In today’s post, we will be discussing one of the most important runes in the Elder Futhark which also became an important symbol over time: Odal also known as the Othala rune. Well, let’s get right into it, here is everything you should know about the Odal rune/symbol, its meaning, origin, transformation and appropriation throughout history.
The Odal rune might remind you of a ribbon, especially the ones we put on during the days we pay respect to the struggle of cancer patients. As you will find out, it’s meaning is indeed connected to the community and a sense of unity.
Unfortunately, it also shares the fate of numerous other runes, namely the Algiz and Sig runes as well as the Celtic cross. As you might have guessed, the Norse rune was ultimately embedded into Nazi ideology.
This, however, should not diminish its original significance and history. So, let’s start from the beginning and explore the Odal rune’s origins, its meaning and evolution through time.
The Origins of The Odal Rune
The Odal/Othala rune was part of the runic alphabet of Elder Futhark, a language deriving its name from the sounds of its first six runes. Keep in mind, the earliest artifact found with the alphabet sequentially listed was discovered in 1903. It was inscribed on the Kylver Stone, dating back to 400 CE.
Comprised of 24 runes, Elder Futhark was incorporated into North Germanic dialects during the 4th-9th century. The Othala rune was used to represent the “O” sound, even though it adopted an “-œ” quality when Futhark became the base for Anglo-Saxon runes following the 5th century.
Odal Rune: The End of A Cycle
The name of the rune itself, “othala” or “odal”, brings us directly to its meaning. The stem of the word, “-opal/opala” can refer to the words “inheritance” and “lineage”. In fact, the word “Ethel”, found in Old English, is translated into “noble”, with a potential connection to the Germanic word “Adel”, referring to a family with great inheritance and land ownership.
It is important to consider the position of the othala rune in Elder Futhark, found often in the last or second to last position. The runes do, in fact, represent in their sequence a cycle of birth, growth, evolution and eventual death. However, the footprint of the individual does not stop at physical decay.
With a goal of nurturing better future generations, one must leave a worthy legacy. It is a concept that can be traced back to the Greek notion of “ysterophimia” (υστερφημία), the remembrance of the individual long after their passing.
Othala and Its Connection to Other Runes
The rune often preceding othala is called “Inguz/Ingwaz”, which symbolizes creation and evolution. It is depicted in a similar way to the odal rune, forming a square which is a typical representation of fertility. The rune Inguz is often regarded as an emblem of learning and peace, the process of development and growth.
As a certain level of wisdom is cultivated, the symbol sprouts, in a way, roots, two legs, that connect the individual space with the community. As a result the Othala rune is formed, linking the present with the future and the inner stability of the self with the rest of society.
The cycle is completed with the last rune of Elder Futhark, «Dagaz», which resembles a gateway, one might say. As ignorance and despair are defeated, rebirth follows, building a bridge to enlightenment. This is one gateway Dagaz may present.
Interested in divination methods? The Odal rune commonly represents strong traditions or the solidification of new values. It often references the ideals of hope, family, diligence, safety and benediction. If the rune is accompanied by Fehu, a rune of Younger Futhark, it will usually refer to the material world.
On the other hand, if it is seen with Mannaz or Ansuz, it might have a more philosophical dimension. If you have come across Thomas More’s Utopia or Plato’s The Republic, describing an interdependent and self-sustained community as an extension of the individual, their works are the perfect enactment of the Odal rune’s meaning.
Othala Rune Becoming A Hate Symbol
As it is mentioned, the Othala rune is strongly oriented towards honoring ancestral roots and valuing the ties between land and family. This rune, therefore, was not immune to traits of nationalist ideologies during the 20th century. As the historian Roger Griffin explains, most fascist movements carry a “myth of rebirth” and a “myth of decadence”.
In this case, the Nazi party in Germany huffed and puffed with Aryanism. This was an ideology based on the idea of “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil) or land entitlement of northern Europe to the German people. Light-skinned Germans were also considered to be the superior race of Nordic ancestry.
With Othala being interpreted often as a symbol of nobility and aristocracy, the rune was misappropriated by the Nazi military. It was used in two Waffen-SS divisions as well as in the Nazi puppet state that was Croatia following the split of Yugoslavia.
During the Cold War, a law was passed in the German Criminal Code (German Strafgesetzbuch) outlawing in section § 86a “symbols of unconstitutional organizations”. As the Odal rune had obtained the status of a hate symbol, its use was also banned.
The Odal rune also became the flag of the Neo-Nazi group “Wiking-Jugend”, which was outlawed in 1994. It was also used by the Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging, Boeremag, and Afrikaner Bond in South Africa. The Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging was the first Neo-Nazi group banned under the Apartheid regime following a massacre of black people in Pretoria.
The Boeremag are regarded as a white nationalist terrorist group, whose initial mobilization centered around re-instating a Boer-ruled nation that was prevalent in the 19th century.
The symbol is also used by the National Vanguard, which encompasses parties of the neo-Nazi and neo-fascist movement in Italy.
Odal Rune: Modern Interpretations
We should note that the Odal rune that was and is still exploited by far-right groups is usually illustrated with two serifs (feet). That is also the version that has been banned by the German penal code.
However, slightly altered forms of the rune have been depicted in literary works and pop culture. In the series Shadowhunters, you will notice that the rune “Angelic Power”, very similar to the Othala, constitutes one of the symbols that help shadowhunters fight the demons.
In Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and The Gods of Asgard series, the Elder Futhark runes are also present. Moreover, othala was the name of one of the planets colonized by Asgard in the TV series Stargate.
This wraps up our piece on the Othala rune, its meaning and origins. If you liked reading it, you will probably enjoy reading our extensive articles on viking symbols here.