Runes and Whispers: UR

14px-runic_letter_uruz-svgProto- Germanic Reconstructed Name: UR 
Meaning: “wild cattle” or “water”

Original Text in Poems:

Anglo-Saxon Poem
Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned,
felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum
mære morstapa; þæt is modig wuht.

Norwegian Poem
Úr er af illu jarne;
opt løypr ræinn á hjarne.

Icelandic Poem
Úr er skýja grátr
ok skára þverrir
ok hirðis hatr.
umbre vísi

Translation:

Anglo-Saxon  Poem
The aurochs is proud and has great horns;
it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;
a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

Norwegian Poem
Dross comes from bad iron;
the reindeer often races over the frozen snow.

Icelandic Poem
Rain is lamentation of the clouds
and ruin of the hay-harvest
and abomination of the shepherd.

Musings:

Ur, often Uruz or Ura, is the second rune of the Elder Futhark and represents the u sound within the alphabet. Though Ur has a stanza in each rune poem, the poems all contains a different meaning for this rune, making Ur one of the more complicated and nuanced of the runes. The Anglo- Saxon poem, written in Old English, refers to this rune as “auroch,”  while the Icelandic poem refers to Ur as “rain,” and the Norwegian poem speaks of “dross/slag.”

All of these are completely different things! Why you do dis, rune poems?! These words don’t even have the same roots! The Old English word for “auroch” and the Icelandic word for “rain” come from two different Proto-Germanic words, “ūruz” and “ūrą“ respectively, and from an etymological sense, these words are not related in a way we can currently trace. It’s possible the Norwegian word for “slag”, which is the stony liquid byproduct of smelting or refining ore, could be derived from “water/ūrą,” so perhaps the Icelandic and Norwegian meanings are distantly related…but slag and rain are completely different concepts.

Most sources and modern interpretations that I have read accept “auroch” as the meaning for Ur, as a rune for “water,” “ice,” and “hail” already exists within the Futhark, making “slag” and “rain” all but unnecessary. I generally agree with that conclusion, however one should not ignore or discount the layers of meaning afforded to Ur by the Icelandic and Norwegian poems. The Icelandic poem calls Ur “rain” and proclaims it to be the “lamentation of the clouds and ruin of the hay-harvest and abomination of the shepherd,” while the Norwegian poem warns that slag “comes from bad iron.”

I tend to think of Fehu and Ur as complimentary runes. Where Fehu is the domesticated “mobile wealth,” such as cattle and sheep,  Ur is the auroch, a savage and proud wild bovine yet to be brought low by mankind’s harness and fences. When Ur appears in a spread, I consider it a symbol of the querent’s untapped potential, a messy beast yet to be wrangled and the wealth inside which we may not even be aware we possess. Sometimes that wild cattle has horns and is difficult to capture; left to its own devices, Ur can easily become the “ruin of the hay-harvest”. But, if one can take control, then that untamed beast inside can become a powerful ally or a cleansing storm.

Note: More on the rune poems here.

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