Norse Symbols Are Not Hate Symbols

What would you feel if you saw a guy with a runic tattoo? Many would probably feel uneasiness, including myself. The question is why. I perfectly know that ancient Germanic peoples used the Elder Futhark not because they were white supremacists. I realize that vikings used the Younger Futhark not because they were racist skinheads. So where comes the uneasiness from? Let’s take another example. If you use the Bluetooth technology on your mobile phone, you should remember their logo. Do you? It is actually a bindrune, that is two blended runes: Hagall (hail) and Bjarkan (birch). These two represent the initials of the 10th century viking king Harald Blåtand (Bluetooth), who ordered the Jelling stones to be erected. Bluetooth team are certainly not a hate group, and their rune logo does not scare people away from buying their technology. However, tattooed on someone’s shoulder, it may make others feel uneasy. The question remains: why? My answer is: because western civilization has been too long obsessed by Classical Antiquity as its treasured source. All we usually know about Norse or ancient Germanic symbols is that nazis used them and neo-nazis still use them. That’s not a lot. The other answer is: many people with Christian background still feel that heathen convictions may be dangerous, especially if associated with Norse or Scandinavian culture (or with anything ancient Germanic). Even atheists have been educated in schools long dominated by Christians who admired Classical Antiquity. “Virgil and Homer, not Edda and Beowulf” has been their slogan for many centuries.

True, Norse heathen symbols were used by Nazis. For instance, the Hagall rune used in the Bluetooth logo is present on the SS Totenkopfring. In his description of the ring, Himmler wrote: “The swastika and the Hagall-Rune represent our unshakable faith in the ultimate victory of our philosophy.” This rune was also used during the SS wedding ceremonies. Does it mean that the Hagall rune is in itself a hate symbol? No way.

The origins and the cultural meaning of Norse symbols or Germanic heathen symbols, which may point to racism in certain contexts, are treated in a series of articles on this web site:

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }


Hmm, Vikings as racist skinheads… Didn’t they shave the heads of their slaves? I know the Irish did.

My own tattooed left-arm is full of Germanic/Viking symbolism and I’m about as far from neo-nazi as you can get. As far as I am concerned those thugs are more akin to Christian fundamentalists than Viking warriors. Same cultural ethic.

Oh, great site by the way, very informative and well researched. Can’t wait to see a post about the Irminsul :)


Viking Rune

Hi Jenny,

I am not aware of a Viking practice of shaving the heads of slaves. As for Norsemen’s own hairstyle, Sviatoslav, son of Igor (Old Norse Ingvar), a Varangian ruler of Kievan Rus, was described by Leo Diaconus, who saw him in 971, as follows: “His head was shaven except for a lock of hair on one side as a sign of the nobility of his clan.” An 11th-century letter in Old English mentions that Norman men shaved the back half of their head, while on the front half the hair was left to grow long: “Danish fashion with bared neck and blinded eyes.” However, these traditions do not seem to have anything to do with modern hate groups.

Thanks for the feedback!



To expand on that thought a little further, with in a generation of William the Conqueror and his “Danish style” hair cut his son Henry I had grown al his hair long. Squires of the late 11th and early 12th century kept their hair short to distinguish themselves from the nobility. This was so much so that one English lord escaped the French by cutting his hair and thus deceiving them as being of little worth in ransom and so wasn’t pursued.

Hair, like all fashions flexed throughout the period. It is very possible that Norwegian Vikings may have treated their slaves in a different way to Dane or Swedish. Beyond that the cross of cultural ideas, such as Mercian style warning beacons being found in Norway, Syrian silk in York and the dealing of the Russ with Arab merchants from Baghdad all allow for a lot of cultural exchange.

In short what I’m trying to say is that there may have been slaves with shaven heads in Norway in 780, but by 820 have full heads of hair.

As with the Swastika, the Nazis just tainted everything they touched.



Oftentimes, I think that the ignorance of the masses and wanton following of christian clergy has cast a dispersion upon Norse Asatru, as a religion. And the Third Reich fell over 50 years ago. When will the public just believe that Norse pagans are not skinheads and aren’t devil-worshipers. Besides runes were traditionally used as a communications tool by the Vikings to leave a written record of exploits and voyage history to honor family and comrades. Should we then say that the Internet is a tool of satan or that it is a tool of neo-nazism, just because it is a communication tool? When will we get over the reality that everyone is not a christian and that people should be able to believe what they wish without fear of repercussions from the christian “right”?




The “Viking Answer Lady,” Christie Ward, has a well-researched website on early Norse culture, including the keeping of thralls.
Short hair was the mark of a male thrall, according to her.
Look a little more than halfway down the page.

I myself keep a short head of hair because I feel a spiritual duty to do so, as the keeper of a modern day Temple (no, I don’t hang sacrifices off trees, but I do keep horses and a pig).




The Germanic peoples were a practical lot. And of course we still are.
Men kept long hair back then not just for fashion or status, but because their two long braids could be wrapped around the head for extra helmet padding (or so I read somewhere).

But, as mentioned above, some eastern Germanics shaved the head (like Sviatoslav I of Kiev) and if a warlord could do it (even if he did still keep his scalplock), why not others of lower status?
And I’m sure some Norsemen may have experienced male pattern baldness even back in the old, virile Viking days. A shaved head is usually seen as a little bit more fearsome than a combover!

I myself keep a shaved head. Not because I’m balding (I’m not) but for such practical reasons as it’s convenient, clean and safe (I work with potential hair-pulling and scalping clients).

As to the Runes been seen as something malignant; I risted the futhark on a pine cupboard’s doors in my younger days. When my brother moved into a group house he took the cupboard with him. It ended up as the property of a fundamentalist Christian, who subsequently sanded them off. Still too evil for some!



It is true that there is a lot of ignorance when it comes to runes. I have a bind rune tattoo on my arm and I used to get some angry looks at the gym, especially from black guys. I found this extremely ironic, because I am married to a mixed race woman. If runes are symbols of hate, then the same logic says that the cross is a symbol of oppression and the star and crescent are symbols of terrorism.


Jerry Shabazz

I am a big fan of Viking and Norse culture, so much so that I was thinking of getting a Norse Leben Rune of life branded on me. Being of African descent, will those of Viking descent find this offensive?



I am of Scandinavian/Viking descent and no, I wouldn’t.
Tatoos are very personal things to get. Runes in particular.
I don’t think this is something many people study, if they did they’d be less apt to judge.



Definitely not! Why should we? Vikings and those of “viking descent” are not racist. Even though I don’t agree with, and don’t think that the violent/unethical practices of some Vikings should be encouraged (slavery, violence, pillaging, stealing), the runes were used by all Scandinavian peoples at the time (farmers, viking traders etc.) not just Viking pillagers. Like Dane said I would also feel honoured if you got the tattoo.



Do as you like, I don’t think anyone with common sense would feel insulted. Skin-colour does not matter when the minds can work together.



Hey Jerry Shabazz,

I seriously doubt that anyone will find it at all offensive that you’re considering a Viking style tattoo, in fact I’d personally feel very honoured.
And really, aren’t we Homo sapiens all of African descent originally anyway?

I say go for it, however (someone correct me if I’m wrong) isn’t the “Leben” rune in actuality the algiz/elkhaz rune of the elder futhark that was simply re-named “Leben” (life) by the SS?



To Jerry Shabazz,

I am happy you like the old vikings ways. But I feel you should look into your own background. Honor your people! I see it offensive. Sorry. I am not hating on you. I just feel you should embrace your own background, my friend.



To Skandi,

How on earth is it offensive?! What, is it suddenly impossible to embrace your own culture whilst having an interest in others? I’m of Norwegian decent and damn proud of it, but I guess the Chinese symbol for the year of my birth I had tattooed on my back is disrespectful to my heritage huh? Jeez, lighten up.



I could never think of it as offense as it is part of my culture. I have a magic sign tattooed on myself and runic lettering. It didn’t even cross my mind until I read this article that some people might find it offensive in anyway or that they might wonder if I were a Nazi.


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