Critical Review of the Elder Futhark: An Historically Accurate Universal Rune Set

21 June 2019, 17h54:

Winter Solstice for the Southern Hemisphere

Today is the winter solstice – that time of year where the hours of darkness outweigh the hour of light in the Southern Hemisphere, the exact opposite is true for our Northern counterparts. The activity of life slows down in preparation for rest and restoration during the colder months.

This winter solstice edition is going to follow on my Evolution of the Runic Alphabets. Winter is aligned with water, an element versatile and variable, which can be found in all physical states. We experience water in it gaseous state, such as steam and mist, its liquid form in rivers and lakes as well as solidly frozen in ice and snow. Here we witness water’s capacity for change and to an extent its adaptability, each season it shifts with the requirements of life and forges itself anew. During winter, water takes on a more solid state, cold and seemingly unmoving, still and silent. Winter aligns with silent strength, a state that represents nature’s ancient way of quiet contemplation. Here we heed the wisdom of our ancestors and take time to not only understand our environment, but also ourselves. Thus, for this winter solstice I will discuss the most ancient of runic alphabets, that of the Elder Futhark.

The runic alphabets have become a prominent feature on my blog and my designs, mostly due to my fascination with this ancient writing script and how it can be utilized to gain wisdoms from the depth of our own souls.

I have written an initial summary post of the Elder Futhark as well as discussing the flow of the runic languages from both an historic and linguistic perspective. During my extensive research into the subject I have read countless literary works in an attempt to determine both the original form of the Elder Futhark as well as creating a standardized and universal set of runes. I have listed the most informative references I discovered during my research (Ref 1-10). My research has subsequently been converted into an Elder Futhark Mini Oracle deck available for purchase from my MPC online store.

Here, I would like to focus on my research process for the Elder Futhark and how I came to choose the letter, rune script and meanings for each based on the most prominent and trustworthy information from hard-to-find expert runologist and runology sources. I will group the discussions around the potential origin of the Elder Futhark, its division and use, the basic alphabet structure and the sorting of conflicting rune meanings.

Elder Futhark Runes

  • Oldest Runic Alphabet (150-800 AD)
  • Writing System for the Germanic tribes and Northwest Germanic dialects
  • A set of 24 letters
  • Full alphabet first discovered on the Kylver Stone, Gotland, 400 AD
Kylver Stone, Gotland, Sweden, Elder, Futhark, Runes, Viking, Germanic

Elder Futhark Origin

The parent language or linguistic origin of the Elder Futhark is highly debated and could have arisen from Latin, Greek or Etruscan (Ref 7). There is also indication that the Elder Futhark is derived from the Semitic-Arabic writings dating from the Bronze Age and early Iron Age in the Near East (Ref 9). This Semitic origin places the Elder Futhark in the time frame of 2000-1000 BC, which indicates that it may even be older than the Greek alphabet (750 BC)! The evidence the author provides for this becomes highly technical from a linguistic, writing and pronunciation aspect, but it simply stems from the the fact that both the Elder Futhark and Greek language share traits of the previous ancestral language rather than the Elder Futhark only sharing similarities to the ‘later’ Greek language, which would have been the case should it have arisen from the Greek language instead of the more ancestral one.

Indo European Languages map 500 BC 500 AD, Runes
Indo European Languages and the Runic Alphabets, Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, Younger Futhark, Lineage
Indo-European languages of the tribes and the development of the runic alphabets. Possible Elder Futhark lineage (linguistic evolution) in green, Younger Futhark lineage in red and Anglo-Saxon Futhorc lineage in Blue.

Elder Futhark Alphabet Division and Use

The Elder Futhark is divided into 3 Aetts or ‘families’, representing a set of 8 runes in each (Ref 7). There is vague epigraphic (the study of inscriptions as writing) reference from 2 bracteates, specifically the Grumpan and Vadstena bracteates, for this division. Modern metaphysicians specialising in rune research claim that this division represents three gods from Norse mythology, namely Freyja (the warrior goddess), Heimdallr (the god of visions) and Tyr (the god of victory). However, the Elder Futhark is Proto-Norse or Proto-Germanic, a very ancient language from which Old Norse arose as well as several other languages, such as Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon, which you can read more about in the Evolution of the Runic Alphabets. Thus, the Elder Futhark’s Proto-Germanic very much pre-dates the Old Norse gods. Some Old Norse references exist that discuss the god Tiwaz, the Proto-Germanic version of Tyr. Thus, this ‘modern reason’ for the division of the Elder Futhark into Aetts is poorly supported, due to the lack of Proto-Germanic scriptures existing today. This does not mean that you cannot use the Old Norse divisions for your metaphysical practises; it simply indicates lack of historic evidence. Although, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, yet it remains somewhat doubtful that the Old Norse gods are the reason. This stems from the debate surrounding the original use of the Elder Futhark, which was for writing and not divination. The use of the Elder Futhark as a divinatory tool only came later after the Elder Futhark fell out of use for writing and when the Roman alphabet became more prominent. This created a certain ‘mystical allure’ surrounding the ancient runic alphabets and it became more popular to use as a magical tool. Thus, the reason for the Elder Futhark families remains largely unknown.

The Vadstena bracteate (500 AD) is a gold C-bracteate or gold sheet found in the earth at Vadstena, Sweden in 1774. The bracteate is famous for containing a full listing of the Elder Futhark Runic alphabet. The runes in the futhark are divided by dots into three groups of eight runes which are commonly called an ætt.
The bracteate was stolen in 1938 from the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities and has not yet been found.

Elder Futhark Alphabet Structure

The Elder Futhark is made up of 24 letters, it is the oldest of the runic alphabets and its namesake is also derived from the sound values of its first 6 letters as written on the Kylver stone, i.e., “F U TH A R K”. There are approximately 250 inscriptions of the Elder Futhark distributed between Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Frisia and England (Ref 7). By comparing all these to find most common elements, you would have the following alphabet:

Elder Futhark Mini Oracle Deck Overview, Cards
Elder Futhark Mini Oracle Deck available from

Generally the rune shape, letters and even pronunciation are well defined and consistent (Ref 1-9). Note that ‘th’ is translated from the sound Þ, ǽ roughly comes from ï , whereas the z letter is pronounced as a palatal r in Scandinavian/Icelandic (written as Ɍ) and ‘ng’ comes from ŋ (Ref 10).

Elder Futhark Alphabet Meanings

The meaning of each letter is connected to animals, plants and events related to the people and livelihoods of that time. Unlike the basic structure, many inconsistencies arise from the meaning of each of these letters, which are generally derived from the Old English Rune Poem which is of Anglo-Saxon origin (Ref 6). This represents a retro-fitting of Old English onto Proto-Germanic (skipping over Old Norse between the languages as they developed, which you can read more about in the Evolution of the Runic Alphabets). Thus, the meaning of the Elder Futhark is somewhat obscure and depending on which runologist or Proto-Germanic interpretation you refer to, the letters may have different meanings – because language is not static and one word can have multiple sometimes unrelated meanings. I have searched for all the common alphabet meanings and their variants, which you use for your metaphysical practise is up to you.

Old English Anglo Saxon Rune Poem Hickes Wikipedia
Old English or Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

Elder Futhark Conclusion

After working through the runic literature I have created the following table below, it represents the most common Proto-Germanic writing and name, the English transliteration and meanings associated with these.

Elder Futhark Rune Symbols Names Transliterations and Meanings Table
PDF Version to go along with the Deck

I would recommend that you learn all the meanings and allow the surrounding runes from your rune cast to distinguish which meaning would be more appropriate for the given reading. After all reading oracles from runes requires a bit of creativity and intuitive interpretation from your side.

The table above can be used in conjunction with my Elder Futhark Mini Oracle Deck, which is representative of the most accurate and universal Elder Futhark alphabet and can be purchased from Make Playing Cards!

Micro, Small, Germanic, Viking, Norse, Oracle, Spiritual, Divination, Script, Travel, All Natural Spirit, Rune, Elder Futhark, Runes, Mini, Card, Deck, Oracle, Bind, Rune, Cards, Make Playing Cards
Elder Futhark Mini Oracle Deck

“Oh how wonderfully exciting. I have just processed the order now. The kids are learning all about Norse Mythology at the moment and are so excited to have their own set of cards to learn the symbols and at that size… perfect.

Thanks so much for being so accommodating and for making such pretty cards.”

Customer Feedback

The next runic alphabet I will be discussing during the Spring Equinox is the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. It will include a very detailed discussion of the all the different Anglo-Saxon Futhorc variants, provide the key differences between the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc and the Elder Futhark as well as another table for the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc similar to the one provided for the Elder Futhark in this post!

Top 10 Most Informative References

  1. Page, R., I. (1987) Reading The Past: Runes. University of California Press.
  2. McKinnell, J., Simek R. and Düwel K. (2004) Runes, Magic and Religion: a Sourcebook. Wien: Fassbaender
  3. Page, R. I. (2005) Runes, The British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-8065-3.
  4. Oswald, B. (2008) Discovering Runes. Chartwell Books Inc.
  5. Robertson, J. S. (2012) How the Germanic Futhark Came from the Roman Alphabet Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 2: 7-25.
  6. Van Renterghem, A. (2014) The Anglo-Saxon runic poem: a critical reassessment. Masters Dissertation, University of Glasgow.
  7. Daniels, B. (2015) Runes: Notes on Orthography and Pronunciation, as well as Some Thoughts on Using Runes to Write Modern English.
  8. Schulte, M. (2015) Runology and historical sociolinguistics: On runic writing and its social history in the first millennium. Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics. 1(1): 87-110
  9. Bong, J.C. (1996) Runes : Genealogy and Grammatology. Runes G&G til web 190303
  10. Antonsen, E. H. (2002) Runes and Germanic Linguistics. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

My Other Oracle Deck: The Celestial Rune Sigils – The Metaphysician’s Toolbox

Read more about this deck: An Elder Futhark Bindrune Oracle

Celestial Bindrune Sigils, Elder, Futhark, bindrune, Anglo, Saxon, Frisian, Viking, Norse, Germanic, Scandinavian, Divination, Oracle, Deck, Cards, Metaphysician, Toolbox, Magick, Galdur, Magic, Bind, Rune
Celestial Rune Sigils – The Metaphysician’s Toolbox. Elder Futhark Bindrune Oracle Deck available from

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