Elder Futhark Runes: How to Read Runes and Use Them Magically
Some folks prefer Tarot. Some prefer Oracle. If you feel a connection to the Norse or Germanic tribes of the past, maybe it’s time you learn how to read the runes for divination purposes. Here we’ll dive into the Norse rune system: how to read runes plus the elder futhark runes meanings.
Ancient Origins of the Elder Futhark Runes
The Elder Futhark runes are an early writing system developed by the ancient Norse and Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. The Elder futhark system’s purpose was threefold: as an alphabet system, as representative of mundane issues of hearth and home, but perhaps more importantly the runes had (and have) sacred spiritual significance. There are preserved rune etchings dating to 2800 BC, Bronze Age Sweden. A few of the earliest rune markings include Ing(waz), Sowilo and Hagalaz among others not of the traditional Elder futhark. By the Medieval and Viking Age, newer rune systems were used everywhere from Norway to England by Scandinavian peoples, as well as the Anglo-Saxon.
The Elder Futhark Runes as a Divination Tool
We’ve mentioned the runes were used for various purposes, one being spiritual in significance. Spiritual leaders of a tribe, patriarchs and seers etched runes into stone and wood as a means of magically protecting, blessing, healing or cursing. Each rune held a sacred power and was therefore used as such. Volvas, or female seers, were known to cast runestones or staves onto water or earth and read the messages from the gods. It was common practice to consult the runes before battles and voyages. The practice of reading runes for divination purposes continued well into the Middle Ages, has survived despite religious and political agendas and is alive and well today. To read more about the history of the runes, click here.
Elder Futhark Runes Meanings
The Elder Futhark rune system is the “original” system, so to speak, and consists of 24 symbols total. Depending on the rune set you purchase, you may see variations in certain runic symbols. For instance, Ing may sometimes be Ingwaz and instead of being a simple diamond shape, may include “arms” reaching above and “legs” below it. Also remember, each rune has a “mundane” meaning that may also apply to its divinatory significance, but inevitably YOU determine the true message behind each. You’ll also find the longer you read the runes, the more complex they become. And the more personality they reveal to you. The wisdom of the runes is a deep, endless well.
For all intents and purposes, we provide the basic Elder futhark runes meanings here for you. Then we’ll discuss how to read runes for divination purposes below.
- Fehu: Cattle, Finances, Abundance (F)
- Uruz: Aurochs (Extinct Oxen), Strength, Overcoming Obstacles (U)
- Thurisaz: Hammer of Thor, Thorn, Thunder God, Protection (Th)
- Ansuz: Odin, Voice of God, Universal Voice (A)
- Raido: Ride (Riding), Journey, Wheel of the Wagon (R)
- Kenaz: Torch, Inner Fire, Creativity (K)
- Gebo: Gift, Joy in Union, Marriage, Blessing (G)
- Wunjo: Personal Joy, Self Fulfillment, Career Success, Tribal Banner (W)
- Hagalaz: Hail or Ice Seed, Abrupt Change that Brings Transformation (H)
- Naudiz: Need, Fulfilling One’s Own Needs (N)
- Isa: Ice, Pause, Rest and Regeneration (I)
- Jera: the Harvest, Earthly Results of Labor (J)
- Eiwaz: Yew Tree (Of Life and Death), Wisdom, Pillar (E, Eh, Ey)
- Perthro: Gambling Cup, “Roll of the Dice”, Luck (P)
- Algiz: Elk Horn or Eel Grass, Overcoming Obstacles, Resolution (Z)
- Sowilo: the Sun, Sun Wheel, Health, Vitality, Opportunity (S)
- Tiwaz: Tyr, Justice, Truth (T)
- Berkano: Birch Tree, Mother Goddess, Renewal, Motherhood (B)
- Ehwaz: Horse, Partnership/Joint Ventures, Trust (Eh)
- Mannaz: Mankind, Humanity, Awareness, Collective Conscious (M)
- Laguz: Lake, Water, the Sea, Flow (L)
- Ing (Ingwaz): Fertility, Fertility God, Virility, Sex Magic, Love (-Ing)
- Othala: Inheritance, Home and Hearth, Stability, Ancestors (O)
- Dagaz: Dawn, Day, New Opportunity (D)
If you purchase a set of runestones or staves, there will sometimes be a blank stone/stave. This is called “wyrd” and in it’s simplest explanation means “fate”. It’s up to you to interpret this blank stone or to leave it up to the gods.
How to Read Runes for Divination Purposes: How to Cast and Interpret
As you learn how to read the runes for divination purposes, you’ll develop your own style. There’s truly a limitless number of ways to cast and interpret the Elder Futhark. Traditionally one is to cast runes on a white rune cloth; however, I don’t use a rune cloth at all. Instead I cast my runes on a wooden table or directly onto the ground. It’s ultimately up to you! Some volvas and Norse seers even cast their staves on water.
Simple Rune Reading: Pick a Rune
The simplest way to draw a rune is by pulling one out of the bag and reading it. You can ask a question beforehand OR allow the runes to speak for themselves. For example, if you pull Ansuz (as shown below), you might interpret this as an encouraging message from Odin. Or maybe he’s telling you to speak up for yourself in a tough situation, etc.
The “Cast 3 Runes” Reading Method
A more traditional version of casting and reading runes would be to pull three from your bag, then cast them onto your cloth or preferred surface. Again, you may have a question in mind or simply allow the runes to speak. Sometimes they’ll all fall facing up, sometimes they’ll all fall facing down or another variation. You might interpret the runes that fall facing up as the more pressing matters and the ones face down as not so pressing. Alternatively, runes facing up are positive outcomes and runes facing down are setbacks. This takes time and practice and you may switch your preference based on the reading or question at hand.
In addition, you may wish to read the direction of the runes as significant. For example, if Berkano falls face up pointing to the North, this might be a message from the Mother Goddess to focus your attention on family matters. Isa facing east might mean to cease communication with a disgruntled employee. Othala in the North means financial stability and happiness is around the corner. You get the point.
More Complicated Rune Readings
My suggestion is to start off learning how to read the runes with one rune at a time. Then try the 3 rune casting method. Once you have a good understanding of the Elder futhark runes meanings, you can move to more complicated readings with 5, 7, or 9 runes or more.
Be Patient and Submerge Yourself in the Runes
Before I ever learned how to read the runes as divination, I submerged myself in the history and lore of the Elder futhark. Each rune seems to have its own consciousness, it’s own soul. And each rune has a sacred message for each of us that changes depending on the person and situation. We should allow the runes to speak to us before imprinting our own meanings on them. Be patient when learning the runes. Take your time and truly allow each symbol to become a part of you. Making a set of rune cards will help your studies.
How to Make Rune Cards
What You’ll Need:
- Cardstock paper: 6 sheets
- red paint and paintbrush
- Rune guide/book as a reference
- Lighter, water, washcloth (optional for burnt edges)
How to Make Rune Cards:
- Cut 6 pieces of cardstock into equal fours for a total of 24 cards.
- On one side of each card, draw each of the 24 elder futhark runes.
- Optional: write the number of each rune in the corners
- On the back, write any pertinent information about each rune in pencil.
- Rune’s name, symbolism, associated god, associated letter, and magical attributes
- Use pencil so you can remove and add information in the future.
- Paint your runes red.
- Runes were traditionally done in red.
- After they’ve dried, you have a set of rune cards!
- Optional is the burnt edge look on the edges of each rune card. Please be careful when playing with FIRE. I did this part outside, in my driveway, with an extinguisher nearby. I used my cast iron cauldron as the vessel (use a fireproof container when burning papers).
Simple, Daily Rune Magick
Runes are multi-dimensional and dynamic in so many ways. When you really get to know the runes on a deep, spiritual level, they sort of make their way into your daily life without you even realizing it! BUT if you’re not to that level yet or you need some fresh ideas, here’s a few ways to incorporate rune magick into your daily life:
- Draw runes (like Wunjo, Kenaz, Uruz, Eiwaz, Algiz, etc.) in the air over your food while cooking or over your coffee/tea/water throughout the day; choose a rune depending on your intention
- Draw runes with sauces over your foods, too
- Draw runes over the body to aid in healing; for instance – draw Laguz for blockages or Berkano for overall healing. This works for stomachaches, headaches, etc. It may not completely relieve the problem but it will help reduce symptoms (I use runes in conjunction with Reiki energy which may be against the “rules” of some, but hey, it works for me!)
- Sign your name and end it with your favorite rune (just not on legal documents LOL!)
- When you do your home cleansings/blessings: dip your finger into oil and draw protective runes over your doors, windows, fireplace, etc.
Rune Magick in Ritual
Rune magick is also a powerful addition to any ritual. Runes are great for candle magic – inscribe runes into the candle itself for added power and intention. Draw a rune using natural items (rocks/twigs/flowers) in the middle of your sacred space/circle. Obviously you’ll want to choose runes that have meaning to your intention for your ritual. Be selective. Don’t just willy-nilly choose runes for ritual – let their individual personalities speak to you and lend their energy to your rituals. Other ways to include rune magick in your rituals:
- Enter a trance-state and craft bind-runes for personal empowerment, to increase intuition, and facilitate communication with your ancestors
- Paint bind-runes, frame them, and hang them above your altar or sacred space
- Draw protective and power runes in the air to cast a circle / set up sacred space before and after any ritual
- Carve/paint runes on your ritual tools – wands, staves, staffs, athames, etc.
- Draw runes into the earth itself in the middle of a cast circle during ritual
- Paint runes on your body and face with ritual paints before and during ritual to invoke the runes’ primal forces