Viking Symbols: Meanings of Ancient Norse Symbols
Viking culture has been all the rage in recent years.... The adventures of Ragnar, Lagertha and Björn Ironside inspired many to find out more about the meanings and stories behind Viking runes, symbols and emblems. Let's discover the meaning behind the most popular Viking Symbols what the symbols tattooed on men's bodies or transformed into a talisman mean and who knows maybe you'll even get a tattoo of one of these yourself.
Like many ancient cultures Viking culture is no exception to having hidden meanings behind symbols, quite the contrary. And even if historians do not always agree that the Vikings tattooed their bodies with them, like so many traces of their lives and teachings, let us return together to the essential Viking symbols...
Table of content
- Valknut - Odin's symbol
- The Horn of Odin
- Thor's hammer, Mjolnir
- The Vegvisir - Viking compas
- Helm of Awe - Aegishjalmr
- Gungnir, Odin's Spear
- Hugin & Munin, The Raven
- Yggdrasil - Tree of Life
- The Vikings runes - Futhark
- Svefnthorn Symbol
- Fenrir, The Giant Wolf
- Jormungandr, Norse Dragon/Snake
- Viking Wild Boar, Gullinbursti
- Bear, Berserker Symbol
- The web of Wyrd
- Dragon Longboat
- Viking Axe
- Triquetra, The Celtic Knot
- Sleipnir, 8-Legged Horse of Odin
1. Valknut, The Viking symbol of Odin
Probably one of the most recognizable Viking symbol is the Valknut also know as "Heart of Hrunger" or "knot of the slain". Representing 3 intertwined triangles, associated with the God Odin, Valknut is a symbol of fallen knots, or even of warriors killed in combat.
The interlocking triangles are supposed to symbolize the interconnection between life, death and the afterlife. Historians have found many Germanic tombs decorated with this symbol. The Vikings, who did not bury their dead, used this symbol to pay tribute to the brave and recognized Nordic warriors!
Some sources believe that the Valknut (pronounced "VAL-knoot", empasis on first syllable) was used by Odin's most dedicated warriors, known as Einherjar, to symbolize their willingness to die in battle and enter Valhalla.
This seems like a logical connection since "Val" meant "slain" or "the chosen" while "-knut " means "knot" therefore tying your fate to your exploits and successes on the battlefield. Wearing a Valknut as tattoo or talisman could easily show your dedication to the Allfather, Valhalla and your willingness to die in battle.
2. The Horn of Odin, a sacred symbol!
If we look at the culture of the Vikings, we notice the predominant place of Odin, Father of all the Gods. The horn of Odin thus joins the most famous Viking symbols. Used in many rituals, according to ancestral accounts, it actually symbolizes the three projects of Odhroerir, and was particularly found on Scandinavian lands!
3. Thor's hammer, Mjolnir
Thor is one of the prized Gods in Viking culture, respected by men and warriors, he was then the symbol of strength and protection. Thus, among the Viking symbols is Thor's hammer, also known as Mjolnir. Most often worn as a talisman, it provides protection to the wearer, a symbol of choice at the heart of the northern heritage!
4. The Vegvisir, the viking compass
It is at the heart of Icelandic tradition, and although it is not fully a symbol created by the Vikings, their culture has adopted it, passing through Icelandic lands.
With its intersecting lines and symbols, Vegvisir had a special meaning: we will never lose our way, in storms or bad weather, even if the path is not known...
5. Aegishjalmr/Aegishjalmur, The Helm of Awe
A Powerful Viking Symbol For Physical, Mental And Spiritual Protection! One of the most powerful Nordic symbols is still the Awe Balm today.
Deeply rooted in the heart of the Viking tradition and culture, this eight-armed circle, reminiscent of the Vegsivir, symbolizes strength and invincibility. Protector of warriors, the Helm of Awe still retains a somewhat mysterious dimension today, through its many representations!
6. Gungnir, Odin's Spear that never misses its target
Gungnir gets his name from the word "staggering" in old Icelandic.
She is Odin's magic spear. This weapon, once launched, never missed its target and could not be stopped.
Legend has it that during a visit of the god Loki to the dwarf people, he discovered the spear.
Loki then bet his head with the dwarves that they could not make even more powerful weapons. The dwarves then forged three new weapons, among others, the mjolnir hammer with the handle was shortened because the god loki turned it into a fly to distract the dwarves during their work.
7. Hugin & Munin, The Raven
Hugin and Munin are two ravens, brothers, who have been at the service of Odin the Father of All Things since time immemorial, before also serving his successors, acting as ears and eyes across the Nine Worlds for their sovereign. Every morning, Odin, or his successor, sends Hugin and Munin through the Nine Worlds of the Asgardian dimension to see them return at night, telling their master what they have seen and heard during the day. The pair of ravens served Odin for countless years and even centuries, remaining out of the lives of most Asgardians.
8. Yggdrasil, The World Tree or "Tree of Life"
In the middle of Asgard, where the gods and goddesses live, lies Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil is the tree of life, and it is an evergreen ash tree; the branches extend over the nine worlds of northern mythology, and reach upwards and above the sky. Yggdrasil is carried by three enormous roots, the first root of Yggdrasil is in Asgard, the house of the Gods is right next to the aptly named Urd, this is where the Gods and Goddesses have their daily meetings.
The second root of Yggdrasil goes down to Jotunheim, the land of giants, next to this root is the well of Mimir. The third Yggdrasil root goes down to Niflheim, near the Hvergelmir well. It is here that the dragon Nidhug chews one of the Yggdrasil roots. Nidhug is also known to suck the blood from corpses arriving in Hel. At the very top of Yggdrasil lives an eagle, the eagle and the Nidhug dragon are bitter enemies, they really despise each other. There is a squirrel named Ratatatosk, who spends most of the day running along the ash tree.
Ratatatosk does everything he can to keep the hatred between the eagle and the dragon alive. Every time Nidhug says a curse or an insult about the eagle, Ratatatosk will run to the top of the tree and tell the eagle what Nidhug just said. The eagle is equally rude in his comments about Nidhug. Ratatatosk loves gossip, which is why the eagle and the dragon remain constant enemies.
9. The Vikings runes - The Magical Futhark
Finally, to finish our presentation of Viking symbols, we cannot avoid the symbols present in Viking runes.
A people with deeply rooted esoteric traditions, the Vikings did not hesitate to question the Gods and oracles to prepare for their future, to know the outcome of battles, to protect their families and peoples.
The rune games thus present many symbols, each of which has a particular meaning: joy, bravery, movement, communication, warrior, etc....
10. Svefnthorn Symbol
Svefnthorn pronounced "SVEFN-thorn". This figure appears in several Scandinavian sagas as well as folk magic formulas that appeared long after the Viking era.
The Svefnthorn is translated as "thorn of sleep". It was used to put an opponent into a deep sleep from which he would find it difficult to wake up.
Although the Svefnthorn has been mentioned several times in Norse mythology, this symbol has been drawn in two completely different ways and the exact symbolism is still unknown.
In The Saga of the Volsungs, Odin used a Svefnthorn to plunge the Valkyrie Brynhildr into a sleep from which she was unable to awaken until the hero Sigurd, brave enough, was able to cross the flames, which Odin had lit around her, to reach her.
The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki tells us that Queen Olof "stung" King Helgi with a Svefnthorn in order to knock him out.
In the Saga of Gongu-Hrolf, Vilhjalmr drove a Svefnthorn into Hrolf's head during the night. He did not wake up until long afterwards when a horse pushed him and knocked the thorn out.
In one of the earliest modern Icelandic books of spells, "The Ninth Spell in Huld's Manuscript", refers to the Svefnthorn and says :
"This sign would be carved on oak and placed under the head of the one who is supposed to sleep so that he cannot wake up before he is taken away. The symbol looks like a row of four harpoons. »
11. Fenrir, The Giant Wolf
In Norse mythology some wolves are feared while others prove to be faithful and useful companions.
By making this creature mysterious, a bond of fascination is born between the beast and man allowing the animal to be both feared and respected.
This is the whole peculiarity of the wolves in the Scandinavian mythological stories.
Among them five occupy the Viking myths and beliefs
- There is Fenrir the giant destructive wolf, son of Loki.
- There are also Hati and Skoll, the devourers of the Asters.
- And finally Geri and Freki, the two Wolves of the god Odin.
12. Jormungandr, Norse Dragon/Snake
Jormungand or Iormungang was a monstrous sea serpent, child of Loki and the giantess Angrboda.
He was also called "the Midgard Serpent" (Midgardsormr) or "the Mysterious Dragon of the North".
Alfadr (Odin) had thrown him into the sea because a prophecy had announced that the children of Loki would decimate the Aesir.
Since then he had grown and bitten his tail; he held the earth between his powerful rings and when he moved, he caused tidal waves. In fact, it was helping to hold the earth together.
During the Ragnarök, Jormungand will cause a gigantic tidal wave by rising from the sea to go with the Giants to fight the Aesir and especially Thor. Thor will succeed in defeating him but he will not have taken nine steps before he collapses mortally affected by the poison instilled in his flesh by the serpent.
13. Viking Wild Boar, Gullinbursti
The Gullinbursti boar represents divine power and fertility.
14. Bear, Berserker Symbol
- The symbol of the Berserker, the Viking elite warriors.
- The bear, a domestic animal among the Vikings
The bear occupies a very important place in the Nordic culture because it represents strength, courage and rigor.
Among the Vikings: there is the polar bear, nicknamed "ice bear" which was considered a noble gift, which a young warrior, Ingimund the Elder, did by offering a polar bear to a Viking king and thus made a fortune with him.
The bear is also the symbol of the Berserker, the Viking elite warriors.
15. The web of Wyrd (Skuld's Net)
The Wyrd Web : it is the symbol of destiny in the form of runes. It is the Norns who have woven the destiny of all beings who have made it.
16. Longship & Drakkar
The Vikings were inseparable from their ships, which were the most beautiful tool of their expansion, source of wealth and glory.
The Drakkar was a compromise between sailing boats and rowing boats.
The Vikings mastered the art of navigation perfectly and the Drakkar was their absolute weapon. The Vikings did not say: "I'm leaving on my boat" but: "I'm leaving on my dragon".
The figurehead had a magical role. The Vikings believed in the genies of the place, supernatural creatures reigning over a territory, a river, a shore.
Their dragons had the function of frightening the spirits and impressing the local population.
The appearance of a dragon's head on Drakkars, associated with the story of the survivors, made a strong impression on the populations attacked by the Vikings who were the first to practice psychological warfare.
17. Viking Axe
The Viking axe is a symbol of Viking strength and bravery: Viking warriors used it on the battlefield. They had a single edge and the bottom of the blade is shaped like a hook, making it easier to hold.
18. Triquetra, The Celtic Knot
The triquetra is a Celtic symbol whose design is very particular.
Composed of three intersecting triangles, the meanings we can give to this lucky charm are as numerous as the people who used it.
Some see in the Celtic triquetra a Christian representation of the Holy Trinity, others associate it with the eternal cycle of life-death-rebirth.
There are even those who claim to be neo-paganists who, like the ancient Celts, see the entire universe in it.
In fact, many cultures and religions have regarded the number three as holy or divine for thousands of years.
For example, you should know that a symbol of three interlocking circles similar to the Celtic triquetra was found on religious statues in India... over 5,000 years ago.
Today, many who identify with the ancient Celts may use this lucky symbol to show their attachment to that culture.
19. Sleipnir, 8-Legged Horse of Odin
Sleipnir, "he who glides," is the steed of the god Óđinn, the supreme Ase. His coat is gray; eight legs support him. Runes are engraved on his teeth. No other horse is faster than him. He can ride through the air and over the seas.