Sowilo rune: The Sunlit Path of the Vikings

Let’s embark on a journey, a journey back in time. Picture this: the early Viking Age, a time of exploration, …

Let’s embark on a journey, a journey back in time. Picture this: the early Viking Age, a time of exploration, conquest, and deep spiritual belief. At the heart of this belief system were the runes. Later to be replaced by the Younger Futhark, before that though was the ancient alphabet known as the Elder Futhark. Among these mystical symbols, there’s one that shines brighter than the rest – the Sowilo rune.

Now, imagine a Viking warrior, his hand gripping a runestone etched with the Sowilo rune. The stone is cold, but the symbol it bears is one of warmth and light. This is our destination, the world of the Sowilo rune, a symbol as radiant as the sun it represents.

Sowilo: Background and Description

The Elder Futhark, the oldest form of the runic alphabets, was a system of writing steeped in mystery and magic. Its origins trace back to the 1st or 2nd centuries, with evidence found on artifacts like the newly discovered almost two thousand year old runestone in Norway. The Sowilo rune, the sixteenth in this ancient alphabet, sits between Algiz, the rune of protection, and Tiwaz, the rune of justice. Its name, derived from the Old Norse word ‘sól’, means ‘sun’.

As the Elder Futhark evolved into the Younger Futhark, around the 8th century, the number of runes was reduced, but Sowilo retained its place. Its enduring presence speaks volumes about its significance in the Viking Age. The sun, after all, was a vital force in the harsh Nordic climate.

Graphical Representation

Runic letter sowilo
ClaesWallin, Own work, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sowilo rune is a simple yet powerful symbol. Picture a flash of lightning or a ray of sunlight, as a line zig-zagging from top to bottom in four parts. This is the essence of Sowilo, a symbol that captures the energy and vitality of the sun.

Over time, variations of the Sowilo rune have appeared. Some versions are made up of only three lines making up the zig-zagging motif. Despite these variations, the core symbolism remains unchanged – a beacon of light in the darkness.

Phonetic Value

In the Proto-Germanic language, the Sowilo rune represented the ‘s’ sound. As the Germanic languages evolved, this phonetic value remained consistent. Whether in Old Norse, Old English, or Old High German, Sowilo continued to be associated with the ‘s’ sound, further cementing its connection to ‘sól’, the sun.

Symbolic Meaning of the Sowilo Rune

The Sowilo rune is a symbol of light, energy, and success. Its Proto-Germanic translation, ‘sun’, encapsulates its essence perfectly. The sun, after all, is a source of life, warmth, and vitality. It’s no surprise then that this rune is associated with the radiant sun goddess, Sól.

Sun Goddess Sol
I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Viking Age, the sun was more than just a celestial body. It was a beacon of hope in the long, harsh winters, a symbol of the cycle of life and death. The Sowilo rune, with its connection to the sun, reflects these deeply ingrained cultural beliefs.

Ancient Norse sagas have it that Sol and Mani were siblings, set in chariots pulling the sun and moon across the heavens. They were forever chased by the two wolves Sköll and Hati. Then, signaling the end of days, the wolves would devour them both.

The Aett and its Symbolism

The Sowilo rune belongs to Hagalll’s aett, one of the three groups of runes in the Elder Futhark. Each aett is associated with a specific Norse god or goddess, and in this case, it’s the vigilant guardian, Heimdall. Like all Norse gods, he had many names, and Hagall was one of those.

Heimdall’s aett is a collection of runes that embody themes of protection, enlightenment, and foresight, much like Heimdall himself, the watchful protector of the gods. The Sowilo rune, with its symbolism of light and energy, fits perfectly within this aett. It’s a beacon, much like Heimdall’s shining Gjallarhorn, guiding us through the darkness.

The aett system is a crucial part of understanding the Elder Futhark. It’s not just about individual runes, but how they interact and relate to each other within their aett. The Sowilo rune, as part of Heimdall’s aett, carries the guardian god’s watchful energy, illuminating our path with its radiant light.

Elder Futhark Quiz

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Sowilo Used in Divination and Magic

Now, I must confess, I’m not one for divination or magic. But I can’t deny the fascination these practices hold for many, more so in the last few years. The Sowilo rune, in runic divination, is often seen as a positive sign, a beacon of hope and success.

Historically, runes were used in magic and spellwork, and Sowilo was no exception. Its association with the sun made it a powerful symbol for invoking light, energy, and victory. While we can’t say for certain how the Vikings used specific runes in their spells, its symbolic meaning offers some intriguing possibilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Sowilo rune symbolize?

The Sowilo rune symbolizes the sun, light, energy, and success.

Which aett does the Sowilo rune belong to?

The Sowilo rune belongs to Heimdall’s aett in the Elder Futhark.

What is the phonetic value of the Sowilo rune?

In the Proto-Germanic language, the Sowilo rune represented the ‘s’ sound.

Featured Image Credit: BK, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of author


Norse mythology enthusiast, Norwegian and living in Oslo next to a series of old Viking age burial mounds.I am also able to navigate and understand quite a lot of the old Norse texts and I often lean on original texts when researching an article. Through this blog I hope more people, young and old will get to know Norse mythology and the world of the Vikings a bit better.

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