Viking Symbology played an important role in the Norse culture. From merely representing their faith, to invoking their gods for protection or instilling fear in their enemies, the Norse used various symbols for different purposes.
Viking Symbols and their Meanings
If you are interested in knowing the Viking Symbology, here are the 10 most important symbols of the Norse religion:
Undoubtedly, the Valknut is one of the most prominent and popular Viking symbols. The word ‘valknut’ is derived from two different words: ‘valr’ meaning slain warrior and ‘knut’ meaning knot. According to the Norse faith, in Valhalla (the Hall of the Dead), Odin, the god of death and war in Norse mythology, would welcome warriors killed / slain in battle.
In addition to that, figures of Odin, as well as figures and drawings of animals closely associated with him were discovered in many Viking tombs with Valknut drawn or placed right next to them. These are the two main reasons why the Valknut is considered the symbol of Odin.
The nine corners of the three triangles that comprise the Valknut are also associated with the nine worlds in Norse mythology and the cycle of life through motherhood and pregnancy in the Viking Symbology.
Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, is not only one of the most prominent Norse Viking symbols, but an important element of the Norse faith.
According to Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the Great Tree that connects the nine worlds or nine realms of the universe, namely Asgard, Midgard, Muspelheim, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Niflheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Helheim.
That is why Yggdrasil is considered the symbol of the interconnectedness of all things in the universe.
Yggdrasil is located at a spring according to the Norse faith which suggests that all life comes from water. That is one reason why it is called the Tree of Life. The second reason is that the fruits of Yggdrasil are believed to provide youth to the gods, “giving them life.”
In the Norse mythology, the world will end with Ragnarok, a battle between gods with only a man and a woman surviving by hiding in the hollow of a tree. The couple will leave the tree to bring life back to the world.
Although the tree in question is not specifically mentioned or Yggdrasil is not clearly associated with the myth, some believe it is the tree that will protect life from Ragnarok.
3. Aegishjalmur / Aegishjalmr, the helm of fear and terror.
Aegishjalmur (also known as the Helm of Awe and terror) is a rune that is known as a Viking symbol of protection. The word Aegishjalmr is composed of two different words in the Old Norse language: aegis meaning “shield” and hjalmr meaning “helm”.
We should clarify something at this point: the ‘helm’ part of Aegishjalmr here, which is actually the root of the word ‘helmet’ in English, does not refer to anything physical or mean a physical helmet, as many others chose to later believe in. It simply means ‘at the forefront’.
In fact, Viking warriors used to draw Aegishjalmr on their foreheads to protect themselves from their enemies and instill fear.As one of several Norse symbols of protection, Aegishjalmr is mentioned in several sagas regarding the deeds of Viking heroes, including the Völsunga saga.
Today, the Aegishjalmur is drawn or worn in the form of tattoos as a symbol of protection or a symbol of identification among asatru believers.
4. Vegvisir, the Viking compass / the runic compass
Widely associated with Aegishjalmr or sometimes even confused with it due to the similarity between the two, the Vegvisir is another Viking symbol composed of rune pentagrams.
The Vegvisir, also known as the Viking compass / Norse compass or runic compass, was believed to provide guidance to a person who might lose / lose their way. It would also be drawn on Viking ships before setting sail to ensure they would return home safely.
That said, there is confusion about the origin of the symbol and whether or not it is a genuine symbol inherited from the Viking Age, as there are very few resources that mention it.
5. The Triple Horn of Odin – The Triskelion Horn
The Triple Horn of Odin is a Viking symbol formed by three interlocking horns representing the three horns in the myth about Odin and his quest for the magical mead, Odhroerir / Oorerir, also known as the Eagle of Poetry.
According to belief, two dwarves named Fjalar and Galar killed Kvasir, a being (a god or a man according to different sources) created from the spit of Vanir and Aesir (the two groups of gods in Norse mythology) who knew everything and could answer every question.
In this myth, Odin used his wit to convince the giantess Gunnlöð and bargained with her to take a sip of mead for three days. With only one sip per day, he used a whole horn at a time, thus managing to drink all the Mead of Poetry that helped him escape by becoming an eagle.
Today, apart from being identified as Norse, Odin’s Triple Horn is used as a symbol of wisdom and inspiration, particularly poetic inspiration.
6. Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer
With its authenticity and significance in Norse mythology, Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer is undoubtedly one of the most important Viking symbols of Norse symbols. There are several ideas regarding the etymology of the word Mjolnir in the Old Norse language.
One suggests that Mjolnir means “lightning” while others suggest that it could mean “white” (as in the color of lightning) and/or “new snow” (in the sense that it represents purity).
Another interpretation of the word suggests that the meaning is much closer to “smash” or “crush”. All of these suggestions are at least related to the Viking Symbology behind Thor’s Hammer.
According to Norse mythology, Mjolnir was not just a weapon but a tool that Thor used for many purposes. Thor consecrated the things and people who used his hammer and brought them from the realm of chaos to the sacred realm, i.e. the cosmos. It was also believed that he used Mjolnir to bless marriages during which he provided fertility to the couple.
In the sense that Thor protected people against chaos by consecrating them with Mjolnir and protected the cosmos against giants by crushing them with it, Thor’s hammer is considered a Norse symbol of protection. In fact, Viking warriors used to wear Thor’s Hammer as an amulet during battle to provide protection.
This tradition continued even after many Vikings converted to Christianity: Christian Vikings wore Mjolnir amulets along with crosses around their necks. Today, in addition to being one of the most prominent Norse symbols of protection, Mjolnir is used to represent the faith of Germanic Neopaganism, also known as Heathenry / Heathenism.
7. The Swastika
Of all the Viking symbols, the swastika is undoubtedly the one that almost lost its true meaning. The symbol, which was used for the consecration and blessing of the Vikings and Indo-Europeans in a very similar way to Mjolnir, was appropriated by Hitler and the Nazi party and, unfortunately, has been associated with that and only that ever since.
If a person or thing was sanctified by wearing the swastika, that person/thing would become holy and fortunate. It was believed to bring a person in a hopeless and chaotic state to a person of strength, prosperity and order in the Viking Symbology.
Svefnthorn, is one of the most authentic Viking symbols that was mentioned many times in several Norse sagas, such as The Volsung Saga, The Saga of King Hrolf-Kraki and the Saga of Gongu-Hrolf.
Although the appearance, definition and magical qualities of Svefnthorn are somewhat different in each myth, there is one thing in common in all the stories: Svefnthorn was primarily used to put enemies to sleep.
The Viking Symbology was used by the Norse (and gods) to put their adversaries into a deep and prolonged sleep. Odin puts ValkyrieBrynhildr / Brunhild into a deep sleep in the Saga of the Volsungs. She remains asleep until Sigurd heroically rescues her and awakens her.
Queen Olof uses Svefnthorn to put King Helgi to bed in The Saga of King HrolfKraki and he remained asleep for hours. Vilhjalmr uses it on Hrolf in The Saga of Gongu-Hrolf and Hrolf does not wake up until the next day.
9. Huginn and Muninn – Odin’s Twin Ravens
The Huginn and Muninn are a pair of ravens who served as messengers to Odin the Godfather in the Viking Symbology. In various works of art, the two ravens were depicted right next to Odin or sitting on his shoulders.
Huginn and Muninn flew around the world during the day and returned to Odin at night to tell him everything they saw. It was believed that, thanks to the abilities Odin had given them, Huginn and Muninn were keen observers and could travel all over Midgard (the world) in a day, speak and understand the language of humans. The fact that the words Huginn and Muninn literally mean “thought” and “mind,” respectively, reinforces this theory.
10. Gungnir the magical spear of Odin
Next on our list of ancient Viking symbols is a weapon, a magical one, which casts the magic spear of Odin, the father of all. Gungnir is the name given to Odin’s magic spear forged by the dwarves, the most talented blacksmiths in the cosmos.
According to the myth, Odin started the war between the two groups of gods in Norse mythology, Aesir and Vanir, by hurling Gungnir at his enemies. This gesture was later repeated by the Viking warriors before the battle in the hope of obtaining Odin’s protection and help during the fight.
Gungnir never lost his aim and, according to some stories, returned to Odin as Mjolnir returns to Thor each time it is thrown by the God of Thunder. In the sense of representing him as the God of War, Gungnir is considered a symbol of Odin.