Björk’s Symbolic Tattoo: Vegvísir, A Protection Symbol

Björk TattooNorse symbol VegvísirBjörk, an Icelandic singer and actress, has a cute symbolic tattoo on her left upper arm. It is a Norse protection symbol called Vegvísir, which has a deep meaning. The Icelandic word literally means ‘guidepost’ or ‘direction sign’. In modern popular culture the Vegvísir is often called Runic Compass or See the Way. It is often associated with the Viking Age, which is not correct: this symbol is from the 17th century Icelandic grimoire called Galdrabók (‘magic book’). The origin of this type of witchcraft is difficult to ascertain: to some extent it derives from medieval mysticism and renaissance occultism, but also has a few connections with the ancient Germanic runic tradition. Vegvísir was drawn on one’s forehead with blood to prevent a person from getting lost. In 2008 movie Max Payne the tattoo artist who explains his theory about Viking wing tattoos, has a Vegvísir tattoo on his left shoulder.


Another Galdrabók symbol, even more popular in symbolic tattoos, is Ægishjálmur (‘helm of awe’). It is believed that this magic sign gives its wearer the ability to strike an enemy with fear and grants great magical powers. In 1667 Þórarinn Halldórsson was burnt in Iceland because he admitted that he carved Ægishjálmur on oak and practiced healing with the aid of magical signs.

hulinhjalmurAnother Icelandic magical sign deserves special attention, since it is reported to give the power to become invisible. Hulinhjálmur (‘helm of disguise’) has to be drawn on a piece of lignite (brown coal) and then pressed against one’s forehead. The most complicated part is the preparation of the ink. One has to collect three drops of blood from the index finger of one’s left hand, three from the ring-finger of one’s right hand, two from the right nipple and one from the left nipple. Then the blood must be mixed with six drops of blood from the heart of a living raven and melted with raven’s brains and pieces of human stomach. This kind of magic was used as the best protection against enemies.
Learn more about Norse heathen symbols.

26 comments… add one
  • Brooke

    Wonderful information, love the website.
    One question: the Vegvisir pictured above on the right of Bjork’s photo – is this the correct layout of the symbol as there are many different one on Google???
    Thanks :)

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Brooke. Yes, it’s the correct one.

  • Eric Smith

    I have seen it pointed out to me that Bjork’s Vegvisor tattoo is less traditional than others. I couldn’t post a picture, but its a link to the Huld manuscript.

    In addition the graphic below the Vegvisor is an alternative Vegvisor form. However, its design has been promoted as “Lukkustafir” (lucky staves.) Apparently the mix in translation originated in the 19th century, and had been sourced, and cited incorrectly since.


    I love your site.

  • DP

    Runes are nice and I want to have them tattooed. But unable to find info on proper placement.

    Do you have info on where on the body rune tattoos should be placed.

    Germanic/Celtic versions, my bloodline.

  • Skookum1

    I have a good friend who already has a number of potent tattoos, some of his own design, the others too various to mention. He’s an athlete involved in combat sports – American football, MMA and Muay Thai – and a warrior born, and also a certain relationship to the old beliefs and has respect for all traditions. He’s 1/8 Icelandic on his grandmother’s side (and Metis/French/Cree, German, and Irish on others) and I’ve urged him to get some Nordic tattoos, runic and others. Specifically, I’m researching for him on protection and health/healing tattoos…he’s had some injuries that if repeated could have very dire consequences and since I can’t talk him out of combat, being of a decided viking ethos as I am myself, I want talismans of power and protection for the field of combat….and from dark energies around him, which are many where he lives (the Philippines). I’ve read about bindrunes on another site, his initials are RDC (c=k), and it happens that in Anglo-Saxon runes those combine well in terms of meaning though not so much in the Elder Futhark. I see the Helm of Awe above, it’s very powerful looking, as is the compass design……what else might carry with it potency in battle, ward from physical harm and/or cursing, and give strength and have healing power? Seems I’m asking a lot huh? I’ve wondered about just a line of skaldic verse or something from somewhere in the Edda or another poem, written in runic……and in a Larousse anthology I used to have them were some sun-whorls that were symbols of Tyr.

    The Helm of Awe may be just the thing, as far as a main protection spell goes. But given what I’ve described of him, do you have any other ideas or suggestions?

  • dman

    What country are you in?

  • Morgan

    I have a question for those of Norse/Icelandic descent and those who practice religions using runes. I have always loved and been intrigued with runes since I found out about them. They have always been on my mind and in my mind. In particular Algiz I have kind-of taken it up as a symbol which means something to me and who I am. I do believe in the power of symbols and runes. I have been considering for awhile now getting a tattoo of either Vegvísir or Algiz on my chest. My question is; would it be wrong/disrespectful to get this tattoo considering I am not of norse descent as far as I know and I am not a follower?

  • Thomas

    I’m a hack at old norse, but usually quite spot-on with languages.
    Also, Im from Denmark. That might explain my deviations from Icelandic pronunciations.
    My bet on the pronunciations:
    Egg, ees, chiall, moor.
    Egg a bit prolonged on the vocal (ehgg).
    Ees like caricature of mexican is.
    Chiall, like scottish ch (not rolling), short ee sound, al (I could call you Betty). You could get by with pronouncing the H in Shall. Or even without…
    Moor, rhymes with poor.
    Rhymes with: LAY-these-PALS-poor.

    VAGUE as you know it.
    V as the letter V, vee.
    Seer, rhymes with steer.
    Rhymes with: ACHE, BEE-smear.

    I hope this helps.

  • Hrundir

    How do you pronounce ægishjálmur? A phonetic spelling would just be the best.

  • Jordan

    I have been obsessed with the helm of awe ever since I saw it in an old book. it is always on my mind and I end up drawing it on everything whenever there is a pencil in my hand. I am now planning on getting it as a tattoo. I’m happy I know the meaning behind it now. :)

  • mandla

    We use the written language differently than our ancestors. Symbols were not used to communicate phrases or the spoken words. They were used as intricate symbols to communicate facts and powers that in our world takes a whole book to communicate and a university education. The nearest to what they had in mind is what we call today mathematical equations.

    Imagine if they (ancestor Vikings) tried to interpret a modern mathematical equation on the basis of what they see! This is exactly what we are trying to do here. We would laugh at their childish understanding.

    The beauty and symmetry of the symbol made it easy to remember and pleasant to look at but the real purpose was to interpret it and link it to the higher spiritual powers!

    A good nuclear fusion equation means a lot to a scientist. The symbols dont cause nuclear fusion, but when enacted in practice they mean a working nuclear plant and massive energy generated. These symbols stand in the same relationship to the Vikings. You must know the context in which they are enacted.

    So these symbols conveyed truths, beauty, and knowledge about the seen life and hidden spiritual life. The magic did not consist in changing the course of nature without your personal involvement. that is entertainment. And they had little time for such childish things. The magic was your power inside yourself to overcome nature for a real and noble purpose. And the symbol did not do the trick (much as a textbook on nuclear physics can generate nuclear power!) but reflected the whole range of beliefs, relationships, powers, forms, that made it possible.

    I have no doubt that very soon someone will decipher the symbols and bring them into the world of action and men. Good luck keep searching….

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