The Runes in Depth: Fehu the Rune of Wealth

Fehu (pronounced FAY-who) equates to the English letter F.

It is the first rune of the Futhark and first of Freyja's Aett. The name means cattle and derives from the Germanic root-word vieh. The modern English words fee, fine and fief (as in fiefdom) are derivatives. Fehu is called Fe in Old Norse, Feoh in Anglo-Saxon, and Faihu in Gothic.

Why is Fehu the first rune? Well it is not uncommon for cattle as symbols of wealth to come first. Phoenician, Hebrew and Greek alphabets all start with letters meaning cattle. There is also the Norse myth of Creation where Au­humla the primal cow licks a block of salt to give life to the first man of the human race. So Fehu in the guise of Au­humla could be seen as the origin of man, and so Fehu is a logical choice for the first rune.

To the farming peoples of ancient Europe, wealth was measured in cattle. Cattle were - and still are - so versatile. They supply us with food, leather for shoes and clothes, and until quite recently they worked at ploughing and carrying burdens. Cattle are also moveable assets both physically and financially. You could drive a herd to another place and sell for a profit, or you could trade them for almost any commodity. A herd of cattle was not only a measure of wealth to the ancients, but a status symbol, like an Aston-Martin, Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce in the drive would be today.

In literal terms then, Fehu means cattle, wealth, reward, generosity, ownership, livestock, nourishment, a beginning, or an opening gambit. In modern interpretation Fehu symbolizes money, a fee, a payment the ability to achieve and sustain success, or greater wealth. In other words, realized ambition. In a broader sense it can be interpreted to mean good health, love fulfilled and good fortune, but you are reminded of the need to be generous, to be charitable and to show compassion.  

Fehu is associated with both Frey and Freyja and in the context of personal relationships may be taken to represent sexual love and even fertility - although this is usually the role of Berkanan. In my opinion the Frey/Freyja connection is a little suspect because there are more appropriate runes for those concepts as we will discover as we continue with this series.

The Fehu/Freyja tie-up may very well have sprung from the naming of the first Aett after Freyja, who otherwise has little connection with this rune. It is true that the Ox is sacred to Freyja, and also that Fehu is the initial rune of Freyja's name, but I feel these are rather tenuous connections. The ancients were usually a bit more brash and obvious with their associations. My personal theory is that mediŠval runologists misinterpreted the name of the first Aett as Freyja's Aett instead of Fehu's Aett, and this misidentification has persisted down the centuries to modern times.

Another misconception I have seen is that Fehu means fire. It is associated with the element fire, but that is primarily because of the color-orientation of light red. The rune of fire is Kauno and I am not aware of any traditional sources for Fehu adopting this role.

The rune poems are pretty definite about the meaning of Fehu. The Anglo-Saxon Rune poem runs:
Wealth is a consolation to all men
Yet much of it must each man give away
If glory he desire To gain before his god.

The Icelandic Poem says:
Wealth source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea and path of the serpent.

I think the last line is referring to the color of gold reflected by the rising or setting sun on the sea.

And the Norse version is very similar:
Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen;
the wolf lives in the forest.

I think the wolf is a metaphor for greed and envy, and refers to squabbling arising from disagreements over money and inheritance, or perhaps to the unacceptable nature of meanness. In Anglo-Saxon and Nordic culture, miserliness was eschewed. The wealthy were expected to be generous to maintain respect and authority. The wolf message to me means "don't hoard your wealth, be generous to be loved".

If we now turn to the interpretation of Fehu in a divining session, the wealth concept is paramount. You could read possessions won or earned, earned income, good fortune, abundance, financial strength in the present or near future. It could be a sign of hope and plenty, success and happiness or social success

In the reverse position, the antonyms are true: loss of personal property, poverty, debt, destitution, loss of respect, failure, greed, reduction, or slavery.

Fehu may also warn you to take care of the physical things in your life before undertaking a spiritual adventure. All your decisions must start by taking into account the day-to-day reality of your life, an assessment of your wealth in material things, knowledge, skill and talent. How do these things equip you for a spiritual journey? What other "wealth" do you need before jumping off into the unknown abyss?

Your spiritual wealth should be shared with others, but do not waste it on the undeserving. However, spiritual wealth is not reduced by use. Share as much as you can and you will become stronger, not weaker. To be ignorant of your talents doesn't mean you have none, only that they are undiscovered.

So we come full circle, back to the original Norse and Anglo-Saxon concept that wealth should be shared, not hoarded. And you, the benefactor, will be stronger and richer for the sharing, not weaker or poorer.

Magickally, Fehu can be used to attract wealth, to attain a goal or protect assets already gained. In this sense it symbolizes power over the environment and enables you to tap into your spiritual energy thus increasing your power to achieve and to hold what you have.

Fehu is associated with the color red - and sometimes with brown as the  natural color of cattle. Its runic number is obviously 1. I am told by those who know about astrology that it is associated with Venus (presumably because of the Freya link), the star sign Taurus (that one is obvious, too - even to me!), and I learned from a Tarot site that it equates to the Empress card (I guess that is Freya again).

The two elements fire and earth are appropriate to Fehu, and the Elder tree, the stinging nettle and the moss agate gemstone are the other associations. Fehu is naturally enough, of feminine alignment.

Fehu may be invoked as a talisman, amulet, charm or magic formula to help those who feel unwell, neglected or deprived. Its purpose is to rebuild inner strength - increasing richness if you like - both mentally and physically. I often include Fehu in custom made practical bindrunes. Not only to symbolize wealth in all its forms, but also when there is a need to bolster someone's self-esteem, resolve and confidence. .
Or you can have "The Rune Reminder" eBook at US$5.95 delivered right away to your email address, to order. The 40 page e-book is designed as a memory aid for rune diviners. The full color illustrated pages give the meanings, interpretations and associations with colors, gemstones, trees and herbs etc. for each rune. The eBook also includes 11 original single-page articles on various points of interest that are not available on the website.
Author Bob Oswald
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