Symbols played an important role in Viking culture. The Nordic warriors even wore these as tattoos on their skin. Whether asking for protection from their gods in battle or instilling fear into their enemies, the Nordic people used different symbols for different purposes. Scandinavian tattoos are therefore characterized by a large number of mysterious symbols that are supposed to protect the wearer through their magical power.
These vary from runic scripts to depicting the gods themselves. If you’ve gotten curious and want to learn more about the Viking symbols, check out our short list. Here are the most important Nordic symbols that you can also use as inspiration for your next tattoo.
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Viking symbols: Odin’s knot Valknut
Without a doubt, Valknut is one of the most famous and popular Viking symbols. Also known as Odin’s Knot and Hrungnir Heart, the three intertwined triangles are considered to be the symbol of Odin. The word “Valknut” is derived from two different words: “Valr” means “slain warrior” and “Knut” means “knot”.
According to Norse belief, Odin, the god of death and war in Norse mythology, would welcome the fallen warriors to Valhalla (the hall of the slain). That is why the Valknut symbolizes the afterlife. Sometimes it represents the power and strength of the soul when it is battling death gods or other dire circumstances. The three triangles convey the impression of order, continuity and immortal will.
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Viking symbols: Yggdrasil tree of life
Yggdrasil is not only one of the most distinctive Viking symbols, but also an important element of the Nordic faith. According to Nordic mythology, Yggdrasil is the world ash that connects the nine worlds, namely Asgard, Midgard, Muspelheim, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Niflheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Helheim. That is why Yggdrasil is a symbol of the connectedness of all things in the entire universe.
According to Norse mythology, the world will end with Ragnarok, the battle between gods. Only a man and a woman will survive the end of the gods by hiding in a tree hollow. The couple will leave the tree to bring life back into the world. So the tree will protect life from Ragnarok. This is one of the reasons why Yggdrasil is called the Tree of Life.
Aegishjalmur / Aegishjalmr – The helmet of awe, helmet of terror
Aegishjalmur (also known as the Helm of Awe and Terror) is an ancient Icelandic rune known as the Viking protection symbol. The word Aegishjalmr consists of two different words in the Old Norse language: Aegis means “shield” and hjalmr means “helmet”.
In fact, Viking warriors painted the Aegishjalmr mark on their foreheads in order to be protected from their enemies and to instill fear in them. As a tattoo, Aegishjalmur is used as a protective symbol these days.
Vegvisir, the Viking compass
The Vegvisir is another Viking symbol made up of runes. He is often associated with, or sometimes confused with, Aegishjalmr. The Vegvisir, also known as the Rune Compass, should provide guidance for a person who might get lost. It was also drawn on Viking ships before they set sail.
Viking symbols: the triple horn of Odin
The triple horn of Odin is a Viking symbol that consists of three interlocking drinking horns. The symbol goes back to the myth about Odin and his search for the magical elixir of poetry – Odrörir.
Believed to have killed two dwarfs called Fjalar and Galar Kvasir – a being who knew everything and could answer any question. The dwarves mixed Kvasir’s blood with honey and poured it into three horns.
According to the myth, Odin used his sagacity to negotiate with the giantess Gunnlöð. She allowed him to drink mead at a time for three days. So he drank the whole elixir of poetry and managed to escape by turning into an eagle.
Today the threefold horn of Odin is also understood as a symbol of wisdom and inspiration, especially poetic inspiration.
Mjölnir, The Hammer of Thor
Thor’s hammer is certainly one of the most important Viking symbols (if not the most important). According to Norse mythology, Mjölnir was not just a weapon but a tool that Thor used for many purposes. It was also believed that he used Mjolnir to bless marriages.
Thor protected people from chaos by blessing them with Mjölnir and guarding the cosmos against the giants. That is why the hammer of Thor is a symbol of protection. In fact, Viking warriors wore Thor’s hammer as an amulet during battle.
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“Svefnthorn” – The sleeping thorns
Finally, here comes Svefnthorn, one of the most authentic Viking symbols that has been mentioned several times in several Nordic sagas, including “The story of the Völsungen” and “The saga of King Hrolf Kraki”.
Although the appearance and magical properties of Svefnthorn vary from story to story, they all have one thing in common: the symbol was used by Vikings (and gods) to put their opponents into a deep and long sleep.
Huginn and Muninn – The two ravens of Odin
Huginn and Muninn are a pair of ravens who served Odin as his messengers. In several works of art, the two ravens were depicted sitting next to Odin or on his shoulders.
Huginn and Muninn flew around the world during the day and returned in the evening to tell Odin everything they saw. It was believed that thanks to the skills Odin had given them, Huginn and Muninn were keen watchers and were able to travel all of Midgard (the world) in one day. They also understood the language of the people and were able to speak to them themselves.
Some experts suggest that Huginn and Muninn could actually be projections of Odin’s consciousness. The fact that the words “Huginn” and “Muninn” literally mean “thought” and “memory” strengthens this theory. In this sense, Huginn and Muninn are symbols of Odin and his powers.
Ravens were very revered in Nordic culture. Many Viking kings, including Ragnar Lothbrok, had ravens on their flags. Vikings also used ravens to find land when sailing into uncharted waters. They kept ravens in cages and periodically left them to scout the area around the ship and look for land. If they didn’t find anything, they’d fly straight back to the ship.
The Web of Wyrd – The Net of Destiny
One of the lesser known Viking symbols is the Wyrd web. It is a symbol from Norse mythology that represents the connection between the past, present and future. According to the myth, the fate of all human beings was woven into this web by the Norns.
The nine-line symbol contains all runes and thus symbolizes all “possibilities” that the past, present and future have brought and could bring. It is also called “Skuld’s web” because Skuld was considered one of the three Norns who wove the web.
Gungnir, the magical spear of Odin
Gungnir was the name of Odin’s magical spear forged by the dwarves (the most talented blacksmiths). Gungnir never missed its destination and it always came back to Odin. Just like Mjolnir returns to Thor every time it is thrown by him.
According to the myth, Odin started the war between the two groups of gods in Norse mythology, Aesir and Vanir, by hurling Gungnir over his enemies. This gesture was later repeated by Viking warriors before battle in hopes of obtaining Odin’s protection and help during the battle.
The troll cross – symbol of protection
The troll cross (troll kor) is a twisted piece of metal that is worn as an amulet to ward off evil magic. The troll cross is an important part of Swedish folklore and is worn by the Scandinavian peoples as a protection against trolls and elves. The symbol has the shape of an Othala rune in Old Futhark. It was believed that iron and the othala symbol warded off evil creatures.
Viking runes are a system of signs and writings used by the Nordic peoples. The old runic alphabet is called “Futhark” and consists of 24 characters. Runes were used both as script and as a system of magical symbols. According to legend, gods sacrificed themselves to get runes.
If you are looking for inspiration for a tiny tattoo, get yourself familiar with the runes.
Ansuz – Odin, divine knowledge, the spiritual power of life
Berkana – Birth, fertility, growth, motherhood
Kenaz – Torch, fire, detection
Dagaz – awakening, clarity and transformation
Ehwaz – horse, loyalty, trust, cooperation
Fehu – Success, goals achieved
Gebo – Gift or gift, connection between people
Hagalaz – Wrath of nature, uncontrolled forces
Jera – the wheel of time, fertility of the earth, harmony
Isa – Ice, icicles, challenges, mental and physical blockages.
Laguz – Water, dreams, the power of renewal
Mannaz – Man / person, importance of one’s own social position and that of fellow human beings, families of choice
Nauthiz – Emergency situation, problem solving, coercion
Othala / Othila – Hereditary property, ancestral property, roots, family, origin
Perthro – Birth, rebirth, self-determined fate, something secret
Ingwaz – Symbol for patient growth, a maturation process through which one gains wisdom. Growth and maturity
Raidho – Journey, the achievement of a goal
Sowilo – Sun, rune of victory, health and success.
Tiwaz – Glory or courage, honor
Wunjo – Joy, comfort, happiness, harmony
Thurisaz – stands for the power of giants, defense
Eihwaz – Eibenbaum, the exchange and the journey between the worlds
Algiz – Protection from enemies and evil, horns of the elk
Uruz – physical strength, speed, untamed instincts
Inguz – “where there is a will, there is a way”