Vegvisir: What’s the Story Behind the Viking Compass?

If you’re interested in Norse tradition, legend, and lore, the odds are pretty good that at some point, you’ve encountered a Vegvisir. Also known as a Viking Compass or Norse Compass, it’s said to prevent the wearer from becoming lost, even in bad weather. 

Wayfinder keychain
Wayfinder keychain

But what’s the story behind Vegvisir? What do we know about this strange Viking symbol?

To answer this question, it helps to understand a little bit about the Vikings and their descendents. One thing we know for certain is that the first documented appearance of Vegvisir was in 1860 – shortly before the start of the American Civil War. By this time, of course, the Vikings had vanished into history. However, their descendents, as well as anyone else influenced by their powerful cultural influence, continued to think, act, and create based on their work. 

Vegvisir: A Tradition of Magical Staves

This brings us to the topic of Magical Staves. The Vikings and later Norse people practice a form of magic known as Sigil Magic. Sigil Magic is marking an object with symbols in order to add some extra layer of power to that object. For example, the Vikings would often mark their weapons with the rune Tiwaz to help them be victorious in battle. 

There are dozens of known Icelandic Magical Staves. These sigils are used for everything from warding off foxes to prospering in business and winning in court. Some Icelandic Magical Staves are extremely esoteric, such as the mark one makes when making a pair of trousers out of the skin of a dead man – this was done because the pants are said to produce an endless supply of money, not for fashion reasons. 

While no one can say for certain when these Magical Staves were initially developed and used, we see them appearing in the historical record appearing in the 17th century. Vegvisir is a magical stave that was identified much later, in the Huld manuscript.

Vegvisir: In the Modern Tradition

Culture evolves and changes over time. Traditional symbols accrue meaning from being used by contemporary people. In the case of Vegvisir, the Viking Compass has taken on metaphorical as well as literal meanings. The risk of getting lost geographically is far less for us than it was for Vikings who had no GPS – but we all appreciate a clear sense of direction when navigating through life’s many challenges. 

Using Vegvisir: How the Viking Compass Works

If you’d like to have Vegvisir with you, to invite clarity and direction into your life and to remind you that you’ll always find your way, one way to do so is to wear Vegvisir as a pendant. Some people prefer to carry Vegvisir in their pocket, in the form of a lucky coin or charm. You can also use your creativity and artistic impulse to add Vegvisir into your environment in ways you find appropriate, such as drawing it in your planner or carrying it on your keychain.