Symbols played an important role in the Viking culture. From merely representing their faith, to calling on their gods for protection or instilling fear in their enemies, the Norse people used various symbols for different purposes. But how well do we know these symbols? For those of you who are curious to learn about them, here are the most important Viking and Norse symbols:
Without a doubt, the Valknut is one of the most prominent and popular Viking symbols. Also known as Odin’s knot, Hrungnir’s heart, the knot of the slain warrior and the Heart of Vala, the Valknut is considered as the symbol of Odin.
The word ‘valknut’ is derived from two different words: ‘valr’ meaning slain warrior and ‘knut’ meaning knot. According to Norse faith, in Valhalla (the Hall of the Slain), Odin, the god of death and war in Norse mythology, would welcome the warriors slain/killed in battle.
In addition to that, Odin figures as well as figures and drawings of animals closely associated with him were discovered in many Viking tombs with the 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 three triangles comprising the Valknut is also associated with the nine worlds in Norse mythology and the cycle of life through motherhood and pregnancy.
Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, is not only one of the most prominent Viking/Norse symbols but an important element of the Norse faith itself.
According to Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the Great Tree that connects the nine worlds/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 stands in a spring according to the Norse faith which suggests all life comes from water. That is one of the reasons why it is called the Tree of Life.
The second reason is that it is believed Yggdrasil’s fruits provided youth for the gods, ‘giving them life’.
According to Norse mythology, the world will end with Ragnarok, a battle between gods with only a man and a woman surviving it by hiding inside the hollow of a tree. The couple will leave the tree to bring life back again to the world.
Although the tree in question is not mentioned specifically or Yggdrasil is not clearly associated with the myth, it is believed by some to be the tree that will protect life from Ragnarok.
Aegishjalmur/Aegishjalmr, The Helm of Awe and Terror
Aegishjalmur (also known as the Helm of Awe and terror) is a rune stave that is known as a Viking symbol of protection.
The word Aegishjalmr is comprised of two different words in Old Norse language: aegis meaning ‘shield’ and hjalmr meaning ‘helm’.
We should clarify something at this point: the ‘helm’ part of Aegishjalmr here, which actually is the root of the word ‘helmet’ in English, does not refer to anything physical or mean a physical helmet – like many others chose to believe later on. It simply means ‘at the forefront’.
In fact, Viking warriors used to draw Aegishjalmr on their foreheads to be protected from their enemies and to instill fear in them.
The symbol is mentioned in several sagas regarding the deeds of the Viking heroes including the Völsunga Saga.
Today, the Aegishjalmur is drawn or used in form of tattoos as a protection symbol or a symbol of identification among Asatru believers.
Vegvisir, The Viking Compass/The Runic Compass
Widely associated with Aegishjalmr or sometimes even confused with it on account of the similarity between the two, the Vegvisir is another Viking symbol comprised of rune staves.
The Vegvisir, also known as the Viking compass or the runic compass, was believed to provide guidance for a person who might lose his way. It would also be drawn on Viking ships before they set sail to ensure they would come back home safely.
That said, there is a confusion about the origin of the symbol and whether or not it is a genuine symbol inherited from the Viking Age since there are very few resources mentioning it.
The Triple Horn of Odin – The Horn Triskelion
The Triple Horn of Odin is a Viking symbol made of three interlocking horns representing the three horns in the myth regarding Odin and his quest for the magical mead, Odhroerir/Óðrerir, also known as the Mead of Poetry.
According to the 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 Æsir/Aesir (the two groups of gods in Norse mythology) who knew everything and could answer every question.
The dwarves mixed Kvasir’s blood with honey and poured it in three horns named Óðrœrir/Odhroerir, Boðn and Són.
Note: Odhroerir is the name associated with both the Mead of Poetry and one of the horns that contained it.
According to the myth, Odin used his wit to convince the giantess Gunnlöð and bargained with her to have a sip of the mead for three days. Allowed only one sip per day, he used a whole horn for each time thus managing to drink all of the Mead of Poetry which helped him escape by turning into an eagle.
Today, apart from identifying oneself as Norse, the Triple Horn of Odin is used as a symbol of wisdom and inspiration, poetic inspiration in particular.
Mjölnir, The Hammer of Thor
With its authenticity and significance in Norse mythology, Mjölnir, Thor’s Hammer is surely one of the most important Viking symbols/Norse symbols (if not the most important one).
There are several ideas regarding the etymology of the word Mjǫllnir in Old Norse language.
One suggests that Mjöllnir means ‘lightning’ while others suggest it might mean ‘white’ (as in the color of lightning) and/or ‘new snow’ (in a sense that it represents purity).
Another interpretation of the word suggests that the meaning is much closer to ‘crushing’ or ‘to crush’.
All of these suggestions are at least somewhat related to the symbolism behind the Hammer of Thor.
According to Norse mythology, Mjölnir was not just a weapon but a tool that was used by Thor for many purposes.
Thor consecrated things and people using his hammer and brought them from the realm of chaos into the sacred realm, that is, cosmos.
It was also believed that he used Mjölnir to bless marriages during which he provided the couple with fertility.
In the sense that Thor protected people against chaos by consecrating them with Mjölnir and he guarded the cosmos against the giants by crushing them with it, the Hammer of Thor is also considered a symbol of protection.
In fact, Viking warriors used to wear Thor’s Hammer as an amulet during battle to provide protection. This tradition was carried on even after many Vikings converted to Christianity: Mjölnir amulets were worn by Christian Vikings along with crosses on their necks.
Today, in addition to being a symbol of protection, Mjölnir is used to represent the Germanic Neopaganism faith also known as Heathenry/Heathenism.
Out of all Viking symbols, the Swastika is most definitely the one that almost lost its true meaning.
The symbol, which was used for consecration and blessing by Vikings and Indo-Europeans in a way that is very similar to Mjölnir, was appropriated by Hitler and the Nazi party and unfortunately is widely associated with that and only that since then.
If a person or a thing was hallowed by using the Swastika, that person/thing would become holy and lucky. In fact, the Swastika was believed to be the most significant good luck symbol/charm by some people. It was believed to bring a person in a desperate, chaotic state to a one that is of strength, prosperity and order.
The Svefnthorn is one of the most authentic Viking symbols which was mentioned many times in several Norse sagas including The Saga of the Volsungs, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki and Gongu-Hrolf’s Saga.
Although the appearance, definition and magical qualities of Svefnthorn is somewhat different in every myth, there is one thing in common in all stories: Svefnthorn was mainly used to put one’s enemies to sleep.
The symbol was used by Norse people (and gods) to put their adversaries into a deep and long sleep.
Odin puts Valkyrie Brynhildr/Brunhild into a deep sleep in The Saga of the Volsungs. She remains asleep until Sigurd heroically comes to her rescue and awakes her.
Queen Olof uses Svefnthorn to put King Helgi to sleep in The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki and he remained a sleep for hours.
Vilhjalmr uses it on Hrolf in Gongu-Hrolf’s Saga and Hrolf does not wake up until the next day.
Thanks to mythologian.net for the bulk of this content