The Viking compass (or Norse Compass) is a Viking rune device that re-traces their ancient voyages across the North Atlantic Ocean. Archeologists have confirmed that Vikings had no magnetic navigational instruments so where did they get their bearings from?
Vegvísir, meaning 'Wayfinder', was described in chapter 17 of the Icelandic Book of Oddi as "a sign by which those men sail now who have a logical nature". It provides the Vikings with the means of orientating themselves towards distant shores. Some Viking leaders wore it around their neck, while others had it tattooed in Latin letters on their foreheads.
The Viking runic compass looks just like a rune pendant. It has 24 runes inscribed on its surface, some of them being more prominent than others. They are Valknut, Vættraskt and Purskrift – Viking symbols for warriors' staying power in battle, Odin's messengers and protection from the wrath of giants respectively. Some Viking compasses are made of gold-plated bronze for maximum durability. They were also made also as a pendant version or Valknut lanyard necklace which Vikings used to wear across their chests so they could reach it easily..
What is the Viking Compass?
Vegvisir is most commonly known as the Viking Compass or Norse Compass. This Runic Compass is a symbol of protection and direction believed to have been used by Vikings for wayfinding. In Icelandic, vegvisir means "wayfinder" and "sign post." It is made of eight staves.
Two sources mention the Vegvisir: the Huld Manuscript by Geir Vigfusson and The Galdrabok, a textbook for magic (grimoire)
In the Huld Manuscript, the Vegvisir is a symbol of guidance and protection “the wearer of this symbol will not lose his way during storms and bad weather, even if he does not know his destination”.
The other historical reference to Vegvisir is the Galdrabok, a spell book which provides knowledge of magic, cosmology, astrology and the Germanic religion and gods.
In this grimoire it says that the Vegvisir symbol would help its wearer not to be lost and to find their way back. It says that the Vegvisir must be drawn in fresh blood on a Viking's forehead. This is similar to how the Aegishjalmur (known as the Helm of Awe) would be used.
While Vegvisir and Aegishjalmr, the helm of awe are superficially similar, they are very different Viking symbols.
Was the Viking Compass used for Navigation?
It is believed by some that Vegvisir Viking Compass was used for navigation across the seas, but this is not definitely the case.
If so the eight Icelandic rune lines would correspond to the main directions (North, South, West, East) and middle directions (Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast).
In fact archaeologists have shown that the Vikings used a "sunstone" which was a sun compass of sorts on their voyages.
There are also historical mentions of Vegvisir Viking compass being drawn, etched or burned onto the side of Viking ships to give them protection and bring them home safely.
Today many people of Nordic origin and beyond find inspiration from the Viking symbol as a sign of protection and a guide to find one's way through life.
The Viking Compass (Vegvisir) is probably the most "differently" or maybe mis-spelled Viking symbol. Variations we have seen include Vegisvir, Vigvisir, Vegisir, Vegvisor, Vegwisir, Vegvesir, Vegvisit and Vegvisr.