Monday, August 18, 2014

The "Elder" Futhark

Alright... getting on with the theme of Rune Magick, now we look at the Gothic or "Elder" Futhark, the system of runes most commonly used in North America and some parts of Europe by runecasters. Sometimes this system is also called the Common Germanic Futhark, though there is a slight difference between the two in the ordering of a couple of the runes. 

Let it be said here, that the "Elder" almost certainly had uses far beyond mere divination - however, aside from mysterious runestones, little context survives of their usage... today in the United States, it's often the only runic system most practitioners know of, and all sorts of people from part-time psychics and wiccans to hard-core Asatruar use the "Elder" runes for divination and occasionally bindrunes and inscription spells. Most of the divination methods are of modern invention, and it's impossible to know for sure how the early pre-Viking Norse peoples used the Elder Futhark in castings. Tacitus provides a few clues to the rune-casting practices of their southern kinfolk in Germania, but his description of the practice is typically vague, in classic dismissive xenophobic Roman style.

The meanings of these runes are difficult to glean. Unlike the Younger Futhark and the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, there is no original rune poem surviving for the Elder Futhark. Their meanings and even their pronunciations have had to be reconstructed based on later sources and what is known of the Gothic language. However, since many of the same runes are present in the Anglo-Saxon system, the Anglo-Saxon rune poem provides some clues as to their meanings.

What follows is a condensed breakdown of the literal meanings of each rune followed by the generally accepted esoteric meanings used in Runic divination and magickal work. The reverse (upside-down) and merkstave (left-horizontal) positions are symbolic of potential negative tendencies of that rune. Typically runes rotated right-horizontal can be viewed positively (as in an upright rune), with caution - except when a rune is in some way symmetrical, and thus identical in upright and reversed position (in which case all horizontal forms may be considered "murk").

The Elder Futhark, rightly or wrongly, has been divided in modern times into three "Aetts" or sets of Eight, for a total of 24 runes. The infamous 25th "blank rune" sometimes added to the Elder Futhark is a new-age commercial invention with no basis in any rune tradition.

Freyr's Aett (or Yggdrasil's Root of Arising)

Fehu: (F: Domestic cattle, wealth.) Possessions won or earned, earned income, luck. Abundance, financial strength in the present or near future. Sign of hope and plenty, success and happiness. Social success. Energy, foresight, fertility, creation/destruction (becoming).

Fehu Reversed or Merkstave: Loss of personal property, esteem, or something that you put in effort to keep. It indicates some sort of failure. Greed, burnout, atrophy, discord. Cowardice, stupidity, poverty, slavery, bondage.

Uruz: (U: Aurochs, a wild ox.) Physical strength and speed, untamed potential. A time of great energy and health. Freedom, energy, action, courage, strength, tenacity, understanding, wisdom. Sudden or unexpected changes (usually for the better). Sexual desire, masculine potency. The shaping of power and pattern, formulation of the self.

Uruz Reversed or Merkstave: Weakness, obsession, misdirected force, domination by others. Sickness, inconsistency, ignorance. Lust, brutality, rashness, callousness, violence.

Thurisaz: (TH: Thorn, the god Thor, or a Giant.) Reactive force, directed force of destruction and defense, conflict. Instinctual will, vital eroticism, regenerative catalyst. A tendency toward change. Purging, cleansing fire. Male sexuality, fertilization. (Thor, the Thunder god, is both a god of fertility and protector of man against the Giants.)

Thurisaz Reversed or Merkstave: Danger, defenselessness, compulsion, betrayal, dullness. Evil, malice, hatred, torment, spite, lies. A bad man or woman. Rape?

Ansuz: (A: The As, ancestral god, i.e. Odin.) A revealing message or insight, communication. Signals, inspiration, enthusiasm, speech, true vision, power of words and naming. Blessings, the taking of advice. Good health, harmony, truth, wisdom. 

Ansuz Reversed or Merkstave: Misunderstanding, delusion, manipulation by others, boredom. Vanity and grandiloquence. (Odin is a mighty, but duplicitous god. He always has his own agenda.)

Raidho: (R: Wagon or chariot.) Travel, both in physical terms and those of lifestyle direction. A journey, vacation, relocation, evolution, change of place or setting. Seeing a larger perspective. Seeing the right move for you to make and deciding upon it. Personal rhythm, world rhythm, dance of life. 

Raidho Reversed or Merkstave: Crisis, rigidity, stasis, injustice, irrationality. Disruption, dislocation, demotion, delusion, possibly a death.

Kenaz: (K: Beacon or torch.) Vision, revelation, knowledge, creativity, inspiration, technical ability. Vital fire of life, harnessed power, fire of transformation and regeneration. Power to create your own reality, the power of light. Open to new strength, energy, and power now. Passion, sexual love. 

Kenaz Reversed or Merkstave: Disease, breakup, instability, lack of creativity. Nakedness, exposure, loss of illusion and false hope.

Gebo: (G: Gift.) Gifts, both in the sense of sacrifice and of generosity, indicating balance. All matters in relation to exchanges, including contracts, personal relationships and partnerships. 

Gebo Merkstave (Gebo cannot be reversed, but may lie in perpendicular opposition): Greed, loneliness, dependence, over-sacrifice. Obligation, toll, privation, bribery.

Wunjo: (W or V: Joy.) Joy, comfort, pleasure. Fellowship, harmony, prosperity. Ecstasy, glory, spiritual reward, but also the possibility of going "over the top". If restrained, the meaning is general success and recognition of worth. 

Wunjo Reversed or Merkstave: Stultification, sorrow, strife, alienation. Delirium, intoxication, possession by higher forces, impractical enthusiasm. Raging frenzy, berserker.

Heimdall's Aett (or Yggdrasil's Root of Being)

Hagalaz: (H: Hail.) Wrath of nature, destructive, uncontrolled forces, especially the weather, or within the unconscious. Tempering, testing, trial. Controlled crisis, leading to completion, inner harmony. 

Hagalaz Merkstave (Hagalaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Natural disaster, catastrophe. Stagnation, loss of power. Pain, loss, suffering, hardship, sickness, crisis.

Naudhiz: (N: Need.) Delays, restriction. Resistance leading to strength, innovation, need-fire (self-reliance). Distress, confusion, conflict, and the power of will to overcome them. Endurance, survival, determination. A time to exercise patience. Recognition of one's fate. Major self-initiated change. Face your fears. 

Naudhiz Merkstave (Naudhiz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Constraint of freedom, distress, toil, drudgery, laxity. Necessity, extremity, want, deprivation, starvation, need, poverty, emotional hunger.

Isa: (I: Ice.) A challenge or frustration. Psychological blocks to thought or activity, including grievances. Standstill, or a time to turn inward and wait for what is to come, or to seek clarity. This rune reinforces runes around it. 

Isa Merkstave (Isa cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Ego-mania, dullness, blindness, dissipation. Treachery, illusion, deceit, betrayal, guile, stealth, ambush, plots.

Jera: (J or Y: A year, a good harvest.) The results of earlier efforts are realized. A time of peace and happiness, fruitful season. It can break through stagnancy. Hopes and expectations of peace and prosperity. The promise of success earned. Life cycle, cyclical pattern of the universe. Everything changes, in its own time. 

Jera Merkstave (Jera cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Sudden setback, reversals. A major change, repetition, bad timing, poverty, conflict.

Eihwaz: (EI: Yew tree.) Strength, reliability, dependability, trustworthiness. Enlightenment, endurance. Defense, protection. The driving force to acquire, providing motivation and a sense of purpose. Indicates that you have set your sights on a reasonable target and can achieve your goals. An honest man who can be relied upon. 

Eihwaz Merkstave (Eihwaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): Confusion, destruction, dissatisfaction, weakness.

Perthro: (P: Lot cup, vagina.) Uncertain meaning, a secret matter, a mystery, hidden things and occult abilities. Initiation, knowledge of one's destiny, knowledge of future matters, determining the future or your path. Pertaining to things feminine, feminine mysteries including female fertility, and vagina. Good lot, fellowship and joy. Evolutionary change. 

Perthro Reversed or Merkstave: Addiction, stagnation, loneliness, malaise.

Algiz/Elhaz: (Z or -R: Elk, protection.) Protection, a shield. The protective urge to shelter oneself or others. Defense, warding off of evil, shield, guardian. Connection with the gods, awakening, higher life. It can be used to channel energies appropriately. Follow your instincts. Keep hold of success or maintain a position won or earned. 

Algiz Reversed: or Merkstave: Hidden danger, consumption by divine forces, loss of divine link. Taboo, warning, turning away, that which repels.

Sowilo: (S: The sun.) Success, goals achieved, honor. The life-force, health. A time when power will be available to you for positive changes in your life, victory, health, and success. Contact between the higher self and the unconscious. Wholeness, power, elemental force, sword of flame, cleansing fire. 

Sowilo Merkstave (Sowilo cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): False goals, bad counsel, false success, gullibility, loss of goals. Destruction, retribution, justice, casting down of vanity. Wrath of god.

Tyr's Aett (or Yggdrasil's Root of Passing Away towards new Arising)

Tiwaz: (T: Tyr, the sky god.) Honor, justice, leadership and authority. Analysis, rationality. Knowing where one's true strengths lie. Willingness to self-sacrifice. Victory and success in any competition or in legal matters. 

Tiwaz Reversed or Merkstave: One's energy and creative flow are blocked. Mental paralysis, over-analysis, over-sacrifice, injustice, imbalance. Strife, war, conflict, failure in competition. Dwindling passion, difficulties in communication, and possibly separation.

Berkana: (B: Berchta, the birch-goddess.) Birth, general fertility, both mental and physical and personal growth, liberation. Regenerative power and light of spring, renewal, promise of new beginnings, new growth. Arousal of desire. A love affair or new birth. The prospering of an enterprise or venture. 

Berkana Reversed or Merkstave: Family problems and or domestic troubles. Anxiety about someone close to you. Carelessness, abandon, loss of control. Blurring of consciousness, deceit, sterility, stagnation.

Ehwaz: (E: Horse, two horses.) Transportation. May represent a horse, car, plane, boat or other vehicle. Movement and change for the better. Gradual development and steady progress are indicated. Harmony, teamwork, trust, loyalty. An ideal marriage or partnership. Confirmation beyond doubt the meanings of the runes around it. 

Ehwaz Reversed or Merkstave: This is not really a negative rune. A change is perhaps craved. Feeling restless or confined in a situation. Reckless haste, disharmony, mistrust, betrayal.

Mannaz: (M: Man, mankind.) The Self; the individual or the human race. Your attitude toward others and their attitudes towards you. Friends and enemies, social order. Intelligence, forethought, create, skill, ability. Divine structure, intelligence, awareness. Expect to receive some sort of aid or cooperation now. 

Mannaz Reversed or Merkstave: Depression, mortality, blindness, self-delusion. Cunning, slyness, manipulation, craftiness, calculation. Expect no help now.

Laguz: (L: Water, a lake, or a leek.) Flow, water, sea, fertile source, healing power of renewal. Life energy and organic growth. Imagination and psychic matters. Dreams, mysteries, the unknown/hidden, the deep, the underworld. Success in travel or acquisition, but with the possibility of loss. 

Laguz Reversed or Merkstave: An indication of confusion in your life. You may be making poor judgments. Lack of creativity, being in a rut. Fear, avoidance, withering away, wasted energy. Madness, obsession, sickness, despair.

Ingwaz: (NG: Ing, the earth god.) Male fertility, gestation, internal growth. Common virtues, common sense, simple strengths, family love, caring, human warmth, the home. Rest stage, a time of relief, of no anxiety. A time when all loose strings are tied and you are free to move in a new direction. Listen to yourself. 

Ingwaz Merkstave (Ingwaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition - check the grain of the wood!): Impotence, movement without change. Production, toil, labor, work, often seemingly with no result in sight. Mental burnout.

Dagaz: (D: Day or dawn.) Breakthrough, awakening, awareness. Daylight clarity as opposed to nighttime uncertainty. A time to embark upon an enterprise. The power of change directed by your will, transformation. Hope/happiness. Security and certainty. Growth and release. Balance point, where opposites meet. 

Dagaz Merkstave (Dagaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): A completion, ending, limit, coming full circle. Blindness, hopelessness.

Othala: (O: Ancestral property.) Inherited property or possessions, a house, a home. What is truly important to one. Group order, group prosperity. Land of birth, spiritual heritage, experience and fundamental values. Aid in spiritual and physical journeys. Source of safety, increase and abundance. 

Othala Reversed or Merkstave: Lack of customary order, totalitarianism, slavery, poverty, homelessness. Bad karma, prejudice, clannishness, provincialism. What a man is bound to.


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  2. Once I made a bag from goat skin, and used it to hold some Jade Runes I had bought. Believe it or not, the bag disappeared from my place, and I heard later someone found jade runes scattered somewhere nearby. We deduced a dog had grab the skin-bag and eaten it, losing the stones. One was missing however, for which reason's the blank runes purpose, as backup, on which I carved the needed sign.

    1. Interesting. The blank tiles included with some commercially available rune sets are indeed useful as a replacement in case a rune tile gets lost. But nothing more. They just don't have any real significance as an actual rune for magick or divination (there's no such thing as "the blank rune" - blankness or absence of a symbol is not a "rune" and never has been - a futhark rune is the actual symbol, not the rock or wood it's carved on).

      Some sets include a blank tile just to satisfy all the Ralph Blum junkies and get more customers. Usually these are the colorful stone sets that are made in China. I prefer to get wood runes (the traditional material for the "casting lots" described by Tacitus) made of a native European or Eurasian wood like Birch, Ash, Oak, etc. I rarely buy rune sets, you're better off making your own, but when I do buy them I'm very picky. One time I bought a rather high-quality Ash Elder Futhark set from a Russian maker, and he included not one but THREE blank tiles. Very kind, actually. He understood these were spare tiles for replacements, not "blank runes" for divination... he knew the single "Blank rune" concept is nonsense, but he included 3 spare tiles simply in case you lose any runes and need to carve replacements.