Nordic Magic Healing:
runes, charms, incantations, and galdr

The Runes and Their Songs
by Yves Kodratoff

Pierre de Lancre (a famous French inquisitor of the early 1600s) said this about the magical ways of healing:

As for these not understood characters conceived in the Hieroglyphs, engraved in unknown letters; all the superstitions... draw us toward diabolic curiosities.

De Lancre’s writings suggest that it was the attraction to the so-called 'diabolic' that motivated the churches to ban the runes. By citing this inquisitor I want to show that even the opinion of a torturer like de Lancre can be informative. As a matter of fact, in the Middle Ages, the runes were no longer used with the respect they deserve. They had become simply a way to write secret or pseudo secret incantations or messages. The Odense lead tablet, for example, carries Latin words written in runes (e.g. "kristus uinkit kristus regnet kristus imperat" which means: "Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands"), among these words, the formula "agla" (in runes) is found, which is known for being the first letters of the Hebrew words "attah gibbor leolam adonai", meaning "thou art strong to all eternity, Lord." It is not an invocation to the power of the rune Hagla or Hagala as was the case in earlier inscriptions. At the other extreme, one finds runic inscriptions like the Bergen inscription (on a stick of wood, probably from the beginning of the 13th century) which can be translated as: "Jon of the silky cunt owns me, and Guttorm cunt-licker carved me, and Jon of the bumpy cunt reads me." What I want to show by citing these two examples is that the role of the runes became exactly what the Churches claimed it was, a misdirected use of power; a way to make oneself look powerful.

The fight for power can take subtle ways. For instance, I found it striking that so many hand healers, (and I have met many of them since I am also a Shiatsu practitioner), though their motivation is apparently very pure, are driven by an urge towards power, because it is obvious that they feel it is they who will heal; they are not humbly waiting for the patient to heal. In chapter 3, we shall see that one of the main principles of shamanic healing is that the Spirits heal, not the shamans, a point often largely underestimated by the shamans themselves.

This is why I am asking you to consider what is behind the churches' condemnation: a rejection of the evil use of the runes. Search your soul each time you use the runes, ask yourself if you are searching for power, even very little, over Nature or humans. Know that the search for power is the most dangerous path.

The Runes



Rune of cattle or livestock; of the primitive animal force; of wealth, with all the negative aspects of wealth, but also the internal wealth that is the best aid against distress. It is to be invoked each time a sense of "poverty" is felt, that is to say, of being devoid of strength, without energy. Fehu allows the rebuilding of internal strength.

Cognates: German, Vieh ('cattle') ; English, fee


Uruz is the rune of the aurochs, of fertility, of the primitive feminine force, of the strength of health. It is also the fertile rain that pours upon the earth from the world tree (this is my meaning, taken from a personal interpretation of the runic poems). As the rune of the primal force of fertility, Uruz permits the healing of illnesses sent by bad spirits. It is the rune of the healing shaman who, from the Siberian tales, has been created by the Gods in order to protect the people from bad spirits.

Cognates: German, Ur ('primordial', 'ancient') ; German, Auerochs ('aurochs')


Thurisaz, rune of the ‘Thurse’, the frost giants, the wild men, of the primitive strength and masculine violence. It becomes the rune of protection from sharp weapons for the medieval warrior. Thurisaz can harm women with its deadly magical powers, like in the tale of Briar Rose as she is sent into a deep sleep from the prick of a spindle (thorn). This meaning has been lost in the Viking runes where, traditionally, Thurisaz is associated with the God Thor, the God symbolizing the masculine force, without the wildness associated with the Giants. Using the ancient Futhark, I devote Thurisaz only to the Thurse, Giants, and not to Thor, their fierce enemy.

It is a rune that is generally dangerous for women. It represents brutal masculine strength. It should be used for a man (or for the masculine aspect of a woman) when there is an absence of energy. Use it with the greatest caution with women (or for the feminine aspect of a man).

Cognate: Thurse (in German and French) the name for giants of the frost, (and not cognate to Thor!). Runic inscriptions of the Viking Age (given in chapter 4 of the next volume) bear the name of Thor written as 'Thur' while the one of the Giants is 'Thurs'. This helps us understand why some confusion took place.


Ansuz is the rune of the Gods which is usually symbolized by Odin (that I personally symbolize by the couple Nerthus-Njörd).

It carries the most interesting features of Odin such that the Edda gives us, in particular, the purification that forms the detachment of one's tiny self. Ansuz evokes the Gods in so much as it evokes the Gods of poetry, of speech, and of liberation.
When the throat has a lump, when speech becomes difficult to hear, use Ansuz.
When we focus too much on our problems, when we need a breath of fresh air, use Ansuz.

Cognates: German and French, Ase (called Aesir in modern English taken directly from Old Norse), the name of the Norse Gods.


Rune of the shamanic journey.
The shamanic journey as it was practiced originally by the Saami, is a dangerous affair, to the point that it will make a man impotent. It is therefore a rune for women.

The female rider or a woman-mare is a recurring Celtic myth. This is why I advise Raido for women who are burdened by life, who need a new start. It is also useful for men that need to ride their own feminity, or to borrow from the feminity of their wives.
The shamanic journey and the rune Raido give the sorcerer's eye its power over the world.

Cognates: English, ride; German, Ritt ('ride')

Kaunan (or Kenaz)

Kaunan, the rune of rot and putrescence (and not only of fire), but also of our internal fire, symbolizing the life force. It is the symbol of the narrow relationship between life and death. The internal fire is that of Life, as the heat of the boil is that of infection.

It is the rune that allows for the healing of the ailments sent by an enemy and entails internal heat such as fever or parts of the body becoming putrid.

Related to the German Kien (torch), but its original meaning connects it to the idea of eruption, or chapping, which explains why Krause gives it the meaning of boil, ulcer ('Geschwur'). Moreover, the Old Norse name of this rune ('Kaun') means boil essentially, while it has taken the meaning of torch ('Cen') in Anglo-Saxon (also called Old English). Note that most people using the runes use it in the literal sense of 'torch, or fire', and not 'boil' or 'internal fire', as I do.


Gebo is the rune of giving, of sharing, of friendship and equal relationships between humans. You would only say it to someone who is truly very close to your heart. It is a rune that is very important for the prevention of illness. Nothing is better for your health than to love another person. It is also the rune of the love within the type of marriage that is always changing, it is therefore also advised for all psychological problems associated with solitude, and for trouble between partners.

Cognates: German, Gabe ('gift') ; English, to give


Wunjo is related to physical pleasures, to the happiness of a quiet life, and not to the sort of ecstatic bliss that the mystics speak of so highly. It is the rune of the joy of living with ease in one's body. I also associate Wunjo with the pleasures and delights of love.

Like Gebo, it does not apply to a specific illness, but it treats everything by its joy of life.
Don't we have the right to a bit of tranquil happiness in this world? seems to be what Wunjo is kindly asking, in my view of this rune.

Wunjo, bliss, was eliminated in the Viking Futhark as was Gebo.

Cognates: German, Wonne ('bliss', 'joy'); English, Wonder

Hagla (or Haglaz)

According to Norse mythology, Hagla is the material out of which the world was formed, and in which all life finds its source. Hagla is the shamanic rune par excellence because it allows survival from the flames. It is the rune of hail, of purity, of the cold, of whiteness, and of the mastery of fire.

It is also the rune of the shamans who come out purified from their contact with fire. Hagla is the rune that can fight against the serpents and the dragons that live inside us. As in the runic poems, the role of Hagla is to strike or attack these evil dragons.

Cognates: German, Hagel ('hail'); English, hail


Naudiz is linked with a sense of need, of necessity and shortage.
As the rune of necessity and fate, it represents therefore the power of the Norns. Its secondary power is to calm futile quarrels.
The acceptance of necessity and need, while submitting to the decisions of the Norns are characteristic of Germanic civilization.

This is not a healing rune, but a rune of acceptance. Knowing how to live with an illness, is one of the first wisdoms of healing, and it is Naudiz that helps in this area.

Cognates: German, Not ('necessity', 'need'); English, need


Isaz, as well as Thurisaz, Naudiz, and Hagla is associated with the cold and therefore with the creation of the world.

Ice is the bridge that links the world of the dead with the world of the living, and the poor soul of the departed is blind on this bridge, and needs a guide: the psychopomp shaman will take the soul to its new dwelling place. Isaz represents, therefore, the bridge on which we travel to arrive in the land of the dead. Its power is in immobility, calm, and vastness. It is the rune that prevents souls from getting lost and returning to haunt us.

Therefore, it is the rune that allows the healing of ailments caused by a ghost.

On the other hand, Isaz, just like Hagla, is associated with the cold and also with the fight against the fevers that come with infections. In the runic poem that we saw earlier, a wolf was accused, it could have also been a serpent (though in this case, Hagla would have more likely been used).

Cognates: German, Eis ('ice'); English, ice


Jeran, rune of the good year, of the abundant harvest, is associated with the God Frey. It is also the rune that prevents the safe return of enemies from a shamanic journey, but its translation into white magic aids in the safe return from such a voyage.

As the rune of the prosperity of the community, it is most appropriately used for the health of the entire community rather than for an individual.

Cognates: German, Jahr ('year'); English, year

Ihwaz (or Iwaz)

Ihwaz, rune of the yew, is the rune of Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse mythology; the rune of solitude, of the strength that we can depend upon.

The Edda tells us that this is the rune females can depend on to treat their illnesses and that it is the one of masculine strength.

The next volume will tell the story of how Lancelot killed Iweret, the man of the yew. The yew itself, as a powerful tree, was destroyed in our minds.
Because they stole the magical powers of women, and denied the existence of magical powers, men no longer need to depend on the "wife of another" (as says the Edda) to teach them magic. They gain therefore a great independence, and as the yew tree, from majestic and powerful, they become small bushes.

Ihwaz is precious for illnesses that are the result of an imbalance.

Cognates : German, Eibe ('yew'); English, yew; French if (and to the name, Yves, I am proud to say!)


The meaning of the word ‘pertho’ is still a mystery for scientific runologists, but for me, Pertho is saying: "hall of feminine magic". It is the rune of Frigg, symbolizing maternity, devotion to children, and the chthonic (coming from the earth) magic of primitive mothers often illustrated by the Disir.

Because of its open form, I see it as symbolizing the "open" woman, in other words, pregnant with child, but also full of knowledge.

It is the rune that carries all the force of a mother.

It is drawn "on the palm of the woman giving birth"; it is destined therefore also to help in giving birth. Tracing Pertho in the palm of the woman in labor will certainly not take away all the pain, but it will make her feel less alone, and it is a good way to communicate during labor. In any case, and although more mundane, it will be an excellent hand massage of the woman about to give birth.

Pertho, tragically, does not have a cognate in any modern language.

Algiz (or Ehlaz)

Algiz is the rune of the elk, certainly, but above all else, it is the rune of intellect. It is also the rune of stupidity and insanity, therefore it is also used as a protection against these two evils through intelligence and healthy spirits.

As opposed to most people, I do not use it as a rune of protection.

Both words "algiz" and "ehlaz" are cognate to the German Elch ("elk") and the English, elk. Some fancy etymology relating it to "protection" has been given by mystical users of the runes. I did not find the least trace of such a possibility in the works of the linguists.


Sowelo is the rune of the sun, and of a joyous victory. It seems to contain the beneficial aspects of the runes of Joy. In fact, we must note that an easy victory is also the one that brings the least experience, that will leave you unarmed against future serious enemies where an easy victory is never possible.

The sick need to conquer illness. Using Sowelo can help defeat illness without leaving any definitive traces. The price, however, is that the patient gains nothing.

Cognates: German, Sonne ('sun'); English, sun


Tiwaz is the rune of Tyr, God of the Sky, and of the victory obtained at great pain, just as Tyr defeated Fenris, the wolf, and in doing so, lost his hand. It is also the rune of the blacksmith who is capable of forging a new life.

Superficially, Tiwaz seems to be the negative counterpart of Sowelo: joyous victory carries negative aspects as we have already discussed, and the grievous victory, linked with Tiwaz, consequently carries wisdom, experience, and the courage to face one's fears.

As a medical rune, Tiwaz is obviously the one for victory over an illness that has been battled for a long time, the one therefore that requires some time to respond to, but that also carries a profound knowledge of a healthy body.

Tiwaz must be used when we are ready to make sacrifices in order to beat the illness.

Cognate: Tiw or Tyr, the name of the God (God of the Sky).


Experts agree that the birch, the tree with the most colorful leaves in the Norse forests, was the first sign of spring, and played an important role in Germanic fertility rituals. Therefore, there is a general tendency to attribute a role of feminine power to Berkanan. The association is more of feminine beauty than of her fertility in the runic poems.

Berkanan, the birch, is the rune of Freya, the free and independent mother, who no longer carries a child. Nevertheless, she knows how to use magic to protect her children.

It is the typical rune of protection for a woman who wants to be active and free.

The birch is the tree of the world for Siberians, so I see it as a feminine counterpart to Ihwaz. It is the feminine aspect of the tree of the world. In this sense, it is the rune for sick men who need to emphasize feminine power.

Cognates: English, birch; German, Birke ('birch'). The etymology also connects it to the meaning bright.


Ehwaz is the rune of the horse. The woman rider or the mare is such a recurring myth that it is also the rune of the mare.

The horse is also one of the animals that is most used for practicing shamanism, bringing the shaman into the spirit world on its back. This is the triple sense of Ehwaz: horse, female rider, and means of travel to the spirit world. We find some runic inscriptions containing 'ehw' that are certainly an invocation of one of these three forces.

The horse was dedicated to Frey: Ehwaz is certainly close to Frey, although the rune specifically associated with Frey is Jeran.

Cognate: Old Norse, Eh (horse). It seems that the root Ehw- and the word Eh have no derivatives in either English or German. They come from an Indo-European root *ekw- (horse) that has given equus in Latin and hippos in Greek. Thus, one can say that Ehwaz is related to French 'équestre', and to English 'equestrian', but, clearly, these words did not develop from proto-Germanic *Ehwaz.


Speech between individuals creates humanity like fire creates a blaze in passing from one tree to another. Mannaz, rune of humanity, of fraternity and of human activity, and therefore of communication between people, also represents the fragility and futility of man's destiny. It brings the knowledge of the Gods to humans.

It lets us fight against all the problems that arise from too much isolation, an absence of contact with other humans. In teaching us about the Gods, it also lets us fight the soul hardening due to our scientific vision of the universe.

Cognate: English, man and human; German, Mensch ('human').


Laukaz is the rune of the leek, garlic, onion, and all the roots with a burning taste. Contrary to what is often said, it is not the rune of water. The onion is a vegetable full of water and it has all the disinfecting properties of water. The Vikings made it the rune of water, and this is why I think, it expresses the vital, gushing strength that we find in water and in the God Thor.

Contrary to almost everyone else who links Thor with rune Thurisaz, I found many reasons in the texts (as explained in the next volume) to link Laukaz to Thor.

Laukaz protects against poisoning. It also contains some properties of conservation (the Norse embalmed with onions) that are linked to onions. It is the rune that conserves, preserves, dresses wounds, and prevents their infection.

Let Thor protect us!

Cognate: German, Lauch ('leek'); English, leek.

Under its Old Norse form (Lagu), it means 'water' and it is therefore related to the French, lac, (lake) (the word 'lac' comes from Latin, and is not directly related to Lagu), and therefore to English lake (which was borrowed from French).

Note that most people using the runes use the meaning 'water' and not 'leek', contrary to how I interpret it. Also, most associate Thor with Thurisaz and not Laukaz.


Ingwaz, rune of the God Ing is the rune of a journey toward primitive strength that will bring an abundance of good. I identify it with Njšrd (in opposition to almost everyone else who attributes it to Frey, his son). Njšrd brings needed wealth to those who implore him.

This rune is essentially used for recharging, or rediscovering your primitive energy.

It is cognate to the name of the God Ing.

Frey is often called "Ingvi Frey", as I do myself in chapter 4 of this volume. Ingvi is also a way to say 'king' in skaldic poetry. It seems therefore very straightforward to attribute Ingwaz to Ingvi Frey. My main argument against this attribution is that the rune Ingwaz disappeared from the Viking Futhark (it is found only in the Older, or Germanic, Futhark). Frey was one of the most important Viking Gods, I cannot imagine why the Vikings would have deleted His rune.


Dagaz is the rune of day, with all the meaning of the word. In Norse mythology, it precedes the sun, and it is the son of Night, a giantess. It contains, therefore, the continuation of all the terrors of the night, besides its qualities as a bringer of light. It could well be the rune of Hel (the Norse dwelling of these not dead in battle, that has nothing to do with the terrible hell of the christians) that prevents ghosts from returning to the world of the living.

As the rune of light, it freezes the demons and transforms them into stone. Therefore, it is the rune to invoke when we want to put some light on a problem. I am thinking, obviously, of all the problems locked away in what the psychoanalysts call the unconscious. Dagaz is the rune that chases away old demons.

Cognates: English, day; German, Tag ('day')

Othala (or Othila)

In Othala, rune of family property and linked to ancestors, I see the rune of the seidr. It can let a man practice a shamanic journey without losing his virility. Simultaneously, it honors homosexuals who accept the burden of becoming a shaman. Along with Berkanan, it is the rune of Loki, the God of half-man, half-woman.

Classically, Othala is associated with family property and not with the other roles that I have just described.

As the rune of seidr, it should not only be practiced by people in good health, but by people with extraordinary strength, those who benefit from a good balance between their diverse pulls, etc. It is not a rune to invoke at all when we are sick or weak.

Related, by a semantic link (as the etymology says), to German Erbbesitz ('inherited property') Heimat ('home'), and to English, home.

Sigrdrifa's Rune Songs

A very beautiful text in the poetic Edda, the Lay of Sigrdrifa, contains the runic teachings of the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa (equivalent to Brunhild in the German myths), as they were given to Sigurdr (Siegfried in German) after he had awakened her. This text describes nine songs which indicate the nine powers of the runes. They are the runes of Joy, Victory, Magic, Protection, Birth, Undertow, Branches, Speech and Spirit. The second volume, following this book, explains in detail exactly how I was able to attribute a song for each of the runes, by analyzing each of the songs with attention to the minutest detail as well as the material or place where each rune should be engraved, as the Lay of Sigrdrifa indicates.

Here are the attributions that I have recreated:
Runes of Joy
Jeran, Wunjo, Gebo.
Runes of Victory
Sowelo, Dagaz, Ehwaz.
Runes of Magic
Thurisaz, Othala, Naudiz, Algiz.
Runes of Protection
Laukaz, Fehu, Tiwaz.
Runes of Birth
Pertho, Berkanan.
Runes of Undertow
Ihwaz, Isaz.
Runes of Branches
Kaunan , Uruz.
Runes of Speech
Mannaz, Ansuz.
Runes of Spirit
Raido, Hagla, Ingwaz.
Six runes have a double attribution:
Thurisaz, a rune of Magic and Victory;
Ingwaz, a rune of Protection and Spirit;
Tiwaz is a rune of Victory and Protection;
Hagla is of both Spirit and Magic;
Isaz, a rune of Undertow and Protection;
Algiz is a rune of Magic and Branches.

At the end of Chapter 1, Yves has included an appendix that discusses all the evidence that exists concerning the use of the runes for divination. Follow the link below to decide for yourself.

Runes and Divination

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