What is a Galdrastafir?

A ‘Galdrastafir’ or ‘Galderstav’ is a form of magical sigil known from Scandinavian folklore. Contrary to popular belief, these sigils do not stem from the Viking Age. Although having roots in both Scandinavian Folk Magic and Norse myths, a huge historical influence comes from Medieval magic and European renaissance magic, which is especially noticeable in the 15th and 16th century.

Aegishjalmur is one of the most iconic Icelandic Magical staves, and early versions can be dated back to at least the 1400s. The most common Ægishjalmur design as seen here, was likely invented sometime in the mid 1600s, with several more simplistic versions preceding it.

To explain the meaning of the word ‘Galdrstafir’ or ‘Galderstav’, we first need to break it down its two main components. The first part; ‘Galdra’ or ‘Galder’ is commonly translated to the English word ‘Magic’ or ‘Magical’. While we can go into a lengthy talk about the different ways one can relate to the word ‘galdr’, let’s just for the sake of keeping things short, settle with the fact that ‘Magic’ is not a bad translation.

The word ‘Stafir’ or ‘Stav’ is commonly translated to ‘Stave’ or ‘Stick’. One may immediately think this is referring to the straight lines used in the designs looking like staves, as well as the often used medium of physical sticks and staves, for etching these magical sigils into. While both of these assumptions make sense and can be seen as a ‘correct’ interpretation to the words meaning in this context, it’s still worth looking a bit closer at this one: The word ‘Stave’/’Stafi’ in the Scandinavian languages, is also commonly used to describe the act of ‘spelling” as in spelling letters to make up words of meaning.

Linguistic example: “Han kunne stave sit eget navn!” / “He could spell his own name!”

The word-origin of the word ‘stave’ with the meaning ‘spelling’ is actually believed to stem from old Norse and Germanic times when runes were often etched into staves of beech to form short messages. A stave such as this would have been called a ‘Bøgestav’ (Beech-stick). Those with a little knowledge of Scandinavian languages should notice the close resemblance to the word ‘Bogstav’ which is common in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. ‘Bogstav’ simply means the same as ‘Letter’ does in English. In Icelandic however, the word for ‘letter’ is simply ‘Stafi’.

It’s also worth noting that the English word “Book” and the Scandinavian “Bog” “Bok” and “Bók” basically means “Beech”.

So what is a Galdrastafir, and what is it used for?

Most of the time a Galdrastafir can be seen as a graphical representation of a magical spell. Depictions of magical staves found in old manuscripts are sometimes accompanied with some sort of description, explaining both the purpose of the staves as well as how to use the magic.

The Vegvisir is another popular Icelandic Stave. The version seen here is copied from “The Huld Manuscript”
You can find the entire manuscript here for download.

To use a magical stave is sometimes as simple as simply drawing it on a piece of paper and carrying it in a pocket, other times it becomes a rather elaborate task, involving very specific materials such as blood from specific animals, skins, herbs and so forth. For anyone with knowledge of Scandinavian Folk Magic, these elaborate steps to cast certain spells should be quite familiar.

The purpose of these spells can range from simple good fortune in life, gaining good luck in fishing, protection from one’s enemies and divination (spådom). More sinister spells such as raising the dead, causing illness and even death can also be found.

The most numerous examples of these types of magical staves can be found in the remnants of Icelandic Folk magic, as the Icelandic magicians were notorious for preserving these in several manuscripts. Some of these dating back as late as the 1400s. Due to Iceland being the epicentre of the historical remains of this magical tradition, the Icelandic word “Galdrastafir” is an often used term to describe them. However, examples of similar staves can be found in English, Norwegian and Danish manuscripts. The 12th-century manuscript “The Calendar and the Cloister” (MS 17 folio 7v) is a good example of an eight-spoked sigil with the same fundamental design as the infamous “Vegvisir” and “Aegishjalmur” staves.

Staves seen in the early 12th century English manuscript MS 17 folio 7v

Typically these manuscripts would also contain vast indexes of cipher-glyphs and cipher-runes, commonly known as “Løn-runer”. These runes were often seen as a mean to obscure part of a written spell by ciphering crucial content, but ciphering can also be used as a step in transforming intentions into a sigil form.

Other runic glyphs that we often see in the Scandinavian manuscripts are known under several names such as “Trold-runer” or “Mål-runer”, as well as “kennings-runer”. These runes are often conveying more magical meaning and associations with them, sometimes referring directly to specific parts of lore or mythology, and are often incorporated into the design of Magical Staves.

Að fá stúlku

Staves to win a girl whom you love.

The staves are meant to be drawn on your right hand palm, using blood drawn from the tip of your left thumb.

Now seek out the girl you love and wish to woo. With the hand you painted the staves onto, hold her hand and look deep into her eyes and recite the following:

My hand in thine in lay,
upon your will I will play.
Lest thine love for me is as great
as the one I hold for you,
may thine bones thee burn.

Hear my words passionate as the void:
Sorcery thine mind will turn and bend
to love towards me for all to see,
all those who dwell below aid me in this!

Vegvisir (Huld version)

The Vegvisir as seen in The Huld Manuscript.

Vegvisir – Huld

The word “Vegvisir” in Icelandic, or “Vejviser” in Danish is comprised of two words. Roughly translated; “Veg” and “Vej” means “direction” or “road” and “Visir” and “Viser” means “to show” or “to display” – so basically “showing the direction (or road)

These galdrastafir are said to help the user find his or her way by sea or land in harsh conditions, even when the road is not known.

In modern esoteric use, the Vegvisir is often used in a more metaphoric sense to help the user find his or her way on their spiritual path. For this reason it has become a popular choice as a spiritual tattoo.

If you are looking for a tattoo-stencil of the Vegvisir, please feel free to use the image from our website and use it for free. You can find it in high resolution, among several other designs, in our gallery.

Several versions of these famous galdrastafir can be found across several historic manuscripts, and have later spawned several modern iterations. The most popular variations of these are based on eight-spoke wheels such as the one seen here, but several non-symmetrical variations are also known.

In some modern heathen, pagan and esoteric literature (and on social media / internet sharing sites etc.) these staves will often be referred to as “The Viking Compass” or “The Runic Compass”. This often appears to be based on the notion that Vikings used these staves to navigate their ships, and that the spokes of the staves are representative of compass directions. There is, however, no evidence to support this theory, although some people will insist upon it. There are in fact no traces of this symbol in any historical Viking-finds, and all research into the origin of this symbol points to a fusion of European renaissance magic and Norse folk-magic.

Galdrablöð – Blad III

This is the remastered version of the third document of The Galdrablöð Manuscript (JS 375 8v – blad 3). The manuscript, as it’s archived in the Icelandic historic national library, is made from several documents, each comprised of several pages, and written by different authors of unknown identity.

This part of the complete manuscript contains several well illustrated galdrastafir, making it perhaps the most interesting part for most people. Apart from the other documents in the manuscript; these are presented in a slimmer portrait-format, and overall found in very good condition (especially if compared to Blad II)

The digital scans used for the PDF document we present here, have been edited and enhanced for optimal presentation in PDF format.

The files can be downloaded here:

Example of a page taken from the document