, the Gylfaginning seems to be painting a slightly different picture (chapter 24):

Folkvang it is called,
And there rules Freyja.
For the seats in the hall
Half of the slain
She chooses each day;
The other half is Odin's.

Source: Wikisource contributors, 'Prose Edda/Gylfaginning', Wikisource , 29 January 2013, 01:25 UTC, https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Prose_Edda/Gylfaginning&oldid=4271175 [accessed 22 June 2015]

The way I read the above quote, Freyja is the one who chooses, and Odin and Valhalla receive the "half of the slain" that's left.

Does Odin actually have a say? Or is Valhalla essentially the hall of Freyja's rejects?

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    Interesting.. I was sure that Odin was the one who decides first, after all, he's the All Father. – Ero Sɘnnin Jun 16 '15 at 14:08
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    Sometimes saying one character makes a "choice" is just he prose of the poem. Sometimes it's not actually their choice at all. I haven't read it yet, but if the work is about Freyja and Folkvang, then this makes some sense. – user93 Jun 16 '15 at 19:49
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    Playing Devil's Advocate, couldn't Freyja just be referring to choosing from those alive - i.e. choosing who lives and who dies? – HDE 226868 Jun 18 '15 at 19:15
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    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​@HDE226868 Thanks, that comment pushed me to the right direction. It turns out it's Odin's valkyries that choose who lives and who dies, so I think it could be argued that Odin has already chosen long before Freyja picks her "half of the slain". – yannis Jun 21 '15 at 20:21
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Also - in the Volsung Saga Odin demotes Brynhild because she disobeys his orders that a certain king should win in battle, and kills him instead. (He condemns her to marry a mortal.) If he can pick who wins, he can also choose the losers.

Of course, there may have been different traditions about Odin and Freyja, just like the followers of Amun and those of Ptah (Egypt) both believed their god made the world.

I've also seen it suggested that since Freyja is the valkyrie-goddess, she gets first choice of the slain, once they're slain, which would reconcile the two traditions nicely. I'm not sure where I saw this, but it's an extrapolation, rather than something in the sources. That would suggest that Odin decides who dies, but Freyja gets to choose which slain are hers.

Britt-Mari Naastrom suggests that there may have been two different traditions of warrior initiation, with different destinations for each one.

I think the idea that Odin decides who dies, and then Freyja gets first pick of the actual dead, makes sense.

10

In contrast to the stanza in Gylfaginning's chapter 24, in the Hákonarmál Odin sends his valkyries to announce to king Haakon the Good that he has been granted a seat in the hall of the slain:

They spoke over his grave, as heathen people are used to do, and wished him in Valhal. Eyvind Skaldaspiller composed a poem on the death of King Hakon, and on how well he was received in Valhal. The poem is called "Hakonarmal":

"In Odin's hall an empty place
Stands for a king of Yngve's race;
'Go, my valkyries,' Odin said,
'Go forth, my angels of the dead,
Gondul and Skogul, to the plain
Drenched with the battle's bloody rain,
And to the dying Hakon tell,
Here in Valhal shall he dwell.'

Source: Wikisource contributors, 'Heimskringla/Hakon the Good's Saga', Wikisource , 13 April 2012, 18:55 UTC, https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Heimskringla/Hakon_the_Good%27s_Saga&oldid=3740623 [accessed 22 June 2015]

Thus Odin appears to be in full control of who enters Valhalla. However, even if that's not the case and Freyja does get first pick "of the slain", it doesn't really matter. All of the fallen, including those who end up in Folkvang, are chosen by Odin, as Odin - through his valkyries - chooses who lives and who dies:

37. There are still others who are to serve in Valhal, bear the drink around, wait upon the table and pass the ale-horns. Thus they are named in Grimner's Lay:

Hrist and Mist
I want my horn to bring to me;
Skeggold and Skogul,
Hild and Thrud,
Hlok and Herfjoter,
Gol and Geirahod,
Randgrid and Radgrid,
And Óðinssen;
These bear ale to the einherjes.

These are called valkyries. Odin sends them to all battles, where they choose those who are to be slain, and rule over the victory. Gud and Rosta, and the youngest norn, Skuld, always ride to sway the battle and choose the slain. Jord, the mother of Thor, and Rind, Vale's mother, are numbered among the goddesses. valky

Source: Wikisource contributors, 'Prose Edda/Gylfaginning', Wikisource , 29 January 2013, 01:25 UTC, https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Prose_Edda/Gylfaginning&oldid=4271175 [accessed 22 June 2015]

  • Interesting; I had started to do some research along the lines of the Valkyries, but couldn't dig up anything substantial besides what's in the Gylfaginning. Nice job. – HDE 226868 Jun 21 '15 at 22:33
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It seems that Odin chooses who dies while Freya gets first pick. But this has doesn't mean Odin chooses who comes to his hall. If he were to choose the best, then Freya would take half. If he were to do the opposite, he would not gain anything from it. Maybe it was a sign of goodwill between the Aesir and Vanir (Freya is a Vanir)

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