The third Rune of the Third Ætt of the Elder Futhark
(for more information on the Third Ætt per se, go to

This is an installment in a series covering each and every Rune of the Elder Futhark. In this series, instead of giving the esoteric meaning of the Rune by citing the Rune poems written in Old Icelandic, Old Norwegian and Anglo-Saxon (a.k.a. Old English), or any modern commentary, the etymology of the Rune name is presented.

3:3 EHWAZ              
                E                                E
                E  E                       E  E
                E     E                 E     E
                E        E           E        E
                E           E     E           E
                E               E               E
                E                                 E
                E                                 E
                E                                 E
                E                                 E
                E                                 E
                E                                 E
                E                                 E

Pronunciation: The first letter E is either “e” as in “get” or like the “a” as in “gate” - or perhaps it could stand for either one. Perhaps EHWAZ contrasted with EIHWAZ, and the latter represented the sound of “a” as in “gate” and the former the sound of “e” as in “get.” I will go with the “e” as in “get” because I feel it may make more balanced any phoneme system that the Elder Futhark is perhaps supposed to represent by its original creators.

This first E constitutes the first syllable, and is stressed. The second syllable begins with the HW sound, which is like English “w,” except that the vocal cords are not vibrating. However, there is another interpretation of HW, which is as a voiceless velar fricative (like the “ch” in Scottish Loch or German Bach) pronounced with lip-rounding (analogous to how we in English have the velar K-sound pronounced with lip-rounding in the form of what we write as “qu”). This HW descends from a sound in Indo-European that we could very nicely represent with our English “qu” digraph. This sound initially became that Scottish/German ch sound, and then developed into the voiceless w (make the w-sound but without the vocal cords vibrating, sort of like you are making an H-sound, but with rounded lips). In English, this sound of voiceless w is represented orthographically as “wh” - though one may wonder if the combination “hw” might make more sense. Anyway, “wh” no longer necessarily stands for any sound different from the regular W sound of English.

The end of the second syllable - that is, the AZ in HWAZ - is pronounced as AHZ (like the Oz as in where the phony wizard dwells). The exact pronunciation for final Z is a whole issue in itself - as it is with all the runes that contain it: see ALGIZ for details.

Writing: Based on the discussion above, we will posit that the EHWAZ stave stands for the phoneme /ɛ/ - that is, a mid front lax vowel, as in the “e” in get, and as opposed to the sound /e/, which would be the mid front TENSE version of this sound (like the “a” in gate). I find it plausible, however, that the EHWAZ stave may not stand for any quite so specific sound, but rather may stand for ANY mid front non-rounded vowel, i.e, /ɛ/ or /e/. Any ROUNDED mid front vowel would be represented by OTHALA, as the O in OTHALA became later on in English fronted to /ö/ (= the sound present in German schön - which is pronounced with the vocal tract in position set for “a” as in gate, with the only exception being that the lips are rounded). Perhaps the crucial differences between EHWAZ and EIHWAZ (also written ÏHWAZ, or other variants), may be 1) that EIHWAZ stood for any vowel in the range of a higher mid to a high proper (the latter being, e.g, the tense “ea” sound as in seat and the lax “i” sound as in sit); and 2) that whether or not the vowel was rounded was not relevant, such that a sound such as that represented by Norse “y” (as in Tyr), could be represented by EIHWAZ but not EHWAZ (were this later word Tyr to be represented in the Elder Futhark, in the time of which this deity’s name was spelt/pronounced TEIWAZ). This “y” is a high front rounded vowel - it is pronounced with the vocal tract in position set for “ea” as an seat, with the only except being that the lips are rounded (/e/ is to /ö/ as /i/ is to /y/). This latter /y/ sound is the sound of “ü” in German orthography.

Etymology: EHWAZ is Proto-Germanic for “horse,” and goes back to some Proto-Indo-European *ekwo- [o long or short? or was it u?] from which comes Latin equus (horse), equa (mare), equitor (knight). Compare the German word for knight, which is Ritter, and is cognate with RAIDHO.

...Now, NOTICE the entire semantic domain covered by EHWAZ through time. Let this be the MYSTICAL MEANING of EHWAZ. Study it and ABSORB it.

AUTHOR: Francis Tokarski