While our religion is at its heart an agriculturally derived religion, there was without a doubt focuses on military cultuses, and aspects of military life that also comprised the pre-Christian lives of ancient Heathens. Afterall, a culture needed both food to sustain it as well as the ability to defend itself (or for some to also wage war against others).
The Helm of Awe (or The Helm of Terror) refers to an item attested to in the sagas of yesteryear. While its translated name might suggest that it’s speaking about an actual physical helm or helmet made of sturdy stuff… it doesn’t appear that the symbol originally was such. Rather that the helm of awe represented a magical charm for protection that yes, was indeed somehow connected to a head-wrapping or animal skin.
Throughout the lore there are instances of magical charms used to affect the sight. In Eyrbyggja saga, Katla (a skilled seidhkonna) casts a form of magic upon her son Odd to hide him from his pursuers. Each time the men search the house, instead of seeing him they see some other object instead. Believing a trick is at play, or that ‘they have had a goatskin waved round our heads’ they bring in another magic worker, who puts a sealskin over Katla’s head to negate her magic making Odd visible. We see this again in Reykdoela saga as well as Njals saga as well, of goatskins being wrapped around the head for magical purposes.
By the time we begin to see the helm of awe mentioned as a physical helmet in the lore and history of this evolving culture, we see it most predominantly used in Medieval European manuscripts that can be as much as 300 years later than earlier manuscripts that only speak of types of magic used to trick the sight. It is for this reason that I believe that contemporary writers of the time in conjunction with other types of Medieval Literature like various stories in the Arthurian mythos, were focusing on knightly warfare and were elaborating upon older occurences and adjusting the meaning to suit their poetic license.
In the Volsunga saga, Fafnir taunts our hero Sigurd that he has used the aegishjalmr. After Sigurd later kills both Fafnir and Reginn, among the loot he acquires the famed helm. Another 14th Century source, the Sorla þáttr also speaks of the aegishjalmr, warning that Ivar should NOT look into Hogni’s face because he wore the helm of awe.
Visually the symbol is also similar to an Icelandic charm to guide a person through rough weather known as the vegvisir. In turn both of these symbols appear to potentially link back to sunwheels–I’ll cover this in a forthcoming article, so stay tuned.
At it’s core the aegishjalmr is a charm for protection, sometimes as a means to make you invisible, sometimes as a means to seemingly make you impervious to attacks, or as a terror tactic (making you seem scarier than you are). Today many heathens may opt to use this sigil as a protective charm to ward a house, or as a tattoo on their body to both represent their Asatru beliefs and for protection as well. I’ve even heard of currently serving soldiers in our armed forces, who have made the mark on the inside of their helmets.
So has anyone here opted to use it before, and if so how?