Norse Symbols

This year (2022) the Pagan circle I am a member of — Spheres Of Light (SOL) — will be working with Norse paganism.

SOL is an eclectic pagan learning circle whose members come together to share experiences, understandings, and teachings. Each year we learn about different pantheons and magical systems. Last year we did Ceremonial Magic, working with The Watchers. Prior to that we have worked with other systems of magic including Sumerian, Draconic, Shamanic, Celtic, Egyptian, and many others. We have all benefited and grown from being able to experience different rituals utilising the energies from a wide variety of pantheons and magical systems.

To prepare for our first circle of 2022 we have been shown a selection of Norse symbols and asked to pick a symbol that we feel represents us and then do our own research on that symbol. (Images directly below are from [1])

Naturally I was immediately drawn to the Dragon, but after some consideration, Vegvisir, Fenrir and Aegishjalmur also. I finally narrowed it down to two — Dragon and Aegishjalmur.

Norse Dragon Symbolism

Also known as a snake (ormr) or dragon (dreki), lindworms were popular motifs on runestones in 11th-century Sweden. Wikimedia Commons

Norse or Scandinavian mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic peoples, stemming from Norse paganism and continuing after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and into the Scandinavian folklore of the modern period.[12]

Dragons were powerful creatures that were the embodiment of chaos and destruction.[8] The mere sight of a dragon portended the arrival of violent and tumultuous times, which is partly why dragon figures adorned the longships of Viking raiders that terrorized coastlines of Northern Europe.[8] The prow of a Viking longship, when carved in the likeness of a dragon, was also meant to protect and impart ferocity upon the sailors.[13]

I have a model of a Viking longship made by my great-grandfather (b.1874 d.1958). He decided to start building boats in his later years, and about 7 years before he passed away at the age of 84 in 1958, he built this longboat. The whole ship is hand-carved, the rigging is cotton, the shields are old shirt buttons, the sails are painted fabric, the paint is oil and cracking, and the fittings are copper wire and fishing tackle. Unfortunately it’s covered in dust from being stored in my grandpa’s shed and then my father’s shed for decades, is partly broken and very fragile (making it difficult to clean). The dragon on the sail looks more ferocious than the dragon on the prow but you get the idea, lol. I also found a photo of a replica Viking longboat, named after the original Gokstad ship, which arrived in New York City in June 1893.[15] The replica Gokstad could well have been the inspiration for my great-grandfather’s model boat as it shows a similarly constructed tent-style shelter. The Gokstad is sailing away from the photographer but the dragon head on the prow can still be seen. My great-grandfather’s longship will find a new home in my Dragon Room this year, along with some other bits and pieces which I will elaborate on further below.

The dragon, or serpent, also conveyed the ideas of strength and bravery. There are depictions on buildings, carved into runestones and created in fine jewellery. Wearing a dragon motif would symbolise these ideas. The dragon symbol was used for protection, to ward off enemies or other beasts and creatures. This may be the reason why the dragon is found so widely on everyday objects, and why its use persisted, even in the early Christian period in Scandinavia as in the carvings on Norway’s stave churches at Urnes and Borgund.[2]

The Vikings also believed in balance, and their myths reflect the constant battle between order and chaos, life and death, and destruction and rebirth. Dragons embody the destructive phase of the creation-destruction cycle. This means that they represent chaos and cataclysm, but also change and renewal. There are three prominent Norse tales involving the dragons[8] Jörmungandr, Nidhogg and Fafnir which are outlined in my previous blog post called Dragons in Norse Mythology.

Note: “Norse” and “Viking” refer to the same Germanic people who settled in Scandinavia during the Viking Age who spoke Old Norse. “Norse” refers to Norsemen who were full-time traders, and Vikings refers to people who were actually farmers but were part-time warriors led by people of noble birth.[11] Read more here.

Ægishjálmur (the Helm of Awe)

Ægishjálmur (the Helm of Awe) [5]

Ægishjálmur (i.e. “the Helm of Awe”, pronounced “EYE-gis-hiowlm-er”[6]) is a magical symbol that falls into the category of rune staves or galdrastafir.[3] The word “Aegishjalmur” consists of two root words – “Aegis” and “hjalmr” meaning “shield” and “helm” respectively.[7]

It is a magical Icelandic symbol of protection and victory. The Helm of Awe is mentioned in several of the Eddic poems and in the Volsung Saga. In these sources, though, the Helm of Awe is referring to an actual, physical helmet and not a symbol. This magic helmet had the ability to strike terror into the hearts of enemies.[3]

Isa/Isaz
Algiz/Elhaz

The symbol by the same name that was believed to be imbued with similar properties survives from later Icelandic grimoire (books of magic). Eight arms or rays emit from the center point of the symbol. The arms themselves appear to be constructed from two intersecting runes. These are Algiz runes for victory and protection intersected by Isa runes, which may mean hardening (literally, ice). So, the hidden meaning of this symbol may be the ability to overcome adversity through superior hardening of the mind and soul. Such a combination of runes is called a bind rune (or bindrune).[3] A bind rune is a working that draws power from the runes used to make it and becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The Ægishjálmur is said to inspire fear in enemies and strength in those who wear it.[4] Another interpretation — to induce fear, protect the warrior, and prevail in battle.[5]

Dragon & Ægishjálmur Together

In the Fáfnismál, one of the poems in the Poetic Edda, the havoc-wreaking dragon Fafnir attributes much of his apparent invincibility to his use of the Helm of Awe:[6]

The Helm of Awe
I wore before the sons of men
In defense of my treasure;
Amongst all, I alone was strong,
I thought to myself,
For I found no power a match for my own.
[6]

One of the representations of the Ægishjálmr in the Galdrabók[6]

This interpretation is confirmed by a spell called “There is a Simple Helm of Awe Working” in the collection of Icelandic folktales collected by the great Jón Árnason in the nineteenth century. The spell reads:

Make a helm of awe in lead, press the lead sign between the eyebrows, and speak the formula:

Ægishjálm er ég ber
milli brúna mér!

I bear the helm of awe
between my brows!

Thus a man could meet his enemies and be sure of victory.[6]

Linguist and runologist Stephen Flowers notes that even though the references to the Helm of Awe in the Poetic Edda describe it as a physical thing charged with magical properties, the original meaning of the Old Norse hjálmr was “covering.” He goes on to theorize that:

“This helm of awe was originally a kind of sphere of magical power to strike fear into the enemy. It was associated with the power of serpents to paralyze their prey before striking (hence, the connection with Fáfnir). … The helm of awe as described in the manuscript [the Galdrabók] is a power, centered in the pineal gland and emanating from it and the eyes.”[6] 

The Year Ahead

In early 2012 I bought and read a book by Michael Kelly called Aegishjalmur: The Book of Dragon Runes (published 2011).

“Aegishjalmur takes the curriculum of Draconian magic — powered by the Dragon energies that lie in the deepest parts of the human psyche — and applies it within the context of the runic tradition of Northern Europe. The myth of Sigurd and the Dragon Fafnir is used as a heroic role model for the Initiation of the reader, who is guided on a journey of discovery which unlocks the hidden powers of the body and mind, opening consciousness of higher dimensions and timeless states of being. The student is empowered by the polarised energies of the three great Dragons of the North: Fafnir, the guardian of riches; Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent who establishes the boundaries of the world; Nidhogg, the primal Dragon of Chaos, who transcends life and death.”[10]

Now, in 2022, I had forgotten the details of the information presented in the above book which I read 10 years ago, and apart from the reading I did to put together my previous post on Dragons in Norse Mythology I haven’t really read a lot about Norse mythology — just little snippets here and there over the years, interspersed with pop culture influences as well as historically accurate information picked up from my re-enactor sons.

So when I first chose my icons, perhaps in a “senior moment” of forgetfulness 😛 I had no idea that Fafnir used The Helm of Awe, and I got all excited when I (re)discovered this information, thinking that by simply following my intuition I had chosen Dragon & Ægishjálmur together before knowing there was any association! …haha! 😛 (wish there was a facepalm emoticon) 😀 😉

Anyway, now that I’ve thought more about all this it definitely feels right that the Dragon and Aegishjalmur symbols will be my two icons for the year. I am also seriously considering working with Kelly’s book (which focuses on the Draconian aspects and associations of each rune) as part of my personal practice, in conjunction with the group workings we do at SOL’s full and dark moon circles where we will be using the traditional meanings of the runes.

Shiny Things 😀

It was suggested that we may wish to have our icon as a piece of jewellery that we wear at circle, or it could be a drawing or some other creation. At this point I’m leaning towards jewellery, as I already have some suitable Dragon pieces and there are many lovely Ægishjálmur jewellery items available online, though I might try making something myself that combines the two …maybe. 😉

The Dragon appears in Germanic tradition as ormr or linnormr (lindworm). The sea serpent/dragon Jörmungandr grew so large that it was able to surround the Earth and grasp its own tail. It is an example of an ouroboros. Nidhogg‘s body is covered in bright scales, and horns erupt from his head. A pair of forelegs, complete with massive claws, help him to rip at the roots of Yggdrasil, but he has no back legs, only a serpentine tail. There are also 7 other lindworms slithering around under Yggdrasil, though there is not much information about them other than their names. Fafnir also seems to have been depicted with a mostly serpentine body.[14]

So it seems appropriate to represent my Dragon icon using Ouroboros jewellery, of which I already have a few pieces.

A representation of the Aegishjalmur will be forthcoming — I just haven’t decided exactly what form it will take, yet — though it will most likely be shiny new jewellery. I like shiny! 🙂

Other tools and items needed this year for personal use and/or the group altar:

  • A representation of Mjolnir
  • A wooden offering bowl
  • A drinking horn
  • A knife
  • A wand inscribed with symbols
  • A sprig or branch
  • A set of Elder Futhark runes
  • A representation of your chosen icon
  • A journal to record your experiences

References:

[1] Images of 18 symbols from https://scorpionmart.com/blogs/news/all-viking-symbols-and-meanings-viking-symbol-guide except for Vegvisir which was incorrect so I replaced it with an image from Wikipedia. Description of Yggdrasil was changed by me from “Tree of Life” to “World Tree”.

[2] https://thevikingdragon.com/blogs/news/mythical-viking-dragons

[3] https://sonsofvikings.com/blogs/news/in-defense-of-the-vegvisir-symbol

[4] The Way of Fire and Ice: The Living Tradition of Norse Pagansim, Ryan Smith, 2021, p119.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_magical_staves

[6] https://norse-mythology.org/symbols/helm-of-awe/

[7] https://bavipower.com/blogs/bavipower-viking-blog/aegishjalmur-the-helm-of-awe

[8] https://scandinaviafacts.com/what-dragons-meant-to-vikings-a-visual-guide/

[9] Image at top of page is from https://skjalden.com/helm-of-awe/ This manuscript is called Lbs 143 8vo, and it was compiled in the mid-1600s. The symbol Ægishjálmr is depicted on page 11r where it is described as. Ægishjálmrit must be made in lead and printed on one’s forehead when a man has an expectation that he might meet his enemy and you will overcome him.” – Translation by Dr. Jackson Crawford.

[10] Aegishjalmur: The Book of Dragon Runes, Michael Kelly, 2011. Quote from back cover of book used above.

[11] http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/culture-miscellaneous/difference-between-norse-and-viking/

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse_mythology

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse_dragon

[14] https://dragondreaming.wordpress.com/2021/12/24/dragons-in-norse-mythology/

[15] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Longboat_Viking,_a_replica_of_the_Gokstad,_1893.jpg

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2 thoughts on “Norse Symbols

  1. Hi Topaz~

    Thank you for this post: it touched me, deeply, to read what you shared!

    Blessed Be~AnnRenée 💐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment. ❤ 🙂

      Like

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