The following interpretations of the meanings of the Elder Futhark1 runes are summarized from my research through dozens of books and manuscripts. After studying the works of several respected scholars and rune practitioners (most notably Edred Thorsson and Freya Aswynn) I have provided a brief description and meaning for each rune.
Note that there is no "true" interpretation of the rune meanings, and every scholar brings their own perspective to the table. The keywords and phrases appearing first in the list are the most agreed upon meanings, the later are somewhat more modern interpretations. When you draw a rune for inspiration, refer to this quick reference as well as your personal insight and, if available, the additional resources noted at the bottom of this article.
The name of each rune is followed by its approximate pronunciation. The next paragraph contains the meanings as keywords and phrases, and at the end it the rune's phonetic equivalent in "quotes". The third paragraph is an excerpt from a traditional rune poem2 referring to the specific rune.
Many practitioners divide these twenty four runes into three Ættir, families or groups of eight runes. Each Ætt considered by some to be influenced by a God and Goddess. As a reference if you are interested in this view; the first eight runes listed here are referred to as Freyr's Ætt (or Frey and Freyja), the second set of eight runes is Hagal's Ætt (or Heimdall and Mordgud) and the third set of eight is Tyr's Ætt (or Tîwaz and Zisa). The large image of the entire set of runes shows these Ættir in three corresponding rows.
Cattle, wealth, property (mobile), dynamic power, money, livestock, liquid assets, responsibility, luck, fee, promotion. Controlled power over wealth. Manifesting creative energy and power. Invest wisely to increase wealth. "f"
Money is a comfort --- to everybody --- although every man ought --- to deal it out freely --- if he wants to get approval --- from the lord
Auroch3, vital strength, primal power, determination, health, perseverance, manifestation, will, drizzle, rain, wisdom & lore (derived from universal patterns), forces of creation, morphogenetic fields, the order (patterns) and churning force (power/energy) of the universe. "oo, u, v"
Auroch is fearless --- and greatly horned --- a very fierce beast, it fights with its horns --- a famous roarner of the moor --- it is a courageous animal
Thorn is very sharp --- for every thane --- who grasps it; it is harmful --- and exceedingly cruel --- to every man --- who lies upon them
Breath, word/song (as in words of power or incantations), shaping power or sound, divine power within, expression, communication, inspiration, eloquence, consciousness, a god, Odin, Woden, luck, good fortune, ash (tree), OM?. "aa, aah, aw"
Ash is very tall --- (and) very dear to men --- firm (steady) on its base --- it holds its stead (place) rightly --- though it is attacked (fought against) --- by many men (folks)
Riding, wheel, journey and travel, quest, change, ritual, rhythm, movement, order, underworld, that which is right, justice, moving into a consciousness in harmony with natural order, like a conductor directing movements in an orchestra. "r"
Riding is in the hall --- to every warrior --- easy, but very hard --- for the one who sits up --- on a powerful horse --- over miles of road
Torch, light, fires of transformation, illumination, regeneration, enlightenment, kinship, passing the torch of wisdom, passion and creation inherent in sexuality. "k"
Torch is to every living person --- known by its fire --- it is clear and bright --- it usually burns --- when the athlings (noble-men) --- rest inside the hall
Gift, exchange of powers, relationships, exchanges, crossing paths or uniting, connections and mutual respect between giver/receiver, balance (of energy and exchange), exchanges create evolution. "g, as in gift"
Gift is for every man --- a pride and a praise --- help and worthiness --- (and) of every homeless adventurer --- it is estate and substance --- for those who have nothing else
Joy, perfection, shared goals, harmony of like forces, the best traits of all involved combined as a force, wishes, happiness, well being or peacefullness, satisfaction or harmony from achieving goals. "w, v"
Joy is had --- by the one who knows few troubles --- pains or sorrows --- and to him who himself has --- power and blessedness --- and a good enough house (or "and also the plenty of towns)
Hail, hailstone, disruption, destruction, seed form, moving ice, enduring and overcoming temporary hardships, the transformation and evolution cause by destruction. "h"
Hail is the whitest of grains --- it comes from high in heaven --- showers of wind hurl it --- and then it turns to water
Need, necessity, distress, necessity is the mother of invention, resistance, actions or desires and beliefs may be incongruous, self created fire, Nornir, the Norns, friction creates fire. "n"
Need is constricting on the chest --- although to the children of men it often becomes --- a help and salvation nevertheless --- if they heed it in time
Ice, contraction, stillness, suspension, introspection, restraint, slowed growth (can be beneficial), overcoming stagnation or hardships, stop and think. "i, ee as in least"
Ice is very cold --- and exceedingly slippery --- it glistens clear as glass --- very much like gems --- a floor made of frost --- is fair to see
Harvest, year, season, cycles, the flow of life-death-rebirth, fruition, completion, reaping what you sow. "j, y as in year"
Harvest is the hope of men --- when god lets --- holy king of heaven --- the earth gives --- her bright fruits --- to the noble ones and the needy
Yew tree, axis of worlds, endings and beginnings, new opportunities, passages, between the worlds, protection, Yggdrasil. "æ"
Yew is on the outside --- a rough tree --- and hard, firm in the earth --- keeper of the fire --- supported by roots --- (it is a) joy on the estate
Dice cup, vulva, birth, problem solving, evolutionary force, "you buys your ticket-you takes your ride", luck of the draw, playing your cards, using what the fate gives you. "p"use in regression work; can put you in touch with the Norns
(Lot box) is always --- play and laughter --- among bold men --- where the warriors sit --- in the beer hall --- happily together
Elhaz "ale-hawz" or "all-geese"
Elk, protection, defense, support, luck, shielding, sanctuary, our connection with deity (ies). "zz"
Elk's sedge (kenning for sword) has its home --- most often in the fen --- it waxes in the water --- and grimly wounds --- and reddens (burns) with blood --- any man (bairn) --- who, in any way --- tries to grasp it
Sun, will, strength, victory, success, vitality, healing, solar energy and movement, directing power, clarity "s"
Sun is by sea men --- always hoped for --- when they fare far away --- over the fishes' bath (sea) --- until the brine stallion (ship) --- they bring to land
Creator, justice, success, responsibility, will, guided to success-truth-victory-justice-a good path, law and order, Tyr, "t"
Tir is a star (token) --- it keeps troth (faith) well --- with athlings (noble men) --- always on its course --- over the mists of night --- it never fails
Birch tree, birch twig, life-death-rebirth, regeneration, growth, mother, female fertility, new beginnings, birth and rebirth, fertility, intuition, Earth Mother, feminine wisdom. "b"
Birch is without fruit --- just the same it bears --- limbs without fertile seed (shoots without seed) --- it has beautiful branches --- high on its crown --- it is finely covered --- loaded with leaves --- touching the sky
Ehwaz "ay-wawz" or "ay-woh"
Horse, stallion, connections between people, movement, connecting with another force to move toward a goal. "e"
Horse is in front of the earls (warriors) --- the joy of athlings (noble man) --- a charger proud on its hooves --- when concerning it, heroes --- walthy men on warhorses --- exchange speech --- and it is always a comfort --- to the restless (or "and it is to the restless --- always a comfort")
Man (human), exams, disputes, challenges, arguments, gaining the upper hand, communication, understanding potential to achieve potential. "m"
Man is in his mirth --- dear to his kinsmen --- although each shall --- depart from the other --- for the lord wants to commit --- by his decree --- that frail flesh --- to the earth
Water, lake, flowing, emotions, intuition, psychic powers, revealing what is hidden (like beneath the water), even a river eventually defeats a mountain, the ebb and flow of all things. "L"
Water is to people --- seemingly unending --- if they should venture out --- on an unsteady ship --- and the sea waves --- frighten them very much --- and the brine stallion (ship) --- does not heed (mind) its bridle
Fertility, Frey, potential energy, intersecting potentials, how one thing ends affects how the next begins, opportunity, action and reaction. "ng as in strong"
Ing was first --- among the East-Danes --- seen by men --- until he again eastward (back) --- went over the wave --- the wain followed on --- this is what the warriors --- called the hero
Day, a new day, new beginning, satisfactory or successful conclusion, positive end, final release, perceived opposites are one, two sides of the same coin, "d" or a hard "th"
Day is the lord's messenger --- dear to men --- the ruler's famous light --- (it is) mirth and hope --- to rich and poor --- (and) is useful to all
Home, sacred ancestral land, inherited land, inheritance, ancestral power, true wealth and treasures (wisdom, kin and friendships rather than money or gold). "o as in hold"
Estate is very dear --- to every man --- if he can enjoy what is right --- and according to custom --- in his dwelling --- most often in prosperity
References & Resources
- 1. This Elder Futhark (or Futhorc) is sometimes referred to as the Germanic Runes
- 2. Humfrey Wanley transcribed this poem from "The Old English Rune Poem" and it appears here as it was first printed in the Thesaurus of George Hickes in 1705. The poem he transcribed was from the the late tenth century text however, the original version of the poem may date as early as the late eight or ninth century. The manuscript of the poem was held at the Cottonian library but was destroyed by a fire in 1731.
- 3. Audhumla, cosmic bovine, or a now extinct wild ox
- This concise guide was compiled from Friday's personal insights and diligent study and reference to the following sources. This is an excellent recommended reading list for Heathens and serious students of Asatru and runelore:
- Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology by Edred Thorsson
- Games of the Gods by Nigel Pennick
- Futharkh a Handbook of Rune Magic by Edred Thorsson
- The Secret of the Runes by Guido von List
- A Beginner's Guide to Runes By Kristyna Arcarti
- At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson
- A? by Freya Aswynn
- Rune-Song: A Practical Guide to Rune-Galdor by Edred Thorsson 1993
- The Elements of Runes by Bernard King
- The following sources were used as a reference for this article, and do contain some very well researched material. However these are not recommended reading necessarily. For most individuals I recommend Edred Thorsson and Frey Aswynn as listed above. The following resources are often (but not always!) flavored with slants in quite a different direction than most people are interested in when studying the runes, Asatru and Heathenism (for example these sources may occasionally include information regarding Thelema, white supremacy, etc.).
- A few essays and other works by Stephen E. Flowers
- Breathing The Runes: A publication of the Gambanreiði Statement - a diverse Pagan journal for the rediscovery and preservation of White identity and culture.