The 24 runes of the Elder Futhark are considered in turn in their “normal” order. Archaeologically, there is no “right” order.
Though the order varied little for the first half of the futhark, variations did creep in in the second half.
Taking “an average” is what gives us this so-called normal order which only changes for the last two runes (which are listed by some authors in reverse order according to their personal preference). Beware any author that creates a theory bound in with the sequence of the runes because historically, there is no evidence for a fixed sequence!
In what follows, the ancient name is given first, then the literal meaning and then other ideas. The names of the runes are the Common Germanic names. There are some slight variations of these heard, which are mentioned where appropriate.
FEHU means cattle. To many tribal and farming peoples, cattle meant wealth. But wealth must move to be effective; sitting idle it can become a sore. One kind of wealth that lasted was a good reputation, yet even fame must be put to work to be of any worth.
URUZ means aurochs. This was a fierce wild ox against which youths tested their courage and hunting skill. Its horns were much prized and it was eventually hunted to extinction. It can represent raw primal strength.
THURISAZ means a giant, though some people associate it with the god Thor and his famous Hammer used for killing giants! It can also represent a powerful penetrating force, attacking or defending, for it represents both the force of will and the thorn that protects.
ANSUZ means a god. Some people specifically associate it with the god Oðin. It can also represent communicating, outwardly with speech, and inwardly with sensitivity and inspiration. It can also represent the wind. (Like Thor, Oðin is also a god of the storm.)
RAIDO means the act of riding. It can, therefore, mean transport and travel. To some, it can mean a career, and also order or being in control.
KENAZ means that which burns. This can be a fire, perhaps a torch or a pitch-brand, and such illumination can bring knowledge – Or it can burn like a sore.
GEBO means giving. Unasked for gifts were a source of suspicion in olden days for a gift “demanded” a gift in return! Give and take is an exchange, and this exchange is an essential part of successful relationships (like marriage).
WUNJO means joy. Some people also associate it with the Anglo-Saxon goddess Hreða whose feast occurred in March.
HAGALAZ means hail. Though hail appears to be just a destructive natural force, it acts as one of Nature’s essential checks and balances, clearing away the dross and weak growth. And after the hail has melted, the resultant water helps sustain the strong survivors that remain.
NAUTHIZ means need. A time of need is often the spur that ends complacency. And without a time of need, perhaps we would not appreciate the times of plenty so well.
ISA means ice. Cold, still and slippery, it indicates the poise and focus that can be achieved in meditation. It can represent a freezing of circumstances, since putting something “on ice” means maintaining the status quo (though it can result in stagnation).
JERA simply means harvest and the idea of growth through the cycle of the year’s seasons. The harvest is the result of your work. Whether this reward is good or bad can depend on what you have sown and how you have tended it!
EIWAZ means a yew tree. Coming after Jera, it reminds us to change and the cycle of life and death. The yew is intensely poisonous, and its wood can be used to make bows – bringers of death. Yet of all North European trees it lives the longest, so it can also represent endurance.
PERTHRO The original meaning of this rune is unknown. It may be a dice-cup and could, therefore, represent luck or wyrd. Wyrd is not fate or fortune: it is a positive evolutionary force. Think of Wyrd and the three Norns – Urð (What is), Verðandi (What is becoming), Skuld (What should be).
ALGIZ (or ELHAZ) means protection. This rune shows the warding hand, or defensive horns, or spines. This rune also resembles a person standing with arms raised. Is this in defiance, an invocation, or in blessing?
SOWILO means sun. The sun represents success and victory. It shines with a permanent and limitless light. It clears away the clouds of doubt to bring confidence and optimism.
TIWAZ means the god Tiw (after whom we name Tuesday). Tiw was a god of courage and honour and his rune was carved onto swords for victory in battle.
BERKANA means a birch tree. Some people associate this rune with the goddess Oster (after whom we name Easter) whose feast occurred in April. It is a rune of awakening, of growth and of fertility.
EHWAZ means a horse. To some, this symbolizes trust, such as that required between horse and rider or two people in a close relationship (or a human and their patron deity), and would be a rune of partnership and commitment between two parties who want to “make things work”.
MANNAZ means mankind, complete with all the frailties and all the potentials of being human. To some, it represents contracts and oaths made between men and/or women, and hence they link this rune to the goddess Vár who hears such oaths.
LAUGUZ means water. Water cleanses and refreshes. It finds its own level, and it contains the teeming flow of life. It reflects the sky above it and mirrors the calmness or ferocity of the wind that flows over it.
INGWAZ (or INGUZ) is associated with the god Ing or Yngvi-Frey. It is an “earthy” rune representing sex and fertility, and the life contained in the seed.
DAGAZ means day. To some, it indicates the point of balance in the day-night cycle. Daylight itself certainly brings clarity, yet twilight illumines the mysteries of both the day-world of light and the night-world of darkness.
OTHILA means inherited land. Odal land stayed in the family and was tilled for the benefit of that family. It represents that which is handed down. This includes our language, our mythology, and our runelore, as well as physical possessions.
Rune Descriptions courtesy of A Rune Primer