Othala! The rune of the hearth, home and family. In Othala, this is where we honour our roots. Our heritage is important, as we inherit not just genetic information, but physical wealth and spiritual karma that will all shape the being that is us. Othala is the comfortable home, where we can kick off our boots and feel safe. This is not just about what we have inherited, but what we are creating for our family to inherit after we are gone.
Othala is the 24th and final rune (unless you are using it like a calendar, then it is the 23rd rune). It is the last rune in Tyr’s aett, like our reward for the work in these eight runes. This part of the journey has been about our honour, as Tyr is the god of justice. The first aett was about a material journey (the physical change from a singular unit to that of a larger synchronous community), the second aett was about personal development (isolation and hard lessons that brought us to enlightenment), and the third aett was now about honour. Each ended in a kind of joy; Othala is the joy of family and home. The story of Tyr’s aett began with a return back to humanity, sacrificing our safety was the first lesson of Tyr, birthing back into the world, finding how to work with others, healing and becoming grounded, now ending with the blessing of honour in family. The journey through the first two aetts was necessary for our hero to find this higher calling in the final aett.
Othala is the joy of family and home.
Our hero’s journey is now at its end. We have come far, and learned much, and in Othala we find ourselves now able to rest. Our hero can grow old, have children, tend cattle and love their partner. The sword and the shield have been laid down, hopefully for good but perhaps just until the next cycle. We will teach our children the ways, but to them they will just be stories and lessons and they too will have to ride out on their own journey some day. So the cycle is ending, but it is also a beginning. The cozy farm of Othala will breed the cattle of Fehu, and we will find ourselves back where we started so long ago.
There are many philosophical concepts contained in the Othala rune, the first is which is hospitality. Sharing of wealth and your home to friends, family and strangers was a very important virtue to the Germanic peoples. The stories of Odin as a wanderer among men were plenty, as were the names and faces Odin could appear by. Welcoming in a stranger could well be a test of the god to judge your quality of character. This was also an important virtue for ancient communities, as travellers wandered many days through all kinds of weather on foot or by horse. Death could be certain for those who did not find shelter, and hospitality was undoubtedly a virtue for the sake of taking care of the community at large.
The second is that of heritage. The old Norse word hamingja is their word for family karma. It is a large concept that can be summed up by the honour that is passed down through the family. It is inherited through the deeds of your forefathers and relates to your luck and fate. Our family history is often wrought with a combination of good and bad. It is our duty to do our ancestors and children proud by doing the best we can in this life to add positive hamingja to the family line. Many New Age practitioners work with family karma, through forgiveness and releasing of negative energies passed down through a family’s lineage. This can allow the individual to move forward in life with less difficulty, and also honours and heals the ancestors who many have caused the damage in the first place.
Last, but not least, is the concept of innangard “in-garden” and utangard “out-garden”. The German word for garden is Garten, and is used in the word Kindergarten (child-garden). Gart-en/garden is here used as not just a place to grow vegetables, but as a kind of enclosure, a space that has been created for the purpose of growing ourselves. Othala represents the innangard, the within world, all that which is contained in humanity’s dwellings. This is our fields, buildings, crops, roads, etc., and the utangard is the outside world beyond that. Utangard is the realm of the lesser known, which we now just think of as forests but to the Germanic peoples this was a much broader world that contained trolls, fairies and unknown magick. It was a darker place, which was needed and accessed but was known for being dangerous.
The shape of Othala is said to represent a hearth. This is the heart of the home, the warm fire that welcomes strangers and takes care of the family. I also see Othala as an arial view of innangard and utangard, where we have the home as the diamond shape and a fenced yard that leads out into the wilderness. This fence is a kind of a funnel to draw people into the home. The bottom portion of Othala is also said to represent roots, like in Ingwaz. This is the relation to our heritage, our genetic legacy, and our link to the source energies from whence we came. Othala is very much about roots.
Othala can also be seen as a doorway. This is the separation between innangard and utangard; it keeps the warmth in, and the trolls out.
Othala is the separation between innangard and utangard; it keeps the warmth in, and the trolls out.
The cats I painted in this photo were an important piece of a Norse home. Cats were blessed of Freya, and were gifted to newlyweds to complete their new home. The cats would take care of the rats and mice that could be devastating to grain stored for the winter. As anyone who has had to deal with rat infestations in the modern area can imagine, cats had an invaluable role as household protectors and kept some of the dangers of utangard at bay. The giant cat breed called Skogkatt was fluffy to survive the outside snows, but also was a worthy adversary for the big rats in Norway. These cats are usually the kind that is depicted pulling Freya’s cart.
Merkstave, Othala represents a disconnect from one’s roots. Feeling like you have no home, no place you belong, or no family may all be linked to merkstave Othala in a reading. The advice may be to make that connection, maybe even by starting somewhere small and looking into your family history. Grounding is the theme in Othala, and it may be necessary to find something to keep yourself grounded if you find yourself with this rune inverted. It may also signify it is time to pull those roots and find somewhere else to plant them.