The Road to Runes

The Road to Runes: The Second Ætt

Last month we went back to basics and looked at the meanings of the first ætt of Elder Futhark runes. This month, we’re exploring the second ætt of Elder Futhark runes, from Hagalaz to Sowulo. This ætt is also known as Heimdall’s ætt but also, sometimes, Hel’s ætt. In an attempt to learn the runes more deeply, I’ve been drawing (writing?) them out in ink, so this month is illustrated with my own hand drawings.


The sound “H”. Also known as Haglaz or Hagala. Its literal meaning is hail, and in Viking rune poems is sometimes described as a cold, white seed. Hail is harsh and cold, and a journey through hail can be hard work indeed. Hagalaz signifies that a drastic change is coming; a storm to weather, but that forcing ourselves to go through the change will bring about growth and transformation.

Hail is whitest of grains. It whirls from the sky
whipped by the wind, then as water it trickles away. (Old English Rune Poem, translation Marijane Osborn)


The sound “N”. Nauthiz or Naudhiz means necessity or need, in the sense of being in a situation that perhaps is not ideal, and you need something to happen to change it. Need relates to both the needy situation and the deliverance from it. It can represent conflict and disorder, a sense of distress or being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be- either physically or metaphysically. You may have to work hard to get what you need, but if you do, you will be rewarded. Nauthiz encourages self-reliance and creativity, and the focus of your own will power to fix problems.

Need is constricting on the heart / Although to the children of men it often becomes / help and salvation nevertheless / if they heed it in time”(Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem)


The sound “ee”. Isa means “ice”, and like the frozen river stops moving, it indicates a period of stagnation where you are, for some reason, unable to move forward on your chosen path. An icy pool may be beautiful, but if we stop too long to stare and admire, we lose focus on the important things we were supposed to be doing. Isa is not a pause to reflect and rejuvenate; it is stasis- unhelpful and unproductive. However, Isa may also indicate that trying to force changes at this time may be unproductive as nature or the universe is currently working against any major changes.

Ice is the rind of the river
And the roof of the waves
And a danger for fey man
(Old Icelandic Rune Poem)


The sound “Y”. Jera (pronounced yay-rah approximately) means “Harvest” or “Year” and represents efforts coming to fruition. Jera reminds us that good things don’t come overnight but that we often have to wait and work to get what we want. It’s important to keep working towards goals and not to become discouraged. It may also indicate an ending to something, but one that will come with a new beginning elsewhere. Jera is cycles and change, and sometimes associated with the Winter Solstice. Its shape shows how the elements of the world work together, not against each other. It is, perhaps, conflicting things coming together to create something beautiful.

Harvest is the hope of men, / when god lets, / holy king of heaven, / the earth gives / her bright fruits / to the noble ones and to the needy. (Anglo-saxon Rune Poem)


The sound “I” as in “Wild”. Eihwaz is most commonly translated as the Yew Tree, although sometimes linked to the Mountain Ash (Rowan) tree. Yew trees are associated with death, which in divination often means major change or the initiation into something brand new and life-changing. Eihwaz indicates you will find the strength to reach your goals or to discover a sense of purpose. In rune magic, Eihwaz may be used to communicate with the dead or to connect to past lives and experiences.

Yew is a strung bow
And brittle iron
And Farbouti of the arrow.
(Old Icelandic Rune Poem)


The sound “P”. This rune is a “lot box” or a container used for casting lots. It is also sometimes translated as a dice cup or chess piece; a tool for gambling or games of strategy. Perthro may mean things are working in your favour or that a stroke of luck is just around the corner. The open shape of the rune catches memories and experiences and allows you to recall forgotten things. It’s a rune that represents the power of freewill but the way we are all affected by luck and fate to some degree.

Lot-box is always / play and laughter / among bold men / where the warriors sit / in the hall together (Anglo-Xason Rune Poem)


The sound “Z”. Algiz, or Elhaz, means “Elk” and is associated with courage and protection. It’s a sign of having to ward off danger, and in a reading may indicate that the subject is being asked to do something outside of their comfort zone. Algiz may also indicate that it’s worth working up the courage to do whatever is causing fear or worry. Algiz may indicate that emotionally, the person receiving the reading is closed or protective of themselves, and may need to open themselves up to new possibilities. Algiz also represents holiness and the warding of sacred places, and magically may be used to shield against negativity.

Elk´s sedge has its home / most often in the fen / it waxes in the water / and grimly wounds / and burns with blood / any man / who in any way / tries to grasp it. (Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem)


The sound “S”. Sowilo is the rune of the sun. As one might expect, this rune can represent enlightenment and illumination. It may also mean finding clarity in a confused or ambiguous situation. The sun is a powerful force within our part of the universe, and the rune of the sun represents the indomitable force o our own will power and magic. Sowilo can mean that we have a chance to increase our power and become “invincible”; to ensure that nothing stands in our way. It is the ultimate fruition of goals and purposes, and a sign of guidance to help us towards the journey’s end.

Sun is the light of the lands / I bow to the holiness. (Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme)

Next month we will go on to explore the third ætt, and thereafter we will go back to looking at each rune in a little more detail. Do you have a reading you wish to have interpreted? Do you need a question answering about particular rune? Hit me up on Twitter via @Mabherick.


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors & Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Way

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon