Like its owner, Odin, the All-Father, the gungnir symbol is one of the most important features in Norse mythology. The very word itself, “gungnir,” directly translates to “tremble.” What is it about Gungnir, Odin’s spear, that makes it unique, and what does this magical weapon symbolize?
What Is Gungnir?
In ancient Norse mythology, the great warriors and even gods had the habit of naming their favorite weapons. For example, Thor had his hammer, Mjolnir, while Odin had his magical spear, Gungnir.
Commonly known as Odin’s Spear, Gungnir had several other names, including:
- Spear of Meteor
- The Eternal Spear
- The Swaying One
The nickname “Swaying One” is most likely derived from the term “gungre,” which is the Danish word for “tremble.” It’s easy to assume that it gained this nickname because Odin so commonly used his magical spear to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies, making them tremble.
How Was Gungnir Created?
There are several stories in ancient Norse mythology surrounding the creation of Gungnir.
One common tale is that Gungnir has existed since the creation of the universe. It is believed that during the creation, four mythic items were designed to protect the world from the Jötnar giants who lived in Jötunheimr. Among these mythic items were:
- The bow of demon Hilvin
- The jade of dragon
- The sword of flame Laevatain
However, the most plausible is the one stating that it was created by a group of highly skilled dwarves who were known for their creation of legendary weapons. The Ivaldi brothers are said to have forged Gungnir from sunlight. They forged stories from the branches of one of the most sacred trees in Viking culture, Yggdrasil, the World Tree.
Whatever the case, the brothers carved the spear’s point with magical runes, which gave it unusual accuracy.
Being the Norse god of war, Odin carried his spear into every battle. Perhaps this is why the spear was the Norse Vikings’ most popular weapon. Many ancient Viking warriors imitated Gungnir by carving runes into the tips of their spears too.
It is believed that the mighty spear Gungnir flew across the sky with a brilliant flashing light whenever Odin threw it at anyone. That brilliant light was similar to a meteor or lightning.
When Did Odin Use Gungnir?
As the chief god of war in Norse mythology, Odin didn’t do battle that often. He did, however, use Gungnir on several occasions:
- When war broke out between the Vanir and the Aesir gods, Odin hurled his spear Gungnir over his enemies’ heads before defeating them in battle. This particular gesture would then be repeated throughout Nordic culture by warriors before a battle to pay tribute to Odin. That act became a powerful symbol, which meant offering up the opposing army as a gift to Odin in hopes of guaranteeing victory.
- Odin is well-known as a wise god who relentlessly pursued wisdom at no small personal cost. On one occasion, he is said to have sacrificed one of his eyes to Mimir as a payment for wisdom. He is also said to have both hung and speared himself with Gungnir from the great tree Yggdrasil as he pursued a deeper understanding of the Elder Futhark runes. This gesture conceived the Norse practice of hanging, spearing, or both as a human sacrifice to Odin.
- Perhaps the greatest occasion was during Ragnarok when Odin led his army against Loki’s children. Odin uses Gungnir to fight Fenrir, the giant wolf, but Fenrir is far too strong, and as Nordic mythology dictates, Odin is defeated and killed. With that, Ragnarok comes to pass, and the world ends. That’s how powerful Gungnir and Odin were. When they failed, the whole world was destroyed.
Gungnir Symbol and Overall Symbolism
In the Viking era, Odin was known as the All-Father or the King of the gods. His weapon of choice, Gungnir, was no ordinary spear. It was revered as a representation of Odin’s authority, protection, and power.
Gungnir symbolized authority, protection, and power as associated with Odin himself. As mentioned, Nordic warriors often forged their spears in the likeness of Odin’s spear, Gungnir. This included even the runes at the tip of the spear. They did this for two main reasons:
- Tribute: It was seen as a way to pay tribute to Odin and to ask him for his favor in battle. That’s also one of the main reasons why most Viking warriors would throw their spears over the opposing army, as Odin did during the battle with the Vanir and the Aesir gods. It was deemed a show of respect for the All-Father and a sacrificial offering to him—a tribute of sorts.
- Imitation: In Norse culture, ancient Viking warriors believed that if they forged their weapons in the likeness of Odin’s spear, Gungnir, then it would make their weapons almost as accurate and powerful as Gungnir, which could pierce through any enemy armor.
Gungnir is also symbolic of overall authority. Not only because the king of the Norse gods wielded it but mostly because carved on the spear is a sacred covenant saying that “whosoever shall possess this spear shall rule the world.” It’s believed that this was one of the main reasons Odin became the kind of Norse god he was in the first place. That and his thirst for wisdom.
Perhaps it’s for this reason that the ancient Vikings believed that any oath made in the presence of a Gungnir symbol was bound to come to pass.
There are many mythic items in Norse mythology. Most of them are quite powerful and hold great symbolism in Viking culture. Thor’s hammer is one such item that represents great power and might. However, there are very few that come close to Odin’s spear. Any Viking who wore a Gungnir symbol thought they were gaining favor from the All-Father himself.