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
  • Manfred

    I keep reading these letters about vikings ”pillaging”. Is it not true that nowadays there’s more and more evedince found that vikings were actualy
    tradesman. That would explain viking symbols found at places all over the world (for example turkish mosques), placed there by local people out of respect for the vikings. ps; excuses for my poor english

    • Myself

      The “Vikings” were the pillagers; the “Norse” were the traders (well, the “Norse” were people from Scandinavia – those closer knew the difference between a Norse and a Dane, those further away tended to clump them together as “Norse”). As others have pointed out, one did not exclude the other. A Norse tradesmen would go and trade one season. Next time, they might go “Viking” – which is, pirating instead of trading. Then that person might take their “ill-gotten” goods from pillaging and proceed to trade them next season. It’s similar to (but not exactly the same as) sailors like Sir Francis Drake – he was a tradesmen, a member of the Royal Navy, a pirate (illegal) and a privateer (legal pirating; in his case attacking Spanish ships was legal, attacking Dutch ships was illegal – England being at war with Spain, but allied with the Dutch). Many Norsemen did it all – they’d trade, they’d pirate, they’d pillage, they’d fish or farm, all depending on what they needed at the time and where they lived. Basically, how I understand it, “Viking” was an action, like pirating, while “Norse” and “Dane” were groups of people. So, all Vikings were generally Norse or Dane (with some Anglo-Saxons and probably a few Celts thrown in there as adventurous!), but not all Danes and Norsemen were Vikings. Yes, “Vikings” pillaged, that was a large part of “going Viking” – but those that were actively engaged in trading weren’t “Viking” at the time. They might go out “Viking” if they had little luck with trading, but Viking and trading were as different to the Norse as pirating is different from trading now. Basically it’s a Norse word for “pirate!”

  • wolfgar Samuel Veirott

    You are correct on both holidays kire. I am honestly surprised this fact of conversion has not been brought up yet. (pre-note) through out the time of conversion there was no “one” method of doing so. some pleasant others horrific. But one point that pertains to mulitiple points raised in this section is the fact that through their tireless efforts to thourghly ban paganism. Being unsuccessful time and again wether through force or attempted guidance, they realized the easist way to convert pagans was to absorb their beliefs and mix them with their own. christanity has changed significantly through out time and is unclear in mordern days how exactly it looked in the begining to spite what most might argue. so by changing certain aspects and ideologies of their own religion they became more successful in converting others. strangely enough most adaptations were kept and are still practiced today. Many believe that most of the christian beliefs actually originated from paganism to begin with. such as the resrrection of christ, being either odin or thors children (depending on the story/belief) hiding in the trunk of the world tree for days then arising to regain the throne of gods after ragnarok. a few more notes. viking actually means pirate though norse people started off as farmers in a hunter gatherer society. through searching for less harsh climates and the prosperation of their people led to exploration (their knowledge of war and mastery of combat origins escapes me at the moment) and they were known for actually setting up trade with foreign peoples as to gain more than trying to figure out their technologies and methods after they had slaughtered everyone whom could have shed light on them. as many people through out time they had sub-groups who gave them all bad names through their barbaric acions and methods though in all honesty and retrospect they were no worse than the christian crusades or roman expansion. women were considered equal in norse society the first and to my knowledge (besides native americans) to have done/been doing so. their religion did revolve around violence as of the belief that if one did not die in battle he would be sent to hel to live in her kingdom though in norse beliefs hel was not a burning pit of damnation but a less glorious asgard. and retained less glory as to be among the gods in valhalla and amongst them in the final battle of ragarok which was the ultimate glory and strive of all vikings. yet norse people were some of the first to utilize poetry and social ergonomics and the expansion of ones mind and inner eye with the whole of their people and though the kings had reign all men and woman were not so much ruled as guided freemen. In many aspects the vikings were less violent and more civilized than their neighbors yet in others more barbaric and “wrong” none the less the christians did force, slaughter, burn, destroy and all around try to decimate the pagan religion but were unsuccessful even to this day. to end what u believe is you’res to decide. there is ample writings/research to support any idea but which is correct cannot truely be proved unless we could actually travel back in time. so I as all cannot say my section is entirely correct though i have deicated many years of my life to the research of my haritage so this is more or less and educated guess of past events.

    • Kire

      A funny thing as you mention the part of “Viking” it does indeed mean pirate, and what viking is generally taken as today would be the norse societies in general, such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Most people had a tendency to be either farmers, hunters, fishermen or even all combined, it depended on the need I would say, it is however quite important to state, that just because they were a farmer, that did not mean they couldn`t be a viking, after all they went on “viking” which would be pillaging let`s say.. Ireland for example, they were a rather versatile people, not limiting themselves to just a single thing, but rather keeping the horizon broad. Skalds (poets) were highly valued as well, they would for example work for great men such as kings, living in his hird, and reciving what would be a huge payment for their work. Their mastery of combat is deeply speculated though, but personally I would state that what truely stands out compared to alot of other nations would be the infamous berserkergang, this could happen naturally in the battle or be provoked by for example the use of certain mushrooms, or drinking mead. It basically made the person insane, and “immune” to pain, all one would feel would be rage and a need to how to put it.. End things. This can be speculated and debated both ways though, as we do not know too much about just that, it is however what I have read, heard, learned, and experienced myself.


  • Magnus Bjørnstad

    Hey.. is there any norse symbols for birth?

  • ben

    This might be a bit late but, to add just a point to the conversation on the reason why the norse converted to christianity I read somewhere that after ragnarok when the forces of the aesir and vanir fought the final battle against the forces of destruction. The nine world were destroyed in the ensueing chaos and from the ashes of the last battle a new world was created (much like the creation of the giant ymir from fire and frost two opposites i guess it’de be like to opposites again colliding and creating life and a world) and two humans a man and a woman survivded ragnarok by hidding I believe in a tree’s trunk and these two humans were protected by one god (supposadly baldr since he died before ragnarok) and through him his father and fellow aesir were continually worshipped. So since christians worship one god and the norse worshiped a pantheon through one god the christians might of attempted to morph this gods identiy into christ. Again just an idea, I’m not trying to disprove anyonne else’s idea. If any of this is wrong go ahead and say so, so that noone mistakes this for the truth. sorry for spelling mistakes if any

    • Kire

      Ben, just to add to another note upon that, Thor`s children survived as well, and yes you might be somewhat right to some degree that is, in regards to the christians morphing things.. To give you an example, easter used to be a “pagan” holliday (if I recall correctly) A celebration to fertility, even Christmas in december is taken from the “pagans” Or as we Scandinavians call it, Jul. The norse people called this holliday Yule, see the resemblance? Christianity have done this many a time, adopted “heathen” rituals, cermonies etc, in order to try and appeal to other groups.

      • Wolfe

        True. Christianity also appealed to the Norse I believe as I am Norse, through it’s story line and theyre theories that christianity is derived from Northern Mythology. It is a true awful shame the Vikings gave themselves after their conquest. Christians realized the only way they could stop them was thru faith and religion which would be the hardest pressed region of belief to convert, but they took the chance and the Gaets suprisingly gave in, well those centralized in what is today, Stockholm since it was a mass center of Gaets or Swedes, and the church wanted to avoid bloodshed after they established there new found power. It is pitiful the Vikings gave in to modern societal thinking of that time by giving in, it started the domino decree. But the Norse are finally starting to awaken. Oh and another fact that isnt widely known, is now science in it’s weird ways has proved the legend of Beowulf is true, some are skeptical but to us true Scandinavians, it will forever be true.

      • Wolfe

        Yes that is what I think but seeing as how the christians pervert and manipulate for gain, I believe they used the two humans representing Adam and Eve and through that the world is reborn and the All father unsured through Baldir he would be worshipped for continuing life, whether this a life or death we live in, and so Baldir would be god and continuing the world through his own making through Adam and Eve the last two beings hiding in a tree. Ironic how that theory can fit, that is my idea of it. One of them or they can all be a part of it.

  • Zander

    The (Tyr-rune) is my symbol!
    And the game!!

  • Jack

    Hey Fidur!

    Westernized history lessons are the most biased. If you want to find out real information check out books from various souces, especially from Europe.

    It’s just like the news, in US (western culture) we have news channels that are bias and from one station to the next the same story is told from opposite ends, the same happens in the history books, but we don’t get the other side. the BBC gives you the news and doesn’t tell what to think about it because the people are supposed to think for themselves.

    Also I saw many spelling violations a lot worse than capitalization, I might even have a few, it’s an interwebs post… FYI: people that think for themselves don’t really care about your opinion though they will read it and consider it if you make a good point. Yes, what I said applies to my post too, and that makes this a waste of time. I got nothin’ better to do.

  • Kire

    DT, just so it`s said.. Before Christianity came to the Nordic countries, men and women were counted as -equals- and it wasn`t until Christianity truely got a hold of the nordic countries women were how to put it… “less worth”.

  • Kire

    Hey guys, I`m a Norwegian pagan;
    Anyway I figured I`d clarify some of this whole conversion part during the Norse ages, at least when it comes to Norway.

    first, I`d like to state, that the Norse people were not vikings per say, a viking is someone who pillage land from the sea, while the Norse people mainly were traders and explorers, do keep in mind that I`m not stating that some of them weren`t “vikings” as one can only imagine it as a rather common “occupation/lifestyle” when one look at sources such as Snorre Sturlavsson`s writings (Kings saga).

    And then regarding the whole conversion from the old beliefs to the new ones (in Norway)
    the norse people picked up sevral things from their travels, trade, war etc; and they were quite “friendly” in regards to cultural differences (to my knowledge. When Christianity grew in Norway, the news of it did of course reach the ears of the Nordic people, and some even let themself be baptised yet kept their old beliefs, simply to have the oppertunity to continue trading (this was demanded by some christians) this resulted in the reigion more or less getting pushed little by little upon the people. Eventually however Norway gained kings that were Christian and tried to force this religion further upon their entire people, such as Olav Trygvasson, this was mostly done in a quite brutal manner, Trygvasson did not manage to succesfully make his people Christian, and had to give up this idea.
    It wasn`t until Olav Haraldsson got the throne at about 1015 that Christianity truely got a hold in the Norwegian Kingdom, Olav forced his people into accepting the faith by giving them an option; Either you worship the “true” god or be executed / lose your body parts and be exiled from the kingdom; Olav also destroyed sevral pagan art works, places of worship and such, however this was not enough for his people to convert fully, and many parts of the old ways would survive, even to these modern days, for example “Christmas” which in Norwegian is called Jul, decending from Yule (a norse holliday). Later the people rebelled against Olav, and he lost his throne at about 1028, then his life at 1030 during the battle of Stikklestad against the “rebels”; upon Olav`s death things happened with his corpse, such as his blood supposedly restoring a blinde man`s vision, his hair and nails growing, and his body not decomposing, and alot of other “miracles” at 1031 Olav was declared a “Saint” and people would pray to him for help and guidance and recieve the aid they hoped for.

    To sum it all up; The norse people had little choice but convert to christianity, as it was that or be dishonoured. Also one can speculate that the Christian faith seemed stronger to the Norwegian people due to the acomplishments and “miracles” regarding Olav Haraldsson.

    However I would like to state once more; that Olav did not succeed entirely, as many traiditions and such lived onwards, and sevral of the norse customs remained the same, and simply changed in name and purpose.

    I do hope this have explained the whole thing decently to you all, and that you actually bothered to read what I wrote, furthermore I apologize for any typoes I might have had.

    Thank you for your time

  • DT

    Actually “Fidur”, all I see from you is sweeping generalizations but no specifics. It’s actually you who don’t know what you’re talking about. Pointing out “Net spelling errors is the mark of the lame, on the Internet, no one spells correctly anymore, and people who criticize other’s spelling on the internet is about like the loser who says “I’m a good driver” ala Sienfleid. Get a job as a proofreader, and you’ll have a field day. Chances are you’re yet another Neo-Nazi Cretin who thinks Aryans are superior. I suggest you read The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, and you’ll see I’m right about witches (as already mentioned) and then decide. When you have the scholastic credentials of R.H. Robbins, then we’ll talk. Until then, bug off.

  • Fidur

    DT, it’s ironic that you try to correct someone for not capitalizing the word “Christian”, yet your post is littered with spelling errors. Need I remind you that correcting one’s spelling, especially over something that perhaps only you feel is dear (such as capitalizaing christianity, which I will no longer do simply to thwart you), is the last refuge of a pseudo-intellectual?

    Your history lesson there is flawed and filled with holes. It’s a shame that while you’re on the right track, you are spouting off inaccuracies. This is criminal because people come here looking to read into something, hoping to gain insight, and will be mislead by your half-truths and inaccuracies.

    At best, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about and could use another history lesson (perhaps an unbiased, Westernized one) — and at worst, you’re intentionally ignorant.

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