Viking Symbolism: Valknut

  • Valknut

Viking Symbolism: Valknut

You may have seen this symbol around before and yet you probably don’t know what it means. It’s kind of similar in form to the Norse Triskelion, which we covered a couple weeks ago, and some people get them confused. But fear not– even historians have trouble with the valknut.

Valknut

Valknut

Valk means, ‘slain warrior,’ and knut means, ‘knot.’ The name is a modern invention, but the it comes from the belief that the Valknut denotes the death of a great warrior in battle. We don’t have any concrete evidence that that’s what this symbol was used for. But we have some pretty good guesses stemming from archaeological discoveries around where these symbols have been found.

First of all, the valknut is often found on cremation urns accompanied by wolves and ravens, all of which point to them being the graves of warriors. This also usually usually draws a connection to Odin, who famously had two raven servants, Huginn and Muninn. But Odin also is famously connected to cremation, as well as the frenzy of battle. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Valknut

Odin with Hugin and Munin

Second, in the  Skáldskaparmál book of the Prose Edda, the frost giant Hrungnir is killed by Thor. Hrungnir was a great warrior who had fought with Odin over whose horse was fastest, then raged and started fucking shit up when he lost. The other gods weren’t cool with this grevious jackassery, so Thor put Hrungnir down with the help of Mjolnir. But after Hrungnir died, it was discovered that his heart was made of stone and was a peculiar shape:

Hrungner had, as is well known, a heart of stone, sharp and three-sided; just as the rune has since been risted that is called Hrungner’s heart.”

So Hrungnir, a great warrior who died in an angry battle frenzy, had a heart made of stone that looks just like a valknut. The Norse would still respect just a death, for it was powerful (and metal as balls), so it would make sense to give this symbol to others who died in a barbaric rage.

Valknut

Thor batteling Hrungnir

And finally, the valknut can be drawn in a single, continuous pen movement, much like a pentagram or the Saint John’s Arms. This type of symbol is called unicursal and many cultures the world over have used unicursal symbols as signs of protection.

Now, this symbol is sometimes used by white supremacists, but unlike the swastika, it hasn’t been deemed objectionable, nor is it a part of the Strafgesetzbuch Section 86a, the part of German law that forbids certain symbols associated with Nazism. In fact, many companies in Germany use this symbol for their logo. So feel free to get it engraved or use it otherwise without worrying that people will think you’re associated with that movement.

This is a great symbol for remembering those in your life who fell in the frenzy of battle. If you are looking to memorialize a fallen soldier, or a friend or family member who was always a warrior at heart, this is a symbol that will make convey pride in them and a sense of gratitude for their sacrifices.

2016-11-15T22:36:41+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 [email protected] with your questions or pose your questions on Twitter to @samuliano1.

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