A brief look at the runes of the Elder Futhark

By: Mike Kaan

These are my basic interpretations for each of the runes of the Elder Futhark. While these explanations may reveal the basic meanings of these symbols, at least according to my own research and experience, they only scratch the surface of the layers of wisdom that can be found in the runes. For deeper study, there are many wonderful books out there that expand on them. I would personally recommend Diana Paxson’s Taking Up the Runes as a great starting point.

As a personal aside, I would consider myself a fairly conservative interpreter of the runes. I feel that the best basis for them can be found in reliable sources, such as existing lore and the rune poems. As such, I attempt to adhere closely to these sources when it comes to explaining the meaning of each symbol.

Fehu: Fehu means cattle and signifies wealth, but it is a wealth that is best used when moving through the community generously. The rune cautions against hoarding wealth and cites the discord that can result.

Uruz: Uruz stands for aurochs, which was a species of horned cattle common to the ancient world. As such, it is a rune of primal strength and determination. The rune can also mean rain.

Thurisaz: Thurisaz represents the giants of the Norse tales and is a rune of chaos and unrest. It could also be interpreted as a rune of Thor, which would turn the symbol into one of protection against those same chaotic forces.

Ansuz: Ansuz is the rune of Odin, which makes it a rune of wisdom. In the Anglo-Saxon rune poem the symbol also represents the mouth, lending an additional meaning of wisdom through communication and messages.

Raido: Raido means ride and is a rune of travel. While the journey may be swift and joyful, the rune poem warns of the toll the journey will take on the horse. This suggests that one must take care of those who help us along the way.

Kenaz: Kenaz is the torch that illuminates the way through darkness to a warm hearth and good company. However, as the fire burns for warmth, it can also cause pain and may indicate illness.

Gebo: Gebo signifies the rune of gifts and generosity. The rune also represents the cycle of reciprocity and the right-relationship that results when maintained.

Wunjo: Wunjo denotes the rune of joy. It is a bliss that can spring from prosperity, overcoming anxiety and sadness.

Hagalaz: Hagalaz represents hail, making it a rune of destruction and painful transition. All is not for naught however, for the ice seed will melt, giving water and growth to the hardier crops that survived.

Naudhiz: Naudhiz means need, and is a rune of constraint, oppression, and hard work that goes unrewarded. This is a challenging symbol, but the rune also indicates that lessons could be learned from the experience.

Isa: Isa stands for ice, fair to look upon but dangerous to traverse. This is a rune whose message is one of caution in situations where a particular decision seems desirable, but could be perilous. On the other hand, Isa can suggest stability and calm.

Jera: Jera is the rune for year and the harvest. It is manifestation of the rewards for hard work, with prosperity and abundance that sustains the individual or the community.

Eihwaz: Eihwaz is the symbol for the yew tree and can mean strength that is drawn from the line of ancestors. Eihwaz is also interpreted as the rune of Yggdrasil, which implies connection to the cosmos.

Perthro: Perthro is the dice-cup, the vessel from which the lots are cast, and the rune of chance. Perthro can represent uncertainty in everything from light-hearted gaming to the vagaries of fate.

Elhaz: Elhaz is the rune of the elk and the sedge. The shape of the rune resembles that of the antlers of the elk and the thorn of the sedge, making this a symbol of protection.

Sowilo: Sowilo represents the sun, making it a rune of illumination, victory, and power. The rune can also mean guidance, as one can always depend on the course of the sun to lead them to the end of their journey.

Tiwaz: Tiwaz is Tyr’s rune and is a symbol of justice and truth, potentially at the cost of self-sacrifice. Tiwaz also has an aspect of guidance in that right-action will always set you on the correct path.

Berkano: Berkano is the rune for the birch tree, indicating feminine strength and resourcefulness. From this meaning, it can be a rune for nurturing, healing, and regeneration.

Ehwaz: Ehwaz means horse and expresses the relationship between the horse and the rider. It is a rune of partnership, with attention given to those who help us along our journey. Naturally, the symbol can also represent movement and travel.

Mannaz: Mannaz is the symbol for “man” or “human,” and emphasizes the interconnected nature of human relationships. Mannaz can show the spectrum of these relationships, from comfort in good company to the more negative aspects of the human condition.

Laguz: Laguz is the rune for lake, making this a symbol for water. As such, this is a rune of potential and change, perhaps with the suggestion for flexibility through various situations. It can also mean the unconscious mind and the hidden wealth that lies beneath the surface.

Ingwaz: Ingwaz is Freyr’s rune and takes on the domains of the Vanic god as a symbol of fertility, productivity, and abundance. The rune can also symbolize masculine strength and the transforming cycles of life.

Dagaz: Dagaz means day and is the rune of new beginnings. With the day also brings hope, and is a welcome rune when life has been difficult. Dagaz can also signify the present moment and a call to “seize the day.”

Othala: Othala is the rune of the home and encompasses everything that entails, from the physical homestead to familial relationships of blood and heart. Othala also symbolizes the connection to the ancestors, from genetic inheritance to physical property passed on through the family line.

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