Valknut is one of the most prominent and interesting symbols in Norse culture. Its origin coming from words 'valr' that means "slain warrior" and 'knut' that means "knot". So, we can say that “Valknut” is translated like “The Knot of the Slain Warrior”. It's also known as Odin’s knot, Hrungnir’s heart and the Heart of Vala. It's considered to be Odin's symbol. And it’s not a surprise as in Norse mythology Odin isn’t just the Supreme God, he is also the God of war and death.
On the numerous archeological findings Valknutis often depicted with Odin, ravens or wolves symbols who were his constants companions. This is also proves that this sign belongs to Odin.
The association of the symbol with the God of Death led to the Valknut being regarded as the symbol of a ‘Cult of the Dead’. And there’s a big meaning in it. The Valknut symbolizes the recognition of brave individuals in the prime of life who sacrificed themselves for the good of the clan.
The Practice of Seidr
The intricate design of the Valknut – which is a complex shape that can be made from a single unicursal line – renders upon it an association with mental trickery. This trickery was given a very specific name by the Norse – Seidr.
Seidr was a form of witchcraft or magic that the Norse both feared and held in high regard. It was described as a means of altering reality to an observer, akin to creating holograms and visions meant to mask reality from them. Importantly, the chief practitioner of Seidr was Odin.
In battle, it was believed that Odin could put mental binds upon the enemy, obfuscating them and spreading terror within their midst. On the other hand, it could also be used for the opposite effect, giving the Viking warriors clarity of thought and action in the chaos of the battlefield.
The Power of Three
The individual styling of a Valknut may vary but it always consists of three interlocking triangles. Three triangles of three vertices each – there was definitely some power that the number ‘3’ held for the Norse people.
The number three has always featured prominently in both ancient and modern religions. Across millennia and across cultures spread over the world, it has been taken to represent:
- the three stages of the Universe – Creation, Preservation and Destruction
- the three planes of existence – Heaven, Earth and Hell;
- the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
- the three basic elements – air, water and fire;
- the three periods of time – Past, Present and Future;
- the three periods of life – infancy, adulthood and old age;
- the concept of Body, Mind and Spirit.
The number three also features significantly in Norse mythology.
The Norns, the Three Goddesses of Destiny
There are three goddesses of Destiny: Urd (Fate), Verdani (Present) and Skuld (Future). Together, they spin the threads that dictate the events and actions surrounding every god, giant and dwarf.
The Three Worlds and the Three Roots of the Tree of Life
Yggdrasil, the Norse Tree of Life, has three roots. One root leads to Asgard, home of the gods, one to Jotunheim, the realm of the Giants, and the last to Niflheim, the Underworld. There were three wells, one under each of the roots.
Threes in the Story of Creation
The Norse sagas tell of a time before the worlds of gods, giants and men were created. Here, three distinct areas existed –
- Niflheim – Land of mist
- Muspelheim – Land of fire
- Ginnungagap – the void between Niflheim and Muspelheim
It was in Ginnungagap that the first being was created. He was not a god but a Jotun (giant). His name was Ymir. After him came Buri, the first of the gods. Buri’ grandchildren, the three brothers Odin, Vili and Ve came later and slayed Ymir.
The three brothers created the first man and woman, each giving the mortals a unique capability:
- Odin breathed into them life.
- Vili gave them intelligence and the ability to move.
- Ve gave them the five senses.
Valknut and magic
Odin is known as one of the most powerful magicians and shamans. In literary sources it’s often said about his abilities. The historian H.R. Ellis Davidson says “Odin had the power to lay bonds upon the mind, so that men became helpless in battle, and he could also loosen the tensions of fear and strain by his gifts of battle-madness, intoxication, and inspiration.” Weaving in this symbolic sense and spiritual power were almost synonymous, so it should come as no surprise that a symbol involving power over life and death would be visualized as a knot.
Notwithstanding the Valknut was the symbol of the Supreme God, nowadays we know so less about its exact meaning and use. There’s no writing sources about symbol from the time it was used. Everything we can is to make the conclusions from the context within which it appears in archaeological relics. The Lärbro Stone or Stora Hammar is the most well-known site about our question.
The Lärbro Stone
The Lärbro Stone or Stora Hammar is the huge monolith on Gotland Island, Sweden. There’re few scenes from the Norse mythology are depicted on its front side. One of them shows the figure with spear and raven on the shoulder blessing the warrior interred in a burial mound. Above the warrior is a Borromean Valknut, indicating that he was slain in a battle, and above it, another raven soars.
This stone was also found at the Sweden land. On this stone was depicted two Valknut symbols. Here, Odin is shown as the warrior on the horse, with weapon and shield, leading an army. The triangular spaces formed the first and second legs of Odin’s horse, and the second and third legs, are each filled with a Valknut.
Some scholarships propose the variant the variant that the Valknut could be the Hrungnir’s heart. In Prose Edda you can find these words: “Hrungnir had a heart made of hard stone and pointed with three corners, just like the carved symbol which has been called Hrungnir’s heart ever since.”
The nine corners of three triangles comprising the Valknut is also associated with the nine worlds in Norse mythology and the cycle of life through motherhood and pregnancy.
According to this information, we can make a conclusion that the meaning of the Valknut has much to do with death, the transition from life to death and probably back again, Odin, and the power to bind and unbind. But even though all these tells us something of its meaning, but this is so general that it can hardly be the whole picture.