The Vegvisir Symbol
The Vegvisir is a symbol widely present in Norse mythology and Viking tradition. But where does it come from and what does it mean? You will find out in this article.
The origin of Vegvisir
Norse mythology and Viking culture are full of symbols. One of the oldest of these is the Vegvisir. Part of its origin is mythological.
To understand the origin of the Vegvisir symbol, we must go back to the Viking runes. These other symbols were a way to represent and concretize their ideas. Discovered by Odin, the most powerful of the gods, they finally allowed him to learn the meaning of the Vegvisir during his ordeal of hanging from the tree of life Yggdrasil.
Manuscripts and grimoires
The Vegvisir appears in several different sources, which puts a doubt and a blur on its true origin. The Galdrabok is an Icelandic grimoire that contains 47 spells and seals. A lot of knowledge about deities and magic is recorded in this book published around 1600.
A certain number of signs is still not explained today. They all had a more or less close link with the gods of the time. The gods feared the shamans, as could be the powerful priestess and prophetess Volva. Freya was the most famous of them. Some people suggest that Vegvisir was invented by the Ásatrú, a very old Nordic religion (of the New Age) which is part of the reconstructionist movement. This movement aims at bringing back the polytheistic religions that existed before the arrival of the monotheists. Unfortunately, this statement is false.
In the Galdrabok, the Vegvisir is described as an aid that would allow its bearer not to get lost and to find the way back to his destiny. It is then necessary to call upon mystical forces that were found in Viking magic.
The second source is the Huld manuscript. Compiled by Geir Vigfusson in the 19th century, it was also a book of spells and symbols with different powers. It should be noted that this book is controversial as to its veracity in its entirety. Indeed, there are traces of influence of Christianity and magic from Southern Europe. On one page of this collection it is written that if this sign is worn, one will never lose his way in storms or bad weather, even if he does not know his way. A picture and the explanation of its name are present beside.
The Saga of Hrana hrings, another Icelandic saga existing only in the manuscripts of 1887-1888, makes direct mention of Vegvisir:
“The weather was cloudy and stormy…. The king looked around and did not see the blue of the sky… then the king took the Vegvisir in his hands and saw where [the sun] appeared on the stone…”
There are other grimoires that trace Vegvisir back to the Viking past. First, there is The Book of Spells, translated by Galdrakver. This is nothing but a book of runic magic written by Olgeir Geirsson during the years 1868-1869. Of the 58 pages it contains, one is dedicated to the runic compass. The text is written partly in Latin, partly in runic:
“Take this sign with you and you will not get lost in the storms or die from the cold and bad weather, and you will easily find your way through the unknown.”
Another grimoire mentions the Vegvisir. It bears the same name as the previous one. However, its author, place and period of writing are unknown. The information allows to say that it was probably written in the 19th century, in the region of Eyjafjord:
“To avoid getting lost: keep this sign under your left arm, its name is Vegvísir and it will serve you if you believe in it, if you believe in God and in Jesus. The meaning of this sign is hidden in these words, so you will not risk perishing. May God give me luck and blessing in Jesus’ name.
These last texts show the influence that the Christian religion had on Viking traditions.
The meaning and use of the symbol
The first use of Vegvisir remains a mystery to this day. There is no reliable source that mentions its first use at any time in history.
Cependant, tout indique que le symbole était utilisé par les Nordiques à des fins de navigation. Les Vikings en avaient grand besoin pour se rendre dans toute l’Europe, que ce soit à l’est ou à l’ouest. Ils utilisaient également d’autres instruments tels que la Pierre de Soleil ou le disque Uunartoq. La Sunstone est finalement similaire à une boussole solaire. Celle-ci ne ressemble pas au Vegvisir et ne porte aucune marque. Mais elle pourrait être une source d’inspiration pour le symbole, selon certains experts.
The one that today is also called Vegvisir compass, is composed of two words. The first is “Vegur” and means road or path. The second is “Visir” and represents the guide. In Icelandic language, largely based on the old futhark used by the Vikings, Vegvisir means traveler and sign post.
The meaning of such an ancient symbol in Norse mythology is obviously multiple. The Vegvisir, a sign of guidance for navigation, also refers to the journey we make in our life. Finally, it is a true symbol of protection, allowing us to get back on our life path with each of our actions.
The Nordic shamans used it as a spiritual compass. This magical device guides the heart to make the right choices for its future. When someone had lost his faith in himself, he could use the Vegvisir. This sacred symbol helps to regain self-confidence.
To have all the virtues of Vegvisir, the tradition consisted in painting the symbol on the forehead. The practice was done on a person who was embarking on a distant journey. This was done with the help of blood, allowing the paint to disappear after a while. But what kind of symbol and writing did the Vikings wear on this part of the face?
The Vegvisir is a symbol that consists of 8 staves of Viking runes. Its power lies in each of its 8 staves. They give each one different types of protection against the numerous obstacles and tests which can occur in a maritime crossing or life. The rods are decorated with circles, lines, dots and semi-circles which are as many symbols as different protections.
It is also believed that the 8 spans of the rods represent the cardinal (North, South, East, West) and intercardinal (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest) directions.
One belief states that by placing a nail in the middle of the symbol, it would be possible to find its way. The position of its shadow in relation to the Sun at certain times of the day would indicate the direction to follow in order to get where you want to go. It would have really helped the Vikings to navigate at sea.
There is a legend that the Vegvisir was fired on Viking longships to help them find their way home safely.
Finally, the number 8 could be a direct link with Odin. His horse Sleipnir had 8 legs and could move over the seas and in the air. A way to never lose his way finally.
An accompaniment with runes
The Vegvisir circle, also known as the Viking compass, is sometimes accompanied by runes, which made up the Norse alphabet. However, these symbols can have several meanings and it can be complicated to understand them. They linked humanity to the divine world via rune stones.
Some runes appear regularly around the Vegvisir. We find for example :
- ᚦ : called Thurisaz, it is similar to the modern “e”. This rune symbolizes strength, especially that of Thor and his hammer. The god ensured the protection of Asgrad against curses.
- ᚷ : called Gebo, it was pronounced as a present-day g. This rune symbolizes giving and hospitality.
- ᛖ : called Ehwaz, it is related to the m that we use today. It has several meanings: communication, travel, loyalty, team spirit or harmony. It is for one of these reasons that this rune is often located next to the Vegvisir.
- ᛉ : called Algiz, this rune represents divine connection, protection, guidance or cooperation.
- ᛗ : called Mannaz, this rune represents the human and the man.
These often catch your eye when you look at the Vegvisir symbol.
The artistic representation of this symbol
The Vegvisir symbol was materialized by a compass. It could be found on jewelry, weapons, tools or amulets, in addition to the human forehead.
As they were great travelers, plunderers and traders, the Vikings have left examples throughout Europe: England, Normandy or Russia. But it is in Iceland that one finds the majority of the archaeological traces of Vegvisir. This last country has preserved many traditions of its Viking past.
This is why many traces of Vegvisir compasses are only 300 or 400 years old.
This symbol meant a lot to the Scandinavian population. That’s why, instead of having it only for a moment on their foreheads, some Vikings had a tattoo of the Viking compass on their bodies.
The Vegvisir gave its power at all times. The Vegvisir tattoo could then be found on the shoulder, the back, the chest or the arms. These virtues, giving confidence, allowed to face all the obstacles of the daily life and to know which choice to take in order to follow the most adapted way.
What if the Vegvisir was not a Viking symbol?
Although it may seem improbable in view of the various sources, there is no indication that the Vegvisir compass was used during the Viking Age.
The traces that result from this symbol, within manuscripts for example, are late if we compare them to the Viking Age, a period that can be described as the golden age of Scandinavian warriors. The large concentration in Iceland has led historians to develop another theory.
The Vikings who conquered the present Iceland were among the most adventurous of their community. Some left along the rivers to the west while others went east to the open sea, with no assurance of returning to their families.
It is not impossible that the symbol has changed in appearance and power through being passed on and copied.
The Viking compass could therefore be an expression of those men with exceptional courage, or those who came after. Today, some people consider that the runic symbol has not lost its effectiveness: its power allows one to find the way to overcome difficulties.
Wearing the Vegvisir
This ancient symbol was found on many objects that archaeological findings have demonstrated. On Viking Heritage we want to pay tribute to this Nordic tradition.
You can display it on your hands with a Vegvisir ring surrounded by a runic circle. A model in the shape of a raven is also remarkable. The Vegvisir necklace will allow you to have the symbol close to your heart, for even stronger powers. The Viking cap with the sign of protection is a garment that will protect from the sun and will mark the minds of people you meet in the street. If you don’t want to be cold, the sweatshirt with the Viking compass will be the best possible piece.
This set will allow you to show your Viking look in any circumstance and according to your tastes.