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Runes close-up. The Swedish government is considering a ban on the runes and some ancient Norse symbols. Source: Pshenichka /Adobe

Claims Viking Symbols and Runes May Be Banned – The Fuller Picture

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This week reports emerged claiming that depictions of the runes and Norse symbols such as Thor’s hammer may soon be banned in Sweden. Hate groups have been using many of these symbols for years and there are stories circulating that the government is discussing whether the ancient symbols may be offending ethnic minorities. However, when we delve deeper we see that the Swedish government presents another side of the story. It seems that the initial reports are exaggerations by political groups in order to stir up trouble. What’s the real story on the alleged ban?

The Banning Allegation

RT reported on the story from Swedish website Samhällsnytt, which claimed Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson is currently researching if the banning of the ancient Norse symbols will deter hate groups. The site claims he will provide his recommendations on the subject by the end of the month.

According to The Gateway Pundit, much of the government’s concern stems from neo-Nazi groups such as the Nordic Resistance Movement using runes in their logos and associating the writing and symbols with messages of hate. “In particular the government is looking to ban the letter Tyr which is part of the runic alphabet. This same symbol is used by neo-Nazis as their logo,” The Gateway Pundit writes.

Runes. (Pixabay License)

Runes. (Pixabay License)

Voice of Europe states that, “Their official reason for banning the runes is that Nazis used some of them during the second world war, for example the Odal rune that means O and the Tyr/Tiwaz rune that means T.”

The alleged proposed ban might include other Norse symbols and traditional Viking jewelry bearing the symbols such as Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) the Valknut, and the Vegvisir. Such action seems pretty incredible and throws much doubt on the declarations.

An amulet of Thor’s hammer. (CC0)

The Governmental Inquiry

What’s the Swedish government really up to?

A 2019 article of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's speech on International Holocaust Remembrance Day states that “We have started the work of strengthening the law forbidding racist symbols […]”

More details on the government’s position on the inquiry into the potential impact racist symbols may have on ethnic minorities can be found, in Swedish, in a release presented in July 2018. When reviewing the PDF file with committee terms regarding the inquiry, which is set to be reported on by the committee by May 31, 2019, we find that it discusses the possibility of penal implications against the usage of “racist and similar symbols” by extremist groups, which may negatively impact ethnic groups. Criminal responsibility and criminal law and legislation possibly regulating the usage of said symbols is up for examination in the inquiry.

We find in the text on the committee terms (translated into English):

The text of the law does not specify which different forms of statements and other message issues can be pervasive against the ethnic group. However, it appears that the messages do not have to be verbal but can also consist of eg. gestures or pictures […] The legal situation was previously considered unclear when it comes to the question of whether the bearing of certain symbols is such an expression that can fall under the criminal responsibility.”

But what are the symbols they are concerned with? Reading further into the committee terms there is direct mention of the Odal rune, the Tyr/Tiwaz rune, the eagle, and the laurel wreath, and the misappropriation of these symbols by some extremist groups. However, the text also states that other unnamed symbols may be of concern if the committee deems them so.

A 1996 proposal on this issue suggested that “It would be a criminal offense to, in a way that is likely to arouse public offense, publicly carry or otherwise publicly use symbols that may be associated with serious persecution of an ethnic group or other group of persons on the basis of race, skin color, nationality or ethnic origin or creed.” However, it was decided at that time that “there was no need for a specific ban on carrying racist symbols.”

Nonetheless, the text discusses how the increasing presence of extremist groups in the public space in recent years has brought back the debate on “how the bearing of racist and similar symbols should be judged by criminal law,” the possible impact on ethnic groups in relation to the appearance and usage of these symbols, and the question of how far freedom of speech should be taken into concern.

Finally, the committee text states that one of the possible outcomes from the inquiry could be: “the option of introducing a special ban on public use of certain symbols as punishment for incitement against ethnic groups.”

Runes and the Popular Norse Symbols

Runes have been used since at least 150 AD. They remained in usage until about 1100 AD and were the basis of the Old Norse language. The most characteristic part of the language is the Elder Futhark, the oldest runic alphabet.

Apart from their important role in writing, runes were also often used as protective symbols and have been found in artifacts carved in wood, bone, or stone. Even now, large runestones covered in runic script can be found across Scandinavia.

Over the ages runes have appeared in many different areas of life. Fortunetellers, people who follow esoteric practices, people with pagan beliefs, and others have all used the runes in their practices. Today, many people have a variation of the runes in their homes – the Bluetooth logo comes from the runic equivalent of the letters “H” and “B” - the initials of Harald Bluetooth, a Danish Viking age ruler.

Harald's initials in runes and his Bluetooth nickname. ( haraldgormssonbluetooth)

Harald's initials in runes and his Bluetooth nickname. ( haraldgormssonbluetooth)

As mentioned above, Thor’s hammer, the Valknut, and the Vegvisir are three Norse symbols which the groups claim may be banned. Thor’s hammer, named Mjolnir, means “lightning,” and the Vikings used to believe that Thor’s hammering caused thunder and lightning during storms. Legends say Thor’s hammer could level mountains. It was a popular amulet of protection.

The Valknut, also known as “Hrungnir’s Heart”, “the Heart of Vala”, “borromean triangles,” and “the Heart of the Slain”, was a Norse symbol for death in a battle. It’s the knot of the slain warrior and it appears on funerary stone carvings as a representation of the afterlife. People used to believe that drawing the symbol in one stroke supposedly protected a person from evil spirits.

Vegvisir is a symbolic compass. The name can be translated from Icelandic as “That Which Shows the Way.” It was a magical device which was once used to help in sea navigation and was carved on vessels going out to sea in order to ensure their safe return.

Vegvisir, one of the Icelandic magical staves, may be banned too. ( Public Domain )

Backlash Against the Banning of Norse Symbols

Some Swedish groups are rallying against the suggestion of any possible chance of a prohibition on this issue because they see the runes and Norse symbols as an important part of their shared history. As RT reports, “The Nordic Asa-Community, the largest heathen religious group in Sweden, has spoken out against any government efforts to police Sweden’s ancient heritage, arguing that “prejudices and misunderstandings are best cured with knowledge and facts.””

The Swedish Constitution protects freedom of religion, which could mean problems as the Nordic Asa-Community, which organizes the Asatru religion  also uses these symbols, and states that a possible ban would “wipe out a part of our own history, culture and beliefs – and our freedom of expression.”

A petition against the alleged ban, which, as you’ll remember is just one possible outcome from the inquiry, was started by the Nordic Asa-Community and had more than 14,000 signatures as of Thursday. According to Voice of Europe , there will also be a manifestation held outside Parliament in Stockholm on Friday May 24 by people concerned with this issue.

A photograph showing contemporary Icelandic pagans, members of Ásatrúarfélagið, assembling at Þingvellir for Þingblót (Thing blót) in the summer of 2009. (Lenka Kovářová/CC BY SA 3.0)

Other Concerns About the Misappropriation of the Runes and Norse Symbols

Viking enthusiasts in Sweden have also taken a stance against the misappropriation of ancient Norse symbols by neo-Nazi groups . As Solvej von Malmborg, an admin for Vikingar Mot Rasism (VMR), a Viking enthusiast network's Facebook group has said , “Viking enthusiasts get mistaken for racists and Nazis all the time, and we're very uncomfortable with that. White nationalists don't get to reinvent what Viking culture is.”

The misappropriation of Viking symbols and runes is not new. For decades far-right movements, including Nazi Germany , have adopted Viking iconography to further their goals, which are often linked to Aryanism and “racial purity.”

A strong concern for many Viking enthusiasts is that they will be confused with the racist groups when they share symbols, but even more worrying is that "When a symbol becomes too closely connected with a racist movement, it becomes theirs – it belongs to the racists and eventually, using it can be seen as a form of inciting racial hatred. Then the symbol is removed from common cultural use," von Malmborg said.

The Viking museum of foteviken in Skania, Sweden. (Sven Rosborn/CC BY SA 3.0)

Top Image: Runes close-up. The Swedish government is considering a ban on the runes and some ancient Norse symbols. Source: Pshenichka /Adobe

By Alicia McDermott



Let's ban the crucifix, it is used upside down by satanists, and is very offensive when used like that (sarc)

It's time to ban German and English language because nazis used to speak German and today most of the white supremacist people are English speakers.

Sweden can just join those of us in America on the frontlines in beating the hell out of Nazis whenever they pop up.

These symbols speak boldly to that sort of strength, much more than Nazi bullshit. I'd love for them to be reclaimed from fools and the misuse.

You're writing rubbish, Brucen! Since when has hate been "the relalm of the left, not right"? Think about Trump followers, Nazis, General Franco, General Pinochet, et al.

Youre right! To me some of these symbols are sacred and to even think of stealing the history of the Swedish people in this manner just because of a handful of misguided folks is beyond WRONG!


Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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