Symbols were an integral part of the old Norse people that there was no distinction between the spiritual and reality. Plenty of symbols have become mainstream, with the appeal of the culture making a return. Two such marks are ‘Vegvisir’ and ‘Yggdrasil.’ One is a compass, and the other the tree of life. We will take the two words apart to dissect further what each is referring to.
Vegvisir is an Icelandic word meaning “way finder’ and “sign post” is a runic compass that the Vikings and the Nordic people used that symbolized protection and guidance. It is made from eight Viking rune staves they used to tell the direction. They have the four cardinal points, with the other points representing the intercardinal directions. A nail on the compass would help the user know what position at any end of the day while traveling.
The origin of the Vegvisir is unclear though some believe that it’s what the Viking used during their voyages during the Viking period. The compass held substantial meaning. It was said that the person wearing it would not get lost in storms and bad weather even though they didn’t know the direction they were headed in.
Even so, the basis of this notion is from The Huld Manuscript, which got written in 1880. It is a compilation of the Viking Age, with the writer Geir Vigfusson showing knowledge of the culture. However, it’s worth noting that the book was written well past the era in question, and it would be possible that some of the truth might not be as was. Even so, archeological findings show that the Vikings used the sun compass called a sunstone to find their way as they traveled by sea. This navigation tool doesn’t look the same was the Vegvisir, but some experts believed that it was the inspiration behind the symbolic compass.
Something to note is that the Vegvisir is not to be confused with the Aegishjalmur. It is also referred to as the Helm of Awe or Helm of Terror, which is what Vikings would paste on their ships so that they can instill terror in their enemies. References of the same have been made in the Sagas, bringing dread and fright to others.
Currently, the Asatru religion uses the Vegvisir symbol. Asatru is an Old Norse name that means “faith in the Æsir,” that is, the Germanic gods. They are a people making a return to the ancient Norse religion, choosing to believe in what their ancestors believed in. The faith officially made a comeback in the 1970s in Iceland. For them, the Vegvisir is more about the inner personal journey that one has to take in this life. It’s now moved on to be more symbolic to refer to the person and their spiritual journey.
Meaning of Yggdrasil
The Yggdrasil speaks of an old Norse mythical tree that connects all the Nine Worlds. The same can be found in the Poetic Edda and in the Prose Edda, both written in the 13th century. The Yggdrasil itself is a massive ash tree located in the middle of the cosmos, giving it exalted status. As per the same manuscripts, it was said that gods would gather there for their meetings and other gatherings. The branches of the Yggdrasil extend to heaven and the roots to various parts of the world. Creatures lived within the holy tree as well; they included stangs, dragons, and other mythical beings.
It’s worth noting that there is no literature pointing out where all the nine worlds are in proximity to the tree. Even so, it served as a meeting point for all the worlds. What’s suggested is some worlds existed below the tree, while the gods were in the skies. The underworld was where those who die of sickness and old age are thought to have been under the tree. The rainbow bridge is then what connected the three to the other existing planets. Even so, the Yggdrasil serves as the geographical center of the various worlds as the Norse spiritual cosmos. The speculation remains that the worlds were on a horizontal and vertical axis, with Asgard right at the trunk of the tree.
The beginning of Ragnarök got foretold at the beginning of the creation of the gods. It was stated that when the Yggdrasil shook, it would be the beginning of the end times as the reality as people and the gods knew it crumbled. There is still existing work that defines the Yggdrasil as Horse of Odin. It comes up when the manuscripts talk about him, sacrificing one of his eyes to get knowledge. That is how Odin was able to discover the rune, the very same on that are also present in the Vegvisir.
Creating meaning from the symbols
If you’re looking to create a tattoo or a motif, you can combine the Vegvisir and Yggdrasil to create your meaning. The general meanings are already laid out. The Vegvisir has to do with the compass, a symbol that you can adopt to refer to a guide through your spiritual journey. Incorporating the Yggdrasil adds extra meaning as it refers to the tree of life. Though it is not clear where the nine worlds reside, you can take precious aspects of your life and make those the worlds. There is also the trinity of the sky, earth, and the underworld that one can consider.
Old Norse symbolism can help how we see the world. We can begin to understand the awe in which the Vikings had and why it meant a lot to them. Symbols and spiritually also keeps a person grounded, something that you can consider doing as you chart your way through life.
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