Viking Symbols

Introduction

Symbols were a vital part of the Viking culture. They reflected the mythology, beliefs, religious inclinations and the lifestyle of the Vikings.

Most of the Viking symbols were fairly complicated – and the Vikings believed that each symbol held powers unique to it. As Vikings were often at war or facing hazards at sea, they would use these symbols for protection, success, victory, abundance and other purposes.

Some symbols were also used to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. Symbols would typically be carved by the Vikings on metal and jewelry items, clothing, weapons, even stones and other everyday items.

Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor

Mjolnir is the famous Viking symbol that comprises of the hammer of Thor. It is a symbol that appears frequently in Viking artifacts which denotes that it was widely used by the Vikings. Mjolnir symbolizes Thor’s hammer.

It was believe that every time he threw it, it came to him, and only he was able to hold and wield it. Mjolnir carries different meanings in the Norse language. It can be used to denote ‘white’, ‘snow’ or ‘lightning’. Alternatively, it can also mean ‘to crush’. In addition to signifying power and battlefield prowess, Mjolnir was also known to protect from evil spirits and influences.

Gungnir, The spear of Odin

In ancient Norse mythology, Gungnir was a magical weapon. It was a spear that belonged to Odin, the god who held the greatest power among the Norse gods and was father to Thor.

Odin’s spear was thought to have been forged by the most accomplished blacksmiths in the cosmos, the dwarfs. As a god of war, Gungnir was Odin’s chief weapon.

Legend has it that he threw it over his enemies at an occasion which initiated the war between two families of Norse gods, the Vanir and the Aesir. According to the myths, Gungnir never missed its mark.

Aegishjalmur, The helm of Awe

Aegishjalmur is a symbol of protection that was frequently used by the Vikings. Considered a powerful symbol, Aegishjalmur roughly translated into the ‘helm of awe and terror’.

The symbol itself comprises of three serpents encircling a central point surrounded by eight spiked tridents. The tridents are said to protect the central point.

Vikings used this symbol to seek protection against their enemies and to prevail over them in conflict. It was used in amulets, on face paints, on weapons as well as on other items.

The Swastika

Swastika was one of the most popular Viking symbols. However, it lost all its meaning unfortunately after it was appropriated by the Nazis. In the Viking culture, a swastika was said to bring order, prosperity and well-being to the wearer of the symbol. It was also used to consecrate someone so that they would be lucky.

Valknut

Valknut is a symbol associated with death, Odin and the afterlife. It is probably derived from the Norse concept of Valhalla, or the hall where Odin receives the heroes who are slain in battle. Valknut itself means ‘knot of the slain warrior’. While the symbol signifies Valhalla, the name signifies the transition from life to death in Odin’s halls.

Yggdrasil, The tree of Life

Yggdrasil, or the Tree of Life, symbolizes the Norse cosmic tree around which all the worlds of the Norse mythology are created. Vikings believed that there were nine worlds or realms, all connected through Yggdrasil. The symbol itself was believed to bring abundance and other blessing to the wearer.

Vegvisir, the Viking compass

Vegvisir is a Viking symbol that bears a clear resemblance with Aegishjalmr. However, it is also unique and is often known as the Viking or Runic Compass. The Vikings believed that Vegvisir helped the people who were lost and guided them back to their path.

The Norse word ‘Vegvisir’ literally translates as ‘That Which Shows The Way’. For this reason, Vikings would often draw the symbol on their ships to protect them from getting lost during their sea voyages. They believed that they would reach their destination safely with this symbol on their ship.

Svefnthorn

Svefnthorn is a Norse symbol that is directly related to the concept of magic in the Norse culture. The name literally translates into ‘sleep thorn’. According to Norse sources, this symbol was used to put an adversary into deep sleep so that the adversary would not cause a problem for a certain time period.

Odin famously put a Valkyrie into deep sleep using this symbol. The sleep caused by a Svefnthorn was so deep according to Norse legends that an adversary couldn’t easily wake up from it.

Huginn and Muninn, Twin ravens of Odin

Huginn and Muninn is a symbol of two ravens that is found in the ancient Norse culture. According to the Norse accounts, this symbol represents Odin’s twin ravens.

These ravens would go out into the world, gather the news and then bring them back to Odin. For this reason, ravens are considered not just the birds of brutality but also birds of wisdom and education.

The Troll Cross

The Troll Cross is another Norse protection symbol. This symbol is very straight forward and particular rounded compared to most other Norse symbols. It was believed that the Troll Cross protected a person from the elves, trolls and other harmful creatures in the wooded forests.

The Web of Wyrd

This symbol has many names in the Viking culture. It was also known as the ‘Skuld’s Net as well as ‘The Matrix of Fate’. Vikings believed that it represented fate itself, connecting the past, present and the future.

Summary

  • Mjolnir, or the Hammer of Thor, symbolizes power, victory in battle, and protection from enemies.
  • Gungnir, the Spear of Odin, symbolizes accuracy, great power and strength. It was said to carry magical powers and was forged by the dwarfs.
  • Aegishjalmur, The helm of Awe, was a symbol used by the Vikings to seek protection from their enemies.
  • Swastika was originally a Viking symbol that denoted well-being, order and good luck.
  • Valknut is a symbol that denotes a slain warrior’s transition from life to death. It comprises of three triangles which may represent Odin’s halls at Valhalla.
  • Yggdrasil symbolizes the cosmic tree of life in the Viking mythology.
  • Vegvisir, or the Viking Compass, was a symbol that Vikings believed helped them stay on path and reach their destination safely. Svefnthorn translates as ‘sleep thorn’ and was a magical Viking symbol used to put adversaries to sleep.
  • Huginn and Muninn is a symbol denoting twin raves of Odin. They symbolize wisdom, intellect and barbarity at the same time.
  • The Troll Cross was a symbol which Vikings believed protected them from trolls and elves.
  • The Web of Wyrd represents fate and its intricacies in the Viking symbolism.
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