Learning the Futhark - Tips and Tricks

When you are starting out using runes for divination it is pretty difficult to keep track of the runes you are casting and what they all mean. It can be disruptive and confusing if you have to keep looking things up all the time, the rune meanings can get blurred and the overall sense of the cast just won't jell in your mind.

So learning the Futhark is a very important exercise for developing divining skills, and is essential if you ever want to divine for other people. Imagine the embarrassment of having to look something up with your friend or client watching!

The Ancients used the Rune Poem as a kind of mnemonic memory aid, but since it doesn't' rhyme when translated into English, I guess that is not much use today. So here is an exercise I have devised that might help. It is based on the idea that pictures in your mind are easier to remember than learning words parrot-fashion, and the fact that writing stuff down often makes it more memorable. 

The Futhark is divided into three sets of eight runes each, called Aetts. The Aetts are named after Freyja, Hagal and Tiw. It is easier to memorize the three Aetts than it is all 24 runes as a whole, so let us start by dividing the runes into their Aetts. I have used the Anglo-Saxon rune symbols here, but the order is the same with the Elder Futhark runes:

Freyja's Aett








Hagal's Aett








Tiw's Aett









Here are some mnemonic phrases that might help you to remember the runes in each Aett.

Let's look at Freyja's Aett and note the first letters of each rune name. They spell F-U-(TH)-A-R-K-G-W. You can remember this sequence by memorizing this phrase "Futhark Going Well", because your Futhark will be going well if you can remember it! Repeat the phrase to your self a dozen times, then try and write the F-U-(TH)-A-R-K-G-W sequence down without looking at this article.

Turning to Hagal's Aett, the letters are H-N-I-J-Y-P-A-S. Although it starts with A I have put a Z in there for Algiz, because that's the sound it makes. A rather contrived phrase this, but here goes: "Healthy News! In July You Picture Zesty Sunshine"**. Since it ends with the word sunshine and the rune Sowilo means Sun, maybe it will do the trick. Again, you need to write this down a number of times to help it stick in your brain.

Finally, Tiw's Aett becomes T-B-E-M-L-I-O-D and that could be remembered from a phrase such as "To Be Expert, Must Learn Its Order, Dear". Do the writing exercise with this one, too.

Of course, you don't have to use my stupid phrases, you can make up your own. Just so long as they are memorable to you, and help you get the order of the runes in the Futhark straight, that's all that matters.

OK, so now you have memorized the rune order by the initial letter of each rune, you need some way of remembering the rune names and what they represent when they appear in a cast. So here are some ideas about mental images. Once again I have used the Anglo-Saxon rune images, but the Elder Futhark runes are broadly the same.

Fehu looks a bit like a letter F and that is its initial. It means cattle, a measure of wealth in ancient times. So imagine Fehu is two horns of a cow
     sticking through a fence. All you have to remember then is that cattle equates to wealth.

Uruz could look like an upside down U with a bit of imagination and that is its initial letter. Uruz means Aurochs, an extinct wild Ox, and it
     represents strength. Imagine the shape is a shark's dorsal fin and remember how strong a shark is.

Thurisaz unfortunately doesn't look like any English letter, so you just have to remember that Thurisaz is a Thorn, both words begin with TH, and
      the shape of the rune is like a thorn on the stem of a rose.

Ansuz is another one that doesn't look like any English letter. It means Messenger of the gods, and you get Ansuz (pronounce that as "answers")
     from messengers. It represents communication, so if you can imagine it is a telegraph pole with one looped and one straight wire leading away from
     it, that might help.

Raido is an easy one. It looks like an R and that is the initial of its name. It stands for riding or travelling. Think of Raido as similar to radial - as in
     radial tire - to remind you of the travel concept.

Kauno looks like a letter K with the top leg missing (or with the upright missing in Elder Futhark) , and K is its initial letter. Kauno means torch,
     light, enlightenment or knowledge. Our modern word KNOW comes from Kauno.  So if you remember it as K-NOW and pronounce it in your mind
     as Kuh-No, that might help.

Gebo looks like an X which is how we write a kiss. Gebo means a gift, so try to think of a kiss as a nice little gift to remember this one.

Wunjo means Joy. I always think it looks like a little flag on a golf green, and if I was a golfer, it would give me joy to always reach that flag. If
     you can think of the word as Wun-Jo and distort the pronunciation a little it becomes Won Joy, and that's what you have done when you cast Wunjo.


Hagalaz looks like an H in Elder Futhark, or H with an extra cross-bar with the Anglo-Saxon version, and H is the sound Hagalaz makes. It means hail and represents the disruption weather like that can cause. Imagine it looks like two walls of an alley with streaks of hail blowing across it from
     left to right.

Naudiz begins with the letter N and it means need, want, or necessity. Picture the rune as a person with their arms outstretched, pleading, as if they were in "need".  

Isa is the same shape as the letter I to which it corresponds. It means ice and represents solidity, or lack of change (i.e. frozen). Imagine Isa is a long icicle to remind you of the ice meaning.

Jera means year in the old tongue and the rune corresponds to the letter J. It represents, the harvest, fruitfulness and rebirth, all things that happen annually. It is not the easiest rune to picture mentally. The best I can do is - think of it as a vertical line with two arrows attached, one pointing back
     to the old year and the other pointing forward to the new. For the Elder Futhark version just forget about the upright line in the middle and move the
     bottom one a bit lower.

Ihwaz means Yew tree and it corresponds to the letter Y. It represents defensive power and is the symbol of rune magic. By a stretch of the imagination you could look at it as an archer's bow because these were invariably made from flexible Yew wood.

Perth is the rune of mystery and corresponds to the letter P. It  represents chance, a gamble and is said to mean a dice cup used in ancient gambling games. Rotate the image of Perth 90 degrees anti-clockwise in your minds eye and it looks like a small cup with an angled lip.

Algiz is the only rune that does not start with the English letter it represents, Z. There are a couple of theories about its meaning. Some have it as Sedge Grass, others reckon it means Elk's Horn, but in either case it symbolizes protective power. Sedge is a razor sharp grass that would act as a protective barrier, and the elk of course uses its antlers for defence. Imagine the rune as a stand of antler on an elk's head to remind you of the defence aspect.

Sowilo means the sun and represents energy, light and life force. It corresponds to the letter S which it closely resembles in shape. This is an easy one, just think of the letter S for the sun and the angular S-shape of Sowilo will come to mind.


Tiwaz is the warrior's rune and represents courage, tactical and diplomatic ability. It corresponds to the letter T. Since it looks like an arrow, remember it by picturing a warrior shooting an arrow.

Berkanan corresponds to the letter B it closely resembles. It means Birch Twig and represents growth and fertility and so acts as the symbol of
 femininity. Turn the rune on its side and there is an obvious mental image if you want to use it! But (he said with a straight face) I always picture it
      as an angular letter B.

Ehwaz corresponds to the letter E, and if you turn it 90 degrees anti-clockwise I suppose it could look something like a letter E if you had funny handwriting. Ehwaz means steed, mount or horse and it represents purposeful motion, progress and surefootedness. I prefer to picture it as a horse's
     body (only the head is tucked around the side where you can't see it) to remind me of the equestrian connection (come to think of it, equestrian
 starts with E).

Mannaz is the rune of humanity. It literally means mankind and it looks like a letter M with the middle bits extended. It represents virility, a man, the human race or humanitarian behaviour. A simple one to remember because it looks like M - just don't confuse it with Ehwaz.

Laguz is the water rune and corresponds to the letter L. This is where our modern word lagoon comes from. It represents fluidity, ebb and flow. 
 An alternative name for this rune is Laukaz which means a leek in the old tongue, and the leek is its associated plant. So you could picture this rune
      as a tall leek with a bent-over leaf flopping over to the right.

Ingwaz is the rune of harmony taken from the name of the god Ing. It represents the NG sound as in ring or finger. It is sometimes taken to mean
 male sexuality or the male genitals (!!), but the commonest interpretation is harmonious existence, peace and unification of purpose. You need to
      adopt some symbolism to make a memorable picture for Ing. Try to see it as two arrow heads - one pointing left, the other right - that have been
      married harmoniously together. For4the Elder Futhark you can view the box shape as a perfect square.

Othila corresponds to the letter O and means estate, homestead, homeland, birthright or inheritance. It represents home, inheritance or material possessions. Picture the rune as a square enclosure representing your home territory or estate, with two little paths leading up to the entrance.

Dagaz corresponds to the letter D. It is rune number 24 and appropriately enough it simply means Day. It represents daylight, dawn, transformation
 (e.g. from night to day) and breakthrough to new experience. You could picture it as two letter Ds placed back to back, but I always think of it as an
      hourglass turned on its side. This particular hourglass, of course, measures 24 hours.

Some of these mental images are a little contrived, inevitably. But I'm sure you get the idea and can probably think of much better mind pictures to suit your own learning experience. Good luck,  and I hope you find your Futhark Going Well!

** Thanks to Kate Gladstone for improving my mnemonic phrase. Visit her website at http://www.global2000.net/handwritingrepair

For a comprehensive guide to all the rune meanings visit http://www.runemaker.com/futhark/reading.shtml.  .
Or you can have "The Rune Reminder" eBook at US$5.95 delivered right away to your email address, to order. The 40 page e-book is designed as a memory aid for rune diviners. The full color illustrated pages give the meanings, interpretations and associations with colors, gemstones, trees and herbs etc. for each rune. The eBook also includes 11 original single-page articles on various points of interest that are not available on the website.
Author Bob Oswald
Home Page http://www.runemaker.com
email click here
Copyright 1994-2015 Bob Oswald

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