Viking Symbols and their Meanings

January 12, 2021 9 min read

  1. Runes

Runes is a system of writing associated with the Nordic and Germanic people. Each rune is a pictorial representation of a cosmic principle or power.

 

  1. Valknut

 

The Valknut is a Viking symbol that consists of three interlocking triangles. It symbolizes those warriors that have fallen in battle. The Valknut is commonly associated with the cult of the dead. It appears in gravestones, runestones and other objects associated with fallen warriors. The Valknut symbol is referenced in the Prose Edda in the description of the heart of the jötunn Hrungnir. Jötunn Hrungnir had a heart made of stone that had three interlocking triangles. The Valknut is often depicted in memorial stones and in battles to symbolize Odin’s power to bind and unbind. Odin had the power to bind the minds of warriors in battle. He could make warriors helpless or inspire bravery and inspiration among warriors. Odin was considered as the most powerful of all magicians and shamans. Magic Norse universe is depicted as spinning and weaving in order to change the course of events. The Valknut symbol was considered to be deeply connected with life after death.

Archaeological records show that the Valknut appeared in objects found in areas that were inhabited by the Germanic people. The symbol can be found in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and crematorium urns. The Valknut symbol is commonly found on runestones depicting Odin.

 

  1. Yggdrasil

 

Yggdrasil is the mythical tree in Norse Mythology that stands in the center of the universe and connects the nine worlds. The gods visit Yggdrasil every day to hold their governing councils. The branches of Yggdrasil reach high heavens.  Yggdrasil is supported by three wells in three different locations. One well known as Urðarbrunnr in the heavens, one to the spring Hvergelmir, and another to the well Mímisbrunnr. The well Mímisbrunnr is located lower than all the other roots and it is thought to contain wisdom and intelligence. The well is guarded by Mimir one of the wisest of all beings in the nine worlds. Odin sacrificed his eye in order to drink from the well of wisdom. The well-being of the universe depends on Yggdrasil and when the tree trembles it signals the beginning of the universe. Yggdrasil’s roots and branches are home to various creatures in the Norse mythology.  Around its base lurk the dragon Nidhogg and several snakes, who gnaw at its roots. An unnamed eagle perches in its upper branches, and a squirrel, Ratatoskr, scurries up and down the trunk conveying the dragon’s insults to the eagle and vice versa. Meanwhile, four stags – Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Durathror – graze on the tree’s leaves. Odin who is a relentless seeker of knowledge and wisdom sacrificed himself on the branches of the Yggdrasil where he hangs for nine days and nine nights. Odin survived the fate and discovered the runes.

  1. The Horn Triskelion

The Horn Triskelion is a Norse symbol that comprises of three interlocking horns. It represents Odin’s quest to obtain the mead of poetry. Odin bargained three nights with the giantess Gunnlöð for three sips of the mead. However, with each sip he drank a whole horn. Since the three horns he drank contained the whole of the mead, Odin thus got all of it and fled in the shape of an eagle. The horns’ names were Óðrœrir, Boðn and Són. In Norse Viking mythology the mead of poetry is a symbol of wisdom and poetic inspiration. According to the Prose Edda, whoever drinks it, becomes a skald.

  1. Mjölnir

Mjölnir is a powerful weapon wielded by Thor. In Norse Mythology Mjölnir is depicted as a powerful weapon capable of leveling mountains. It was not an ordinary hammer and whenever Thor cast it away towards his enemies it would always return to him. The sound of thunder is associated with the sound of Thor’s hammer crashing sound on his enemies. The hammer was used by to bless marriages, births and to officiate ceremonies. The hammer was used to make contracts and in making binding oaths. Thor’s hammer was seen as a symbol of protection against evil.

 The hammer was powerful and in one instance it was said that Thor once killed his goats and brought them back to life with his hammer. The story of the creation of Thor’s hammer began when Loki decided to cut off Sif’s golden hair. Thor was furious with Loki and he threatened to kill him. Loki promised that he would retrieve a far better hair for Sif and other powerful ornaments. Thor travels to svartálfar where he gets the Sons of Ivaldi to forge a new hair for Sif. Loki taunts Brokk and Sindri that they cannot create a powerful weapon more than the Sons of Ivaldi. The two brothers Brokk and Sindri forge Draupnir, Mjölnir and Gullinbursti. Loki takes the gifts and makes his way to Asgard before the two brothers get there and claim their payment. Loki voids the contract between him and the two brothers which means that they could not get payment. In the end, Brokk and Sindri sew Loki’s mouth shut before returning to the forge.

 

  1. Svefnthorn

This is one of the most famous Norse mythology symbols that was frequently mentioned in Norse sagas including The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, The Saga of the Volsungs, and Gongu-Hrolfs Saga.

The meaning and magical properties of this Viking symbol was different and had the various sense in every myth. However, there was one feature of Svefnthorn in all stores – it was used to put their enemies to sleep. As, for example, The Saga of the Volsungs tells that Odin put Valkyrie Brunhild into a deep sleep with the help of Svefnthorn.

 

  1. Huginn and Muninn

Huginn and Muninn are two ravens that belong to Norse God Odin. They fly all over the world and bring information to Odin. Odin is referred to as the raven-god because of the possession of the two ravens. Ravens were considered to be very intelligent and they were owned by an intelligent god.  The name of the two ravens is translated to mean thought and memory. Huginn and Muninn have intellectual and spiritual capabilities that are able to respond to Odin in his role as the god of death and the god of battle. Huginn and Muninn had a role of gathering information and wisdom and adding the same to the immense repertoire that Odin had. Odin as the chief sorcerer and shaman he was worried that they would not return and they did on a daily basis by breakfast.

 The Heimskringla states that Odin gave Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak and when they fly all over Midgard, they come back to him and report what they have seen. Huginn is a Norse word for thought and Muninn is a Norse word for memory. During the Viking Age, Huginn was more commonly used than Muninn. Blood was designated as Huginn sea, the warrior was seen as the reddener of Huginn’s claws and the battle was seen as Huginn’s feast. Huginn was used interchangeably with the word raven. Ravens were the primary beneficiaries when a battle broke out because they would feast on the flesh of the dead. Archeological records show Odin flanked by two ravens riding into battle.

  1. The Troll Cross

Troll cross is a piece of iron worn as an amulet. In Swedish folklore and Norse mythology, it was used to ward off evil spirits.  It is particularly used to ward off evil trolls in Norse mythology. The troll cross bears strong resemblance with the Othala rune.

Unlike our other runes, there’s not a strong archeological record of the Troll Cross in Norse graves. In fact, it was reportedly first created by a smith from Dalarna, Sweden in the 1990s. Kari Erlands turned the symbol into jewelry after reportedly finding it in her grandparents’ home. The Othala is a symbol of heritage, inheritance and estate. Kari said that she found it in her grandparents’ barn and it was a common symbol in their day to put it around where the cows were to protect them from trolls.  Troll cross pendants are forged from iron and runes of home and protection are chanted to them to provide protection for the wearer.

  1. Ægishjálmr

It is a magical Icelandic symbol of victory and protection. It is believed to be used by warriors as well as dragons. The tern “helm” means protective covering. Although a lot of resources describe Ægishjálmr as a magical object, some of them describe this Norse symbol as an invisible spell that can provide the necessary sphere of protection to its user, while casting defeat and fear on an enemy. If you look at its form just without having any knowledge about its symbolism, it will be enough to wake fear and awe. Its eight arms or rays that are similar to the spiked tridents emit from the center point of this Norse symbol as if protecting and defending this central point from the foe forces that troop round it. Those arms were constructed from two intersecting runes: Algiz runes and Isa runes. The first one was used a symbol of protection and victory, while the last one was considered a symbol of hardening, that helped to overcome hardening of the soul and mind.

 

  1. Triskele (Horns of Odin)

It is an ancient Norse symbol that is also known as the Triskelion. This is a trilateral symbol, consisting of three interlocked spirals/horns, named Óðrœrir, Boðn, and Són. There is no exact meaning of this symbol, although it can point on the stealing of the Mead of Poetry by Odin. This symbol appears on the Newgrange kerbstones in 3200 BC. Horns of Odin plays an important role not only in ancient times but also in the modern Celtic art, as they symbolize three realms of material existence: water, earth, and sky. Moreover, this symbol signifies the three words: physical, spiritual, and celestial.

  1. Viking Axe

The Viking Axe was the most common weapon in Viking societies. Every household owned a Viking Axe which was used to chop wood and perform other household chores. The Viking Axe was commonly known as the bearded axe because of the nature of the lower portion of the axe extending in the shape of a beard. The design of the Viking Axe allowed the user to grip the haft behind the head for plaining wood. In battle, the beard section of the axe would be useful in pulling out a weapon from an opponent’s hand or opening up a shield. The Viking Axe was the most potent weapon in battle because of its short handle. It usually forced to opponent into a hand-to-hand combat. Only few people in the society owned swords. The Viking Axe made it extremely easy for Viking communities to mobilize in the event of an attack.

 

  1. Longship

The longship was a specialized war vessel that was developed in Scandinavia. It was invented by the Vikings for warfare, exploration and commerce during the Viking age. The longship was exceptionally long, light and wide which gave it speed to navigate in open seas and narrow rivers. Longships were fitted with oars along the sides.  The design of the longship allowed it to be steered in any direction. Longships were communally owned by coastal farmers but in the time of conflict they would be summoned by Kings. There are four types of rune ships, the first type is Drakkar which was used for raiding and plundering. Drakkars had the carvings of menacing beasts such as dragons and snakes at the prow of the ship. The second type of longships were known as skeids. Skeids could carry a crew of 80 to 70 people. Draken Harald Hårfagre is the longest Skeid ship that was ever constructed. Snekkja was the smallest warship with only twenty rows of benches. Snekkjas were the most common types of ship in use. They were designed to withstand the Atlantic weather. The Karvi was the smallest vessel that could be considered a longship. The Karvi were general purpose ships that were built for fishing and trade.

  1. Gungnir

Gungnir is the spear of the Norse god Odin. According to the Poetic Edda, Gungnir was fashioned by the dwarves. The Gungnir is the weapon that is commonly associated with Odin. Gungnir has runes carved into its point which is meant to amplify its magic. In the war between Aesir and Vanir, Odin hurls his spear in the air and screams “Odin owns you all”.  In Odin’s quest to acquire the runes, he stabs himself with the Gungnir and hangs upside down on the Yggdrasil. Odin’s spear is the most compelling weapon in the cosmos and it helps to portray Odin as a ferocious fighter.

  1. Sleipnir

 

Sleipnir is an eight-legged horse that is ridden by Odin into battle. Sleipnir is a child of Loki and Svaðilfari. Svaðilfari was a powerful horse owned by the Jottun that built the walls of Asgard. The Jottun had disguised himself and as builder and stated that he would complete the fortifications of the walls of Asgard in record time in exchange for the sun, the moon and Freya. Loki forged a plan which entailed into transforming himself into a mare.  Loki as a mare mated with Svaðilfari leading to the birth of Sleipnir.

Odin rides Sleipnir in his journeys across the nine worlds. Sleipnir is described as the best horse in the nine worlds. It is also said that runes can be cut from Slepnir’s teeth. Sleipnir is endowed with speed and agility beyond any known horse. Sleipnir is the only one of the Loki’s children that is not locked up and cast away from Asgard. Sleipnir is also associated with magic and shamanic powers in Norse mythology.