Rune symbols were not only used as an alphabetical script in the pre-Christian era, but they were also used as mystical symbols in the art of divination.
Did you know?
Owing to their supposed power to invoke the deities with an aim to influence major aspects of life and nature, runic divinations were condemned as an occult practice during the Middle Ages.
What are Runes?
The term “runes” refers to the set of ancient North European (especially Scandinavian) alphabets, which were used to write the various Germanic languages before the introduction of the Latin script. A special branch of Germanic linguistics that studies these runic alphabets and their history is known as “runology”, and it was first introduced by the Swedish antiquarian and mystique, Johannes Bureus, who believed that the runic alphabets possessed magical powers.
The earliest epigraphs bearing runic inscriptions date back to around 150 CE, and according to sources, the script continued to be used till the northern European cultures came completely under the influence of Christianity (until about 1100 CE). Although after this period, the official use of runes as an alphabetical script seems to have discontinued in both, northern and central Europe, there are clear indications that they continued to be used, albeit unofficially, by local people, especially in the rural areas of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
We have substantial evidence to prove that, apart from being used as a writing system, the runic alphabets also had magical associations since historical times. There are certain runic epigraphs that clearly mention that the runes possess special powers to resurrect the dead. Therefore, an element of mystery was always attached to the runic symbols, and owing to their supposed powers, they were also associated with some of the important Nordic deities. And therefore, inscriptions written in the runic script were given spiritual connotations, which later went on to become the voice of an oracle; however, they never became a spoken idiom, used rampantly by commoners.
The Runic Symbols: A Brief Overview
★ Each rune supposedly bears the power to invoke deities, who can then help with various problems that persist in the day-to-day life. The rune reader, thus, acts as a shaman, serving as a connection between the physical and the supernatural world. In this, he also uses the power of his/her mind to connect with the gods and spirits. Today, runic divinations are very popular, especially in Europe, and various runic reading kits and guides are available across the world.
★ The most popular set of runic alphabets is the Elder Futhark, which is also the oldest one. There are 24 alphabets in this set, and these have been primarily found on inscriptions dating between 2nd century CE and 8th century CE. The second most popular set is the Anglo-Saxon Futhork that was used between 4th century CE and 11th century CE, and this is followed by the Younger Futhark, used from 8th century CE to 11th century CE.
★ It is important to note that runic symbols were not used to predict the future, rather they were regarded as a way of seeking advice from the gods.
Runes and their Meanings
Owing to the fact that the Elder Futhark is the most commonly used system of runic alphabets, this write-up will provide you with interpretations of the 24 symbols therein. The 24 runes in the system have been divided into three distinct families (having eight runes in each), each presided over by a spirit or a Nordic deity. Each of these families is known as an Aett (Ætt), and the runes that have been placed under these Aettir (Ættir, plural of Aett), are connected to each other, either by way of their meanings or through the special powers that they possess. Scroll down for a look at the Elder Futhark runes, and to know what each of the 24 symbols signify.
Family #1: Freyr and Freya’s Aett
Freyr and Freya are the two Nordic deities, who preside over the first family. They are the gods of fertility and abundance.
Rune #1 Fehu
Other Name(s): Frey, Feoh
Meaning(s): Wealth, Domestic Cattle
All forms of wealth, riches, and/or material gains are represented by this rune. Wealth can be financial (such as income, bonus, windfall gains, etc.) or emotional (love, family ties, etc.). This rune’s reversal indicates a loss in fortune and riches, or failure on the emotional front.
Rune #2 Uruz
Other Name(s): Urz, Ur
Meaning(s): Power and Strength
This rune represents a wild ox, appreciated for its strength and power. It stands for internal mental fortitude, will to face challenges, and new beginnings. For men, it represents manhood and for women, it stands for femininity. When inverted, this symbol indicates weakness or lack of power.
Rune #3 Thurisaz
Other Name(s): Thor
Meaning(s): A thorn or giant
This represents a force or tower of strength needed to take up challenges. Emotional forces like anger and hate can be controlled and used, but your own strengths can end up destroying you. This rune has a very ambiguous meaning; it can be viewed both, as a positive and negative symbol.
Rune #4 Ansuz
Other Name(s): As(s), Os, Aesir
Meaning(s): Ancestral god (Odin)
This rune represents Odin (Norse god of magic and Shamanism) and stands for communication, revelation, and divine prophecies. It essentially represents words or messages conveyed through speech. When reversed, it represents the god of mischief, Loki, and hence, warns against tricks and deceit.
Rune #5 Raido
Other Name(s): Raidho, Rad, Reidh
Meaning(s): Wagon or chariot
One’s life can take many twists and turns, and different directions. Life’s journey is represented by this rune. It tells you how your decisions can change your path. It also symbolizes the need to change oneself through a journey of self-awareness. Its reverse can mean stagnation or lack of change.
Rune #6 Kenaz
Other Name(s): Kaunaz, Ken, Kano
Meaning(s): Fire, torch
This is a rune of burning light, heat, and warmth (physical and mental), and stands for an awakened and enlightened mind. It represents mind, opening itself to new ideas, revisioning of old thoughts, creativity, and exploration. Its reversal signifies a loss of awakened knowledge and loss of one’s path.
Rune #7 Gebo
Other Name(s): Gyfu, Geofu
The spirit of giving through physical gifts or emotional help is reflected in this rune. It stands for an act of generosity, a boon, or a skill. It also follows the “what goes around, comes around” philosophy, where an act of kindness should always be returned, and you owe the giver, gratitude. One good deed leads to another, so doing good to others is also advised.
Rune #8 Wunjo
Other Name(s): Wyn
The spirit of happiness, feelings of well-being, being loved by someone, reveling in the relationship, and enjoying good health and wealth is represented by this rune. Emotions and feelings are represented by this rune over materialistic wealth. If reversed, it symbolizes difficulties and obstacles in the path of happiness.
Family #2: Heimdall’s Aett
Heimdall, according to the Norse mythology, is the watcher of the underworld and keeper of the rainbow bridge that leads to heaven. He presides over the second family.
Rune #9 Hagalaz
Other Name(s): Haegl, Hagal, Haal
This rune symbol represents one of the harsher forms of weather, and suggests that the things are going to change. It symbolizes a disruptive force that may affect your life. Reversal suggests that the storm will fade away, and peace and calm will prevail.
Rune #10 Nauthiz
Other Name(s): Nyo, Nyd
Need may mean a want, wish, or a necessity that has to be addressed. Need can also mean desperate circumstances or hardships that one must solve or handle. This rune urges one to realize what one truly needs to survive and live, and to acknowledge what is important and what is not.
Rune #11 Isa
Other Name(s): Isar, Is
It symbolizes an icicle. It is meant to represent the coldness and frigidity of ice, and suggests that one must tread carefully across such bodies. This rune can mean freezing or suspension of plans. It also suggests that delaying certain plans may reap fruitful results.
Rune #12 Jera
Other Name(s): Jeraz, Ger
Meaning(s): Year, good harvest
The fruit of labor or reward for effort is what this rune represents. Jera depicts the success and fruition of plans. After planning and carrying out steps and working, one can expect a suitable harvest or yield, according to this symbol.
Rune #13 Eihwaz
Other Name(s): Eihwas, Erwaz, Eo
Meaning(s): Yew tree
This rune indicates the strength and fortitude of the yew tree against hostile forces. It is the rune of protection and defense, even in the face of an ambush. It represents knowledge and skill through difficult times, and the spirit and mindset needed to endure troubles.
Rune #14 Perthro
Other Name(s): Perth, Pertho, Pertra
Meaning(s): Dice cup, chance, womb
This is the rune of mystery and chance. It suggests that the future is always ambiguous and unknown, and the appearance of this symbol means a hidden matter or underlying secret that may lead to an unpredictable outcome. Inverted, it symbolizes hidden agendas, unexpected failures, and losses.
Rune #15 Algiz
Other Name(s): Elhaz, Eolh, Algir, Elgr
Meaning(s): Elk, protection
This rune symbol closely resembles the antlers of the mighty elk, an animal that is always aware of its surroundings―looking out for danger, yet capable of facing any threat. It is also likened to a hand, raised in a defensive gesture. This rune represents protection and defense against elements of harm. If reversed, it can indicate unsafe defenses or vulnerability to an attack.
Rune #16 Sowilo
Other Name(s): Sowulu, Sigel, Sugil
Meaning(s): The Sun
This rune symbolizes of might and strength. It also symbolizes the rising or awakening of one’s spirit from darkness, and tells you that success and goals will be reached. This rune represents power and vitality, revitalizing your life force, and providing you with the energy to attain your goals. It is also indicative of light after dark.
Family #3: Tyr’s Aett
The third family that comprises the last eight runes is presided over by Týr, the Norse god of law and heroic glory.
Rune #17 Tiwaz
Other Name(s): Teiwaz, Tyr
Meaning(s): Honor, justice, bravery
This rune represents the Norse god of War, Týr. It protects those who fight for justice, whether in a physical battle or in a battle of wits. It symbolizes triumph and victory in any competition, provided one plays fair. Its reversal symbolizes defeat and suggests one to retreat.
Rune #18 Berkano
Other Name(s): Berkanan, Beorc
Meaning(s): Birth and rebirth
It represents Berchta, the Norse goddess of the birch tree, and stands for fertility. This rune symbolizes the chance of a new beginning or something old rejuvenating itself. Recovery and renewal of objects, ventures, and personal relationships is indicated by this symbol.
Rune #19 Ehwaz
Other Name(s): Eh(e)
This is the rune of travel and change. It suggests that a person is on a route to prosperity. However, if this rune is reversed, it indicates loss of momentum and backward movement.
Rune #20 Mannaz
Other Name(s): Manwaz
This rune represents the spirit of humanity, in general. It also symbolizes your individuality and spirit, and the treatment you give/get to/from others. Its reverse stands for solitude, and isolation from people around you.
Rune #21 Laguz
Other Name(s): Lagu
This is the main rune of water in all its forms, from a tiny pond to the mighty ocean. Water has high tides, flows, and ebbs. It cleanses everything in its path. This rune of water indicates inner cleansing by means of learning through life’s ups and downs. When reversed, it suggests possibilities of madness, obsession, despair, illness, and suicide.
Rune #22 Ingwaz
Other Name(s): Inguz, Ing
This rune symbolizes peace, unity, togetherness, and strengthening of relationships by means of love and respect. It also represents mental relief and peace of mind that may result in new beginnings. It suggests that for starting a new venture, the person has to have mental peace and should be devoid of anxiety.
Rune #23 Dagaz
Other Name(s): Dag, Daeg
Meaning(s): Day, dawn
This rune indicates the beginning of a new day or light after dark. A new direction, hope, a new start, and a satisfying end is conveyed. It suggests that it is time to step out in the open and to look out for new opportunities. This is also the rune of balance, certainty, and security.
Rune #24 Othala
Other Name(s): Othila, Odal, Othel
Meaning(s): Ancestral property, inheritance
This rune indicates ancestral wealth and chances of inheriting the ancestral property. The gains might not always be monetary; heritage, power, etc., can also be inherited. Its reversal indicates an empty inheritance.
Blank runes are traditionally not used for divinations, and sources tell us that these are relatively newer additions to the rune sets we get these days. If you have a blank rune, save it in case you loose one of the tiles/stones.
Traditionally, to cast runes, a priest of Odin would spread out a white cloth and lay the rune stones on it. Then with his eyes blindfolded or raised upwards, he would pick three runes from the cloth and predict the outcome of a venture or answer a question, based on their interpretations. Today, this occult knowledge has come a long way, and many people around the world seek help of these ancient symbols, in order to find solutions for their problems.