Iceland’s Guardians

Updated: Jul 11


Here is the story about the symbols on Iceland’s Coat of Arms. A bull, a mountain giant, a bird, and a dragon.


These four guardian spirits of Iceland protect each section of the island. This is an old story about Harald ‘the Bluetooth’ Gormsson, the King of Denmark and the guardian spirits of Iceland. This story is described in the Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson from the 13th Century and exerpted from the Prime Minister of Iceland’s website.

“King Harald [Gormsson of Denmark] told a man versed in magic to travel to Iceland in a different shape and find out what he could learn there to tell him. The man set out in the shape of a whale. And when he approached land he headed west along the north coast. He saw that all the mountains and hills were full of land spirits, some large and some small. Off Vopnafjörður he entered the fjord, intending to go ashore. Then a huge dragon came down along the valley with a train of serpents, insects and toads breathing poison over him.

He fled and went westward off the coast as far as Eyjafjörður and went into the fjord there. Then a bird flew towards that was so great that its wings spread over the mountains on either side of the fjord, and many other birds with it, large and small.

He left there and continued westwards, then turned south into Breiðafjörður, and headed for the fjord. A large bull came towards him there, waded into the sea and began to bellow menacingly. A band of land spirits followed it.

He headed south from there around Reykjanes and tried to go ashore at Vikarsskeið. A mountain giant came towards him there with an iron staff in its hands and its head higher than the mountains, and many other giants were with it.

From there he went eastwards the length of the land, but “there was nothing but sand and deserts, and surf off the shore, with such a vast sea between the parts of land,” he said, “that a longship could not cross it.”

The Icelandic coat of arms is the emblem of the government authorities. They have the exclusive right to use of the coat of arms. Thanks to Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð and to Jóhannes Þór for all the great information (in English) on the website and the permission to make this post.

According to the website:

“Iceland’s coat of arms is a silver cross in a sky-blue field, with a bright red cross inside the silver cross. The arms of the cross shall extend to the rim of the shield on all four sides. The width of the cross shall be 2/9 of the width of the shield, but the red cross half as wide, at 1/9 of the width of the shield. The upper sections shall be squares and the lower sections the same width as the upper sections, but 1/3 longer. The shield rests on a plate of columnar basalt and was modelled on the natural stone slabs of the church floor at Kirkjubæjarklaustur.”

See the story about Kirkjubæjarklaustur, the Laki Volcano, and the Eldmessa in the October 12, 2012 blog. For more information about the history of Iceland’s various Coats of Arms go to this LINK.

Thanks also to Stefán Guttormsson and Nancy Marie Brown for the great conversation about the guardian spirits at the Minnesota Leifur Eiríksson dinner. It was fun to revisit this topic and I found out why he was named “Bluetooth.”

Apparently, Harald “The Bluetooth” was given that nickname because he loved blueberries which stained his teeth. Another interesting aside ….. You all have heard of the wireless “Bluetooth technology” of today. Well, this technology is actually named after Harald “The Bluetooth.” Legends and stories say that this king was able to facilitate communications with people who were in disagreement. He became king over Denmark and Norway and brought the Danes to Christianity. The Bluetooth logo are his initials, an H and a B, in Nordic runes.



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