Carrying on with our article series on ancient symbols, we will be having a detailed look into Norse/Viking symbols and their meanings in today’s post.
Symbols played a vital role in Norse and Viking culture. Until today, these symbols are still being revered for the meanings associated with them. This is because in ancient times, the Norse Vikings were so spiritual that their spiritual beliefs were essentially not considered a religion, but a part of their everyday reality. They did not separate faith and reality. They genuinely believed that cosmic forces have an active participation in everything that happens to their lives. Because of this, the symbols played a significant part in their way of life.
Without further ado, here is the extensive list of Viking symbols along with their meanings.
Yggdrasil (Tree of Life/The World Tree)
Yggdrasil is the huge ash tree that is said to grow out of Urðarbrunnr, the Well of Destiny. Today, it is more known as the Tree of Life.
It was believed that all nine dimensions or worlds are entwined in the World Tree’s roots and branches. As such, the Yggdrasil serves as a pathway or conduit between those nine dimensions where the gods travel.
As a symbol, Yggdrasil also represents the cosmos, as well as the relationship between destiny, time, and harmony. It also represents the cycles of creation and the very essence of nature.
Valknut, the Symbol of Odin (the Knot of the Slain Warriors) – Viking Symbols
The Vikings, strong and brave people as they were, believed that those who lived ordinary lives end up in a shadowy, dark existence when they die. However, those who die bravely and gloriously in battle go to spend eternity in Valhalla, the dwelling place of the gods.
The Valkyries, the noble and elegant maidens who rode on winged horses, carry the souls of the heroes from the battlefield to Valhalla.
These fallen heroes were represented by the Valknut.
The Valknut is derived from the words ‘valr’, which means “slain warrior” and ‘knut’, which means knot. Valknut is a symbol consisting of three interlocking triangles.
This symbol is often seen in tombs, which is why it was interpreted to mean that Odin will welcome the slain Viking warrior in Valhalla.
Ægishjálmr (Helm of Awe), The Viking Symbol for Protection
The next one on our list of Viking symbols is the Ægishjálmr, or Helm of Awe. Aegishjalmr is a symbol for victory and protection. The word was derived from two different words in the Old Norse language: ‘aegis’, which means “shield” and hjalmr that means “helm”.
The Ægishjálmr is mentioned in many sagas where it is said to have been used by warriors and even dragons.
Some sources refer to Ægishjálmr as a magical object, while some refer to it as an invisible magical spell that creates an invisible protection around the user, while casting fear on the enemy.
Vegvisir (Viking Compass/Nordic Compass)
Vegvisir literally means, “that which shows the way”. Thus, it is referred to as a compass. It is widely associated with Ægishjálmr because of their similar shape and appearance — at first sight, at least. The Ægishjálmr’s helm’s arms are the same. On the contrary, Vegvisir’s arms are all different.
The Vikings, who were known for their sea voyages, used actual directional instruments, such as sun stones and the Uunartoq disc.
However, their directional cues mostly came from nature, such as the direction of the sun, the position of the stars, flight patterns of birds, and even the color of water, as well as their own directional instincts. They also relied on mystical protection, which they believed the Vegsivir provided.
Triskele (Horns of Odin) – Viking Symbols
The Triple Horns of Odin, the Triskele, is a symbol easily distinguished by the three interlocking drinking horns. The exact meaning and use of this symbol is yet to be known, but it is thought to be an allusion to when Odin stole the Mead of Poetry.
The horns have names: Óðrœrir, Boðn, and Són.
Today, the Triskele is used to symbolize wisdom and poetic inspiration.
Triquetra (Celtic Knot)
Also known as the Trinity Knot, Triquetra is a continuous line that interweaves around itself to signify that there is no beginning nor end.
Although Celtic in origin, it has also become closely linked to Viking symbolism because of the ancient connection and interaction between the Viking and Celtic groups. The symbol was associated with the Celtic Mother Goddess and her triune nature: the maiden, the mother, and the wise, old woman.
Svefnthorn “Sleep Thorn”: Viking Symbol For A Sound Sleep
Here comes the last one in our list of Viking symbols; Svefnthorn. Pronounced as SVEFN-thorn, Svefnthorn literally means, the “Sleep Thorn”. It is represented in sagas as four harpoons or small spears. It is believed to have been used to put an enemy to sleep from which he would not awake from for a long time.
Mjölnir (Thor’s Hammer)
As one of the most popular Viking symbols, thanks to Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Mjölnir, pronounced as me-OL-neer, literally means crusher, grinder and hammer. It is also associated with lightning and thunder, particularly because Thor the Norse god of thunder and war.
Mjölnir is a strong symbol. It is believed to be able to destroy mountains, which is why it signified strength, fortitude, and bravery. However, it wasn’t originally a weapon.
The story of the origin of Mjölnir is found in Skáldskaparmál from Snorri’s Edda. The tale said that Loki made a bet with the dwarves Brokkr and Sindri, saying that they cannot make anything better than those created by the Sons of Ivaldi, the dwarves who forged Odin’s spear Gungnir. As a result of the challenge, the dwarves created Mjölnir and gave it to Thor.
Mjölnir can both destroy and recreate. With Mjölnir, Thor can smite as hard as he can and Mjölnir won’t break. He can also bring some things back to life with it.
Web of Wyrd – Viking Symbols
The Vikings believed that even the gods were bound to fate. The Web of Wyrd represents the tapestry weaved by the Norns, who shaped fate and destiny. The Norns are the three women who sit by the mouth of the Well of Urd, at the base of the Yggdrasil.
The Web of Wyrd represents the connection between the past, present, and future. It is also a reminder that nobody, even gods, can escape their fate, no matter how bright or grim it may be.
Gungnir (Odin’s Spear) – Viking Symbols
Gungnir is the name of Odin’s spear. As such, it is the symbol closely associated with him. Gungnir represents wisdom and inspiration, as well as war. Gungnir was said to have been made by the sons of Ivaldi, dwarves who were master craftsmen. Gungnir is a magical spear that never misses a target.
Gungnir is also associated with courage, strength, precision, faithfulness, and ecstasy.
Ravens As Viking Symbols
Ravens are possibly the animals most associated with the Vikings. This is because ravens are thought to be Odin’s familiars. Because Odin was a god of war, Vikings associated him with the ravens that feast on the slain warriors. Furthermore, ravens are wise animals.
Odin was depicted to be accompanied by two ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory). The twin ravens fly throughout the nine dimensions and whatever they see, they tell Odin.
In Norse art and symbolism, the ravens symbolize Odin and as such, they also signify wisdom and bravery.
This wraps up our post on Viking symbols and their meanings, check out our other symbolism articles if you would like to know more about mysterious ancient symbols in the history of humanity. Thanks for reading!