Vegvisir symbol, literally known as ‘The pointer of the way’ in Norse mythology, stands as an enigmatic symbol with a rich history and enduring relevance.
In this article, we will embark on a journey to explore the Nordic world of the Vegvisir and delv into its true origin.
Let’s unravel if the vegvísir was actually a viking symbol and what influenced it to become a captivating emblem in contemporary times.
Meaning and Origin of Vegvisir Symbol
The Vegvisir, a symbol that has captivated the imaginations of many, derives its name and significance from the Icelandic language. In its essence, “Vegvisir” can be deconstructed into two distinct components: “Veg” and “Visir.” “Veg” translates to “way” or “path,” while “visir” implies “guide” or “pointer.” Thus, the Vegvisir can be interpreted as the “wayfinder” or “signpost.”
The Vegvisir, with its eight arms radiating outwards from a central point, resembles a compass or star. It is not just a visually striking emblem; it carries a profound symbolic weight.
This symbol was believed to serve as a guiding light for travelers, helping them navigate through unknown terrains, both physically and spiritually.
It offered a sense of direction and security, particularly in the tumultuous and unpredictable seas of the North Atlantic, where Icelandic seafarers ventured.
The historical origins of the Vegvisir, like many ancient symbols, are cloaked in mystery. While it has been documented in Icelandic grimoires and manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, the symbol’s exact genesis remains a subject of scholarly debate.
One theory posits that the Vegvisir may have roots in older Norse runic symbols, often imbued with mystical and protective properties.
Another theory suggests that the Vegvisir evolved from a combination of runic characters and geometric shapes. This amalgamation of runic mysticism and precise design reinforces the belief that the Vegvisir served both as a directional tool and a protective charm.
Despite its mysterious origins, the Vegvisir is firmly entrenched in Icelandic folklore and culture.
It has become an enduring emblem that symbolizes the quest for direction, guidance, and protection. This symbol transcends time and inspires those who seek purpose and meaning in their journeys.
Is the Vegvisir a Modern Invention or an Ancient Symbol?
The Vegvisir, despite its ancient-looking design, is not an ancient symbol in the truest sense of the term. Instead, it is a relatively modern invention compared to many other symbols with deep historical roots.
Its appearance in Icelandic manuscripts from the 17th century and later suggests that it emerged during a period when various esoteric and mystical symbols were being explored and documented.
While the Vegvisir may not date back to the Viking Age or earlier, it draws upon elements of Norse and runic symbolism, resonating with the broader Viking cultural context.
Its design incorporates runic characters, which were indeed used in ancient Norse culture for various purposes, including inscriptions and divination.
The Legend of the Sunstone
The legend of the Sunstone, or “sólarsteinn” in Old Norse, is one of mystery and fascination. While there is limited direct historical evidence to prove its existence or use among the Vikings, it has become a subject of speculation and research among historians and archaeologists.
According to legend, the Sunstone was a crystal or mineral that could locate the sun’s position even when hidden behind thick clouds or below the horizon. This legendary stone, it is said, allowed Viking sailors to determine their direction with a high degree of accuracy, even during the overcast and foggy conditions prevalent in the North Atlantic.
To understand the potential role of the Sunstone in Viking navigation, it’s essential to first consider the navigational methods and knowledge available during the Viking Age. Vikings were adept seafarers who relied on a combination of skills and tools to navigate the open seas.
Solar Navigation: Vikings, like other ancient seafaring cultures, relied heavily on the sun for navigation. They could determine their direction by observing the sun’s position during the day, even on cloudy days when direct sunlight might be obscured.
Stellar Navigation: During the night, Vikings used the stars, particularly the North Star (Polaris), as a fixed reference point. The position of Polaris in the night sky indicated the north direction.
Landmarks and Coastal Navigation: Coastal features, such as distinctive cliffs or mountain ranges, provided valuable navigational cues for Viking sailors. They often used landmarks to gauge their proximity to land.
While concrete archaeological evidence of the Sunstone’s existence is scarce, some researchers believe it may have been a calcite crystal or another transparent mineral. Calcite has the unique property of polarizing light, which can help locate the sun’s position, even when clouds hide it.
By rotating the crystal and observing the changing patterns of polarized light, Viking sailors could have estimated the sun’s location.
Symbolic Meaning of the Vegvisir
The Vegvisir, often referred to as the “Viking Compass” or “Runic Compass,” has several layers of symbolism associated with it. Here are a couple of them:
Navigation and Guidance: At its core, the Vegvisir symbolizes navigation and guidance. Its name, “Vegvisir,” translates to “wayfinder” or “signpost” in Icelandic. This reflects its primary purpose as a tool for travellers, helping them find their way in the physical world and through the symbolic challenges of life. It represents finding one’s path and staying on course, even in adversity.
Protection: The circular design of the Vegvisir, with its eight arms radiating outward, is believed to offer protection. It was thought to safeguard those who carried or wore it from getting lost, both in the wilderness and on life’s journey. This protective aspect is akin to a spiritual shield, providing comfort and security to the bearer.
Runic Mysticism: The runic characters within the Vegvisir’s arms add a layer of symbolism. Runes were an integral part of Norse culture, used for communication, divination, and magical purposes. Including these runes reinforces the idea that the Vegvisir is not just a practical tool but also a mystical and spiritually significant symbol.
Connection to Nature: Vikings had a deep connection to nature and the elements, especially the sun and stars. The circular shape of the Vegvisir reflects the sun and its life-giving energy. In this sense, it symbolizes the harmony between humanity and the natural world, emphasizing the importance of staying attuned to the rhythms of nature.
Viking Heritage: While the Vegvisir may not be an ancient symbol, it has become emblematic of Viking culture and heritage. It represents the adventurous and exploratory spirit of the Vikings, known for their daring sea voyages and quest for new horizons. Carrying the Vegvisir can be seen as a way of honouring and connecting with this heritage.
Personal Guidance: In contemporary times, the Vegvisir has taken on a more personal and individualized meaning. Many wear or display it as a symbol of personal guidance and protection. It serves as a reminder to stay true to one’s path, make wise choices, and seek direction in life’s journey.
The Resurgence of Norse Culture and Aesthetics
In recent years, there has been a notable resurgence of interest in Viking culture, aesthetics, and heritage, often called the “Viking Revival.”
This cultural revival encompasses various elements, from fashion and design to literature, film, and even historical reenactment. Let’s delve into the critical aspects of the Viking Revival:
Fashion and Aesthetics: The Viking Revival has influenced contemporary style, making Nordic-inspired clothing popular. This includes Viking-style tunics, faux fur accents, and leather accessories.
Viking symbols like the Vegvisir have gained popularity in jewelry design. Runes, Thor’s hammer (Mjölnir), and other Viking-themed jewelry are also sought after.
Men also opt for beards and haircuts reminiscent of Viking warriors, leading to Viking-inspired beard and hairstyle trends.
Literature and Art: Norse mythology has captured the imagination of many, leading to a surge in books, graphic novels, and artworks that explore the tales of gods, giants, and heroic deeds. Authors have penned numerous historical fiction novels set in the Viking Age, bringing to life the adventures and struggles of Viking characters.
Film and Television: Television series like “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom” have gained a dedicated following. These shows provide a dramatized but often historically inspired portrayal of Viking culture.
There has been an increase in documentaries that delve into the history, culture, and discoveries related to the Vikings.
Historical Reenactment: Events and festivals that recreate Viking life and culture have become popular. These include demonstrations of traditional crafts, battle reenactments, and historical camps.
Ambitious projects to build and sail Viking longships have emerged, allowing enthusiasts to experience the seafaring aspect of Viking life.
Norse Tattoo Art: Norse mythology and Viking symbolism have influenced tattoo artistry, with many people choosing to get tattoos of runes, Viking gods, or sagas.
In summary, the Vegvisir, a symbol derived from Icelandic folklore with roots in continental occult magic, offers a journey through time and meaning. While it emerged relatively recently, about 160 years ago in Akureyri, Iceland, it stands as a testament to our timeless quest for guidance.
Contrary to its popular Viking-age association, the Vegvisir’s origins are distant, separated by an 800-year gap. It has transformed from its original square form to the iconic circular variant we know today, thanks to the Internet’s global reach and its power to connect symbols to seekers.
As we navigate the Vegvisir’s true essence, it becomes a symbol of our ever-evolving human narrative, transcending eras and cultures. It reminds us that the symbols we hold dear are not bound by time but serve as timeless beacons of meaning and direction in our lives.