The Vikings are known to have many symbols in their culture. The problem, however, is that their culture was mostly orally passed on, so there are not many written records. Of those that do exist, they were written years after the Viking Age by Christians. As a result, there has always been a debate as to the extent of truth that is in these written records and the true meaning behind these symbols.
The Vegvisir is one of the most debated symbols in Viking culture. Although it is paraded as a Viking symbol, many believe that it did not come from the Viking age. Its origin, as well as its meaning, is also unclear. So, you must be wondering what does the Vegvisir and the runes it contains means? In this post, we will look into what the Vegvisir is, where it originated from, and the meaning behind its runes.
What Is The Vegvisir?
The Vegvisir is also known as the Nordic/Viking compass. It is a runic starve that is similar to Ægishjálmur, the Helm of Awe in terms of shape. The two are, however, completely different symbols. The Helm of Awe’s arms are similar but those of Vegvisir are different.
The meaning of Vegvisir translates to ‘way finder’ or ‘that which guides the way’. It is believed to be a protective symbol that guides the wearer like a compass. The reason the Vegvisir is considered a compass is because of the eight runes starves that it is composed of, which some people believe to be the eight cardinal points. Although the Vikings were known to use the eight cardinal points in navigation, there were other instruments like the sunstones that were believed to be prominently used by them during their voyages. Still, many believed that by placing a nail at the center of the Vegvisir, the shadow of the nail would be able to tell the direction, much like the sunstone. In some legends, there is a mention of how the Vegvisir helped the Vikings find their way back home while on their voyages.
Speaking of legends, two primary sources speak about the Vegvisir. One of them is the Huld manuscript written in 1880 by Geir Vigfusson. The other source is a grimoire or magic textbook called the Galdrabok. In the Huld, Vegvisir is only mentioned in one sentence where it is stated that whoever wears the symbol will not get lost and will always be their way whether in bad weather or storm, even if they do not have a destination. A similar thing is mentioned in the Galdrabok, where it states that by drawing the Vegvisir symbol on a person’s forehead using blood, that person will not get lost but find their way back.
The Origin Of Vegvisir
While it is known that the idea of the Vegvisir came from Iceland, known as the home of the Vikings, the origin of this symbol is unclear. Many people even doubt whether it is truly a Viking symbol, given that the accounts of it are fairly recent and far away from the Viking age.
The first account of the runic symbol is the Huld manuscript that was written in the 19ths century. In the manuscript, the symbol was depicted as a square and not the round shape it is commonly known with. It still had the 8 starves with the different runic symbols at the end. The Galdrabok is where the round version appears and is said to date back to the 16th century even though the manuscript was first published in the 20th century.
Although today, the Vegvisir is presented as a popular Viking symbol, there is no proof to show that it did come from the Viking age. In all of the surviving archeological items or stories, the symbol does not appear. Based on Sigrdrifa, a Viking poem, that states that runes would sometimes be curved on the side of ships and oars, the Vegvisir may have been one of them. Still, it is equally possible that the way-finder was created based on other existing symbols, given the lack of earlier sources and that the symbol appeared centuries after the Viking age.
Vegvisir Runes History
Runes are important to the Vikings not just as a writing system or a way of expressing their ideas of the world. The Vikings believed that the runes had the power of making ideas real if they were used correctly. They also believed that the runes were not man-made but an important component of the universe’s composition.
The Vikings believed that the runes originated from Yggdrasil, the tree of life at the center of the universe, that connected the nine worlds in the Norse cosmology. The Norns who were believed to be responsible for the fates of all beings in the cosmos are said to have been the ones to carve the runes of Yggdrasil. Odin, the king of the Aesir, known for his thirst for wisdom, is said to have been the one to discover the runes. This was after his sacrifice of hanging from Yggdrasil for nine days and nights with a spear pierced into his side and no aid from any of the Norse deities.
Odin is then said to have shared the knowledge of the runes, and the Vegvisir could be among the runic symbols that were shared. Today, the Viking compass is used by the followers of Asatru, a new Norse religion, as a sign of their faith. More than a magic symbol, the way finder is used by them to signify both physical and spiritual guidance.
Vegvisir Runes Meaning
The name Vegvisir is derived from two words, ‘Vegur’ which means road, path, or way, and ‘Visir’ which means guide or point. As such, the symbols are also described as a way-finder or that which guides the way. The Vegvisir is often likened to a compass and even referred to as the Viking compass and that is because of the eight starves which are believed to mean the eight cardinal points (North, East, South, West, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest). But the Vikings were known to mostly use instruments like sunstones to navigate, so it is highly unlikely that the Vegvisir was a compass.
It could, however, be a symbol that there are many paths one could take in life. Being symbolic of a compass, there is much meaning that could be derived from it. For starters, it was a sign of guidance and direction when on a journey, an assurance that one would be able to find their way back home or to their roots. The Viking compass was also a sign of safety and protection, in that it served as a reminder to remain grounded and in control of the life choices one makes. On a spiritual level, the Vegvisir also serves as a guide through life’s twists and turns and helps you get back to your spiritual home.
Perhaps the symbol was crafted for travelers or Viking raiders in distant shores away from home. Maybe it was for Odin’s students who wander in search of knowledge. Either way, the essence of the Vegvisir is that it is meant to help you find your way to wherever you need to be.
There may be no clear proof of the origin of the Vegvisir and whether or not it is truly a Viking symbol. Still, there are believers like the Asatru who have embraced it as a sign of their faith. Regardless of its ambiguity, the idea behind what the symbol stands for is powerful and one can’t help but admire the romanticism behind it. It remains a mysterious and unique symbol whose age is unknown and is popular is now popularly seen as tattoos or on amulets and other jewelry.
1.What does the Viking compass mean?
This is the Vegvisir, also known as the way-finder. It is a runic starve that is believed to protect and guide the bearer by helping them find their way regardless of the weather or if they had a destination.
2.What is written around the Vegvisir?
The Vegvisir is made up of eight starves with different runic symbols at the end of each. The simplest way to understand the Viking compass is by understanding each rune one by one. Generally, the runes are believed to give the Vegvisir special powers of protection, luck, and blessings, so that whoever bears it can make the right choices and find their way back home.
3. Is Vegvisir a magic symbol?
Northern shamans believe that as a spiritual compass, the Vegvisir is a magical device that guides the heart in making the right choices and a sacred symbol that helps you regain your confidence and faith.