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Origins of the “vegvísir” symbol


After publishing the very successful article regarding origins of the “kolovrat” symbol, I was requested to write a similar article about a symbol, which came to be known as “vegvísir” (literally “The pointer of the way”, “Wayfinder”) among those interested in Norse mythology. In this case, the situation is much simpler in comparison to other symbols. In the following article, we will take a look at various nowadays interpretations of the symbol, as well as its true origin.

Development of depictions of the “vegvísir” from 19th century till today.
Source: Foster 2013 – 2015; © Anne Mathiasz.

Modern concept of “vegvísir”

Nowadays, “vegvísir” is famous among neo-pagans, musicians, reenactors and especially fans of TV series and other mass-production revolving around the Viking Age. We cannot omit its use in clothing industry, also often seen as a jewellery or tattoo. Reenactors tend to use it as shield decoration or costume embroidery. Among this inconsistent group of people, it is often accepted for “vegvísir” to be “a Germanic and Viking ancient magical rune symbol, which function was that of a compass and was supposed to protect the Viking warriors during seafaring, providing guidance and protection from Gods”. Such an interpretation can only be found in popular literature though, and in romantic fiction created in the past 30 years.

Vegvísir“ tattoo. Source:

The origin of “vegvísir“

The symbol that we call “vegvísir” can be found in three Icelandic grimoires from the 19th century. The first and most important one of them – the Huld manuscript (signature ÍB 383 4to) – was composed by Geir Vigfússon (1813-1880) in Akureyri in 1860. The manuscript consists of 27 paper lists contains 30 magical symbols in total. The “vegvísir” is depicted at the page 60 (27r) and is marked with numbers XXVII and XXIX. It is complemented by another, further unspecified symbol and a following note (Foster 2015: 10):

Beri maður stafi þessa á sér villist maður ekki í hríðum né vondu veðri þó ókunnugur sé.”

“Carry this sign with you and you will not get lost in storms or bad weather, even though in unfamiliar surrounds.”

Among other very similar symbols which can be found in the Huld manuscript belong to the “Solomon’s sigil” (Salómons Insigli; nr. XXI) and “Sign against a thief” (Þjófastafur; nr. XXVIII).

The second grimoire known as “Book of spells” (Galdrakver) survived in a manuscript with designation Lbs 2917 a 4to. It was written by Olgeir Geirsson (1842-1880) in Akureyri during the years 1868-1869. The manuscript contains 58 pages, with “vegvísir” depicted on page 27 as a symbol nr. 27. It is accompanied by a text partially written in Latin, partially in runes:

Beri maður þennan staf á sér mun maður trauðla villast í hríð eða verða úti og eins rata ókunnugur.

“Carry this sign with you and you will not get lost in storms or die of cold bad weather, and will easily find his way from the unknown.”

The third grimoire is yet another “Book of spells” (Galdrakver), this time preserved in a manuscript with designation Lbs 4627 8vo. While the author, place and time of creation are unknown, we are certain that it was written in 19th century in the Eyjafjord area, which again is close to Akureyri. The manuscript consists of 32 pages and “vegvísir” is depicted on page 17v. Within the manuscript, we can also find more similar symbols than just the “Solomon’s sigil” and “Mark against a thief”. The text accompanying this symbol is rather unique, and the following translation is the very first attempt since the exploration of the manuscript in 1993. From the text it is clear the functionality of the symbol was conditioned by true Christian faith:

At maður villist ekki : geim þennan staf undir þinni vinstri hendi, hann heitir Vegvísir og mun hann duga þér, hefir þú trú á honum – ef guði villt trúa i Jesu nafni – þýðing þessa stafs er falinn i þessum orðum að þú ei i (…) forgangir. Guð gefi mér til lukku og blessunar i Jesu nafni.”

“To avoid getting lost: keep this sign under your left arm, its name is Vegvísir and it will serve you if you believe in it – if you believe in God in the name of Jesus – the meaning of this sign is hidden in these words, so you may not perish. May God give me luck and blessing in the name of Jesus.”

Symbols from manuscripts ÍB 383 4to (27r), Lbs 2917 a 4to (27), Lbs 4627 8vo (17v).

Along with other symbols, the “vegvísir” came to Iceland most likely from England, where star-shaped symbols can be tracked as early as 15th century, such as “The Solomon’s testament” (Harley MS 5596, 31r). The original symbols had their meaning in Christian mysticism. A more thorough research might confirm the use of sigil magic even in earlier periods.

The first literature containing the Icelandic version of “vegvísir” symbol along with translation to German was most likely an article by Ólaf Davíðsson on Icelandic magical marks and books from 1903 (Davíðsson 1903: 278, Pl. V). The second time the symbol appeared in literature was in 1940 with Eggertson’s book about magic (Eggertson 1940: column 49; Eggertson 2015: 126). It is often incorrectly believed that “vegvísir” is also depicted in “The Book of spells” (Galdrabók). This mystification appeared at the end of 1980s, when Stephen Flowers publicised his paper The Galdrabók: An Icelandic Grimoire, in which the “vegvísir” does indeed appear (on page 88), but only in a side note on Icelandic grimoires. So how comes the symbol is so popular these days?

We believe the author Stephen Flowers played the main part in propagation of the symbol, thanks to the intense promotion of his paper during the beginning era of the Internet. That was in times of growing interest in Old Norse culture and emerging re-enactment community. Those interested in the topic, arguably due to lack of better resources than on purpose, based their research on the best available book with symbols that had a certain feel of authenticity due to being based on Icelandic origin. With its increasing popularity, the “vegvísir” also became an attractive article for online shops targeting this particular market, as well as for Icelandic tourist shops (see Tourism on Iceland), which still promote the “vegvísir” as an “authentic Viking symbol” due to commercial reasons. Another notable promoter of the symbol was the Icelandic singer Björk, who had it tattooed in 1982 and began to describe it as “an ancient Viking symbol, which seafarers painted with coal on their foreheads to find the correct way” since 1990s ( This caused “vegvísir” to become a part of tattoo artists’s portfolios, and at the moment the two mentioned influences intersected, the symbol became one of the most often tattooed motives in the neo-pagan, musical, re-enactment and Old Norse interest communities.

It is important to note that nowadays the circular variants, sometimes accompanied by rune alphabet, are the most used, although the original versions were of squarish shape and are without any runes.


The symbol known as “vegvísir” is Icelandic folk feature borrowed from continental occult magic “Solomon’s testament”. It is about 160 years old and its use is limited to the 2nd half of 19th century in an Icelandic city of Akureyri. The only literary sources we have from the Icelandic tradition are few mentions in three manuscripts, which are based on each other. The “vegvísir” is not a symbol used or originating in the Viking Age, and due to the 800 years gap should not be connected to it. The original Icelandic “vegvísir” is of square shape, with the circular variants emerging in the 20th century. Its current popularity is tied to the spread of the Internet and strong promotion in an on-line medium, that is easily accessible by the current users of the symbol.

I would love to express my thanks to my friends who inspired me towards composing this article, as well as those who provided me with the much-needed advice. My gratitude goes to Václav Maňha for the initial idea, to Marianne Guckelsberger for corrections on the Icelandic text and to René Dieken for providing me with various English sources.

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Davíðsson, Ólafur (1903). Isländische Zauberzeichen und Zauberbücher. In: Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde 13, p. 150-167, 267-279, pls. III-VIII.

Eggertson, Jochum M. (1940). Galdraskræða Skugga, Reykjavík : Jólagjöfin.

Eggertsson, Jochum M. (2015). Sorcerer’s Screed : The Icelandic Book of Magic Spells, Reykjavík : Lesstofan.

Flowers, Stephen (1989). The Galdrabók: An Icelandic Grimoire, York Beach, Me. : S. Weiser.

Foster, Justin (2013 – 2015). Vegvísir (Path Guide). In: Galdrastafir: Icelandic Magical Staves. Available at:

Foster, Justin (2015). The Huld Manuscript – ÍB 383 4to : A modern transcription, decryption and translation. Available here.

48 Responses

  1. When you say the original is square in shape, was there a source for this? (apologies if I missed it). I assume hoping for a drawing is too much… sometimes it’s hard to believe in something so old.

  2. “To avoid getting lost: keep this sign under your left arm, its name is Vegvísir and it will serve you if you believe in it – if you believe in God in the name of Jesus – the meaning of this sign is hidden in these words, so you may not perish. May God give me luck and blessing in the name of Jesus.”
    So guys I didn’t understand… Does it have some connections with Christian religion, as hidden sign for Jesus Christ?

  3. >“The first […] was composed by Geir Vigfússon […] in Akureyri in 1860.
    >The second […] was written by Olgeir Geirsson […] in Akureyri during the years >1868-1869.
    >The third. […] While the author, place and time of creation are unknown, we are >certain that it was written in 19th century in the Eyjafjord area, which again is close >to Akureyri.”

    I don’t quite understand why the text of the third grimoire (which was supposedly written after the first two) has more severity than the other.
    Since it mentions Jesus but was written years after the first two the “vegvísir” shouldn’t necessarily be of christian origin.
    Or are you focusing on the changing shape of the symbol rather than the origin and I misunderstood something?

    >“Along with other symbols, the “vegvísir” came to Iceland most likely from England, >where star-shaped symbols can be tracked as early as 15th century, such as “The >Solomon’s testament” (Harley MS 5596, 31r). The original symbols had their >meaning in Christian mysticism. A more thorough research might confirm the use of >sigil magic even in earlier periods.”

    I don’t understand the connection between Solomon’s symbols being in those grimoires and christianity. Solomon was jewish, lived from 990 – 931 BCE (The Viking age started ca 200 years later). How and when did information travel from Israel to Scandinavia?

    Thank you in advance for a reply!

    1. Hello,

      thanks for your message. Let me express myself more clearly – the symbol was never used by Old Norse people of the Viking Age. Of course, Vegvísir is Christian in origin. It was created in Iceland, but the general of sigil magic came there from England. It is quite simple.

      Best regards

    2. Thank you so very much, I love the look and wanted to get it tattooed next, respecting my Irish/Celtic warrior theme. Accurate symbolism is a must in order to properly respect my ancestors and their struggle. Any chance for images you wish please enlighten me with would be extra special. Thanks and keep up the amazing work.

  4. Either “Viking Age” or more recent. Strictly 19th cent. Icelandic with Christian influence or no, it is still considered a powerful symbol. And, yes, Stephen did influence alot of present day “Asatruar” stave knowledge with his works. Up til then, all that available was very “New Age” Ralph Blum and his rune interpetations (“blank rune/ I Ching approach”) Or contend with “common” accusation of being a Nazi if you have any interest in Runes.

    1. Hello Laurie,

      I do not question the strength of the symbol for various communities or the Stephen´s achievements. My goal was to describe the symbol to broader audience and disconnect it from Viking Age.

      Thank you for the read. Have a wonderful weekend!

      Best regards
      Thomas Vlasaty, author

  5. Hello,

    You said “The original Icelandic “vegvísir” is of square shape” and I was wondering if you could post an image of what you are talking about seeing an internet search seems to come up with so many versions and I have no idea what one is the one you are referring to.

      1. Hello Tom,

        After looking at the picture, which would you say is the oldest and most accurate? I would say the one on the right. Also, what does the wording say to the left of the picture?

        Thanks, Dave

        1. Hello Dave,

          you have not mentioned which picture you mean and also what period you are interested in. The oldest versions come from the manusctipts ÍB 383 4to (27r), Lbs 2917 a 4to (27), Lbs 4627 8vo (17v) and are square-ish. They are from 19th century.

          Have a nice day!

  6. Such a disappointment to find that the vegvisir is a relatively common invention, promoted by people’s imagination. I am not influenced by modern media. Of Danish descent I am always interested in Viking history, and Old Norse. I like the look of the vegvisir, and read brief descriptions of what it is, and its origin. I’m glad to have stumbled upon your article, and got a little better educated. I was about to order necklaces for my adult grandchildren, for a fun thing to have. Lesson learned : do homework so as not to unknowingly join in the current media hype. I would love to give them something authentically Old Norse (replica, of course) rather than something created for adults in which to dress up, and watch television shows.

    1. Dear Carol,

      thank you so much for a nice feedback. Let me know if I can can help you with an authentic replicas.

      I love to hear that you are in fond of my websites.

      Have a lovely day!

      Best regards
      Thomas, the author

  7. Do you believe there is a link between the christian description of the third Vegvisir and its depiction with a longer bottom line?

  8. Thanks for all your hard work!! I’ve been listening to Dr. jackson Crawford on youtube teach about old Norse language and culture, and its refreshing to see so many people, like you too, learning about the real history that we know of with these things.

    Great article, sir!

  9. Gah. I just got a drinking horn with Vegvisir on it. I guess this explains fairly firmly why I could never find any source as to which end’s symbol was which realm. >:/

    Well, here’s my ultimate question. Though created by Christians, is it valid to claim it as something of our own? Not of our make obviously, but to claim it from them? I don’t know, perhaps it is simply buyer’s remorse, and feeling a bit lied to. What in the world does the Futhark around Vegvisir translate to anyway? I can’t get anything straight out of it. Did they just slap a bunch of runes on it and call it a day?

    Tell it to me straight sir.


    1. Dear Kara,

      can I see the photo of the horn? Then I can judge what it says.

      It is a common practise to re-use old letters and symbols. It is not necessarily bad to do so, but I find claiming it is historically accurate a false and unfortunate act.

      1. Usually when I see futhark around stuff it’s literally just the futhark alphabet. If there’s no repeating characters, safe to say thats it.

  10. Hey folks,
    I have read the whole article to the end. As a sailor who wants to make a traditional world tour in the coming period (without chartplotter, GPS etc.), does anyone know what the 8 signs on this symbol mean?
    Greetings from Turkey.

    1. Hello Ercan!

      My knowledge does not reach that long, I am sorry. Given the meaning of the whole sign, they could represent the cardinal points, maybe? I am sorry I cannot be of more help.

      Have a nice day!

      1. Sorry I should have specified, the link I posted includes a lot of information which I am told is not right by someone who helpfully provided a link to this sight, but my link does include information on what each of the symbols means so I thought it might be of some help/interest 🙂

      1. Hi Olivander, What is or are the source/s you have referred to in interpreting the meanings of the various components on the vegvisir please. I’m keen to learn more. 🙂 Thank you.

      2. That article is ridiculous. They even start it off saying the vegvisir was on viking ships, which is blatant false information

  11. Hi,

    I’m catholic and recently I’m really interested in foreign symbols and the meanings of them. I was thinking about getting a vegvísir tattooed not just cause it’s meaning, but also as a tribute to Björk. And hearing so much about occult symbols etc that they are everywhere and as a catholic i should avoid them, I’m wondering if vegvísir is one of these symbols. Do you know anything about it?

    1. Hello Klara,

      thank you very much for your feedback. I myself come from one of the least religious country in the world, so it is not fair for me to give any advices in this problem. It seems that the Icelandic symbols including vegvísir never were part of the official faith (which is protestantism, by the way), it was part of folk lore and folk interpretation. In other word, I do not recommend to use it, especially if you a deeply devoted catholic. This is my interpretation of the original meaning, which was transformed over the time into “Viking symbol” meaning (which is also not very pro-catholic).

      Thank you one more time! If needed, write me again.

      Best regards

      1. It is on the other hand a symbol rooted in Christian folk practice and belief. So it would be very valid for a Christian to reclaim from neopagans. Although, for a catholic it might not be reccommended to tatoo a Protestant symbol.

  12. Christian in origin, really find it funny that many norse neopagans have become so attached in a Christian 19th century symbol. It really shows that they need to research and actually try and find sources for their “beliefs”. From an outsider perspective many of them really looks like they have only watched vikings tv show and buy merch from various “viking” sites. Sadly no interest in actual pre-Christian germanic myth and Spirituality.

  13. I find the history of symbols fascinating, especially how they develop over time. The swastika for example, was originally a Hindi symbol that meant peace, but in the modern world it is a hate symbol. So I am curious to see if this symbol has altered it’s original meaning or contains the same magical potency. I was looking into getting the Vegvisir tattooed as a symbol of protection and guidance. I was not aware of the Christian origin, but I’m not sure that changes the meaning. It’s not originally part of viking culture, but does that take away from the meaning of it? I am not Christian but I enjoy the way this symbol looks and what it represents. Would it be inappropriate for me to get this symbol on my skin?

    1. Hello Tatyana!

      Thank you for your interesting comment. I agree that symbols evolve over the time, that is simply a fact. I am not a hater of vegvísir – I am the one who tries to correct the public opinion about its “Viking origin”. As far as you are not reconstruction an Old Norse person or saying “this is a Viking Age symbol”, I think it is absolutely appropriate to proudly wear it.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Best regards

  14. Hi, thanks for the page. It’s a really good content, I was searching for something like this a while. And like Tatyana I’m think to make a Veggie tattoo.
    And it’s good to know where it really came from. The only disappointe thing is know that simbol was never used by the Viking. Or if it was, maybe is not this way or that meaning.
    But in my opinion for this uses like tattoo, or magic use. What really matters is the meaning like “doesn’t lose the way, etc”, and if you believe that it’s enough.
    And again thanks for the content. It’s awesome.

  15. Greetings! Thank you for this interesting information. I have 2 questions.
    1) is it possible that the oldest source you cite here is simply the first time the vegvisir was recorded and that the symbol’s age is unknown?
    2) Could the vegvisir have first been a pagan symbol later adopted/interpreted by Christians?
    I’m drawn to the symbol regardless. Thank you again for these references and translations.

    1. Hello Leigh, thank you so much for your message! I am glad the you found the article useful!

      1. Exactly as you say, there is no older source. It is not included to older magic books, so it seems the symbol is just a local variant created in 19th century.
      2. I cannot imagine a scenerio how that could be possible. If you mean the symbol would somehow originate from Viking Age, but left unnoticed until 19th century when it was recorded, I have to comment it as a fantastic and unsupported theory. The visual art of the Viking Age and early medieval Scandinavia followed a different logic.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

      Best regards

  16. Thank you very much for this great, highly informative article. I was pretty ignorant concerning the symbol until I read this, but I’m glad that I can now with eyes more open appreciate it nonetheless for its beautiful meaning and design. Please keep up the good work!

  17. Thank you for providing this fascinating article. Highly appreciate the clarity and knowledge gained.

  18. Hello Tomas,
    it was great to read your article confirming my suspicions about vegvisir sign. For me it was far “too viking” to be originally of that origin 😉 Anyway, it’s still a little sad to look like legend dies 😀
    But how about the aegishjalmur sign? Is there the same sad story behind it, don’t you have any idea?
    Thanks a lot for any hints you can give me in this matter!

    1. Hello Malena!

      Thank you very much for your kind feedback. To your question, Ægishjálmur is very similar case and can be traced to Galdrabók (17th century). Here you can see more about the manuscript:; here is an english translation:

      If you have any additional question, I will be happy to answer!

      Kindest regards from Central Bohemia
      Tomáš 🙂

  19. Hi dear Thomas, I am an Iranian but I am very interested in symbols and spells, especially Viking and North symbols.

    I wanted to know if vegvisir tattoos have any effect or effect on a person or just a memorial symbol;

    And that you explain the symbol of lukkustafir to me or what is its property? Thank you for having a good fast. I think I am the first Iranian to read this article!

    1. Hello,

      thanks for reading the article. Unfortunately we cannot answer, because the texts mentined in the article are basically everything we have. Vegvísir and other signs definitely were not tatoos and definitely not Viking Age, maybe they were painted in 19th century. I do not understand what do you mean by the effect and the lukkustafir part.

      Have a nice day

  20. Thank you for a very useful article. I do believe that Geir Vigfússon and his contemporaries were antiquarians rather than practising magicians, so their works must be seen as collections of curiosities rather than actual books of magic. While the symbol’s structure is undoubtedly influenced by those in the Key of Solomon, I have yet to find its exact counterpart in any book of magic originating outside of Iceland. It would be exciting to find an exact match! ‘Vegvísir’ is, of course, cognate with the German word ‘Wegweiser’ and the Dutch ‘wegwijzer’, both of which can mean ‘guide’ or ‘handbook’ as well as ‘signpost’. It was in this sense that I used it as the title of my second book. (I am the author of “Icelandic Magic: aims, tools and techniques of the Icelandic sorcerers” and “Vegvísir: a practical guide to runic and Icelandic magic”.

  21. I was reading this amazing post. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I’ve been doing some bindrunes from the norse runes. I did recently a tattoo design using Vegvisir, because I love the meaning of it, in the north, my tattoo has some bindrunes what means (the strenght, justice because of the God Tyr, the protection that Heimdall give through the Algiz rune… etc) and in the south is my creativity, artistic, spiritual and Gods connection using different runes on it. I don’t know why I feel that Vegvisir, beyond if it is a Christian symbol, I feel strongly connected to Odin throughtout it, it means, always that I look at it, it seems he’s giving me his piece of advice to take the correct path in my life. (I strongly believe in the old Gods since I was at the school in 2008, without knowing anything about norse culture, I’ve heard about Odin and Norse Gods, and I started believing on them, due to bullying at the school, Thor gave me strenght by that time) so, to me, the vegvisir has a pagan meaning. I think symbols have their own power, when you put some meaning on it. (I love norse culture and mythology) I’ve been following the 9 values from Ásatrú belief. (Sending lots of love to all of you friends)

  22. Vegvisir is a symbol that appears fist in an icelandic chronicle from the 12th century. That is about 200 years after the end of the “viking era”. So we have no clue that vegvisir is a viking symbol. But my archeology teacher said many times: “just because we don’t have any clues about a theory, it can be truth. We know very few facts about the ancient people and every day can appear a finding that changes everything.” Yes, i know that vegvisir isn’t an “official viking symbol” but i like it.

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