Heathen’s Journey: Redefining wealth with Fehu

In the occult, the order of things matters.

The major arcana in a tarot deck are in a very specific order, and they tell a beautiful story from start to finish. Rune scholars have also attested that the runes tell a story, that the three Aetts of the Futhark have their own story to tell. If the Fool is the initiation to the major arcana in tarot, Fehu is the initiation to the rune song.

But to my ears, there’s a dissonance at the beginning of this song.

Fehu is often interpreted as wealth or property.

Immediately, this radical witch gets the willies.

If the heathen’s journey begins with wealth, what does that say about the priorities of this spiritual practice? The subconscious implication is that, because Fehu is the beginning energy, that there’s a certain prerequisite for a certain level of wealth needed to unlock the door to deeper levels of wisdom.

But in my work with Odin and Freyja, both deities have been magnanimous, generous, and ultimately supportive – especially in times of scarcity. Their presence is supportive, and constantly reminds me that there is more to life than the immediate and scary financial reality.

Fehu as a gateway for the Futhark, then, has a deeper meaning than ‘wealth’.

So much of studying the runes is trying to understand the mindset of an ancient culture that has not been well preserved. And at the same time, it’s important not to try to live by the ancestors only – despite the trying times we’re in now, we have evolved and grown as a society, and it’s important to recognize that forward momentum. (But this is an essay for another time.)

This means that Fehu’s wealth is not the wealth of our capitalistic society – it comes from the before times, when your family’s standing was determined by what you could barter.

Diana Paxson talks about Fehu’s meaning in connection to property – particularly cattle. This pairs it well with the next rune in the Futhark, Uruz, which is connected to the wild ox. In defining Fehu as both wealth and cattle, Paxson outlines that wealth was “not only transferable, but moves under its own power” (Taking Up The Runes, page 30). Paxson cites other scholars’ work, stating that the kind of wealth represented by cattle is the wealth that grows when cared for. It is a wealth in which you have an active hand, a wealth that is hard-won and meant to be shared with your family and your clan.

Reframing Fehu as a symbol of barter, of exchange, shows there’s an assumption of generosity for those who have wealth.

This figurine created by the talented Triumpho on Etsy

Freyja Aswynn takes us even deeper into the rune. She draws the connection between Vanir deities of Niord, Frey, and Freyja with Fehu. These deities that are all deeply connected with beauty and wealth. Because of Freyja’s (the goddess) connection with dwarves/elementals, Aswynn states that the next level of kenning for Fehu is “the rune that represents the creative fire which emerges from Muspelheim.” (Northern Mysteries and Magick, page 11) The reason these three gods live among the Aesir in the first place is due to jealousy and wealth.

In the Seeress’ Prophecy, she tells the story of how the war between the Aesir and the Vanir broke out. Gullveig, a witch who sought gold in the realm of the Aesir, was burned three times and reborn three times, sparking a war between the two families of gods. Later, as the gods called a truce, Niord, Frey, and Freyja were sent from the Vanir to live with the Aesir. Many scholars have suggested that Gullveig is in fact Freyja in disguise.

Connecting Fehu to Gullveig opens the rune up for interpretation as both generative and destructive.

Generative: Fehu is an expression of our creative fire, bringing us closer in alignment with our life’s purpose and how that creative fire can create abundance in our communities.

Destructive: Fehu reminds us that wealth can corrupt, that it can cut ties and leave us isolated from community.

In a positive form, wealth can certainly generate more wealth – when you have your bases covered, you are more able to invest time in beautiful things, like art, music, writing, seeking meaning behind life. But at the same time capitalism eats us alive, only allowing for some to thrive. Wealth is not a community value in a capitalist society. Rather, it is an individualistic value. This fits with the harsh individualism that comes through in the Norse myths at the same time that it fits with the harsh values of individualism in the United States.

Runic Illumination of Fehu by EjLowell on DeviantArt

I’ve been thinking a lot about Fehu in connection with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: If Fehu is the initiation rune, it also speaks in some way to the conditions necessary for further growth. For example, if you are struggling daily to cover your basic needs, it will be difficult to focus on a new spiritual path. If you have already been on that spiritual path, it can be a boon and a gain, but it’s difficult to focus on a new spiritual path if you need to focus on your needs.

Fehu, then, represents the conditions necessary to move forward on your spiritual path. It isn’t an overabundance of wealth, but rather an understanding that we all have basic necessities. If those aren’t being met, it’s difficult to do the hard work of inner exploration.

There is also something to be said about sacred balance as it relates to Fehu.

Working with Fehu

Fehu is a powerful addition to any ritual having to do with abundance, generosity, and conservation of resources. Diana Paxson wrote a beautiful ritual for manifesting what you desire using both Fehu and the next rune in the Futhark, Uruz. If you work in a group or if you are a ritual witch, I highly recommend following her suggested ritual and meditation.

Of course, one of the best/easiest ways to begin working with Fehu energy is to place it on an altar. Whether you paint it on a rock, carve it into a candle, or separate it out from one of your rune sets, using Fehu in this way can really help to to ground your attraction magic. Using Fehu in your prosperity magic can help seal it and bring it to the next level.

Incorporating runes in your magic is very easy because they are such simple figures to draw. Carve Fehu into your green candle for prosperity; outline it on your altar with dried yellow rose petals; paint Fehu on your body with anointing oil; draw Fehu on a slip of paper and carry it in your pocket to your job interview.

I also feel the energy of Fehu as being so completely connected with the slow energy of cultivating food. If this rune is related to the hierarchy of needs and making sure that you have safety and security before you move on to the next level of study, you can easily connect Fehu to agricultural workings. Draw Fehu in the soil while you are planting seeds; continue to work with Fehu as you cultivate your garden. Sing the rune to your plants as they grow. Really harness this abundant energy.

Working with Fehu doesn’t mean that you are hungry for wealth – it may represent wealth and abundance often, but it isn’t about the capitalist notion of wealth. It isn’t about having more than you need – it’s about having just enough to move forward with your journey.

Most importantly, Fehu is about having enough to give back to your community. It is not merely wealth for you, but wealth for the collective.


References:
Aswynn, Freyja. Northern Mysteries and Magick: Runes and Feminine Powers. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1998.
Blum, Ralph. The Book of Runes. St. Martin’s Press. 1993.
Murphey, Bradley. Othil: Norce Ancestral Traditions. Thrymheim Publishing. 2006.
Paxson, Diana. Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Weiser Books, 2005.
The Poetic Edda (translated by Carolyne Larrington). Oxford University Press. 1996.

5 comments

  1. Anrael Almuna says:

    I’ve always thought that Fehu means inner wealth, such as our personal talents and abilities, you know, that valuable stuff we carry with us all the time and that we can share with others.

  2. Tango
    Tango says:

    I wonder if the idea that the Futhark opens with wealth gives us the willies, because we jump to a capitalist conception of wealth.

    Because capitalism has put most of us in a scarcity mindset – and we’ve been harmed or traumatized in that mindset – we’ve developed a defensive repulsion to opulence and extravagance. We connote ‘wealth’ with a sort of unsustainable abundance.

    But that’s not actually the root of ‘wealth’, especially when discussing such an ancient symbol. The runes came along long before capitalism. Wealth might’ve more simply been the concept of having everything you need.

    It reminds of the Magician who has all the necessary tools and just needs to learn how to use them. That’s the inherent wealth of life, the inherent abundant quality of this world.

    • Abbie Plouff
      Abbie Plouff says:

      EXACTLY! Yes! You put it so eloquently here.

      I think it’s especially interesting to think about in a family or village oriented context, as well as the very physical context the ancient Norse were living in. In the harsh conditions, the dark dark winters, the short growing season – you had to have a bit more of a collective understanding of property. There’s actually a lot in the Eddas about the virtue of preserving resources, about being silent and modest. That would definitely support a more collective understanding of wealth.

      One of the paradoxes of working with the runes is that at the same time that we can’t ever really know their “real” meanings or fully understand the culture from which they come, we also know that the culture of the ancient Norse was completely different from ours – pre-Capitalist. Whereas Tarot was largely developed, as we know it, under the cultural norms of the Gilded Age. So runes feel like a window to living in a radically different way, but there’s this thick curtain in the way.

  3. Lydia Légaré says:

    I love this serie that’s just starting! I’ve taken up runes not long ago and I’ve struggled to connect with some of the meaning of the runes. You managed to create a link between me and Uruz, and now Fehu makes much more sense to me!

    It is refreshing to see another take on the meaning of the runes! I’m so excited to read the rest of this serie and I’m adding these ideas to those I’ve previously learned about!
    I kept searching for something other than the classical definition of the runes (which are fine) but lacked deeper more attainable meaning.

    Thank you!

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