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Sowilō (rune)

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NameProto-GermanicOld EnglishOld Norse
*SōwilōSigel Sól
ShapeElder FutharkFuthorcYounger Futhark
Transcriptionss, z
IPA[s][s], [z]
Position in

Sowilo (*sōwilō), meaning "sun", is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic language name of the s-rune (, ).

The letter is a direct adoption of Old Italic (Etruscan or Latin) s (𐌔), ultimately from Greek sigma (Σ). It is present in the earliest inscriptions of the 2nd to 3rd century (Vimose, Kovel).

The name is attested for the same rune in all three Rune Poems. It appears as Old Norse and Old Icelandic Sól and as Old English Sigel.



The Germanic words for "Sun" have the peculiarity of alternating between -l- and -n- stems, Proto-Germanic *sunnon (Old English sunne, Old Norse, Old Saxon and Old High German sunna) vs. *sōwilō or *sōwulō (Old Norse sól, Gothic sauil, also Old High German forms such as suhil). This continues a Proto-Indo-European alternation *suwen- vs. *sewol- (Avestan xᵛə̄ṇg vs. Latin sōl, Greek helios, Sanskrit surya, Welsh haul, Breton heol, Old Irish suil "eye"), a remnant of an archaic heteroclitic declension pattern that remained productive only in the Anatolian languages.[citation needed]

The Old English name of the rune, written sigel (pronounced /ˈsɪ.jel/) is most often explained as a remnant of an otherwise extinct l-stem variant of the word for "Sun" (meaning that the spelling with g is unetymological),[1] but alternative suggestions have been put forward,[2][3][4] such as deriving it from Latin sigillum (assuming that the y is the unetymological element instead).[5]

Development and variants

The evolution of the rune in the Elder Futhark during the centuries.

The Elder Futhark s rune is attested in main two variants, a "Σ shape" (four strokes), more prevalent in earlier (3rd to 5th century) inscriptions (e.g. Kylver stone), and an "S shape" (three strokes), more prevalent in later (5th to 7th century) inscriptions (e.g. Golden horns of Gallehus, Seeland-II-C).

The Younger Futhark Sol and the Anglo-Saxon futhorc Sigel runes are identical in shape, a rotated version of the later Elder Futhark rune, with the middle stroke slanting upwards, and the initial and final strokes vertical.[citation needed]

The Anglo-Saxon runes developed a variant shape (), called the "bookhand" s rune because it is probably inspired by the long s (ſ) in Insular script. This variant form is used in the futhorc given on the Seax of Beagnoth.[citation needed]

Rune poems

Rune poem[6] English translation

Old Norwegian
Sól er landa ljóme;
lúti ek helgum dóme.

Sun is the light of the world;
I bow to the divine decree.

Old Icelandic
Sól er skýja skjöldr
ok skínandi röðull
ok ísa aldrtregi.
rota siklingr.

Sun is the shield of the clouds
and shining ray
and destroyer of ice.

Sigel semannum sẏmble biþ on hihte,
ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,
oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.

The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers
when they journey away over the fishes' bath,
until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

Relationship with Armanen runes

The SS emblem, formed of two Armanen Siegrunes ("victory runes")

Guido von List used Sowilō as the basis for the Armanen sig rune, also known as the "Siegrune". Unlike the rune used historically by the Germanic peoples, the name of which translates to "sun", he associated his new rune with "victory" (German Sieg) based on similarity in sound with the name of the Anglo-Frisian rune sigel.[citation needed]

The Armanen sig rune was adapted into the emblem of the SS in 1933 by Walter Heck.[7] Heck's design consisted of two sig runes drawn side by side like lightning bolts and was adopted by all branches of the SS.[8][9]

See also



  1. ^ following Jacob Grimm, Über Diphtongen (1845)[1]; see also e.g. Joseph Bosworth, A dictionary of the Anglo-Saxon language (1838), s.v. "Sigel"
  2. ^ Schneider, Karl (1956). Die germanischen Runennamen Versuch einer Gesamtdeutung. A. Hain. p. 98. OCLC 583360120.
  3. ^ Elliott, Ralph Warren Victor (1980). Runes: An Introduction. Manchester University Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7190-0787-3.
  4. ^ Halsall, Maureen (1981). The Old English Rune Poem: A Critical Edition. University of Toronto Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-1-4875-9264-6.
  5. ^ Simms, Douglas P. A. (March 2017). "The Old English Name of the S-Rune and 'Sun' in Germanic". Journal of Germanic Linguistics. 29 (1): 26–49. doi:10.1017/S1470542716000192. S2CID 172081569.
  6. ^ Original poems and translation from the Rune Poem Page Archived 1999-05-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Yenne 2010, p. 68.
  8. ^ Lumsden, Robin (1993). The Allgemeine-SS. Bloomsbury USA. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-85532-358-2.
  9. ^ Oppedisano, Federico O. (2020). "Visual Aspects of the Symbols of Terrorism. Identity, Representations, and Visual Statues". Proceedings of the 2nd International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Image and Imagination. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing. Vol. 1140. pp. 576–588. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-41018-6_47. ISBN 978-3-030-41017-9. S2CID 216236635.


  • Yenne, Bill (2010). Hitler's Master of the Dark Arts: Himmler's Black Knights and the Occult Origins of the SS. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-3778-3.

Further reading

  • Huld, Martin E. (1986). "Proto- and post-Indo-European designations for 'sun'". Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung. 99 (2): 194–202. JSTOR 40848835.
  • Wachter, Rudolf (1997). "Das indogermanische Wort für 'Sonne' und die angebliche Gruppe der 1/n-Heteroklitika". Historische Sprachforschung. 110 (1): 4–20. JSTOR 41288919.