The Runes: Ōs

In this blog series , we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem.

The fourth rune, Ōs has two different interpretations, yet which are linked. The first is that Ōs means god, or divinity, and usually Woden (Odin). The second is that Ōs means mouth, which again is related to Woden, who uses the breath of life and also the breath of inspiration. So it most likely that this rune relates to Woden directly, whichever way we look at it. Ōs is also known as Ansuz, which means a member of the gods’ family or tribe.[1] With the shape of the rune Ansuz, the ends of the branch do not turn upwards as they do with the Old English rune Ōs.

In the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem, the verse reads:

God [or mouth] is the origin of all language

Wisdom’s foundation and wise man’s comfort

And to every hero blessings and hope.[2]

Woden is the bringer of runes to humankind, who sacrificed himself on the tree for nine days and nine nights until, screaming, he took up the runes from the Well of Wyrd. This scream is again related to the mouth, breath and inspiration. It is all coming from the inside, to be expressed externally. As the god of frenzy and inspiration, this suits Woden very well. Woden also specialises in eloquence and poetry, let’s not forget.

Warriors and heroes were supposed to valiant in battle, but also eloquent afterwards. They had to know how to trade verses and come up with poetry, sometimes on the spot (though not while fighting!). This might relate to the hope and blessings aspect of the rune verse with regards to heroes, or perhaps that they will be remembered for their deeds after they have died with good words, poetry or song. Woden’s later incarnation as Odin in the Viking Age was both a boon and a bane to his chosen heroes, for he often betrayed them. And so, the blessings and hope we see in the rune poem make more sense in the remembrance of the hero, rather than a divine blessing or hope.

Albertsson states that Woden was much different for the Anglo Saxons as his later Viking counterpart was to his people: Woden was primarily the wise one connected to words and speech, the creator of spoken language, he who inspired the poets.[3] He ruled the wind, which included the breath that creates speech (æthem). This breath of life is also the final thing that we do upon death: we exhale for one last time, thus denoting Woden’s role in death as well as life. Thus, Ōs can also be seen as the rune of life and death, perhaps even rebirth.[4]

Ōs has a relation to the use of magic as well, as spoken words in charms were and still are very common. In the text, Hávamál, Odin claims to know galdor, to know how to use the words and spells against fire, sword edges, arrows, fetters and storms. He could also summon up the dead and speak to them to gain more knowledge.

In runic readings, Ōs means communication, inspiration, poetry and knowledge, usually of divine origin. If the querent is a devotee of Woden, it might have even more meanings. You can us Ōs magically to help increase eloquence, to find the inspiration to write that book or poem. Holding up the rune to your lips while concentrating on receiving inspiration can open up new pathways gifted by Woden. You can trace the rune on work surfaces and tools such as laptops, especially if you are a writer. And here’s hoping it brings wisdom, comfort, blessings and hope, even to the most stubborn writer’s block! Finally, you can use it to communicate with the dead, should you so wish, as this is one of the realms of Woden’s power.


[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.46

[2] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.46

[3] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, (2011), p.186

[4] Wodening, S. Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times, Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, (2003), p. 185

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