The Valknut: Old Norse Symbol; Origins And Meaning

The Valknut: Old Norse Symbol; Origins And Meaning

- in Blog, Tattoo History

The valknut is a word from Old Norse valr, which means slain warriors and knut, it’s a symbol that consists of three interlocked triangles. It can be found on different objects from the ancient Germanic archaeological record. The compound valknut is from the modern era. The term utilized for the symbol during its historical employment is still unknown.

The valknut is one of the most discussed, yet enigmatic of all of the symbols which appear in connection with Norse mythology. Visually, the valknut is comprised of three interlocking triangles. Archaeologically, it appears on a few runestones and pictorial memorial stones which date from the period of the Viking Age and stand on the Swedish island of Gotland and grave goods from Oseberg ship burial in Norway.Valknut

The name of this symbol was mentioned in any period sources. Valknut is a modern Norwegian compound word, which means knowledge of the ones fallen in battle, and it has been introduced by Norwegians that lived long after the Viking Age. What was the meaning of this symbol? Well, there is one short answer, and it is that it is not known.

However, the longer answer is here:

In the archaeological record, the valknut appears just in connection with the cult of the dead, as in the runestones and ship burial, which we mentioned before. Similar-looking symbols may also be found on the cremation ruins of the Anglo-Saxons. They are another Germanic people that are closely related to the Norse linguistically, ethically, as well as regarding their pre-Christian worldview and religion.

In most of the cases, scholars also proposed a variety of explanations for this symbol, sometimes associating it with the god Odin. Even in moments where he is not present directly alongside the valknut, we usually find some other symbols which are closely related to it. For instance, the Anglo-Saxon urns feature depictions of wolves and horses, two animals that usually accompany Odin in the Norse mythological tales.

To find associations with both Odin and death together should come as no surprise, as Odin has been, among many other things, a psychopomp – that is a figure that ferries the spirits of the dead to the underworld and then back to the world of the living – and the leader of different hosts of the dead like the warriors of Valhalla and the Wild Hunt.

Odin was one of the most powerful of all the shamans and magicians. According to a literary source, he and his attendant spirits, like the valkyries, usually used magic, which is described regarding unbinding and binding, tying up the mind or untying it. Odin also had the power to lay bonds upon the mind, so that men became helpless in battles, and he could also loosen the tensions of fear, as well as a strain by gifts of battle-madness, inspiration, and intoxication. The valknut, with its knot-like appearance, is interpreted as a symbolic expression of this idea.

The valknut was also compared to the three-horned symbol found on the 9th-century Sholdelev Stone, to which it may also be related. The valknut also received sporadic use in modern popular culture and is once again connected with Germanic paganism.

However, the explanation is all the more plausible since the form of heathen Norse magic, which the sources mention the most usual, namely seidr, utilized imagery related to spinning and weaving fiber in order to symbolize altering the course of events. Weaving is the symbolic sense, and spiritual power was almost synonymous, so it has to come as no surprise that a symbol that involves power over life and death would be imagined as a knot.

Another less satisfying explanation which scholars invoked is that the valknut could be the Hrungnir’s Heart, mentioned in Snorri Sturluson’s’s Prose Edda: Hrungnir had a heart made of hard stone and pointed with three corners, simply like the carved symbol which was called Hrungnir’s’s heart ever since. All that this description tells us about the visual form of Hrungnir’s Heart is that it had a triangular shape. That is such a general description that the idea that Hrungnir’s Heart and the valknut are the same symbols seems to match the description of Snorri. However, as we saw, this is far from the case, as the heart made of hard stone is utterly incongruous with the ecstatic magic of Odin.

According to the present state of knowledge, we may simply say that the meaning of the valknut is mostly connected with death, the transition from life to death, as well as Odin and the power to bind, as well as unbind.

Nowadays, the valknut symbol plays a huge role in modern Heathenry, where a lot of explanations, as well as interpretations of the symbol, are given. It was utilized by different political groups, and sometimes it sees use in modern popular culture. For example, in the United States, the symbol has utilized a logo for the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

The symbol, just like a lot of others connected with Germanic paganism, is utilized by some white nationalist groups in order to represent their heritage. Despite that, the valknut was not classified as generally objectionable by the government of Germany.

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