Valknut: A Norse Viking Symbol

The word valknut is a neologism: it is formed in modern times through combination of ON valr, ‘the dead’ or ‘the slain’ and knut, ‘knot’. Valknut is a Viking symbol of three interconnected triangles. The triangles may be joined in two ways: either as Borromean:

valknut

or unicursal:

valknut

Note that other types of valknuts, such as closed three-link chain, never occur in the original Viking ornaments. One should keep that in mind when using the valknut in Viking tattoos or runic tattoos, since only the above two designs are genuine Viking valknuts. Consider the Borromean triangles type, which occurs on the Stora Hammar rune stone.

Stora Hammar runestone

Here above the valknut we see a raven, Odin’s symbol. Below the valknut is probably a burial mound. A dead warrior is put there by someone with a spear and accompanied by another raven. The spear is probably Gungnir, Odin’s weapon. The other sign of Odin’s presence is a warrior hanged on a tree to the left of the mound. All the symbols around the valknut, which is in the central position here, point to death and to Odin as a god of slain warriors.
The unicursal type of valknut (which can be drawn with one stroke) appears on Tängelgarda stone:
valknut_4

Other instances of the valknut in Viking ornaments are Lärbro stone, River Nene ring and a bedpost found on the Oseberg ship.
However, knot of the slain is not the only possible interpretation of the valknut. It is also called Hrungnir’s heart. This name is based on a description found in the Prose Edda:

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

The original meaning and function of the valknut is not wholly clear. The number three is a very common magic symbol in many cultures. However, in Scandinavian context three multiplied by three might designate the nine worlds, which are united by the Yggdrasil tree. In modern times Valknut, like Triquetra and Horn Triskelion, is often interpreted as a symbol pointing to heathen convictions.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Ormr Hjamulfsson

My girlfriend recently gave me a very beautiful Valknut because she had heard me complain that I had very few symbols of Odin. I had seen them before but had never known much farther than concept of its association to the Yggdrasil. Your site was very helpful. Thank you.

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rick

Great website, with a lot of good solid information… you have done your homework! Hail!

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bill

My wife gave me a pendant made of different porcelain clays that were fired at 2400 degrees. The Valknut symbol is hand inscribed on it. We received an explaination about the symbol saying that the three triangles, three interlocking shapes and nine points, suggest rebirth, pregnancy, and cycles of reincarnation.
Also, the three interwoven shapes could suggests the interrelatedness of the three realms of earth, hel, and the heavens.
It says that it is a popular talisman of protection against spirits.

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chris

So what exactly does a Valknut represent?

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Viking Rune

As stated above, it is not certain what the Valknut represents exactly. However, it is likely that it is somehow connected with the idea of death in battle.

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Shaun

The Vikings have an incredible sense of honor and death in battle as the way to Valhalla. For the Vikings it was equivalent of what you would call heaven, and those who wished to be taken by the Valkyries would wear this symbol. It’s one of dedication to Odin and death in battle.

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Jacob

I wear mine upon my skin forever with Honor.

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Angelo

I am about to get mine on my skin Already have my hammer forever hail ODIN

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tsk

There are three homes in the three worlds: Alfheim, Helheim, Jotunheim, Midgård, Muspelheim, Nivelheim, Svartalfheim, Vanaheim, Åsgård. There’s nothing more to the symbol.

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chris

Thank you.

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Linda Röben Davies

Thank you for this site. I have been researching my family history I got back to Ostfriesland Germany 1600s and I suspect they came from the Scandinavian countries before that . Furthest name Harmen Gerdes!! I am very proud of my heritage x

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Daniel Lauritzen

Hi Linda
Where i live (Fredericia, Denmark) , Gerdes is quite a large family, and quite a few of them got a business – like doctor, dentist and others :)

Dont know if you can use it for anything – but the City, Fredericia, got quite a long story in it self so.. :)

Kind regards
Daniel

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Travis

I am getting a borromean ring-style Valknut tattoo for this holiday season. Good information here.

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Anne

Thanks a lot! Your website has saved me what probably would have been hours of reserch for my history class!

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Nick

I’ve got a unicursal Valknut tattooed on the forehead of a skull on my left arm, put it there as a tribute to a few fallen family members who were indeed Vikings.

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The Great Booger

Great stuff. You inspired my next tattoo. Not the one with the skull but the Valknut.

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Roger

You also might find this interesting.With Tattoo’s being very popular today and also incorrectly in the TV series “Vikings”. The Vikings never had Tattoo’s for the most part, they considered them poison to the soul and self-harm-mutilation, including UN-warrior like. Looking after one’s body and hair was very important, besides they were to busy being great artisans creating smyken or ship builders when not on adventures, and only scars from life and battle were looked upon with regard…This was proven after an Icelandic text came to the fore in the 1970’s, some years ago after analysing the bones of a Viking mass graves, buried near by separately where buried Viking slaves who were smaller and less robust skeletal,the slaves had tattoo stainings on the bones, but not the Viking warriors.

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Nat

About Vikings and tattoos: check out ibn Fadlan, an Islamic writer/historian who encountered Vikings along the Eastern trade routes to Scandinavia (Volga / Dnjeppr). He described the Rus (Vikings from Sweden trading and raiding along the Eastern European rivers) as tattooed from head to nail with blueish ink.
Tattoos as abhorrent is found in Western Europe since Christianity made its entrance, particularly among the more strict reformant branches. It is part of the ‘demonising’ of pagan rituals and religion that occured during the conversion of North-Western Europe to Christianity. ‘Body mutilation’ (tattoos, piercings) is currently still concidered as abhorrent especially among the Christians that adhere to the more strict reformation-sects within that religion in some areas in North-Western Europe.
Many Icelandic texts (including the prose Edda) were written down only after Iceland had converted to Christianity. It stands to reason that (some) texts would reflect more and more Christian mores and values the more time passed since the last ‘true pagans’ died. Worship the heroes – yes. But don’t copy their abhorrent pagan rites. That sort of Think.
And whatever Vikings might have thunk in years past – we can’t ask them anymore. So all we have is sources through archeology and contemporary scripts – and interpretations of them (the ‘glasses’ of the scientists / amateurs interpreting the evidence). In that case I’ll take a 10th century account by someone who’s met them in real life over a text written by a third or fourth generation Christian 150 years or more after the Viking age ended. Tattoos it is :-).

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