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RUNIC Tradition - Reversed (Merkstave) Runes and the 3 Aetts

Updated on June 4, 2011



Though the runes form an alphabetic sequence, they are essentially ideographic rather than alphabetic in principle. They were devised to symbolise and make known a series of ideas or principles, hence their corresponding meanings and influences.

The English word ‘alphabet’ comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet – ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’.

The word ‘Tarot’ is derived from two Egyptian words, ‘Tar’ meaning ‘road’ and ‘ot’ meaning ‘royal’ – therefore, the word/phrase Tarot, in essence means literally ‘Royal Road’.

Similarly, the Norse alphabet is called ‘Futhark’ after the sounds of the first six characters; Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raido and Kenaz.

Their English equivalents are ‘f’, ‘u’, ‘th’, ‘a’, ‘r’ and ‘k’ – hence ‘Futhark’.

This form of alphabet is known as The Elder or Germanic Futhark. Runes of the Elder Futhark tend to represent ‘energies’ or ‘processes’. They can be nouns and verbs combined.

The Elder Futhark is a list of the entire runic alphabet in a particular order. This order consists of twenty-four (24) runes being divided into three tiers of eight runes. Each of these tiers is call an ‘aett’or aettir’. The word ‘aett’ means ‘families’ or ‘groups’. These aetts are of significance in the deciphering of the complex inter-relationships between the runes.

The aetts are of a common thread or concept and provide added insight. Each rune traditionally occupies a fixed place in this structure of tiers. This place is known as it's stead’. Within some traditions, the three groups of eight runes, the ‘aettir’, were named after gods of Norse mythology; Freja, Hagal and Tyr.

Freja Hagal Tyr

Fehu Hagalaz Teiwaz

Uruz Nauthiz Berkana

Thurisaz Isa Ehwaz

Anzus Jera Mannaz

Raido Eihwaz Laguz

Kenaz Pertho Inguz

Gebo Algiz Othila

Wunjo Sowulo Dagaz

Many modern sets of runes have an additional twenty-fifth rune – the ‘blank’ rune. This is often called ‘The Unknowable’ Rune’, or in some sets, ‘The Path of Karma’ rune – that which is predestined and cannot be avoided, or ‘matters hidden by the gods’.

This is a modern addition and is not part of the authentic runic tradition. The modern blank rune (in theory), performs the function of the rune ‘Pertho’ - This rune represents the unknowable; the journey into the unknown and a risk that must be taken. The rune Pertho holds the key to a mystery at the heart of runic lore – the actual rune cast; the mystery in itself. Pertho is both the act of casting the runes, as well as the ‘Well of Consciousness’ to which we go as the seeker of knowledge. Therefore, the modern blank rune is unnecessary.


Nine of the runes read the same, regardless of how you draw them. They can though, lay in opposition, which means that they can lay sideways or off-centre. Some even have the capability to distort rather than enhance the meaning and message of the runes on either side of it.

The other fifteen (15) runes can be read upright, in opposition or reversed.

The reversed reading interpretation draws attention to aspects of a situation that might impede movement or advancement. It may also indicate the fact that movement itself may be inappropriate at this time.

Drawing a reversed rune itself is not necessarily negative, or a cause for concern or alarm. Like an ‘upside down’ card in the Tarot, it is an indication from the runes that care and attention are required for your conduct to be correct.

A reversed rune often signals the presence of an opportunity to challenge some aspect of your behaviour, some area in your life which, until now, you have been unwilling to face.

Sometimes reversed meanings are a warning - but in a positive sense, like a blessing in disguise.

Whether you draw your rune upright or reversed, it is always best to read both interpretations. Doing so will put you in touch with all aspects of the issue, including those not openly or currently being expressed.


RUNES – The Elderfuthark


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