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Monday, August 18, 2014

The "Elder" Futhark

Alright... getting on with the theme of Rune Magick, now we look at the Gothic or "Elder" Futhark, the system of runes most commonly used in North America and some parts of Europe by runecasters. Sometimes this system is also called the Common Germanic Futhark, though there is a slight difference between the two in the ordering of a couple of the runes. 

Let it be said here, that the "Elder" Futhark Runes almost certainly had uses far beyond mere divination - however, aside from a few mysterious Rune-stones (far more survive for the Younger Futhark), little context survives of their usage... today in the United States, it's often the only Runic system most practitioners know of, and all sorts of people from part-time psychics and wiccans to hard-core Asatruars use the "Elder" runes for divination and occasionally bindrunes and inscription spells. Most of the divination methods are of modern invention, and it's impossible to know for sure how the early pre-Viking Norse peoples used the Elder Futhark in castings. Tacitus provides a few clues to the rune-casting practices of their southern kinfolk in Germania, and his account is contemporary to the period of the Elder Futhark's usage, but his description of the practice is typically vague, in classic dismissive xenophobic Roman style.

The meanings of these runes are difficult to glean. Unlike the Younger Futhark and the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, there is no original rune poem surviving for the Elder Futhark. Their meanings and even their pronunciations have had to be reconstructed based on later sources and what is known of the Gothic language. However, since many of the same runes are present in the Anglo-Saxon system, the Anglo-Saxon rune poem provides some clues as to their meanings. 


The Elder Futhark is considered the ancestor of both the Younger and Anglo-Saxon systems, though by divergent means. The Younger Futhark was derived through contraction and likely "reverse-engineering" by Viking skalds in the 6th and 7th centuries in Scandinavia, to return the Runes to their more primal and esoteric Odinic form of 18 Runes, as mentioned in the Hávamál, of which only the first 16 were revived successfully by the Viking skalds. The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc by contrast was developed far earlier in Germany and Frisia through a complex and variegated process of expansion by various German tribes, a process which typically inched forward following military conquests, and continued after the Futhorc was exported to England by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons in the 5th century CE.

What follows is a condensed breakdown of the literal meanings of each rune followed by the generally accepted esoteric meanings used in Runic divination and magickal work. The reverse (upside-down) and murk-stave (left-horizontal) positions are symbolic of potential negative tendencies of that rune. Typically runes rotated right-horizontal can be viewed positively (as in an upright rune), with caution - except when a rune is in some way symmetrical, and thus identical in upright and reversed position (in which case all horizontal forms may be considered "murk"). Alternately, you can also adapt the more symbolic and nuanced divination method used in Armanen divination.


The Elder Futhark, rightly or wrongly, has been divided in modern times into three "Aetts" or sets of Eight, for a total of 24 runes. The infamous 25th "blank rune" sometimes added to the Elder Futhark is a new-age commercial invention with no basis in any rune tradition.


Freyr's Aett (or Yggdrasil's Root of Arising)



Fehu: (F: Domestic cattle, wealth.) Possessions won or earned, earned income, luck. Abundance, financial strength in the present or near future. Sign of hope and plenty, success and happiness. Financial success. Energy, foresight, fertility, creation/transformation.

Fehu Reversed or Murkstave: Loss of personal property, esteem, or something that you put in effort to keep. It indicates some sort of failure. Greed, burnout, atrophy, discord. Cowardice, stupidity, poverty, slavery, bondage.



Uruz: (U: Aurochs, a wild ox.) Physical strength and speed, untamed potential. The primitive and untainted original state of things. A time of great energy and health. Strength and longevity in old age. Freedom, raw energy, perseverance, tenacity, understanding, ancient wisdom. Sexual desire, potency. The shaping of power and pattern, formulation of the self.

Uruz Reversed or Murkstave: Weakness, obsession, misdirected force, domination by others. Sickness, inconsistency, instability, ignorance. Impulsiveness, brutality, rashness, callousness, rage.



Thurisaz: (TH: Thorn, the god Thor, or a Giant.) Reactive force, directed force of destruction and defense, conflict. Instinctual will, vital eroticism, regenerative catalyst. A tendency toward change. Purging, cleansing fire. Male sexuality, penetrative energy, fertilization. (Thor, the Thunder god, is both a god of fertility and protector of man against the Giants.)

Thurisaz Reversed or Murkstave: Danger, defenselessness, compulsion, betrayal, dullness. Evil, malice, hatred, torment, violence, spite, lies. A bad man or woman. Rape?



Ansuz: (A: The Asa, ancestral god, i.e. Odin.) A revealing message or insight, communication. Signals, inspiration, enthusiasm, speech, true vision, power of words and naming. Blessings, the taking of advice. Good health, harmony, truth, wisdom. 

Ansuz Reversed or Murkstave: Misunderstanding, delusion, manipulation by others, boredom. Vanity and grandiloquence. (Odin is a mighty, but cunning god. He always has his own agenda, and may send disaster upon those who prove unworthy of his gifts and guidance.)



Raidho: (R: The Ride, wagon, wheel or chariot.) Travel, both in physical terms and those of lifestyle direction. A journey, relocation, evolution, change of place or setting. Seeing a larger perspective, Right Action, Ritual, worldly wisdom. Seeing the right move to make and deciding upon it. Personal rhythm, world rhythm, dance of life. 

Raidho Reversed or Murkstave: Crisis, rigidity, stasis, injustice, irrationality. Disruption, dislocation, demotion, delusion, possibly a death.



Kenaz: (K: Beacon or torch.) Vision, revelation, knowledge, creativity, inspiration,  intuitive knowledge, cunning, technical ability. Vital fire of life, harnessed power, fire of transformation and regeneration. Power to create your own reality, the power of light. Open to new strength, energy, and power now. Passion, sexual love. 

Kenaz Reversed or Murkstave: Disease, breakup, instability, lack of creativity. Nakedness, exposure, loss of illusion and false hope.



Gebo: (G: Gift.) Gifts, both in the sense of sacrifice and of generosity, indicating balance. All matters in relation to exchanges, including contracts, personal relationships and partnerships. 

Gebo Murkstave (Gebo cannot be reversed, but may lie in perpendicular opposition): Greed, loneliness, dependence, over-sacrifice, unrequited giving. Obligation, toll, privation, bribery.



Wunjo: (W or V: Joy.) Joy, comfort, pleasure. Fellowship, harmony, prosperity. Ecstasy, glory, spiritual reward, but also the possibility of going "over the top". If restrained, the meaning is general success and recognition of worth. 

Wunjo Reversed or Murkstave: Stultification, boredom, sorrow, strife, alienation. Delirium, intoxication, possession by higher forces, impractical enthusiasm. Raging frenzy, berserker.



Heimdall's Aett (or Yggdrasil's Root of Being)



Hagalaz: (H: Hail.) Wrath of nature, destructive, uncontrolled forces, especially the weather, or within the unconscious - but also the ability to withstand them and regrow. Tempering, testing, trial. Controlled crisis, leading to completion, inner harmony. 

Hagalaz Murkstave (Hagalaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Natural disaster, catastrophe. Stagnation, loss of power. Pain, loss, suffering, hardship, sickness, crisis.



Naudhiz: (N: Need.) Delays, restriction. Resistance leading to strength, innovation, need-fire (self-reliance). Distress, confusion, conflict, and the power of will to overcome them. Acceptance of shortcomings, and determination to find a better solution to them. A time to exercise patience. Recognition of one's fate. Major self-initiated change. Face your fears. 

Naudhiz Murkstave (Naudhiz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Constraint of freedom, distress, toil, drudgery, laxity. Necessity, extremity, want, deprivation, starvation, need, poverty, emotional hunger.



Isa: (I: Ice.) A challenge or frustration. Psychological blocks to thought or activity, including grievances. Standstill, truce with the ego, or a time to turn inward and wait for what is to come, or to seek clarity. This rune reinforces runes around it. 

Isa Murkstave (Isa cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Ego-mania, dullness, blindness, dissipation. Treachery, illusion, deceit, betrayal, guile, stealth, ambush, plots.



Jera: (J or Y: A year, a good harvest.) The results of earlier efforts are realized. A time of peace and happiness, fruitful season. It can break through stagnancy. Hopes and expectations of peace and prosperity. The promise of success earned. Life cycle, cyclical pattern of the universe. Everything changes, in its own time. 

Jera Murkstave (Jera cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Sudden setback, reversals. A major change, repetition, bad timing, poverty, conflict.



Eihwaz: (EI: Yew tree.) Strength, reliability, dependability, trustworthiness. Enlightenment, endurance. Life and death. Defense and offense, barbed protection against evil magick. Strongly rooted and beautiful, with a sense of purpose. Indicates that you have set your sights on a reasonable target and can achieve your goals precisely. An effective person who can be relied upon as an ally, and is to be dreaded by enemies. 

Eihwaz Murkstave (Eihwaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Confusion, destruction, dissatisfaction, weakness.



Perthro: (P: Lot cup, pear tree, vagina.) Uncertain meaning, a secret matter, a mystery, hidden things and occult abilities. Initiation, knowledge of one's destiny, knowledge of future matters, determining the future or your path. Pertaining to things feminine, feminine mysteries including female fertility, and vagina. Trysts without obligations. Good lot, fellowship and joy. Evolutionary change. 

Perthro Reversed or Murkstave: Addiction, stagnation, loneliness, malaise.



Algiz/Elhaz: (Z or -R: Elk, protection.) Protection, a shield. The protective urge to shelter oneself or others. Defense, warding off of evil, shield, guardian. Connection with the gods, awakening, higher life. It can be used to channel energies appropriately. Follow your instincts. Keep hold of success or maintain a position won or earned. 

Algiz Reversed: or Murkstave: Hidden danger, consumption by divine forces, loss of divine link. Taboo, warning, turning away, that which repels.



Sowilo: (S: The sun.) Success, goals achieved, honor. The life-force, health. A time when power will be available to you for positive changes in your life, victory, health, and success. Contact between the higher self and the unconscious. Wholeness, power, elemental force, sword of flame, cleansing fire. 

Sowilo Murkstave (Sowilo cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): False goals, bad counsel, false success, gullibility, loss of goals. Destruction, retribution, justice, casting down of vanity. Wrath of god.



Tyr's Aett (or Yggdrasil's Root of Passing Away towards new Arising)



Tiwaz: (T: Tyr, the sky god.) Honor, justice, leadership and authority. Analysis, rationality. Knowing where one's true strengths lie. Willingness to self-sacrifice. Victory and success in any competition or in legal matters. 

Tiwaz Reversed or Murkstave: One's energy and creative flow are blocked. Mental paralysis, over-analysis, over-sacrifice, injustice, imbalance. Strife, war, conflict, failure in competition. Dwindling passion, difficulties in communication, and possibly separation.



Berkana: (B: Berchta, the birch-goddess.) Birth, general fertility, both mental and physical and personal growth, liberation. Regenerative power and light of spring, renewal, promise of new beginnings, new growth. Arousal of desire. Pleasure that leads to parenthood (a closed-off counterpart of Perthro). A new birth or the likelihood of one. The prospering of an enterprise or venture. 

Berkana Reversed or Murkstave: Family problems and or domestic troubles. Anxiety about someone close to you. Carelessness, abandon, loss of control. Blurring of consciousness, deceit, sterility, stagnation.



Ehwaz: (E: Horse, two horses.) Transportation and partnership. Movement and change for the better. Gradual development and steady progress are indicated. Harmony, teamwork, trust, loyalty. An ideal marriage or long-term partnership. Confirmation beyond doubt of the meanings of any positive runes drawn alongside it. 

Ehwaz Reversed or Murkstave: This is not really a negative rune. A change is perhaps craved. Lack of adequate partner. Feeling restless or confined in a situation. A seed of potential for reckless haste, disharmony, mistrust, betrayal.



Mannaz: (M: Man, mankind.) The Self; the individual or mankind. Your attitude toward others and their attitudes towards you. Friends and enemies, social order. Intelligence, forethought, create, skill, ability. Divine structure, intelligence, awareness. Expect to receive some sort of short-term aid or cooperation now. 

Mannaz Reversed or Murkstave: Depression, mortality, blindness, self-delusion. Cunning, slyness, manipulation, craftiness, calculation. Expect no help now.



Laguz: (L: Water, a lake, or a leek.) Flow, water, sea, fertile source, healing power of renewal. Life energy and organic growth. Imagination and psychic matters. Dreams, mysteries, the unknown/hidden, the deep, the underworld. Success in travel or acquisition, but with the possibility of loss as the price of a life lesson. 

Laguz Reversed or Murkstave: An indication of confusion in your life. You may be making poor judgments. Lack of creativity, being in a rut. Fear, avoidance, withering away, wasted energy. Madness, obsession, sickness, despair.



Ingwaz: (NG: Ing, the god of fertility, usually understood to be Freyr.) Male fertility, gestation, internal growth. Common virtues, common sense, simple strengths, family love, caring, human warmth, the home. Rest stage, a time of relief, of no anxiety. A time when all loose strings are tied and you are free to move in a new direction. Be shining in your confidence.

Ingwaz Murkstave (Ingwaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition - check the grain of the wood!): Impotence, movement without change. Production, toil, labor, work, often seemingly with no result in sight. Mental burnout.



Dagaz: (D: Day or dawn.) Breakthrough, awakening, awareness. Daylight clarity as opposed to nighttime uncertainty. A time to embark upon an enterprise. The power of change directed by your will, transformation. Hope/happiness. Security and certainty. Growth and release. Balance point, where opposites meet; time when one phase ends, and another begins. 

Dagaz Murkstave (Dagaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): A completion, ending, limit, coming full circle - but without fulfilling results. Blindness, hopelessness, no new dawn for you.



Othala: (O: Ancestral property.) Inherited property or possessions, a house, a home. What is truly important to one. Group order, noble authority, group prosperity. Land of birth, spiritual heritage, experience and fundamental values. Aid in spiritual and physical journeys. Source of safety, increase and abundance. 

Othala Reversed or Murkstave: Lack of customary order, anarchy, slavery, poverty, homelessness. Bad karma, betrayal of hospitality, feuds, clannishness, provincialism. What a man is bound to.



Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Valknut - a symbol of sacrifice

The word valknut (or valknútr  in Norwegian) is usually believed to be a neologism - a modern reconstruction, being a combination of the terms valr, ‘the dead’ or literally ‘the fallen’1 and knut, meaning 'knot' or 'binding'. While the word itself is Norwegian, rather than Old Norse, the actual age of its origins is lost in time. The symbol itself, however, is undoubtedly very old; it dates back to the Viking age and even further. Valknútr  thus means "knot of the fallen" or "binding of the slain". It is a Norse symbol of three interconnected triangles. The triangles may be joined in two ways: either as Borromean:




or Unicursal:


Note that other types of geometric "valknuts", such as the closed three-link chain, the triquetra, or the "Penrose triangle" are never called "valknut" or "valknútr " in Norwegian culture, and are never associated with fallen warriors in Viking age carvings, whereas the Borromean and unicursal valknuts are. One should keep that in mind when using the valknut in Viking tattoos or Heathen heraldry, since only the above two designs are genuine Viking-age valknuts. 

There are a few modern or recently rediscovered variants of the valknut, which, however, may be considered valid even though they are not identical to the archaeologically attested forms. Most spectacular of these is a version which combines both the Borromean and unicursal forms into a sort of "Grand Valknut":



In essence this is two valknuts in one, forming twelve corners instead of the regular Borromean valknut's nine. While this complex version is apparently not attested in the archaeological record (and quite honestly, just try staring at this thing for a couple of minutes and see if your head doesn't hurt), it operates along the same lines as the previous two. If it were ever used in the past in any Germanic or Indo-European warrior tradition (and I am not implying that it hasn't been), one would imagine that this type of valknut would only be for the most legendary and perfect warriors (in every aspect) who only appear once in a century or more - an Arhat's knot, so to speak. Esoterically, the twelve corners in the design would point to the God of war, Tyr - the ultimate warrior, whose rune, symbolizing sacrifice and victory at all costs, is the 12th rune in the Odinic or Armanen system of 18 holy runes.

However, if one is going purely for accuracy to the surviving history and artifacts, only the first two types of valknuts are academically attested (and in our time of total reliance on technology, I doubt one can even still find a warrior worthy of the "Arhat's knot" anyway, as strength alone is far from enough).

So what is the traditional meaning of the valknut, and how do we know?

Consider the "Borromean triangles" type of valknut, which occurs on the Stora Hammars stone I (one of four related carved Viking-age stones) at the town of Lärbro, on the island of Gotland in Sweden.


The Borromean Valknut:




Valknut and Odin carving in a warrior's funeral scene, near the top of Stora Hammars stone I


Here above the valknut we see a raven, Odin’s symbol. Below the valknut is a structure which depicts a funeral pyre made of stacked-up wood beams. A dead warrior is put there by someone with a spear, followed by great warriors with shields and swords (or possibly clubs) and accompanied by another raven. The spear is probably Gungnir, Odin’s weapon, and the bearded, bare-headed figure holding it is traditionally understood to be Odin himself. Another sign of Odin’s presence in this scene is a warrior with a shield hanged on a tree to the left of the pyre, which may symbolize Odin's self-hanging sacrifice on Yggdrasil to gain the Runes (Hávamál, verses 138-145), or it could also (more likely) represent the hanged man mentioned in Hávamál  verse 157, whom Odin has the power to resurrect. There is a smaller figure between the hanged man and the rear of the pyre (whose head touches one of the lower points on the valknut) - this figure has a beard, a hat, and a walking stick, indicating Odin's preferred form when journeying in Midgard, the "gray wanderer" or "hoary old Loremaster" (Hávamál, verses 134).  All the symbols and images around the valknut, which is in a central position here, point to the valknut as a symbol of a warrior's death and to Odin as a god of slain warriors who welcomes these Einherjar into Valhalla.

In addition the three figures arranged immediately around the dead warrior's pyre seem to point to three of Odin's forms/titles:

1. Valfódr  or "father or the slain"
2. Hangatyr or "the hanged god" (or possibly  the hanged man he revives in Hávamál verse 157)
3. Fimbulthulr  (the "great Loremaster") or Hárumthulr  (the "hoary [aged] Loremaster")


The Unicursal Valknut:

The unicursal type of valknut (which can be drawn with one stroke) appears twice on the Tängelgårda stone (also located at 
Lärbro, in Gotland, Sweden):

Valknuts and warriors on the Tängelgårda stone


Once again we see the warrior motifs.

First on the upper level, we see three warriors with swords pointing down to the ground (perhaps symbolizing the act of consecrating the ground or a burial spot with weapons) and they appear to be wearing hats or helmets of some sort. On the right, an 8-legged horse (clearly Odin's war-steed Sleipnir) is walking in the opposite direction, with a bare-headed, bearded man lying face down on its back (probably Odin, as depicted in the previous Stora Hammar stone). Odin's spear is now shown hanging from the harness on Sleipnir's neck. Between is rear pairs of Sleipnir's legs is a triangular object on the ground, and between the two front legs is what appears like the bent leg of a slain enemy, with the knee pointing up, also implying a triangular form.  Sleipnir also appears to be wearing some sort of horned head-armor - a hint of preparation for war, and that Odin - laying on Sleipnir's back like a dead man - knows his fate from the Völva of the Dead, whom he raises up to consult in the Völuspá, and thus fully expects to die at Ragnarök.

In the lower level of this carving, we see a warrior with a shield (bearing a spiral sunwheel pattern similar to the Armenien Arevakach) on a normal 4-legged horse (i.e. he is probably a ritter or knight) stepping over two unicursal valknuts (symbolizing, perhaps, triumph over death iteslf by embracing the noble Odinic path of fearlessness towards death) followed by armed servants or retainers (note the daggers or Seaxes on their belts) bearing arm-rings or oath-rings. There is also a third triangular structure underneath the hind-legs of the horse - not a valknut, but a loser triangle with a spear-point at the lower-left corner, angled towards the ground. This may well indicate a "third valknut" that has not yet been completed, a third phase of this mounted warrior's life (out of the three phases of "arising", "being", and "passing away to new arising") that has yet to run its course (the man is clearly alive). Behind the rider's head is another structure which may be an upside-down valknut, but does not appear complete, or maybe is simply partially obscured by the ring the footman behind him is holding up. In front of the warrior's horse is a bare-headed, bearded figure, similar to the Odin figure on Sleipnir's back, and the Odin figure in the Stora Hammar stone;  he is hulding up an arm and may be blessing or consecrating the warrior for battle as the horse passes over the valknuts. Again, the valknut appears as a symbol likely representing sanctified battle, sacrifice of one's own life, and the passing of the warrior through phases into the afterlife of the Einherjar.

The presence of the multiple oath-rings  in the hands of the armed retainers behind the mounted warrior, evokes other imaged of Indo-European ceremonies in the ancient world. Indeed this procession is nearly identical to other depictions of marches in those Indo-European cultures untainted by herder mentality, in which tribute-bearing warriors carrying such valuable rings proudly and willingly followed a great Jarl or Warrior-King (instead of being dragged in chains as slaves, as in the art of Greco-Roman or Semitic societies).



Here we see Scythian warriors bearing tribute to Darius the Great of Persia at Takht-e-Jamshid ("Persepolis").  Once again, there is a horse and oath-rings, though here the horse is not ridden as it is a gift for King Darius. You can see them wearing similar long cloaks and the same sort of straight Seax-type dagger as in the Viking carving. The name Seax or Sax (Sakhu in eastern Aryan tongues) must be very old indeed, predating the divergence of eastern and western Indo-European peoples, as both the Saxons and the Scythians (Saka) took their name from this weapon. Of further note is their headgear - pointed caps with a long tail-piece at the rear. This is similar to the "tailed" hats of the Norse warriors on the Tängelgarda stone, except that theirs lack the tall vertical point at the top. The fact that the dagger handles and sheaths closely resemble early Germanic ones also cannot be ignored. Also very notable is the fact that the Scythian man standing beside the horse is aligned perfectly with the space between its legs, and just under the center of the horse's belly, extends the top of his dagger sheath - a sign of the warrior, prepared to go "below the horse" (i.e. to die in battle and fall to the ground, pass beneath the bodies of horses, and go to the warriors' hall). This type of subtle horseman imagery is in fact deeply tied in with some Norse Valknut imagery on a very primal Indo-European level, as related horse cultures with a farmer base (see below with the valknut coins). Very few other cultures in history allowed vassal nations the honor of bearing their arms in the presence of the King - and nearly all of them had an Indo-European heritage. Darius was himself was both a very capable King and administrator and a highly successful general with a dizzyingly long military career spanning over thirty nations and kingdoms.

The valknut itself, however, does not appear on artifacts outside of Northern Europe, though again, this may not mean the symbol was unknown to other Indo-European peoples and traditions further south and east. The trifos or triskelion was far more widespread among these cultures however.


Other Historic Examples of the Valknut:

Other instances of the valknut in Viking ornaments are Lillbjars III stone, the River Nene ring, and a bedpost found on the Oseberg ship. They all have warrior or horseman connotations. German researcher Tom Hellers has documented many artifacts engraved with the triangular valknut symbol, in his 2012 book Valknútr: Das Dreiecksymbol der Wikingerzeit ("Valknútr: The Triangle-symbol of the Viking-age").


Hellers' 5 documented forms of the Valknútr symbol (Valknútr: Das Dreiecksymbol der Wikingerzeit, p. 74)

According to some Norwegian oral traditions, when a particularly valiant and fearless warrior fell in battle, it was customary for his tribe to cut the the valknut into the skin of his chest with a knife, to mark him literally on the heart as one of the Einherjar, the fearless warriors of Odin, so that the Valkyries may more easily identify him and take his soul straight to Odin's hall in Valhalla (or, if Freyja chooses him instead, then he is taken to her hall Fólkvangr – either way, to prepare for the final battle of Ragnarök.) A couple of very rare gold rings have also been found inscribed with this warrior symbol, and they would have most likely been the possessions of elite Jarls or warrior nobility.


Valknut carving on the Nene River ring, Peterborough, England. 8th-9th century.
It contains some Anglo-Saxon design elements (such as the "grapes") in addition to the valknut.
Whether this particular valknut was due to direct Viking 'Danelaw' influence in England, or of Anglo-Saxon origin, is debated.

That's the literal, exoteric meaning, anyway. The original metaphysical meaning and function of the valknut's elements, the three interlocking triangles, is not wholly clear. The number three is a very common magick number in many cultures. However, in a Scandinavian context, three multiplied by three might designate the nine worlds (the Borromean valknut has nine true corners), which are united by the Yggdrasil tree, which is said to have three main roots. Likewise, Odin, to whom the valknut is intimately linked, is said to have performed a ritual of self-sacrifice upon Yggdrasil for nine days and nights in order to win the Runes, of which he specifically mentions 18 in number (a multiple of nine). 


Carved valknut on an elaborately decorated bedpost found in the Oseberg Viking ship.

In modern times of course, the valknut, like the Norse variant of the Triquetra, and the Horn Triskelion,(the three horns of Óðrerir) is often interpreted as a symbol pointing to Germanic Heathen (and more specifically, Odinic) convictions.


Figure with a pointed hat or helmet (likely Odin)  riding on horseback, with a valknut and the "Triple Horns of Óðrerir (the Mead of Poetry)" symbol. 
Detail from the Lillbjars III stone.
Coin from Ribe, Denmark, with a war horse standing over a valknut (symbolizing the fallen warrior) and the Sun shining above. The horse is  facing a coiled snake, perhaps a sign of cunning foes.
Coin from Ribe, Denmark, with a war horse standing over a valknut on one side, and four masks of Odin on the other (the crosses on the central mask, possibly Mimir's face, are equilateral solar crosses, originally  common to Indo-European pagan cultures - not Christian crosses).


Similar coin from Viborg, Denmark, with a war horse standing over a valknut, again with Sun and serpent on the coin as well. The valknut here is very bold and well-defined. This coin has suffered some damage, and also had holes punched in it around the Sun symbol, likely to be worn as a necklace pendant.



Valknut coin from Northumbria, England (Viking Age, Danelaw). Here the Valknut is on the opposite face of the coin from the war horse, which is standing over a gormur or sacred spiral (a sign of a soul's journey between lives). This coin has suffered some damage, and also had a hole punched in it, likely to be worn as a necklace pendant. The horn-shaped and "telephone-shaped" symbols on the valknut side may be weights and measures reflecting the value of the coin.



Wooden plate from the Oseberg ship in Norway, with valknut carved in the center. The plate has since undergone some scratches and minor damage. The ship, with its multiple Valknut-decorated objects, is believed to have been a wealthy warrior's burial.


Is it really "Hrungnir's Heart"?:

However, knot of the slain is not the only possible interpretation of the valknut. It is also alleged that this symbol was called "Hrungnir’s heart". This name is based on a description found in the Prose Edda, specifically the poem Skáldskaparmál , the "recounting of the words of Skálds", which describes Thor's fight with the giant Hrungnir ("brawler"):

Hrungnir had a heart that was famous. It was made of hard stone with three sharp-pointed corners, formed just like the carved symbol, which men call Hrungnir’s Heart (hrungnishjarta).”

                                                                                                                            - Skáldskaparmál, chapter 17

In fact "Hrungnir's heart" is the term sometimes used for the triangular Valknut symbol today, though it could also refer to the pointed "leaf-triquetra" found in some Rune-stones, or perhaps another triangular symbol similar to the non-valknut one found in the Tängelgårda stone. However, the actual Valknut itself is found in multiple stone carvings associated with Odin, not Hrungnir. In addition, the triangular valknut is probably not the same symbol as Hrungnir's heart, because it does not actually have three corners - in all three known versions of the valknut, it has six corners, if you just count the outer ones. If you count both the outer and inner corners of all the lines in each version, the unicursal valknut has 6 corners, the Borromean valknut has 9 corners, and the "grand valknut" or Arhat's knot, has 12. So NONE of these symbols have literally three corners, making it unlikely any form of the triangular vaknut symbol is "Hrungnir's Heart".

However, there is a triangular symbol with three corners which may well be Hrungnir's heart - it even appears to have three chambers in its 2-dimensional depiction on a stone (perhaps it may have had a fourth one on its hindside in a sort of tetrahedral configuration?), and it appears on the Lillbjars III stone, below a ship which stands below a carving of  a horseman (likely Odin) with a valknut above him. We know that Germanic duels - symbolized by the deadly duel between Thor and Hrungnir - were referred to as holmganga in Old Norse, which is a much more colorful and indicative term than the German equivalent, urteilkampf. The term holmganga literally means "going to an island" since duels were traditionally held on small, uninhabited islands not claimed by any Jarl or king, and separated from the mainland by either ocean or lake, to prevent any sort of intervention by forces loyal to either combatant. Thus, both combatants would have to row out to the island in a boat, as well as a third person usually being there to witness and intervene if there was any cheating in the duel. At the end, one of the two combatants would be killed, and the winner and the "referee" would get in the boat and row back to shore. This tradition would have also been commonly associated with archetypal duels, such as that of Thor against Hrungnir, a giant of chaos. On this stone, we see two figures, likely Thor and a companion (possibly Hymir or Thjalfi) on a ship returning from the duel. Below the ship, in the sea and near the island with windswept trees (at bottom) is a strange three-pointed symbol.




Viking-Age bronze artifact of the same symbol - possibly the real Hrungnir's Heart.

Clearly this symbol is not the Valknut, but it was well-known in the Viking Age, as both a carved symbol (as mentioned in Skáldskaparmál, chapter 17) and a cast bronze decoration. And it does have three corners and three "chambers"; more like a heart than the Odinic valknut ever was. But the Lillbjars III stone holds other secrets. On this stone, there is a lady offering mead to Odin, and we know it is Odin because despite his horse having only 4 legs (Sleipnir was not the only horse he ever rode, after all), he has above him both the unicursal valknut (albeit, a bit crudely carved) and the three horns of Óðrerir, the Mead of Poetry, which he snatched out of Jötunheim to give to the other Gods, per the Hávamál, verses 104-110. The lady offering the mead has been interpreted as his lover, the giantess Gunnlöð (Hávamál, verse 105) or alternatively, as one of the Valkyries. This lady with a mead horn is also depicted offering it to Odin in another carving which does depict him riding the 8-legged Sleipnir, on the Tjängvide stone, in Alskog (also in Gotland, Sweden):


The Tjängvide stone. 

Note the depiction of Odin, possibly wearing a "tailed" hat like the attendants in the Tängelårda  stone, and riding a very large Sleipnir (whose phallus appears to be doing some very peculiar things) while a lady in front of the horse offers a mead horn to Odin. Odin's flying spear has already pierced a man and is carrying him towards a large cave, or roofed hall (possibly the entrance to Valhalla). Behind the lady, there is a wolf-like creature, on whose back a short-cloaked warrior with a "tailed" hat and a "bearded axe" does battle with what appears to be a long-robed swordsman (possible a man who is both warrior and priest). This imagery may also indicate the "cave" or "hall" in the image is Valhalla, where warriors battle each other each day in training for Ragnarök (Gylfaginning, chapter 40).

An almost identical image with Odin, Sleipnir, the impaled man, and the cave/hall, appears in the Ardre stone, also from Gotland, Sweden. Here, the hall or "cave" image is less damaged, and shows three thrones or seats - probably the thrones of the three emanations of the Odinic Triad - Hár (Odin), Jafnhár (Víli) and Thridi (Vé). 


The Ardre stone. Gotland, Sweden.
Note the extreme similarity of these carvings to the ones on the Tj
ängvide stone.



The origins of the so-called 'Square Valknute':

There has recently been some controversy as to whether the interlocking triangular symbol commonly called "Valknut" or valknútr  is indeed properly named or not. A few misguided YouTube celebrities have even called the triangular valknut a "lie" (despite it being an authentic Viking-age symbol, and the Norwegian term valknútr  being commonly used to refer to it). Some contrarian writers have pointed out that the similar post-Renaissance Norwegian term valknute  applies not to this symbol, but to a flowing square symbol with corner loops, known from both Sweden and Norway, and thus deny that the "real" Valknut was the famous triangular Odinic symbol at all. But this view suffers from the problem that valknútr  and valknute are two different words in the same language, with valknute actually being the more grammatically modern one. The square valknute, though an old Migration-age symbol, wasn't actually called a "valknute" until well after the Christian conversions, and when turned on one corner, could be understood as a stylized cross (though an equilateral one, still being subject to interpretation as either Christian, or as a Heathen "solar cross"). Indeed, Christians in Scandinavia called it "St. John's cross". In other words, it is an ambiguous symbol in terms of religious interpretation, and was probably favored in the Christian era as a "stand-in" symbol for the older triangular valknut, due to its cubic geometry being easily convertible to a cross form (oddly though, the older Heathen-era triangular valknut of Odin was never appropriated by Christians to symbolize the Trinity, which would have been a convenient repackaging of it - its pre-Christian meanings and Odinic associations were probably too well-known by the Norse population, and thus their Heathen symbolism too distrusted and feared by the Church).



The looped square later known as a 'valknute' (not valknutr!)
on a Migration-age (6th century) stone from Hablingo (Gotland, Sweden)

In other words, valknute is also a modern Norwegian term, just like valknútr.  We simply do not know what the looped square 'valknute' was called in the Viking Age, let alone the Vendel period, let alone the Migration Age. We only have its post-Christian names, not its pre-Christian Norse name. We are no more certain about its Old Norse, Proto-Norse, or Proto-Germanic name, than we are about the original name of the triangular Odinic valknútr.

The looped square 'valknute' was used in Christian times as a form of local folk-magick in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Baltic region - as a protective symbol on barns and homesteads against bad luck. It was also incorporated into cheese molds, so that the good luck charm would be imprinted on the cheese you ate in those regions - a practice also common in Icelandic Galdrastafir magick.

It also appeared in ancient Greece and Rome in 4th century mosaics (predating the its oldest appearance in Scandinavia by 200 years), and along the Mediterranean, and was copied and used extensively by Christians as a symbol of St. John the Baptist, being documented in Syrian Christian texts well outside of northern Europe, as khatam Yahya-quddus ("seal of John the holy"). Critically, this looped square is not universally known as a 'valknute'. It is called the "Bowen knot" in English heraldry, a 'Gorgon's knot' in Greece, and "St. John's Cross" in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. There is no record of what the Migration Age Germanic tribes called it.


11th century Syriac symbols, including several variants of the looped "St. John's Cross" square,
which is occasionally called 'valknute' in modern Norwegian.


Looped square "Gorgon's loop" (bottom left) in a Roman mosaic in Aquileia, Italy. 4th Century
(200 years OLDER than the Migration-Age one from the Hablingo stone).


In other words, the looped square symbol was known throughout the ancient world, even before its first documented appearance in Migration-Age Scandinavia, and thus it is not, strictly speaking, a Germanic or Norse symbol. It is difficult to tell who actually used it first, and its status as a "valknut" is far from certain. It seems to have been used as a good luck charm in ancient Roman contexts as well as modern Finnish and Scandinavian ones. It does not carry any connotations of "the slain" even when called a 'valknute', but instead takes advantage of the alternative meaning of 'val' in Norwegian as "select" or "fortunate", hence, it is used as a symbol of good fortune rather than specifically a funerary or sacrifice symbol. Perhaps it was used on warriors' graves - perhaps not. Its intended usage on the Hablingo stone is far from certain.

By contrast, the triangular Valknut (valknútr ), which is indeed strictly Germanic, has been associated with Odin, funerary rites, and the deaths of warriors; with sacrifice, and the pyre. This is well-attested on the aforementioned picture-stones. Its name does refer to the slain. 

The looped square symbol, then, is NOT the "knot of the slain" depicted in the ancient Viking picture-stones, but rather, a "knot of good luck" which may have taken on a similar name in Christian times, or even been used as a crypto-Heathen stand-in for the triangular Odinic death symbol. But its origins appear to be Greco-Roman or Mediterranean, not Germanic, and both inside and outside of Scandinavia, it was more often called the "St. John's Cross" than anything else. Its alternate name of 'valknute' appears to be late medieval or early Renaissance at the earliest - thus it is no more ancient than valknútr, the present name of the Odinic Valknut, nor does it appear to have any of the ancient Odinic and Einherjar connections of the triangular (and strictly Heathen) valknútr.

Thus, it is clear that the triangular valknut or valknútr  is not a "lie" as some have suggested, nor is it "less legitimate" in Heathenry than the Roman-derived looped square symbol - rather, the triangular valknut is the true original Heathen symbol of Odin's warriors and their sacrifice, attested in numerous artifacts. Even if it was called by alternative names throughout parts of its ancient history, it is as much a "knot of the slain" as anything ever found in Norse archaeology.





Meanings and Symbolism of Norse (triangular) Valknuts:

There has also been some suggestion among modern esoteric Heathens that the triangular valknuts represent Odin's more mystical side - specifically the power to "bind" and "un-bind" the minds and even to some extent the Wyrd of individuals (as suggested by Hilda Ellis Davidson in her 1990 book, "Gods and Myths of Northern Europe"). While this meaning may well have some level to validity to it, particularly if one interprets the horses in the Norse stone carvings to represent journeys between realms, or even the human nervous system or Od-aura in active movement, these meanings would need further decoding that is not immediately apparent on the surface level of these stone carvings.

What is abundantly clear on the surface level, is that the valknut is consistently associated in the archaeological record with Odin, warriors, horses, death, sacralized battle, and self-sacrifice.

It also stands for extreme bravery and a willingness to die in a fight or sacrifice one's life to protect family and folk. The vast majority of Odinists and Ásatrúars discourage anyone who is not of their faith from getting a valknut tattoed on their skin – it's a serious statement of the Odinic path someone has chosen in life, and it can often be a lonely and harsh one. Not every Runenmeister (let alone every Heathen or Ásatrúar) ends up making this level of commitment to Odin's path. And those who do, are well aware that offering yourself as potential Einherjar material means accepting the risk that you may well die a very painful death if Odin deigns to test you worthy for Valhalla. Its sacred worth is beyond the reach of cowards, and its bond is paid in blood.




The following is commentary of some Ásatrú and Heathen watchers who decided to add their two cents to the issue:


When in reference to the Valknut, dedicating yourself to Odin doesn't always mean making him your “patron god” but it means that you have made the choice to be a warrior, never run away, fight to the death if necessary and enter Valhalla as Einherjar upon death. The Valkyries look for that symbol on the dead to decide if one should be taken to Valhalla, or left to see Hel.

This is a very serious symbol, not for cowards, the hall of Odin is not for cowards, if you're willing to "Do right and fear no one" then this symbol is for you, if not, then don't wear it, or someone might come by and take it from you, along with whatever it's attached to.

The Valknut is the symbol of the Einherjar, representing their dedication to the AllFather until the time of  Ragnarök. The 'knot of the Slain' as it is also known. Only those in true and dedicated in service to Odin should don this sacred symbol as tattoo. Spiritual warriors of Valhalla, Einherjar, are chosen by Odin at birth, once AllFather has placed his mark upon you, your life belongs to him. From that moment your life will never be an easy one, each trial and tribulation throughout your years is your testing ground as designed by him to strengthen and enlighten you in the ways of the Northmen who are destined to stand with Odin at the final battle. Some are gifted with sight to recognise their condition and rise to this great privilege and challenge. Others will live out their lives whinging and whining about their miserable lives. The unworthy will always exclude themselves!

Those who wear the Valknut have pledged an oath to Odin himself [whether they realise it or not] to live their lives as a warrior, and woe to him that breaks that oath!!

'”That I advise you secondly, that you do not swear an oath unless it is truly kept; terrible fate-bonds attach the oath-breaker; wretched is the pledge-criminal.'” - 
Sigdrífumál verse 23.

A hall she saw standing far from the sun, on Nastrond; its doors looked North; drops of poison fall in through the roof vents, the hall is woven of serpents spines. There she saw wading in turbid streams men who swore false oaths...."Völuspá  verse 38 and 39.

Finally; “For those whom have donned the sacred sign and then either disregarded it, or changed their mind...they shall surely lose their mind, or suffer a violent death and then be cast out by AllFather Odin, to dwell in Nastrond, in Hel's darkest quadrant.” (quote unknown)




As for buying valknut amulets, the opinions are divided. Some Heathen Runenmeisteren take the view that it's forbidden for anyone who's not serious about dedicating at least part of their lives to Odin. Others on a more esoteric path of runic spirituality take the view that an amulet by itself does not a commitment make. Whether you buy or wear one or not, in my mind it is the same - more or less harmless. It may signal that you are of a warrior path, at least for the time being (that said, at least understand what it means and that it's not something to take lightly), but even in worst-case scenario, it's not permanent and can still be removed from your neck if you ultimately change your mind. (However if you are not Ásatrú, Odinist, Forn Sidr, Armanist, Irminist, or even Heathen, there's no reason to wear it - if you don't believe in the faith and its Gods, why wear its deeply meaningful symbols?)

However, whereas a valknut pendant can be taken off, tattoos are permanent and basically like signing in blood. You are marking your own flesh permanently with the holy Knot of the Fallen, of the warriors oathed to Allfather himself, and literally writing an Odinic commitment into your blood, beneath the skin! The valknut is not a universal obligation, even most Heathens do not go as far as tattooing it, and those who do are firmly convinced that Odin has called to them. It is a marker that you are willing to follow the often difficult and dangerous Odinic path, and prepared to be slain at any time to add to Odin's army of Einherjar. Make sure you know for certain, if you are or if you are not. And if not, then don't get it done.




1 Note that “fallen” refers to falling in battle, i.e. getting killed by an enemy – NOT fallen in the sense of being corrupted or “sinful” as in a Christian context.