The Runes in Depth: Ansuz the Messenger Rune

Ansuz (pronounced Awn-sooze) is the fourth rune of the Futhark and of Freya's Aett. It represents the A sound in English.

The word literally means a "God" referring to the Gods and Goddesses of the Aesir and Vanir.

Ansuz is particularly associated with Odin and when reversed, with Loki his messenger. Its primary meaning is communication and thus wisdom, knowledge, insight and truth.

You may view Ansuz as representing many derivatives of these concepts such as, literacy, interpretive ability, intellect, the balance between spiritual and physical existence, a runemaster/mistress, shaman, magician or clairvoyant.

The Anglo-Saxons also ascribed the meaning "Mouth" to Ansuz in reference to its association with messages. Some Scandinavian sources offer "River mouth" or "Estuary" as a meaning, equating the flow of water with the flow of knowledge.

The rune poems are at some variance about Ansuz. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem - as usual - is pretty clear:

The Mouth is the source of every speech,
The mainstay of wisdom,
And solace of sages,
And the happiness and hope of every eorl.

The Icelandic poem contents itself with a tribute to Odin:

Ansuz (i.e.  Odin) is the ancient father,
and Ásgard's chieftain,
and the leader of Valhalla.

The Norse poem is typically cryptic:

The river mouth is the aim of most journeys
but a scabbard is the sword's.

One may see the symbolism of the first line as "the purpose of a journey is to reach the destination". But in Northern European legend, the source of knowledge is frequently portrayed as a fountain, spring or river, so you could read this as "knowledge passes from the source to the user". This relates closely to Odin and his unceasing quest for wisdom. I can see what the second line is getting at, too; no point in having a scabbard if you have no sword. But what is the connection to Ansuz or Odin?

Too abstruse for me, I'm afraid. I have read many wonderful explan-ations for this line, but I am drawn to one of three conclusions. It's another case of mistranslation. Or, it's drawing on some adage well known to the ancients but lost to us. Or, it is a nonsense line that made a neat couplet in the original language and was used simply to construct a mnemonic memory aid. No doubt some erudite scholar of the old Norse tongue will enlighten me bye and bye!

We usually think of Odin only as the All-father, the supreme being of Norse mythology. But he equates to the Roman god Mercury, and like Mercury represents communication through the written and spoken word. Odin's thirst for knowledge is exemplified by his discovery of the runes whilst undergoing the ordeal of the Yggdrasil, but there are other episodes from Norse lore that demonstrate his quest for wisdom and eloquence. One such tells of Odin drinking from Mimir's fountain of knowledge in exchange for an eye, and another relates how he drank the Hydromel - a drink containing blood that was the source of all poetry - by wooing the owner's daughter, thus becoming the almost exclusive composer of all poetry. The few drops of hydromel that he spilled are all that remained for the rest of us. I'm sure Chaucer, Burns, Wilde and all the world's great poets were very grateful!

Spiritually, Ansuz is also representative of esoteric wisdom and the imparting of knowledge. Runemasters and Runemistresses of the ancient world were often skilled poets and raconteurs. It should be remembered that all teaching was verbal in ancient times, so the most eloquent mentors were obviously the most successful teachers and thus much respected for their skill.

Songs, poems and incantations were - and still are - the mainstays of runework. Ansuz reminds us that truth and wisdom often derive from unexpected sources. The Christian Bible in Psalm IIX Verse ii states "Out of the mouths of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength...", and if that is not an unlikely source for a Pagan, tell me what is!

In divination Ansuz embodies three main concepts. Wisdom, communication and inspiration. You may interpret its appearance as divine inspiration, verbal eloquence, excellence in writing, intelligence (in both senses of the word), a communication, signal or message. When relating its portent to neighbouring runes, it can indicate a blessing, a vision of truth, excellence in health, luck, or relationships. When representative of a person it may be interpreted as a sage, leader or chief, an advisor, or simply as an elderly person or father-figure.

In the reverse position, Ansuz is a tricky customer because this is where Loki comes into the picture. Ansuz reversed represents Loki and that means misunderstanding, bad advice, delusion, deception, manipulation, spite, rumours and lies. One should beware of conmen, gabby salesmen, gossips and charlatans because it will be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Ansuz is a prime resource for Rune Magic. Spoken rites are worthless without the invocation of the communication rune. A full understanding of its power is an essential tool for the aspiring runemaster or runemistress and failure to make use of Ansuz will inevitably result in failed runework.

It is through spoken ritual that divining runes are empowered, that bindrunes are imbued with their essential character, and that such equipment as runestaves and wands are transformed from sticks of wood to working implements.

Invoking Ansuz enables the mind to make wise decisions, it affords enlightenment, calms anxiety, and brings light into darkness. In my own work I frequently combine Ansuz with other runes to facilitate communication with the godly powers and between humans who have lost their way.

Ansuz has the runic number 4, its color is dark blue (the color I call "runic blue" on the Runemaker website) and it is associated with the Ash tree, representing the Yggdrasil or World Tree from which Odin hung before spying the runes, and from which all human experience springs.

Ansuz is a rune of the Air and obviously  is of Male polarity. Odin, Loki and Eostre may be represented by Ansuz and I am informed that the equivalent Tarot card is Death.

There are a number of references that give Venus or Mercury as the astrological correspondent, but I am not happy with that idea. My favourite Tarot expert, Leila Vey of says of Ansuz: "To me, Ansuz is unmistakably linked with The Hierophant. The hierophant is the mouthpiece of God. He communicates spiritual knowledge and wisdom, intermediates between Spirit and regular folk, and teaches truth and tradition through the generations."

For a comprehensive guide to all the rune meanings visit

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Author Bob Oswald
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