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’. 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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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

andi

Just a question, if paganism was that great, why did the real Vikings convert? For example, the Hauteville’s from southern Italy who were Normans, won the first Crusade. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, places Robert Guiscard in heaven with the great Christian warriors.

I don’t know if you mentioned this, not only are Viking symbols not nazi symbols, modern Germans are not the same as Vikings, Saxons, or Franks. The Nazis made that up. The Germanic tribes were a whole bunch of groups. I always laugh when people say they are pure this or pure that. The Franks, which Charlemagne was, were a Germanic tribe which happened to subdue a bunch of other Germanic tribes.

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Stormie

Andi, maybe they didnt want to be slaughtered? Maybe the brave, true pagans faught the the tyranical christians. Maybe they thought their gods were worth dying for. Who says they were wrong?

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JS1985

“Paganism” never existed. The word was created by Christians for all non-christian believers (excluding Judaism). The question whether Pagans fought against Christian and how fiercely is much debated…tho it was only under the Emperor Julian who favoured Paganism and took straight forward actions against Christianity . Much of his effort died with his death.

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Jerry

Because their King did.

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Einar

Paganism in the classical sense wasn’t an organized religion. It was more of a set of traditions handed down, but likely varying wherever you went. When Christian missionaries showed up, Jesus was looked upon as just another deity by the pagans. But a deity that offered an afterlife that was far better than Hel. Because 99% of Norse weren’t joining the parties in Valholl or Sessrumnir — most people didn’t die bravely in battle, even then.

In many cases, pressure was put on the people to convert, but it was kind of inevitable. Even in 11th century Iceland, half the people had voluntarily converted already, before the vote was taken to make the entire island Christian.

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Scotty

Much of the reason that Vikings converted was for trade and political gain:

The raids on the Frankish kingdoms and the British Isles brought increased contact with Christianity. Although Vikings often seem to have maintained their beliefs throughout the periods of their raiding, there was considerable pressure to convert to Christianity if they wished to have more peaceful relations with the Christians. This could happen on a political level, as in the Treaty of Wedmore in 878. The treaty bound the Viking leader Guthrum to accept Christianity, with Alfred of Wessex as his godfather, and Alfred in turn recognised Guthrum as the ruler of East Anglia.

Another more or less formal convention applied to trade, since Christians were not really supposed to trade with pagans. Although a full conversion does not seem to have been demanded of all Scandinavian traders, the custom of ‘primsigning’ (first-signing) was introduced. This was a halfway step, falling short of baptism, but indicating some willingness to accept Christianity, and this was often deemed to be enough to allow trading.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/religion_01.shtml

This was similar to the Vikings/Rus who sailed to Constantinople in the 900s, creating havoc as they went and accepting great tribute. The choice of religious conversion was pragmatic for the tribal leaders.

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Ann

Imminent threat of pillage, rape, and enslavement tend to put a damper on even the most enthusiastic adherent.

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Arkasis

i have a better answer to that question, it is simple Andi. the real vikings or as they should be called The Norse or Northmen never converted. i am a descendant of the Icelandic Skjalde and i have been practicing my beliefs since the day i was old enough to understand.

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marcus

Andi, clearly you have not researched nazi ideology. The nazis did not believe they descended from vikings, nor did they fail to distinguish between ‘German” and ‘Germanic’. Germanic tribes were the antecendents of modern germans as well as scandinavians, the dutch, the swiss and austrians, albeit the west germanic peoples of central europe have some racial admixture with celtic tribes.
Hitler never said Germans were the superior race, he said ARYANS were the superior race. He defined Aryans as people of Norse/Germanic descent, that is why he considered scandinavians and some central europeans as equals and brothers.

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Mazelle

Actually, the modern Germanic people do not share the DNA of the Vikings. Tests have been done, many recently, to determine Paternal lineage from Vikings from Denmark, Sweeden and Norway, which is where the Vikings were from, NOT GERMANY, and there is NO Viking descent.

Modern Germanic people are so mixed now that they contain as much Roman(Italian), Greek as Slavic DNA as they have DNA from Germanic tribes, thousands of years of mixing will do that. Hitlers whole ‘Aryan’ philosophy was based on a race that didn’t even exist. The only people with actual ‘Aryan’ DNA these days are those in Norway, Iceland and Sweden, and o a lesser degree Denmark and Northern Britain.

Funny how that idiot excluded and murdered so many based on the idea that they weren’t of a line that his people and he aren’t of either. That’s what racism, bigotry and ignorance gets you. Thank God we know now his ‘theories’ were bullshit and that he and his cult lost the war. They did more damage and caused more deaths to the German people than anyone ever has.

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Mari Heimriksson

They converted due to the fact that a lot of them preferred to live rather than be excecuted and destroyed by the missionaries… If the missionaries failed in one area… they would come back with an army… It wasn’t that the Vikings didn’t like the idea of Jesus, it’s just the missionaries didn’t want the Vikings to worship god alongside their old gods…

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King Penda

I don’t think that anyone is saying that paganism is particulary great but the Scandinavians certainly felt their Heathen culture was worth fighting for against the anti-culture of Christianity. I don’t understand your comment re: Nazis making Germans up or whatever. The Nazis were very aware of the origins of people and who were classed as Germanic which was why they admired the English so much and repeatedly sought to avoid a war with them. The 3rd Reich however was very much a Christian state. One of the 25 points of the Nazi state stated that Germany was a Christian state regardless of denomination. If the Nazis took any “paganism” on board it was more of the Sol Invictus Roman model of grandeur and authoritarianism rather than the self determinism and sufficiency of Northern Heathenism.

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Robert

I have a few quick questions.My great grandmothers family were kettermans.At some point they adopted the wolfsangle rune as their “coat of arms”.Was this common practice among German familys?Also,If this is the case,where would I find family runes for the rest of my German family names such as Alt,Stumpf,Hahn,Custer,ect.Thank you for your time.

Robert

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Isak

Well andi, my theory to conversion was that over the generations the reason for converting was forgotten. A man on the mercian border of the Danelaw would get baptised and go “Hey guys, I’m a christian now, so the rath of your… I mean our god will come down upon you if you burn down my hall and kill my family in a border dispute” to his christian neighbors while laughing with his fellow “christian” Danes. His great grandson however,through culture mixing, Normans etc is a real christian

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DT

By the way, it’s spelled “Christian” with a capital “C”.

The idea of missionaires sending in armies to convert the poor powerless Vikings who couldn’t fight back because they were a bunch of sissies is ludicrous. The Vikings terrorized England for hundreds of years, and their favorite targets were Chruches, because they were defenseless. Vikings were converted little by little over a period of time. Lief Ericson for instance, converted to Christianity, and his father Eric the rd disowned him. As Vikings began to settle in Christian territories (Such as Dublin and Normandy) they began to adopt the religion of their neighbors. William the Conqueror is a good example…he was basically a civilzed Christian Viking. When he conqueroed England, it was already Christian.

The missionaires had a shrewd stradgedy of converting the ruler of a realm, and then his subjects would usually convert to please the ruler. Of course, this didn’t always work, and on at least one occasion the people rebelled and killed the king for converting to Christianity. St. Wilberforce converted an entire village of Odin worshippers by chopping down a tree sacred to Thor. When the non-existent Thor didn’t destroy him with lightning bolts, the people realized what suckers they’d been all those years and converted en masse to Christianity. It’s easy to smash an idol and not be killed for it (unless an outraged Pagan sacrifices you in atonement) and prove the idol had no power.

Pagans converted also because Christianity had a better message. Women fared better under Christianity, despite whatever you read by Silver Ravenwolf, as did slaves. Christianity gave a birght future of an afterlife in Heaven, while Paganism seemed a bit murky on this. Neopagans generally believe in Reincarnation, but Pagans didn’t know about it since it was an Eastern idea. A few groups believed in the “Transmigration of Souls”, which meant the soul of one dead person leapt into the body of a living one. What if you wound up in the body of your enemy? A Pagan coffin unearhted on the Tiber mentioned how the grave was “earth and fire” and painted a gloomy picture of the afterlife. If this was what was typical belief of European Pagans, it’s also a good indicator of why Christianity won out.

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Helpful

By the way, it’s spelled “Leifur Eiriksson”.

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Gonavandis

Seriously? Christianity had a better message? “convert or die” is a better option than the pagan “you can never have too many gods on your side.” Even nowadays women do not fare better under christianity. Women priests? Don’t see any. Plenty of female vicars and reverends though.
Of course if you smash an idol/household shrine/holy place Thor or odin will not smite you, Thats what their followers are for. Does the christian god strike me down if i burn a church? No, his followers do. (no i haven’t, it’s just an example.)

The conversion method you mention with the ruler was actually employed. Historical fact.
If it didn’t work, the conversion was at swordpoint. Historical fact.
When the norse went viking of course the churches got hit, soft,rich targets. The equivalent of bank robbery.
Your argument is one sided and biased. i aint perfect but i live my life as a man should, i look out for my family and friends and defend my country (british soldier) but according to christianity that isn’t enough, im going to hell. Personally i prefer the old ways.

By the way it’s spelled christian, The capital is a matter of grammar not spelling.

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Stephen Glaser

Your example of saying that Thor is non-existant because lightening bolts didn’t kill anyone when the Donar tree was chopped down is ludacris. This like like saying the Christian deity doesn’t exist because if one of His churches is burnt down, no one gets struck by lightening. I don’t know of any church, shrine, or temple where the presiding deity took immediate revenge if His/Her place of religious practice was destroyed or vandalized.

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Othilla

Originally the Christian missionaries jobs was to simply convert 1 or 2 people per village, then these would spread the ‘good word’ from within… After all traditional Vikings put little to no value on the word of an outsider. They could only be converted from within.

Over many generations Christanity spread through the lands, to be fair, the chruch was actually a very good neighbour…. at least until they had a taste of real power.

Then we have the dark ages.

Trust me, they were not ‘nice’ to women and slaves… just look at how they were treated:

‘Woman healer (not uncommon, it was womens work at the time), she must be tested to see if shes a witch, a servant of the devil… lets burn her at the stake, after all its commonly known that witches don’t burn, so if she dies shes innoncent… and if that idea doesn’t go down well, lets tie rocks to her and drown her, if she floats shes a witch…’

Brings new meaning to the phrase ‘catch 22′ huh?

But im not one to throw stones… yes the vikings were a brutal bunch, they raped, pillaged and murdered… but then so did all their neighbours… that was life at the time, you were strong, or you were a victim. You can’t judge them on todays morals (hell people have less morals today anyway).

That aspect of viking life was more cultural than spiritual, in a purely spiritual sense there isn’t actually a huge difference between any faith the world over…
All faiths encourage their followers to be better people, offering heavenly rewards.
Peace and friendship are universal messages in every religion, the war murder and death comes not from the religions, but the people hiding behind them, using them as an excuse to commit acts of unthinkable inhumanity on their fellow man.

If you want to throw stones throw them at people, not faith.

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DT

Actually, the so-called “Dark Ages” weren’t as dark as people think. That’s a misnomer. Some good books on the subject are “How The Irish Saved Civilization” and “6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization” by Philip Sampson The myth that women healers were condemned as witches began in the 19th century via Jules Michelet. The witch hunt era began in the Middle Ages, not the Dark Ages and prior to that, witchcraft was considered an offence about as equal to that of adultery, and witches were viewed as misguided, rather than evil. The idea of witches as evil had to be forced on society over a period of decades. The witch hut era was fueled by the desire for money more than anything. (Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology R.H. Robbins). There’s really no connection at all to witches and Pagans…except in the imaginations of Wiccan writers. Many people romaticize what Viking religion was like, but there’s really no reason to think it was much different than the Pagan religions of their neighbours.

All religions aren’t the same, which is why Europeans ditched praying to trees and became Christians.

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Gerry

Wow, speaking of misguided….. I have to say all of you should read things orther than the internet. One and only one religion has killed more people in the name of their G than any other, and it wasn’t any of the pagans. There’s a national holiday dedicated to murder correuption and sin and people focus on ancient religions as issues? Anyway, people converted for many reasons. Some were forced, some did it out of rebelion, some because the word made sense to them. Believe it or not some were even bribed. This took generations to do. Bottom line all organized religions are corrupt at some point and divine at others. If you really want to be a good person follow the commandments, live life to the fullest, and keep an open mind. Ideas are the way not beliefs.

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Traveling Txn

Follow the commandments? Which set of commandments, there are two sets of ten in the bible in addition to a couple much longer lists, most of which do not have anything to do with being a good person (they’er about being ritually pure and how to worship the biblical god)

I can find much better rules to live by.

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Phil Golzer

I myself continue to practice pagan religion ODIN. Which has lasted longer than any form of christen religion. I personally believe that most pagans of the viking times converted due to force, whether it be through actual force or threat thereof. That and who really knows what was promised to the folks then. We do know from history that the drunk King George had the so called bible rewritten his way. Which is what bible most follow. Which also makes no sense to most. If you really want to read the true commandments read the sayings of the high one by Odin. They are simply enough to understand and give a straight reason for living life as it should. There aren’t hidden meanings that are subject to how one wants to read into them. They are simply put.

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HUEVO

The paganism its great, was for money and Power. The pope offer money for conquer but one condition. Start to cut heads in towns then offer salvation with the Christ. Was very easy the conversion to a new god that people don’t believed. So what man is not a god born from a woman (that he said, women are created by satan to not allow man live in sanctity) that magic kings (people who practice magic are from satan) and pay tribute the new born with 3 gifts. the same gifts offer to the pagan gods in the same era? OMG o.O

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