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NameProto-GermanicOld English
"heritage, estate"
ShapeElder FutharkFuthorc
Transcriptiono, ōœ, oe, ōe
IPA[o(ː)][eː], [ø(ː)]
Position in
23 or 24

Othala (), also known as ēðel and odal, is a rune that represents the o and œ phonemes in the Elder Futhark and the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc writing systems respectively. Its name is derived from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic *ōþala- "heritage; inheritance, inherited estate". As it does not occur in Younger Futhark, it disappears from the Scandinavian record around the 8th century, however its usage continued in England into the 11th century, where it was sometimes further used in manuscripts as a shorthand for the word ēðel ("homeland"), similar to how other runes were sometimes used at the time.

As with other symbols used historically in Europe such as the swastika and Celtic cross, othala has been appropriated by far-right groups such as the Nazi party and neo-Nazis, who have used it to represent ideas like Aryan heritage, a usage that is wholly modern and not attested in any ancient or medieval source. The rune also continues to be used in non-racist contexts, both in Heathenry and in wider popular culture such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and video games.

Name and etymology[edit]

The sole attested name of the rune is Old English: ēþel, meaning "homeland". Based on this, and cognates in other Germanic languages such as Old Norse: óðal and Old Frisian: ēthel, the Proto-Germanic: *ōþalą can be reconstructed, meaning "ancestral land", "the land owned by one's kin", and by extension "property" or "inheritance". *ōþalą is in turn derived from Proto-Germanic: *aþalą, meaning "nobility" and "disposition".[citation needed]

Terms derived from *ōþalą are formative elements in some Germanic names, notably Ulrich.[citation needed]

The term "odal" (Old Norse: óðal) refers to Scandinavian laws of inheritance which established land rights for families that had owned that parcel of land over a number of generations, restricting its sale to others. Among other aspects, this protected the inheritance rights of daughters against males from outside the immediate family.[1] Some of these laws remain in effect today in Norway as the Odelsrett (allodial right). The tradition of Udal law found in Shetland, Orkney, and the Isle of Man, is from the same origin.[citation needed]

Elder Futhark o-rune[edit]

Illustration of the Thorsberg chape showing the runic inscriptions on both sides

The o-rune is attested early, in inscriptions from the 3rd century, such as the Thorsberg chape (DR7) and the Vimose planer (Vimose-Høvelen, DR 206).[citation needed] The corresponding Gothic letter is 𐍉 (derived from Greek Ω), which had the name oþal.[citation needed] The othala rune is found in some transitional inscriptions of the 6th or 7th century, such as the Gummarp, Björketorp and Stentoften runestones, but it disappears from the Scandinavian record by the 8th century. The Old Norse o phoneme at this time becomes written in Younger Futhark in the same way as the u phoneme, with the Ur rune.[citation needed]

It has been suggested that the othala rune on the Ring of Pietroassa is used to represent the word "*oþal", referencing the ring as hereditary treasure.[2] Similarly, Wolfgang Krause speculated that the o rune is used as an ideograph denoting possession in the Thorsberg chape inscription, reading the inscription owlþuþewaz as O[þila] - W[u]lþu-þewaz "inherited property - the servant of Wulþuz".[3][4][5][6]

Anglo-Saxon œ-rune[edit]

The left panel of the Franks Casket

Usage and shape[edit]

The Anglo-Saxon runes preserve the full set of 24 Elder Futhark runes (besides introducing innovations), but in some cases these runes are given new sound values due to Anglo-Frisian sound changes. The othala rune is such a case: the o sound in the Anglo-Saxon system is now expressed by ōs ᚩ, a derivation of the old Ansuz rune; the othala rune is known in Old English as ēðel (with umlaut due to the form ōþila-) and is used to express an œ sound, but is attested only rarely in epigraphy (outside of simply appearing in a futhark row).[citation needed] In some runic inscriptions, such as on the Seax of Beagnoth, and more commonly in manuscripts, othala is written with a single vertical line instead of the two diagonal legs, perhaps due to its simpler form.[7]

The rune is also used as a shorthand for the word ēþel or œþel ("ancestral property or land") in texts such as Beowulf, Waldere and the Old English translation of Orosius' Historiae adversus paganos.[8][9] This is similar to wider practices of the time, in which runes such as , and were also used as shorthands to write the name of the rune.[9]

Notable attestations[edit]

Epigraphical attestations include:

  • the Frisian Westeremden yew-stick, possibly as part of a given name Ƿimod (Ƿimœd)
  • the Harford (Norfolk) brooch, dated c. 650, in a finite verb form: luda:gibœtæsigilæ "Luda repaired the brooch"
  • the left panel of the Franks Casket, twice: tƿœgen gibroþær afœddæ hiæ ƿylif "two brothers (scil. Romulus and Remus), a she-wolf nourished them".

Rune poem[edit]

The Anglo-Saxon rune poem preserves the meaning "an inherited estate" for the rune name:

bẏþ oferleof æghƿẏlcum men,
gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerẏsena on
brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.

[An estate] is very dear to every man,
if he can enjoy there in his house
whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

Modern use[edit]

Far-right iconography[edit]

Othala rune (left). Symbol used by far-right groups derived from the historical othala rune by adding feet or wings (right)

Deliberate use as a far-right symbol[edit]

Flag of the Croatian Volksdeutsche

The symbol derived from othala with wings or feet (serifs) was the badge of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office, which was responsible for maintaining the racial purity of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS).[10] It was also the emblem of ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen operating during World War II in the Nazi Germany-sponsored Independent State of Croatia.[citation needed]

The rune and winged symbol have been used by the Neo-Nazi Wiking-Jugend in Germany, and in South Africa by the Anglo-Afrikaner Bond, the Boeremag, the Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging,[11] the Italian neo-fascist group National Vanguard,[12] the Afrikaner Student Federation and the far-right wing White Liberation Movement before it was disbanded.[13][14][better source needed] In November 2016, the leadership of the National Socialist Movement announced their intention to replace the Nazi-pattern swastika with the othala rune on their uniforms and party regalia in an attempt to enter mainstream politics.[15][16] The rune was further used, along with other traditional symbols from European cultures such as a Tiwaz rune and a Celtic cross, and slogans associated with Nazism and far-right extremism by the Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Harrison Tarrant.[17] Heathen Front was a Neo-Nazi group, active during the 1990s to 2005 that espoused a racist form of Heathenry and described its ideas as odalism in reference to the alternative name for othala.[18][19]

White supremacists who use the rune often claim it symbolises the heritage or land of "white" or "Aryan" people which should be free from foreigners. It has been noted however that this usage is a new invention by the groups and is not attested in any source from before the modern period, being labelled by runologist Michael Barnes as "spring[ing] entirely from the imagination".[20]

Alleged use as a far-right symbol[edit]

In some cases, individuals and organisations have been accused of using the rune as a far-right symbol, such as in April 2014 when the British Topman clothing company apologised after using it in one of their clothing lines.[21] Furthermore, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in Orlando, Florida, on February 25–28, 2021, the floor layout of the main stage resembled the winged form of the othala rune, leading to speculation on social media as to why that design was chosen. CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp said comparisons were "outrageous and slanderous".[22] Design firm Design Foundry later took responsibility for the design of the stage, saying that it "intended to provide the best use of space, given the constraints of the ballroom and social distancing requirements." Ian Walters, director of communications for the ACU and CPAC, said they would stop using Design Foundry.[23][24]

The neo-folk group Death in June used othala on the cover of their 7'' Come Before Christ And Murder Love alongside their "Totenkopf 6" logo.[25] The group does not openly support far-right ideologies however scholars have noted the group's fascination with Nazism and extensive usage of Nazi, and more widely fascist, imagery.[26]


Inscription from The Fellowship of the Ring, written in English using Tolkien's Angerthas Erebor script, in which the rune based on othala represents a "u" sound. It reads left-to-right: "Balin sʌn ov Fu[nd]in lord ov Moria"

Othala, along with other runes more widely, often feature prominently in the practices of Heathens,[27][28][29] and are commonly used to decorate items and in tattoos.[30] The use of runes such as othala by far-right groups has been strongly condemned by some Heathen groups, including Asatru UK which released a public statement that "[it] is categorically opposed to fascist movements, or any movements, using the symbols of our faith for hate".[31]

Popular culture[edit]

The Anti-Defamation League notes that because it is part of the runic alphabet, the othala rune is used widely in a non-racist manner and should be interpreted in conjunction with its context.[32]

As with other historical runes, othala is used by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit as seen on Thror's map of Erebor, and as a base for the dwarvish Cirth writing systems used in The Lord of the Rings and described in Tolkien's Legendarium.[33][34] Othala is also used as the symbol for the "Lore" resource in Northgard, released in 2018.[35]

The name of the rune is also used in Stargate SG-1, in which Othala is a world in the Ida Galaxy where the Asgard had lived.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Price 2022, p. 185.
  2. ^ Silva 2006, p. 396.
  3. ^ Krause, Wolfgang, 'Die Runendenkmäler und ihre Sprache' In: Von der Bronzezeit bis zur Völkerwanderungszeit, (ed.) Klose, Olaf. Neumünster 1964 [reprint 1979], 311-325.
  4. ^ Krause, Wolfgang, Herbert Jankuhn. Die Runeninschriften im älteren Futhark, Göttingen, 1966.
  5. ^ The interpretation by Krause follows an earlier suggestion by Helmut Arntz, Handbuch der Runenkunde, 2nd ed., Halle/Saale 1944.
  6. ^ Spurkland 2005, pp. 47–48.
  7. ^ Page 2003, p. 40.
  8. ^ Silva 2006, p. 393.
  9. ^ a b Barnes 2022, pp. 153–154.
  10. ^ Lumsden, Robin (1995). SS Regalia. Edison, NJ: Book Sales, Inc. p. 35. ISBN 9780785802280.
  11. ^ Schönteich, Martin and Boshoff, Henri Volk, faith and fatherland: the security threat posed by the white right Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)(2003) p48
  12. ^ Colborne, Michael (22 January 2020). "Ukraine's Far Right Is Boosting A Pro-Putin Fascist". bellingcat. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  13. ^ "Neo-Nazi flag symbolism". flagspot.net. Retrieved 2015-09-02.
  14. ^ Visser, Myda Marista Die Ideologiese Grondslae En Ontwikkeling Van Die Blanke Fascistiese Bewegings In Suid-Afrika, 1945- 1995 (The ideological foundations and development of white fascist movements in South Africa, 1945-1999) M.A. thesis University of Pretoria (1999) p. 164
  15. ^ Smith, Rohan (15 November 2016). "Bizarre, bold reason America's white supremacists just banned swastika". News.com.au. Archived from the original on 2016-11-16. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  16. ^ Schoep, Jeff (4 November 2016). "National Socialist Movement: Announcement". Press Release. National Socialist Movement (US). Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  17. ^ "White Supremacist Terrorist Attack at Mosques in New Zealand". March 15, 2019. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  18. ^ eso, pp. 384, 621.
  19. ^ Gregorius, Frederick (2006). Old Norse religion in long-term perspectives: origins, changes, and interactions: an international conference in Lund, Sweden, June 3-7, 2004. Lund: Nordic Academic Press. p. 390. ISBN 9789189116818.
  20. ^ Barnes 2022, pp. 194–196.
  21. ^ Hayward, Stephen (2014-04-13). "Fascism disaster: Topman withdraws 'Nazi' clothing line after online shopper points out SS insignia". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2020-06-26.
  22. ^ Walters, Joanna (1 March 2021). "CPAC: Hyatt Hotels says stage design resembling Nazi rune is 'abhorrent'". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  23. ^ Kornbluh, Jacob (2021-03-03). "Design firm takes responsibility for CPAC stage controversy". The Forward. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  24. ^ Ibrahim 2021.
  25. ^ Discogs.
  26. ^ Heilbronner 2015, pp. 270–286.
  27. ^ Blain 2005, pp. 181–208.
  28. ^ Harvey 1997, p. 61.
  29. ^ Calico 2018, p. 118.
  30. ^ Calico 2018, pp. 391–392.
  31. ^ AUK statement.
  32. ^ ADL, Othala.
  33. ^ Tolkien 1937.
  34. ^ Tolkien 1955.
  35. ^ Northgard.




External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of at Wiktionary