Talk:Alu (runic)

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Ideas for Research and Expansion[edit]


Let's identify the monuments related to this word, along with their estimated dates. (According to Simek (1995) there should be more than 20.) We should be able to build up a section listing these and any related information from the literature. If you know of monuments, please add them to the list below for further research.

According to Simek (2003), the monument inventory for this word should look something like this:

  • 13 Bracteates
  • 2 Amulettes
  • 3 Stones
  • 5 Assorted

Let's find them all, if possible. —Aryaman (Enlist!) 21:04, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

  • Bjørnerud Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Börringe Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives 7 readings with bibliographical material.
  • Danmark III Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Darum Bracteate V: The Kiel Databank gives 4 readings with bibliographical material.
  • Djupbrunns I Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Faxe Bracteate (?): The Kiel Databank gives 4 readings, only 2 of which, however, have alu (repositioning: lau); incl. bibliographical material.
  • Fyn I Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Heide Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Hjørlunde Mark Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Kellersmose Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives 8 readings.
  • Kläggeröd Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • Lellinge Bracteate (?): The Kiel Databank gives 7 readings, only 1 of which (Krause 1966), however, has alu; incl. bibliographical material.
  • Skrydstrup Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives 2 readings with good bibliographical material. Interesting in that it also contains that 'other' charm-word, laukaʀ.
  • Skåne Bracteate I: The Kiel Databank gives 8 readings with bibliographical material.
  • Ølst Bracteate: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • ...
  • Eggjum Stone II (?): The Kiel Databank gives 8 readings, only 4 of which, however, have alu; incl. bibliographical material.
  • Elgesem Stone: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription. The interpretation as given is also interesting, but needs to be specifically sourced, IMO. An image of the stone (with inscription) can be found here.
  • Kinneve Stone (Fragment): The Kiel Databank gives 7 readings with bibliographical material.
  • Årstad Stone: The Kiel Databank gives a good bibliography on this inscription.
  • ...
  • Fosse Bronze Plate: The Kiel Databank gives 6 readings with bibliographical material.
  • Körlin Ring: The Kiel Databank gives 3 readings with bibliographical material. Apparently this inscription is in the form of a bind- or branch-rune.
  • Nydam Arrow-shaft I (?): The Kiel Databank gives 4 readings, one of which has alu (repositioning: lua); good bibliography for the relevant reading.
  • Nydam Axe-Handle (DR MS1995;341): The Kiel Databank gives 6 readings with bibliographical material. I found this browsing through Chapter 4 of Looijenga's dissertation.
  • Setre Comb: The Kiel Databank gives 7 readings with bibliographical material. A really interesting object and inscription combination, apparently mentioning Nanna.
  • Vaerlose Fibula (?): The Kiel Databank gives 9 readings, though a minority seem to have alu; incl. bibliographical material.
  • ...

This is a good way of expanding this article - we could easily include all known inscriptions containing the term here. Rundata can be used to pull most of these inscriptions and I will do so in the future unless someone beats me to it. :bloodofox: (talk) 20:38, 29 April 2008 (UTC)
I've added quite a few, though some seem questionable. More research is definately needed, and your results from Rundata would be very useful. Also, we should start collecting dates for these. Aryaman (Enlist!) 01:04, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Great job. Some of these things that are so commonly discussed - like the Lindholm "amulet" - really need their own pages as they'll be referred to outside of this context as well and so much information can be "dug up" (ho-ho) about them. It seems also that I somehow got the wrong Rundata numbers for the stones that were found - I'll get around to fixing that. Thanks to Berig for catching it! :bloodofox: (talk) 21:59, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Relevant Work[edit]

As it is often more efficient to leave the jobs of wording and formatting refs and quotes, etc. in the hands of a dedicated few, please leave material (citations or quotes) worthy of inclusion below, headed by author and year. Be sure to leave full citations.

Polomé (1995)[edit]

" the same magico-religious domain, one could also mention the connection between the Runic term alu used as an apotropaic and protective formula on the Migration Age Germanic bracteates and the Hittite adjective alwanza- 'affected by witchcraft'. I suggested this etymological link almost four decades ago, but I was wrong then in considering Hitt. -anza- as reflecting an Indo-European participial derivation in *-ont- from a verbal stem *alw-, which triggered Erich Neu's justified criticism of my proposed etymological connection. However, a strong case can be made for considering that the Runic term alu places a magic spell on the relevant bracteate, insuring its protective potency, and that it therefore belongs to the same magico-religious domain as the Hittite adjective. The same common semantic denominator "magic spell" would also account for the meanings of the related Greek verb alúõ 'be beside oneself' and Latvian aluôt 'be distraught', and since Gk. alúo reflects an underlying "alúsyō (cf. alusmós 'anguish'), it is possible to derive a verbal adjective *alus-no- 'possessed, distraught' from its stem: with metathesis of *-sn- (as in the Hittite tree-name alanza- < *alansa- < *alṇso- < *al(-i)s-no- [= Lat. alnus, Lith. alksnis (with epenthetic -k- in the -lsn- cluster) 'alder']), this yielded Hitt. alw- anza- as Jaan Puhvel has convincingly shown (1984:41). Although some might however wonder in which kind of context one can claim the existence of such archaic Germano-Anatolian correspondences, they should be integrated in the complex of striking parallels between Germanic and Hittite, for example, in the structure of their verbal systems. (pg. 248)

  • Source: Polomé, Edgar C (1995). "Diachronic stratification of the Germanic vocabulary" in Insights in Germanic Linguistics (Ed.: Rauch, Irmengard). de Gruyter: Berlin, New York. ISBN: 3-110-14359-3. pp. 244-264.

Simek (1995)[edit]

"alu ist ein runisches Zauberwort, das in über 20 Belegen aus dem 3. bis zum 8. Jh. in Runeninschriften vorkommt. Einige Male, vor allem auf Brakteaten, steht alu alleine, sonst in Verbindung mit Namen, mit Begriffsrunen und anderen Zauberwörtern (laþu, laukaʀ). Mit alu sind möglicherweise auch die ölrúnar ("Bier-Runen") der eddischen Sd [Sigrdrifumál] (7 u. 19) gemeint, wobei erst der Dichter die Angleichung an öl "Bier" durchführte, um eine dem Sprachgebrauch seiner Zeit zu entsprechende Sinngebung zu erreichen. Krauses Deutung von alu aus einem älterem aluh, das mit got. alhs "Temple" verwandt sein soll, als "Amulett, Tabu" wird heute angefochten, und eine Verbindung mit hethitisch alwanzahh "bezaubern", griech. alúein "ausser sich sein", altnord. öl "Bier" vorgezogen, die für alu eine Grundbedeutung "Ekstase; Zauber" nahelegt."

  • Source: Simek, Rudolf (1995). Lexikon der germanischen Mythologie, 2., Auflage. Stuttgart: Kröner 1995. ISBN:3-520-36802-1. pp. 16-17.

Note: If anyone has the English version of this work, then please feel free to replace the above accordingly. If not, I could provide a provisional English translation for citation purposes. Aryaman (Enlist!) 21:42, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

Looijenga (1997)[edit]

"Some words like laukaz ‘leek', alu ‘ale', laþu ‘invitation’ on bracteates may point to the use of intoxicating herbs and drinks, possibly in connection with a cult." (pg. 16)

"Remarkable is the use of four, probably formulaic, words: alu, laþu, laukaz and auja, the use of which, according to Andrén (1991:256) might have been inspired by four frequently repeated words or abbreviations on Roman medallions: dominus noster, pius, felix, augustus. The Germanic words are no translation of the Latin, but may reflect an adaption of an ideological concept, in the sense of a ‘cult of the ruler'. The four Germanic words mean, respectively, ‘ale', ‘invitation', ‘leek, chives, garlic’ and ‘good luck'. Pius points to ‘correct behaviour towards gods and men’ and this concept may have been taken over by alu; felix means ‘happy’ and this may be echoed by the term auja, signifying a desirable quality or condition. Dominus is a general word for a person with power and might be connected with laþu, because laþu refers to some act - an invitation to take part in the ruler's (Augustus) cult? Most bracteates with alu, laukaz etc. on them have been found in Denmark, further on in Skåne, Gotland and around the Oslofjord." (pg. 26)

"The literal meaning of the word alu is ‘ale', but its meaning or function in runic texts, and its occurrence, especially on bracteates, is enigmatic. The interpretations run from ‘magic’ via ‘extasy’ to ‘intoxicating drink'. A connection of alu with IE *alu- ‘bitter’ and the mineral alum cannot be excluded, although this has been disputed by Høst Heyerdahl (1981) and Polomé (1996). The mineral was used as a medicine, as a prophylactic and as an amulet in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages (cf. Saltveit 1991:139, 141). Besides, alum is found in Scandinavia, and might have served as precious merchandise. Just as laukaz ‘garlic, leek’ will have been of interest because of the smell, alu may have derived its importance from the taste, according to Saltveit. Since both words (also) denote an antidote or a medicine, this might be a reason for their occurrence on bracteates = amulets (Saltveit 1991:140). Recently, Polomé (1996:103) returned to his former (and later abandoned) statement that alu can be linked to Hittite *aluwanza- ‘affected by sorcery'; stating that "the comparison of Run. alu with Hitt. *aluwanza- remains apparently a valid Anatolian-Germanic isogloss in the archaic magico-religious vocabulary". It does not seem unlikely to relate ‘affected by sorcery’ with an ecstatic state of mind, caused by drinking beer or ale.

The ELGESEM rune stone (Norway) bears only one word: alu. The stone was found in 1870 at a site which contained a large boat-shaped stone setting and 18 mounds. The stone was dug up from a mound with the inscription face down (Haavaldsen 1991:8). Later several graves were discovered in the same area, according to Haavaldsen. Antonsen (1984:334f.) considers it a cultstone, marking the cultplace; according to him alu does not only mean ‘ale’ but also depicts the situation of a person in trance, perhaps as the result of drinking beer. On amulets alu may refer to religious activities, initiation rites or a death-cult (see below), or symbolize the transitory state between the world of the living and the dead. Finally, ale may have been the liquid used for libations.

Objects with alu have been found on the Danish Isles, in Jutland, Gotland, Skåne and South Norway. Objects found outside that particular area are the Heide-bracteate, from the westcoast of Schleswig-Holstein, and two bracteates with alu from Donaueschingen (Black Forest, Germany). Finally alu is stamped mirror-wise in the clay surface of the three Spong Hill urns from East Anglia in England. These are cremation urns, dated fifth or sixth c., e.g. they were manufactured in the bracteate period. The occurrence of alu in both Schleswig- Holstein and East Anglia need not come as a surprise in the light of the adventus Saxonum to Britain in the 5th c.

As has been suggested, there may be a connection between alu and death. Deceased people were often given drinking vessels, such as Roman glassware, in their graves to symbolize their partaking at the eternal feast (Van Es 1994b:68). The word alu may have been used to replace or symbolize a missing drinking vessel. Ale was used in ritual toasting to confirm a (new) situation, e.g. when a person had died and his heirs had come to drink erfiøl ‘gravebeer'. Markey (1972) associates fire and ritual in a grove or temple with the goddess Freya. Werner (1988) suggests that bracteate-deposits may have been part of a fertility cult. Either way, some sacred cult - a fertility cult or a cult of the dead, or a combination of both - may have been involved.

A sacred and profane use of ale can be regarded complementary. The drinking of ale may have played a role during rites, such as the communication with spirits or gods. Enigmatic is the word ealuscierwen in the Old English heroic poem Beowulf, line 769. It may mean ‘mortal fear', but ‘robbing of beer’ or ‘distribution of beer’ are possible translations, too (cf. 112 Lehmann 1992:365ff.). This word concerns the state of mind of the warriors of the hall of Heorot, when they witness Beowulf's struggle with Grendel. There is a serious threat of losing Beowulf, their final hope. About the ritual connotation of ‘beer', cf. Høst Heyerdahl (1981:35-49), Grønvik 1987:135-143), Düwel in IK I, Text, p. 54, and Seebold (1994a:63). In my opinion, the meaning of runic alu in a cult context can perhaps be understood in connection with the so-called ‘ale-runes': the Eddic ǫl-rúnar in Sigrdrífomál 7 and 19. I suppose ǫl-rúnar should not be translated literally with ‘ale-runes'. I think the Eddic verse refers to the actual writing in runes of the formulaic word alu. Writing in itself may have been considered a magical act. The combined use of written charm and magical medicine is well-known from the antique and later medieval sources (see Gladigow 1992:12-31).

Bracteates with alu, also shortened, are found in Norway, Skåne, Denmark, Gotland, Schleswig-Holstein. They are: Bjørnerud-A (IK 24), Börringe-C (IK 26), Darum (V)-C (IK 43), Djupbrunns-C (IK 44), Fünen (I)-C (IK 58), Heide-B (IK 74), Hjörlunde Mark-C (IK 78), Kjellers Mose-C (IK 289), Kläggerod-C (IK 97), Lellinge-Kohave-B (IK 105), Maglemose (III)-C (IK 300), Ølst-C (IK 135), Skrydstrup-B (IK 166), UFO-B (IK 149,2), Schonen (I)-B (IK 149,2)." (pp. 111-112)

Looijenga (1999)[edit]

"alu in the meaning 'ale' does not seem very satisfying, neither on a bracteate nor on a rune-stone (Elgesem, only one word: alu). Antonsen (1984:335) considerers Elgesem to be a Kultstein. Alu may be taken as a cult-word and ale was used as a medium to establish a condition of ecstasy in connection with a certain cult. Alu would indicate the very condition of ecstasy. Alu on amulets (such as bracteates are) may have a bearing on initiation to the cult." (pg. 98)

Simek (2003)[edit]

"Das häufigste auftretende runische Zauberwort ist aber alu, welches sich auf Amuletten, Ringen und vor allem Brakteaten findet und aus dem gesamten Zeitraum des älteren Fuþark zwischen dem 2. und 8. Jh. belegt ist. Hatte man früher eher eine Verbindung mit gotisch alhs ("Tempel") und somit eine Bedeutung wie "Tabu; Amulett" sehen wollen, so wird heute allgemein die etymologische Verwandtschaft mit altnordisch ǫl ("Bier"), griechisch alúein ("ausser sich sein") hervorgehoben, die auf eine Bedeutung "Trance; Ekstase; Zauber" hinweist und damit wohl in erster Linie die magische Aktivität eines Gegenstandes beschwört. Als reine Umstellung von alu, die magisch-verschlüsselnd sein mag, hat man Formen wie lua (auf dem Pfeilschaft aus dem Moorfund von Nydam, 3.-5. Jh.) und vielleicht auch lau (B-Brakteat von Faxe) angesehen."

  • Source: Simek, Rudolf (2003). Religion und Mythologie der Germanen. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 2003. ISBN: 3-8062-1821-8. pg 222.

Note: If anyone has an English version of this work, then please feel free to replace the above accordingly. If not, I could provide a provisional English translation for citation purposes. Also, please note that between 1995 and 2003, Simek pushes the date back 100 years to the 2nd century. If anyone knows of a discovery made around that time, please do note it above (see Monuments). Aryaman (Enlist!) 21:42, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

Sorry about the delay - I've just now remembered this. According to the 2007 English edition:
alu. A magical runic word which occurs over 20 times in runic inscriptions from the 3rd to 8th centuries. Sometimes, especially on bracteates, alu stands alone, but otherwise it is used in connection with names, with concept runes and other magical words (laþu, laukuR).
Alu is possibly what is meant by ǫlrúnar ('beer-runes') in the Eddic Sigrdrífumál (7 and 19). The poet of the Sigrdrífumál first assumed the connection to ǫl (beer) in order to achieve an interpretation corresponding to the contemporary language usage.
Krause's interpretation that alu comes from an older aluh, which he supposed to be related to Gothic alhs 'temple', as 'amulet, taboo', is disputed nowadays and a connection with Hethitic alwanzahh 'to charm', Greek alúein 'to be beside one's self', Old Norse ǫl 'beer' is preferred. This suggests that alu had a basic meaning of 'ecstacy, magic'. (Simek (2007:12).)
And there you have it. The entry is followed by an entry proposing a connection between alu and the Matrone Alusneihae. :bloodofox: (talk) 05:24, 29 July 2008 (UTC)
The entry for Geirǫnul (and variants, page 102-103) also points to a possible connection between alu and the variant name Geirǫlul. :bloodofox: (talk) 06:43, 29 July 2008 (UTC)


I was wondering if others thought it would be warranted to add "Germanic" to the lead? I.e.:

"Alu is a Germanic charm word appearing on numerous runic inscriptions found in Central and Northern Europe dating from between 200 and 800 CE."

Or something like that. As it stands, the text fails to establish proper context, IMO. I think we could add "Germanic" without specifying due to the distribution of finds. —Aryaman (talk) 00:57, 22 May 2008 (UTC)

Sure, I don't see why not. Feel free. :bloodofox: (talk) 01:34, 22 May 2008 (UTC)

Etymology and theories[edit]

Alright, currently the etymology section is located above the "theories" section, and the two overlap in terms of etymology, theories and interpretations. Should the etymology section be a sub-section of theories, because it is not certain? Of course, in many articles where the etymology is not a 100% certain, it is not treated in that way - but in this particular case the etymology constitutes for a great deal of the article, because finding the base of the word will lead to better accuracy when specifying the concept of the term and so on.

I think the best way to deal with all the speculation of the scholars is to handle one thing at the time, i.e. etymology, and then theories of usage/properties/associated concepts and so on.

The theories section is, after all, the most important section, because it should give an overview of the general coverage of the concept by the scholars. To some the lead section may be enough, but when you are actively looking for something as obscure as alu you definitely have specialist interest, and it is very likely that you have some foreknowledge, and that you are willing to read a few paragraphs to be enlightened.

I do not think the theories section covers everything it should, there are still some loose ends that one may encounter in other sources that attribute the word completely different meanings (like the Kinneve stone inscription; related to a death cult?). — Just some thoughts. –Holt TC 19:35, 22 May 2008 (UTC)

I agree that both sections need to be worked over a few more times. The Etymology section is doing pretty good ATM, despite the overlap. Regarding that overlap, I would suggest moving the Thorsson/Flowers ref up to the end of the first or second sentence of Etymology, and noting his quoted comments in the footnote itself rather than in the article body. I would say the information I posted regarding Andrén's theory (referenced in Looijenga and a few other places) is worth a mention under Theories (which I would rename to "Interpretation"). This from Lehmann might also be worth looking into. As far as the section as a whole goes, we are looking for credible theories regarding the meaning of alu in (1) the context of the kinds of artefacts upon which it is found, and (2) the wider context of Germanic paganism. This may be magical, ritual, festive, etc. We need to do more research here. In lieu of making a trip to the library (which I plan on doing sometime in the next week or so anyway), I have tapped my resources for the time being. —Aryaman (talk) 20:20, 22 May 2008 (UTC)

Start class???[edit]

Hmm. If this is start class, what does a fully developed article look like? :-) Jon kare (talk) 10:58, 19 February 2010 (UTC)

Woops, updated! :bloodofox: (talk) 14:24, 19 February 2010 (UTC)

Slight error in the picture of Alu[edit]

The article on Elder Futhark says that runic letters don't have a curve in them, yet the third character (Uruz)does. Can someone please fix the discrepancy? Thanks, GoogolplexForce (talk) 20:50, 19 February 2011 (UTC)