Every religion and culture has an iconography which is uniquely it’s own, and the Northern Tradition is no different. Common symbols found in conjunction with this religion are the Valknut, the Mjollnir, the irminsmul, various runes, the unfortunately misappropriated swastiska, etc. But what do they mean?
The Valknut, is one of the most traditional symbols associated with the Norse God Odin. Since ancient times this symbol has been used throughout Europe in association with the God known as the All-Father, the God of Poetry, the God of Warriors, a God of the Dead, the God of Magic and Runes, the God of Wisdom, a God of Ecstasy, etc. Similar symbols were used on cremation urns by the Anglo-Saxons, or found on memorial or rune stones like the Tängelgarda Stone and Stora Hammer stones found in Gotland, Sweden as well as found among the artifacts at the Oseberg Ship burial find in Norway.
The term valknut is a modern invention, deriving from the combination of two Old Norse words: ‘valr’ (slain warriors) and ‘knut’ (knot). There are two kinds of valknuts, the unicursal, which is one continuous ribbon knotted upon itself, and the triple version which is made by entwining three separate triangles.
The valknut is used today as a symbol first and foremost of Odinic worship by those who honor the Norse God Odin, and also as a symbol for those who honor the Aesir, the ancient Gods of the Germanic & Scandinavian peoples, such as Heathens, Germanic Pagans, Northern Tradition Pagans, Anglo-Saxon Reconstructionists, Asatru, Odinists, etc.While we may not know exactly what this symbol represented to ancient peoples, there is no doubt that this was a symbol associated with Odin. In modern times the prevailing theories are that the cumulative sum of all three triangles’ sides (nine) represent the nine nights that Odin hung on the World Tree Yggdrasil. The World Tree, Yggdrassil, in turn connects to all nine worlds (Midgard, Musplelheim, Niflheim, Asgard, Vanaheim, Jotunheim, Swartalfheim, Alfheim, and Helheim) of this tradition’s cosmology.
Respected scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson sees the valknut as associated with Odin’s abilitily to bind and unbind. She writes in her Gods and Myths of Northern Europe: “Odin had the power to lay bonds upon the mind, so that men became helpless in battle, and he could also loosen the tensions of fear and strain by his gifts of battle-madness, intoxication, and inspiration.”
Yet others see it as a symbol of the dead, possibly of the battle-slain, and/or of those humans slained in blood sacrifice to Odin. This later possible interpretation is why some in the community say wearing or having this symbol tatood is like saying “insert spear here” as it’s essentially a big bull’s eye target painted on you for death or ill-luck, or divine attention to be brought to bear. Others in the community, see this superstition regarding the image as silly.
Others see it as being symbolically similar to both the triskele, as well as the triple horn symbol found on the Snoldelev Stone in Denmark. Whatever the original meaning of this symbol, the modern day community unmistakably recognizes it as a symbol of Odin, and via it’s connection as a symbol of our religious path as well.
Look forward to Part 2!