Please note! I am still working on getting transcription services set up for the interview episodes of the podcast – hence the jump here from Episode 2 to Episode 4 in the transcription post. I’m trying my damnedest and will update the website when I have transcriptions ready.
This episode of the Heathen’s Journey Podcast has us diving deep into the runes. I’m covering the Fehu rune this week. In this episode, I begin our journey through the Elder Futhark with Fehu. This is the first rune we encounter, and traditionally means wealth, property, or cattle. But what does wealth mean to the radical heathen? How can we know where to start with wealth when we have complicated feelings about it? Abbie dives into the many layered meanings behind the Fehu rune, and looks at it from an anticapitalist perspective. We talk about generosity, reciprocal communities, and making sure our needs are met before we go off on our own journeys.
Remember to rate, review, and subscribe.
Here is a transcription of the episode:
Hello listeners! I hope you are staying safe and well in these weird times. COVID continues to be a massive challenge for all of us, and I know that I’m personally really struggling with it. Now is a great time to study, but it is also a difficult time to find any kind of focus and I hope that you are able to find some peace in your life.
Today I am introducing the Elder Futhark, starting with an episode on Fehu. Starting with the rune journey here is partly because I had always intended to move through the futhark in this podcast, but it is also timely. Over on my Instagram, I’ve started a challenge that you can follow along with.
For lack of a better title, it is the Insta Rune Altar Challenge. Each Wednesday, starting today (July 8th), I will construct an altar specifically for the rune of the week. The altar will contain representations of that specific rune, things that remind us of the meaning behind the rune, and any offerings that we wish to pass on to the spirit of that rune. So for Fehu, any representations of abundance, money, or even cattle are welcome. I’ll be placing some prosperity oil on the altar and anointing the rune itself with some of the prosperity oil, as well as adding color in any way that feels appropriate.
I’ve found in my own work with the runes, that it’s really about building a relationship with the tool. Much like with a tarot deck, where you would want to go through the full Major Arcana and really get to know the archetype of that card, you want to do the same thing with the runes. I find that creating an altar is very helpful because it puts a “face” on the rune so to speak. The runes are letters of an alphabet, which means that sometimes the imagery can feel a little less applicable or a little less obvious. Adding objects, images, colors to a rune altar can make the memory stick clearer in your mind.
I would also highly recommend meditating at your rune altar. It can be just as simple as clearing your mind for five minutes, or as complex as doing some trance work. Either way, coming back to your altar throughout the week is a wonderful exercise in keeping that energy with you. Make sure you place the altar in a part of your home that you will see fairly often, so that it is not “out of sight, out of mind.” Your rune altar can be as complex or as relaxed as you would like it to be.
To participate in the challenge, make sure that you’re following me on Instagram (@northern.lights.witch), and tag me in the photos of your own altar. Make sure to tag me in the photo, not just the description, and use the hashtag #instarunes to join the community and see what other people are doing.
So, without further ado, I am going to take a quick sponsor break, and I’ll be back with a full episode diving into the meaning of Fehu.
Fehu is often interpreted as wealth or property. It is the first rune of the Elder Futhark, and looks like a capital F with the two lines pointing up instead of out. The sound is the f sound, like at the beginning of the word Futhark. In fact, “FUTHARK” is just a way of saying the sounds of the first 6 runes in rapid succession. The word itself is an abbreviation for the alphabet. (Much like “alphabet” is a combination of the first two greek letters: Alpha and Beta.)
I think it’s interesting and worth exploring that the entire Futhark begins with this idea of wealth, property, or cattle. In the occult, the order of things matters. So why do we start here?
The major arcana in a tarot deck are in a very specific order, and they tell a beautiful story from start to finish. Rune scholars have also attested that the runes tell a story, that the three Aetts of the Futhark have their own story to tell. If the Fool is the initiation to the major arcana in tarot, Fehu is the initiation to the rune song.
But to my ears, there’s a dissonance at the beginning of this song.
If the heathen’s journey begins with wealth, what does that say about the priorities of this spiritual practice? The subconscious implication is that, because Fehu is the beginning energy, that there’s a certain prerequisite for a certain level of wealth needed to unlock the door to deeper levels of wisdom. On the face of it, that might seem like gatekeeping. “You must have a certain level of wealth to learn the mysteries.”
A lot of the pagans I know come to paganism precisely because they were tired of feeling like they needed a certain level of wealth. They wanted to become pagans to connect with the land in a more meaningful way.
But in my work with Odin and Freyja, both deities have been magnanimous, generous, and ultimately supportive – especially in times of scarcity. Their presence is supportive, and constantly reminds me that there is more to life than the immediate and often scary financial reality that comes with living under late-stage capitalism.
Fehu as a gateway for the Futhark, then, has a deeper meaning than ‘wealth’.
I think often about Fehu in connection with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: If Fehu is the initiation rune, it also speaks in some way to the conditions necessary for further growth. For example, if you are struggling daily to cover your basic needs, it will be difficult to focus on a new spiritual path. If you have already been on that spiritual path, it can be a boon and a gain, but it’s difficult to focus on a new spiritual path if you need to focus on the basics like food, shelter, and clean water.
Fehu represents the conditions necessary to move forward on your spiritual path. It isn’t an overabundance of wealth, but rather an understanding that we all have basic necessities. If those aren’t being met, it’s difficult to do the hard work of inner exploration.
I already mentioned that my relationship with Odin and Freyja is supportive and generative. They support me in stepping back from intense shadow work and trials when I need to. Because I work with them regularly, and because I work with the runes regularly, it’s like they know I’ll be back. Instead of demanding penance and work, the gods know that sometimes we need to sort things out in the material world before we can delve into things in the spiritual realm.
The wealth of Fehu isn’t a gatekeeping sort of wealth: It is the recognition that we must have our basic needs met.
Heathens are very practical people. As I’m working with my own teachers, the things that keep coming up are things like “How can you simplify it so it’s easy to show up and do the work you need to do?” Instead of casting a full circle, meditate on the tree. Instead of complicated tarot spreads, throw some runes down on a cloth and see what happens. Listen to the gut instinct that is at your core, and learn from there.
We have the tools that we need within us, but spending too much time going within means that we may be neglecting the real-world impacts of our work. It’s a balance. Frigg, Odin’s wife and goddess of wisdom, constantly reminds me to make the magical practical.
So much of studying the runes is trying to understand the mindset of an ancient culture that has not been well preserved. And at the same time, it’s important not to try to live by the ancestors only – despite the trying times we’re in now, we have evolved and grown as a society, and it’s important to recognize that forward momentum. (But this is an essay for another time.)
This means that Fehu’s wealth is not the wealth of our capitalistic society – it comes from before capitalism, when your family’s standing was determined by what you could barter. This is more reciprocal in nature: it’s more about what you can exchange, and about people creating meaning together.
Diana Paxson talks about Fehu’s meaning in connection to property – particularly cattle. This pairs it well with the next rune in the Futhark, Uruz, which is connected to the wild ox. In defining Fehu as both wealth and cattle, Paxson outlines that wealth was “not only transferable, but moves under its own power” (Taking Up The Runes, page 30). Paxson cites other scholars’ work, stating that the kind of wealth represented by cattle is the wealth that grows when cared for. It is a wealth in which you have an active hand, a wealth that is hard-won and meant to be shared with your family and your kindred.
Reframing Fehu as a symbol of barter, of exchange, shows there’s an assumption of generosity inherent in the spirit of the rune. Rather than being about purely hoarding wealth in a contemporary sense, it becomes about having something that fulfills both your own needs as well as someone else’s.
We’ll talk about this more as I go further into the Futhark, but what I am increasingly learning from my Heathen teachers is that Old Norse culture was based on the necessity of reciprocity and generosity. There were laws – well past the middle ages – that encouraged people to take in those in poverty. Between October 14 and December 14 the farm needed to get a lot of work done, and people would usually strive to have all their help for the winter hired by October 14th to ensure that everyone’s needs would be met for the coming winter.
There is something deep in the culture of Scandinavia about taking people in from the cold. You can see it in how many stanzas of the Havamal deal with the responsibility to take in wanderers, and the mutual respect necessary in hosting. There was so much etiquette built into giving and receiving gifts that we know this culture focused on generosity, rather than on hoarding wealth.
A lot of this understanding will be drawn on in later episodes of the Heathen’s Journey podcast.
There are other elements to this rune, especially as we get into the complexities of the gods.
Freyja Aswynn draws the connection between Vanir deities of Niord, Frey, and Freyja with Fehu. These deities that are all deeply connected with beauty and wealth. Because of Freyja’s (the goddess) connection with dwarves/elementals, Aswynn states that the next level of kenning for Fehu is “the rune that represents the creative fire which emerges from Muspelheim.” (Northern Mysteries and Magick, page 11)
In Norse cosmology the world was created with the chaotic fires of Muspelheim met the dangerous ice of Niflheim, exploding out of the two extremes and into nine realms of possibility. Fehu then is connected to Muspelheim, the original fires of the worlds. In our episode about Uruz, I will talk about that rune’s connection with ice. So we begin our journey into the runes with a mirror of these primordial forces – although the mysteries of fire and ice are still shrouded from easy understanding.
I also want to take a moment here to talk about the Vanir and their connection with abundance. The Aesir are often thought of as the more warlike gods, whereas the Vanir are more closely related to magic. The Vanir are thought to be deeply creative, focusing on arts and agriculture. They are gods of abundance.
The reason Njord, Frey, and Freyja live among the Aesir in the first place is due to jealousy and wealth.
In the Voluspa, the volva tells the story of how the war between the Aesir and the Vanir broke out. Gullveig, a witch who sought gold in the realm of the Aesir, was burned three times and reborn three times, sparking a war between the two families of gods. Later, as the gods called a truce, Niord, Frey, and Freyja were sent from the Vanir to live with the Aesir. Many scholars have suggested that Gullveig is in fact Freyja in disguise.
Connecting Fehu to Gullveig opens the rune up for interpretation as both generative and destructive.
Generative: Fehu is an expression of our creative fire, bringing us closer in alignment with our life’s purpose and how that creative fire can create abundance in our communities.
Destructive: Fehu reminds us that wealth can corrupt, that it can cut ties and leave us isolated from community.
In a positive form, wealth can certainly generate more wealth – when you have your bases covered, you are more able to invest time in beautiful things, like art, music, writing, seeking meaning behind life. But at the same time capitalism eats us alive, only allowing for some to thrive. Wealth is not a community value in a capitalist society. Rather, it is an individualistic value. This fits with the harsh individualism that comes through in the Norse myths at the same time that it fits with the harsh values of individualism in the United States.
There is also something to be said about sacred balance as it relates to Fehu.
Working with Fehu
Fehu is a powerful addition to any ritual having to do with abundance, generosity, and conservation of resources. Diana Paxson wrote a beautiful ritual for manifesting what you desire using both Fehu and the next rune in the Futhark, Uruz. If you work in a group or if you are a ritual witch, I highly recommend following her suggested ritual and meditation.
Of course, one of the best/easiest ways to begin working with Fehu energy is to place it on an altar. Whether you paint it on a rock, carve it into a candle, or separate it out from one of your rune sets, using Fehu in this way can really help to to ground your attraction magic. Using Fehu in your prosperity magic can help seal it and bring it to the next level.
Incorporating runes in your magic is very easy because they are such simple figures to draw. Carve Fehu into your green candle for prosperity; outline it on your altar with dried yellow rose petals; paint Fehu on your body with anointing oil; draw Fehu on a slip of paper and carry it in your pocket to your job interview.
I also feel the energy of Fehu as being so completely connected with the slow energy of cultivating food. If this rune is related to the hierarchy of needs and making sure that you have safety and security before you move on to the next level of study, you can easily connect Fehu to agricultural workings. Draw Fehu in the soil while you are planting seeds; continue to work with Fehu as you cultivate your garden. Sing the rune to your plants as they grow. Really harness this abundant energy.
Working with Fehu doesn’t mean that you are hungry for wealth – it may represent wealth and abundance often, but it isn’t about the capitalist notion of wealth. It isn’t about having more than you need – it’s about having just enough to move forward with your journey.
Most importantly, Fehu is about having enough to give back to your community. It is not merely wealth for you, but wealth for the collective. Find ways to give back through your talents, especially any artistic talents. Harness your joy, and the returns will be very happy indeed.
The Poetic Edda (translated by Carolyne Larrington). Oxford University Press. 1996.
Aswynn, Freyja. Northern Mysteries and Magick: Runes and Feminine Powers. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1998.
Murphey, Bradley. Othil: Norse Ancestral Traditions. Thrymheim Publishing. 2006.
Paxson, Diana. Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Weiser Books, 2005.
Plouff, Abbie. Heathen’s Journey Column on Little Red Tarot. First published in 2017.