Viking Runes Guide | Runic Alphabet Meanings
Runes are an ancient alphabet used by the Viking peoples. The word rune itself is derived from an Old Norse word run, which means “secret” or “whisper.” The earliest runes date back to the 3rd century, and were carved onto pieces of wood for future reference and use.
The Viking runes date back to the Iron Age, but their origins are unclear. Some scholars believe that they were created based on early alphabets brought to Scandinavia by two groups of people, the Germanic peoples and the Celts. Runes were a literal alphabet used during the Viking ages, but they were also considered magical symbols with a deeper meaning than just the sum of their letters. They were believed to hold power, so much so that owning a rune could mean having access to secret knowledge and potentially even magic powers. These aren't just superstitions though—they have roots in history too.
In addition to being a literal alphabet used during the Viking ages, runes were (and still are by some) believed to hold power, symbolize inherent qualities and values and be associated with magic, as well as having meanings in more modern divination and oracle reading practices too.
What runes did the Vikings use?
The runic alphabets used by the Vikings in the Viking Age are known as the Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark; a third alphabet from that time is known as Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. The Elder Futhark was developed in southern Scandinavia during the second century BC and it was a direct descendant of the Latin alphabet. The Younger Futhark replaced it at some point around the eighth century AD for reasons that aren't fully understood. Most evidence points to its development by Germanic people in either southern Sweden or Denmark, where it has been found mostly on jewelry, weapons, and other metal objects such as brooches.
What are the different types of runes?
The Elder Futhark is a standard for the most common runes. An alphabet, it has 24 runes, each representing different letters in the runic alphabet. The oldest known records of it date from around 150 CE, when the first use of runes is found in Scandinavia. It was used until about 800 CE, and many examples have been found across Europe.
The Younger Futhark had two alphabets—the 16-rune Elder Futhark and the 24-rune Younger Futhark—but they are both sometimes referred to by that name. The Younger Futhark replaced the Elder Futhark sometime around 800 CE, but we don't know much about when or why this happened.
What are the meanings of runes?
Although there are different kinds of runes, in this article I'll focus on Elder Futhark.
The first known runic alphabet is called the Elder Futhark. Its origins are traced back to the Old Italic scripts: a variation of the North Italic (Etruscan or Raetic alphabets), or the Latin Alphabet itself. It was used for writing various Germanic languages such as Old Norse, Old English (Anglo-Saxon), Gothic, and others from around the first to the tenth centuries CE.
The 24 runes can be organized into three groups of eight called ættir (singular ætt). The first runes of each of the three ættir are Fehu, Hagalaz, and Tiwaz, also called the Mother Runes (Mater-rune). The first rune of each group represents a core concept or energy which informs both past and future periods within that group or family.
Fehu is the first rune in the Elder Futhark, and represents livestock and agriculture. The first rune of the row, it points to potential beginnings, new projects and new ventures. It also represents fertility, virility, and abundance.
Fehu's energy is expansive, meaning it is outwardly directed. This can manifest as material gains and prosperity through your career or business. It's a good rune for beginning a new project or investing in something that will expand your horizons.
Uruz represents the mother of manifestation: a shaping power that defines the origin and destiny of all things. It is said to be a symbol of mental and physical health, in both positive and negative forms.
Positively, Uruz can bring you strength, courage, and the results of past actions coming to light (in the form of health). Negatively, it can represent a challenge to your strength or an obstacle that must be overcome.
Utilize this rune to strengthen your mental and physical health and help you manifest your destiny.
Thurisaz is the rune of Thor's hammer, Mjöllnir. It symbolizes the destructive power of the Gods and the forces of nature. The sound THURISAZ can help you find your voice and assert yourself when you need to make a point or set limits. It is also a rune of protection, as Thor's hammer was often used to shatter ice and destroy enemies.
Wearing Thurisaz draws on this protective energy to shield you from harmful influences or to break down obstacles that may be holding you back in life. It lets you harness the thunderbolt of Thor's hammer and use it for good things—like breaking through emotional barriers that are holding you back, making room for new beginnings in your
The rune Ansuz represents the spoken word, communication, and inspiration. It is associated with the great god, and it's one of the three gifts he gave to primal man—the others being önd (breath) and ódhr (mental activity). In addition to these gifts, Ansuz represents the deep and primordial connection we have with our ancestors.
Ansuz reminds us that words have power. What you say can inspire people to do great things—or bring them down. The way you speak can have a profound effect on how others think about you, or even how they feel about themselves. It's also a reminder that what we say isn't always as important as how we say it. The spoken word is powerful and important, but so is silence.
The word “Raidho” means “journey,” and it’s a journey we all need to make. Thorsson says the goal of Raidho is to “take you on a journey through life in such a manner that you are able to accomplish what you need to do.” The power he’s talking about isn’t just the forward movement that keeps us going, but the reason we move in the first place—the power that brings us together as individuals with a common purpose.
The word itself has roots in Old Norse and Old English, where it was used to refer to the concept of finding your place in the world and making your way through life with purpose. The goal of Raidho is not to travel from point A to point B, but rather to find the rhythm that fits with your goals and achieve them. But for most of us, finding this rhythm and understanding our purpose takes time. That’s why we need Raidho: so we can find our place in the world and bring our full energy into reaching our goals.
The name Kenaz comes from the Proto-Germanic "kenaz," which means "torch." The torch is used to light our way in the darkness; it is a fire that causes warmth and comfort, providing us with food and light. It burns within a fire pit or fireplace, and also adorns the walls of many homes.
"Kenaz" is used to represent something usually seen as unpleasant—it's a fire that can consume, destroy and cause pain. But if you look at it another way, it's the same controlled fire used by the artisan to create, the cook to provide food, or that we gather around for warmth. This might also be seen as a metaphorical torch: a burning desire within, an inner flame.
Gebo is a dynamic and important symbol in the cycle of giving. Gebo represents the gift, both the act of giving and the meaning behind it, as well as being the recipient, the giver and all that is given between people.
While it seems natural to think of a gift as something tangible, when we give something, we’re also giving our time, energy and love. Gebo isn’t just a physical thing that changes hands but an energy that binds people together.
When you give a gift with an open heart, you receive more than a gift back—you also get gratitude for your generosity and trust that allows you to be generous again. That cycle keeps going as long as you don’t attach expectations to your gifts.
Wunjo is the rune of joy and aligning our will with our goals. It's associated with the joy that comes from having a clear sense of purpose, or "calling." It's also associated with the joy we feel when we're working with others towards a common goal.
Achieving our goals requires energy, and this energy is fueled by our own personal will power. The more aligned that will is with our goal, the easier it is to harness that energy and apply it to the task at hand. If we're doing something we don't want to be doing, there's an internal conflict that divides our focus, making us less effective and efficient.
Hagalaz, the rune of hail, is so named because its shape looks like ice or snowflakes. Hail is a difficult obstacle to overcome, but necessary for the growth and renewal of all living things.
When you’re dealing with a delay, it’s easy to become frustrated. You want to push through the situation and get back to your normal routine as quickly as possible, but if you allow yourself to take a step back and slow down, you may be able to see that there are valuable opportunities in your current situation.
Naudhiz is often translated as “need” or “distress”—it's a rune of physical stress, emotional turmoil, and mental anxiety. But unlike Jera, which represents the slow ticking away at something over time until there's nothing left (like water eroding a rock), Naudhiz is about immediate issues that demand to be addressed right now. It shows up in your life when you're feeling helpless, hopeless, and overwhelmed by everything you have going on. (We usually associate this with negative things, but sometimes Naudhiz indicates good things that come our way unexpectedly.)
Isa is the rune of stagnation, of the icy grip that holds us in place. It represents our own resistance to change: our ingrained patterns and old habits running deep within. In fact, Isa can be both external and internal – representing our own resistance to change: our ingrained patterns and old habits running deep within.
The best thing about Isa is its potential for transformation. The ice can break apart into water, which flows downhill, gathering power as it goes. Water is a powerful ally in magic; when we work with water we are tapping into life-giving forces that are appropriately feminine in their flow, their natural cycles. Water can help us break down those patterns that have held us back, dissolve them suddenly without too much strife or effort.
Jera is the rune that marks the end of the longest night and the slow returning of the light. It represents the cycle of seasons, or more specifically, the turning over of a new cycle. The end of the longest night and the slow returning of the light.
Jera is a god who rewards those who have acted with good intentions and offers up support for their efforts. It's time to reward ourselves for past actions—it's time to reap what we have sown.
Eihwaz is a rune of transformation. It represents the yew tree, also known as the tree of life and death. The yew has been used for millenia as a source of medicine and poison. But it is not just these uses that make this tree so special. The yew tree represents passage through death to new life, a common theme in the old world mythologies. It was often planted at the boundaries of villages, or near the entrances of churches, to ward off evil spirits from entering. It was a protector from death, but also a harbinger of change and transformation.
In addition to its symbolism as a harbinger of change, Eihwaz also denotes personal change for the person who bears this rune. It beckons you to rip up your old roots, making way for new life and growth. Some might see this as an ending, but if you look closer, you will see that Eihwaz is really about beginnings: new life springs out of death every day – it is an essential part of the ever-turning cycle of nature.
Perthro, one of the lesser known runes, is one of the most metaphysical. It has associations with many different things, but its primary meaning is fate. In the Norse worldview, fate was not written in stone—it was created by the sum of our past actions.
This idea is referred to today as karma: where we are today is a direct result of the choices we've made in the past and thus we must be responsible for where we go from here. Perthro reminds us that our present situation is not fixed and that we can change it through action and hard work.
Algiz is the rune of protection, but it also warns us of impending danger. As a protective symbol, it may indicate that you are being protected by powers beyond your own awareness or ability to understand. Perhaps someone or something is working behind the scenes to keep you safe from harm. This powerful rune can also be a call to action in order to stay safe from that which could bring you harm if left unattended. Be aware of what is around you so that you may avoid obstacles before they become too great to overcome.
This rune can also act as an omen for good luck and blessings. It has the power to heighten your awareness of situations around you and can send an important message about your present path. Algiz reminds us that we are never truly alone in our struggles and triumphs—we have friends and family watching over us who will help steer us in the right direction when needed.
The word Sowilo consists of two parts. The first is the verb "sow" which means to plant or to grow. The second part, is the noun "wil", which means will. Together, they form the idea of growth as a result of planting one's own inner self or purpose. This is the heart of Sowilo.
Sowilo is the sun and a guiding light. At the same time, it is also the individual's personal inner self, and serves as a goal that we must work towards. Because work itself is an act of creation, Sowilo represents not only the ultimate creation of our inner self but also the idea that we must continuously work toward that ultimate goal.
In short, Sowilo gives us courage to be ourselves, because we have a goal to strive for: our inner self.
Tiwaz (or Tyr) is not only a god but a rune as well. There are many schools of thought on how to interpret this rune, but it’s generally agreed that it gives its wearer strength and courage to face down any opposition or hardship. The idea seems to be that opposition must be faced directly and with confidence in order for it to be overcome.
The story behind Tiwaz has several different versions, but they all have a common theme: Tyr sacrifices his hand in order to save his people from being eaten by Fenrir (a great wolf). Some versions say that he lost his hand trying to bind Fenrir before he could break free from his bonds; others say that he cut off his own hand in an act of self-sacrifice and then bound Fenrir with it.
Every ending brings a new beginning. New growth must be nurtured so that it will grow strong.
Berkano is a reminder that every ending brings a new beginning. New growth must be nurtured so that it will grow strong. The time leading up to an important transition is often filled with anxiety, but Berkano reassures us that the worst is behind us now and the best is yet to come.
Berkano is the birch goddess in Norse mythology, ruling over life’s important transitions: birth, adolescence, marriage, and death. Each of these phases is unique and brings its own challenges and celebrations. Berkano is a reminder that each transition comes with a time for letting go of what was and making room for what can be.
Ehwaz is the rune of partnership and cooperation. It's about understanding that two entities can create more than the sum of their parts working together, and how the nature of what they create depends on the relationship between them. It can represent two individuals in a partnership, or it can represent two parts of oneself—two forces that are moving in the same direction for a common goal.
Norse mythology tells us that there were two horses pulling the sun across the sky every day, and two other horses pulling it back down every night. The pulling of these four horses created a perpetual cycle. They depended on each other to succeed—if one horse had tried to pull the sun by itself, it would have gotten nowhere because it would have been too hard to get started and not strong enough to do much more than a slow trot. Ehwaz reminds us that we're stronger together and all benefit when we work as partners.
The name Mannaz comes from the Old Norse word "man", meaning mind or consciousness; and the Old English word "mann", meaning human being. When combined, these two words convey humanity's deep connection with the divine. In its best form, Mannaz depicts mankind as intelligent and capable of rational thought – a descendant of the gods, but fully human and perfectly connected with divinity.
As you wear this symbol, think about your own understanding of yourself and your place in the universe. The qualities of this rune can help you rethink your definition of man as they relate to humanity as a whole: where do you see yourself fitting in? What are your responsibilities to other people? How can you work towards becoming more like your ancestors while maintaining your individuality.
Laguz is the rune of water, both in its physical form as well as its metaphysical meaning. This is a rune of emotions, flow, and introspection. If you're looking to make a change in your life, Laguz will help you find a deeper understanding of who you are and how your actions affect those around you. Wear this rune when you're going through a difficult time or would like some guidance and support on your journey to becoming the best person you can be.
This powerful rune is particularly useful for those who are going through some kind of transition or important change in their lives—perhaps a new job, moving house or town, a relationship ending, a move from adolescence toward adulthood... Whatever you feel like you're entering into that requires you to let go of your old way of doing things and embrace an entirely new way of being.
Laguz is linked to personal growth and evolution through life's challenges. Wearing this rune will help you remain open to its guiding current through difficult growth and changes.
Ingwaz is a rune that represents potential energy as an untapped resource. It is a reminder that some things take longer than others and growth can’t be forced, so the time to strike is when things are ripe for action.
Ingwaz is often associated with childbirth, but its powers go beyond the literal meaning of birth. It can also be used to support you in realizing your creative endeavors; it lends strength and patience during this process. Ultimately, though, Ingwaz means something different for every person who wears it. Because it represents a seed that is tucked away in fertile soil, waiting for the right time to sprout on its own, its meaning can be applied to any goal or situation that needs a little patience while it grows.
Dagaz is represented as a combination of two separate runes: Teiwaz and Algiz—the former representing manliness, the latter representing protection. Together they form a powerful symbol that speaks to the duality of human nature—of how we are both vulnerable and strong at once, peaceful and violent simultaneously.
Dagaz can take on many meanings depending on which direction its lines point in, but it always reminds us of how we need to embrace change, even when it is frightening or overwhelming. The day will come when the darkness will be gone forever, and this rune reminds us that that time will come eventually. It may seem far away, but with each passing day the dawn grows closer.
Othala is the most complex rune in the runic alphabet. It combines the sounds for "who" (who we are), "what" (the material goods we were born into), and "where" (the sense of belonging to a community). The concept of Othala speaks to our birthright, both as individuals and as members of a greater whole. It represents our home and community, but also it's all the material goods we were born into. These are all things that we can use as building blocks in life.
The concept of Othala is present in many cultures around the world. In Germanic countries, having an estate or homestead that you could pass down to your children was considered important. This is the root of the modern word "heir", where you inherit something from a person who has died. In China, there is an association with the idea of land ownership and pride in one's family history. If a family owned land for generations, it was an honor that would be remembered by later generations.
How are runes use today?
Runes have a history that stretches back thousands of years. They were carved into sticks or stones to serve as symbols for letters or words. The runes were used by the Vikings, who were known for their longboats that could travel across the ocean, and many believe that they were used to send messages and show off wealth during trade.
In the present day, runes are mainly used for divination and magic. Although it is considered an alternative medicine, there are many who swear by it (and even use it on their pets!). It is also still in practice in some Nordic countries, especially Iceland. It is said that the language of the runes was carved into stones so that it would not be forgotten. Since then, it has been passed down from generation to generation using a form of rhyme called "staves". Today, runes are often used as talismans or amulets. They can also be engraved onto metals such as silver and gold and worn as jewellery.
Runes as a talisman or amulet
You’ve probably seen or heard about people who use runes for spell work, but did you know that you can actually carry one around with you as an amulet or talisman? The reason is because the symbols of the runes are more than just a glyphic representation of their meaning—they also have a living energy all their own. By carrying a rune as a talisman, you can feel that energy, and it can help bring your intentions into reality through the power of intention.
You can choose a rune to wear that speaks to your aspirations and inner purpose. For example, if you’re focused on getting into shape, carry the Algiz rune with you to help give you the strength to achieve your goal. Or if you’re in the process of learning something new, carry an Isa rune to help stimulate your mind and assist in the process of absorbing new information. You can also wear more than one rune at a time to make a more powerful combination. It’s up to you!