Norse Rune Symbols and the Third Reich

Nazi runic symbolsSome of the symbols treated in this article may be interpreted as pointing to Nazi ideology in certain contexts. Their use in the present article has nothing to do with it. Any such connotations are a recent development as compared to the long history of the most of these signs. Below both their original meaning in the Norse Viking culture and their use in Nazi Germany is treated, in order to demonstrate that the earlier, original tradition is much older. It should be observed that the interest towards runology so characteristic for early 20th century German Nazi circles was heated by the works of Guido von List, occult runic revivalist. Von List created his own version of the Futhark known as Armanen runes, allegedly revealed to his “inner eye”. Later Karl Maria Willigut was responsible for their use during the Third Reich. Armanen Futhark derives from historic runes but does not belong to the Norse runelore. Note that a few of these symbols are included into the list of symbols forbidden in Germany. However, Norse symbols are not hate symbols.

Tyr (Tiwaz, Teiwaz) Rune

Týr is the Norse god of war, portrayed as one-handed warrior. Týr’s symbol is sword. Once he played a very important role in the Germanic pantheon. Tuesday is actually Týr’s day (Anglo-Saxons called him Tiw). By the Viking Age Týr was somewhat overshadowed by Thor and Odin. The Icelandic rune poem associates the rune with the god of the same name:

God with one hand and leavings of the wolf and prince of temples.

The Anglo-Saxon rune poem explains the meaning of the rune tir using the imagery of a star that had the same name (probably the North Star):

Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.

In Nazi Germany the Tyr rune was also known as Kampf-Rune (Battle rune) or Pfeil-Rune (Arrow rune) and was symbolic of leadership in battle. It was widely used by various young people organizations after World War I, and later by Hitlerjugend and SA. Worn on the upper left arm, it indicated the graduation from the SA-Reichsführerschule. It was also used as the badge of the SS Recruiting and Training Department, as well as the emblem of the Waffen-SS division “30 Januar”. The Tyr rune also marked the graves of SS men, thus replacing the Christian cross.

Sig Rune

Sig is the Armanen name of that rune. In the ancient Norse and Germanic runelore that rune always designated sun: its Elder Futhark reconstructed name is *sowilo, ’sun’, Younger Futhark name is sól, ’sun’, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc name is sigel, ’sun’. Guido von List changed the name to mean ‘victory’ (Sieg in German). The sequence of runes Sig and Tyr in his version of the Futhark together constitute Sigtýr, one of Odin’s names. In Nazi Germany Sig or Siegesrune (Rune of victory) was the most recognizable and popular symbol after Hakenkreuz (swastika). SS-runes insignia with two oblique Sig runes were created in 1933 by graphic designer Walter Heck. He got 2.50 Reichsmarks for the rights to this design. Nazi Siegesrune actually has nothing to do with the ancient sun symbolism of the *sowilo rune, the earliest Σ-forms of which substantially differ from later versions.

Hagall Rune

The star form of this rune is characteristic for the Younger Futhark, whereas its Elder Futhark form looks altogether different. Hagall means ‘hail’. The Icelandic rune poem describes it as follows:

Cold grain and shower of sleet and sickness of serpents.

In the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc this sign is called iar with the following explanation:

Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land; it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.

The meaning of the word iar is obscure. It is usually interpreted as ‘eel’ or ‘newt’. Note that the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc also has the rune hægl, ‘hail’ corresponding to the Elder Futhark *hagall and used for the same sound, but unlike the Younger Futhark and Armanen runes it does not have the star form.

The use of the Hagall rune in the design of the SS-Ehrenring (SS honor ring, also called deaths head ring) was explained by Himmler as follows: “The swastika and the Hagall-Rune represent our unshakable faith in the ultimate victory of our philosophy.” In Nazi Germany it was also used as an element of the SS wedding ceremony. In the Armanen rune row the name of this rune is Hagal.

Odal Rune

The Elder Futhark reconstructed name for this rune is *oþila, ‘inherited possession’ (note that the initial Norse form of this rune was slightly different: it didn’t have small ‘wings’ added). The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc name is eþel, ‘land, landed property’. It is not present either in the Younger Futhark or the Armanen rune row. The Anglo-Saxon rune poems explains its meaning as follows:

An estate is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

In Nazi Germany Odal rune was symbolic of the Blut und Boden (“Blood and Soil”) ideology, focusing on a concept of ethnicity based on descent and homeland. It was also the emblem of the Waffen-SS division “Prinz Eugen”, recruited from the Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) community in Croatia. It was also used by Reichsbauernschaft and Hitlerjugend.

Leben Rune (Life Rune)

The Elder Futhark reconstructed name for this rune is *algiz, ‘protection’. It denoted the common Germanic sound *z, which corresponds to ON *-R in final position. In the Younger Futhark the same sign designated the sound m and was called maðr, ‘man’:

Delight of man and augmentation of the earth and adorner of ships.

In the Armanen rune row it is the 15th rune, which bears the name Man. This symbol was adopted by the SS Lebensborn Society and Ahnenerbe. In the SS documents and grave markers it showed the date of birth.

Toten Rune (Death Rune)

In the Younger Futhark this rune had the name ýr, ‘yew’:

Bent bow and brittle iron and giant of the arrow.

In the Third Reich it was understood as the turned over Life rune thus designating death. It showed the date of death in documents and on grave markers.

Eif Rune (Zeal Rune)

In the Third Reich it represented enthusiasm. The Eif rune was the early emblem of the SS adjutants assigned personally to Hitler. Origin unclear. Possibly a variation of the Elder Futhark *eihwaz rune.

Opfer Rune (Offering Rune)

In the Third Reich it represented self-sacrifice. Used by Stahlhelm war veterans’ association, as well as a badge commemorating the Nazis who perished during the 1923 Munich Putsch. Origin unclear. Possibly a variation of the Elder Futhark *eihwaz rune.

Ger Rune

In Nazi Germany it was a symbol of communal spirit and a variant sign of the Waffen-SS division “Nordland”. This symbol’s origin and its relation to the Anglo-Saxon ger rune remain unclear to me.

Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook)

Wolfsangel was a device to trap wolves. The symbol representing it was believed to have the magical power to ward off werewolves. The Wolfsangel sign does not belong to any runic tradition. In the 15th century it was adopted as an emblem of the German peasants’ revolt. Ever since it was regarded as symbolic of liberty and independence. In Nazi Germany it was an early emblem of NSDAP and later the emblem of the Waffen-SS division “Das Reich”. A squat version of the Wolfsangel was used as a badge of the Weer Afdeelingen, Dutch equivalent of the German SA.

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88 comments… add one
  • dee2019

    If you wish or need to use runes in whatever way you see fit, do it.
    Runes are ancient heritage and far much older than 1939-1945.
    (this is something the German government must understand not to put their taxpayers into jail because they use runes or Asian Swastikas)

    • masterblaster

      understandable but the symbols and runes have been corrupted so much that the swastika no longer represents its original origin it is mainly associated with hitler now.

  • J.D.G.

    What is the rune that stands for battle. I need to know for academic reasons.

    • Viking Rune

      Runes are an alphabet, they are like letters. Usually they do not designate whole concepts or notions.

    • HH

      The rune that would best fit the idea of battle would be the rune, “tiwaz’. This is a symbol of the god Tyr (god of war), which best correlates with the idea of battle.
      Hope that helps!

  • Heinrich

    Why is it even necessary that anytime we talk about our culture we have to say “but we are not racists or affiliated with Nazism”?

    If we see a Mexican with an Aztec tattoo, or a black with an Africa neclace, do we immediately shout “You racist bigot! Why do you want to kill whites?”

    The ADL has a section on their site that essentially says anything German is evil, and even has a button to click if you are a cop!

    Almost all these symbols are on there.

    Great site btw. I like the simple 1990’s format. Please don’t ever make it modern and busy and hard to read.

    • Duane Hensley

      Great point?

    • masterblaster

      The aztecs lived centuries ago, there is no history of african symbols meaning hate just self love. A lot of the norse symbols were associated with vikings and ppl dont really consider germans norse like that. The article basically said the third reich kinda pulled the symbols from the past for their own use and thats all ppl associate with them now. honestly a majority of usage today may be associated with Nazism a smaller percentage may be for their ancient meanings. think of it this way if a new mexican leader pulled some obscure aztec symbols from the past to represent its organization…lets call them the modernzuma ,and that organization murdered thousands well when you see that obscure symbol in a tat you wont think aztec but the new group. your use of ancient symbols may be purely innocent but unless you explain it to everyone you meet who only know them from the bad pr of a war you will get a certain reaction

  • Joni

    Can anyone help me? I would love to take a rune symbol for my new tattoo. Can anyone tell me what the symbol for love is? I found different things on the Internet and don’t want to have a disrespectful image on my body, thanks!

    • Jim mueller

      You might already have this but it looks like a skeleton key. i don’t recall the name.

  • Ron McGovern

    Pagan is an old Roman worn that means country dweller i.e. farmers. It was used to denote worshippers in multi-theistic religion when Constantine declared Rome Christian because the new religion was slow to dispel the old.

    • Diana

      With all due respect for your contribution to the linguistic origin of the term, “pagan,” Emperor Constantine ruled from Byzantium (later renamed, “Constantinople,” as a nod to Constantine’s influential reign; today, called, “Istanbul,” and the capitol city of Turkey).

      Constantine’s Byzantine Empire, if compared with the ‘Holy Roman Empire,” was a brief run- yet when evaluated thoroughly and objectively, eclipses the influence of Christianized Rome.

      The reign of Constantine is extraordinarily fascinating history, and included a lot of major ‘plot twists,’ of sorts, involving the relative influences of (multiple) Greek (pantheonic, and ‘Greek Orthodox’) States, the Roman (pantheonic, and ‘Holy’) Empire, the-once-science-&-engineering-centric (and consequently, enormously wealthy) Damascus, Gibraltar (and of course, her Strait), Cairo, Baghdad, Jerusalem, the culture of the Arabian Peninsula, and Mongol societies in Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East.

      Unfortunately, much of what is most interesting (and shapes a very interesting character of Emperor Constantine) is also not very well-known, for the reason that much of Constantine’s Byzantium’s history is wholly rejected, outright, by fundamental adherents to multiple major religions (though the well-documented, logical and simplest relevant facts are usually most adamantly condemned as nonsense by Christian fundamentalists, regardless of sect).

      I could go on and on about Constantine’s political gambits, subtle cultural maneuvers, and even the extremely effective strategy for imperial influence- one which does not require waging wars- that was utilized later by the Holy Roman Empire when faced with challenges insurmountable by armed forces (hint: the pen is mightier…), as well as Emperor Constantine’s personal spiritual practices -as opposed the religious doctrines he passively, but intentionally, displayed to the general public- all of which fit together quite cleverly…

      …but I shan’t go on, lest the faithful folk go on the march with torches and pitchforks.

      • Vince Wamsley

        Ankara is the capital of Turkey-not Istanbul.

  • Harriette Frøitland

    I can Only speak for norway but as i know from history christianity was Forced upon people with violence.Practically you would Get the choice between live ad a Christian or die as a viking. With chatolisism came the shame of giving birth to a child outside marriage. And the fear of being drowned or burned. If you survived the test with floating in the water you where a Witch,then you must be burned. If you drowned you where INNOCENT. Talk about bloody..

  • Mikel

    Why did norsemen convert to Christianism? Well, they didn’t… They asimilated few aspects of the Christian cult and rites because the similarities between characters and situations from the gospels and the eddas (Jesuschrist crucifixion asimilated to Odin ordeal at the wind tree to regain wisdom). Some times it was as easy as for the misioners to let them adapt the gospel to their own oral lore, and times going on, Odin was replaced by Jesús in their prayers. Think of Santería or Voudoun… Animist lores intermixed with catholic imagery… And please, forgive my grammar and ortography… English is not my native language.

  • Salix

    The one of many thing that the Christians have in common with the Nazi’s is burning the writings, history or books of anyone that didn’t agree with their ideology. The reference to Saint Patrick in Ireland about driving the snakes out of Ireland ( notice the word ‘drive’, not ‘politely ask’) was in reference to Goddess worshipping Pagans. ( if U must have a capital letter, so can we.) The so called great Saint Patrick converted people by telling his followers that went from place to place in Ireland to get rid if anything that didn’t agree with Christianity. They also built churches over Pagan Holy places to make sure the people had to go to their churches if they wished to go to their own holy places. The original passages in the Bible. ‘Did not say ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’, it said thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live.’ And the original word translated in the Bible for got had no gender, it was neither male nor female. Also you should read the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ , also called the ‘Witch’s Hammer’ (what do you think that means? Look it up.) that is the idea of how a good Christian church treats anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Oh, and the Christians weren’t the only people fed to the lions in Rome, Pagans were too. If we are nitpicking, the list could go on & on & on & on. I was Christian, I am now Pagan, yet I believe in Jesus & God, but not as an all knowing male only. Oh yes, shock horror, I’m one of Eve’s mob (not as in the ‘mob’ in the bible, there is only one of me). You can believe what you want to believe, just don’t push your rhetoric or bigotry down other peoples throat. There is enough room in this world for us all.

    • Dallas Gunther

      Good point. History is rife with misrepresentation of what was essentially a join us or die, and rather sweeping change in belief structure. I was raised in Utah, as a Mormon, whom believe whole heartedly that they have the unequivocal truth and only path back to god. That they are christian. And that founder Joseph Smith was a prophet and man of god. All of these points I have come to believe are fictional. I love my parents but their faith and entire world is illusion. Religion is not but a way of control and should never be a reason to kill

  • Scot Kelly

    I was hoping someone might be able to assist me with a little mystery. In the early 90’s I found a metal pin (shown in this link: the ground in Savannah, GA and ever since, I’ve been trying to figure out what the symbols on the pin represent. I know the central symbol is an iron cross, but I can’t figure out what the surrounding symbols mean. They look a little like alchemical symbols or runes. Can you direct me to someone who might be able to help me decipher the symbols and maybe figure out the origin of the pin?

    Thank you,
    Scot Kelly
    Savannah, GA

    • Svenna

      Maybe better to ask someone who knows about the Knight Templars..

      • Jason

        The crops looks Templar and the the symbols do look alchemical. I agree look for a Templar Specialist.

    • Jackson

      I know for sure that the northern most symbol is Ogham Script, otherwise known as an old celtic form of writing vertically. Sorry I can’t help you on the other 3

  • Brad Lewis

    Hello… My name is Brad Lewis. I live in a rural Middle TN. area (Centerville). In 1994 I “discovered” a cave close to my home while exploring. I took many photos and explored it for up to 1.5 hrs. deep. Now fast forward to last year. I took a renewed interest and started to look at it in a different light. First I contacted a local caving group to see if this cave was “known” or documented. It wasn’t…. it’s “new”.
    Now the reason for contacting you…. Just past natural light (54 yds. and 2 turns inward) is an etched mud/clay mound with symbols upon it. I was amazed because this mound is up out of the way of the easiest traverse. It’s up against the wall and ceiling. The cave gets very small (low) after the first 40 yards. There’s a small stream running through cave at all times. Upon this mound is a “branchy figure” (left side) and then spaced apart (heading to right) the symbols “H”, “L” and “R”. There are many more faded smaller symbols upon mound. This mound has NOT changed since I first saw it in 94′. I cannot understand this mound significance (if any) on why it would be there. The “letters” do not appear to be someone’s initials because of the spacing and the shape and angles of the “letters”. Then someone mentioned the possibility of it being runes writings. So the first thing I say…. “In Tennessee”???? So I’m now asking within the runes community…. “What do you think”? There is also an opening behind the mound going back into the cave wall. But it cannot be assessed without destroying the mound which I do not want to do. The opening could just be natural also….? So…. do these symbols mean anything to you with them being on a mud/clay mound just past natural light in a cave… in Tennessee?
    Thank You for any interest or insight…. Need email address to send photos.

    • Stephen

      you should contact Scott Wolter (sp?) in Minnesota..he may be able to help..but send me pics

      • Jeff

        Scott Woltzer is his name! He is a specialist in this kinda stuff and a brilliant man!!! He has a show on the history channel!

    • Rick Mooney

      I am just now (2018) seeing your comment on your cave in TN. I live near Chattanooga and have been studying SE native iconography and Rock Art for 30 years. I am very interested in your find and would like to communicate with you.

      • Brad Lewis

        I am just now (2018) seeing your comment on your cave in TN. I live near Chattanooga and have been studying SE native iconography and Rock Art for 30 years. I am very interested in your find and would like to communicate with you.

    • Jason

      Anything is possible. There is a book called Pre Columbian visitors in the new world or something like that. It’s a real good read and has evidence of all kinds of visitors here. Scholars belonging to the Catholic Church have gone to great lengths to hide or rebuke the evidence for they believe it is impossible for anyone to have visited the new world that isn’t Catholic (Columbus). Workers were digging a reservoir in Tennessee and unearthed an ancient Egyptian Temple however it was quickly destroyed and the the project continued.

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