A Question I Was Asked:

Who Was 'Brunhilda'? Anything to do With Early Christianity?

The Question:

Was 'Brunhilda' a true figure in the early church around whom a whole mythology was later constructed? That's what I heard. Should Christians now avoid anything to do with these tales and myths?

We can be eternally grateful that the apostles did not instruct us to ordain 'Brunhildas' in every church!

UK Apologetics Reply:

Wow! Where did you hear this story? That is a tale I have never ever heard. Obviously we don't know the names of most people in the early church except for a few of the leaders but the name "Brunhilda" doesn't come up neither would it seem to be an obvious name, sounding somewhat Germanic.

There is, of course, a famous lady of this name within northern European mythology. Was this Brunhilda anything to do with early Christianity? No, absolutely nothing to do with Christianity at all as far as anybody knows. The idea of a 'Brunhilda' female figure comes from northern European mythology. In Nordic mythology, Brunhilda was a strong and beautiful princess who was deceived by her lover. Her story is told in the Edda poems of Iceland and in the Nibelungenlied, a German epic of the 1200s. Her name is also sometimes written as Brunhild, Brunhilde, or Brynhild.

In the Icelandic version of the legend, Brunhilde was a Valkyrie, a warrior maiden of the supreme god Odin. Because she was disobedient, Odin punished Brunhilda by causing her to fall into everlasting sleep surrounded by a wall of fire. The hero Sigurd crossed through the flames and woke the maiden with a kiss.

It seems that Gudrun's brother Gunnar wanted Brunhilda for himself and persuaded Sigurd to help him. Disguising himself as Gunnar, Sigurd pursued Brunhilda. Later Brunhilda realized she had been tricked and arranged to have Sigurd murdered. When she learned of his death, however, she was overcome with grief and committed suicide by throwing herself on his funeral pyre. In that way, she could join him in death.

In the more specifically German Nibelungenlied, the story was slightly different. Brunhilda declared that the man she would marry must be able to out-perform her in feats of strength and courage. Siegfried (Sigurd), disguised as Gunther (Gunnar), passed the test and won Brunhilda for Gunther. When she discovered the deception, she arranged for Siegfried to be killed. So this is the story with which the name Brunhilda is usually associated.

Of course, as we probably all know, the 19th century German composer Richard Wagner based his four-opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung on these legends. Nothing within these legends is based on any historical figure. It may be enjoyed as sheer (though often rather loud) melodramatic slapstick, based on larger-than-life figures from early Nordic mythology. If we think of the Wagner interpretations, one will probably either love it or find it almost unbearably long. It's personal taste. As a classical music lover, I have enjoyed some of this music but could never see myself sitting through the entire 'ring' series (many, many hours long).

Whether one enjoys such things or not is nothing to do with whether one is a Christian believer; some of these legends can be fascinating and even amusing. The only danger might be to become overly-obssessed with such things.
Robin A. Brace. October, 20th, 2011.