NameProto-GermanicOld English
"heritage, estate"
ShapeElder FutharkFuthorc
Runic letter othalan.svg
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.

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. 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.

Name and etymologyEdit

The sole attested name of the rune is Old English: ēþel, meaning "homeland".[1] 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".[2] *ōþalą is in turn derived from Proto-Germanic: *aþalą, meaning "nobility" and "disposition".[3]

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 a 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.[4] Some of these laws remain in effect today in Norwway 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-runeEdit

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]

Wolfgang Krause (1964) has speculated that the o rune is used as an ideograph denoting possession in the Thorsberg chape inscription. The inscription has owlþuþewaz, read by Krause as O[þila] - W[u]lþu-þewaz "inherited property - the servant of Wulþuz".[5]

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 is now written in Younger Futhark with the same letter as the u phoneme, the Ur rune.[citation needed]

Anglo-Saxon œ-runeEdit

The left panel of the Franks Casket

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). 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".

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

byþ oferleof æghƿylcum men,
gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena 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.

In some manuscripts and runic inscriptions, such as the Seax of Beagnoth, othala is written with a single vertical line instead of the two diagonal legs, which has been proposed as a simplified form of the rune.[6][7]

Modern useEdit

Far-right iconographyEdit

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

Open usageEdit

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).[8] 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,[9] the Italian neo-fascist group National Vanguard,[10] the Afrikaner Student Federation and the far-right wing White Liberation Movement before it was disbanded.[11][12][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.[13][14] 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.[15]

Heathen Front was a Neo-Nazi group, active during the 1990s to 2005, that espoused a racist form of Heathenry.[16] It described its ideas as odalism in reference to the alternative name for othala.[17]

Inadvertent likenessEdit

In April 2014, the British Topman clothing company apologised after using the othala rune in one of their clothing lines, due to its usage by far-right groups.[18]

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 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".[19] 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.[20]


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,[21][22][23] and are commonly used to decorate items and in tattoos.[24]

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".[25]

Popular cultureEdit

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.[26][27] Othala is also used as the symbol for the "Lore" resource in Northgard, released in 2018.[28]

The Anti-Defamation League notes that due to it being part of the runic alphabet, the othala rune is used widely in a non-racist manner and that it should be interpreted in conjunction with its context.[29]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "eþel". Wiktionary. 31 January 2020. Retrieved 11 January 2023.
  2. ^ "Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/ōþalą". Wiktionary. 31 July 2022. Retrieved 11 January 2023.
  3. ^ "Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/aþalą". Wiktionary. 3 June 2022. Retrieved 11 January 2023.
  4. ^ Price, Neil S. (2022). The children of ash and elm : a history of the Vikings. London: Penguin. p. 185. ISBN 9780141984445.
  5. ^ Krause, Wolfgang, 'Die Runendenkmäler und ihre Sprache' In: Von der Bronzezeit bis zur Völkerwanderungszeit, (ed.) Klose, Olaf. Neumünster 1964 [reprint 1979], 311-325. Krause, Wolfgang, Herbert Jankuhn. Die Runeninschriften im älteren Futhark, Göttingen, 1966. The interpretation by Krause follows an earlier suggestion by Helmut Arntz, Handbuch der Runenkunde, 2nd ed., Halle/Saale 1944. See also Spurkland, Terje (2005). Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions. Boydell Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 1-84383-186-4.
  6. ^ Thorsson, Edred (1987). Runelore : a handbook of esoteric runology. York Beach, Me.: S. Weiser. p. 23. ISBN 9780877286677.
  7. ^ Page, R. I. (2003). An introduction to English runes (2nd ed.). Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press. p. 40. ISBN 085115946X.
  8. ^ Lumsden, Robin (1995). SS Regalia. Edison, NJ: Book Sales, Inc. p. 35. ISBN 9780785802280.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Colborne, Michael (22 January 2020). "Ukraine's Far Right Is Boosting A Pro-Putin Fascist". bellingcat. Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Neo-Nazi flag symbolism". Retrieved 2015-09-02.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Smith, Rohan (15 November 2016). "Bizarre, bold reason America's white supremacists just banned swastika". — Australia's Leading News Site. Archived from the original on 2016-11-16. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  14. ^ Schoep, Jeff (4 November 2016). "National Socialist Movement: Announcement". Press Release. National Socialist Movement (US). Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  15. ^ "White Supremacist Terrorist Attack at Mosques in New Zealand". March 15, 2019. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  16. ^ Western Esotericism in Scandinavia, 2016, p.384, p.621
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Walters, Joanna (1 March 2021). "CPAC: Hyatt Hotels says stage design resembling Nazi rune is 'abhorrent'". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  20. ^ Kornbluh, Jacob (2021-03-03). "Design firm takes responsibility for CPAC stage controversy". The Forward. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  21. ^ Blain, Jenny (2005). Modern paganism in world cultures : comparative perspectives. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 181–208. ISBN 9781851096084.
  22. ^ Harvey, Graham (1997). Listening people, speaking earth : contemporary paganism. London: Hurst & Co. p. 61. ISBN 978185065-2724.
  23. ^ Calico, Jefferson F. (2018). Being Viking : heathenism in contemporary America. Bristol. p. 118. ISBN 9781781792230.
  24. ^ Calico, Jefferson F. (2018). Being Viking : heathenism in contemporary America. Bristol. pp. 391–392. ISBN 9781781792230.
  25. ^ "Asatru UK, In response to the Daily Telegraph article". Facebook. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  26. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (1937). The Hobbit. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  27. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955). The Return of the King – Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings; Appendix E. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  28. ^ "Northgard - Balancing Patch 7 - July 2021 - Steam News". 20 July 2021. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  29. ^ "Othala Rune". Retrieved 5 November 2022.

External linksEdit

  •   The dictionary definition of at Wiktionary