Hello my dear friends, my name is Arith Härger and today I’m going to talk about Viking Religious Symbols Images have always been present to denote ideas, feelings, and ideologies and of course greatly linked to religious and spiritual beliefs But on this subject I want to focus on Scandinavian history and during the Viking Age period of Scandinavia, because it was a time when religious symbolism completely dominated the daily lives of the Scandinavian communities Symbols were everywhere, in every physical and social space occupied by the Norse, because symbols provided a psychological context to both memory and oral tradition Symbols are just like mythology as I’ve said before, mythology is a cultural code, the people to whom a certain mythological account belongs to, will automatically understand it because their traditions, language, history, way of life and way of thinking is all printed in that mythological account So symbols are also peoples’ memories, collective memories turned into a symbol that everyone will understand the depth of that symbol without speaking any words It is visual knowledge associated with the memory of a culture Symbols are the simplified stylized representation of knowledge Now let’s speak about some of the religious symbols greatly used by the Norse, with more relevance in the Scandinavian society To understand Viking symbols, we must try to find the origins of such symbols, the original meanings Since the Palaeolithic all the way to the Bronze Age, solar symbols or motifs are the most common religious designs amongst the Germanic and Norse societies We have a good example here Scandinavian Bronze Age engravings from Bohuslän in Sweden Warriors with shields with solar motifs An obvious martial character and a sense of virility and fertility of the masculine elements Since the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, solar motifs are the most common and diversified religious symbols in the Germanic world, also occupying a large number of motifs in Scandinavia Objectively they were related to the god of the Sky, whose myths associate it with chariots or Sun Chariots The most famous religious object of this solar cult is the car pulled by a horse with golden discs, found in Trundholm, Denmark The symbols can vary in the form of a wheel, a cross, a spinning circle, swastika, triskelion etc. In the Viking Age, the solar symbolisms were transmuted into the worship of the gods Týr, Odin and Thor Another solar symbol is one quite familiar, a circle with a cross in its centre This symbol might actually have been the source of inspiration for the Christian cross As you know, there are great changes that Christ was crucified on a Greek T shaped cross, or most likely an X shaped roman cross The adaptation of the solar symbol into the Christian cross was a method to facilitate the process of the conversion of the pagans But this ancient solar symbol may very well be the representation of a rare and unique optical phenomenon produced by sunlight, which is called a Halo Sometimes it takes the form of a sun cross This doesn’t happen that often so to our ancestors it might have had a deep divine meaning and they made sure to engrave that on stones In many cultures, the spiral was linked to the journey of the soul, after death, into the unknown paths leading to the dwelling of the gods For pre-Celtic and also Celtic peoples of Ireland, the spiral represented the manifestation of the divine energy which was commonly engraved on funerary megalithic monuments, such as the megalithic monument of Newgrange The spiral could represent the entry point for the world of the dead, hence, the representation of spirals on the entrances of such monuments In the Scandinavian case we find many spiral-motifs in wonderful representations of pre-viking funerary stelae on the island of Gotland, Sweden The Sanda stone for instance, the side arms of the main spiral are flanked by triangles, creating a flaming effect, typical of solar emanations The connection of these stelae with a warrior cult is perceptible by the presence of other figurative elements, such as warriors carrying spears, serpents, and horses, the animistic representation of solar rays, possibly from forgotten myths In the Viking period the spiral is linked to the rituals of the god Odin, as we can see in the stele of Stenkyrka, where a warrior carries a shield with spiral motifs, alongside a valkyrie, a triskelion and a valknut The impression of the movement of the Gotland spirals reminds us of spinning wheels, but this spinning movement may also be the representation of the ecstasy state that was essential in the Odinic cults With this being said, the solar spiral was not merely a motif to beautify funerary stelae, but were related to a system of faith that maintained some traces of ancient shamanic practices and altered states of consciousness, converging to perceptions of cosmology and being metaphors of the transition between the world of the living and of the dead This can also be seen in AngloSaxon England, where the various forms of solar symbolism (spirals, discs, etc.) were engraved in coins One of the most ancient and widespread symbols of the Eurasian world is the so called Fylfot although the name is quite modern and there is no record of the original term in the literary sources It’s also known as a Swastika We have a couple of examples such as a 5th century Germanic Bronze Brooch with the Fylfot represented by Serpents a 8th Century Scandinavian Viking Age Axe-Pendant with the Fylfot motif the Snoldelev stone from Denmark, with a Swastika and interlaced horns, the trifot, and of course from one of the most interesting Scandinavian archaeological findings, a 8th century Fylfot Detail from the Royal Oseberg Tapestry, from Norway In the Scandinavian region, the swastika is clearly perceived as a derivation of the spiral if the symbol was represented beforehand with numerous arms, from the period of migration onward the spiral is popularized with four curved arms, but in the same way being a stylized representation of the Sun It’s interesting to see the representation of both the Swastika and the trifot in the Snoldelev stone The horns symbolize the moon, while the swastika symbolizes the sun In the ancient Germanic cults, some horses were adorned with horns This may have been part of moon cult Swastikas were used in funerary pots and urns in the northern and continental Germanic area, they can represent the passage of the seasons during the year which might indicate the transition of human life itself The Anglo-Saxon pagan kings also had Sword sheaths with the representation of the swastika or in Germanic spears for instance – at the same time a symbol of victory and giving martial protection to their owners For the Viking Era, it’s quite possible that the swastika was linked to the hammer of the god Thor, remembering that his weapon was spun, a circulatory movement before being thrown, or to represent thunder and fire from the sky, which can be seen in some objects of personal use, such as axe-shaped pendants with swastikas the axe predates the hammer in Scandinavia There are other evidences of this association between Thor/Thunder with the swastika, we have evidenced of this symbol in Lapland in the cult of Horagalles also known as Thora Galles, the Sami-Finnish version of the thunder god there were shamanic drums painted with swastikas There are also representations of swastikas of the Viking period associated with Wodan/Odin in earlier times But no doubt Odin’s greatest associations with the fylfot, or swastika, were engraved on Christian monuments that retained part of the ancestral symbolism The question of the survival of symbolic and religious elements of paganism in a Christian context is controversial but without a doubt the cult of the god Odin was directly related to the representation of the fylfot in the Germanic-Scandinavian world, that’s the major reason for its survival by the Christianized communities Now let’s talk about the trefot, the triskelion The symbols associated with the number three are some of the most common in the Nordic pagan religious representations and include a variety of morphological shapes Initially, the trefot (also called triskelion) is another direct derivation of the spiral, quite similar to the swastika It is a figure that has three legs, starting from the centre, from the same point Its significance from the Bronze Age to the early middle Ages is very similar to other solar symbols connected to the seasons of life and the deities of heaven So we are basically talking about the same symbols, the same solar and seasonal representations but with different artistic and cultural variations, as well as variations from specific historical periods These NorseGermanic symbols are Indo-European symbols, very wide-spread Indo-European symbols, which in different geographical regions gained new connotations and new expressions Some believe that the trefot in the Nordic area is a variation of the valknut, but I think they are two different symbols Obviously among all these symbols there is a connection, since they are related to the god Odin and to the sacredness of the number 3, solar cults, the seasons, etc. There is a very interesting pre-viking stelae of Smiss, in the Gotland Island, the trefot representation in there is related to the heads of three different animals, a wolf, an eagle and a boar, ust above the figure of a woman carrying two snakes in each hand In these two images occurred a fusion of the representation of two animals, a bird and a serpent The serpent might mean that either Odin himself became a serpent, as we have in the myth of the mead of poetry, Odin becomes a snake to steal the mead or it is the representation of the Underworld, represented by the dragon Nidhoggr In the folklore context of the middle Ages, the serpent was connected to the protection of female fertility, explaining why many Viking-era women’s tombs
had coiled snake charms they were a symbol of rebirth and life itself In this case, the Smiss stelae can be interpreted as a great magical provider from some female figure, maybe an underworld goddess A rare variation of the trifot is the one that uses three drinking horns observable in the rune stone of Snoldelev, once again Its meaning seems to be connected with the reception of the dead warrior in Valhala, where a Valkyrie awaits him with a mead horn in the Prose Edda, the blood of Kvásir, who was killed by the dwarves Fiálar and Gálar, was collected in three containers named Son, Bodn and Odrórir This blood was mixed with honey, and formed the magical mead that transforms anyone into a poet and a sage Thus, it might represent a state of wisdom, power, perhaps even joy, only achieved after death, or in the presence of Odin Then we have Hrungnirs Hjarta, Hrungnir’s heart, also commonly known as Valknut, which is a modern designation I won’t delve too much on this symbol because one year ago I’ve made a video about the Valknut if you go into this upper corner, just click on the icon and you can watch that video Suffice to say this is one of the most used symbols by modern followers of Norse traditional paganism Of all the solar symbols, the valknut is the only one that has a reference in the literary sources According to the Skáldskaparmál, after the god Thor confronts the giant Hrungnir, it is described that the giant would have a hard stone heart with three points, just like the engraved inscriptions of the name Hrungnishjarta (heart of Hrungnir) In spite of appearing in the myths related to the god of thunder, the appearance of this symbol in the stone monuments is totally connected to Odin and his dominion Basically, it is a sign of power and magic, which plays an important role in death rituals The first form of the heart of Hrungnir in the Scandinavian-Germanic world is the triquetra, of equal aspect to the Celtic correspondent, which is older a figure formed by three terminals that interlace in an undefined centre In the Scandinavian religious monuments in England, like the Brompton hogback the triquetra is inserted into a set flanked by triangles (again, the idea of the number three), and surrounded by the paws of bears with their mouths tied, suggesting a control of one of the most important animals related to the Odinic rite This entire representation celebrates and glorifies the warrior cult, marked by Odin’s intervention and possibly by the Berserkers In the funeral stele of Sanda 2, the triquetra appears laterally by the side of the throne of the one-eyed god, with a similar sense But the most important form of Hrungnir’s heart in the Scandinavian context is that of three united triangles a symbol exclusive of the Viking Age, designated in modern times as valknut (knot of the dead) This religious image could possibly be linked or have a connection between the deities, the cosmos, and the human destiny, similar to the Herfjoturr, war paralysis – a type of magic where a warrior by Odin’s influence could not move during a battle Thus, valknut would symbolize the inevitable fate that exists between the supreme god and each individual a symbol of the power Odin has to bind and untie But this wouldn’t be the only possible meaning for this symbol even in the daily lives of the Old Norse peoples this symbol had its representation, with the use of knots in women’s hair and in art, in ornaments, sculptures, in multiple adornments All would have the same principle: Destiny, death and the Norns Now moving on to another symbol, which I must confess I often forget about it and people nowadays don’t give it much use The shieldknot It’s an interesting symbol of pagan times, which recently started to be used by the public authorities in Scandinavia to mark sites of the Scandinavian historical heritage of the ancient Norse It might have been a representation of the infinite or of eternity because it is a drawing that has neither a beginning nor an end, intertwining in itself And on that same line of thought could be a visual variation of the world serpent (Jörmungandr) If we take a close look at the stalae of Hablingbo, in Gotland, we will notice that its sides and lower base have the representation of serpents In this case, the symbolism could refer to an idea of stability and conservation of the natural order of the universe, just as what the world serpent itself represents The purpose of Jormungandr isn’t to destroy the world, a great enemy of the gods, and a bringer of chaos The world serpent is a protective symbol, the guardian of the mortal world The Mjöllnir, Thor’s hammer Everyone knows this symbol, every neo pagan who follows the Norse traditions at some point had or still has one of these Of all the religious symbols of Scandinavia of the Viking Age, Thor’s hammer certainly has the most literary references in both the Eddas and the Icelandic sagas, as well as numerous representations of the object on pendants found in archaeological excavations In these sources, we can characterize Thor’s hammer in three main categories as a ritual and magical instrument the hammer consecrates births, marriages, deaths, funerals, oaths; secures properties; consecrates land and property; propitiates the resurrection and the fertility of life; a phallic symbol; and a border mark; used to locate thieves As a weapon: it defends the world, the gods and men against the forces of chaos And as an instrument: the hammer protects against the natural elements The hammer must have been a variation of the axe, a symbol of lightning in Scandinavia Several rock engravings of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age show warriors bearing ceremonial axes There are no records of hammers being used in battles during the Viking Age, which leads us to believe that axes and hatchets continued to be connected to the cult of Thor we have good examples of this, for instance the 10th century pendants with axes alongside small hammers, found in Birka, Sweden Or the Akureyri statuette of the 11th century found in Iceland, a representation of Thor holding an axe The axe handle merges with the beard of the figure, not only demonstrating that the beard and hammer were symbols of masculinity, but that the cult of Thor may also have had connections with bearded priests Other representations connect Thor to shamanism, blacksmiths, and warrior cults as in the Horagales cult, in the Lapland area, as previously shown the drums showed a male figure with a hammer or a swastika Mjöllnir seems to have been a ritualistic object, as well as magical and a symbol of protection and fertility Since Thor has loads of similarities with Horagales, the Sami deity it’s quite possible that his hammer is the representation of the shaman’s hammer with which the shamans beat their drums Thor was a Germanic deity, a Saxon deity, before being brought to Scandinavia, but it’s quite possible that the continental Thor was mingled with the true Scandinavian Thunder god and the Sami deity Thor’s weapon can be a club, an axe and a hammer The human sacrifices to Thor were killed with a club, beaten to death This demonstrates that this god was worshiped since prehistoric times First his weapon was a club, a hard piece of wood, quite primitive, which continued to be used until the early middle ages as a sacrificial weapon to the god Thor Then we have the axe, Thor’s hammer was actually an axe, not used for human sacrifices but as a ritualistic object in all sorts of ceremonies And finally we have the hammer The use of the hammer in battle came during the feudal period of Scandinavia, a long time after the end of the Viking Age the great majority of the Scandinavian population was no longer pagan But I do believe Thor’s weapon as a hammer, came way before the hammer was introduced as a weapon Thor’s hammer might be the Bronze Age and Iron Age representation of the blacksmith’s tools, with which they work on metals First, metals were worked in their raw state, just beat them and beat them until it gained the shape people wanted Then it started to be worked while hot, beating the hot metal unlashing flames and sparkles, quite a spectacle, almost as if the god himself was unleashing his thunders through his weapon So the club was for sacrifices, the axe for ceremonies and the hammer for the magic of the blacksmiths I’m sure, one of the subscribers of this channel, Mr. Halloween, a good friend, knows exactly what I’m talking about He better than me knows about the true magic of blacksmithing There are other symbols which I won’t talk about on this video because I’m reserving that for other videos where I can delve much more on such subjects such as animal totems of ancient Scandinavia I’ll make a video solely about that So I shall finalize this video with the runic symbols Runic Symbols, not the Runes By the end of the middle Ages, a variety of runic symbols appear, adapted or related to the runes and directly linked with magical work Although the Scandinavians during the Viking Age used simple and combined runes for religious and magical rituals there is no evidence that Icelandic magical symbols were known and used before the 11th century Incidentally, there are no traces of runes in Iceland throughout the middle Ages, only in other regions of Scandinavia (and even in Greenland) The Renaissance period popularized the use of these symbols in magical books called grimoires, which combined knowledge derived from astrology, the kabala, alchemy, and Eastern and Western magical rituals The most famous Nordic grimoire is the Galdrabók, dating from 17th century and containing 47 magical incantations, which fuse the traditions from the Vikings with the continental European magic that solidified after the 15th century Of all the symbols present in this work and in other Scandinavian grimoires, the only one that can have a Viking origin is the so-called Ægishjálmur and other variations of the same, which is quoted in the poem Fáfnismál In this poem, the symbol would bring victory to its possessor, and in the same poem, this symbol belongs to the treasure of Sigurðr, from which it is deduced that it would be engraved in a helmet At the same time, this description of a magical object in Fáfnir’s head is related to a European tradition that dates back to the Greeks and survived until the end of the middle Ages from a stone the dragons possessed on their heads (snakestone or dracontite) used for healing purposes In some Icelandic sagas, the symbol is also described as giving protection in battles Ægishjálmur is translated as the helm of awe or of Æegir due to its shape in the grimoires, a circle formed of eight arms in the form of tridents, resembling the ship rudder of boats The problem is that this type of nautical instrument was only known in Scandinavia by the 13th century, the Vikings used a transverse oar as a rudder Because Æegir was a sea-related deity, perhaps Nordic modern scholars have fused to this folklore the trident of Neptune, explaining its morphology or even the trident of the devil, from the Christian mythology Anyway, there are no images of this symbol before the 15th century and we do not know its original form among the Vikings, even if it was already known by that time This symbol is an ancient symbol but the representation we have today is quite recent Runic Symbols, unlike the runes, are medieval and modern symbols, so they are quite new in Scandinavian history and have loads of influences from other cultures But the runes themselves, those are prehistoric, quite ancient The most ancient rune symbols, engraved on stone that I know of, date back to six thousand years ago, late Stone Age, and they are not from Scandinavia, they are actually from Northern Portugal, from Alvão, a bit of a mind blow Alright my dear friends, I hope you have enjoyed this video quite a long one maybe a little bit boring but well… it’s done well… see you on the next video, thank you so much for watching and…. tack för idag!
(Thank you for today!)