Old Nordic Symbols: Norse Runes & Viking Ornaments (Meanings & Examples)

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hero nordic old norse viking symbols runes meanings

Old Norse mythology is filled with fascinating symbolism, and the runic alphabets of Germanic Europe have told numerous tales of heroic deeds and tragic deaths over the years. Having worked with graphic design for most of my adult life, I’m a huge fan of typography and symbolism, and also a huge history nerd. So I’ve spent a lot of time studying and appreciating the Viking symbols left behind on runestones, jewelry, weapons, armor, and other items from the Viking Age.

But the world of Norse symbols is not without its controversies and misconceptions; from extremist groups trying to hijack the symbols to serve their agendas, to magical sigils with questionable historical accuracy spreading like wildfire among millennials (I’m looking at you Vegvisir).

So let’s clear some things up and go through the facts and myths surrounding Norse runes and symbols, how they look, and what we know about their meaning.

Hopefully, you’ll find this as fascinating as I did, and learn a thing or two along the way.

ℹ️ For the past 10 years, I’ve studied Nordic symbolism of all kinds, with a specific focus on the Norse world during the Viking age. In this article, I’ve listed Norse runes and symbols that have been found in Scandinavia and dated back to the Viking age. I’ve specified the source of each symbol, such as a specific runestone or piece of jewelry, so you can look into it further if you feel like digging deeper.

For the sake of clearing up common misconceptions regarding Viking symbols, I’ve also included some symbols that are commonly and mistakenly thought to be connected to the Vikings, and explained why these symbols have not been found to be linked to the Norse people or culture.

Let’s start by looking at the Runes, the letters of the Old Norse language the Vikings spoke, after which we will look at some of the symbols from the Viking Age specifically.

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Germanic and Norse Runes in Scandinavia: A Timeline

160–800 CE

Elder Futhark Runic Alphabet (the Germanic Runes)

The first runic alphabet in Scandinavia.

600–1100 CE

Younger Futhark Runic Alphabet (the Viking Runes)

A runic alphabet adjusted for the Old Norse language of the Vikings. Overlapped for a few centuries with Elder Futhark, but eventually replaced it altogether

1100–1600 CE

Medieval Runic Alphabet

As Christianity and the influence of the Latin alphabet spread across Scandinavia, the runes were adjusted to include new sounds and letters. Stunged or dotted runes were used to pronounce in a different way.

1500–1900 CE

Dalecarlian Runic Alphabet

As the Runic alphabet gradually disappeared in Scandinavia, it held strong in the Dalarna and Gotland regions of Sweden in the form of the Dalecarlian runes..

When tales were told of Viking adventures, they were generally written down in Old Norse on runestones using the Younger Futhark runic alphabet (used in Scandinavia during the Viking Age).

This is also what people look for when it comes to Nordic lettering in general, so I feel like it’s fitting to start here, and then dive into both older and newer runic alphabets afterward.

Viking Age Scandinavian Runes & Their Meanings (Younger Futhark)

The Scandinavian Younger Futhark is a simplified version of the Germanic Elder Futhark, with 16 (instead of 19) characters specifically tailored for the Old Norse language.

By the time the Viking Age took off around 800 CE, Younger Futhark was the dominant alphabet in Scandinavia, and is the one you’re most likely to see on runestones and other objects from the Viking Age.

I’ve listed all the Old Norse runes as well as their Latin letter equivalent below:

The 16 Scandinavian runes (a.k.a. Younger Futhark). These are Long-branch runes that can commonly be found in Denmark, and were used by mainly Danish Vikings.

Each rune is a letter in the Old Norse alphabet, and as such they all represent a sound similar to the Roman/Latin letters we use in the western world today. However, they also carried names that can sometimes be construed as a separate meaning associated with the rune, which runologist Victoria Symons explains in her book Runes and Roman Letters in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts as she compares runes to Roman letters:

Runic letters, on the other hand, are inherently multivalent; they can, and often do, represent several different kinds of information simultaneously. This aspect of runic letters is one that is frequently employed and exploited by writers and scribes who include them in their manuscripts.

Victoria Symons in Runes and Roman Letters in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts (2016), p. 6-7

So it’s also important to note that although we have found plenty of evidence of the runes being used both as letters and as symbols with further meanings, each individual rune may not always have carried multiple meanings on top of the sound it made and the words it created in combination with other runes.

Meanings and Explanations of the Viking Runes (Old Norse Alphabet to English)

RuneLatin LetterOld Norse Sound/Name — Meaning or Explanation in English
norse younger futhark runes feF — Beast, cattle, wealth
norse younger futhark runes urUÚr — Clock, aurochs, primordial power
norse younger futhark runes thursTHThurs — Thor (Norse god of thunder, one of the more prominent Æsir, origin of “Thursday”), giant, troll
norse younger futhark runes as 1Ą / OAs / OssÆsir, i.e. the gods in Norse mythology
norse younger futhark runes reitRReið — Ride, journey, wagon
norse younger futhark runes kaunKKaun — Wound, ulcer, fire
norse younger futhark runes hagallHHagall — Hail (as in “it’s hailing outside”)
norse younger futhark runes naudNNauðr — Need, force, danger
norse younger futhark runes issIÍss — Ice
norse younger futhark runes arA / ÆÁr — Plenty
norse younger futhark runes solSSól — Sun
norse younger futhark runes tyrTTyr — Norse god of war and justice, origin of “Tuesday”
norse younger futhark runes bjarkanBBjarkan — Birch
norse younger futhark runes matrMMaðr — Man, human
norse younger futhark runes logrLLögr — Water, Sea
norse younger futhark runes yrʀ / YYr — Yew (a tree with an especially long life)
Sources: Swedish National Heritage Board, Abecedarium Nordmannicum

The Younger Futhark runes were also divided into two different styles: Long-branch runes and Short-twig runes.

Some argue that they were used depending on location; with Long-branch runes primarily used in Denmark, and short-twig runes primarily used in Sweden and Norway.

Others believe that instead of specifically Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian runes, their usage was more of a practical matter: If you wanted to write on stone, you used Long-branch runes, and if you wanted to write on wood, you used Short-twig runes.

Long-branch runes
Short-twig runes
Latin lettersfutharkhniastbmlʀ

I’ve seen many runestones in Sweden with Long-branch runes, so I am partial to the practical divide theory; that you used whatever type of rune was more practical for the medium you wrote/carved on.

For instance, here is a runestone I came across in Uppsala, Sweden that features long-branch runes:

An example of long branch Younger Futhark runes written on a runestone in Uppsala, Sweden

What Do Upside-Down Runes Mean?

Since runes are mostly equivalent to our modern-day alphabetical letters, writing them upside down doesn’t change the sound they are attached to. This is especially relevant in many of the runestones, where the runes are written in circles and other irregular patterns, instead of on a straight line as we tend to do today.

We haven’t found any indication that they would mean something different upside-down when they were used in a way that would convey their inherent meaning (i.e. ᛋ = sun).

Next, let’s go back in time and look at when people in Scandinavia started using runes, which takes us all the way back to the Iron Age.

Germanic Runes and Their Meanings (Elder Futhark)

The Elder Futhark Runic alphabet consists of 24 runes, and was in use across all Germanic cultures since the Iron Age (starting around 200 CE), and in Scandinavia specifically deep into the Viking Age.

In other words, this is the first runic alphabet the Norse people (a.k.a. the Vikings) started using on their runestones, weapons, jewelry, etc.

It started being replaced by Younger Futhark around 700-800 CE, and was no longer in use by the 10th century CE, when the Viking Age was at its height.

nordic elder futhark runes

The Elder Futhark started being used in Scandinavia around 600 years before the Viking Age started, but was still used by Vikings early on, before Younger Futhark took over completely.

The Proto-Germanic language spoken in Scandinavia and Northern Germany spread across Europe with the Germanic migrations that spurred on the fall of the roman Empire, and the Germanic Runes could be found across most of the European continent during the Iron Age.

Here’s how the Germanic language and runes spread across Europe and the extent of the Germanic migrations around the fall of the Roman Empire.

The Elder Futhark runic symbols were usually written as a rune row divided into three ætts (meaning “eights”, with eight runes in each ætt). The first ætt is Frey’s, the second is Hagal’s, and the third is Tyr’s (the names of the first letters of each ætt).

Below this is visualized in three rows:























The Meanings Attached to Elder Futhark Runes

As they both stem from the Nordic Bronze Age culture and language, the Germanic and the Scandinavian runes have the same meanings and origins.

However, due to differences in pronunciation and style in the Proto-Germanic and Proto-Norse languages, the names and sounds are slightly different (and there are of course 3 more runes).

RuneLatin LetterGermanic Sound/Name — Origianal Meaning
FFehu — Beast, cattle, wealth
UUruz — Clock, aurochs, primordial power
ÞþurisazThurs/Thunraz(god of thunder, one of the more prominent Æsir, origin of “Thursday”), giant, troll
AAnsuz — A Norse god, an Æsir
RRaido — Ride, journey, wagon
KKaunan — Wound, ulcer, fire
GGebö — Gift
WWunjo — Joy
HHagalaz — Hail (as in “it’s hailing outside”)
NNaudiz — Need, force
IIsaz — Ice
JJera — Year, good year, harvest
ÆIhwaz — Yew-tree, evergreen tree
PPerþ — Cliff, earth, rock*
ZAlgiz — Elk, protection, defense
SSowila, Sol — Sun
TTiwaz, Tyr — God of war and justice, origin of “Tuesday”
BBerkana — Birch
EEhwaz — Horse
MMannaz — Man, human
LLaguz — Water, lake
ŊIngwaz/Ing/Frey — God of fertility, Frey is the origin of “Friday”
OOþilaz, Oþala — Dynasty, heritage, estate, possession
DDagaz — Day
*Unknown exact meaning for “Perþ”, possible meanings listed. Source: Swedish National Heritage Board
Show more +

Later Scandinavian Runes: the Futhork & Dalecarlian Alphabets

The Viking Age is generally agreed by historians to have ended with the successful invasion of England by William the Conqueror (who was a Norman of Viking descent ironically), specifically the decisive Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Scandinavia slowly started getting Christianized around the same time, and as continental European influence grew in the region, the language slowly expanded.

The Old Norse language started including sounds from the Latin alphabet, and the use of stung or dotted runes to indicate alternate sounds for specific runes started to become more and more common.

Despite the strong influence of the Latin alphabet, the people of Scandinavia did not stop writing in runic script. Instead, the Younger Futhark runes that had been in use during the Viking Age were expanded into a new runic alphabet that included ways to write out all the sounds of the Latin alphabet.

The Medieval Runic Alphabet: Futhork

medieval rune alphabet scandinavia nordicperspective

The Medieval runic alphabet also had 16 runes, just like Younger Futhark, but each rune had variations that could form all the sounds latin letters could.

Interestingly, one of the oldest books preserved written with medieval runes is this copy of the Scanian law book, which is from the region I live in:

Codex runicus book
Codex runicus; the oldest preserved copy of Scanian (the southern Swedish region of Skåne, where I am from) law

Dalecarlian Runes (late 1500s to 1900s)

The Runic alphabets had disappeared from Scandinavia almost completely by the 1500s, but the Swedish regions of Dalarna and Gotland people kept the runic alphabets alive, in Dalarna specifically all the way into the early 1900s.

Here’s how the Early Dalecarlian Runes looked like:

dalecarlian runes 17th century

Here’s how the late Dalecarlian Runes looked like:

scandinavian dalecarlian runes 17th to 20th century

Real Viking Age Symbols: Separating Fact From Fiction

The Old Norse culture was rich in symbolism, and there were many inscriptions, ornaments, pendants, pins, and other accessories left behind for us to get an insight into the popular symbols of the Viking Age.

But there are also a lot of misconceptions floating around on the interwebs regarding viking symbolism, so I’d like to try to separate fact from fiction by grouping the real Viking symbols we for sure know are from the Viking Age, apart from mostly modern symbols we have not been able to link to Viking Age Scandinavia.

The Real Viking Symbols: Authentic Norse symbols dating back to the Viking Age

The Norse people of Scandinavia loved to carve pictures of Norse gods and other mythological creatures, along with tales of their own deeds onto runestones, jewelry, weapons, shields, helmets, and all kinds of other objects.

Luckily, we have been able to find many such examples that are still intact, giving us a pretty good idea of the types of symbols and ornaments the Vikings used and valued.

Here are some of the more famous symbols that have actually been found on objects dating back to the Viking Age in or around Scandinavia (meaning they are as authentic as can be):

Meaning & Significance
thors hammer viking symbols


Thor’s hammer
Meaning & Significance
Mjölnir means “the crusher”, and was Thor’s weapon by choice as he rode the skies and caused thunder and lightning to crash down on earth. It has been found on countless runestones, pendants, and other types of jewelry dated back to the VIking Age.
Gs 9 arsunda crop


The Tree of Life
Meaning & Significance
Yggdrasil is an ash tree that connects and contains all four worlds (Midgard, Asgard, Jotunheim, and Nifelheim) of Old Norse mythology. It can be translated to “the horrible thundergod’s horse” and is also known as “Mimer’s tree”. It is the largest tree in Norse mythology, and have been found on numerous runestones (such as the Årsunda stone from Gästrikland, Sweden) as well as described extensively in the Norse sagas.
hrafnsmerki raven penny olafr sigtryggsson


The Raven Banner
Meaning & Significance
The Raven banner was flown by numerous Viking armies, displayed on weapons and armor, minted on coins (such as the raven penny minted by Óláfr Sigtryggsson in York, England, above), just to name a few. It’s clear that the raven played an important part in Norse symbolism, considering Odin’s two ravens Hugin & Munin were supposed to have told him everything there is to know according to the Norse sagas.
Meaning & Significance
dragon head dress pin gotland sweden photo by historiska

Dragon’s head

Meaning & Significance
It was common for Vikings to create lavish and intimidating ornaments on their ships, so placing a dragon’s or serpent’s head in the front was common practice. The most famous dragon in Norse mythology is Níðhöggr, who is gnawing on the tree of life, Yggdrasil.
valknut stora hammars stone gotland sweden


Also known as “Odin’s Knot”, “The Heart of the Beaten”, “Vala’s Heart”, “Heart of Rungner”
Meaning & Significance
Valr means warrior, and knut means knot – so the literal meaning would be “the warrior’s knot”. It has been found on mutiple runestones and objects dating back to the Viking Age, for example Stora Hammars stone (Gotland, Sweden), and the Tängelgårda stone (Gotland, Sweden). It is currently used as part of Swedish paper company SCA’s logo, as well as the German Football Association (the badge on the national team’s jerseys).
triskele Snoldelev Stone Ramsoe Denmark


Horns of Odin
Meaning & Significance
Found on the Snoldelev stone from Ramsø, Denmark and . Dated to the 9th century CE.
Meaning & Significance
Trikvetra funbo runestones uppsala sweden


A variant of the Valknut
Meaning & Significance
This symbol has been found on one of the Funbo Runestones (from the 11th century), located in Uppsala, Sweden as well as numerous coins from 11th century Norway. It is likely connected to and based on the Valknut.


Odin’s Horse
Meaning & Significance
Odin’s eight-legged horse, capable of running faster than any other horse, even faster than the wind. Sleipner is not limited to running on land either, as he can fly in the air and thunder over the water to get where he needs to go. Found on numerous runestones and objects dating back to Viking Age Scandinavia, for example the Volund stone from Ardre, Gotland, Sweden.
Bildsten med skepp 800 1099 Tjangvide Gotland

The Longship

The Viking Warships
Meaning & Significance
The Viking Longship was a very significant factor behind the influence of the Vikings, so it’s no wonder it has been depicted on numerous runestones and other ornaments from the Viking Age. It is thought to symbolize the Viking spirit, and the sagas mention many ships used by the gods as shuttles between realms, and used during Ragnarök to transport Loki and his army of giants to slay the Æsir and bring forth the end of the world.
Meaning & Significance
A stone with a viking inscription on it.


The Midgard Serpent
Meaning & Significance
A giant serpent that is nothing but trouble for Thor and the other Æsir. ends up being killed by Thor during Ragnarök, but not before it poisons Thor who also dies as a result of this.
Saint brendan german manuscript

Kraken / Hafgufa

Legendary Sea Monster
Meaning & Significance
The Kraken is a mythological beast that is supposed to lure on seafarers on the bottom of the ocean, only to lunge up and swallow boats whole when it feels like it. The Kraken sea monster that has been described by various authors since the 1800s, is thought to be the same as the Old Norse Hafgufa which supposedly lived in the depths of the Greelandic and Icelandic seas according to mid-13th century Norwegian tract Konungs skuggsjá.
Fenrir Tullstorpstenen Runestone


World-eating Wolf
Meaning & Significance
The Fenrir Wolf is destined to swallow and destroy the world when the predetermined Ragnarök, or the end of the world, comes along. Has been depicted on runestones (like the Tullstorp stone above), drinking vessels, jewelry, and many more items dated back to the Viking Age.

Read more about Fenrir
Meaning & Significance
Odin Maskesten Moesgard

Odin’s head

Also known as “Odin’s Mask” or “Thor’s Mask”
Meaning & Significance
We do not know for sure who it is supposed to depict, but this mask shows up on at least ten different Scandinavian runestones dated back to the Viking Age (such as the Maske stone from Moesgård in Denmark). Most historians believe it is supposed to be Odin’s head or a mask used to scare and intimidate. It’s also speculated that it could be Thor instead, and some historians even mention Jesus Christ as a possibility (though the dating of some of the stones do not support this theory).
birka grave 983 goats viking age

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr

Thor’s legendary goats
Meaning & Significance
The two goats that pull Thor around as he wreacs havoc in the skies with his hammer Mjölnir; Tanngrisnir (the One With Gap Teeth), and Tanngnjóstr (the Teeth Grinder). They feature in the Norse sagas, and can be found on numerous objects and runestones dated to the Viking Age.
torslunda bronsplat berserker

Bear’s Head

Worn by Berserkers
Meaning & Significance
Elite Norse warriors have been documented to wear animal skins and heads, specifically bear (Berserkers) and wolf heads (Ulfhednars). Wearing the skin and head is supposed to have transferred the strength of the animals and raise the warriors above mere humans. It has been found on numerous Viking Age objects such as the bronze plate from Torslunda depicting a Berserker wearing a bear’s head shown above, as well as described in the Norse sagas.

Those are a few of the most famous Viking Age symbols we’ve found so far, but there are of course countless more depicted on all the runestones, jewelry, weapons, armor, and other objects from the Viking Age.

If all you’re interested in are historically accurate Norse symbols and runes, this is a good place to conclude your reading.

For those who are interested in finding out more about symbols that are not actually linked to Vikings and the Norse culture, but are commonly referred to as such anyway, let’s keep going to the murkier waters of Norse symbolism: the ahistorical symbols.

The False Viking Symbols: Nordic Symbols Commonly (But Likely Mistakenly) Linked to Norse Mythology

There are a whole bunch of symbols in use today that are assumed to be linked to the Vikings, but in reality have not been seen on any item found from the Viking age.

In some cases they’re mentioned in the sagas but never pictured anywhere, and in some cases they have just been popularized by pop culture or celebrities for no good reason.

They may be designed in a style befitting of the era, and they sure look cool — but you should know that there is very little that points to the symbols below actually being used by the Norse people who came from Scandinavia during the Viking age.

Nonetheless, here are some of the more popular symbols, or Icelandic staves as they technically are:

Meaning & Significance


“The Wayfinder”
A pathfinder sigil
Meaning & Significance
First documented in 1860 in the Huld manuscript by Geir Vigfusson, and may not stretch much further back than that according to historians such as Jackson Crawford. Geir described the meaning of the symbol like this: “Let a man carry these staves on himself, and the man will not get lost in storms nor bad weather, though he is unaquanted”. Often seen and portrayed in pop culture as some sort of “viking compass”, which there is no evidence for.


“The Helm of Awe”
Meaning & Significance
Is mentioned by name in the Poetic Edda as a helmet that is supposed to bring the wearer more courage and cause others to look upon him in awe. But we do not see the actual symbol pictured above until it shows up in an Icelandic manuscript dating back to the 1600s (now in the national library of Iceland). In this manuscript, the symbol is supposed to be “printed on ones forehand when meeting ones enemy, who shall then be overcome”.
Meaning & Significance


Meaning & Significance
First documented in 1860 in the Huld manuscript by Geir Vigfusson, and may not stretch much further back than that according to historians such as Jackson Crawford. Geir described the meaning of the symbol like this: “Strengthening symbols. Carry these symbols on your left chest, in order to strengthen up the mind”.


The Sleep Thorn
Meaning & Significance
The Svefnthorn is mentioned numerous times in many of the sagas so there is no doubt that the word and tool that is described in the sagas is connected to the Old Norse world (Where it is described as a magical tool that puts adversaries to sleep). However, we do not know if there is a symbol attached to this tool, or indeed how the symbol looks; as we have not found the actual symbol drawn on any object from the Viking Age (only mentioned in text). The actual symbol depicted above is first documented in the Huld manuscript from 1860.

If you want to learn more about why these symbols may not date back to or be linked to the Viking Age, here’s Jackson Crawford’s (Old Norse specialist with a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies) very informative takes on the Ægishjalmur and Vegvísir respectively:

Ægishjálmur (“The Helm of Awe”)

Dr. Crawford taught courses in Norse language, myth, and sagas at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and University of Colorado over the years 2011-2020, and is currently on a mission to teach full-time through YouTube & Patreon.

Vegvísir (wrongly called "Viking Compass")

His videos are always informative, based on actual evidence, very thorough, and well worth a watch if you’re interested in the Old Norse world.

More Ahistorical Symbols: Rudolphs Koch’s Symbols in The Book of Signs

German typographer Rudolph Koch published a book in 1930 with 493 classified and documented illustrations – collected, drawn, and explained by himself.

Koch doesn’t really provide any sources for these symbols, but he does include most of the Younger Futhark runes, and somehow attributes the symbols below to either Nordic, Pagan, or Germanic origins:

Meaning & Significance
triceps nordic symbol rudolph koch


Meaning & Significance
The Triceps is included in Rudolph Kuch’s “The Book of Signs”, and is described as “an old Nordic sign” and “a symbol of heavenly power”. Famously used by the Japanese car manufacturer Mitsubishi Motors. It has not been found to have any connection to Vikings or the Norse world.
sunwheel symbol rudolph koch

Sunwheel / The Cross of Wotan

Meaning & Significance
The Sunwheel or Cross of Wotan is included in Rudolph Kuch’s “The Book of Signs”, and is either linked to the sun or Odin (Wotan). It is also described as “from the early Germanic peoples, and nothing further is known of it”. It has not been found to have any connection to Vikings or the Norse world.
the dragons eye symbols rudolph koch

The Dragon’s Eye

Meaning & Significance
The Dragon’s Eye is included in Rudolph Kuch’s “The Book of Signs”, and is described as “from the early Germanic peoples, and nothing further is known of it”. It has not been found to have any connection to Vikings or the Norse world.
Meaning & Significance
eight angled figure rudolph koch

Eight-angled figure

Meaning & Significance
The Eight-angled figure or the sign of the Dehmic Courts is included in Rudolph Kuch’s “The Book of Signs”, and is described as “from the early Germanic peoples, and nothing further is known of it”. It is a variant of the swastika, and has not been found to have any connection to Vikings or the Norse world.
the eye of fire symbol rudolph koch

The Eye of Fire

Meaning & Significance
The Eye of Fire is included in Rudolph Kuch’s “The Book of Signs”, and is described as “from the early Germanic peoples, and nothing further is known of it”. It has not been found to have any connection to Vikings or the Norse world.
the eight spoked wheel symbol rudolph koch

The Eight-spoked Wheel

Meaning & Significance
The Eight-spoked wheel is included in Rudolph Kuch’s “The Book of Signs”, and is described as “from the early Germanic peoples, and nothing further is known of it”. It has not been found to have any connection to Vikings or the Norse world.

None of these symbols have been found to have any type of connection to the Norse people of Scandinavia, nor even the Germanic people of Iron Age Europe, and to illustrate this we can look at how vaguely Koch describes his sources:

On many of the signs illustrated in this book the Nordic influence can be clearly traced, but the basic forms, with their wealth of significance and symbolism, undoubtedly take us back to the dim, remote and unfathomed ages of Mankind in the far Eastern countries of this World.

Rudolph Koch, The Book of Signs p. 104

In other words, take these meanings with a grain of salt (to say the least)!

By the way, if you're looking for some historically accurate viking apparel and wall art, I've designed a large collection of Norse wall art and apparel based on and inspired by actual archeological finds from Viking Age Scandinavia.

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By Karl Andersson

As a native Swede with a Finnish mother, Karl identifies as both Nordic and Scandinavian. He left Sweden at 19 to explore the world, and stayed abroad for almost 8 years—during which he backpacked, worked every job there was, earned a degree from UC Berkeley, and met the future mother of his children. He ultimately returned to his native Malmö with his love, where they now have 3 Swedish-American boys eager to explore the world.


  1. Hi Karl,
    I am curious about the following symbol: it looks like an arrow pointing upward, with a leaflike body drawn over the arrow and a bird head on the top where the arrow head would be. It comes up if you google norse friendship symbol. Do you have any ideas around this one? Cheers, Christina

  2. Hi Karl,
    I’ve seen images of the “protects against poison” apparently a Norse symbol flying around the internet but can’t find any history behind it, wondering if you have any info on the symbol? It’s a long jagged X.

  3. Thanks for all this information. It will take me a while to digest it. I heard about runes as a divination tool a couple of decades ago, but it never occurred to me they were alphabets. My mom’s side of the family is from Finland and came to the Michigan and Wisconsin area of the US in the late 1800’s. I don’t know if there is a family connection with countries near Finland. I never learned how to “divine” with runes but I like the feel of them in my hands for some reason. Your information on the history of runes makes me wonder.

    1. Thanks for reading Liz!

      Finland certainly has a connection to the Norse runes, as Norsemen and their ancestors have settled on the coast of Finland since the Bronze Age. Whole runestones have been found off the coast of Finland as well, and it’s clear that there was a steady flow of Vikings heading east to Gardarike via Finland.

      You can read more here about Finnish roots here: https://nordicperspective.com/facts/finnish-heritage-origin-of-finns

  4. Just one question, how is the correct way for the runes to interact with, i mean, is there a way to elaborate a word or a bigger symbol including some of them? Are there some rules about it?

    1. Hi Miguel!

      The only rules regarding rune usage would likely be to either:

      A) Use them as sounds (such as our modern-day letters in the alphabet)

      B) Use them to represent their meaning (such as ᚦ, “Thurs”, being connected to the Jötunns, Frost Giants, and the Æsir Thor, who you might be familiar with)

      Ultimately we don’t know exactly how the Old Norse people used the runes other than the aforementioned uses, so it’s possible that they used them in other ways too, especially as they considered them to hold magical powers in some cases (a specific magic they called “Seidr”).

      If you have any more specific questions just let me know!


  5. It’s so odd how Rudolph Kuch basically wrote a bunch of Norse/viking fanfiction and tried to pass it off as fact. He should have written fiction instead!

    1. He did have a very active imagination, that’s for sure!

      In general, it’s pretty common that people take liberties in interpreting old symbols and especially their meanings. Just google “Viking symbols” and one of the most commonly seen ones is the Vegvísir, which is not a symbols used by the Vikings as far as we know and wasn’t even documented or inscribed anywhere until 800 years after the Viking Age ended.

      So yeah… people in general tend to have active imaginations. 🙂

  6. Curious I have seen some runes over layer into others is that something that was historically used and if so how would that be done?

  7. Karl I’m looking for a symbol I can use for Christmas. I’m creating a logo for a fan of the Celts and Vikings and wondering where I can find such and element for usage. Thank you in advance.

  8. Dear Karl,
    I’m looking for possible connections between scythian and celtic/germanic art. I’m sure, you came upon the beautifully designed golden items of the scythian culture. The way, creatural figures merge into tribals. So, since European people seem to be derived from pontic steppe people genetically, do you think, that also European ancient art could be connected to it?

    1. Hi Martin!

      Very interesting theory! It seems likely that at least parts of human culture would travel with the migrating humans as they made their way north, but I haven’t really looked into Scythian art at all so not sure how feasible it would be in the end. Let me know if you find anything of interest in your studies!


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