The language of symbols is an extremely intriguing aspect of human history and has been inherited by our ancestors. Symbols represent abstract concepts reflecting the prevalent cultural ideology and religious belief.
The symbols of Norse Mythology were depictions of supernatural entities, the challenges of daily life, and the mysteries that awaited after one’s death. Many of these symbols have been used in the Viking Age and have given us insight into the Viking thought process, cultural practices, and religious beliefs.
Listed below are the top 11 most important Viking Symbols of Strength:
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The Mjolnir or Thor’s Hammer is one of the most popular Viking symbols of strength. Different sources have suggested different meanings of the Mjolnir. Some experts say that it means ‘white,’ referring to the color of lightning. Others say that it means lightening itself.
Some sources also say that ‘Mjolnir’ literally means ‘new snow,’ implying the purity of the soul. This word can also mean to crush or crushing something. (1) Thor was the ancient god of war in Norse Mythology. He was also the god of the sky and thunder as well as fertility. Thor’s hammer was thought of as one of the most fearsome weapons by the Vikings.
It was capable of leveling out mountains and always rebounded when Thor threw it. The Mjolnir was widely worn in the form of an amulet for protection. (2)
2. The Helm of Awe
This was a magical Icelandic symbol of victory and protection. The word ‘Helm’ meant ‘a protective covering,’ i.e., a Helmet and implied protection. Some uncovered Viking sources imply that the Helm of Awe was thought of as a magical object.
This object created a sphere of protection around the user and ensured fear and defeat over the enemy. The Helm of Awe is mentioned in various Eddic poems as thought to be used by warriors and dragons. There are eight arms of the symbol that stem from the center point.
They are also said to be the light rays emitted from the center. Many experts say that the hidden meaning of the symbol was the ability to overcome adversity through hardening the mind and soul. (3)
3. Huginn and Muninn
Huginn and Muninn were two ravens that have been widely depicted in Viking artwork. These two ravens have been shown sitting next to Odin or sitting on his shoulders. They served Odin the All-father.
People commonly believed thanks to the supernatural abilities given to Huginn and Muninn, they could speak and understand the language of humans, were shrewd observers, and could travel the entire world in a day. They flew around the world, returned to Odin in the evening, and told him what they saw.
Scholars suggest that Huginn and Muninn could have been a projection of Odin’s consciousness. The fact that the words Huginn and Muninn literally translate to ‘thought’ and ‘mind’ reaffirm this theory. (4)
4. Trolls Cross
The Trolls Cross was a Norse symbol that was a part of Swedish folklore. It was commonly thought to be a symbol of protection. It was thought to protect one against dark magic, evil elves, and trolls. (5)
Vikings commonly wore this symbol in the form of an amulet around their necks. They thought their chances of falling into troublesome situations severely declined due to the trolls cross symbol. (6)
The Norse age had many significant Runes, and each rune had a specific letter meaning attached to it. The term ‘ Rune’ also literally refers to ‘secret.’ Each rune and letter also signified a particular sound. The runic alphabet was called the ‘futhark.’
The oldest futhark appeared between the 2nd century and the 4th century when active trade between the Germanic people and the Mediterranean was taking place. The Vikings believed using runes could bring joy, happiness, strength, power, love, and even death. Runes were depicted on armor, necklaces, rings, and also protective amulets. Vikings believed using runes could change their lives.
Another way of casting runes was in the form of ‘casting Rune sticks.’ This is very similar to the current process of divination. During the Viking age, rune stones were used to predict the future. People also made life-altering decisions depending on this. (7)
6. The Swastika
Known for its association with the German mid 20th century Nazi party, the swastika is actually an ancient symbol that implied holiness, continuity, power, prosperity, and luck. It also symbolizes fire as the life force. In Norse religion, the swastika was associated with Thor, the sky god.
It was carved onto objects to mark with luck and sanctity. For example, a blacksmith would carve the swastika on his hammer to sanctify the object and to make it lucky. Another prominent image closely resembling the swastika was the image of a wheel, a sun wheel, and a disc. This image symbolized three things. It symbolized the sky and its link to earth. It also symbolized the earth itself, which was thought to be a disc resting on a larger water body.
And thirdly, it symbolized the cosmos. The image of the swastika, wheel, and disc was largely linked to Thor and was a symbol of continuity. It was also widely carved on tombstones and worn as amulets. (8)
The Valknut was one of the most prominent of all Viking symbols. It is also known as the Knot of the slain warrior and as Heart of the Vala. Other names for the Valknut are ‘Odin’s knot ‘and ‘Hrungnir’s heart.’
The term Valknut is derived from the separate words, ‘Valr’ which translates to warrior, and ‘Knut,’ which translates to Knot. The Valknut is also known as the symbol of Odin because the figures of Odin and animals linked to Odin that were carved on Viking toms had the Valknut drawn right next to them.
There are nine corners of the three triangles within the Valknut. These nine corners symbolize the nine different worlds in Norse Mythology. They also refer to the cycle of life through pregnancy and motherhood. (9)
The Yggdrasil refers to the tree symbol. This world tree symbol implies the cyclical nature of life and has frequently appeared in many ancient cultural mythologies. It implies that nothing really dies in the world. It also hints at a natural and unending transformation.
According to certain academics, the Yggdrasil is an extremely vital symbol in Norse Mythology. It is said to be the center point of the worlds of all gods and men. The Vikings believed that all the nine realms of existence were nestled in the roots of the Yggdrasil. They included the scene and unseen worlds. (10)
Gungnir or Odin’s spear symbolized authority, power, and protection. The word ‘Gungnir’ refers to ‘The Swaying One.’ It was believed the Gungnir was crafted by dwarves, similar to Mjolnir. The Image of Gungnir was seen on cremation urns and ceramics all the way till the 9th century until Christianity spread in Scandinavia.
It was believed that the spear had magical runes carved on it, which increased its accuracy. (11) It was believed, within the realm of Norse Mythology, that Odin started the war between two groups of Gods, Aesir and Vanir, by hurling the Gungnir.
In some stories, Gungnir was known to never miss its target and always returned back to Odin whenever hurled. This is similar to Thor, the god of thunder, throwing Mjolnir and it returning back to him. (12)
10. The Triskelion
The Triskelion or Odin’s Horns is an important Viking symbol. This image consisted of three interlocking horns. (13) The three horns symbolized poetic inspiration and wisdom and their interlinking connection.
For the Vikings, the Mythological concept behind this was that Odin had stolen the mead of poetry from the giants. The giants had brewed this mead from Kvasir, the wisest man that ever lived. The giants then brought the mead to the gods, who then shared the drink with humanity.
It was believed that whoever drank the mead of poetry would be able to compose outstanding verse. Since the Vikings also associated poetry with scholarship, that person would also be gifted with great wisdom. (14)
11. The Raven
Ravens were revered in Norse culture. Many Viking kings and earls used the raven symbol on their flags when they set out to unknown waters in search of land. Once the ravens were let out, they would fly around the area.
If they found land, they would fly towards it. If they didn’t, they would fly back towards the ship. (15) Within Norse Mythology, ravens held a special place. At times, Odin was referred to as the ‘raven god’ due to his association with Huginn and Muninn. Ravens were also featured within stories of the Valkyrie.
They are depicted as female figures who choose the ones who live or die in battle. The importance of Ravens can be witnessed due to the number of times the Vikings have used them. It has carved helmets, banners, shields, and longships. The concept was to invoke the power of Odin before engaging with the enemy in battle. (16)
Symbols played an essential role in Viking culture. The Norse people used symbols for many purposes, such as instilling fear within their enemies and calling upon their gods for help. Symbols also represented many elements of their faith.
Which of these Viking symbols of strength were you aware of? Let us know in the comments section below!
- 15. https://mythologian.net/viking-symbols-norse-symbols-meanings/#What_Did_Ravens_Mean_To_Vikings
Header image of Viking Ship courtesy: Photo by Óscar CR of Pixabay