(fehu) - pronounced “fee-oo”, is the Nordic cattle rune. It’s no coincidence that the Phoenician, Hebrew and Greek alphabets also start with letters signifying cattle, since cattle have been pivotal in the establishment of societies throughout the world. (As a matter of interest, the Nguni dream symbol for hunger, desire and control is identical to fehu.)

Cattle are versatile, providing nourishment (milk and meat) and clothing (leather), and serving as beasts of burden. They also represent moveable assets. The word “pecuniary”, signifying things of monetary value, with its Latin root “pecus” meaning “cattle”, reminds us of this concept of moveable wealth. A sizable herd was as much a status symbol in ancient societies as a sports car would be for a young man today. But cattle were more functional - you could also trade them for wives! (The English word “fee” is a derivative of the Anglo Saxon “feoh”, which stems from the Germanic “fehu”.)

Fehu is therefore a rune of expansive energy and symbolises possessions or wealth earned. It marries ambition, fulfilment and satisfaction. As both an earth and fire rune, fehu governs the base or root chakra. This rune is presided over by Freyja, the Nordic goddess of love. Her sacred day is Friday (Freyja Tag), and the ruling planet is Venus. The Afrikaans “om te vry” describes the sensual hanky panky to which this goddess is dedicated.

It takes little imagination to realise that fehu is also a fertility rune. So, apart from material gain, this rune also signifies love fulfilled. But fehu represents a conquest and is not a gift. A “fee” is the price to be paid for any trade-off, and can be viewed as a sacrifice. Nordic legend suggests that the price need not necessarily be noble- the four dwarves of the cardinal points fashioned a gold and amber necklace for Freyja, but not until she had slept with all of them as a fair exchange of energies!

This rune teaches the lessons of non-recklessness and altruism: conserve and consolidate what you have earned or gained, yet share some of your good fortune with others. However, following the above advice per se will not ensure abundance. It is necessary to blend in the energy of the 18th rune, beorc, (from which the modern day B is derived).This is the Earth Mother goddess rune and is linked to the birch tree. Legend has it that the birch was the first tree to recolonise barren land when the ice receded after the first Ice Age.

The powerful earth rune beorc represents Spring and embodies birth and regeneration. In medieval times, whole birch trees were used for Maypole dancing. The shape of Beorc is a pictograph of the breasts of the Mother Goddess, Nerthus and “nurture” is the linguistic spin-off. The lesson is to nurse new projects. Gaultier, the avant-garde French fashion designer, was most likely doing a direct rip-off of the medieval representations of the Birch Lady when he designed pop star Madonna’s outlandish pointed bras.

Beorc is all about personal growth. It is a rune of liberation and becoming. Interestingly, birch twigs traditionally make up the “brush” part of a witch’s broomstick. From a magical perspective, the stick represents a penis, while the twigs represent the female reproductive organ. Expansive energy like fehu. However, fehu seems rather like expensive energy, when one thinks of “lobola” cattle dowries!

There is an extremely simple yet potent secret inherent in beorc. The Greek philosopher Demosthenes hints at it in the seemingly bland statement he made in 348 BC: “We believe whatever we want to believe.” What he meant was that if we believe strongly enough in anything, our dream manifests as reality.

In Matthew 21:22, the bible advises: “Whatsoever you ask for in prayer, believing, you will receive.” But, as the modern pop refrain goes: “You gotta have faith.” The faith must be unswerving and steadfast. The slightest hint of doubt will shipwreck even the most modest of prayers. In an article by Mark Comings entitled “You already have what you deserve”, he succinctly says of the Law of Faith: “Without the secure certainty that what you wish for is already yours (i.e. is your rightful inheritance) and that you are worthy of receiving it, there is no way to magnify or attract it (your wish/dream) into physical manifestation.”

So, returning to the cattle rune: Give thanks for abundance, and it is yours instantly. Trust implicitly in the process. Don’t do anything reckless. Share good fortune, though conservatively. Fehu is the rune of eternal becoming. In a reversed position, it indicates loss or destruction. With beorc, it describes the process of birth-life-death-rebirth, or what Edred Thorsson, possibly the greatest rune shaman alive, calls: “arising-being/becoming-passing-away toward new arising”.

We are spirits learning to experience the material world. No need then to feel guilty about materiality and physicality. In the long term, however, once we have learnt the lesson of accumulating material possessions, the runes teach that we will (hopefully) feel a desire to downsize, thereby becoming ultimate masters of our reality. .

January 2000
© Gavin Ford