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" Futhark Runes almost certainly had uses far beyond mere divination - however, aside from a few mysterious Rune-stones (far more survive for the Younger Futhark), 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 Asatruars 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, and his account is contemporary to the period of the Elder Futhark's usage, 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. 


The Elder Futhark is considered the ancestor of both the Younger and Anglo-Saxon systems, though by divergent means. The Younger Futhark was derived through contraction and likely "reverse-engineering" by Viking skalds in the 6th and 7th centuries in Scandinavia, to return the Runes to their more primal and esoteric Odinic form of 18 Runes, as mentioned in the Hávamál, of which only the first 16 were revived successfully by the Viking skalds. The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc by contrast was developed far earlier in Germany and Frisia through a complex and variegated process of expansion by various German tribes, a process which typically inched forward following military conquests, and continued after the Futhorc was exported to England by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons in the 5th century CE.

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 murk-stave (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"). Alternately, you can also adapt the more symbolic and nuanced divination method used in Armanen divination.


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. Financial success. Energy, foresight, fertility, creation/transformation.

Fehu Reversed or Murkstave: 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. The primitive and untainted original state of things. A time of great energy and health. Strength and longevity in old age. Freedom, raw energy, perseverance, tenacity, understanding, ancient wisdom. Sexual desire, potency. The shaping of power and pattern, formulation of the self.

Uruz Reversed or Murkstave: Weakness, obsession, misdirected force, domination by others. Sickness, inconsistency, instability, ignorance. Impulsiveness, brutality, rashness, callousness, rage.



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, penetrative energy, fertilization. (Thor, the Thunder god, is both a god of fertility and protector of man against the Giants.)

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



Ansuz: (A: The Asa, 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 Murkstave: Misunderstanding, delusion, manipulation by others, boredom. Vanity and grandiloquence. (Odin is a mighty, but cunning god. He always has his own agenda, and may send disaster upon those who prove unworthy of his gifts and guidance.)



Raidho: (R: The Ride, wagon, wheel or chariot.) Travel, both in physical terms and those of lifestyle direction. A journey, relocation, evolution, change of place or setting. Seeing a larger perspective, Right Action, Ritual, worldly wisdom. Seeing the right move to make and deciding upon it. Personal rhythm, world rhythm, dance of life. 

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



Kenaz: (K: Beacon or torch.) Vision, revelation, knowledge, creativity, inspiration,  intuitive knowledge, cunning, 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 Murkstave: 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 Murkstave (Gebo cannot be reversed, but may lie in perpendicular opposition): Greed, loneliness, dependence, over-sacrifice, unrequited giving. 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 Murkstave: Stultification, boredom, 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 - but also the ability to withstand them and regrow. Tempering, testing, trial. Controlled crisis, leading to completion, inner harmony. 

Hagalaz Murkstave (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. Acceptance of shortcomings, and determination to find a better solution to them. A time to exercise patience. Recognition of one's fate. Major self-initiated change. Face your fears. 

Naudhiz Murkstave (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, truce with the ego, or a time to turn inward and wait for what is to come, or to seek clarity. This rune reinforces runes around it. 

Isa Murkstave (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 Murkstave (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. Life and death. Defense and offense, barbed protection against evil magick. Strongly rooted and beautiful, with a sense of purpose. Indicates that you have set your sights on a reasonable target and can achieve your goals precisely. An effective person who can be relied upon as an ally, and is to be dreaded by enemies. 

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



Perthro: (P: Lot cup, pear tree, 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. Trysts without obligations. Good lot, fellowship and joy. Evolutionary change. 

Perthro Reversed or Murkstave: 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 Murkstave: 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 Murkstave (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 Murkstave: 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. Pleasure that leads to parenthood (a closed-off counterpart of Perthro). A new birth or the likelihood of one. The prospering of an enterprise or venture. 

Berkana Reversed or Murkstave: 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 and partnership. Movement and change for the better. Gradual development and steady progress are indicated. Harmony, teamwork, trust, loyalty. An ideal marriage or long-term partnership. Confirmation beyond doubt of the meanings of any positive runes drawn alongside it. 

Ehwaz Reversed or Murkstave: This is not really a negative rune. A change is perhaps craved. Lack of adequate partner. Feeling restless or confined in a situation. A seed of potential for reckless haste, disharmony, mistrust, betrayal.



Mannaz: (M: Man, mankind.) The Self; the individual or mankind. 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 short-term aid or cooperation now. 

Mannaz Reversed or Murkstave: 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 as the price of a life lesson. 

Laguz Reversed or Murkstave: 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 god of fertility, usually understood to be Freyr.) 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. Be shining in your confidence.

Ingwaz Murkstave (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; time when one phase ends, and another begins. 

Dagaz Murkstave (Dagaz cannot be reversed, but may lie in opposition): A completion, ending, limit, coming full circle - but without fulfilling results. Blindness, hopelessness, no new dawn for you.



Othala: (O: Ancestral property.) Inherited property or possessions, a house, a home. What is truly important to one. Group order, noble authority, 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 Murkstave: Lack of customary order, anarchy, slavery, poverty, homelessness. Bad karma, betrayal of hospitality, feuds, clannishness, provincialism. What a man is bound to.



3 comments:

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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.

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    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.

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