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Runes - a Basic Introduction to the Elder Futhark

Goddess Freya, Mistress of Seidr, in front of a runestone

No surviving monuments from ancient Scandinavia cast a more romantic aura than the runestones, large rocks inscribed with letters from a mysterious alphabet. The runic alphabet is associated with magic, a notion clearly put forth in the Poetic Edda in the poems "Havamal", "Rigsthula" and "Sigrdrifumal". This romantic notion has been perpetuated by the high fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which is firmly rooted in Germanic mythology.

Runic inscriptions on wood, bone, stone, and metal date from as early as the first century A.D. About 5000 inscriptions have been found, mostly in Sweden, although the oldest surviving runestone is believed to be the Einangstein above Slidre in Valdres, Oppland, Norway, which dates from the latter half of the third century.

The Elder Futhark presented here is the oldest complete runic alphabet, named "futhark" for the first six letters, "th" being considered a single letter. It is found on the early fifth century runestone on the Swedish island of Gotland and it contains 24 letters.

The individual letters or runes not only served as a functional alphabet, but also as linked to religious and magical practices. In that context, the runes symbolize key concepts. To quote the Havamal:

Runes you will find, readable staves -
Powerful magic, mighty spells -
Made by great powers,
The wisdom of Odin.

Runes are considered to have protective properties. They can also be used to cast spells - altering the circumstances for ourselves or someone else - or to foretell the future by casting runic lots. Typically, the individual runes are carved on small stones or bone chips, which are drawn from a bag and placed in symbolic patterns to be read. When drawn right side up during a divination, they have a positive meaning, when upside down, the meaning is negative.

Click to try your hand at divination, casting the Elder Futhark runes.

The Elder Futhark

FeHu Letter:F
Name:FeHu, Feoh, Fe
Literal meaning:Cattle, fee, money, gold, the Goddess Freya
Positive meaning:Money, property, fulfillment, good luck, dynamic power, goals reached
Negative meaning:A person or offer to be avoided

Uruz Letter:U, V
Name:Uruz, Ur
Literal meaning:Aurochs, drizzle, rain
Positive meaning:Advancement, good fortune, happiness, basic powers of manifestation
Negative meaning:Bad luck, minor illness

Thurisaz Letter:TH
Name:Thurisaz, Thorn, Thurs
Literal meaning:Giant, thorn, the good one, the strong one
Positive meaning:Journey over water. Good news from a distance. Inner strength to break resistance or pass a time of waiting. Take great care in making decisions.
Negative meaning:Delayed or unpleasant journey

Ansuz Letter:A
Name:Ansuz, Oss, Ass
Literal meaning:Asa, god, ancestral god, one of the Aesir
Positive meaning:Transformation, new goals, information that changes your life
Negative meaning:Bad advice

Raidho Letter:R
Name:Raidho, Reidh, Rit, Rad
Literal meaning:Long journey on horseback, chariot, riding, wagon
Positive meaning:Journey, getting to the truth, seeing past illusions
Negative meaning:Travel problems, inconvenience, being blocked

Kenaz Letter:C, K
Name:Kenaz, Kaon, Cen, Kaun
Literal meaning:Torch, swelling, sore, boil, forge, hearth, pyre
Positive meaning:The rune of craftsmen and the crafty or sly. Controlled energy for dissolution. Life-strength, ambition, determination, inspiration.
Negative meaning:Bad judgment, confusion

Gebo Letter:G
Name:Gebo, Gifu, Gyfu, Gipt
Literal meaning:Blessing, gifts from the gods, hospitality, generosity
Positive meaning:The exchange of force or power between the gods and humans. Weddings, legacies, promotions, windfall
Negative meaning:Sadness caused by someone close

Wunjo Letter:W
Name:Wunjo, Wynn, Wunna, Vend
Literal meaning:Bliss, pleasure, joy, delight, hope, pasture
Positive meaning:Security, comfort, happiness, good social life
Negative meaning:Needless self-sacrifice

Hagalaz Letter:H
Name:Hagalaz, Haegl, Hagal
Literal meaning:Hail, snow
Positive meaning:Ability to bring opposites into harmony. Delays waiting for the right time.
Negative meaning:Setbacks, delays, situations out of your control

Naudhiz Letter:N
Name:Naudhiz, Nyd, Naut, Naudhr
Literal meaning:Need necessity, distress
Positive meaning:Distress that clouds reality, something out of the past that drives you. Caution needed to succeed.
Negative meaning:Impatience leads to disaster

Isa Letter:I
Name:Isa, Iss, Eis
Literal meaning:Ice
Positive meaning:Period of absolute stillness. Be careful what you say.
Negative meaning:Hasty words bring trouble; indifference, uncaring, detached emotions

Jera Letter:J
Name:Jera, Ger, Yer, Ar, Jer
Literal meaning:Good year, harvest, good season
Positive meaning:A cycle, time, reaping rewards, no quick results
Negative meaning:Wrong time to act

Eihwaz Letter:EI, I, Y
Name:Eihwaz, Eoh, Yr, Ihwar
Literal meaning:Mountain ash, yew tree
Positive meaning:End of a matter, situation, or problem. Drastic change. Death of a relationship.
Negative meaning:Old conflicts and situations cause trouble

Perdhro Letter:P
Name:Perdhro, Perodh, Peorth, Pear
Literal meaning:Fate, dice cup
Positive meaning:Chance, unexpected material gain, surprise
Negative meaning:A secret that can hurt you

Elhaz Letter:Z
Name:Elhaz, Eolh, Aquizi, Ihwar
Literal meaning:Elk, stone axe, protection, yew bow
Positive meaning:Visible movement, blockages removed
Negative meaning:People actively trying to stop you

Sowilo Letter:S
Name:Sowilo, Sigil, Sig, Sol
Literal meaning:Sun, sun-wheel
Positive meaning:Change, guidance, time of renewal, drastic changes, complete turnaround, advancement of plans, change of residence
Negative meaning:Failure which leads to new opportunities

Tiwaz Letter:T
Name:Tiwaz, Tyr, Tiu, Tir
Literal meaning:Sky god, the God Tyr
Positive meaning:Unbiased wisdom, justice, law and order. Justified victory and success.
Negative meaning:Intrigue, deception, others working against you

Berkano Letter:B
Name:Berkano, Beorc, Birca
Literal meaning:Birch tree, birch goddess
Positive meaning:Creativity, new beginnings, birth, marriage
Negative meaning:Failure, divorce, miscarriage, stagnant period

Ehwo Letter:E
Name:Ehwo, Eoh, Ehwaz, Eh
Literal meaning:Horse, steed, stallion, war horse
Positive meaning:Trust, self-transformation, new attitude, new home, new goals, steady progress
Negative meaning:Progress blocked

Mannaz Letter:M
Name:Mannaz, Man, Madhr
Literal meaning:Mankind, world, human being
Positive meaning:Man, lover, husband, male influence in life. New career opportunities.
Negative meaning:Material loss

Laguz Letter:L
Name:Laguz, Lagu, Logr
Literal meaning:Lake, water
Positive meaning:Hidden movement under the surface, no progress seen but it is happening. Life energy; manifestation coming from other planes
Negative meaning:Behind the scenes action blocks progress, usually with a woman involved

Ingwaz Letter:NG
Name:Ingwaz, Ingvi, Ing
Literal meaning:Kin, the God Frey
Positive meaning:Creating life force at work. Family, relatives, children, parents, spouse. Benefits from relatives.
Negative meaning:Family becomes a burden

Dagaz Letter:D
Name:Dagaz, Dag, Daeg
Literal meaning:Day
Positive meaning:Sudden realization, awakening, mystic light, attraction between two people
Negative meaning:Clouded vision, not understanding

Othalaz Letter:O
Name:Othalaz, ethel, Odal, Odhal, Othala
Literal meaning:Homeland, property, inherited land, sacred enclosure
Positive meaning:Inborn qualities, tangible possessions
Negative meaning:Illusions, jealousy, greed, wasted efforts

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