When it comes to ancient symbols like the ancient Germanic symbols we are about to explore in this piece, it’s difficult to say for sure what they meant back then. Just as we ascribe a wide range of meanings to different symbols today depending on context and background, the same was the case with ancient Germanic symbols.
That being said, some symbols have taken on a more common interpretation across different societies, just as some symbols have been appropriated and tarnished by global political groups.
A good example would be the Swastika. Numerous religious groups and societies have used the Swastika to mean something positive for thousands of years. In the ancient Sanskrit language of India, the Swastika means well-being.
This symbol had such a positive effect that great companies like Coca-Cola, the Boys’ and Girls’ Scouts, and even the American military during World War I used the Swastika on their planes.
The Nazi party slowly appropriated the Swastika because 19th-century German scholars found some similarities between Sanskrit and the old Germanic language. They concluded that ancient Germans and Indians must have had a common ancestor.
Slowly, they imagined an ancient group of god-like warriors, a white race they referred to as “Aryans.” The German Nazi Party lurched onto this idea and misappropriated the once positive Swastika, turning it into the negative symbol it is today, the Nazi Swastika.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the Swastika symbol is now a Nazi symbol and, in no small part, a hate symbol that represents Nazi ideology and is closely associated with Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany, and the German Nationalism or Nationalist movement that almost destroyed the world.
The human “Footprint” symbol was mostly found in rock carvings from the early bronze age. This is the art of the ancient German symbols closely associated with the “Cult of the Vanir.” This symbol is believed to have represented the presence of the gods and was closely associated with bringing good luck and fruitfulness to both the land and the people.
3. Valknot (Or Valknut)
Often regarded as the symbol of Odin, the Valknot (or Valknut) is also known as the “knot of the slain.” It symbolizes the coming together of the nine worlds that existed in old Norse mythology.
The Germanic people are largely from the Viking age and believed that being all-powerful, Odin could influence a mortal’s fate in battle by tampering with these knots.
Known as the “World Tree,” Yggdrasil is a powerful symbol that represents a wide variety of concepts depending on how the individual perceives it.
This included concepts such as destiny, prophecy, the natural order of things, and so on. Since Yggdrasil was the tree that held the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos, it was both a powerful religious and cultural symbol.
5. Thor’s Hammer (Mjolnir)
The ancient Germanic society was made up of warring German tribes. Much like the Vikings, these tribes believed in the gods and that they held sway over who lived and died in battle.
Thor, the god of thunder, was one of the most beloved deities. His hammer, Mjolnir, was perceived as a sacred symbol of protection since it was Thor’s weapon to protect humans, the gods, and goddesses from the giants.
This is an ancient symbol that was used to invoke protection. Even today, you can still find the Shieldknot and some of its variants used in some protected areas, such as archeological sites, to show that they are protected and are of ancient cultural importance.
There are many runes, each with varying meanings. Runes, in general, are ancient symbolic expressions used to try and interpret the cosmic mysteries of the known and unknown universe. Odin discovered runes during his shamanic initiation.
Rune magic has since developed and greatly evolved from what it was in ancient times. They are, however, still widely used in divination and are often inscribed on amulets. Runes are mostly associated with protection, healing, growth, victory, and love.
8. Sun Cross
Also known as the “Sun Wheel,” the Sun Cross is an ancient Germanic symbol that dates back to the Nordic Bronze Age of 1700–500 BC. The Sun Cross is one of many sun and fire runes that were used by ancient Germanic tribes to invoke or manifest the energy of the sun.
The fact that the Sun Cross is also referred to as the Sun Wheel means that it can be used as a symbol of Sól, the goddess of the sun. These ancient tribes believed that Sól would guide her chariot across the sky every morning, pulling the sun along with it.
9. Iron Cross
The iron cross is an ancient Teutonic symbol that can be traced back to the Crusades. This symbol has since become associated with exceptional courage in battle. It was introduced in 1813 and was awarded to soldiers who showed courage in the field of battle.
This is a variation of the Valknot symbol, which the ancient German tribes regarded as a symbol for Odin. The Odroerir is believed to represent the three cauldrons in which Odroerir, the sacred mead, is kept.
Odroerir means “frenzy stirrer.” This sacred mead was thought to be made from the blood of Kvasir, one of the greatest, wisest, and most ancient gods. In ancient Germanic culture, it was believed that anyone who drank this mead would receive a few magical gifts, such as:
- Great wisdom
- Divine inspiration
- Poetic eloquence
- Esoteric knowledge
This mead was holy to both the Vanir and the Asir. The Odoerir symbol, therefore, has great shamanic roots.
Some ancient German symbols go as far back as the Holy Roman Empire, World War I, World War II, and even further. They have been a constant presence in the lives of the Germanic tribes. Even though they are slowly fading away now, some are still represented in modern art and life.