Elder Futhark Runes — Meanings And Rune Casting Basics

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casting runes

While the practice of rune casting has seen a resurgence due to the popularity of Fortnite, runes have been used as tools of divination since the first or second century.

What are runes?

Runes are ancient letters belonging to the corresponding runic alphabets that were used as an Anglo-Saxon written language system by Germanic and Nordic tribes prior to the adoption of the Latin alphabet. The earliest known runes are thought to have emerged around 150 CE, as dated from a comb with runic inscriptions found in Denmark.

The word rune comes from the Old Norse word rún (meaning "secret, runic letter"), which comes from the Proto-Germanic word *rūnō (meaning “letter, literature, secret”), which comes from either the Proto-Celtic word *rūnā (meaning "secret, mystery") or the Proto-West Germanic word *rūnu (also meaning "secret, mystery").

But runes aren't only letters. Runes represent words and they have been used for centuries as tools of divination and magic, a fancy way of saying "to predict the future" or otherwise uncover the unknown through supernatural means.

There is some evidence of runic magic practices being used as far back as the 3rd century. The sequence alu (ᚨᛚᚢ), an early charm word, "is found in numerous Elder Futhark runic inscriptions of Germanic Iron Age Scandinavia (and more rarely in early Anglo-Saxon England)."

According to Norse mythology of the Viking Age ((c. 790- c. 1100 CE), Odin, the king of the gods and the god of wisdom and war, "willingly hung himself from Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, for nine days while pierced with his own spear in order to gain knowledge of the runes. He then shared that knowledge with mankind." And it is one of the most popular forms of divination today!

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What is rune casting?

Runes can be read in a fashion similar to tarot card readings, with a set of runes laid out in spreads and read to gain a better perspective on a specific situation or a question.

Unlike tarot cards, however, which can be connected to astrology, modern use of runes in divination is based on the traditions of HermeticismOccultism, and the I Ching.

Rune casting or rune reading is more traditionally done by focusing on a specific question or issue as you or a rune reader reach into a bag of rune stones, pull out a small handful, and toss them onto a casting white cloth.

Each rune letter has a corresponding meaning, and those you cast are interpreted to guide you toward possible answers or solutions. When runes land face down, they have alternative reverse meanings known. This is position is known as merkstave, which means "dark stick" and implies a dark meaning.

Runes are typically made of stone, wood, pebbles, crystals, bone, or metal. They most often come in sets of 24, each inscribed with one letter of the runic alphabet, although some also include a blank rune (more on that below).

Runes work and can be used for guidance on both simple and complex issues, alerting you to possible causes and effects, as well as potential outcomes.

How to Cast Runes

3-rune cast

Also known as a Norns cast.

To begin all runes are placed in a bag. Have an issue or question in mind as you pull out three runes (one at a time). Place the runes side by side in front of you. The first rune is the general overview of your issue or question. The second rune indicates challenges and obstacles. The last rune shows the potential courses of action you can take. It can also be read as the past, present, and future of the issue in question.

Benefits: Answers a question, deals with an issue

Used for: Faith telling

5-rune cast

The aim of this cast is to select five runes (one at a time) and lay them down on the cloth in specific places.

The first rune goes in the middle, the next four are placed to form a cross shape around it. Rune two should go on the left of the center (west), rune three on the top (north), rune four at the bottom (south), and rune five to the right (east). 

The three runes in a horizontal position (rune 2, 1, and 5) represent your past, present, and future.

The rune below the central rune (4) shows what elements of the issue need to be accepted. The rune to the right of the center (3) shows what help you could receive in relation to your issue.

Benefits: Answers a question, deal with an issue

Used for: Faith telling

9-rune cast

When you are conducting this cast you have to close your eyes and think of your spiritual yearnings while you pick nine runes out of the bag and hold onto them for a moment before scattering them on the cloth.

Take a look at your runes. The runes near the center will relate most to the current situation, and the runes that are more on the edges are less important. If runes are close together or even touching each other, then they will be complementing influences, and runes that are on opposite ends of the cloth are opposing influences.

Pay attention first to the runes that landed face up. Then turn around the ones that landed upside down keeping them in their same position. These runes represent future influences and show new possibilities.

The casting is very much up to your interpretation of the runes.

Benefits: Uses your intellect and intuition

Used for: Determining where you are in your spiritual path and what is coming next.

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Rune Meanings

There are several rune alphabets, including Elder Futhark, Younger Futhark, and the Medieval (Latinized) Futhark. Elder Futhark, the oldest rune alphabet, consists of 24 letters, the first six of which spell out the word "futhark."

1. Fehu

Meaning: Cattle, Wealth

English equivalent: F

What Fehu means in a rune casting: Power and control.

Fehu represents a measure of a man's worth, meaning your status within your community and family, as well as hard work toward a goal. Fehu is about your independence, self-worth, income earned, and revenue. When it lands upright, it is considered a sign of financial abundance and wish fulfillment.

Fehu reverse merkstave meaning: Loss, financial failure, disappointment. This could be an indication that there is more work to be done or that work has been lacking.

2. Uruz

Meaning: Aurochs, Wild Ox

English equivalent: U

What Uruz means in a rune casting: Power we can never own or control.

Uruz is the bearer of strength, health, vitality, personal willpower and masculine energy. Upright, it indicates your strength will prevail and success is near. In a relationship, it indicates strong emotions.

Uruz reverse merkstave meaning: Weakness, misdirected force, and domination by others.

3. Thurisaz

Meaning: Giant

English equivalent: Th

What Thurisaz means in a rune casting: Resisting unwanted conflict, protection, change that would have come without warning.

Thurisaz provides strong protection and luck. Thurisaz represents the Hammer of Thor, the mighty weapon Mjölnir, protector of man and gods alike. Casting this rune indicates a stroke of luck and symbolizes using force to overcome obstacles. Thurisaz represents the masculine force balancing with the feminine to create a third force. It can indicate destruction in order to create something new.

Thurisaz reverse merkstave meaning: Loss in battle, weaknesses exploited by an adversary, and betrayal.

4. Ansuz

Meaning: God or Diety (usually Odin)

English equivalent: A

What Ansuz means in a rune casting: Stability and order.

Ansuz stands for communication and knowledge to be had. Ansuz is the rune for the mouth, as it refers us to the spoken word and acquisition of wisdom. It can also indicate written communications of all types, including exams, or a chance encounter with someone who has the knowledge you need. It can Indicate parental types of advice or advice that is freely given.

Ansuz reverse merkstave meaning: Deceit, lack of respect, miscommunication or vanity.

5. Raidho

Meaning: Ride, Journey, Chariot

English equivalent: R

What Raidho means in a rune casting: Focusing energy toward accomplishing goals.

Raidho represents swift movement and travel. This could mean in travel in a literal sense, like a vacation, or figuratively, such as moving forward with a new venture or relationship. It might even indicate a journey of your soul.

Raidho reverse merkstave meaning: Delays, accidents, demotion, dislocation, or death.

6. Kenaz (or Kaunaz)

Meaning: Beacon, Torch, Ulcer

English equivalent: K

What Kenaz means in a rune casting: Knowledge and understanding.

Kenaz, the Norse symbol for fire, represents the home fires burning where fertility is possible. It's not the destructive side of fire, but rather the warmth and comfort fire can afford. Kenaz is a protective rune indicating a time of lessening of worries and troubles, as well as heightened creativity, passion, and personal power. As a rune of fertility, it may appear in a casting to indicate a birth, either literal or figurative (such as the birth of a new idea).

Kenaz reverse merkstave meaning: Nakedness, exposure, false hope.

7. Gebo

Meaning: Gift

English equivalent: G

What Gebo means in a rune casting: Honor and the connection between people when they give and receive gifts.

Gebo symbolizes the best gifts in life and is almost always indicative of a blessing you will receive. Gebo indicates some type of partnership maybe even a marriage proposal. Sometimes, Gebo can indicate the issue is of an emotional nature.

Gebo reverse merkstave meaning: None.

8. Wunjo

Meaning: Joy

English equivalent: W or V

What Wunjo means in a rune casting: Balance even in the midst of chaos.

Wunjo is another of the positive runes, a symbolic representation of joy and happiness. In a rune casting, it indicates a positive outcome for troubles. Wunjo is a rune of success and shows the wheel of fortune has turned in your favor (or will soon). In a love reading, it could indicate a deep and respectful love with a strong potential for lasting happiness. Wunjo can also mean happiness in your work, especially if the work is creative in nature.

Wunjo reverse merkstave meaning: Slow movement, troubles that are burdensome to surmount.

9. Hagalaz

Meaning: Hail

English equivalent: H

What Hagalaz means in a rune casting: Hard times that will eventually run smooth.

Hagalaz represents forces outside your control. It is one of the primary runes for delays and limitations, as well as a symbol of disruption. Hagalaz can turn up for someone considering taking some type of a risk.

Hagalaz reverse merkstave meaning: None.

10. Nauthiz (or Naudiz)

Meaning: Need

English equivalent: N

What Nauthiz means in a rune casting: Needing or wanting something that is limiting.

Nauthiz means it's time to slow down, counseling patience, and is considered one of the three great runes of delay. Nauthiz advises you to hold back as no amount of haste will speed things up. Nauthiz also indicates passing through a difficult learning situation. It refers to a time of crossing the abyss. Emotional challenge of some nature is indicated by Nauthiz. You may be called upon to conquer fear.

Nauthiz reverse merkstave meaning: Impatience, rushing forward into situations that could end badly.

11. Isa (or Isaz)

Meaning: Ice

English equivalent: I

What Isa means in a rune casting: Things frozen in place.

Isa is one of the three main delay runes and indicates a freeze of sorts. No movement will be had will Isa at play. Isa forces us to stop action in a certain direction. Isa in a relationship reading could indicate a breach of loyalty. Isa regardless of the type of relationship shows a cooling off.

Isa reverse merkstave meaning: None.

12. Jera

Meaning: Year, Good Year, Harvest

English equivalent: J

What Jera means in a rune casting: The cycle of life.

Jera represents the Harvest and indicates a time when you will reap what you have sown. Looking at the surrounding runes will be helpful in determining the type of harvest being referenced. Jera can also represent legal issues and justice of all types. Jera shows that the harvest can't be rushed and will come in its own time. In a primarily negative rune cast, Jera can mean that all is not lost.

Jera reverse merkstave meaning: None.

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13. Eihwaz

Meaning: Yew tree

English equivalent: Ei

What Eihwaz means in a rune casting: Magical protection and facilitation.

Eihwaz shows that protective forces are at play. To the ancient Norse, Eihwaz represented the Yew tree. Eihwaz was a powerful ally to the Norse in their daily life. The Yew tree was the tree of Yggdrasil, the great tree which forms the nine worlds of man and spirit. The Yew was also the best tree for making prized longbows. If Eihwaz is in a prominent place, no matter how bad things seem, they will turn for the better.

Eihwaz reverse merkstave meaning: Confusion, destruction, dissatisfaction.

14. Perdhro (or Perthro)

Meaning: Uncertain meaning — possibilities include cup, luck, pear tree

English equivalent: P

What Perdhro means in a rune casting: Uncertainties of life and free will.

Perdhro or Perthro indicates deep mystery surrounding the issue. Even experts in runology struggle with the meaning of this rune as a letter, but for divination purposes its meaning is a clear indication of things that are hidden, secrets or the occult. Perthro can show something that was once hidden will come to light. In a relationship reading, it can indicate intense chemistry. Perthro can also indicate that you have a strong connection to intuitive or occult abilities.

Perdhro reverse merkstave meaning: A disappointment from broken trust.

15. Algiz

Meaning: Elk, Protection

English equivalent: Z

What Algiz means in a rune casting: Great restraint, power and protection.

Algiz is the rune of friendship, and means something new is beginning. It can point to a new friendship or positive new influence in your life. Algiz tells you to go with your instincts and use your intuition.

Algiz reverse merkstave meaning: You should hold back until you know more of the other person's character.

16. Sowilo (or Sowulo)

Meaning: The Sun

English equivalent: S

What Sowulo means in a rune casting: The ability to see things more clearly, light shining on dark times.

Sowilo means victory and power abound. In a rune casting, it shows you have much potential for power to bring beneficial changes to your life. If Sowulo is cast in a reading, swift victory is indicated. Since Sowulo is also associated with health, if its in a mostly positive reading it would indicate recovery or a strong life force.

Sowulo reverse merkstave meaning: None.

17. Tiwaz (or Tiewaz)

Meaning: The sky god Tyr

English equivalent: T

What Tiwaz means in a rune casting: Success without personal sacrifice.

Tiwaz or Tiewaz is a victory in the competition, which can really be anything you hope to succeed in. This rune embodies the competitive spirit. If Tiwaz appears in a casting, you may be looking to take up a cause to fight for. Tiwaz shows you are ready to fight for what you believe in, pointing to motivation and overcoming the odds.

Tiwaz reverse merkstave meaning: Waning effort, loss.

18. Berkano (Berkana or Berkanan)

Meaning: Birch

English equivalent: B

What Berkana means in a rune casting: New beginning.

Berkana, the preeminent rune of birth, symbolizes the Mother and Child; Its considered a rune of fertility. The birth may be an actual one or the birth of an idea. In a rune cast for a new project, it indicates a tangible result and plans should be implemented right away. Berkana shows a positive outcome.

Berkana reverse merkstave meaning: Family and domestic issues.

19. Ehwaz

Meaning: Horse

English equivalent: E

What Ehwaz means in a rune casting:

Ehwaz is the movement of a dwelling place, such as a relocation of home or even work. It signifies change but a change for the better, the type of change that is the result of planning and effort, perhaps of a gradual nature. Ehwaz can point to common sense advice that will aid you in troubles.

Ehwaz reverse merkstave meaning: Reversed Ehwaz does not have to mean anything negative. If it's surrounded with positive runes, it more likely means the same as it would upright. If it's surrounded with negative runes, however, you are being cautioned to not implement change at this time.

20. Mannaz

Meaning: Man, Mankind

English equivalent: M

What Mannaz means in a rune casting: Achieving your full potential, reminding us of the shared human experience, gaining the upper hand.

Mannaz signals depending on community support, having supportive assistance around you. It is a rune of interdependence. This rune can indicate aid or advice that is honest and unbiased. It can indicate you are too close to the problem and need to step back for a broader view. Mannaz can also indicate problems with women, regardless of your gender.

Mannaz reverse merkstave meaning: You won't receive aid with the issue and may come up against obstacles.

21. Laguz

Meaning: Water, Lake, Leek

English equivalent: L

What Laguz means in a rune casting: The power of water and its fluid nature.

Laguz means to trust your gut; intuition is key here. Laguz counsels you to pay attention to your intuition. It may indicate psychic abilities, even if you are not aware of any. Laguz is the principal feminine rune, and will often appear when your dreams should be looked to for guidance. Good memory and success in learning are also a focus for Laguz.

Lagaz reverse merkstave meaning: You're leading yourself astray. It can indicate temptation or infidelity.

22. Ingwaz or Inguz

Meaning: The earth god Ing or Ingwaz

English equivalent: Ng

What Ingwaz means in a rune casting: Protective energy spread far and wide.

Ingwaz or Inguz means an end to worry is in sight; resolution and peace are forthcoming. Ingwaz is almost always a positive rune. It shows relief is at hand and the ability to overcome obstacles is with you. Ingwaz in a rune casting could indicate a milestone event, such as a birth, a new job or a new relationship. Ingwaz points to auspicious beginnings and an end to over anxiety and strife.

Ingwaz reverse merkstave meaning: None.

23. Dagaz

Meaning: Day

English equivalent: D

What Dagaz means in a rune casting: Stability between opposites.

Dagaz means healthy growth, prosperity and hope. In a rune casting, it shows a time of peaceful gains and portends a period of increase, even in a negative cast. When Dagaz appears with delay runes it indicates a softening of their effects. Dagaz shows you that a new day will dawn.

Dagaz reverse merkstave meaning: None.

24. Othala

Meaning: Inheritance, Ancestral property

English equivalent: O

What Othala means in a rune casting: Wealth that cannot be sold.

Othala represents the valuable things money cannot buy, such as friends, family, and loved ones, as well as inherited property and wealth. Depending on the surrounding runes in a casting, it can indicate someone who is stingy with material possessions, or alternatively, a person who works very hard.

Othala reverse merkstave meaning: Frustration, often brought on by trying to rush things.

The Blank Rune (also known as Wyrd or Odin's rune)

The blank rune has no meaning in traditional rune casting and generally should not be used.

The blank rune first appeared in the 1980s and is said by those who use it to represent the element of the unknown, showing areas where clarity is needed.

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Amanda Ilene Sawyer is a writer and Mississippi native who is interested in science, anthropology, and spiritualism. When she’s not writing about astrology, numerology, and tarot, she enjoys running her business and designing macrame pieces for her Etsy shop.