Understanding The Runic Alphabet- Meanings of The Futhark Runes

Understanding The Runic Alphabet- Meanings of The Futhark Runes

The Runic alphabet is an alphabet system that was employed by the Germanic peoples from about the 3rd to the 13th Centuries. Of these systems, of which there are 3 main types, the Elder Futhark alphabet is the oldest and probably the most well known .

The earliest runic script employed in northern Europe before about 800 AD, known as the Early, or Common, Germanic (Teutonic) script, is also known as the Futhark alphabet and was given its name from the sound made by the first 6 letters (f, u, th, a, r,and k) of the alphabet.

The Elder Futhark alphabet consists of 24 letters, divided into 3 groups (known as ættir), each group containing 8 letters.

Each one of these groups of 8 (ættirs) is said to be ruled over by a specific God.

  • The first ættir, representing growth is ruled by Freja.
  • The second, representing the elements is ruled by Haegl
  • The third, symbolising courage belongs to Tyr.

Some rune sets used for divination also include blank tiles known as ‘wyrd’. (making 25 runes instead of 24). These are used when casting the runes for divination and are a modern addition to the runes.

The Evolving Futhark Alphabet

As language evolved throughout Europe, so did the runic alphabet. In Britain, the English used the runic alphabet from about the 5th or 6th century to about the 12th century AD. Known as the Anglo-Saxon, or Anglian runic script, it added letters to the futhark script creating an alphabet with  28 letters (33 letters after 900 AD), thus giving rise to the Anglo-Saxon futhorc alphabet. This was done to represent sounds of Old English that did not occur in the languages that had used the Futhark system.

The Scandinavian peoples, who employed the Futhark alphabet from approx. the 8th to the 12th-13th century AD, combined the letter values, e.g. making one letter stand for more than one sound e.g. one letter for both k and g, thus reducing the alphabet to 16 letters (This system is what is referred to as the Younger Futhark system).

Their use as a divinatory system has been debated, however their origins and lore tend to point towards an equally long history of magical use. In fact the word "rune" from Old Norse & Old English "rūn" means mystery.

Being considered the oldest runic alphabet most of the divinatory information is written about the Elder Futhark system of 24 Runes (with modern day writings usually including a blank rune). Therefore, this is the system we will explore in this blog post. 

Below we have a basic outline of the individual runes, in their 3 ættirs

Meanings and Symbolism Of The Elder Futhark Runes

Freja’s ættir: Representing creation and the foundations of life.

  1. Fehu (ᚠ)
    ceramic rune on a white background
    • Meaning: Wealth, cattle, prosperity.
    • Fehu represents movable wealth and abundance, often symbolizing cattle or livestock, which were essential forms of wealth in ancient cultures.
  2. Uruz (ᚢ)   
    • Meaning: Strength, aurochs (wild ox).
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Uruz represents strength, courage, and the ability to harness one’s power when in confronting situations.
  3. Thurisaz (ᚦ)
    • Meaning: Associated with Thor the god of thunder. 
    • Thurisaz symbolizes the forces of
      ceramic rune on a white background
      chaos, aggression, conflict, and upheaval. It indicates a need to be on guard.
  4. Ansuz (ᚨ)
    • Meaning: God, divine inspiration, communication. It can also
      ceramic rune on a white background
      represent people we respect/admire such as grandparents or teachers.
    • Ansuz represents the divine, communication, and inspiration, often associated with Odin, the chief god in Norse mythology.
  5. Raido (ᚱ)
    • Meaning: Journey, travel, communication.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Raido signifies journeys, both physical and spiritual, and represents the act of travel and communication.
  6. Kenaz (ᚲ)
    • Meaning: Torch, knowledge, enlightenment.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Traditionally associated with pine trees the Vikings would cut to use as torches.
    • Kenaz symbolizes knowledge, wisdom, and illumination. It represents the light of a torch guiding the way in darkness. It also represents the flames of passion/enthusiasm.
  7. Gebo (ᚷ)
    • Meaning: Gift, exchange, love and partnership.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Gebo signifies the concept of giving and receiving, representing gifts, exchanges, and partnerships.
  8. Wunjo (ᚹ)
    • Meaning: Joy, happiness, harmony and wishes.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Wunjo represents joy, happiness, and harmony, symbolizing positive outcomes and contentment.
Haegl’s ættir: Representing the elements and forces beyond human control.
  1. Hagalaz (ᚺ)
    • ceramic rune on a white backgroundMeaning: Hail, destruction, disruption.
    • Hagalaz symbolizes destructive natural forces, such as hail or storms,
      and represents the potential for disruption and change.
  2. Nauthiz (ᚾ)
    • Meaning: Need, constraint, resistance.
    • ceramic rune on a white backgroundNauthiz signifies constraints, challenges, and the need to overcome obstacles through resistance and perseverance.
  3. Isa (ᛁ)
    • Meaning: Ice, stillness, stasis.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Isa represents stillness, stasis, and the concept of waiting. It symbolizes a time of potential and reflection.
  4. Jera (ᛃ)
    • Meaning: Harvest, cycles, reward.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Jera symbolizes the cycle of the seasons, representing both the harvest and the rewards of patience and hard work. It can also represent karma whereby past events influence future outcomes.
  5. Eihwaz (ᛇ)
    • Meaning: Yew tree, transformation, protection. Eihwaz also has links
      ceramic rune on a white background
      with Yggdrasil, the tree credited with the discovery of the Runes by Odin (Read more about the discovery of the runes here)
    • Eihwaz represents the yew tree, a symbol of transformation and protection during times of change. Because of it’s links to Odin, it also encourages one to have endurance and willpower in times if difficulty.
  6. Perthro (ᛈ)
    • Meaning: Mystery, fate, chance.
    • Perthro signifies the mysteries of fate and chance, representing
      ceramic rune on a white background
      hidden knowledge and the unknowable aspects of life.
    • Tradition dictates that if this rune is the first to be drawn, nothing is what it seems and the reading should be postponed.
  7. Algiz (ᛉ)
    • Meaning: Protection, spiritual awareness and practise, connection to
      ceramic rune on a white background
      the divine.
    • Algiz symbolizes the protective forces and connection to the divine, often represented by the elk's antlers.
  8. Sowilo (ᛊ)
    • Meaning: Sun, success, energy, power.
    • Sowilo represents the sun and its life-giving energy, symbolizing
      ceramic rune on a white background
      success, power, and positive transformation. It offers encouragement and protection in difficult times, promising eventual success.
Tyr’s ættir: representing transformation and the human state.
  1. Tiwaz (ᛏ)
    • ceramic rune on a white backgroundMeaning: Tyr (Norse god of law and justice), victory, honour.
    • Tiwaz represents the god Tyr and embodies principles of courage, justice, honour, and victory in battle.
  2. Berkano (ᛒ)
    • Meaning: Birch, fertility, growth, nurturing.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Berkano symbolizes the birch tree, associated with fertility, birth, and growth, both physically and spiritually.
  3. Ehwaz (ᛖ)
    • Meaning: Horse, travel, partnership, progress.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Ehwaz represents the horse and travel as well as progress,teamwork, and the concept of partnership.
  4. Mannaz (ᛗ)
    • Meaning: Man, humanity, awareness.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Mannaz represents humanity and self-awareness, reflecting the importance of community and social bonds.
  5. Laguz (ᛚ)
    • Meaning: Water, intuition, emotions.
      ceramic rune on a white background
    • Laguz symbolizes water, representing intuition, emotions, imagination
      and the subconscious mind.
  6. Inguz (ᛜ)
    • ceramic rune on a white backgroundMeaning: Linked to Freyr the Norse fertility god), new beginnings, potential.
    • Inguz symbolises new beginnings, potential, and growth.
  7. Othala (ᛟ)
    • Meaning: Ancestral property, heritage, inheritance.ceramic rune on a white background
    • Othala represents ancestral property, heritage, and the concept of inheritance, emphasizing family and tradition. This is not only material, but also describes the connection with ancestors, traditions and places.
  8. Dagaz (ᛞ)
    • ceramic rune on a white backgroundMeaning: Day, breakthrough, transformation.
    • Dagaz symbolizes daybreak, signifying breakthroughs, transformation, and enlightenment.

Blank rune

The blank rune, sometimes called the "Wyrd" (in Old English), "Örlög" (in Old

ceramic rune on a white background
Norse) or "Odin's rune," is an additional rune that does not have a specific ancient counterpart in the traditional Elder Futhark runic alphabet. When the blank rune appears, its meaning can have different interpretations depending upon the system being used. It can refer to fate or the weaving of destiny. It can symbolize the mysterious and unpredictable aspects of life. It can also refer to an unknown or hidden influence affecting the situation being examined or represent personal transformation. It is debated as to whether or not blank runes should be a part of the runic divination system, so if they do not resonate with you, feel free to remove them!

 

The runes are much more than a series of tiles with brief meanings, such as those given above. They are a system of communication and divination that has been evolving for centuries. They are steeped in centuries of history, magic, and lore. It is said that they themselves, are of divine origin and when you appeal to the runes for guidance you are essentially appealing to the gods that rule over the runes. 

Due to their extensive history, there has been much controversy over the origin of the runes as well as their use in divination and the meanings of the runes themselves. 

They have evolved over centuries,  yet they have remained steadfast in their popularity. Akin to the roots of Yggdrasil from which they have been said to have originated, the Runes are interwoven into our magical past, present and future.

Above is by no means a comprehensive guide to the meanings of the runes and I do not claim to be any sort of expert, just an interested party. If you are interested in learning more, there is plenty out there to learn. Watch some videos, read some books, take some classes and most importantly make or buy some runes.

As with most skills, the best method for learning the Runes is not by immersing yourself in the theory, but by learning the foundation of the system and practising with them.

The more you learn to familiarise yourself with your runes, the more they will speak to you and you will begin to interpret their individual meanings. So use them with the respect deserved of a long held system and they will reward you in the long run.

If you have any inputs on the runes, leave us a comment in the comments section, we would love to hear your thoughts. 

*To learn more about the origins of the runes and their link to the Norse God Odin, visit our blog post- The Origins Of The Runes- Unravelling Ancient History

*If you are looking to purchase runes or books relating to runes, check out our ceramic runes here, or our book collection here.

 

References:

“Rune.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rune. Accessed 1 Aug. 2023.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "runic alphabet". Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 May. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/runic-alphabet. Accessed 2 August 2023.
Struthers, J. (2002). Tell Your Own Fortune- 14 Ways To Divine What The Future Holds (pp. 148-164). Kyle Cathie Limited.
Elder Futhark. (2023, July 28). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elder_Futhark
Nock, J. A. (2021). Modern Witchcraft Guide To Runes. Simon & Schuster.
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