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Elder Futhark: Rune Symbols & Meanings

    Small wooden rune tiles lay on a grey mat surrounded by natural objects like rocks and pinecones.

    Runes are much more than a simple alphabet from an ancient language.

    Runic alphabets are enigmatic scripts that contain layers of mystery and power. Runes have been used for centuries to tell stories, to pass on knowledge, and to access the hidden realms of spiritual wisdom.

    This post delves deep into the mysterious and ancient history of the Elder Futhark runes, examining their origin and uncovering the various meanings of each rune symbol. There is a deep, ancient magic contained within each of the 24 runes of Futhark, and those who heed its power can unlock a wealth of insight and understanding.

    This is your chance to discover the secrets of the runes and unlock the power of these ancient symbols.

    Table of Contents

    What is a rune?

    Runes are mysterious symbols that have held a special, sacred significance for centuries. They are believed to contain a deeper, hidden meaning that transcends the traditional meanings of the words they form.

    The term rune comes from the Old Norse word meaning ‘secret letter’, and it’s believed that they were used to cast spells. This thinking could have stemmed from the fact that writing itself was often seen as a form of magic by cultures that didn’t have their own writing systems.

    To someone with no knowledge of runes, the transmission of a message through symbols scratched on a piece of wood must have seemed unimaginable.

    Of all the different types of runes, the Elder Futhark is the oldest and most widely used. It consists of 24 symbols and was used by the ancient Germanic and Nordic tribes. Each rune has its own unique meaning and can be used to create powerful messages of guidance, protection and transformation.

    The earliest known runes were carved into wood, bone, and stone, then painted with a variety of pigments to make them stand out. These ancient Norse symbols have been discovered in distant places like Iran, Turkey, England, and India. The oldest known record of their use was found at a Viking settlement close to Tängelgårda, Sweden. Dated to around 400 AD, this runestone is a time capsule of sorts, but without any written records, it is impossible to know exactly when it was made.

    Mythological History of Runes

    Norse Mythology speaks of Odin, the Allfather, as the source of knowledge for runes and rune magic.

    According to legend, he gained this wisdom by hanging from Yggdrasil, the world tree, for nine days and nine nights. Through this self-sacrifice, Odin was able to unlock the secrets of the runes, which he then passed on to the rune vitki – practitioners of the mystical art of rune magic. Through the power of the runes, these sorcerers and magicians were able to divine the future and cast powerful spells.

    The Norse myths are filled with captivating stories that bring to life the use of runes for magical purposes.

    These myths also indicate that each rune is associated with a certain deity, creature or energy. For instance, Fehu is linked to cattle; Uruz to the aurochs; Thurisaz to the giants; and so on.

    Elder Futhark Rune Meanings

    Each of the 24 Elder Futhark runes is imbued with a powerful secret, which can be unlocked through careful study and meditation.

    Runes have been used for centuries to bring insight into the past and the future, as they are connected to universal energies that remain the same, even as time passes.

    These symbols are incredibly meaningful, as they are open to interpretation depending on the reader’s personal experiences and understanding. Runes continue to be a source of guidance and knowledge, just as they were thousands of years ago, and their mysterious power is still as relevant today as it was then.

    The interpretations below are only one small facet of these multi-layered symbols, drawn from my own research and experience. I encourage you to go further with your studies and consider your own impressions as you get to know each of the rune symbols.

    Each rune contains three aspects:

    1. The rune symbol and its shape
    2. The literal translation of the rune: what it represents and the sound it makes
    3. The deeper lesson and meaning of the rune and how you interpret it

    The 24 Elder Futhark runes are organized into three families of eight runes called aettir (singular aett). The mother runes of each of the three aettir are Fehu, Hagalaz, and Tiwaz – and the names of each aett are derived from these runes.

    The First Aett: Fé, also known as Freyja’s Aett

    Fehu Rune for wealth and prosperity

    Fehu

    Phonetic value: F

    Meaning: Cattle, wealth, power, prosperity

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Wealth is a comfort to all men; yet must every man
    bestow it freely, if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

    Fehu is a powerful symbol of wealth and abundance for the Norse people. It stands for the most important source of material wealth, cattle, and symbolizes the fulfilment of your ambitions, and prosperity in all aspects of life.

    In the past, wealth was measured in livestock and other goods. Fehu is the concept of material wealth, such as money or property, as well as the result of all that has been accumulated. Fehu is constantly changing, ebbing and flowing.

    Fehu is an attractive force. When you put your energy and focus into something, you can reap the rewards of prosperity and abundance. It’s a reminder that there is enough for all.

    Fehu also symbolizes power, as wealth and power are intertwined. It can bring joy and success, but it can also bring greed and worry to those who do not share their abundance with others.

    Uruz rune for health and strength

    Uruz

    Phonetic value: U

    Meaning: Aurochs, strength, energy, physical power.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The aurochs is proud and has great horns; it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns; a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

    Uruz is a powerful force that can be used for either good or ill. It is the untamed energy of the wild aurochs and savage bull, and it has the strength to move mountains. But it is also willful, and can resist control if not managed carefully. 

    Uruz is a symbol of chaos, but also of immense potential. It can be a source of great energy and stamina, but it must be handled with caution, as it can cause great destruction if left unchecked. However, if it is channeled and directed properly, Uruz can be a powerful ally, capable of overcoming incredible obstacles with its tenacity and speed.

    Uruz is the driving force behind manifestation – a powerful energy that determines the beginning and end of all things. It is a symbol of both mental and physical well-being. 

    Thurisaz rune for protection and destruction.

    Thurisaz

    Phonetic value: Th

    Meaning: Giant, thorn, defensive force, and disruption.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The thorn is exceedingly sharp, an evil thing for any knight to touch, uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

    The rune Thurisaz is a powerful symbol with a wide range of meanings, depending on the interpretation. It can be translated to Thurs, the giant or Thor, and is also connected with his hammer Mjolnir. Another meaning is Thyrne, which translates to thorn or thorn bush.

    Like a thorn, this rune carries a sharp sting. It can cause pain and injuries or form a dense thicket blocking your way. Thorns grow on flower stems, hiding beneath the blooms, drawing you in with their beauty, and tempting you to touch the prickly stems.

    Despite its ability to corrupt, Thurisaz can also be used positively, to protect that which hides within its thorny branches.

    Ansuz rune for breath and communication

    Ansuz

    Phonetic value: A

    Meaning: Mouth, breath, connection to the gods, speech.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The mouth is the source of all language, a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men, a blessing and a joy to every knight.

    Ansuz is a powerful rune that is linked to the gods of our ancestors, specifically Odin. It symbolizes two of the most valuable gifts given to humanity by the gods: önd (the breath of life) and ódhr (the power of thought).

    With this rune comes the reminder to be mindful of our words and to be conscious of the impact of our speech. Ansuz is the rune of communication, urging us to take a deep breath before we speak and to listen just as much as we talk.

    It is a reminder to consider the power of the spoken word and to use our words wisely.

    Raidho rune for progress and determination.

    Raidho

    Phonetic value: R

    Meaning: Wagon, journey, momentum, determination.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors and very courageous to him who traverses the high roads on the back of a stout horse.

    Raidho is the will to move forward and the strength to stay the course. It is the force that takes us from our starting point to our desired end. Thorsson’s words capture the essence of Raidho: “channeling of force according to natural laws along the right road leading to the right result.”

    Raidho is the deliberate effort required to reach a goal, as well as the self-discipline to remain on track. It is the harmony between direction and intention, setting a steady rhythm that propels us forward.

    Kenaz rune for passion and creation.

    Kenaz

    Phonetic value: C/K

    Meaning: Torch, passion, guiding light, creation

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame; it always burns where princes sit within.

    Kenaz is the light that guides us through the darkness. It is the spark of creativity and transformation, a flame that can be used to craft, cook and keep us warm. It’s also a metaphor for the burning passion and inner light that resides within us all.

    Kenaz is a beacon of hope that helps us to break away from external influences and maintain the fire of our dreams.

    It is the controlled fire that can be used to craft something unique, nourish the soul, or provide the warmth of companionship. It is a metaphor for an internal spark that can be used to light the way, no matter how dark the path may be.

    Gebo rune for gratitude

    Gebo

    Phonetic value: G

    Meaning: An exchange of gifts, sacrifice/offering, gratitude

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity; it furnishes help and subsistence to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

    Gebo symbolizes the act of giving, a powerful energy that binds us together. It’s a cycle of reciprocity – just as a spark can ignite a flame, the act of giving can generate feelings of gratitude, which in turn can produce more giving. It’s essential to learn to give without expecting anything in return, just as it’s important to learn to accept gifts with grace.

    Through Gebo, we remember the beauty of exchange and sacrifice, and the joy of receiving.

    Wunjo rune for joy and harmony

    Wunjo

    Phonetic value: W

    Meaning: Joy, harmony, alignment, fulfillment

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety, and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.

    Wunjo symbolizes the power of alignment and the joy that comes from it.

    When we unite our passions and actions with our ambitions, we experience a sense of joy and harmony. When all parts of ourselves are in harmony, we can reach our fullest potential and thrive. But when something is out of balance, it can create an obstacle that keeps us from achieving our goals.

    The Second Aett: Hagall, also known as Heimdall’s Aett

    Hagalaz rune symbol for delay and difficulty

    Hagalaz

    Phonetic value: H

    Meaning: Hail, delay, obstruction to progress, pause.

    Anglo Saxon Rune Poem: Hail is the whitest of grain; it is whirled from the vault of heaven and is tossed about by gusts of wind and then it melts into water.

    Hagalaz is a reminder that disruption is an essential part of life, enabling transformation and growth. When faced with an obstruction or a lack of progress, it can be tempting to rush through it, however it’s best to use the time to pause and reflect.

    Hail may be only a temporary obstacle, but it can be a great opportunity to take a break and gain perspective.

    Naudhiz rune for need and challenge.

    Naudhiz

    Phonetic value: N

    Meaning: Need, confrontation, coming through distress

    Anglo Saxon Rune Poem: Trouble is oppressive to the heart; yet often it proves a source of help and salvation to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.

    Naudhiz represents a need to confront the distress and struggles of life, while also providing the courage to push through it. Thorsson describes it as a journey of stepping through a challenge to manifest one’s dreams.

    It serves as an invitation to face our problems head-on and not shy away from them.

    Isa rune for patience and inertia

    Isa

    Phonetic value: I

    Meaning: Ice, frozen stillness, inertia

    Anglo Saxon Rune Poem: Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems; it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

    Isa represents ice. The embodiment of frozen stillness; a barrier to progress, growth and development. It can be found both outside and within us, manifesting as our reluctance to break out of our comfort zone and embrace transformation.

    Our old habits and ways of thinking can become so deeply entrenched that we refuse to budge, preventing us from reaching our full potential.

    Jera rune for harvest and reward

    Jera

    Phonetic value: J/Y

    Meaning: Harvest, renewal, turning of a cycle, reward for hard work.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven, suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits for rich and poor alike.

    Jera symbolizes the annual cycle of renewal when the longest night is replaced by a gradual return of light. It is a gentler transformation than Dagaz, which symbolizes the daily cycle, and serves as a reminder of the rewards that come with hard work.

    It is a time to reap what we have sown and embrace a new beginning.

    Eihwaz

    Phonetic value: E / I

    Meaning: Yew, transition, walking through a gateway, wisdom

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The yew is a tree with rough bark, hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots, a guardian of flame, and a joy upon an estate.

    Eihwaz is a symbol of the majestic yew tree, a reminder that life and death are inextricably linked. We must accept the inevitability of death, but also recognize that it is a transition, a gateway to something new.

    To make space for this rebirth, we must be willing to sacrifice what was once a part of us. Only then can we unlock our potential and create something entirely new.

    Perthro rune for fate and higher self

    Perthro

    Phonetic value: P

    Meaning: Casting lots, divination, fate, consequence.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The chessman is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting hall.

    Perthro is a reminder that our life is not predetermined. Rather, it is the result of the choices we have made in the past. It is a representation of fate: our current situation is a reflection of the decisions we have made. Perthro encourages us to take ownership of our lives, understanding that our future is in our hands.

    The consequences of our actions are crucial, and Perthro reminds us that our future is ours to create. We are the architects of our destiny, and we have the power to shape our future through the choices we make.

    Algiz rune for luck and protection

    Algiz

    Phonetic value: Z

    Meaning: Elk, higher knowledge, luck, sanctuary

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The elk-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it.

    Algiz is a powerful defender that can help protect you from potential threats. It’s a reminder to stay alert and vigilant, but also a sign of good fortune. Let its presence encourage you to raise your consciousness and become aware of any dangers that may be lurking in the shadows.

    Algiz is more than just a warning; it’s an invitation to seek safety and higher knowledge. It’s a call to action to be aware of what’s happening around you and to be prepared for anything that may come your way.

    Embrace the power of Algiz and use it to your advantage to ensure your safety and prosperity.

    Sowilo rune for success and power

    Sowilo

    Phonetic value: S

    Meaning: Sun, success, growth & expansion, power of will

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The sun is ever a joy to seafarers (or, in the hopes of seafarers) when they journey away over the fishes’ bath, until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

    Sowilo is the sun, a powerful source of illumination that pierces the darkness and dispels doubt. Its presence is essential to create growth and expansion, and it serves as both a destination and a guidepost along the way. It is our purpose and our innermost self, a beacon of light that guides us towards our goals and helps us to realize our potential.

    Sowilo is more than just a symbol of hope and progress – it is the active will to achieve those things, the spark of determination that propels us forward and helps us to make our dreams a reality.

    The Third Aett: Tyr, also known as Tyr’s Aett

    Tiwaz rune for courage and honour

    Tiwaz

    Phonetic value: T

    Meaning: Tyr, courage, sacrifice, honourable action.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Tiw is a (guiding) star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.

    Tiwaz is an ancient symbol of strength and courage, representing the god Tyr. The norse myths tell us of Tyr, the god of war and the sky, who bravely offered his hand to the great wolf Fenrir to save the Aesir.

    This powerful story is a reminder of the importance of facing opposition with courage and resolution. As Mountfort reminds us, “opposition must be faced squarely and with courage.” Tyr’s heroic sacrifice is a stark reminder of this timeless truth.

    In times of difficulty and challenge, we can take courage from Tyr’s example and strive to meet our opposition with bravery and strength of spirit.

    Berkano rune for rebirth and growth.

    Berkano

    Phonetic value: B

    Meaning: Birch, transition, a new phase, growth

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers, for it is generated from its leaves. Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.

    Berkano, the Birch Goddess, is a powerful reminder of the transitions we all go through in life: from birth to adolescence, marriage to death.

    Each of these phases of life is a chance to reflect, celebrate, and recognize that each end leads to a new beginning. Berkano is a reminder that, if we nurture our personal growth, we become stronger and better equipped to embrace any changes that come our way.

    Ehwaz rune for progress and cooperation.

    Ehwaz

    Phonetic value: E or I

    Meaning: Horse, harmonious partnership, forward progress

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors, a steed in the pride of its hoofs, when rich men on horseback bandy words about it; and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless.

    The Ehwaz rune symbolizes the power of working together – two horses, or a horse and its rider, working in unison to achieve their desired goal. It is a reminder that trust, loyalty and a sense of common purpose are essential for any partnership to succeed.

    When two forces join together, they can create a momentum that far exceeds the potential of either one acting alone. This is true not only in the physical realm, but also in the inner realm, where two parts of oneself must work together in harmony to bring about desired results.

    Mannaz rune for divine potential and humanity.

    Mannaz

    Phonetic value: M

    Balance: Man, purpose, highest potential, self-improvement.

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen; yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow, since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

    Mannaz is the embodiment of man’s highest potential, a link between the spiritual and physical worlds. It is symbolised by the perfect harmony of intelligence, rationality, and tradition.

    It is the journey of self-improvement, the pursuit of balance, and the search for a meaningful existence. It is the power to reach beyond the ordinary and strive for something greater, something divine.

    Mannaz is the divine spark that drives us to become better versions of ourselves and to live a life of purpose and fulfilment.

    Laguz rune for flowing water.

    Laguz

    Phonetic value: L

    Meaning: Water, deeper self, emotions, ebb & flow

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: The ocean seems interminable to men, if they venture on the rolling bark and the waves of the sea terrify them and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.

    Laguz is the symbol of water, the life-giving source of all living things.

    It is a representation of the perpetual flow that courses through the earth, and through each of us.

    Laguz speaks to the connection between water and our emotions, the way it ebbs and flows, and the journey we take as we explore the depths of our inner selves. It is a reminder of the power of water, and its ability to nourish, heal and restore.

    Ingwaz rune for fertility and potential.

    Ingwaz

    Phonetic value: Ng

    Meaning: The seed, fertility, potential for growth, family.

    Anglo Saxon Rune Poem: Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes, till, followed by his car, he departed eastwards over the waves. So the Heardingas named the hero.

    Ingwaz is an embodiment of potential energy; like a seed hidden in the depths of the earth, waiting to bloom at the perfect moment.

    It is a reminder that sometimes the most beautiful things take time and patience to fully manifest, and that one must never be too eager to rush the process of growth. As Ingwaz’s dormant power lies in the soil, so too does our own potential lie within us, waiting for the right conditions to be unleashed.

    Dagaz rune for inspiration and creativity.

    Dagaz

    Phonetic value: D

    Meaning: Day, light of the gods, creative potential, enlightenment & clarity

    Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord; it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor, and of service to all.

    Dagaz marks the dawn and twilight of each day, symbolizing the points at which two contrasting extremes – night and day – unite as one.

    It is a sign of transformation, a reminder that the end of one cycle is the beginning of the next, and a time of immense potential, when anything is possible and all things are in flux. By embracing its power, you can fill your life with warmth and light, unlocking the secrets of life and learning to appreciate the beauty of the present moment.

    Dagaz is the moment of change, when the darkness and the light come together to form a new reality. In this moment of insight and clarity you are provided with the guidance and inspiration you need to move forward in life.

    Othala rune for inheritance and community.

    Othala

    Phonetic value: O

    Meaning: Ancestral property, legacy, belonging, community

    Anglo-Saxon rune poem: An estate is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

    Othala is more than a birthright – it is a source of connection to our past, an inheritance that is part of who we are. It is the collection of material and spiritual gifts that each of us is born with, providing us with the tools to build and shape our lives.

    Othala represents our home, our sense of belonging, and our community. It is a reminder of the strength and resilience that we carry with us – the legacy that will be passed down to future generations. Othala is our identity, and a reminder of our shared journey as a people.

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