Norse Runes and Chess

Nov 29, 2009, 10:38 AM |

Norse Runes

The Runes were the letters with which the ancient Norse wrote until approximately 1000 A.D., and they can be seen carved on Runestones across Scandinavia to this day. They also had oracular, mythological or psychological import. The chief Norse god, Odin, was said to have been voluntarily wounded with a spear and hung for nine nights on the nine worlds of Norse cosmology's axle-tree, Yggdrasil, in order to obtain knowledge of the Runes' meanings and magical uses--a kind of Norse shamanic initiation. Untitled Document The Runes were the letters with which the ancient Norse wrote until approximately 1000 A.D., and they can be seen carved on Runestones across Scandinavia to this day. They also had oracular, mythological or psychological import. The chief Norse god, Odin, was said to have been voluntarily wounded with a spear and hung for nine nights on the nine worlds of Norse cosmology's axle-tree, Yggdrasil, in order to obtain knowledge of the Runes' meanings and magical uses--a kind of Norse shamanic initiation.

For more about ancient Nordic cosmology, click here for an article by Norse storyteller and scholar Dag Rossman. Also see his Nine Worlds Dictionary, illustrated by Sharon Rossman, his Theft of the Sun and Other New Norse Myths, and the Rossmans' book Valhalla in America:  Norse Myths in Wood at Rock Island State Park, Wisconsin. Our links page has some links to modern pagan sites.

Many historians, mythologists, occultists and modern pagans have studied the Runes. One good place to start reading about them is Freya Aswynn's book Leaves of Yggdrasil, Llewellyn, St. Paul, MN 1994. The following interpretations were researched and elaborated by Jodie and Steven Forrest. They are not the definitions of a Norse scholar, nor a modern day godhi or gytha (Norse priest or priestess) but those of a novelist and an astrologer. As in Jodie's Nordic-Celtic historical fantasy novels , which feature the Runes, some poetic license has been taken! Still, we think you'll find them interesting.

If this is your first exposure to the Runes, try drawing the symbols on 3" x 5" cards, then shuffle them as you think about a situation in your life on which you'd like some insight. Then draw three Runes for the Nornir, the three Norse Fates, Urd, Verdandi and Skuld, a.k.a. Fate, Being and Necessity. They rule the past, present and future, and even the Norse gods and goddesses were said to be subject to them.

The first Rune you have drawn, Urd's Rune, the Rune of Fate, governs the past background of the situation. The second, Verdandi's Rune, the Rune of Being, governs the suggested course of action in the present. The third, Skuld's Rune, the Rune of Necessity, governs that which may evolve if you take the course suggested by the second Rune.

Experiment, and invent your own layouts. If you want to make your own Runes, we suggest you gather stones from a place that's special to you, then paint or carve the Runes onto them. Shells worn by the sea, or wood turned on a lathe, also make fine Runes.

Many thanks to the Kewel Ristar ( for allowing us to use their .gifs for the Runes!

THE NORSE RUNES, interpretation copyright 1999 Jodie Forrest; Steven Forrest
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  FEHU:  Possessions, Manifestation
You are invited to define the meaning of prosperity for yourself. Materially, this is a fortunate rune, if you don't abandon yourself to other people's definitions of success. What resources, inner and outer, do you need in order to thrive in your personal journey? Seize them at all cost, and discard the rest. This is Rune of RIGHT NOURISHMENT.

   URUZ:  Strength, Endurance
Pressures arise which tear away everything except your essential nature, revealing levels of instinctive strength and self-knowledge untapped in less stressful times. Psychic bedrock is struck; you must respond decisively from your core, or be wounded. This is the Rune of ENDURANCE.

  THURISAZ:  Force; Giant, Thorn
In the circumstances you now face, enormous destructive power, neither good nor evil, is available to you. Although dangerous, it can defend that which is dear to your heart. You can choose whether to release its devastating force--and incur your choice's responsibility. This is the Rune of BLIND FORCE.

  ANSUZ:  Signals, Omens
A message is being transmitted to you through omens and natural signs, perhaps through some human channel or oracle. If you're fettered by your unconscious wishes and fears, they may distort that message. This is the Rune of OMENS.

  RAIDO:  Wagon; Journey
A Rune of rhythm and order, Raido counsels strategy and persistence. A demanding journey, literal or metaphorical, lies before you. You must proceed step by step, aware that natural laws govern all motion and that no shortcut, however tempting, will do anything but lengthen the journey. This is the Rune of RIGHT ACTION.

  KENAZ:  Torch, Insight
Resourcefulness and practical inventiveness are essential if you are to devise a strategy to improve your present circumstances. There is no magic cure; creative thought, clear analysis, and pragmatic application of skill are necessary now. This is the Rune of INGENUITY.

  GEBO:  Partnership, Gift
Any partnership must be bound together through a mutual exchange of gifts. Perhaps the exchange is material, but it may be mystical, mental, or sexual. Perhaps it is a gift of trust. This is the Rune of THE RITUAL OF COMMITMENT.

  WUNJO:  Joy, Fulfillment
Knowledge and willpower now blossom into wisdom and illumination. You have matured spiritually, and unity is growing between your soul's inspiration and your daily life. Peace arises within you and is reflected in your relationship with the human family. This is the Rune of HARMONIOUS MERGING.

  HAGALAZ:  Hail; Disruption
Shock, too, is part of the great Pattern.  Overwhelming events arise now, around you or within your unconscious, and demand radical responses. You must adjust your plans, perhaps change your course. Be wary of stubbornness; you cannot fight the Divine hand. Return to your spiritual center, let the dust settle, then refocus your will in the light of the new reality. This is the Rune of DISRUPTION.

  NAUTHIZ:  Need, Self-Preservation
Resistance within you may create your experience of resistance in the world. Where have you limited yourself? To what have you given so much power that it can cause you such pain? Claim the wisdom of patience and attend to what's needed now, or your hurt has no meaning. This is the Rune of the FORGING OF CHARACTER.

  ISA:  Ice
Progress is temporarily frozen. Take comfort in patience, stillness and caution. The blockage is not inside you but around you. Do not, however, relax your concentration; remain alert enough to detect the early signs of thaw. This is the Rune of WAITING.

  JERA:  Harvest, Reaping
You are in a cycle of events whose seasons must all be respected: sowing, cultivation and harvest. Well-planned right action, constancy and patience yield the best results and the most gentle evolution. This is the Rune of FRUITION.

  EIHWAZ:  Defense, Striving
Although you are facing a trial, you are protected. The skill you most need lies in trusting that protection.  Unforeseeable power and wisdom await you if you avoid panic or precipitous overreactions. Be strong, and judiciously bold, and no harm should come to you. This is the Rune of TESTING.

  PERTHO:  Fate, Secrets
Although your circumstances may seem random, a group patterning beyond your comprehension is active in your life. You cannot grasp the flow of events because they involve the "Nornir"--the three Fates of past, present, and future--and because other lots than your own are being cast. This is the Rune of the WEB OF FATE.

  ALGIZ:  Watchfulness, Protection
Alertness, not defensiveness, is the best shelter. Be wary; watch for omens, which are plentiful now. Be fluid; avoid predictability and routine. Like the Elk, watch ceaselessly for rustles in the sedge grass. Danger seldom arrives unheralded. This is the Rune of WATCHFULNESS.

  SOWILU:  Sunlight; Life Force
Primal vitality is the issue now. The spark of life within you must be fanned and renewed. What feeds your spirit and your Self? What gives you joy and energy? Turn to those sources now, and restore your elemental enthusiasm for living. This is the Rune of WHOLENESS.

  TIWAZ:  Warrior, Justice
Conflict arises now, but the first battle you must face is within. Your primary enemy is your failure to face squarely your own trepidations, attachments and personal history. Only with that inner battle won can you see clearly what constitutes right action and justice in the outer battle. There, do not fear your own ferocity. This is the Rune of the WARRIOR.

  BERKANA:  Growth, Goddess.
In each person, the adolescent must die to make way for the adult. Drawing this rune indicates that a rite of passage is at hand. Something within you must be sacrificed to allow the birth or creation of the new. Mysteriously, mourning and joy now coincide. This is the Rune of TRANSITION.

  EHWAZ:  Movement, Partnership
As the leaping horseman must trust the mount, you too must now share your fate with some other force or person, leaping together across the abyss in a spirit of trusting self-abandonment. You and another power or entity face a common dilemma, resolvable only through the fusion of your alien natures and skills. This is the Rune of EFFECTIVE COOPERATION.

  MANNAZ: Individuation, Humanity
Use intelligence, memory and reflection to integrate your inner self with its outer expression. Inauthenticity or falseness in your social position may interfere with your journey and that of others. The question, "What should I do?" is always rooted in the deeper question, "Who am I?" This is the Rune of INDIVIDUATION.

  LAGUZ:  Water, Lake, The Sea
The watery mysteries of death and rebirth surround you now. Something is dying, being ferried across dark primal waters. Release it. Something is quickening deep in the psychic womb of your soul, awaiting baptism.  Flow now, surrendering old, burned-out patterns of living, all the while trusting the new birth even though it is still beyond comprehension. This is the Rune of RADICAL RELEASE.

  INGWAZ:  Fertility, Beginnings
You have reached the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Complete what is past to make room for what's to come, then prepare a safe cocoon for your own gestation. This is the Rune of REBIRTH.

  OTHALA:  Retreat, Roots
Charging headlong into impossibility is foolish. Circumstances now arise in which strategic withdrawal and timely assessment of your inner resources are the right actions. Rely now on your "fastnesses:" friends, family, power places, familiar spiritual practice. This is the Rune of REGROUPING.

  DAGAZ:  Daylight, Dawn

Night shifts into day; for a moment, opposites are reconciled, the paradox of spirit and flesh transcended. One liminal instant arises in which, if radical faith and intense willpower are fused, a leap can be taken which will forever alter the Pattern of your life. Be alert; recognize this moment, and seize it. This is the Rune of BREAKTHROUGH.

CAN'T GET ENOUGH NORSE MYTHOLOGY? Check out these other resources on our site:

Jodie Forrest's Nordic-Celtic historical fantasy trilogy --The Rhymer and the Ravens: The Book of Fate, $13.95; The Elves' Prophecy: The Book of Being, $16.95; and The Bridge: The Book of Necessity, $16.95. The novels unfold in Nordic-Celtic ninth century Europe during the Viking Age, and in the mythic realms that parallel it: Elfland and Asgard. For more information about the philosophical framework of the world of these novels, see Dag Rossman's article, Ancient Nordic Spirituality, and our site's page about The Norse Runes.

Also see Jodie's articles on Odin As Mercury, and Astrological Mars and the Norse God Tyr; and see Jodie's talks Freya As Venus and Odin As Mercury.