Fascinating Norse Symbols And Meanings Simplified

Fascinating Norse Symbols

You want to learn more about Norse symbols and meanings, but most information is scattered and confusing. It can be tough to make sense of all the different Norse symbols! There are a lot of interpretations out there, and it’s hard to know which ones are accurate.

Norse symbols can be used for protection, guidance, strength, enhancing your spiritual practice, and connecting you with Norse gods and goddesses.

In this post, I’ll explain the simplified meanings of each Norse symbol so you can start using them in your spiritual practice. It’s important to note that some of these Norse symbols have become muddled throughout history, and we can only make educated guesses about their meanings.

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.

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Aegishjalmur Helm of Awe Symbol

In Old Norse, Aegishjalmur (pronounced eye-gis-hiowl-mer) is written as Ægishjálmr or Œgishjalmr, which means frightening helmet(3) and is also known as the Helm of Awe.

Aegishjalmur is a magical stave, powerful symbol, and a type of sigil. It was believed to frighten enemies and guarantee the triumph and success of whoever wore it.

The Aegishjálmr terrifies everyone who sees it; thus it could be derived from Classical influences since the Greek aigis has the same terrifying function (in the case of Zeus, the aigis is a shield, in the case of Pallas Athene a cloak crown with a Gorgon’s head).

The Greek word aigis could have become the ‘helmet of terror’ in folk-etymology as a result of the influence of the phonetically similarly sounding ON aegr ‘terrible’.

Rudolf Simek – Dictionary of Northern Mythology

Aegishjalmur was first written in the Norse legend Fáfnismál which recounts a story between Sigurd and a dragon named Fáfnir in the Poetic Eddas.

The Poetic Eddas are Icelandic oral writings recorded between 1000 and 1300 C.E. The Eddas are the primary source of information on ancient Norse symbols, Paganism, and mythology. The poems are tragedies, with detailed depictions and emotional experiences of Gods and mortals. Women have a crucial role, and many are depicted as adept warriors.

In the Norse legend Fáfnismál, Fáfnir the dragon says he’s invincible while sitting on his wealth of treasure because he wears the Helm of Awe.

The Helm of Awe,
I wore before the sons of men,
In defense of my treasure;
Among all, I alone was strong,
I thought to myself,
For I found no power a match for my own.

Norse legend Fáfnismál

Warriors would wear the Aegishjalmur Helm of Awe symbol between their brows to give them courage on the battlefield. This magical charm enabled whoever wore it to perform brave acts without fear.

Much later in history (around the 1700s), Pagan and Christian beliefs had merged throughout Europe. The Helm of Awe symbol was mentioned in Lbs 143 8vo (you can access the digital version here), connecting it to a spell that specifies it must be created from lead and inscribed on the forehead to protect against one’s opponents. I must admit that would be pretty frightening to see!

Norse Symbol Aegishjalmur Helm of Awe

Elder Futhark Runes

Elder Futhark Norse Runes are a group of symbols that make up the written alphabet of the Germanic people of Europe. It is believed that Norse runes date back to at least around 150 AD.

Not to be mistaken for the Celtic Ogham Alphabet, the origin of the Elder Futhark Norse runes creates a variety of complex questions, which have been debated by academics, scholars, and many others. It’s still unclear whether the runes were used primarily for spiritual purposes or as a general form of communication.

A likely theory is that the runic alphabet was developed by the Goths, a Germanic people, from the Etruscan alphabet of northern Italy and was perhaps also influenced by the Latin alphabet in the 1st or 2nd century BC. 

Britannica – Runic alphabet writing system

The word ‘rune’ is derived from an early Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘mystery‘ or ‘secret‘. The Norse runic alphabet consists of 24 letters divided into three categories of 8 runes each, called Aetts. If you’d like to learn more in-depth about Norse Runes Symbols check out this article.

Nordic Rune Pagan Symbols

Bind Runes

A bind rune is a powerful and artistic method to incorporate Norse runes into your spiritual practice. This involves layering and binding two or more Norse runes on top of one another to form a unique symbol capable of blending and amplifying magical intentions. 

Contrary to popular belief, there’s no evidence indicating ancient Germanic people used bind runes.

Bind runes attach spiritual energy to material objects (similar to sigils). They can be used for enchantment (binding something like an amulet or object) or enhancement (amplifying a person or object’s natural abilities).

If you’d like to learn more about creating your own Bind Runes check out this post.

Love Bind Rune example

Rune Stones

Rune Stones refer to two different topics: Rune Stones used for divination and Standing Rune Stones. 

Standing Rune Stone

Standing Rune Stones are inscriptions carved into stones containing the symbols of the runic alphabet. They are found primarily in Scandinavian countries, with over 2500 stones in Sweden alone.

These monuments were typically erected in memory of the dead and were often colorful hues of red, white, or earthy colors. However, they were sometimes used as gravestones and meant to celebrate the life of a passed loved one who was often wealthy or powerful. Standing Rune Stones were usually placed on personal properties, hilltops, or along pathways, so they were visible to passersby.

Jelling Rune Stone
This photo was taken around the year 1900. Jelling is the small city where Harold Bluetooth had the giant Jelling stone erected to honor his parents and to declare he turned the Danes to Christianity. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: National Museum of Denmark

Rune Stones For Divination

The tradition of creating Standing Rune Stones faded with the end of the Viking Age, but people have chosen to use runes still. For centuries Runes have been carved into simple objects to claim property, used for divination or spiritual purposes, and to enchant items or amulets with magical symbolism. 

In more modern times, pagans, witches, and spiritual practitioners will carve, paint, or burn rune symbols onto stones, crystals, wood, clay, or other materials for divination or symbolism. They may also include other Pagan, Witch, or Wiccan Symbols.

Check out this post if you’d like to learn more detailed information about Rune Stones.

Gungnir Odin’s Spear

Gungnir (pronounced Gung-neer) is Odin’s spear and means The Swaying One. It was believed to attract people to Odin as he summoned the fallen to Valhalla. Blacksmith dwarves created Gungnir after Loki forced them to do so.

Gungnir is a weapon of immense power, inscribed with magical rune symbols on its tip to make it incredibly accurate and deadly. Once thrown, it wouldn’t stop until it reached its desired goal.

In his spiritual journey for a deeper knowledge of the magical runes, Odin used Gungnir to stab himself as he hung from the sacred tree Yggdrasil for nine days.

In ancient Norse culture, the spear became an important symbol representing Odin and was often included in artwork portrayals of him. From the ninth century until the rise of Christianity, the depiction of Gungnir was found on ceramics and cremation urns.

Gungnir was a symbol of power, safety, strength, and skill. Before a Norse battle began, a spear was often thrown over the enemy as an offering to honor Odin and helped invigorate and rouse the Norse or Viking army for success in combat.

A custom of casting this weapon [spear] over the enemy combatants at the onset of a battle shall determine the victors.

Claude Lecouteux – Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore
Odin’s Spear Gungnir
Odin sitting on his throne holding his spear Gungnir and flanked by his two wolfs, Geri and Freki, and his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn

Huginn and Muninn

Huginn (pronounced hoog-in) and Muninn (pronounced moon-in) were Odin’s ravens and companions. Huginn and Muninn would bring back information to Odin from around the world and whisper it into his ear. They also fed off the bodies of fallen warriors on the battlefield who were headed to Valhalla.

Huginn means thought, and Muninn means memory. In the poem Grímnismál, Odin reflects on his two ravens and, roughly translated, says, “Hugin and Munin fly all over the world every day, I worry Hugin may not return, but I fear more for Munin.” This represents Odin’s dread of his thoughts not coming back but suggests he is more concerned about losing his memory.

Huginn and Muninn’s symbols and images can be found on cremation urns and other objects for the deceased. They represent Odin’s intelligence and symbolize the powerful memories of deceased loved ones.

…it was quite common for the army banners of Viking Age Nordic armies to depict a raven. It seems that the raven banners were woven in such a way that the fluttering banner would give the impression of a raven beating its wings.

Rudolph Simek – Dictionary of Northern Mythology
Odin with Huginn and Muninn
Odin riding Sleipnir, while his ravens Huginn and Muninn, and his wolves Geri and Freki appear nearby. The illustration appears at the end of Hárbarðsljóð, but does not illustrate a scene from the poem. The illustration appears pretty small there, resulting in this small scan. Photo licensed by Wikimedia Creative Commons

Mjölnir Thors Hammer Symbol

In Norse mythology, Thor’s hammer is called Mjölnir (pronounced mi-yul-neer). This weapon never failed him and gave the great God of War and Fertility power. Mjölnir is similar to a boomerang and always comes back to Thor’s hand after being thrown at his adversaries.

The etymology of Mjollnir is debated and is possibly rooted in the Old Slavic word mlunuji or the Russian word molnija, which both mean lightning. Alternatively, the word Mjölnir may originate from the Icelandic words mjoll (meaning new snow) or mjalli (meaning the color white). It was previously believed to be connected to the Gothic word malwjan, which means to grind or the grinder. (3)

Thunderbolts were believed to originate from Mjölnir, and it was Thor’s primary magical weapon, but he also had a girdle of strength and iron gloves. Thor must wear his iron gloves to use Mjölnir.

Mjölnir Creation

As Mjölnir was being forged, Loki shapeshifted into a fly and incessantly pestered the dwarf creators. Due to this lack of concentration, the handle came out too short. Another tale claims the handle was broken during battle.

In Norse mythology, many giants perished against Thor and his hammer. This includes a story about a giant named Prymr who stole Mjölnir from Thor and demanded the goddess Freyja marry him to return it. When Freya rejected Prymr’s proposal, Thor disguised himself as Freya. He took his hammer back and killed Prymr.

Wearing Mjölnir as a silver amulet to honor Thor appears to be done later in history (around the late 10th century through the 11th century) as blacksmiths began creating cross amulets. It’s believed this was meant to defy the new Christian beliefs and represent Heathen’s loyalty to Thor.

Mjölnir Norse Symbolism

Thor’s hammer was frequently depicted with a sun wheel, which resembles the ancient swastika symbol. Mjölnir was believed to promote fertility, good luck, protection, abundance, and strength.

Based on beautifully illustrated Bronze Age rock engravings, we know Mjölnir was a divine weapon often used for blessings or cleansing.

In ancient Germanic law a ritual for taking possession of a piece of land involved the throwing of a hammer, and laying a hammer in the lap of a young woman consecrated her marriage.

Claude Lecouteux – Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore

Sleipnir

The eight-legged gray horse Sleipnir (pronounced slayp-neer) is Odin’s mighty steed and the fastest of all horses. Sleipnir (whose name means sliding one) helps Odin travel between the physical and spiritual world.

Sleipnir’s eight legs represent the solar wheel containing eight spokes and his ability to travel anywhere in the Norse realms. It’s also possible ancient carvings of Sleipnir had eight legs to demonstrate his speed. The Norse culture believed horses had supernatural strengths allowing them to connect with Gods and spirits.

In Norse mythology, Odin allows any deceased warrior to ride Sleipnir as they enter Valhalla. When they arrive, a Valkyrie is waiting to offer them a drink.

The Prose Edda is Old Norse poetic lore put together by Snorri Sturluson around 1200 CE. As an Icelandic politician and historian, Snorri was allowed the privilege of viewing ancient manuscripts that are now missing.

While The Prose Edda contains wonderful mythological stories and history that would have otherwise been lost, Snorri was Christian and often added his own dramatic details, which is essential to keep in mind. If you’d like to learn more about The Prose Edda check out this post.

The Prose Edda expanded on many stories about Sleipnir, including that he is the son of Loki, has runes on his teeth, and states Odin was able to ride him to Hel.

Although Sleipnir is repeatedly referred to in the Eddic lays, the horse is rarely mentioned in skaldic poetry which suggests that the name [Sleipnir] is quite young, perhaps only originating as the name of Odin’s horse towards the end of the 10th century.

The story of Loki giving birth to Sleipnir was probably only an invention of Snorri’s.

Rudolf Simek – Dictionary of Northern Mythology

Some believe the legends and tales of Santa Claus are inspired by Odin riding the flying Sleipnir while leading the Wild Hunt during Midwinter. Sleipnir’s eight legs are symbolic of Santa’s eight tiny reindeer. However, plenty of arguments claim this is false, like Jackson Crawford’s explanation video Odin isn’t Santa Claus.

Odin’s 8-Legged Horse Sleipnir
On his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, the Norse god Odin is featured on the Tjängvide image stone in Vallhalla. It also can depict a killed warrior on his way to Vallhalla greeted by Valkyries with horn goblet in their hands. Photo licensed by Wikimedia Creative Commons

Swastika Symbol

The swastika is found in the symbology of many different cultures and spiritual faiths from around the world, including European, Celtic, and Chinese, but is especially popular in India.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the swastika symbol is connected to the Nazis and their hateful anti-semitic beliefs. However, this is not representative of Norse symbols and meanings.

The swastika is an ancient sacred symbol representing the sun’s life energy and the cycle of birth and renewal. It’s also associated with strength, fertility, good luck, unity, and prosperity.

Norse people believed the swastika or sun wheel was a bringer of luck and associated it with Thor and his hammer Mjölnir. The swastika symbol was carved onto rune stones, amulets, hammers, or anything meant to bring good luck.

The swastika is often linked to the development of the cross symbol in Bronze Age pagan religions, in which the cross was first thought to be a powerful early symbol of the sun.

There are various theories from archaeologists to suggest that the four arms represent the four aspects of nature: the sun, wind, water, and earth.

Others believe that they represent the four seasons, the four compass directions, or the ninety-degree angles of the zodiac corresponding to the solstices and the equinoxes.

Sarah Bartlett – The Secrets of the Universe in 100 Symbols
Swastika Symbol on Norse Brooch

Silver fibula (brooch) from Værløse, Denmark featuring an Elder Futhark Proto-Norse runic inscription that reads “alugod” followed by a Swastika symbol. According to the National Museum of Denmark where it is on display, the fibula is from the 3rd century CE. Photo licensed by Wikimedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Bloodofox

Triskelion

The triskelion name is derived from the ancient Greek word meaning three times or three-legged. Throughout Norse symbology and many other cultures throughout history, you’ll find symbols of three arranged together in a consistent pattern. Due to this, the origins of the triskelion, and other symbols like it, are shrouded in a lot of mystery.

You may notice the Triskelion’s similarity to the Valknut symbol and other imagery, sometimes called the Triskele or Triquetra. Three is a sacred number found throughout history and is still believed to be very magical.

You see this illustrated not only in the Triskelion and the Norns (Fate, Being, and Necessity) but also in Greek mythology (three Fates and three Gorgons). Indian philosophy includes (the self or soul (atman), works (karma), and liberation (moksha). You’ll also see this in Celtic mythology (past, present, and future) and many other cultures worldwide.

Due to this, it’s crucial to understand how this symbol may appear in various forms as people and cultures merged and grew throughout history. I’d encourage you to watch Jackson Crawford’s video Norse Symbols (and Their Unknowable Meanings).

The Triskelion is believed to be associated with wisdom, poetry, and Odin and appears to be three intertwined horns.

The word “triquetra” originally meant triangle, and was used to refer to various three-cornered shapes. Nowadays, it has come to refer exclusively to a particular more complicated shape formed of three vesica piscis, sometimes with an added circle in or around it.

Also known as a “trinity knot,” the design is used as a religious symbol by both Christians and polytheists.

Sarah Bartlett – The Secrets of the Universe in 100 Symbols

The rune stone image below is a bit hard to see, but you can make out a swastika symbol and a triskelion symbol on the lower left in red.

Snoldelev Runestone Triskelion Symbol
Runestone from Snoldelev, East Zealand, Denmark, now housed at the National Museum of Denmark. The inscription is from the 8th century with some older rune forms. The rune stone was found circa 1775 and brought to Copenhagen in 1811. Archaeological investigations in 1986 revealed an early Viking-Age cemetery, which seems to have had connections with the rune stone. The swastika and the triskele of three drinking horns are of the same date as the inscription, but the big wheel-cross is Bronze Age. Photo licensed by Wikimedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Bloodofox

Valknut Norse Symbol

Valknut (pronounced valk-noot) references warriors who’ve fallen in battle and are on their way to Valhalla; it means knots of those fallen in the battle.

The Valknut symbol appears on ancient rune stones, funeral rituals, burials, and urns, but was only given its name more recently. Some spiritual practitioners use Valknut as a symbol of protection in the passage to the afterlife.

We don’t know the true meaning of the Valknut symbol. However, it’s believed to be associated with the journey from life to death based on its use. It’s also frequently associated with Odin, which is not surprising because he often plays the role of a psychopomp (someone who guides souls from one world to another).

Some historians believe Snorri Sturluson described Valknut in the Prose Edda poem Hrungnir‘s Heart. The image sounds triangular, but no image is illustrated in this text. Without an image, there’s no way to know for sure if the Valknut is what Snorri is describing.

Snorri tells us that ‘Hrungnir had a heart made of hard stone and pointed with three corners, just like the carved symbol which has been called Hrungnir’s heart ever since.’

This description points to a symbol which can be seen on rune stones and on picture stones from Gotland and consists of three interwoven triangles which are called valknuter in Norwegian (probably ‘knots of those fallen in battle’) and show certain similarities with the triskele (the three-legged swastika).

Rudolf Simek – Dictionary of Northern Mythology
Valknut Norse Symbol

Vegvisir Symbol

The Vegvisir (pronounced veg-vee-seer) symbol is found in the Huld manuscript written in 1860 by Geir Vigfùsson. Vegvisir is only mentioned once in the manuscript and roughly translates to “Let a man carry Vegvisir, and the man will not get lost in storms or bad weather, though he is unfamiliar with the way.”

Vegvisir is often called the Viking compass; however, there is no evidence to indicate this symbol was used during the Viking age. It’s likely Vegvisir was created as a Christian symbol and is really a type of sigil.

Vegvisir Symbol
A portion of page 60 of Huld Manuscript ca. 1860 shows two Vegvisir symbols with title and description of use in Icelandic. Photo licensed by Wikimedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Geir Vigfússon and the National and University Library of Iceland

Yggdrasill Tree Norse Symbol

The Tree of Life symbol has been found in many cultures throughout history. It represents our connection to the world around us and the cyclical nature of life. Nothing ever dies but instead transforms, an endless journey with no beginning or end.

The Norse tree Yggdrasill (pronounced igg-dra-sil) is an evergreen ash tree with three roots spanning across the world. Its name means Odin’s horse because Odin hung himself from an Yggdrasill branch for nine days rejecting any food or water so the Norns would reveal the secrets of the runes to him. In Norse mythology, Odin “rode” the tree during this time like one would a horse.

Beneath Yggdrasill’s three roots lie –

  1. The land of Niflheim (pronounced nif-el-hame), the underworld Hel where Nidgogg the serpent feasts on dead bodies and nibbles on Yggrasill’s roots
  2. Asgard and the three Norns (Fate, Being, and Necessity who tend and water Yggdrasill’s roots)
  3. The last root rests in Midgard (the land of men) and Jotunheim (the realm of frost giants). Beneath Jotunheim rests the head of the wise Mimir and his well of knowledge.

In Yggdrasill’s branches rests an eagle or hawk, and a squirrel named Ratatoskr scampers down the tree trunk hurling insults at Nidgogg the serpent from the eagle or hawk above. He then hustles back up to the eagle or hawk, telling him Nidgogg’s nasty reply. There are also four stags who nibble on Yggdrasill’s leaves. The animals are all symbols of change, indicating not even Yggdrasil will live forever.

Yggdrasill cannot be destroyed with steel or fire, and its fruit assists women with fertility issues. After Ragnarök (the end of the world), the gods, giants, men, and women will all perish except two named Lif and Lifthrasir, who is hidden by Yggdrasill. Humankind will be reborn by Lif, Lifthrasir, and Odin’s sons Balder and Hoder, who will return to life.

I hope you found this post on Norse symbols and meanings helpful! Lots of love to you and remember as always…

SOURCES

(1) Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Runic alphabet”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Mar. 2008, https://www.britannica.com/topic/runic-alphabet.

(2) A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult. DK Publishing. 18 August 2020.

(3) Simek, Rudolf. A Dictionary of Northern Mythology Translated by Angela Hall. D.S. Brewer. 28 April 2008.

(4) Lecouteux, Claude. Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore Mythology and Magic. Inner Traditions. 25 June 2016.

(5) Signs and Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. DK. 16 June 2008.

(6) Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Mjollnir”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11 Jul. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mjollnir.

(7) Philip, Neil. Illustrated Book of Myths Tales & Legends of The World Retold. DK Children. 9 September 1995.

(8) Sleipnir. Britannica Kids. https://kids.britannica.com/students/article/Sleipnir/313575#

(9) Bartlett, Sarah. The Secrets of the Universe in 100 Symbols. Chartwell Books. 15 January 2019.

FURTHER SUGGESTED READING

Mark, Joshua. Vikings. World History Encyclopedia. 29 January 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/Vikings/

Jackson Crawford’s Old Norse YouTube Channel (He has a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Georgia. He’s also been an Old Norse language and runes consultant for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Disney’s Frozen)

Prose Edda poem Skáldskaparmál

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