ᛉ / Z
Algiz is a rune with many meanings, names, and connotations. In Proto-Germanic, it goes by the name Elhaz or Algiz, both of which mean“elk”. This rune symbolizes the largest and most robust of the male deer, mirroring the antlers in shape and meaning. Algiz represents defense, vitality, strength, protection, health, fertility, and the entirety of the forest; that which the Elk overshadows. In reference to antlers, or horns, Algiz can be attributed to the Celtic god Cernunnos, the Horned One. In many pagan faiths, Cernunnos (Hurnaz) is the “Lord of the Forest” and the animals therein.
As with Cernunnos, Algiz can also be associated with hunting. The hunter must form a sacred relationship with these animals and their environment, studying them and meditating on them. The skilled hunter needs to not only have knowledge of these animals and their nature to be able to hunt them effectively, year after year, but also develop a deep respect and understanding of them; a dedication to observing their patterns and habits. The hunt is a sacred activity, whether for food or for sport. Algiz reminds us of this sacred relationship we must maintain with the forest and its’ beings to live in harmony amongst it; reaping rewards from it and giving back with reverence.
In Old English, this rune goes by the name eolh, meaning “elk or moose”. This is also reflected in Old Norse, with the word elgr, which also means “elk or moose”. This reverence of horned animals goes back to the root word of Algiz in the proto-Indo-European h₁el-, meaning “deer, elk, and elephant”. The “Old English Rune Poem” states:
“Elk sedge has a home oftest in a fen,
It waxes in water; wounds grimly,
Besmears with blood every man
Who lays anywise ahold of it.”
This is the only poem that refers to this rune as the Elk. Although here, its reference is regarding the sedge plant, which is barbed and sharp like the antlers of an elk. These sedge plants can cause one to bleed if grasped or stricken by its’ spines, as one would be by the antlers of the elk, if attacked. Sedge is commonly found amongst the “fen”, which is a type of marsh, bog, or swamp. This could be the allusion to the abundant life-force and robust natural energy associated with the elk, something our ancestors may have seen reflected in these natural environments.
It is safe to say that Algiz carries a certain masculine energy within it, separate from the other horned animal rune, Uruz. Algiz is more focused and less chaotic; fertility and health based on steady wisdom and not ancient fury. The grace of the elk or moose has long been an impressive force to behold, and they demand our respect. This beauty is inherent in the Algiz rune.
In the Younger Futhorc, this rune shifts names and sounds, being called in Old Norse, Madr, meaning “man”. This form of Algiz absorbs the Mannaz rune, taking it on as its focus and sound while retaining the core shape of Algiz. The “Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme” states:
“Man is an increase of earth;
Great is the grasp of the hawk.”
This poem invokes man as the “increase” of earth (dirt), something that refers to our transcendence over pure terrestrial matter. This points to mans divinity and difference from the rest of nature around him, as he has an “increased” awareness of his own existence. The second line alludes to the feet of the mighty hawk, who’s shape mirrors the rune in appearance.
As with the Norwegian verse, the “Old Icelandic Rune Poem” echoes this rune as “man” as well, stating:
“Man is sport for man, and an increase of earth,
And the adorner of ships.”
This poem states man as “sport” for man, meaning competition, training, entertainment, and coaching. In short, we are pushed competitively by our fellow man towards greater heights, creating a “sport” out of life. The second part reflects the same notion as the Norwegian poem, referring to mans’ divinity. The last line, in my opinion, is a poetic reference to a fully armed ship, “adorned” with men as though decorated.
Although the name and focus shift drastically between the Old English and Scandinavian poems, they all resonate a tone of good health, virility, and power. This, we can say with confidence, embodies the “light” side of Algiz, while the “dark” side encompasses old age, degradation, and loss of health. This can be seen in the Proto-Germanic aldiz, which means “age, generation, lifetime”, and in the Gothic alþeis, meaning “old.”
There is no doubt that Algiz can also be attributed to the trees, as its shape mimics a tree (or man) with outstretched limbs. This is something that alludes to the Norse creation myth, where it is said that life was given to two posts of wood, creating the first two humans Ask (Ash) and Embla (Elm). Evidence can be found in our previously viewed proto-Indo-European root word h₁el-, which also refers to certain types of trees displaying a “bright” bark like alder, elm, and fir. Further evidence can be found in the Bulgarian elhá, meaning “fir, evergreen, or conifer”.
This brings us full circle in our journey through Algiz, as elk, moose and deer are all known for stripping bark from trees with their antlers. This implies a deeper connection between the hart (stag), the forest, and the trees themselves. This spirit, as stated before, can only be attributed wholly to one force: that force being Cernunnos/Hurnaz, the Horned One; the deified representation of life and the natural wilderness. Algiz, in this respect, can be viewed as a direct runic symbol for this god, as one would use Ansuz for Odin, or Thurisaz for Thor.
In conclusion, Algiz can be attributed many positive forces, such as good health, potency, vigor, and the ability to protect that which we care for. It can also take a darker form in the aspects of old age, bad health, and sterilization. Algiz takes the form of “man” in the Younger runes, representing divinity and power, something echoed in all forms of this rune, whether focused on man or elk. The majestic antlered beasts of the woods and plains have long fascinated mankind with their beauty and brilliance, and although we also hunt them, we have never forgotten that mystical energy that they carry within. A certain peace and stillness resides in these creatures, directly connected beneath their hooves to the spirit of the Earth itself, giving it expression through robust and vital presence and purpose.