History 101 : Norse Symbols

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

mjolnir2

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.

  1. Yggdrasil – Norse Tree Of Life

yggdrasilsymbol

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 too 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.

  1. Valknut – Viking Symbol for Death in A Battle

valknut

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.

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