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The Truth Behind the Gjallarhorn

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Since 2007 the Minnesota Vikings have used the Gjallarhorn to signal the Vikings are coming and the start of a great battle on the gridiron.  An Honorary Viking is chosen to sound the horn each game and this honor has included celebrities, Vikings Legends, Olympians, fans, and members of the military.  The iconic sound has become an integral part of the Vikings game day experience that fans love and opponents have grown to fear.  However, this Viking ritual is steeped in both history and mythology.  Today, we explore the truth behind the Gjallarhorn.

There really was a Viking Gjallarhorn, in ancient Norse myth. There the god Heimdallr serves as watchman for the other gods. He sits by the bridge over the river Gjöll at the end of the world. If hostile giants approach the bridge, Heimdallr sounds his horn. According to mythology, he is ever vigilant, sleeps as little as a bird, sees a huge distance both night and day, and can hear grass sprouting as well as the wool growing on sheep. In Minnesota at Vikings games, Heimdallr’s role is served by an Honorary Viking each game.

The name ”Gjallarhorn” contains the Old Icelandic equivalents of the English words “yell” and “horn.” (In Modern Icelandic, ”gjallarhorn” means “megaphone”). The first part of the word does not refer to the sound Heimdallr makes when he blows the horn. It contains instead ”Gjöll”, the name of a very noisy river.

The Gjallarhorn also could be used as a drinking vessel, the basis for the horns you may find with some Vikings fans on game days. Odin, the chief of the gods, wanted to gain supreme knowledge and could only get it by drinking from the well of Mímir. Mímir drinks from the horn every day and only granted Odin a draught if he sacrificed an eye for it.

At the final battle in Norse mythology, the Ragnarök, Heimdallr will sound a mighty blast on the Gjallarhorn to awaken the other gods. According to the Uppsala manuscript of Edda, a work written in the 13th Century by Icelander Snorri Stúrlusson: “Heimdallr blows on the Gjallarhorn and wakes up all the gods for the fight.”

It is from this phrase where the Minnesota Vikings have found use of the Gjallarhorn prior to their battles on the football field.  The Gjallarhorn, an integral element of Norse myth and history, will forever be a part of your Minnesota Vikings.

Henrik Williams is the renowned authority of Old Norse languages, returning to the American Swedish Institute as an in-demand speaker on topics encompassing the Vikings, runes, Old Swedish and Old Icelandic. Awarded a 2015 Rudbeck medal for groundbreaking research, Williams is a scholar and Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Sweden’s Uppsala University. As a philologist, he studies languages in written historical sources, essentially combining literary criticism, history, and linguistics.  A 40-year Minnesota Vikings football fan since his years as an exchange student, Williams is currently debunking Nordic myths and advising the team on the authenticity and meaning of its symbols.

These programs are made possible through the collaborative efforts of the American Swedish Institute, Uppsala University, American Friends of Uppsala University, Uppsala University Alumni Association – Minnesota Chapter, American Association for Runic Studies and The Minnesota Vikings.  To learn more or reserve a spot please visit the link below.

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