Elder Futhark Runic Alphabet

The elder Futhark is the most ancient Germanic runic alphabet. The word futhark is formed after the first six runes in it, the same way as the Greek word alphabet is formed after the first two Greek letters, Alpha and Beta. See below which signs represented which sounds:

Elder Futhark runic alphabet

The order of the runes has nothing to do with the ABC and clearly developed independently. As for the runes themselves, there is no agreement on their origin: some researchers are inclined to think that runes were greatly influenced by the Roman alphabet, others point to Etruscan writing from Northern Italy. As it seems, the oldest datable runic inscription is on the comb from Vimose (ca 160 AD). The elder Futhark remained in use until the ninth century, when it was superseded by other runic systems due to the phonological changes in Germanic languages, which made it less suited to render the current speech sounds.

The earliest known instance of sequential listing of all the runes is found on the so called Kylver Stone (after the name of a farm on Gotland, Stånga parish, Sweden), which was discovered in the surroundings of a 5th century grave. The second-oldest sequential listing is on a bracteate (thin single-sided gold coin) from Vadstena (Östergötland, Sweden) dated to the 6th century. In the latter listing the ï and p as well as o and d-runes go in inverted order as compared to the Kylver inscription. The Vadstena listing has an important feature: the sequence of runes is divided into three equal groups (ON ǽttir, ‘families’, orginally meaning ‘groups of eight’). The reason of this division is disputed, but it seems to have been meaningful and important for Germanic peoples who used the elder Futhark. The order above represents the Vadstena version.
Runic writing may go from left to right or from right to left. Some inscriptions combine the two methods. Sometimes even individual runes are written in a mirror image as compared to the main direction of an inscription.

The transliteration of runes is usually given in bold Roman lower-case letters (even personal names begin with small letters; the upper-case R is not a capital variant of r, but a separate rune designtaing a separate sound that corresponds to Common Germanic *z). Phonetic transcription is given in italics. The translation is given in ‘single’ quotation marks.

The runes had names. There are English, Gothic and Scandinavian manuscripts that list them, which makes possible the reconstruction of the Common Germanic forms. The reconstruction in comparative linguistics works more or less like that: ancient Germanic variants for the word ‘stone’ were Goth. stains, ON steinn, OE stān, OS sten, OHG stein. The runic form stainaR and comparison with early Germanic borrowings in Finnish (cf. Finnish kuningas ‘king’ and OS kuning) lead to a supposed Common Germanic form *stainaz, which is nowhere attested: Gothic and Finnish borrowings exclude -R, Gothic -s represents the ancient *-z. The reconstructed ending *-az corresponds to Greek -os and Archaic Latin -os, where IE *o is represented by the Common Germanic *a and IE *s is represented by Common Germanic *z. Reconstructed forms are usually marked with the *asterisk sign.

The names and meanings of the runes are as follows:

*fehu, ‘cattle’. Goth. faihu; OE feoh; ON fé; OHG feho, fihu.

*uruz, ‘aurochs’. Goth. uraz; OE ur; ON úrr. A long vowel: /u:/.

*þurisaz, ‘giant’. OE þyrs; ON þurs; OHG duris; OS thuris. The sound value is as modern English /th/ in thing.

*ansuz, ‘god’. Goth. anza (Dat. Sg.); OE ōs; ON áss; OHG ans-.

*raido, ‘riding’. OE ræd; ON reið.

*kauna, ‘sore’. OE cēn; ON kaun.

*gebo, ‘gift’. Goth. gifa; OE giefu; ON gjöf; OHG geba.

*wunjo, ‘joy’. Goth. winja; OE wynn.

*hagalaz, ‘hail’. Goth. hagl; OE hægl; ON hagall.

*naudiz, ‘need’. Goth. nauþs; ON nauð.

*isa, ‘ice’. Goth. iiz; OE, OHG īs; ON iss. Long vowel: /i:/.

*jera, ‘year’. ON ár; OHG jār. The sound value is as modern English /y/ in year.

*eihwaz, ‘yew’. Goth. uuaer; OE eoh. The sound value is between /e/ and /i/, as it developed out of IE /ei/.

*perþo, uncertain meaning.

*algiz, ‘protection’. Goth. ezec; OE eolh; ON yr.

*sowilo, ‘sun’. Goth. sunno; OE sunne; ON sól; OHG sunna.

*tiwaz, ‘Tiw, god of war’. ON Týr.

*berkana, ‘birch’. OE beorc; ON bjarkan; OHG bircha.

*ehwaz, ‘horse’. Goth. evz; OE eh. Short vowel: /e/.

*mannaz, ‘man’. Goth. manna; OE mann; ON maðr.

*laguz, ‘water’. OE lēac; ON lögr.

*inguz, ‘the god Ing’. Goth. enguz; OE Ing. The sound value is as modern English /ng/ in thing.

*oþila, ‘inherited possession’. Goth. utal; OE oþel, eþel. Short vowel: /o/.

*dagaz, ‘day’. Goth. dags; OE dæg; ON dagr; OHG tag.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Dane

I’ve never seen sowilo rune written in reverse like that (unless all the runes in the line are reversed). How frequently does that occur?

Reply

Viking Rune

That shape is used on Vadstena bracteate, for example.

Reply

Dragon's Eye

Hmmm.

Very interesting!

Seems this essay took a very interesting, and rather deep inner look into other possibilities surrounding the mysteries of the Runes. There again, that’s why they are referred to, in today’s common parlance, as the “Rune Mysteries”.

I also haven’t seen very many representations of the ( reversed? ) Sowilo in common use, but THERE it is!

The other thing I found interesting: The representative shape of the rune “Ingwaz” ( or “Ing” ), I would have figured it would have been more of a rhombus shape where its sides were diagonals due to the idea that hard, sharp carving tools may not have always been available at a moment’s notice when it came to carving the Runes on to something like woods, for instance???

Usually, for the Runes to be discernable by others, especially if carved into old tree trunks, wooden staves, etc. one would have to consider the “grain” of the wood when preparing to make such carvings readable to others. This perhaps being the reason why so many examples that were found, were usually comprised of vertical and diagonal segments ( lines ) rather than very many horizontal ones.

Just a guess on my part, but I found it interesting to see the “Ing” represented as a square with vertical and horizontal sides. Has anyone here tried different methods and means for carving the Runes on woods and such, or by trying different arrangements?

Other than that, very nice and interesting article!

I absolutely enjoy reading some of the well-thought out essays on the Runes. We all gain by learning something new that we may not have known beforehand.

Please receive my double helping of “thumbs up” for your writing effort!

:-)

– Rev. Dragon’s Eye

( I was my mom’s own “Little Viking”. )

Reply

Viking Rune

Thanks for the feedback! You may find helpful my other article: Elder Futhark – Inner Structure.

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Dragon's Eye

Just a “heads-up” :

I am in the process of writing and developing a class on the Runes, as I have been asked to teach others about them.

It is resources like this one, for example, that are a great help towards that effort. I can already tell that such a class I present is probably going to be, at the least, two-years’ worth of lessons. So all good articles and essays on the Runes are a big help.

– Rev. Dragon’s Eye

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draugar

Would anyone be kind enough to tell me what these Old Norse/Icelandic characters translate to in the Elder Futhark?

” ö ” “ó” “ð”

As well as the Norwegian character “ø”

I am attempting to translate these words:

ørlög – root of being
fjör – life (consciousness)
önd – life force. Referring to the soul or awareness.
móðr – Intensity. Summoning one’s innate powers.

I don’t have much knowledge of either Runic or Old Norse phonetics, so I thought I would double check to see if my translations are correct. Thanks in advance!

Reply

Viking Rune

Hello Draugar. The Elder Futhark was used for the Proto-Norse language, not Old Norse. So the right solution would be transcribing these words with the Younger Futhark runes.

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draugar

Hi Viking Rune. Thank you for your response. I have been thoroughly impressed with your website and appreciate you sharing your wisdom with your readers. Building upon my previous question, I have recently taken an interest in Norse soul lore and was wondering if you would consider it blatantly incorrect or fraudulent seeing Old Norse words written in the Elder Futhark. I am interested in tattooing the Old Norse word hamingja (honour) on my arm, but have a greater affinity for the Elder Futhark as it represents a wider Teutonic heritage. Do you have an opinion on this?

Furthermore, would it be incorrect for me to spell hamingja hagalaz, ansuz, mannaz, issa, nauthiz, gebo, jera, ansuz? I find this form to be more aesthetically pleasing than using the inguz rune, and it seems to me that it wouldn’t really change the phonetics of the word.

Your insight would be greatly appreciated Viking Rune.

All the best.

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Vincent F

Is there any sort of translator that can translate English to Runes?

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Geauxld Tiger

How would you write ‘oh to be buried beneath the waves’? It’s a phrase that has a lot of meaning to me and I want to honor the ancestors. If it can’t be directly translated what would you suggest, or where could I be pointed to as a good resource? I just want to make sure it’s done right. :)

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Haiko

Hi,
I would like to know if there is a comparison tablet of all the futhork alphabets in the www? I’d like to see the differences of all these alphabets (elder and younger futhork, danish, swedish, germanic, norwegian, icelandic, greenlandic, gothic, anglo-saxon, helsing, middle ages, …)

And I would like to know if there are dictionaries available of futhork written words in the futhork written languages? I just found only a few dictionaries, but they’re limited to a group of inscriptions (Dr. Udo Waldemar Dieterich: “Das Runen-Wörterbuch”, 1844/2004) or in one case to an old book on Danish literature (year 1651, viz. https://archive.org/details/runirinrunicchar00worm or https://openlibrary.org/books/OL24558409M/Runir_in_Runic_characters_seu_Danica_literatura_antiqvissima)

I’m looking for such books or websites, which are far of esoteric and other non scientific charakter. So many inscriptions are known, including the codex runicus … but I still couldn’t find such extensive dictionary.

Thx a lot

Haiko

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David K

Thu 20th Mar 2014
Hello Viking Rune,
I met your website just yesterday and I have been very impressed with your lore. I particularly like that you have avoided the unscholarly misconceptions about the runes, and display healthy criticism.
Nevertheless, I had one or two objections (but I don’t recall the second, because it probably wasn’t a fault of yours). There have been many requests here concerning how to spell with runes for tattoos. I agree with you that people should refrain from getting tattoos that they hardly even understand. A person can hardly claim runes to be his personal heritage if he did not even know how to spell his name in runes. On one part of your site, there was even a comment by someone claiming to want a tattoo including a devotion to God. Such people ought to research Leviticus chapter 19 verse 28.
It is partly because of misuses such as these that certain truths would be denied to some.
Well done on the academic quality for your website.

Reply

Viking Rune

Hello David,
Thanks for the feedback. Feel free to correct possible mistakes: it’s a place for an open serious discussion.

Reply

SF

The letter “s” is U+16CA in unicode.

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Kyle

Hey Viking, I’m wondering if there was a symbol for the soft s sound a C makes, such as embrace, or incandescent? I know C usually translates to Kauna (k) but makes the words seem harsher, like embrake, inkandeskant. Any thoughts?

Reply

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