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Tattoo Story – Grig: The Nordic Compass

nordic compass tattoo
Nordic Compass Tattoo

I have had a kind of… rough life, and a lot of the time, I have been looking for direction. I was kind of a loner, my mother was an alcoholic, and my dad’s abuse made prefer is neglect. When I was 16, I decided that I was alone in the world (yes, a bit overly dramatic), and even though religion was banned from my house, I decided to make a pact and set my own moral standards.

Also banned from my house was discussion about my ethnicity, with was Swedish, because my father hated all relatives, hated where his parents came from, and so on. Having a Swedish heritage was somewhat of a taboo topic. But my mother encouraged me to explore it, and secretly, I’d read about Vikings and so on in the library.

My mother committed suicide when I was 18, and my father wanted to get rid of that side of his life, so I was on my own the last year of high school, living with friends, and trying to sort out my shattered dreams of going to college now that I had to work to survive. I still held onto my ethnicity and self-imposed moral codes as part of my identity.

One day, I got a large book from a friend from the 1950s that described “the Vegvisir” (Viking compass); a Nordic symbol made of runes used by Vikings to find their direction in conditions of bad visibility when the Polar star was not visible. It was usually written in coal or ash on the foreheads of the sailors, and versions of the Aegishjalmur were found in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the image was kind of in the back of mind for a long time as a direction
to find my way through my foggy life.

I got married to a wonderful woman, and had a son, both of whom I love very much. I visited Northern Sweden a few times with distant relatives there, and one visit had me visiting some runes carved in the rocks at Nämforsen. That trip meant a lot to me, and I felt a peace in Sweden I had never felt anywhere else.

When I decided to get a tattoo (my wife got two), I did a lot of research, but I waffled for quite a bit, because I wanted something that “felt right.” Any ideas I had seemed either overdone (cats, dragons), or not really good for a first design in case the tattoo was too painful or I had a bad reaction to the ink or something. I definitely wanted a symbol, but for years, nothing “felt right.”

One night, while I was sick with some horrible flu, and bored to death but too weak to get up, I thought about the tattoo, and the image of the compass just went “pop” in my head. I looked it up in the Internet (I couldn’t find the book), and found out that the Icelandic singer Bjork had one. I also found the Aegishjalmur charm, but Bjork’s seemed more artistic. I decided to “wait it out” to see if it was some fad, or if feared people thought I got one because Bjork had one.

A year later, I felt like it was missing, so I actually decided I’m 37, and might as well go for it because how long does it take for a decision, anyway? I settled on something similar to what Bjork had because there were a lot of photos available on the web, I like her poetry and music, and it was asymmetrical, like myself. I also decided to wear it on my left arm, to encourage the right side of my brain to find direction in the “left side” arts, since I am trying very hard to become a writer, but my day job is a UNIX Sysadmin, which pays the rent, but it’s so logical and structured, and I feel it might lead me astray.

I chose Anna of Marlow and Marlow Ink ( because her studio had been recommended to me by several friends, and her portfolio had a lot of good line art. I am glad I chose her, she did a really good job, and when it was done, it looked perfect!

When it was done, it felt right, like an old friend I had lost was now back, and I felt a piece of me that had been missing for so long was home at last. I feared I’d have pangs of regret, but all I keep feeling is a sense of calm and wholeness.


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6 Responses to “Tattoo Story – Grig: The Nordic Compass”

  1. Melissa Says:

    That was an excellent story. I can relate to a lot of what you said. I am german/scandinavian… typical northern germanic. Much of my culture has been shadowy in secrecy. I have had a difficult time navigating in my own life. In the past few months I’ve made friends with a local Heathen society. I saw this symbol on this woman just days after I had told my friend my next tat would be of a compass of some kind. So I’ve been doin the research. Just felt compelled to give you a shout out.

    Many Blessings!!

  2. Melissa Says:

    I’ve got pics of a couple of my tats on my website. Click my name.

  3. Melissa Says:

  4. Aksh Says:

    i too am searching for a tatto that signifies the compass…and after reading wt u wrote…i guess i got more than what i had bargained for.
    i guess im goin thru the exact same thing u did when u were only 20 and i feel like im suffering from a mid life crisis.
    i hope to get a tattoo…but my pain resistance is ZERO…but all tht seems to fade away when i think abt wt the compass represents…trying to find ur path.
    no stupid tattos of hearts,butterflies and dolphins for mr…thanku very much.
    but in d end im glad tht u’ve found ur direction…
    i dnt knw u…but im hoping to get my tattoo on my 21st bday…and i knw ul be on my mind…

  5. dan Says:

    cheers from stockholm mate!!!!
    im also getting one on my neck with the cities ive been living in to remind me where i belong to…

  6. Gus Says:

    Hola excelente soy suramericana y realmente quedé fascinada con la brujula vikinga y por ello me la tatue en mi lado izquierdo no en el brazo sino arriba del pecho a la izquierda.. Vegvísir para mi era el lunar que me faltaba un abrazo..

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