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Viking Symbolism: Mjolnir

  • Mjolnir

Viking Symbolism: Mjolnir

Continuing on in our symbolism dictionary is this symbol:

Mjolnir

Mjolnir (Thor’s Hammer)

If you are a Norse Pagan or Asatru, you know exactly what this is. And if you’re a Marvel Comics fan, you probably know too. In fact, this is most likely the most recognizable symbol in Norse mythology because of its prevalence today.

This is Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer.

Mjolnir is a hammer most fearsome and most metal. It wasn’t just used for fixing houses or even as a simple warhammer. Mjolnir could level mountains. There’s no way to understate the hammer’s raw power. If you need an example of how righteous the power of Mjolnir truly was, look no further than Snorri’s Prose Edda (this translation from Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur):

“Then he gave the hammer to Thor, and said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand; and if be desired, he might keep it in his sark…”

The symbol of Mjolnir is thought to even predate the Norse culture and religion as a whole. It’s very similar to a type of amulet called the Hercules’’ Club. These pendants were popular in Germanic tribes who were under the control of Rome, for it was said they kind of had a thing for Hercules. Oddly enough, they are found exclusively in females’ graves, typically made of bone and antler, but sometimes made of bronze or other rare metals. The migration of the Alemanni Germanic tribes brought the symbol northwards.

Mjolnir

Hercules Club via an artist’s rendering

The symbol is also found inscribed over ancient doorframes as a sign of protection– most particularly, as a protection against storms. In this instance and sometimes in the one above, they are attributed to Þonar, which is the southern Germanic version of the name Thor.

Oddly enough, most of the historical Mjolnir pendants and symbols are found in the Norse areas that also held the most Christian conversions. It’s thought that they were used as a way to subvert the popular new religion. The Christian habit of wearing a cross was just as popular at the time as it is today, and Mjolnir looks sort of like one. It could also just have been a way to identify like-minded folk in a sea of others.

People who choose to wear Mjolnir today still wear it as a symbol of protection. But it’s also the symbol of the Asatru faith, a modern version of Norse Paganism. Of course, it is also used by many metal bands on album covers, t-shirts, and jewelry.

Mjolnir

Wolfs Heart

But the symbol found a place in America in 2013 when it was added to the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs emblems for headstones and markers– meaning US veterans could choose to be buried beneath this symbol instead of a cross, Star of David, or other more mainstream religious symbols.

LOVE the look of this symbol but looking for someone a little more Christian? Or perhaps just something a little different? A later form of the symbol was found in Iceland. Dated to 900 AD, the Wolf Cross incorporates the shape of Mjolnir with the Christian cross, and a sunstone, which was used for navigation. 

2016-11-06T17:03:34+00:00

About the Author:

Sam Uliano is a 2012 graduate of Columbia College Chicago, where she won the Elise duBois Award for her short story, Prodigal. Her writing is currently featured on AleHorn and WhiskeyMade, but she also works full time as an editor. In her time away from the computer, she plays tabletop roleplaying games, teaches storytelling, and, of course, brews mead. Feeling bam-booze-led? Feel free to email her at samantha.uliano@gmail.com with your questions or pose your questions on Twitter to @samuliano1.

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