Over the years I have had both the pleasure and amusement of watching symbols from many paths become mainstream, even fashion accessories and when followed with knowledge it’s a good thing. In a society filled with cultural appropriation this is nothing new for Pagans and Heathens. While it sometimes can prove to be just more of the same old, it’s a gradual sign of society becoming more tolerant despite outward appearances. I would love to see these trends come with information, but baby steps.
I have to constantly remind myself that our Nation is, comparatively speaking, very young. It still has some growing and maturing to do and that process is always accompanied by growing pains. Somewhere between the trendy New Age flavors in fashion today, someone got it very wrong. I, like millions of others in our country, was absolutely horrified to see symbols I hold very dear to my heart being waved as a symbol of hate and dissension. As Neo-Nazis and other like-minded groups marched through Charlottesville I couldn’t help but have a cold dread pour into my blood. A chill of foreboding perhaps, or just the utter horror of the situation on my screen and what this could mean for our family. Our baby steps sometimes cause us to stumble, fall, and get stuck in a bad, dirty place.
One of the more prominent symbols was the Elder Futhark Rune, Othal (Othala), a rune generally referring to lineage, ancestry, or something being inherited. The rune itself is a beautiful symbol of pride in one’s family, but it is also pride in the ties between our ancestors and the very land we walk on.
Othal (Othel, Othala) belong to the Aett of Tyr and is one of the runes found in the Elder Futhark, but not in the Younger Futhark. Its appearance also connects with another symbol used very often by another religious group, the Icthys. Both symbols resemble the fish and both reflect abundance but that is generally where the connections end.
Othal is derived from an Old Norse word odal connecting it to family and specifically genetic family with the natural connections between people of the same tribe. It may be first applied to ancestry or lineage and secondly to the land of the tribe. Germanic tribes and Anglo-Saxon tribes had two very different perspectives of tribal laws regarding land. In Celtic and similar tribe perspective tribes owned the land collectively and shared responsibility for the land. In Germanic perspective the individual owned the land and was singularly responsible for the upkeep and prosperity of the land. The Goths also adapted this symbol as a symbol of sovereignty connecting to divinity, specifically divine sovereignty.
Othal is a connection to each other, to the land, to our ancestry. It is the rune of abundance and of honoring our ancestors and lineage. It is not a rune of hatred and dissension. Even merkstave (if you choose to use reversals), the rune can be read as a lack of generosity, empathy, or appreciation for the land or family. It rather denotes a Scrooge character in which selfishness, greed, and lack of understanding eventually results in loneliness and loss of humanity.
In this perspective, Othal is exactly what needs to be invoked right now. Our society, our world, could use a little more nature, a little more kinship, and a lot connection to the land. Perhaps this was just the sneakiness of Loki tricking people into searching for exactly what they need hidden and disguised as chaos. Of all the symbols to become trendy, Othal is one of the best and brightest to use on the world’s runway.