Runes- The alphabet of Odin

Part one- the history of the Rune alphabet




More of this Feature• Part Two-Divination with Runes

According to the Eddas, the poetic saga of the Norse Gods, the Runic alphabet was a gift from Odin. The word ‘rune’ means ‘whisper,’ or ‘secret wisdom.’ A selection from the Eddas tells of their discovery. Odin hangs for nine nights upon the world tree, wounded, without food or water; finally, he sees the reflection of the runes in the water:

“Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows For nine long nights, Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odhinn, Offered, myself to myself The wisest know not from whence spring The roots of that ancient rood.

They gave me no bread, They gave me no mead, I looked down; with a loud cry I took up runes; from that tree I fell.”

The runes originated around 200 B.C.E., as magical symbols engraved in stone; they were developed into the first Rune alphabet, the “elder” Futhark (‘futhark’ being a transliteration of the first six letters), an alphabet of twenty four characters. Many permutations and revisions over the years produced several variants, including the ‘elder’ and ‘younger’ futhark, and the Danish “short twig” script. Eventually, the sixteen character alphabet became the most commonly used.

An epic “Rune poem,” written in Old English around 1000 C.E., outlined the metaphorical and divinatory meanings of the characters, which at that time numbered at thirty three.

The following table gives the characters of the Elder futhark and their divinatory meanings:

Rune: name: divinatory meaning:
Money, finances, possessions; material goods or wealth
Strength; virility
thurisaz Thurisaz Gateway, beginning
ansuz Ansuz A message or signal, a secret; speech
raido Raido Travel, sojourn, movement
kaunaz Kaunaz Openings, shedding light on something, fire
gibo Gibo A gift or blessing, partnerships
wunjo Wunjo Joy; happiness, illumination
hagalaz Hagalaz Disruption, chaos, shattering of illusion
nauthiz Nauthiz Pain, confinement, limitation
isa Isa Inaction
jera Jera Fertility, harvesting, returns; reaping what you’ve sown
eihwaz Eihwaz Protection, defense; also withdrawl or barriers
perth Perth Secrets, initiations, occult or hidden things
algiz Algiz Defense, protection
sowelu Sowelu Completion, perfection
teiwaz Teiwaz (Tyr) Victory, conquest
berkana Berkana Renewal, rebirth, new beginnings
ehwaz Ehwaz Overcoming barriers, movement, progression
mannaz Mannaz The self, humanity
leguz Leguz Water, sea, motherhood; intuition
inguz Inguz Fertility, birth, beginnings
dagaz Dagaz Sunlight, enlightenment
othela Othela The home, hearth, possessions


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November 28, 2015 at 2:42 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Vanessa May 15, 2017 at 2:25 am

Do the odinist runes have any ulterior meaning?

Wayne Appleby July 6, 2015 at 11:51 am

Your Rune have been an inspiration and great help in my designing a new series of board games.
I have included a link to your website on mine. Many thanks!

Vlad December 25, 2013 at 6:27 am

Part two isn’t opening! I clicked on the link but it says 404 error :(

Jennifer December 29, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Hi Vlad, I will try and run that down for you. Adapting pages from the old structure imposed by about has been a nightmare.

Nick Braun September 23, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Any word on getting the symbols back up?

Jennifer October 14, 2013 at 7:30 am

Hi Nick- they should be working now.

Derek Norris June 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

How would you write (to defend life) in the alphabet of Odin?

Anonymous February 7, 2018 at 3:55 am

Algiz mannez, maybe

Joakim June 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

The pictures for the runes is not showing :( maybe because im using google chrome :’(

Jennifer May 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Aplogies, it seems the folder was corrupted. Will attempt a fix soon.

Anonymous January 13, 2018 at 11:37 pm

Is still broke i got a 404 error as well

Jennifer July 15, 2018 at 11:51 pm

Hmm, working from my end.