What does the Vegvisir mean? Why is it known as the Nordic compass? Is it really a Viking symbol? Here are the answers to all those questions and more, in our post about the Vegvisir symbol, its meaning and origins.
Also known as the Viking compass/Nordic compass, the Vegvisir (pronounced “VEGG-vee-seer”) is a magical stave which has its origins in Iceland. In general, the Vegvisir symbol is believed to help the bearer find their way, especially through rough weather.
Vegvisir is mentioned in the Huld Manuscript, which was compiled by Geir Vigfusson in 1880.
The term Vegvisir is known to have come from Icelandic words Vegur, which means ‘way’, and Visir, which means ‘pointer’. Thus, Vegvisir literally means “way pointer”.
Being considered the Nordic compass, Vegvisir truly embodies its literal meaning. The word ‘Vegvisir’ is also interpreted to mean”the guide that helps you see the way” by some experts on the Norse culture.
Comprising several different runes, the Vegvisir symbol is also known as ‘the runic compass’.
While many think that this symbol came from the Viking Age (793–1066 AD), this symbol was used for the first time many centuries after the end of the Viking Age.
Despite being associated with the ancient Viking culture, Vegvisir the Norse compass has been found to originate from the 17th century.
The oldest accounts that mentioned the Vegvisir can be found in the Icelandic grimoire known as The Galdrabók. This grimoire is basically a collection of several staves, sigils and spells.
The Galdrabók, being a book of spells, was associated with Icelandic witchcraft. However, the origin of the type of witchcraft with which the Vegvisir was associated is still uncertain to this day.
Some believe that The Galdrabók, and thus, Vegvisir, were derived from renaissance occultism and medieval mysticism. On the other hand, the Norse compass was also linked to ancient Germanic runic culture.
The Vegvisir was also mentioned in one of the Icelandic sagas, The Saga of Hrana hrings (Hrana Saga Circle). This saga appears in manuscripts dated 1887 to 1888, and mentions Vegvisir as:
…the weather was cloudy and stormy ….the king looked around and did not see the blue sky… then the king took the vegvisir in his hands and saw where [the sun] appeared on the stone….
On a side note, some suggest that the Nordic compass was originally created by the Ásatrú (Ásatrúarfélagið). Ásatrú people are believers of ancient Germanic gods and spirits.
However, there is a lot of doubt as to the legitimacy of this claim as Ásatrúarfélagið, the religious organization of Ásatrú people, was founded as recent as 1973 while the Vegvisir has been around for centuries.
Vegvisir’s Meaning Explained – Various Uses of the Nordic Compass
As the Vegvisir was also known as Nordic compass, one can instantly deduce that it was used to denote direction and lend protection to travelers. Let’s take a closer look at how it is believed to have been used in ancient times.
The Vegvisir symbol was frequently engraved on boats and vessels going out to sea. The symbol was thought to provide sea travelers protection, ensuring their safe travel and return.
It is also thought that the symbol was drawn on a traveler’s forehead using blood, so that he may not get lost.
As a magical compass, Vegvisir was believed to have the power to show travelers their way back home. It also protected seamen and their vessels against bad weather, storms, and other dangers in the seas.
In this regard, the Norse compass was considered to be a guide that helped its bearers find the right way to and from their destinations. Ancient Norse people believed that the symbol had magical powers, treating it like a talisman that provided blessings, luck, and protection.
The Vegvisir symbol has been highly regarded by people who believe and practice magic, particularly Norse Shamans. It was considered as a spiritual compass that guided people’s hearts, allowing them to make the right decisions in life.
It was also believed that the Vegvisir symbol can help people who lost their faith and consequently, themselves, regain their confidence. Vegvisir, as a spiritual compass, can also help someone find their way toward spirituality.
The power of the runic compass is in its eight staves or arms. The different staves have been thought to offer different kinds of protection from different kinds of struggles and obstacles.
Today, the Vegvisir still remains to be a somewhat mysterious and unique Norse symbol. Despite the fact that nobody could ascertain where and when it originated exactly, it has become a powerful symbol that holds great significance until today.
Many people of Norse origin and admirers of the culture can be seen wearing an amulet of the Vegvisir or carrying a Vegvisir tattoo.
Vegvisir’s Origin: The Huld Manuscript
Vegvisir was described and mentioned in the modern Icelandic collection of spells (grimoire), the Huld manuscript. In the manuscript, Vegvisir was described in only one sentence:
“If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known.”
The Huld manuscript was compiled in the 19th century, at least eight centuries after the Viking Age came to an end. Although some of the materials in the Huld manuscript may have originated from the pre-Christian Norse era, the rest is thought to have been heavily influenced by magical practices from the southern parts of Europe, as well as Christianity.
Furthermore, the fact that the Vegvisir was mentioned in the Huld manuscript alone is not enough to prove that the symbol was known to pre-Christian Nordic and Germanic people.
The Vegvisir Debate: Is It Really a Viking Symbol?
As mentioned above, there is still no evidence that clarifies whether Vegvisir has been known or used by the Nordic people during the actual Viking Age.
While there’s a possibility that it was indeed used by the Vikings then, we simply cannot say that it is absolutely a Viking symbol. So, it is more appropriate to call it a “Norse symbol” rather than a Viking symbol (or the Viking compass) because of the uncertainty surrounding its true age.
Aegishjalmur, The Helm of Awe and Vegvisir, the Norse Compass – The Difference Between The Two Norse Symbols
Vegvisir is closely associated with the Viking symbol, Aegishjalmur (Ægishjálmur). At first sight, you may mistake one for the other.
While Vegvisir is also known as the Norse compass, the Aegishjalmur is known as the “helm of awe”. Both were believed to have magical powers.
Although similar in appearance, the Vegvisir and the Aegishjalmur are definitely two different symbols. The Vegvisir’s staves/arms are made of different runes, while Aegishjalmr’s arms are made of the same rune.
Furthermore, Vegvisir is a compass and as such, is associated with direction and protection. On the other hand, the Aegishjalmur, known as a Viking symbol of protection, is believed to grant some level of invincibility and invulnerability to its bearer/user.
This wraps up our article on the Vegvisir symbol, its meaning and origin. If you liked reading it, you will probably enjoy reading our extensive list of Viking symbols. You can also read all about individual Norse symbols by simply checking out the articles in the relevant category through the top menu. Thanks for reading on Symbols & Meanings!