Valknut? It is not!

Three interwoven triangles form this symbol. It is carved on many Viking Age runestones found in Gotland. Also it is carved on a bed post found on a ship discovered in a burial site in Norway. Today this glyph has the name Valknut or sometimes Hrungnir’s Heart.

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Neologism

Valknut is norwegian for “knot of the slain”. However this name was applied to the symbol only quite recently. Almost certainly it did not have this name during the Viking Age.

The glyph to the left is commonly known as the Valknut.

Likewise the name Hrungnir’s Heart became associated with the symbol in recent times. Scholars made a tenuous connection between the symbol and a reference to a three pointed symbol in the story of Hrungnir’s duel with Thor.

Hrungnir’s heart is described in the story as being “three pointed like the carved symbol which has that name ever since”. “Three pointed” does suggest a triangle. However this is a tenuous association because the “Valknut” symbol is three interlocking triangles not one. Therefore depending on the style, it has either six or nine points. Whatever the symbol in the story is, the phrasing suggests it also had another older name.

Scholars probably also derived the term Valknut from connecting the knot like appearance of the symbol with Hrungnir’s story. This is because it was through his death at the hammer of Thor that his oddly shaped heart was uncovered. Hence “knot of the slain”.

Another possible reason for calling it this is a runestone, Stora Hammars Stone I, depicting the symbol over a burial scene featuring a figure likely to be Odin.

Stora Hammars Runestone
Stora Hammars burial scene

However elsewhere the symbol appears in contexts which have nothing to do with death or killing.

We will probably never know what name it carried in the Viking Age. However we might yet divine what it meant to people.

Meaning

My interpretation is that since the “Valknut” has three elements, the triangles, each composed of three elements, the triangle points, making a total of nine elements all interconnected with each other that it may be a symbol of the Nine Worlds of the Viking Cosmos. The nine worlds are divided among three strata: the upper, middle and lower. Thus each triangle could represent each of these realms and each point represent a world.

In a closely related way it may also represent Yggdrasil, the world tree. This is because the three Sisters of Norn write the fates of men and gods upon the trunk of the tree in a process likened to weaving. The symbol’s intertwined elements is suggestive of knots and weaving. Importantly Yggdrasil also is the connective path for traveling between the nine worlds.

Thus the “valknut” being a knot or weave of three of three, making nine, elements would make an exceedingly apt symbol for the Viking cosmos and Yggdrasil.

This interpretation would explain why the symbol is often associated with Odin in the runestones. Odin has a very particular relationship with the world tree because he uses it to travel across the nine worlds. He even hung himself upon it in order to learn the secrets of the runes.

Looking back at the Stora Hammars burial scene with this interpretation in mind it is clear that the symbol would represent the path to Valhalla. For by what other path could Odin lead the slain hero from Midgard to Asgard?

A New Name?

Perhaps then we should henceforth rename the symbol “Níu Heimar”, nine worlds, or “Yggdrasil”. Given the importance of the world tree and the nine worlds within the cosmology of the vikings it seems fitting that they should have their own symbol.

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