The Elder Futhark – Uruz

Uruz means wild ox (aurochs) – the linguistic root could alternately be rain but aurochs is the most common translation and the one I use. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem says “The aurochs is proud and has great horns; it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns; a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.”

I think it is difficult for those of us living in mdern civilisations to have the same feelings about powerful wild animals as our ancestors did because we are very much removed from them. The only time most of us see lions and tigers and bears is when we visit zoos or similar curated spaces where our interactions are completely safe. Living in England there is absolutely no chance of me being attacked by a wild animal any larger than a goose. It’s also rare for people here to hunt their own meat so we never go head to head with an animal that could possibly come out on top.

To get more of a sense of how the Auroch would have been seen we need to think more about concepts like the “sacred bull” – or in more general terms the idea of a powerful animal being adopted as a totem spirit. We find find versions of animal worship in many ancient cultures, and bulls in particular have been significant all the way back to cave paintings. One of the most iconic aspects of Viking culture is the berserker – someone who channeled the bear to make them more ferocious and fearless in battle. There were also Úlfhéðnar who embodied the wolf and Jöfurr who channeled the boar. Animals like these were powerful foes, being allowed to join a hunt for the first time, like being allowed to train with the warriors, would have been part of the transition from boyhood to manhood.

The popular image of a Viking with the horned helmet is something else I see connecting with Uruz. Horned helmets are rare but they did exist, not as something that would be worn into battle as they would have been totally impractical for fighting, but as something used in rituals. We have practically no information about why or when they were worn or what the rituals involved, but there does seem to be a connection between animal horns and religion. Horns are also inextricably linked with mead and sumbl. In sumbl many toasts are made which may include brags and boasts, for the duration of the rite the drinking horn becomes the embodiment of Mímisbrunnr, the well of Wyrd. Words spoken over the horn are therefore spoken directly into your wyrd and take on extra significance because of that.

So from my very modern perspective, Uruz is something ceremonial and powerful. I think of it as initiation and challenge, a chance to prove yourself. The glyph looks like a partly open door – a threshold you can choose to step through and have things change or choose to shut and stay where you are. More prosaic people might see it as a stuck door that needs a bit of a shove to get it moving.

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