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Among the Nordic runic symbols (also known as the Viking symbols), there are some symbols made up of eight lines, such as vegvísir. The vegvísir was attested in the Huld Manuscript, collected in Iceland by Geir Vigfusson in 1865. As a symbol of protection and guidance, it was often used as compass. But Vikings usually used sunstone as navigation gear.
This was proved by discoveries regarding Viking expeditions in North Amercia, and also introduced in some articles on this website<What navigation tools did the Vikings use in operating activities?>. Some people think, sunstone may be the source of inspiration behind this symbol, but there is controversy over this view.
Vegvísir/Viking Compass Composition
The vegvísir is composed of eight Viking runic staves. It is similar to the Helm of Awe/Aegishjàlmr, but there are some differences between them. The eight runic staves in vegvisir respectively stand for four cardinals (north, south, west and east) and four directions between mandrels (northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast). The eight directions and the central point (which stands for the Midgard) are the basic elements in the composition of vegvísir.
Some people believed that the eight runic staves in vegvísir respectively stand for the eight direction (north, south, west, east, northwest, northeast, southwest, southeast). They and the central point also represent the nine realm in Norse mythology. The central point stands for Midgard, the human world in Norse mythology, as well as the sign posts to the other eight realms and the corresponding protection.
Some other people hold the view that when a nail is placed in the center of Viking compass, the positions of its shadow at certain time of the day indicate the direction, in that way it helped Vikings in voyages and guided them through rough weather. Therefore, a reversed Viking compass might show you the opposite direction. According to Fen Alraun, the orientation of Viking compass does not really matter, because the eight staves in vegvísir do not indicate the exact directions, but correspond to eight protections.
Vegvísir/Viking Compass Origin
The origin of vegvísir remains unknown, there is also some controversy about it. At present there are two known written source: the Huld Manuscript and Galdrabók collected by Geir Vigfusson in 1880. The Galdrabók is an Icelandic grimoire.
The word vegvísir in the Huld Manuscript collected in the 1860s was translated as “sign post”, it was derived from two Icelandic words: “veg” and “vísir”. “Vegur” means “way”, and “vísir” means “pointer”. Regarding the interpretation of this symbol, it means, when you take it with yourself, you will never get lost in a storm or rough weather even if you don’t know the way.
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