Cambs Uni Publications


Amulets in Northern Europe

18th August 2015
Posted by S Taylor
Estonian motif

In Estonia, vestiges of pagan religion have been found in the form of grave goods. There was a widespread use of protective amulets and pendants, even after Christianity had begun to penetrate. As recently as the late medieval period, amulets were often placed in graves with the dead, apparently as part of a cult of ancestor worship. Some of these sported a curvilinear Fylfot design.  There is evidence of Thor worship here; the Estonians seemed to have known a form of the name.

In northwest Europe the Thorshammar was a popular amulet up to around 1000 AD in Scandinavian countries the invocation of Thor might take one of two different forms. Pictures might be carved into the rock in close association with runic characters. Alternatively, amulets might be made in the form of a

Icelandic Ginfaxi amulet
Ginfaxi amulet

miniature hammer, often from silver. Some of these measured no Thorshammar more than 2cm in length. In some quarters they have been regarded as the pagan “answer” to the Christian custom of wearing a cross, or placing one in the grave of a devout believer. A form of the Fylfot may well have been used until recent times as a charm to deter thieves. The amulet called Ginfaxi was kept in the shoes to ensure victory in bouts of Icelandic wrestling.

The Basque Cross appears on both ends of a canal boat side inscription, c.1890. In the Basque regions of France and Spain, the Basque or curvilinear cross is often referred to as a signe oviphile. It was (and continues to be) a frequent feature on houses, churches, tombstones and holy wells. It was very popular in rustic art from the 16th to 20th centuries. The symbol has remained a popular decorative motif with or without any conscious religious or talismanic associations. The Basque cross may well have been the inspiration behind this canal boat usage.

Much more detail is to be found in The Fylfot File [2006].

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