Vegvisir Symbol Origins
When the first people came to the Iceland region somewhere around 874CE, they carried the Old Norse religion. This includes worship and belief in the Norse gods Sir and Vanir. Norse religion also had concepts regarding magic how it can be used in a few ways to achieve personal success.
The first settlers and their successors created several Icelandic magical staves, symbols used to channel magic. Unfortunately, these staves have gotten so entwined with Norse mythology that the symbols can be found everywhere. Vegvisir, also called the Viking Compass, is among the most notable of these staves. When carried, one will never lose their path.
As per the Huld manuscript, Vegvisir symbol is one of the magical staves of Iceland, the English translation being Wayfinder. Around the tiny village of Akureyri, Iceland, Geir Vigfsson wrote the Huld manuscript in 1860. People put together the document using previous pieces of literature containing magical staves. However, there are no preceding illustrations of the Vegvisir symbol.
What is the Viking Compass?
The Viking compass is not from the Viking Age, which spanned the eighth to eleventh centuries. However, the Huld Manuscript, compiled in the second half of the 19th century by Geir Vigfusson, mentions Vegivsir symbol or Sign Post. It is a compilation of 30 mystical symbols from various eras and their meanings. “If this sign is carried, one will never lose your way in storms or bad weather, even in unfamiliar surroundings,” Vegvisir’s intention states.
As a result, people painted the symbol on the person’s forehead to assure that they did not become disoriented upon leaving home. Additionally, they allegedly drawn the symbol using blood.
Many referred to Vegvisir symbol as a compass because it has eight points. It originates from Iceland, densely populated by direct ancestors of actual sea-traveling Vikings. This, though, is a bit of a prolepsis. Some Vikings used the concept of eight directions. Further, they may have had their directional finding instruments, such as the Uunartoq disc or sunstones.
However, most of their navigation was based on visual clues like the stars, flight patterns of birds, the sun, etc. So instead of just being a portrayal of a compass like we know it, Vegvisir’s eight “arms’ signify something different.
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Vegvisir Symbol is not from the Viking Age
The Huld (Icelandic manuscript), which dates from when Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, put into context the Vegvisir Symbol. However, if we look at Europe, the Second Schleswig War began four years before that (1864). Denmark attempted to defend itself against the majority of central Europe in this war.
Many Danes believe that this symbol, at least emotionally, is quite close to our timeline. When we consider that it originally appeared just approximately 160 years ago, or 800 years after the Viking Age ended, people cannot regard it as an ancient symbol in whatever sense of the word.
We must also keep in mind that Christianity and Paganism began to merge in Europe. For example, we know that it took hundreds of years to convert the Nordic people to Christianity; They didn’t do it overnight. We also understand that some blacksmiths had a mold that could make both the cross and Thor’s Hammer.
The 10th-century Icelandic cross, also known as a wolf cross, is an example of this, a piece of jewelry that could combine the cross and Thor’s hammer. However, there are differing viewpoints on this subject.
The runestones and magic books confirms the merging of cultures. With the use of ink and swords, the two cultures merged, integrating Pagan practices into Christianity to make it easier to convert the people of the North.
Another example occurred during the 10th-century Yule celebration in Norway when Harald Fairhair attempted to introduce Christian values.
Yule would eventually become Christmas, which was not previous to Scandinavia’s Christianization. Even though Christmas has pagan beginnings, it is now a holiday incorporating features from both cultures.
Many of these symbols resemble the Wayfinder, prompting the question, “Where did this symbol come from?” Is it truly Pagan, or were Christian symbols like this just recorded in books as a public record of what to look for while persecuting pagans?
Unless we unearth confirmation that the symbol was in use before 1860, the dispute over the origin of the Vegvisir symbol will likely continue long after our bones have turned to dust. Perhaps Vatican’s basement has some hidden magic books. Maybe the walls of an old building in Iceland, beneath a waterfall, or in some long-forgotten cave concealed old books. But, unfortunately, we may never find out.
Norse Mythology In Living Tradition
Vikings found Iceland in the ninth century. Most of these Vikings were fleeing mainland Scandinavian political changes, according to the sagas and the Landnámabók (Book of Settlements). They wished to maintain their way of life, which included democratic self-government.
According to DNA findings (and the sagas), around 30% of Iceland’s founding population were Irish and Scottish individuals who arrived with the Vikings. It’s still up for question whether they were primarily slaves, Vikings with Nordic dads and Celtic mothers, or a combination of both. However, majority of Celts and even some of the 100% Nordic Vikings would have adopted the Christian faith, making Iceland multi-religious from the start.
The Norse and Celtic cultures noted their strong sense of tradition, mysticism, and storytelling. While the Icelandic Norse were essentially an oral people, the Irish and Scots were already highly literary. So it’s no surprise that Icelandic people have a reputation for being incredible loremasters and poets. Monarchs recruited Icelanders not just as soldiers but also as court skalds throughout the Viking Age (bards).
On the other hand, the Icelanders had talent with language. They also have an eye for detail, and the memory to pass it on. As a result, the Icelandic sagas recount the stories of the first 300 years of Icelanders, including warriors, feuds, farmers, adventures, legal battles, and love lives. Still, they also include family trees and a social structure that remains astonishingly consistent across dozens of volumes.
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Critics of the sagas argue that they are simply historical fiction. People wrote the stories to be authentic. Thus, it appeared true to reality. However, even if this were the case, the sagas are an extraordinary literary achievement demonstrating Iceland’s creativity and ability to preserve the past.
Between the Viking Age and current times, Iceland’s population shrank, and there were no substantial influxes of immigrants from other countries. Icelanders are thus more closely related to actual, sea-faring Viking forefathers than almost any other country. Moreover, the Icelandic language is remarkably similar to Old Norse, even more than Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish.
As a result, it should be no surprise that practically everything we know about Viking history (lore, faith, poetry, and history) comes from Iceland. The sagas, the Eddas – almost everything. The exception is Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes) from the 12th century. Still, even Saxo confessed that the drafting of his masterpiece owed a great deal to Icelandic loremasters.
But there is another crucial aspect of Icelandic society that allowed so much Viking lore to survive. As previously said, Iceland began its history as a place where people of all faiths coexisted. Then, in the year 1000, the Althing (Iceland’s democratic governing body) made an unusual decision in response to rising religious turmoil and the necessity to “keep up with the times.”
They voted to establish Christianity as its official religion while permitting the private spiritual practice. About 120 years passed during this age of religious diversity. But, even when it stopped, this unique conversion tale and the lack of external societal constraints led to Icelanders being significantly more accepting of their pagan background.
Archeology and Burned Magic Books from Viking Age
Before these three Icelandic books, there were no surviving examples of Vegvisir symbol or the Aegishjalmur in archaeology. None. No Wayfinders were carved into the prows of ships. Further, no Aegishjalmur inscribed on helmets, nothing. The archaeological record is silent when it comes to Icelandic rune staves.
Many of the procedures mentioned by Davidsson would leave few traces in archeology, as biological things decay quickly. Greek and Roman archeology is easy to understand because it is etched in marble. On the other hand, Viking archeology is more challenging. Archeology is trying to find something that’s hidden even in its own time.
The Sigrdrifumal of the Poetic Edda, a much older source, describes a similar story. The Victory Driver urges Sigurd to carve magic runes on a fingernail, a drinking horn, the back of one’s hand, under the left arm, tree bark, an eagle‘s beak, pine needles, and many other bizarre objects in this poem (published in the 13th century but composed far before that).
Most magic was taught by word of mouth and passed down from teacher to learner as it had always been. However, there was an attempt to gather this information into books throughout the Middle Ages. The legendary Rauskinna of Gottskálk Nikolásson in the early 1500s was one of these grimoires. Despite being a bishop, Gottskálk was known as “the greatest wizard of his day” and a practitioner of “pagan magic.” His Rauskinna was a red-leather gilt volume written in with runes, but it was lost after he died.
However, unlike the Rauskinna, most Icelandic magic books were not vast grimoires. Instead, they were galdrakver or “small” magic books. These were essentially notebooks or booklets that contained various spells and symbols. We mostly know about them via documentation from witch trials.
The second grimoire, Galdrakver, and most other evidence we’d need to trace the evolution of Icelandic magic were all destroyed. The public usually spares the accused witch but burns their writings and accouterments. Many avoided persecution through burning or concealing their books.
This is why most of the surviving books and Icelandic grimoire are only from the 1800s. Only during the Age of Enlightenment, when the Church’s punitive legal power waned and the Romantic Era’s increased interest made it safe for the magic to emerge from the shadows. But by this point, all you have are snatches of information gathered on the fly from whatever sources were available.
As a result, the grimoires today are eclectic collections of magical fragments rather than a coherent theory or practice. This is partly due to how the data was acquired and stored, but also by design. The Icelandic grimoire and Galdrakver were not intended for use by novices or as a beginner’s guide. Instead, their information was designed to supplement and strengthen oral transmission from a knowledgeable teacher.
The connection of Vegvisir and Aegishjalmur Symbol to Christian Mysticism
People have recently named Vegvisir symbol and Aegishjalmur “Christian” symbols or stated that the symbols have origins in “Christian mysticism,” including some well-written and well-researched works. Even though this is a perfectly reasonable assumption, it is false for several reasons:
Christianity categorically forbids magic, many times in severe terms. Furthermore, most Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church have historically condemned magic, viewing it as the domain of false prophets or even the devil. Remember that the Church burnt the magic texts, sometimes together with the magician, so Vegvisir symbol and Aegishjalmur have few surviving sources.
Several notable warlocks and wizards were Christian priests in Icelandic history, like Gottskálk, but becoming a bishop at the time was more about the study, wealth, and family ties than it was about holiness. When the Church could no longer ignore their magical deals, they frequently banished priests and bishops. As a result, Icelandic magic has never been “Christian” because the Church hasn’t recognized it.
A “Christian” symbol represents Christianity, such as a holy dove or a cross. This is not the case with the Vegvisir and Aegishjalmur. Norse artifacts like rune stones don’t show these symbols. But, any Christian churches haven’t discovered them.
What Connection Does the Vegvisir have with Solomon?
It is impossible to prove that symbols from Iceland are entirely and directly descended from the Clavicula Salomonis’ star-shaped pentacles or any known work. Furthermore, this links to Kabbalah rather than Christianity unlike the Testament of Solomon. Christianity contains no symbols.
On the other hand, the Notary of Solomon and the Lesser Key include Christian images and concepts. Still, their mysticism was a religious activity where a nun, devotee, or priest attempted to acquire a mystical experience of the holy, not practical magic, as the grimoires clearly show.
So, why do so many people make assumptions? All of the remaining runestones are replete with Christian ideas and imagery, equivalent to the current practice of voodoo. The texts showed numerous references to Christianity.
However, there are countless invocations to Thor, Odin, and other Norse gods, trolls, and Norse giants in these same Icelandic magic texts.
The wizard or witch must conjure these many diverse and opposed spiritual powers to charge the spells and make them work. Sigils and protective charms frequently attributes to beneficial spiritual influences.
According to Professor Glenn Holland, “syncretism is the source of magical rituals. It is the blending and identification of two or more religious cultures, as well as the exchange of materials between them.”
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This jumble of religious appeal and spirit assignment is typical of magic throughout history worldwide. One only needs to travel to South America or New Orleans to observe modern examples. Suppose people use magic to engage the spirit world to alter the natural world. In that case, it only makes sense to recruit the correct spirits for the task. This explains why non-Christian magic symbols associates with Christian invocations in Icelandic grimoires.
It’s important to note that, while these numerous circular symbols all have a similar appearance, none of them contains the Vegvisir. As a result, it’s intriguing how many people dismiss the idea that Norse forefathers passed down these Icelandic symbols. They also simultaneously presumes that the Vegvisir is originally a Christian sign because it resembles these Solomon symbols.
Aegishjalmur, another magical stave, is similar in ideas in appearance. Thus, people confused it with Vegvisir. In fact, like a magic channeler, Aegishjalmur not only appears different but also serves an entirely different meaning.
Aegishjalmur is an eight-pointed magical stave known as the “Helm of Awe.” The Helm of Awe’s eight trident points are all generally identical, unlike its Way Finder cousin. A circle is also included in the center of the symbol. It protects the warrior and put fear into the enemy when drawn on the warrior’s forehead.
The dragon Fafnir wore the Helm of Awe in the Poetic Edda, written and edited by Snorri Sturluson. The dragon credited his accomplishment in protecting his treasure horde to the Helm of Awe he wore.
As it turned out, Sigurd killed Fafnir and claimed Aegishjalmur, presumably a physical object.
Other Icelandic Magical Staves
It was critical to follow the directions precisely if the chosen symbol was to have the desired impact. Anyone should draw correctly the staves and sometimes speak a spell. Let’s look at some of the other staves you can come across in Iceland.
This sigil protects you against thieves but it will not prevent you from getting robbed. Instead, it will show you the thief’s face. Firstly, carve the Thjofastafur into the bottom of a wooden bowl first. Secondly, you fill it with water and yarrow flowers. Lastly, recite a special charm for the water to expose the thief’s face.
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Anyone should wear this stave under the right arm to guard against drowning. Drowning would have been a serious threat; fishing has long been an essential element of Icelandic culture. Swimming lessons became compulsory for all Icelandic children starting in 1940.
Drowning mortality has decreased throughout time, and there are now extremely few drowning deaths in the country. Everyone has a safe location to learn because almost every town in Iceland has a public swimming pool or hot springs.
Gapaldur and Ginfax
These staves aid in the wrestling sport known as Glma. They painted the stave on paper or wood to ensure victory and placed in certain positions in one’s shoes. For example, Gapaldur went under the right foot’s heel, while Ginfaxi went under the left foot’s toes.
The Modern Concept of “Vegvísir”
Nowadays, “vegvisir” is well-known among neo-pagans, musicians, reenactors, and fans of Viking-othemed TV shows and other mass productions. People cannot overlook its application in the apparel industry, as well as in tattoos and jewelry. In addition, reenactors commonly use it for shield decorating or costume needlework.
This contradictory group acknowledges “vegvisir” is an ancient Germanic and Viking magical rune sign. The purpose of the symbol is that of a compass. It protects Viking warriors during sailing, providing protection and guidance. However, only popular literature and romance fiction may offer such an interpretation from the last 30 years.
Today, many people like to interpret symbols and develop their theories based on their imagination. For example, some people suggest that it is a Way finder to find one’s way in the Nine Realms, while others take it a step further.
The Huld manuscript, a modern collection of spells describes the Vegvisir as a neo pagan symbol. The book says, “If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s path in storms or bad weather, even when the way is unknown.”
Ancient people wrote the Huld manuscript in the nineteenth century, around eight centuries after the Viking Age ended. Some of it may stem from when the pre-Christian Norse religion was still alive and well. But, Christianity and magical tradition brought in from more southern regions of Europe greatly impacted it. Thus, just because something is mentioned in the Huld manuscript does not mean that pre-Christian Norse or other Germanic peoples were aware of it, much less accepted it as part of their religion.
On the other hand, there were no evidence that the Viking centuries or before knew or used this symbol. But, they possibly knew and used the symbol at the time as a protection against storms or bad weather. Further, it’s also possible that people imported or invented the symbol afterwards. Finally, we simply do not know if this was a Viking symbol.
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