The Runic alphabet – also known as futhark – is a mystical writing system whose origins are mysterious. This alphabet is thought to date back to the 3rd century, was used by people of Germanic regions – such as Britain, Europe and Scandinavia – and is one of the more recent lingual inventions in the grand scheme of language.
The Runic alphabet was discovered on runestones – slabs of stone with letters inscribed on them, often found near gravesites from 950 to 1100 AD – and some 50 runestones have been discovered as of today. Most runestones were found in Sweden, however they have also been discovered in Norway, Denmark and Greenland.
According to Norse mythology, Odin – the god of wisdom, divination, magic, poetry and death – stabbed himself in the heart with his own weapon and hung himself from Yggdrasil – the world tree – for over a week in order to understand the meanings of each rune. The Well of Urd, also known as the Well of Fate, provided the information that would be used to create the Runic alphabet and it was thought that this information was rich with meaning, spiritual wisdom and insight.
It is through the wisdom of the Earth and Odin’s sacrifice that we are able to use this alphabet as a metaphysical tool in our modern lives.
This alphabet was typically carved upon pieces of wood or bone, which were then used for purposes of divination through a process called “runecasting.” Runecasting is thought to utilize the wisdom of the subconscious, allowing us to see the hidden answers that lie deep within our psyche.
The term “futhark” is based on the first six letters of Elder Futhark – the oldest Runic alphabet to have ever been identified – which represent F, U, Th, A, R and K in English. The Elder Futhark was discovered in Gotland, Sweden, inscribed on the Kylver Stone, and dates back to 400 AD.
The Younger Futhark was developed during the Viking age (circa 793-1066) and contains only 16 runes – a result of the increasingly complicated languages of Germanic tribes at that time. There are two types of Younger Futhark – long branch, whose origins are Danish, and short twig, which hail from Swedish and Norwegian cultures.
While both the Elder and Younger Futharks represent ancient Runic alphabets, it is the Elder Futhark which is inscribed on modern rune sets.
How to Read the Runes
Runecasting is an excellent method for exploring the subconscious and communing with the spiritual realm, but the idea of learning or memorizing an entirely new alphabet system can be intimidating. This is the ultimate guide for learning to read the runes and will cover the Runic meaning of each symbol within the Elder Futharks.
Fehu is considered a rune of wealth, although it does not necessarily indicate monetary wealth. This rune represents the power and control you have to create wealth in your own life. When you encounter this rune, you may find yourself on the precipice of an influx of fortune, however you may have to work hard to receive it.
This rune represents a power that exists outside of ourselves. If you encounter this rune during a casting, it may indicate that success or fortune is near, however you will not be in control of its manifestation.
Thurisaz is a representation of the power to avoid confrontation and conflict. This rune is protective and acts as warning – there may be unexpected changes, psychological tests or adversaries to deal with soon.
This rune represents divinity, and is associated with stability, order, inspiration and luck. It is associated with the Divine Order of the universe and may symbolize incoming luck or opportunity.
Raidho is a rune that represents the journey toward achieving our goals. It invites us on a journey – whether spiritual or psychical – toward our greatest desires. The casting of this stone symbolizes a need for focused energy.
This rune is associated with knowledge – both learning and teaching – and understanding. It symbolizes the unearthing of otherwise hidden wisdom within and invites mental clarity and increased self-awareness.
Gebo represents harmonious connection and generosity. This rune is associated with gift-giving within friendships and relationships and mirrors the gift of life given to us by the gods. Casting this rune invites generosity of the spirit.
This rune represents balance and wisdom amidst chaos. Wunjo asks us to remain grounded and true to our centers when life becomes hectic and provides the wisdom to be able to do so. This rune can also be an indication of good news heading in your direction.
Hagalaz represents a hailstone, which can be destructive and damaging, yet melts into live-giving water. This rune represents a challenging situation that will give way to a lesson learned.
This stone represents needs and desires and the impact they can have on our psyche. Whether your needs are being met, this stone asks you to break free from restrictions and find a way to achieve your goals.
Like ice frozen into form, this rune represents our inability to make a move in freezing conditions. We must wait until the sun comes out to flow freely once more. This rune represents a stagnant situation that requires some kind of shift before it can improve.
This rune is associated with the cycles of life and asks us to go with the flow. Just as we must wait for the harvest to enjoy the fruits of our labor, so too must we be patient when trying to accomplish our goals.
This is a rune of manifestation and represents our ability to attract what we want in life. It reminds us that when one door closes, another opens – there are always new opportunities around every corner, as long as we open our eyes to see them.
Perthro represents chance and uncertainties in life. It indicates luck – both good and bad. It could represent good luck with games of chance or the introduction of a situation beyond your control. Regardless of the potential circumstance, this rune asks you to take risks in life.
Also known as Elhaz, this is a rune of protection and represents our power of self-control. This is a great rune to use for protective talismans and charm work, as it helps us maintain balance and invites health and happiness into our lives.
Sowilo provides insight into otherwise murky situations and helps us see things more clearly. It represents the sun and the light that it sheds on the darkness of our world. This rune indicates mental clarity and an ability to see things as they are.
This rune represents justice within conflict and may indicate success in a legal battle. It is associated with accomplishments that do not require the personal sacrifice that some situations ask of us.
Berkana is associated with the birch tree and represents new beginnings. Casting this rune could indicate new relationships, budding romance or an exciting career shift. This rune is all about transformation and new situations.
This rune reminds of that there is a natural order and flow in life and that we must respect this flow in order to move forward with our goals. Ehwaz indicates the need for balance and good intentions in order to achieve accomplishments.
Mannaz represents mankind, the self and potential. It asks us to be considerate and understanding toward our peers and invites us to learn more about ourselves – who we are at our core. Casting the rune may indicate a need to be less judgmental toward yourself or others.
Laguz is associated with water and represents our ability to go with the flow of life. This rune asks you to remain fluid and adaptable in the face of change. It is associated with hope and can indicate your need to be more hopeful and trusting that the universe will provide.
This rune represents the willingness to put yourself out there – in love, in your career and in general. This is a protective rune that asks you to build your confidence and unleash your power.
Dagaz represents a grounded relationship between opposites – night and day, light and dark. This rune can indicate that protection is needed from incoming energies that will not serve you, but it can also indicate that good luck is coming.
Also known as Othala, this is a rune of nontraditional wealth – such as friendships, family, love and creative expression. Othala asks you to take stock of the blessings in your life and practice gratitude for the love surrounding you.
Why Use Runes?
Runecasting is yet another wonderful way to delve deeper into your psyche and learn more about yourself. It is also a meditative process, asking you to focus and become present in your spirit.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never tried runecasting before, this is a practice that can be learned and enjoyed by anyone.
Related Article: How to Work Rune Stones Into Your Daily Routine