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

The Runes: Thorn

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

The third rune, Thorn is a tricky one, as its meaning has shifted with the Anglo-Saxon language. In Old Norse, it is connected to thurs, a malevolent entity of raw power. Some accord this entity to the giants found in Old Norse literature. But in Anglo-Saxon, it is thought that the shape of the rune dictated the meaning, and so we have “thorn”.[1] It is believed that the change occurred during the Christian period, and so the younger Norwegian Rune Poem may hold an older vestige of this rune’s meaning.

Alaric Albertsson states that the rune means “hawthorn”.[2] This may be due to the laying of hawthorn hedges in the Anglo-Saxon agricultural world, and taking rest in their shade, albeit carefully. It may connect to the English thyrses in this way (Old Norse thurses) in that the hawthorn, being a tree of liminality especially in Celtic lore (a faery tree) allows beings to travel between the worlds and thus, assail humanity should they so wish. As far as I can tell from my research, this is, however, all conjecture.

Swain Wodening makes the connection between Thorn and the Old Norse god Thor (Thunor in Anglo-Saxon). He states that Thor had connections to many thorny plants such as nettle and thistle, plants which use thorns or spikes to defend themselves, much as Thor was the defender of humanity against the giants.[3] All in all, these are all theories, and you will have to make your own mind up regarding the various possible meanings that surround this rune.

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

Thorn is painfully sharp to any warrior

seizing it is bad, excessively severe

for any person who lays among them.

Thorn relating to a warrior is interesting, in that when I first read this verse, the concept of the Celtic Fianna warriors running through the woods with braided hair as a test came to mind. Should any of their braids catch on branches or thorns as they raced through the forest, they failed their test. Though this is a purely Celtic concept, there are similarities between Celtic and Northern European cultures in aspects of spirituality, artwork, commerce and more. Though this may have nothing to do with the Fianna warriors, it may have something to do with being out in the wildness of nature as a warrior, otherwise why mention it in relation to the flora? This could just be a mix of metaphors from the Old Norse into Anglo-Saxon, where a warrior fought off thyrses or giants, rather than was overly wary of the surrounding plant life. Or maybe it was a caution against the abundance of nettles that can be found all across the UK!

I found out the hard way when I first moved to these lands of the power of nettle, after walking through a field thick with them, not knowing what they were, and coming away with stinging hands and legs. We didn’t have stinging nettles where I grew up in Canada. So, maybe this is a simple warning not to make your camp or sleep near nettles when you are doing your warrior thing!

Another thing that came to mind when I first read the Old English verse is the Christian clergy in the line “excessively severe for any person who lays among them”. Saint Benedict was said to have come across a blackbird (a bird of liminality and the Druids in Celtic lore) which stayed with him for a moment, close to hand, before flying off. After this, Benedict became overcome with carnal thoughts of a woman he had seen once, and in order to shake off these emotions, he threw himself into a patch of nettles and briars. This remedy was so successful, Saint Benedict claims he was never overcome with that sort of temptation again. Severe? Yes, indeed. Excessively severe? I would say so. So perhaps this rune has a relation to Saint Benedict, but perhaps from a more “moderate” Anglo-Saxon Christian viewpoint.


From my point of view, I view thorn as a cautionary tale, based on my own experience with plants here in the UK which was hard learned. There are many spiky and stingy plants around here, such as hawthorn and nettle, but also blackthorn. Blackthorn has the longest, most vicious spikes of them all, and has a tendency to break off into the skin and then go septic. Unwary foragers, farmers and even horses can fall foul of the blackthorn. An extra element of Christianity comes into play with this as well, for it is said that the crown of thorns that Jesus wore came from the blackthorn.[4]

Whether you’re a warrior or a farmer, a forager or a gardener, being around thorns reminds you of the power of nature. A small plant may cause you great discomfort, a lapse of mindfulness can cause you great injury. Thorn reminds us of this, in that we need to take care, that we need to be aware of our surroundings (and this may again relate to the Old Norse thurs). Thorns can be seen as aggressive when we are on the receiving end, but we must remember that thorns protect a plant. Therefore, Thorn can be used in regards to workings of protection, although some may use it in the form of a curse. It is a good warding rune, to keep people away from you and your possessions. But it must be worked with carefully, lest you feel its sharp sting!

You can easily form the rune with your hands, with your left hand being straight and your right hand forming the sideways “v” shape. You can also stand in trance posture with your right arm at your hip, making the shape of the rune (and also giving off a “go on if you think you’re hard enough vibe).

Thorn is an interesting rune, in that its history is murky and muddied from different cultures. Yet it shows a great merging of understanding that I think is at the heart of Anglo-Saxon culture and tradition. Learn what you can from those around you, from the land itself, and let that inform your life. Take it all in. Use what works. The Anglo-Saxons were practical folk.

And watch out for thorns.

[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.18

[2] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, (2011), p.98

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

[4] Don, M. “What’s Your Poison? Backyard Troublmakers”, The Guardian : accessed 23 Sept 2020

The Runes: Ūr (Aurochs)

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

downloadWe now turn to the second rune in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, which is Ūr. This rune perfectly follows Feoh, the first rune, as Feoh’s literal translation is “cattle”, meaning wealth. Ūr means aurochs, the bovine precursor to our domesticated cattle.

Ūr is pronounced “ooor”, with an elongated “ooo” sound, as in Sutton “Hoo”, or the word “boo” and is followed by a rolled “r”. In the Old English Rune Poem, the translation reads thus:

Aurochs is fierce and high horned

the courageous beast fights with its horns

a well-known moor-treader, it is a brave creature.”[1]

I think it’s important to understand the animal that lies behind each of the animal-based runes in the Futhorc in detail. So, as such, I’ll go into quite a bit of detail regarding aurochs!

Auroch skeleton Copenhagen

Aurochs skeleton from Copenhagen

Our own “taurine cattle” stem from one of two subspecies of domesticated aurochs, the other being zebu cattle from an Indian subspecies[2]. Aurochs were a wild bovine breed, which stood at around 5.5 feet high at the shoulder, on average.[3]  The European bison is a cross-breed developed from aurochs.[4] They had long forward facing horns, which curled upwards at the tips, not too dissimilar to the Highland Cow. In fact, it is thought that they also had a long curly forelock, like the Highland  Cow (so cute!). In aurochs, both the male and female carry impressive horns, whereas in most other bovine it is simply the bull that has horns. The horns were particularly prized, as we will see later.

Auroch Cave Painting Lascaux, France

Aurochs cave painting, Lascaux, France

Aurochs were solitary creatures for the most part, who gathered in small herds (less than thirty) at certain points in the year. They grazed heavily in the autumn, fattening up to survive the long northern winters.[5] In the Paleolithic era, aurochs were hunted by our ancestors as evidenced in the cave paintings found as Lascaux and Livernon in France. When not being hunted, aurochs generally ignored humans unless aggravated, whereupon they could attack with their horns, even throwing a man up in the air.[6]

Extinct in Britain by the 1200’s, the last surviving cow died on the continent died in 1627, in Poland.[7] What we know of aurochs stems from two sources. The first, Anton Schneeberger, was the last known person to have studied the aurochs in person in the 16th century.[8] The second is Julius Caesar, who in his Gallic War Commentaries stated:

“…those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this sort of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise. But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments.” – Julius Caesar. Gallic War Commentaries, Chapter 6.28

Taking down an aurochs was a rite of passage for young men, as stated by Caesar.[9] He also raised the importance of the horns as drinking vessels. In the evolutionary sense, horns were developed in cattle as a means of defense as well as attack, and as a show of power. Perhaps this is why they were used as drinking vessels, often richly decorated with precious metal to be used among the nobility. To drink from an aurochs horn not only showed your power, but perhaps even bestowed it through the magical laws of contagion to the person who was imbibing the beverage.

sutton hoo reproduction drinking horns

Replicas of Sutton Hoo drinking horns

The symbol of the horns can be seen in the rune itself. While aurochs horns faced mostly forward, rolling upwards at the tips, in the rune it shows the horns facing downwards. This is the bull or cow’s lowered head, ready for battle or to defend its territory or young. It is both an aggressive and defensive position. Ūr could also be seen as an aurochs in profile, the torso and legs, with the classic shoulder higher than the hindquarters which distinguishes it from many other bovine breeds.

In divination, Ūr could mean power, strength, a rite of passage, courage, bravery, a need for some solitary time or just some time spent out in the wilderness (as referenced in the “moor-treader” aspect of the poem), re-wilding, combativeness, a challenge of power (which you either need to ignore or act upon, like an aurochs would), a aggressive or defensive act, nobility, hardiness and vitality.

Using the Ūr rune magically can empower many rites, rituals, spells and talismans. But be warned – aurochs were wild creatures, that were extremely difficult to tame. The power behind Ūr has a similar wildness behind its power.

You can create the rune of Ūr in trance posture in two ways, as I have found. You can stand with your left arm against your side, and your right arm away from the body, bent at the elbow with the fingertips pointing down to the ground. This emulates the rune as we see it, and instils a protective sense, almost as if you are putting your arm around someone or something to protect it. You can also do a more aggressive trance posture with the rune, by bending down to face the floor at the waist at a 45 degree angle (hold in your lower belly to protect your lower back) and hold your hands over your head, angled slightly downwards to form the downward shape of the rune, as if you are a bull or a cow ready to charge. This rune is also easy to emulate with your left hand held out in front of you, fingers together, thumb separate, all pointing downwards.


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

[2] Bollongino, R. et als, “Modern Taurine Cattle Descended from Small Number of Near-Eastern Founders” (PDF). Retrieved 25 Aug 2020

[3] Kysely, R. (2008). “Aurochs and potential crossbreeding with domestic cattle in Central Europe in the Eneolithic period. A metric analysis of bones from the archaeological site of Kutná Hora-Denemark (Czech Republic)”. Anthropozoologica

[4] Cooper, A. et als (19 October 2016), “The Higgs Bison – mystery species hidden in cave art”, The University of Adelaide, retrieved 13 January 2017

[5] van Vuure, T. (Cis) (2005). Retracing the Aurochs – History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft Publishers.

[6] van Vuure, T. (Cis) (2005). Retracing the Aurochs – History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft Publishers

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

[8] Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination (2017) Anglo Saxon Books

[9] Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination (2017) Anglo Saxon Books

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The Runes: Feoh (Wealth)

feohIn this blog series, we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem. The first rune in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc is Feoh. Feoh translates as cattle, and in Anglo-Saxon culture cattle meant wealth, so this is the modern interpretation of the rune. It is the root of our word, “fee” with regards to money.[1] The segment of the Rune Poem reads thus:

Wealth (Feoh) is a comfort to any man

yet each person must share it out well

if he wants to win a good name before his lord.[2]

To pronounce the name of this rune, you’ll need to get a little continental in your throat. The first part is easy, fay. The second part uses a glottal stop at the end similar to the word loch pronounced with a Scottish accent, but much softer. Just slightly close off the back of your throat when you end saying och and you’ll have it. Fay-och. You can also bypass this, if it is troublesome, by pronouncing an “h” sound at the end. Fay-o-hhh, but this technically isn’t perfect.

Cattle, whether in the form of cows, sheep, goats, etc. were a major part of Anglo-Saxon economy. In a cash poor society, where few people had many gold or silver coins, your wealth was determined by how much you could sustain yourself and your community. If you had cattle, you had dairy and meat, as well as the offspring with which you could barter, trade or even sell for coin. Cattle is wealth that is moveable, as opposed to inherited wealth such as a building, home or farmland. Feoh’s meaning is deeper than simply wealth however, for it is wealth that has to be looked after, wealth that has to be managed. Cattle don’t just take care of themselves on the farm. Feoh is wealth that is earned from hard work. It is not a gift, like the rune gyfu which we will look at later in this series. Rance states that Feoh may have been the first rune in the Futhorc because of the importance between keeping cattle and agriculture, and the development of writing.[3]

Yet Feoh does not just mean wealth alone; wealth must move, it must be put for the benefit of everyone, and not hoarded solely for personal use. Wealth occurs when we have an excess of something, an abundance of a resource. If our needs are just being met, we are sustained and sustainable, but not wealthy. If we have an abundance, then sharing that excess helps everyone achieve a sustainable state. We see this happening in nature, where through underground networks of roots and funghi trees can help other trees to grow when they are placed in less favourable positions regarding sunlight or water. A community is stronger when wealth is shared, rather than the fewest having the most, (which sadly the latter is the norm for today’s society). The rune poem admonishes hoarding, and tells us that each person must share in their wealth if they want a good reputation in the eyes of others. In the class system that existed in Anglo-Saxon culture, a lord ruled over the land, and if he/she was a good lord, they demonstrated the Anglo-Saxon virtue of sharing with gifts, which then in turn help the barons and other nobles to be able to share their wealth with the common folk, who then shared their wealth in turn. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means, and we must remember that slavery was a thing back then, so it wasn’t all mead and roses. However, what we can take from Feoh today is that we must put back into whatever system we live in, or give back to our family, friends and community with the wealth or abundance that we have, in order for the ecosystem that we live in to thrive.

When meditating upon the shape of the rune, you can see both the meaning of cattle and the meaning of sharing wealth. The two upright branches can resemble cow or oxen horns in profile. It can also look like a person in profile, either giving or receiving something with arms outstretched. I have used the rune Feoh in trance posture, either sitting or standing with arms outstretched before me, palms facing each other. It provides a feeling of well-being, and brings energy to the head area especially, giving a sense of fullness and comfort, just like the Rune Poem states.

I’ve meditated upon the wealth in my life, while gazing or holding this rune in the palm of my hand. I look for ways to share that wealth, so that I am a contributing member of my community and ecosystem, rather than simply taking and consuming resources all the time. Feoh is giving with arms outstretched, and also learning to receive wealth with grace. All too often, we dismiss our many talents and what may come from them, and in doing so we do ourselves a disservice. The work that we do should provide benefit, and in that benefit we are hopefully able to share back.

At the end of harvest, here in England we celebrate Harvest Home, which is today a church service usually followed by a supper. In ancient times, the last grain of wheat or barley left at the end of harvest was left out for Woden’s steed. In East Anglia, there is the tradition of leaving a small portion or corner of the field unharvested, for the land/nature spirits, or for the Devil himself as it is now known as The Devil’s Plantation. Where do you have abundance in your life, and where can you give back? Where is the line between holding a good relationship with your family/friends/community/ecosystem, and martyrdom? Do you give too much? Remember, there is nothing wrong with comfort, as long as there is reciprocity. Wealth also takes many forms, and does not just mean monetary wealth.

Feoh is useful in spellcrafting for monetary purposes, but remember: you have to work for your wealth. It will not just land in your lap. In divination, it can mean all of the above, with the importance of sharing something underlying the outcome.[4] It may ask that you reassess what is valuable in your life, or what skills you have in abundance. Chanting the rune while standing in the posture which emulates this rune can help you do discover more about the wealth in your life, and what you need to do to achieve it and subsequently share it so that everyone benefits. There is an element of reputation with regards to this rune, which is something that our Anglo-Saxon forebears held highly in esteem. No one would want to be seen as miserly. Remember, wealth is an abundance of a skill or resource, and so share wisely.


[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books (2011), p.17

[2] Translation by Stephen Pollington, from Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books (2011), p.45

[3] Rance, S. The English Runes, Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination, Anglo Saxon Books (2017), p.19

[4] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of the Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn (2011), p.114