Vikings used a number of ancient symbols based on Norse mythology. Symbols played a vital role in the Viking society and were used to represent their gods, beliefs and myths. Some Viking symbols remain mysterious and their meaning is still unknown, but there are also many ancient symbols that have clear messages.
In this top list we examine some of the most powerful and significant Viking symbols and take a look at the meaning behind them.
1. Thor’s Hammer – Mjölnir
Left: Drawing of a Viking Age gold-plated silver Mjölnir pendant (length 4.6 cm) found at Bredsätra in Öland, Sweden, now kept in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.
Right: A 10th century Thor’s Hammer (Mjölnir) from Odeshog, Sweden
Mjölnir means lightning, and Thor’s hammer indicates the god’s power over thunder and lightning. Thor, ancient god of war is one of the most prominent figures in Norse mythology. He was the son of Odin and Fyorgyn, the earth goddess. Thor was considered the storm-weather god of sky and thunder and also a fertility god. Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome weapons, capable of leveling mountains
Mjölnir, was a magical weapon that always came back to Thor when he threw it. Wearing Thor’s hammer as an amulet of protection was quite common as this was probably the most popular of all the pagan Viking symbols. Even during Christian times, from A.D. 1000 on, Vikings wore Thor’s Mjölnir as well as a cross on a chain or thong around their necks. A later form of the Mjolnir is called the Wolf’s Cross, or Dragon’s Cross, and was associated with early Norse Christianity.
2. Yggdrasil – Norse Tree Of Life
Left: Yggdrasil symbol
Right: An 1847 depiction of the Norse Yggdrasil as described in the Icelandic Prose Edda. By Oluf Olufsen Bagge
In Norse mythology, the Yggdrasil is a giant mythological tree that holds together the Nine Worlds or realms of existence.
At the very top of Yggdrasil, an eagle lived and at the bottom of the tree lived a dragon named Nidhug. Both hated each other and were bitter enemies. The Nine Worlds are guarded by the serpent Jormungandr. Yggdrasil is one of many variations of the Cosmic Axis or Universal World Tree known to all human cultures and home to many fascinating creatures.
The image of Yggdrasil appears on the famous Överhogdal Tapestry, which dates to the year 1066 and depicts the events of Ragnarok, the doom of the Gods and apocalyptic record of the coming comet.
3. Valknut – Viking Symbol For Death In A Battle
The Vaknut, also known as Hrungnir’s heart, heart of the slain, Heart of Vala, and borromean triangles is a mysterious Norse symbol. Its meaning is not entirely clear, but it is often associated with a warrior’s death in a battle.
The symbol has been found on old Norse stone carvings and funerary steles. It is sometimes called “Hrungnir’s heart,” after the legendary giant of the Eddas. It has also been detected on stone carvings as a funerary motif, where it probably signified the afterlife. The emblem is often found in art depicting the God Odin, where it may represent the gods’ power over death. Some versions of the Valknut can be drawn unicursally (in one stroke), making it a popular talisman of protection against spirits.
The Valknut’s three interlocking shapes are suggestive of related Celtic symbols of motherhood and rebirth- it may have been a goddess symbol at some point in history.
The number three is a very common magic symbol in many cultures. However, in Scandinavian context three multiplied by three might designate the nine worlds, which are united by the Yggdrasil tree. In modern times Valknut, like Triquetra and Horn Triskelion, is often interpreted as a symbol pointing to heathen convictions.
4. The Helm Of Awe – Viking Symbol For Protection
The Helm of Awe is a powerful protective symbol used by the Vikings for the purpose of protection from illness, and disease. In Norse mythology it is said that it is a symbol that was worn between the eyes that induces fear in your enemies, and to protect against the abuse of power.
The Norse word Ægishjálmr, is translated in English “helm of awe” or “helm of terror.” The meaning of the name awe is to strike with fear and reverence; to influence by fear, terror or respect; as, his majesty awed them into silence.
5. Huginn And Muninn – The Twin Ravens In Norse Mythology
Huginn and Muninn (Norse, “thought” and “memory”) are the twin ravens of Norse mythology. They are the servants of the Norse All-Father, Odin. According to legend, they are sent out each morning and report back to Odin each evening on the reports of the happenings of the world.
In the Poetic Edda, a disguised Odin expresses that he fears that they may not return from their daily flights. The Prose Edda explains that Odin is referred to as “raven-god” due to his association with Huginn and Muninn. In the Prose Edda and the Third Grammatical Treatise, the two ravens are described as perching on Odin’s shoulders. Heimskringla details that Odin gave Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak.
6. Web Of Wyrd (Skuld’s Net) – Viking Matrix Of Fate
Left: Web Of Wyrd (Skuld’s Net)
Right: The Norns
The Web of Wyrd, the matrix of fate (wyrd) as woven by the Norns, the fates of Norse legend is a very powerful Viking symbol. The Norns were known as ‘Shapers of Destiny’.
The Norns were goddesses who ruled the fates of people, determined the destinies and lifespans of individuals.
The emblem, nine staves arranged in an angular grid, contains all of the shapes of the runes and therefore all of the past, present, and future possibilities they represent. The web of wyrd serves as a reminder that the actions of the past affect the present and that present actions affect the future; all timelines are inextricably interconnected- in a sense, it is a representation of the tree of life.
7. Troll Cross – Norse Symbol Protecing Against Trolls And Elves
The troll cross is an amulet made of a circle of iron crossed at the bottom in a shape of an odal rune. It was worn by Scandinavian people as a protection against trolls and elves.
8. The Triple Horn Of Odin
The Triple Horn of Odin is yet another symbol of the great Norse God Odin. The symbol consists of three interlocked drinking horns, and is commonly worn or displayed as a sign of commitment to the modern Asatru faith. The horns figure in the mythological stories of Odin and are recalled in traditional Norse toasting rituals. Most stories involve the God’s quest for the Odhroerir, a magical mead brewed from the blood of the wise god Kvasir. There are several account of the tale, but typically, Odin uses his wits and magic to procure the brew over three days time; the three horns reflect the three draughts of the magical mead.
9. Gungnir – The Spear Of Odin
Left: Gungnir – Viking symbol
Right: Odin (1939). Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.
Gungnir was a magical weapon created by the dwarves and given to Odin by Loki. The Gungnir never missed its mark and like Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, it always returned to Odin.
10. Vegvisir – Runic Compass
The Vegvisir was a kind of runic compass. It was a Viking rune stave, a magical device used to aid in sea navigation. According to a number of legends, this apotropaic (protective) symbol was inscribed on seagoing vessels to insure their safe return. The most common depiction of the rune comes from the 17th century Galdrabók, and Icelandic grimoire.