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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85 comments… add one
  • Red Wolf

    to each his own, I my self am a proud pagan as is my hsband and children, my babies don’t live in fear of some soul sucking goat headed freaking holding tem in an eternity of fire. they are good and happy children. most conformed due to suppression and fear of death of their entire families. the crusades was a ridiculous bout of some idiot in fear.

  • Woden109

    Interesting to note the amount of people prepared to argue about something of which they know so little.
    Vikings, Norse men, Northmen, Scandanavians, however you want to label them conquered the seas many, many years before anyone else did. They were brilliant navigators, traders, farmers, craftsmen, sailors and yes they knew how to have a fight. They were absorbed into christianity through a combination of coertion, business acumen, oh and a little bit of torture and a sprinkling of nasty death if you failed to capitulate by those lovely fluffy old christians …bless them all.
    Paganism was by its very nature a belief system that fitted each different ethnic group for its own specific needs and because of this the Pagan groups were not bound together under one banner or one house of worship making them easy to pick off in small groups ( think : Scottish Clans and the lovely old English Army..same sort of thing) Their beliefs and customs were cleverly demonised by the christians who did such a good P.R job of it that even today people still shudder with fear when they see certain symbols ,innocent in their origin, but demonised by ‘the church’ as belonging to the devil. Those lovely fluffy old christians burned and murdered their way through anyone who didnt fit, didnt want to fit, looked remotely odd, stood up to their abuse, inexplicably fell pregnant after being raped by the priests..heaven forbid! … and it was still going on in Irelend up until recently folks ..those asylums werent just full of the insane being cared for by the brides of Christ..oh no, no , no.. they were the dumping grounds for all the embarrasing cases of trusting teenage girls thoughtlessly getting themselves pregant after being abused by the priests and used as slave labour in the convents until they lost their dignity and minds. So excuse me whilst i vomit listening to the apologists claiming that the Vikings were mindless morons who saw the light and switched over to ‘a better way’
    The Vikings left something very important behind in my country ..a sense of belonging to something that matters. And to my mind Paganism in whatever form, be it sun worship , water worship or whatever, is far more appealing and has greater meaning than any of the ‘new ‘religions that use corruption, fear, abuse of power, brainwashing and bigotry to stamp its name over everyone and everything.

    • Jason

      So true, people don’t do the the research and just babble their opinions and what they have heard from an unreliable source. The Norse where brilliant and had a great impact on our modern world. The Saxons made them out to be so ruthless even though about 500 years earlier the Saxons invaded Britain in a very similar way. Very few were ruthless murderers ( most of those being Danes) the rest. Were farmers, traders, explorers and craftsmen. They established cities and countries and long Noble Dynasties of Kings. They were in no way different from anyone else in that period.

  • Dragon's Eye

    WOW! o_O

    Seems a lot of controversy stirred up on this article!

    First, to square-up certain misunderstandings:

    “Religion” is often used as the excuse ( supposedly by order of someone’s God ) to go to war with a people of a different faith or belief; Namely, the Crusades come to mind here. Much of the Roman Empire’s conquests were also under the guise of a “Religious God” ( from the early Roman Catholics, that is ).

    Most of the blame lies squarely at the feet of the “religious” leaders AND their adherents ( read: “followers” ). These conquests were simply the expansion of a “church’s” taxable territory in much the same fashion as the empire itself. The basis of these “established” religions was to convert more people into following its doctrines, and therefore, increase the size of its “tithe-paying” membership.

    Second:

    Conditions for showing the acceptance of the new “church’s” doctrines included doing away with the ancient rituals and rites, customs, and beliefs in other deities besides the approved “saints”, angels, etc.

    Many of these conversions were done, backed up by the use of military and mercenary force – especially towards those who were recalcitrant about chinging their beliefs. This often resulted in entire villages, farms, and whole communities being slaughtered – all for the sake of the conquerors’ “god”. This was even the case during the change-overs of the Egyptian Dynasties – of which is most notable – the reign of Akhenaten and his “Sun-God” worship, exclusive of all of the other deities.

    Third:

    The infamous Witch-burnings did indeed happen as early as about the mid-1400’s and 1500’s timeframe. Hans Christian Anderson wrote profusely about the abuses by the “church” – in which one instance was reenacted on film. There was much public outcry when such movie was publicly shown, and was publicly denounced by the “church” leadership and its followers as a fraud.

    Another case in point; The burning at the stake of Joan of Arc. Where she became famous for her leadership at the battlefield and her many victories ( in which she described as “by Divine Providence” ). She was charged and later, burned alive at the stake for heresy; A common charge, leveled at those accused of “Witchcraft”.

    The Massachusetts Colony saw a number of grisly “executions” of accused witches in its own history; Most of whom were merely very knowledgeable and very wise old women.

    = = =

    In summation:

    Most of the callous labeling of the “old ways”, and those who practiced them, was originally from the very “church” leadership itself. After all, an established organization that sees unlimited possibilities for income often hates to see “competition”, and would do much to libel and slander them at all costs (?!?!?) .

    Much of the old ways may seem rather quaint and outdated by today’s standards(???), but many of those folks did have a much simpler way of seeing life, and that which is within it.

    As an additional commentary about Vikings, and their plunderings:

    Has anyone bothered to investigate WHY this may have happened in the first place? Say, something like an on-coming mini-Ice Age that all but ended the productive agriculture of much of the far North-Lands?

    Wasn’t much of the far Northlands arable farmland PRIOR to about 900 CE – 1000 CE ? According to some more of the latest Earth core and Ice core samples, such just may be the case. This begs the question, “What would YOU do when you are desperately starving and without much for resources – all because your familiar growing seasons now become nothing more than ceaseless Winter?”

    Just some more food for thought, from a rational point of view.

    Again, another great essay!

    BTW:

    The A.D.L. and S.P.L.C. ( that’s “Anti-Defamation League” and “Southern Poverty Law(less) Center” ) have most of these and other Runic Sigils ignorantly-listed as “symbols of hate” all on account of the NAZI’s adoption of them during their reign of terror. I have personally tried to straighten out their line of “reasoning” on this matter, but to no avail and to see my posts summarily deleted! Hmmmm! Go figure the odds on that.

    ” Ignorance is what breeds fear and loathing, knowledge and understanding is what dis-empowers them. ”

    – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

  • JJ

    A few of the kings realized the power of Christianity. They saw that they could both control and bond their people through the religion. Another reason is that it helped their relations with other nations, most importantly Constantinople.
    Constantinople was a metropolis of trade, and, during the time was the home of the Roman Catholic Church. You will see more Anglican type Christians in Norway/Denmark Vikings and Roman Orthodox Christianity in Rus Vikings.

  • swed

    [moderated]

    Kire, du är bäst! [moderated] Gord appear to be you’re the opposite. Your posts just lift this thread to the next level. I like to add something, though. The first missionaries that came to Scandinavia were taken slaves and pagan people really was amazed by the strength they showed resigning their self to their fate. And fate was everything to the pagans. This “new” God seemed to be a really strong one.

    The Vikings war skills were a result of many factors but most important by necessity. As only the oldest son was entitled to the inheritance of the farm and Vikings took a pride in having many children there became a great surplus of men that rather sought honor and gold abroad than stayed home working for a brother. The pagans also truly believed in fate, being practical people with much fighting training, good seamen, and being, what we today call, hungry. There were very, very few berserks. As a matter of fact, although we know that the Koryaks an indigenous people in Siberia use the mushroom fly agaric or fly amanita (Amanita muscaria) there’s no evidence that the Vikings did.

    The Vikings didn’t burn down churches to loot them. Nope! The valuable stuff had often been hidden prior to the attack and there’s no meaning destroying things you want to steal, is there? I don’t think they ever started an attack by burning a church or monastery down but they carried out their threats if nobody would show them the hidden treasures or pay the ransom. As I said, Vikings were practical people and they found it convenient that people had gathered in one place.

    The runes have been around for more than a thousand years and there’s no way some of them can be disqualified and banned (forbidden) because the Nazi’s that ruled for merely 12 years used them for certain purposes! That’s something the modern German state is dead wrong about! The fasces are still used by the Swedish police in their emblem and by the U.S.A in theirs in spite the fact that it was the Italian state insignia under Benito Mussolini and the source of the word fascism!

  • Jacob Banderob

    Hello, I was wondering if I could get some help on viking runes. I was thinking about getting a couple of tattoos that mean something to me and would trace back my lineage. Quarter of my family (on my mothers side) are from Newfoundland, and before that their lineage traces somehow back to Vikings from Finland, most likely the Varangians.
    I was wondering if there are Norse runes that mean/ represent determination and perseverance, I was thinking of getting them tattoo’d on the inside of my upper arms.
    Thanks

  • Gerald

    Ger was an old germanic word for spear. You can hear it in the book of Beowulf. The danes refer to the germans as spear danes, ger-spear/ danes-men.

  • kundan

    what is the meaning when a picture containing leben-rune(reverse Y) inside the circle and infinity below the circle and
    above the circle is right arrow(just like tyr rune)

    say appropriate word of this all runology

  • Leroy

    Are you as ignorant as to miss te point of thus article in it purpose. The Nazis took these ‘symbols’ and adapted their own variations on their meaning. . Perhaps they used a similar symbol as a sign of rebellion of Nazi philosophies. What ever the reason the ignorance you speak of comes across heavily upon yourself. So take your rant on hippies elsewhere

    To everyone else besides DT and gord greatly insightful comments.

  • gord

    The toten rune is the genesis of the 1960s peace symbol. Those idiot and ignorant hippies used a symbol that was in fact a grave marker used by the Waffen SS. And don’t try to tell me the peace symbol has a circle drwn around it and so is entirely different; it’s not different it’s just another example of baby boomer ignorance. They couldn’t even come up with an original symbol for peace; no, they had to use a symbol honoring NAZI dead in combat.

    • Dragon's Eye

      @ “Gord”:

      Actually, you are quite mistaken! The “Peace” symbol that was in use by the 1960’s “Revolution” had nothing to do with the Runes, any of them! It had more to do with the fact that it was composed of two semiphore signals ( the old “flag” symbols used on aircraft carriers, airfields, etc. ) that were merged together. The symbols were for “N” and “W” which were abbreviations for “No (more) War”. They just happened to appear like an upside-down Algiz Rune, but it was never crafted from the use of any Runes.

      So your comment about them cheering/honoring the NAZI’s dead as way off the mark of rationality.

      Please do some further research into the origins of the 60’s “Peace Symbol” while you are at it. You just might learn something very interesting along the way!

      :-)

      – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

      • Dragon's Eye

        POSTER’s Correction:

        I meant to say that the semaphores used were for “N” and for “P” – not for “N” and “W”.

        This had to do with the early non-proliferation talks over concerns of the spread of nuclear weapons. ( Yes! Even back in the sixties. ) Part of the “Hippie Movement” was born out of that concern over the possible use and existence of nuclear weapons.

        – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

      • Andraste

        I’d love to get a bind rune as my first tattoo.
        I’m thinking of combining the kenaz, tiwaz&algiz runes into one.
        Could this be done?html

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