The sequence alu (ᚨᛚᚢ) is found in numerous Elder Futhark runic inscriptions of Germanic Iron Age Scandinavia between the 3rd and the 8th century. It is frequently cited by modern Heathens as good, for healing magic. The word usually appears either alone (Elgesem runestone) or as part of an apparent formula (Lindholm amulet).
A gold bracteate (medal worn as jewelry) discovered in Djupbrunns, Sweden reads simply Alu and dates from around 400 CE. The third panel Elder Futhark inscriptions found on the 7th or 8th CE century Eggja stone discovered on the farm Eggja located in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway is often interpreted as reading alu. The Nydam axe shaft (300 to 350 CE) is a wooden axe shaft discovered in South Jutland, Denmark that bears the runic inscription. The Lindholm amulet (contains the word alu) is a bone piece found in Skåne, dated to the 2nd to 4th centuries. Three 5th century cremation urns from Spong Hill, England bear the impression of the term alu by "the same runic stamp" in mirror-runes.
The symbols represent the runes Ansuz, Laguz, and Uruz. The origin and meaning of the word are matters of dispute, though a general agreement exists among scholars that the word represents an instance of historical runic magic or is a metaphor for it. It is the most common of the early runic charm words.
Although the literal meaning of the word alu is generally accepted to be "ale," i.e. "intoxicating beverage," researchers have found it necessary to look deeper into the significance of the term. Earlier proposed etymologies for the word sought a connection with Proto-Germanic aluh "amulet, taboo" from alh "protect."
What alu means is disputed, but we encounter the word in several runic inscriptions in Scandinavia. Some think alu was a magic word to keep evil powers away from the grave and the dead, and to protect the humans from ghosts. Others hold the runes alu and read 'Defense against the evil-doer'. Yet others think alu means ale - beer. But beer played an important part in the Old Norse society, especially in important rites and celebrations, as for example, childbirth, funeral feasts, weddings and sacrificial rituals. So it many mean all of the above.
Linguists are generally satisfied that alu does mean 'ale'. Ale is strong beer. Old English 'ealu' and 'beor', and Old Norse 'øl' and 'bjórr', all refer to alcoholic drinks. However, whereas 'ealu' and 'øl' mean a weakly alcoholic drink made from grain, 'beor' and 'bjórr' seem to mean a stronger drink, sweetened with honey and possibly made with fruit juice. What we now think of as 'beer' – mildly alcoholic, made from grain, and common compared to stronger drinks – is essentially 'ale', but with one important difference from today's beer: no hops.
Although there is evidence for hops being used quite early, they did not become a de facto ingredient in beer until the 14th century. Gruit is an old-fashioned herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer, popular before the extensive use of hops. Gruit or grut ale may also refer to the beverage produced using gruit. The most commonly used gruit herbs were bog myrtle, wild rosemary, and yarrow – although wormwood, juniper, ginger, cinnamon, and many other herbs and spices were often included.
Beer brewed with bog myrtle is described as “strongly intoxicating, with unpleasant after effects” by Odd Nordland. Similarly, wild rosemary “in high doses produces cramps, rage, and frenzy”. Yarrow is known for mild narcotic effects. They had a wide range of herb-lore, some of which is preserved in the Anglo-Saxon charm spells and folklore.
Ale brewed with gruit, as opposed to beer brewed with hops, is documented from at least the 10th century. Archaeological evidence further supports the use of gruit herbs – particularly bog myrtle and yarrow – in beverages made from honey, grain, and sometimes fruit during the Iron Age in northern Europe. The use of heather in ale and mead is attested in Scotland from at least the 19th century all the way back to the Neolithic.
This history becomes particularly intriguing in light of the cultural significance of the alu inscriptions. It cites the religious importance of alcohol in Germanic culture – specifically that beer and mead appear to be the alcoholic beverages used by the Germanic people to attain that particular level of consciousness which may induce religiously inspired ecstasy. This interpretation is supported by the role that alcoholic beverages have in traditional cultures, both ancient and modern. In these cultures, alcohol is consumed in social rituals of hospitality, such as feasting, and as part of religious ceremonies.
We are left, then, with alu inscriptions associated with activities, possibly because of the narcotic, agitated inebriation imparted to ale by the herbs discussed above. A beverage which induces a narcotic euphoria or a berserker-like sense of invulnerability could be seen as increasing the health and vigor of the imbiber, and thus supporting the contemporary Heathen association of alu with health.
The healthy effects of ale are more fundamental – and not just because ale was safer to drink than water in pre-modern times. Beer in traditional societies, however, was drunk quite fresh, within a few days of brewing, and with little attempt at filtration prior to serving. Because of the freshness, more of the substance of beer is drunk, from fragments of malted grain to live yeast. In this way, ancient traditional beers contribute significantly to the nutrition of the people who make and consume them. Malting grain increases B-group vitamins in the grain. Alcohol (ethanol) has double the calories of the carbohydrates. Brewer's yeasts contain essential minerals.
Thus, when brewed as an indigenous beverage, ale is both wholesome and inspiring. In early Germanic cultures, it would have been integral to diet and ritual, nourishing both body and soul. The alcohol, malted grain, and yeast contributed calories, vitamins, minerals, and protein, while the herbs used in brewing augmented the euphoria and ecstasy of drinking the alcohol ritually. In this context, the runic inscriptions of alu mean not only 'ale', but health, happiness, and holiness.
Ansuz is the conventional name given to the a-rune ᚨ. The name is based on Common Germanic ansuz, a God, one of the main deities in Germanic Paganism, knowledge and Odin. The Ansuz rune tells of increased awareness of what the future holds. Linked to Odin, it is a rune of inspiration, wisdom, holiness and communication. Promises spiritual renewal and progress, clear vision and good health. It is also a rune that indicates intellectual activities and directly represents the divine breath of all life and creation.
Laguz or Laukaz is the name of the l-rune ᛚ, for water, lake, flow, emotions, and inner strength. Laguz represents the ebb and flow of life as water is an essential ingredient to life. Water is a feminine energy and highly connected with the aspects of the Goddess. To the ancient Norse, water of all kinds including the ocean, lakes, streams and rivers were considered a source of wealth and fertility. We must learn to “go with the flow” when this rune shows up in a reading so that we can take full advantage of our powers. In many spiritual paths, consecrated water can be found – holy water is just regular water with salt added to it, with a blessing or invocation is said above it.
The u rune ᚢ is Uruz meaning wild ox, health and strength. This rune is associated with strength, tenacity, courage and survival skills. The energy of this rune is raw, powerful, and distinctly masculine. It can be used for defense, crop fertility, good weather, strength and healing. Excellent in bind runes for healing purposes. Ur is a physician’s rune and represents resurrection, eternity, and continuity.
*The legal drinking age is the age at which a person can consume or purchase alcoholic beverages. These laws cover a wide range of issues and behaviors, addressing when and where alcohol can be consumed. The United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are the only countries that have a minimum legal age for drinking alcohol in private locations such as the home. Thailand, Indonesia, Palau, Solomon Islands, India, the United States, Yemen, Iceland, Canada, and South Korea have the highest set drinking ages, 18-25 years old. Don't drink and drive. Use common sense and stay legal.*
For those who do not wish or are unable to use alcohol in their rites, for whatever reason, there are several alternatives. Non-alcoholic beers and wines are now available in most large stores, and these are perfectly acceptable, as is non-alcoholic cider or apple juice. Many of the Goddesses, and all of the wights, can be blessed with and offered whole milk.