With their strong bold images and mythical origins, Nordic Viking tattoos are some of today’s most in-demand tattoos for both men and women.
Nobody really knows whether the Vikings actually had tattoos, but these Norse warriors are often depicted as being covered in brightly coloured body art. Film and TV culture have promoted the idea of Vikings being heavily tattooed, in particular the popular TV series The Vikings and Marvel’s Thor films.
Icelandic footballer Aron Gunnarsson has taken Norse body art to the next level – check out his Viking tattoos here. And with celebrities such as Grimes, Chris Hemsworth (Thor himself!) and Avril Lavigne boasting Norse tattoos, it seems the trend is here to stay.
But what do these traditional Viking tattoos represent and what is their significance? Check out our guide to some of the most common Nordic Viking tattoos and their meanings.
Viking rune tattoos
Many small Nordic tattoos are based on ancient rune designs. The simple ink drawings can be designed to represent ideas such as love, home and peace. Since they are fairly discrete and not too overt, these small symbols make a good option for those who are looking for a Nordic face tattoo or Viking head tattoos.
Vegvisir – the way-finder
One of the most popular warrior Viking symbol tattoos is the Vegsivir, or way-finder. This symbolic Viking compass tattoo is made up of Nordic runes from the Old Norse alphabet, which come together to represent a signpost.
The Icelandic word vegsivir means literally “road sign”, and the aim of this ancient Nordic tattoo is to help people find their way in life, both literally and metaphorically. People who have a vegsivir tattoo believe that they will never lose their way and will always follow the right path through life.
Icelandic singer Bjork has a vegsivir tattoo on her arm, so that she will always be able to find her way back to Iceland whenever she wants.
With its simple stylish design, the Valknut looks great as part of a Nordic Viking tattoo sleeve. It consists of three interlocking triangles, which combine to make up a triple knot.
The word comes from the Old Norse valr (meaning “the slain” or “fallen”) and knut (meaning “knot”) and traditionally commemorated those who died honourably in battle.
Its simple design means that it is often used as a standalone Viking Nordic forearm tattoo, though it can also be incorporated into other more elaborate designs such as the Yggdrasil.
Because of its association with fallen warriors, it’s a popular choice of tattoo for those who want to remember a loved one who has died.
Yggdrasil – the sacred tree
One of the most popularNordic tattoos for men and women, Yggdrasil is the sacred ash tree, which stands in the centre of the earth and represents the tree of life. In Norse mythology it’s said to be an eternal evergreen tree, with roots reaching down into the underworld, while its branches support heaven.
Yggdrasil is popular as a Nordic leg tattoo, or a full back tattoo with the trunk of the tree running along the spine.
Helm of Awe
The Helm of Awe is one of the most powerful Nordic tribal tattoos and is the symbol of courage and fearlessness. A series of eight tridents or harpoons that radiate out from a central circle, it’s a simple design but one that really packs a punch.
It has magical associations and is supposed to give protection and security to anyone who wears it. Legend has it that the Vikings painted the Helm of Awe on their foreheads to provide protection and scare their enemies, though today it’s more popular as a Nordic leg tattoo.
Huginn and Muninn
In Norse mythology, Huggin and Munin are two ravens that fly all over the world bringing information and messages to the god Odin. These two birds make popular tattoos, particularly across the shoulders and back.
In Norse mythology, Thor’s hammer (also called Mjölnir) is a symbol of protection and power too. It’s a popular sleeve tattoo as it can be as ornate and colourful as you like, or you can opt for a more simple solid black ink image.
Either way, having a Thor’s hammer tattoo signifies that you are the protector of your home.
Nordic dragon tattoos
Symbolizing courage and power in Norse mythology, Viking dragon tattoos are a popular choice as they are very versatile. They can vary from a small discrete ink drawing at the top of the arm to a fearsome full colour back tattoo which incorporates the curves of the spine into the design.
The best-known example of a dragon tattoo is Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous heroine of the Scandi crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Swedish author, Steig Larsen described Lisbeth’s large tattoo as “a beautiful, long, slithering dragon in red and green and black that began on her shoulder and whose slim tail continued down over her right buttock to end on her thigh”.
Interestingly, in the English language translation of the book, the tattoo was downgraded to a small image on her shoulder blade, though the reason for this is unknown.
Celebs sporting a dragon tattoo include the singer Pink, actress Angelina Jolie and actor Tom Hardy, whose Nordic dragon tattoo is apparently dedicated to his ex-wife – awkward!