With this article, the journey through the Elder Futhark I began four or five years ago draws close to its end. The last article will be a wrap-up article with suggestions for further study, as well as a bit of information on the Anglo-Frisian additions to the Elder Futhark and brief comments on the Viking Younger Futhark.
But on to Othala, which in the eastern areas of the proto-Germanic-speaking area was evidently pronounced Othila. This is the “O” rune. It did not carry over into the Younger Futhark, so Ur(uz) did double-duty. Nevertheless, the Scandinavian languages still kept the word. Othala became Ethel in the Anglo-Saxon Futhork (note the A-rune became a rune representing the O-sound). In Norse the word became Odal or Udal(l). Remember Mo Udall, a longtime US Senator of Norwegian descent?
The Old English Rune Poem covers the main themes of this rune very well. Inherited land, which is what this rune basically means, is dear to most people even today. Folks can there enjoy “what is right according to custom” (land isn’t all we inherit from our families; we inherit customs, culture, etc. as well), “most often in prosperity.” Until not very recently, most folks were farmers. Inherited land was what they depended on to make a living. In Scandinavian areas, one child (normally the oldest surviving son) inherited the land. Brothers could stay and work for him, but often there were not enough resources for them to marry. The alternative to a career as an eccentric and frustrated bachelor uncle in the old days was to go a-Viking. Later, it was to emigrate to places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas, or to enter the merchant marine. Scandinavia had a population problem over a millennium ago!
Othala’s magickal and divinatory meanings include home, land, houses, permanence, possession, heritage, the past, buildings, places, security, ancestry, inheritance, tradition, things of a fixed and unchanging nature, and ownership. Steadfastness, endurance, and eternality fall under the aegis of this rune. Othala is immovable property, as a general rule. Moveable goods fall under Fehu.
It took 60 years for property to become Odal land. Even if then sold, the original family had the right to buy it back for a further 60 years. My brother owns land that has been in our family over 200 years. I wasn’t pleased my grandfather sold some of it, even though for economic and social reasons I doubt I’ll ever live in that area again and my brother has no interest in farming or gardening, which is what the land was good for.
It is not only land that we inherit from our forebears. We, of course, inherit our genes from them. This inarguable fact has unfortunately, among some contemporary Heathens, devolved into pseudo-scientific “meta-genetics,” implying that different ethnic groups behave as they do for inherited, not cultural reasons. This can get real ugly real quick. Remember that not so very long ago, otherwise intelligent and well-educated people believed that people of European descent were inherently smarter and more self-disciplined than African-Americans but less musical and sexual. Served as a handy-dandy excuse for white folks running things and running rough-shod over others in the process. I am told that Othala was the emblem of the Dutch Nazis and that today, among racist Skinheads (not all Skinheads are racists, by the way), Othala stands for putting an end to "race mixing." "Metagenetics" doesn't make much sense either. I've heard that "love of liberty" is a genetic or metagenetic trait of the Germanic peoples. It's true that early Scandinavians had tendencies toward democracy. It is equally true that the Scandinavian countries had horrid absolute monarchies for centuries! These are cultural traits, not (meta)genetic ones.
I read a specifically Heathen example in an article on runic healing. It began with the words “Runic healing should be attempted by a person of Northern European descent.” Poppycock. Quoth Jordsvin, “Runic healing should be attempted by an individual skilled both in runework and magickal healing techniques." If nothing else, I truly believe that my rune articles have at least embodied plain common sense, which it seems is often NOT so common.
While some personality traits are highly inheritable, these traits occur in all human populations and there is no evidence at all that any are more widespread in one human group than another. Culture is learned behavior. Send a baby from Nigeria to be raised in Iceland as an Icelander and s/he’ll talk and think like the Icelander that baby will have become. Please note that I am NOT denying a belief in Hammingja and/or Fylgia being passed on though the family line. But I digress.
Still, our ancestry, both biological and cultural, is a powerful force. Families, cities, and even nations have a collective Wyrd, in which the constituent Wyrds participate. Usually these go together, since most folks are raised by their biological kin. When people move from one country to another, the influence of the “Old Country” can remain for generations. When individuals are the product of parents from different ethnic/cultural groups, sometimes an offspring will lean toward or identify with one side, sometimes the other, sometimes both, and sometimes neither!
In addition to our genes and family cultural ideas, we usually inherit from our family our religious and political persuasions. Obviously, this does not always hold true, or I’d still be a “good Christian” and you’d most likely be reading the Bible instead of this thoroughly Heathen rune article!
Heritage is something which was always yours, and shall always belong to you. It is intrinsically yours whether you recognize it or not. Othala is a gift you never need ask for; it was yours even before birth. The Sheils suggest this meditation to help understand this on an intuitive as well as on an intellectual level: Journey or merely imagine yourself standing in a forest clearing. Once you are fully there, perceiving it with all your senses, turn around and look. A path lined with huge ancient trees lies behind you. On one side stand your ancestors, fading back to the very beginning. On the other side are the persons you have been in previous births. In both cases, you may be surprised, but they are yours, whether you want them or not. Then turn back around and look ahead. On one side stand your descendants. If you don’t think you’ll have them, you may still see relatives yet unborn. On the other side stand your future selves. Hopefully, your Wyrd, and that of your family, are evolving in a positive direction. If not, what can you do to alter the flow of Wyrd. You can act. You can make changes. Odin certainly did, and we follow in his footsteps! The Sheils remark that fifteen minutes of this at a setting, or at most a bit more, is enough. While they do not label this as such, this working reeks of Seidhr, which I can assure you can be tiring, especially at first.
Please note that Heathens who do not believe in reincarnation per se still tend to believe that there is within them something that goes back further than the conscious self, and that they will continue after death in some form whether or not they return to Midgard. Thus, the meditation can still have meaning. As always, be aware that everything has come through a human filter, and a not very objective one at that, and evaluate the information accordingly. What you get will not always be completely accurate or literally true, but it should be of real use to you!
On a different note, having someone drum for you and/or talk you through the meditation can be a good idea, especially if this kind of working is new to you. While generally a positive experience, you may run into difficult or disturbing imagery while looking in either direction. The guide can help plant the suggestion in you that you will retain a degree of emotional detachment in such instances and can help you ground yourself afterward and help you discuss and evaluate what you have experienced when you are ready. A pinch of salt, a glass of cool water, and a few minutes later a light snack can help too.
While Othala is normally a very “positive” rune, obviously nasty things can come down the family line too. Think of genes for insanity and families with a “tradition” of sexually abusing children. Still, like the Stars, genes, family patterns and even family Wyrd may well incline, but they do NOT compel. Being the child of abusive parents increases your likelihood of being one too, but it is no excuse. Some traditions need to stop, even if it means breaking the chain of transmission by opting not to have descendants!
Othala enters into real estate deals of all sort. Anything permanent and enduring partakes of Othala. This includes tradition and history. Othala does not aid change. It is, like elemental Earth, something which conserves things as they are. Many times, Othala is involved in an individual’s spiritual search. Many of us found Germanic Heathenism/Asatru looking for our family’s distant historical roots. I have no problem with that. What DOES bother me is that some folks think this is the ONLY valid factor in choosing a Pagan religion!
On a more individual, internal level, we all have something within us that is enduring, even though multiple deaths and rebirths. This aspect of Othala includes all that is best in the human condition. Think of courage, justice, honesty, love, beauty, determination, and wisdom. These traits are inherent in the human condition and will be admired in men and women as long as the Earth, Sun, Moon and Stars endure. There is much that is ill as well, even if we don’t believe in Original Sin or that we are part of a “fallen” Universe. Ours is an evolutionary religion. We keep working to grow and evolve, to pass on to our physical, intellectual and spiritual descendants an improved version of the Othala given to us.
Many old-time Heathens believed in rebirth or reincarnation in the family line. Certainly this happens sometimes. This deep, inner self can be seen as a bit of Yggdrasil within each of us. Yggdrasil is which endures, even when the Worlds themselves have fallen! To contact this unchanging Axis within is to move toward inner peace. Perhaps this is how Allfather endures and continues working, even knowing that he himself must change over time and even face Ragnarok!
Othala is that which is yours by unchallenged right. You can see why many folks are very worried that the day will soon come when the individual’s genome/genetic heritage can be decoded. One’s basic human rights are yours by Othala. One’s citizenship is normally determined by place of birth and/or parents’ nationality/ies and thus partakes of Othala as well.
Othala can be used to gain things under your control. This applies only to what you may legally and ethically possess. You should not try to steal other people’s property or control others. The damage to one’s Wyrd can be severe.
This rune can stabilize and make secure. Its key terms are heritage and possession. It represents that which endures in a changing world. By proper use of Othala, you can build a sound, prosperous future even if your own and/or your family’s Othala are less than sound. Do not give up, and let whatever you have seen help you to move forward with hope and courage. To paraphrase an Old English poem, "that (bad thing) passed away, this too will as well."
While it is important to move forward, the anchor of Othala is still needed. Heritage (Othala) and innovation or evolution (Ansuz, which while referring to the Gods in general has a particular relationship with Odin) must remain in balance. May your ongoing runic studies bring great and growing good into your life!
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson (for the translations of the Rune Poems).
The Road to Bifrost volume III: the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor and Audrey Sheil.
last modified 08/11/2004