The are many symbols found within the Norse mythology. After all, the runes which the Vikings relied on to communicate, were made up of symbols. Among the most common symbols associated with the runes, is the Helm of Awe. It has been attested in some of the Norse sources, including the Eddas.
Even today, this symbol is popular among many groups, with people tattooing them on their bodies or curving them into an object. But do you understand the meaning of what this symbol represents? This article will explore the helm of awe, what it is, where it came from, and what it stands for.
What Is The Helm Of Awe?
The Helm of Awe, in the Old Norse, was called Ægishjálmur. It could also be translated as the Helm of Terror. It was not a rune but a symbol, made up of eight arms, which resembled spiked tridents, protruding from a central point. Some depictions of it, however, have different variations. The Galdrabók, for instance, depicts it as having four protruding trident arms as opposed to four. Still, it is general design resembles a defense formation protecting the central point from all possible forces that surround it. It is considered a Norse symbol but also one of the Icelandic starves.
The Ægishjálmur, probably referred to a real and physical helm as described in the Poetic Edda, in the poem Fáfnismál. Here it is described as an object that gave the mighty dragon, Fafnir his strength and invincibility. Later on, Sigurd, the hero who managed to defeat the dragon is said to have taken it away with him as part of his hoard.
The Helm could have also been more magical than physical. Based on certain accounts, the symbol was believed to have been used in the practice of Seidr magic. It was said to be a special subset of it called, sjónhverfing. This form of magic was the kind of delusion or deceiving the sight. It was used to prevent the victim’s mind from seeing things as they truly were. Such an incident was narrated in one of the sagas called Eyrbyggja. The narration talked about a woman highly skilled in Seidr magic called Katla, who used this form of magic to protect his son Odd from being killed.
Viking soldiers were also known to draw this symbol, with blood, between their eyes before they went into battle. It could also have been made of lead and pressed between the brows to leave an imprint. They believed that the symbol was meant to protect them in battle and give them courage and strength while striking fear in their enemies. According to Norse mythology, the symbol was connected to the pineal gland that was between the eyes, which was the center of a Viking’s soul. Vikings would also curve the symbol on their helmets and their shield.
The Helm Of Awe Origins
The truth is that no one knows where the Helm of Awe symbol originated from. There are different speculations based on the different accounts that mention it. One possible origin could have been from Aegir, the giant who presides over the sea. The reason is there is a belief that the name Ægishjálmur was derived from him. There is no evidence to prove this as true, but the association could be because Aegir was skilled in magic, coupled with the unstoppable force of the sea.
The symbol is also believed to have originated from Fafnir, a greedy dwarf who was cursed to become a dragon. Fafnir had a huge mass of treasure which he guarded including the infamous ring Andvaranaut. Among his treasures was also the helm of awe, a helmet which he wore and described as one of terror, which everyone feared and his source of invincibility. He was, however, later slain by Sigurd, who took the helm, the ring, and all his treasures.
The Helm Of Awe History
The history of the symbol is as scarce as the information of where it originated. In its initial appearances in literature, the helm was described as a physical object. The earliest appearance is found in the Eddas, written by Snorri, in the 13th century. In the Poetic Edda, the poems Reginsmál and Fáfnismál are the most cited for the mention of the term Ægishjálmur. In the poems, it was described as a helmet of terror that was worn by the cursed dragon Fafnir, to scare anyone who wanted to get to his treasure. The dragon also stated that the helm made him invincible.
Later on, in the 14th century, the symbol once again appears and is still described as a physical helm. In the knightly romance saga of Konrad Emperoron, the story of a helmet-wearing beast is repeated with the mention of the term Ægishjálmur. In other accounts, the term appears in a proverbial context where the term, ‘to wear a helmet of terror before someone’ meant ‘to subdue’. An example of this is in the Laxdæla saga.
It is not until the start of the 15th century that the symbol takes a more abstract approach. It was also around the time when the first depictions of the symbol were found. Before then, the symbol was merely mentioned and so, it was simply speculation that the helm of awe was what was being spoken of and that perhaps it was curved into the helmet worn by the beast. Depictions of the symbol can be found in the Galdrabók which was written in the 1600s. There is also a similar-looking symbol in a Greek manuscript written in the 15th century, called The Magical Teatrise of Solomon. Other manuscripts from the 19th century also have depictions of the symbol with different variations of four or eight arms.
The Helm Of Awe Symbol And Meaning
The common belief is that as a Nordic symbol, the Helm of Awe represented, protection, courage, and strength. Given its association to the Dragon Fafnir, the Vikings also believed that whoever bore the symbol, was given the serpent’s power to paralyze its victims before striking. Based on its design, the circle at the center signified protection offered to whoever bore the symbol.
The helm was also heavily associated with the runes because the different shapes it was composed of were similar to those used in runes. Each of the eight arms resembled the Z-runes, which are nowadays commonly referred to as Algiz. These runes were used for protection and also to ensure victory over one’s enemies. The shape of the arms was therefore the perfect choice for such a symbol.
The lines that ran perpendicular to the arms of the symbol also resembled runes called Isa runes. The meaning of these runes was not so clear. But based on the fact that Isa meant ‘ice’, the shape gave the symbol a sense of hardening and concentration. Overall, aside from being a talisman that was useful in battle, the symbol was also used a reminder to have courage in life and face every obstacle fearlessly.
Today, the Helm of Awe remains a popular symbol. It is especially significant to the Asatru, who are the modern followers of the Old Norse ways. They believe that wearing the symbol invokes protection from the Norse gods, and gives the wearer courage to face fears. It is therefore the perfect symbol for that religion. Most do not wear the symbol on their forehead but as rings or talismans. Even people who do not belong to the Asatru, tattoo the symbol on themselves or have ornaments with the symbol. So, you do not have to be a believer of the old Norse to use this symbol. But if you are going to incorporate this symbol into your life or faith, ensure you fully understand what it represents and what it means to you.