Odal Rune (Othala) Meaning and Symbolism
The Odal rune, which is also sometimes referred to as Othala, got its start as a letter in the Old Norse alphabet. Like other such letters, which are known as runes, it is also used in divination.
The meaning of the Odal rune in divination has to do with one’s home or homeland. Unfortunately, that meaning was taken in a very destructive direction by the Nazis, whose idea of making their homeland what they wanted it to be involved brutally killing millions of people.
Since then, related groups focused on racial purity have also adopted that use of Odal rune symbolism. These negative associations have given the Odal rune a bad reputation, and the symbol should therefore be approached with sensitivity to that in mind.
Here is a quick answer if you need one.
The Odal rune, also known as Othala, represents inheritance and legacy. It can be used in divination to answer questions like Tarot cards. The Odal rune was associated with one’s home and homeland. Then it used to be a symbol of hate when the Nazis adopted it and similar symbols as part of their attempt to reconstruct their mythic Aryan past.
Origins of the Odal Rune
The Odal rune was one of the 24 letters in the Old Norse alphabet. This alphabet was called the Elder Futhark. Its characters are now included in Unicode’s Runic alphabet.
Around the late 700s, the futhark was shortened to the 16 runes, or letters, of the Younger Futhark, according to OldNorse.org. The Younger Futhark focused on simple letters that were easy to carve, as each letter was based on variations of a central vertical line. The Odal rune, lacking this feature, did not make the cut for inclusion in the Younger Futhark.
While the runes served as letters that formed words, each rune also had meaning by itself. Long poems with a stanza devoted to each rune helped people remember the meanings.
The passage of The Rune Poem, as translated by Aaron Hostetter, regarding the Odal rune states:
A homeland is very dear to every man,
if there he may enjoy in his household
what is right and fitting, very often with its fruits.
As described further at Old English Poetry in Facsimile, this poem was likely written between the 8th Century and the 10th Century.
How the Odal Rune Got Negative Associations
Leading up to and during World War II, the Nazi party in Germany was obsessed with finding the roots of the supposed Aryan race, which they believed to be superior to other races. As reported by the BBC, their efforts took them as far as Tibet, where they attempted to find the descendants of the survivors of Atlantis.
The Nazis’ explorations into history also happened closer to home. The Anti-Defamation League reports that the Nazis adopted the Odal rune and similar symbols as part of their attempt to reconstruct their mythic Aryan past.
The Odal rune was then used on the insignia of two of the Nazis’ Waffen-SS divisions during World War II. Flags of the World notes that the Odal rune flag was also used by ethnic Germans living in other countries such as Yugoslavia at that time.
Odal is not the only rune that has been used in this way. As shown on Flags of the World, flags associated with the Nazis and related groups have also used other runes such as Tiwaz (Tyr).
After World War II, Germany banned the display of symbols associated with the Nazis such as swastikas and the runes that the Nazis had appropriated, including the Odal rune. Deutsche Welle reports that this ban is enforced so strongly that, until 2018, even a video game about fighting against Nazis had to remove the swastikas in the version approved for use in Germany.
Meanwhile, white supremacist groups in Europe, North America, and elsewhere began to incorporate the Odal rune in their imagery. Those like the Anti-Defamation League who work to stop white supremacist groups therefore keep an eye out for the Odal rune on tattoos, banners, and the like, as that can be a sign of trouble.
However, the Anti-Defamation League notes that, “the symbol can also be found in non-extremist contexts as well, especially runic writing and runestones used by non-racist pagans. Consequently, care should be taken to evaluate the symbol in the context in which it appears.”
A letter in the Eugene Weekly by Kate Winter about this controversy over the Odal rune states, “The runes are now used, and considered sacred, by many practitioners of Heathenry, Asatru and other modern pagan and polytheist religious traditions — the vast majority of which are vehemently opposed to all forms of racism both in their spiritual communities and beyond, and are devastated at the recent increase in usage of Othala by neo-Nazis. … It is horrible to have your spiritual symbols twisted into a tool of hate.”
Use of Odal Rune in Divination
Runes can be used in divination in a way similar to Tarot cards. Each of the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark is carved into a piece of wood or stone, and then the user draws at least one to answer their question. As shown on Two Wander, rune stones can also be used in more complex spreads like those used with Tarot cards.
Two Wander reports that the Odal rune, also known as Othala, represents inheritance and legacy.
If you are troubled by the negative cultural associations of the Odal rune, receiving Othala in a rune reading could be a challenge similar to drawing some of the more difficult cards in the Tarot deck, like Death or The Devil. While pulling a controversial card or rune might be shocking for you, remember that it just represents a particular kind of energy that is active in your life, and you can use your free will to choose how you direct that energy.
In the case of Othala, you can look at both the good and the bad of any inheritance or legacy that you have received. While you may acknowledge that you benefit from having a family that is wealthy or close-knit, you might also look at whether family unity comes with uncomfortable costs for you, or whether the advantages you receive from your family have come at anyone else’s expense.
The symbol of the Odal rune should not be used carelessly, due to the unfortunate associations that the Nazis and related groups have given it. However, it is also necessary to remember that the Odal rune has a history extending long before the Nazis or any of their admirers existed, and that not all uses of the Odal rune are malicious.