The Runes in Depth: Thurisaz

Thurisaz (pronounced Thoo-ree-sawz) is the third rune of the Futhark and of Freya's Aett. It represents the TH sound for which there is no English letter equivalent. But in phonetics there is the (Thorn) symbol for it, which is a mediaeval variant of the rune.

Thorn was also the late Anglo-Saxon name for the rune. In Norse it was called Thurs. The original Norse meaning of the word is "Frost Giant", and you will find Thurisaz translated as giant, monster, demon or devil reflecting this original meaning.

The Anglo-Saxons abbreviated the name to Thorn which may have had several different meanings such as thorn, wildfire, giant, ogre. These have little in common apart from the obvious "danger" aspect. In modern English words that mean different things but sound the same (homonyms) often have different spellings. Good examples are "bow" and "bough", or "alter" and "altar". But the ancients did not have the luxury of spelling conventions to differentiate between homonyms like that. The context of the word was the only way you could guess which of the several meanings was implied.

I have often wondered how a giant became a thorn and thought perhaps mistranslation might be an explanation -  except for one thing: just look at the shape of Thurisaz and it is quite obviously a thorn on a stem. Perhaps that was the motivation for the change.

There are those who attribute the shift in meaning to Christian influence, implying that priests of the time wanted to moderate the meaning of the word to make it less scary. I find that idea rather unlikely. First, Christian priests of that time were more interested in eradicating runes, rather than adapting them; and second, they certainly did not shy away from scaring people - it was one of the main tactics used to coerce the populace into adopting Christianity!

My best guess is that the Anglo-Saxons preferred the thorn meaning because of the rune's shape. I will just have to live with the double meaning. After all, we Brits are famous for our double-meanings (ever watched Benny Hill?)

You will also find Thurisaz taken to represent Loki, Thor, Thor's Hammer, Chaos,  wildfire, or a gateway, but the definitive meaning is "Frost Giant".

All cultures have their anti-gods, and many have frost or ice beings representing cold, chaos and danger, but the Frost Giants occupy a more prominent position in Germanic lore than in other mythologies. In the cold and sparsely populated countryside of Northern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age, cold was a very clear and present danger - much more so than nowadays. So the battle between the evil Frost Giants and Thor with his crushing hammer - Mjöllnir - was an important reminder of the dangers of winter, ice, frost and exposure to the winter elements.

Incidentally - nothing to do with Thurisaz - those interested in the derivation of words might like to know that a big heavy rubber hammer used to level concrete slabs is called a "Molly" by some UK construction workers. Now, I wonder where that came from?

Frost Giants have been hijacked by the role-playing game fraternity and they now turn up in any number of Dungeons and Dragons style games. This one - presumably designed for use by young children - is rather more benign in appearance than the image I have in my mind!

The Norse and Icelandic rune poems are pretty consistent in warning of the danger to women:

Thurse causes women sickness;
Little cheer results from pain (discomfort).

torture of women
and cliff-dweller and husband of a giantess.
misfortune makes few men cheerful.

Thorn is very sharp · for every thane
Who grabs it, it is evil and immeasurably cruel
For every man · that with it rests.

Thankfully, the Anglo-Saxons content themselves with a little rhyme about the thorn and the discomfort it can cause. No ambiguity there.

It is worth noting at this point that the Anglo-Saxon rune poem was the first and original one. It was probably no more than a memory aid like our "alphabet song" and is pretty easy to understand. it first appeared in the 8th Century, and is the only poem with a verse for each of the 24 runes. The Norse and Icelandic versions were later and rather more cryptic in style - the mnemonic purpose seems to have been replaced with some less obvious - perhaps magickal - agenda. I am not suggesting these later poems were derived from the Anglo-Saxon one, just that they are later and have a different purpose.

Spiritually, Thurisaz is a dangerous rune, representing natural forces that can damage or kill. The Icelandic and Norse poems warn of the dangers to women who should be especially careful with it. Thurisaz is the rune of chaos, sudden danger, attack, weapons, hostility, war, pain, harm and wounding. It relates to disagreement, conflict and violent confrontation. Injuries fall under Thurisaz, as do forced separation, violent passion, anger, uncontrolled emotions, wildfire and volcanic activity.

In divination Thurisaz represents harmful obsessions, including sexual ones, reaction force, destructive force, conflict, instinctive behaviour, male sexuality and a changeable nature.. It can also signify the will or motivation to change. It can be a warning of impending disruption, but at the same time act as a helping, balancing force to overcome the forthcoming difficulty

The obstacles represented by Thurisaz are not always damaging. They may appear in your cast for the purpose of strengthening your determination and helping you to understand. In this context, Thurisaz epitomises the adage "there's no gain without pain". It therefore exhorts you to go with the flow and allow yourself to experience all that life offers. What may at first appear to be a negative, destructive event, may well turn out to contain an important lesson.

Thurisaz is also held by some to be the gateway rune. It can represents powerful forces available for your use. The decision you have to make - the gateway facing both ways - is how to use them. Thurisaz exhorts you to choose your path and take action before it is too late. Which path will you choose? What force will you employ - attack or defence? This is the problem with Thurisaz- the chaotic element that makes it so dangerous and difficult to deal with.

Thurisaz is at its most dangerous when it is not noticed or acknowledged. It will insidiously worm its way into the situation, erupt into your life uninvited, and do its worst. So you must be careful to take Thurisaz seriously and afford it the due attention it deserves in any cast.

You may wish to regard Thurisaz as being about the rationalisation of opposites. On the one hand you have the Frost Giants and their assault on Asgaard, and on the other you have Thor with his hammer constantly warding them off. Both these aspects represent the raw force of the rune, and both may be harnessed in their different ways. In this context, consider also the danger of unchecked male sexuality contrasted with the protective quality of Thurisaz as symbolised by the Blackthorn tree. The point being that a balance must be drawn to avoid chaotic consequences

Thurisaz reversed is hardly any more rewarding. It can mean being defenceless, indecision, compulsion, betrayal, evil, malice, hatred, torment, spite, lies, or it can represent a person with evil intent.

Magically, Thurisaz in not a safe rune for ritual or spells. It may be used to deploy destructive or defensive forces, but the method is fraught with difficulty. I tend to avoid its use in bindrunes for fear of invoking unwanted uncontrollable forces. I will occasionally combine it with other runes in an unempowered bindrune to represent someone's initials.

Thurisaz is a rune of Fire and is associated with the Sapphire gemstone, the Blackthorn and the Oak trees. Its herb is the houseleek and its color is red. Its polarity is male and it represents the god Thor and his hammer, Mjöllnir and a thorn or thorn-bush. Some say it is also associated with Loki, but in my opinion Ansuz is a more appropriate rune for that trickster. There is some disagreement amongst the Tarot experts I consulted. A majority equate Thurisaz to the Emperor, but there was significant support also for the Chariot. In astrology also I found quite a number of opinions. Leo was the most popular choice, but Aries and Virgo (?!) were also mentioned. There was little doubt that Jupiter is the equivalent planet.

For a comprehensive guide to all the rune meanings visit

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Author Bob Oswald
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