Runes

Alu: The Magic Rune Word Whose Meaning Is Lost to Time

rune word Alu meaning

The rune word alu

Runic inscriptions from the Germanic Iron Age lie scattered across Germany, Scandinavia and Northern England. Some of these inscriptions contain historical references, others are poems and stories, and other more mysterious inscriptions are magical charms and words of power.

 It may mean “protection” or “dedication”, and it’s closely tied to temples, shrines and spirituality.

Of these mysterious magic words, the most common runic charm-word known to us today is a mysterious 3 letter word that appears on dozens of inscriptions. The word is”Alu“.

Its exact meaning is forever lost to history, but rune scholars and linguists working hard to unravel the secrets of alu, have begun to decode its meaning.

Alu in the runic alphabet

Alu is a 3-letter word written using the Elder Futhark runes, Ansuz, Laguz and Uruz.

ᚨᛚᚢ

This simple word is found on dozens of recovered artifacts crafted across 5 centuries starting after 200 AD. Alu appears on amulets, medallions, weapons and rune stones. It sometimes appears as part of a sentence, but the mysterious “alu” often appears all by itself.

While its exact meaning is a subject of debate, there is a general agreement that alu seems to be a revered word closely associated with rune magic and ritual. It is the most commonly inscribed word of rune magic known to us today.

But what does it mean?

rune word "alu"

What does alu mean?

A literal translation of alu is simply “ale”, or a state of intoxication. However, this direct interpretation has been criticized as it doesn’t explain single-word inscriptions on weapons, ornate metal amulets and sacred objects very well. Nor does it make any sense in the many inscriptions where “alu” is written.

Its meaning is forever lost in history, but rune scholars and linguists have worked hard to unravel the mystery of alu, and have begun to decode its mysteries

One good theory of alu’s meaning is the Proto-Germanic term “alh” which means “protect“. This meaning would certainly make sense on amulets, weapons and medallions.

Another good possibility is that the term alu, is a borrowed word from the Raetian or North Etruscan civilization of Northern Italy (from where early Germanic runes descend).  In Etruscan mysticism, the term alu means “dedication” or “blessed” and was often inscribed on votive objects in temples and sacred spaces.

Other linguistic clues come from the Old English word “ealh” and the Gothic “alhs” both of which tranlate roughly to “temple” or “shrine“.

So where do these efforts at translating alu leave us? The best anyone can say is that the word was a long-standing term of ancient mysticism and magic. Its possible meanings include “protection” and “dedication”, and it’s closely tied to temples, shrines, rituals and spirituality — and frequently used as a stand-alone engraving on special objects.

Other than that, the meaning of alu is shrouded in mystery.

 


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Where is the term alu used?

Some clues as to the meaning of alu may be found on the wide variety of ancient artifacts which bear the term. The three-letter word is used on dozens of objects discovered across Scandinavia and Northern England. Here is a partial list of artifacts:

  • The Eggja rune stone: The Elder Futhark inscription found on the 7th century Eggja stone in Norway bears the charm word alu.
  • The Nydam Arrow (arrowhead) discovered in Jutland / Denmark is engraved with the word “alu”
  • An Axe shaft dating from 300 to 350 AD was discovered in Denmark engraved with the word “alu”.
  • The Egelsem stone fount atop a grave mound in Norway dates back to 400AD and reads simply “alu”.
  • The Lindholm amulet, discovered in Southern Sweden dates back as early as the 2nd century and contains an inscription including the word “alu”.
  • The Eketorp stone found in Sweden was written in proto-Norse and includes the word “alu”
  • Cremation urns dating back to the 5th century in northern England were stamped with the word “alu”

The above artifacts represent only a partial list of the total number of ancient relics discovered which bear the rune magic word “alu”. In all cases, the word appears to be both revered, and closely associated with religion and ritual.

 

When did the term alu disappear?

The magical rune word alu seems to have slowly vanished in during the 6th century during the Migration Period, when warring tribes migrated into Northern Europe and Scandinavia. After this period, the word seems to have become less frequently associated with mysticism, and more frequently associated with “ale”.

The shift in meaning is likely due to linguistic differences associated with the migration of European peoples. After the Migration period, the term “alu” took it’s more “modern” meaning of ale or intoxication, and ceased to be engraved on sacred objects.


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