If you are starting your journey into Paganism and Viking History, I’m sure you have stumbled upon these two famous Norse symbols: the Aegishjalmur and the Vegvisir (and if you haven’t, don’t worry… keep reading and discover what they are all about!).
But… where do they come from and what do they mean?
Origins of the Icelandic Staves: are they really Viking symbols?
Before you get that cool “Viking tattoo” on your skin forever… hold on! Let’s dig a bit deeper about the origins of the Icelandic Magical Staves, which are a collection of sigils compiled in different Icelandic grimoires. The Vegvisir and Aegishjalmur are part of these magical symbols, among others.
ORIGIN OF THE VEGVISIR
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t any evidence that this symbol, also known as the Viking compass, comes from the Viking Age. We can find it in three different Icelandic manuscripts, all from the 19th century: the Huld manuscript written by Geir Vigfússon in 1860, the Book of Spells (Galdrakver) by Olgeir Geirsson (1869) and another Galdrakver from an unknown author.
Does this mean that Vikings didn’t use this symbol at all? The reality is that we don’t know. Even in the Huld manuscript, the author doesn’t have much to say about the Vegvisir, apart from stating its intent:
“If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known.”Geir Vigfússon, Huld Manuscript (1860)
Some sigils in these manuscripts may come from the Norse pre-Christian era, but a lot of them are very likely to be influenced by Christianity or even come from other foreign traditions.
That being said, these manuscripts are very interesting pieces of history, showing not only our well-known collection of galdastrafir (the Icelandic word for Magical Staves) but also many runic and cryptic alphabets, all written and drawn by hand.
ORIGINS OF THE AEGISHJALMUR
In the case of the Aegishjalmur or the Helm of Awe, we actually have a little piece of evidence of its existence within the Poetic Edda, although we don’t know what it looked like at this point:
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.
This passage tells the story of Fafnir, a cursed dwarf that transformed into a greedy dragon. As dragons do, he guarded a large treasure which included the powerful ring called Andvaranaut. Fafnir got his invincibility thanks to the Helm of Awe, although he was slain by Sigurd later.
We can find this symbol later in the Icelandic grimoire called Galdrabók, written in the 1600s, and in other manuscripts from the 19th Century, where it appears in different versions (4 arms, 8 arms…)
Interestingly, there are similar-looking symbols in a Greek manuscript from the 15th century called “The Magical Teatrise of Solomon”.
I don’t want to make this section too long, so if you want to read even more about the Aegishjalmur and its origins, feel free to read this blog post which offers another point of view and I found it quite fascinating!
Aegishjalmur vs Vegvisir: the meanings
Whether these two Icelandic Staves come originally from the Viking Age or not, this doesn’t make them less interesting! Without further ado, let’s dig into their meanings.
The word Vegvisir means “Wayfinder” or “signpost” in Icelandic and as the Huld Manuscript said, is a symbol used for guidance. Those who wear this sigil won’t get lost and will find their way back home.
Some people believe that the eight arms of the Vegvisir represent the cardinal points or the nine worlds of Norse Mythology, with Midgard or the world of men in the middle.
Nowadays, people use this symbol as a spiritual compass, to protect them and help them find their way through life and to achieve their goals.
Warriors wore the Aegishjalmur or Helm of Awe between their brows to give them strength and victory in battle, as well as instilling terror on their enemies.
Our modern battles look very different from those on the Viking Age, so people use it as a way to remind themselves to have courage in life and overcome obstacles.
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