Alu is a Germanic charm word appearing on numerous runic inscriptions found in Central and Northern Europe dating from between 200 and 800 CE. The word – the most common of the early runic charm words – usually appears either alone (such as on the Elgesem runestone) or as part of an apparent formula (such as on the Lindholm "amulet" (DR 261) from Scania, Sweden).
The term alu is sometimes abbreviated, encrypted or written with grammatical expansion. The origin and meaning of the word are matters of dispute, though a general agreement exists among scholars that the word either represents amulet magic or is a metaphor (or metonym) for it. Usage of the word did not survive long after the Migration Period, possibly as a result of Christianization.
Alu may have lived on beyond this period with an increasing association with ale or beer, appearing in stanzas 7 and 19 of the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál, compiled in the 13th century Poetic Edda, where knowledge of invocative "ale runes" (Old Norse ölrúnar) is imparted by the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa. Theories have been suggested that the unique term ealuscerwen (possibly "pouring away of alu"), used to describe grief or terror in the epic poem Beowulf, recorded around the 9th to 11th century, may be directly related.
Although the literal meaning of the word alu
is generally accepted to be "ale", i.e. "intoxicating beverage", researchers have found it necessary to look deeper into the significance of the term. Earlier proposed etymologies for the word sought a connection with Proto-Germanic *aluh
"amulet, taboo" from *alh
"protect". Cognates in Germanic dialects would include Old English ealh
"temple", Gothic alhs
"temple", and Old Norse alh
"amulet". Edgar Polomé
initially proposed an etymological connection between Germanic alu
and Hittite alwanza
"affected by witchcraft", which is in turn connected to Greek alúõ
"to be beside oneself" and Latvian aluôt
"to be distraught". This etymology was later proven faulty and subsequently dropped by Polomé, though he continues to suggest that a common semantic denominator connects these words with alu
Linguistic connections have been proposed between the term and the Proto-Germanic
, meaning "ale", and subsequently the word is sometimes translated as meaning "ale
", though this linguistic approach has been criticized as having "crucial difficulties". Polomé takes the word to belong to the "technical operative vocabulary" of the Germanic peoples, originally referring to "an ecstatic mental state as transferred to a potent drink" used in religious rituals in Germanic paganism
Raetian North Etruscan dedicatory votive objects have been discovered featuring alu where the term means "dedication". Connections have been proposed between these objects and the term alu found on runic inscriptions. Theories have been proposed that the term was loaned into Runic usage from this source.
The inscription alu
appears on the following bracteates
: G 205, DR BR6, DR BR13, DR BR25, DR BR42, DR BR54, DR BR59, DR BR63A, DR BR67, DR EM85;123, and DR NOR2002;10.
A gold bracteate (G 205) discovered in Djupbrunns, Hogrän, Stenkumla, Sweden reads simply Alu and dates from around 400 CE. The bracteate was discovered in the same location as another gold bracteate (G 204) from a considerably younger date that features the inscription ek erilaR. Today the bracteate is located in Swedish Museum of National Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden.
A fragment of a bracteate (DR BR6) discovered in Skydsrup, South Jutland
, Denmark bears the term Alu
. The transliteration reads:
- lauk=az alu lauk=az alu
Which transcripted into Proto-Norse is:
- Laukaz alu. Laukaz alu.
The fragment dates from around 400 to 650 CE. Today the bracteate is housed in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, Denmark.
A bracteate discovered on the island of Funen, Denmark features incomprehensible and meaningful text. Part of the meaningful text uses the term alu and also the term "The High One", a name for Odin. The bracteate is housed with many others at the National Museum of Denmark. The transcription reads:
- houaz laþu aaduaaaliia a--
The Uppåkra bracteat (DR NOR2002;10
), a C-bracteate
found in Uppåkra
, Sweden during a search with a metal detector
in 2000. The bracteate bears a Proto-Norse runic inscription. The transliteration reads:
- sima-ina alu
The bracteate depicts a man's head over a four-legged animal. The A inscription (first part, sima-ina) is placed over the back part of the head, while the B inscription (second part, alu) is placed over the animal's front legs.
The inscription seems to belong to the big group of C-bracteates with more or less comprehensible charm words.
The third panel Elder Futhark inscriptions found on the 7th or 8th CE century Eggja stone discovered on the farm Eggja located in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway is often interpreted as reading alu.
An inscription reading simply "alu
" is found on a stone discovered in a grave mound
located by the farm of Elgesem, Vestfold, Norway, in 1870. It is dated to about 400 CE. The stone is 172 centimeters tall and 90 centimeters wide, and the thickness is about 18 centimeters. The inscription is written counter-clockwise and is to be read from the top downwards.
Eketorp slate fragment
The Eketorp slate
fragment (Öl ACTARC37;211 U
) is a runestone that was found in Eketorp
and features an Elder Futhark inscription in Proto-Norse.
The first line of the inscription reads:
- ... alu k...
The second line of the inscription reads:
The Kinneve stone (Vg 134) is a stone fragment (measures 7,4 x 5,0 x 2,0 cm) of red soapstone dated to around 600 CE. It was found by chaplain John Lagerblom in 1843 in a grave on the area of the rectory (Prästgården) of Kinneve socken, Sweden. The stone is today housed in the collection of the Västergötland museum, Skara, Sweden. The inscription has been read as:
- ...siz alu h
siz (siR - the last rune is the *Algiz rune) has by Y. Kodratoff been interpreted as the end of a name, and according to Kodratoff the h can represent the *Haglaz rune. Since the fragment was found in a grave, the inscription has been theorized as potentially related to a death cult or "mortuary magic".
The Årstad stone is a runestone found in 1855 on the Årstad farm in Rogaland, Norway. It bears 18-20 runes of the Elder Futhark on three lines. The second line reads saralu
, which is by some scholars split into the words sar
. Today the stone is housed in the Antiquities Collection at the Museum of Cultural History
The inscription alu
appears on the following objects:
The Nydam Arrow (DR 13) is an arrow discovered in Nydam Mose
, South Jutland, Denmark that bears the inscription lua
which has been interpreted as a distorted alu
. It is dated to around 200 to 350 CE. Today the arrow is housed in Museum für Vorgeschichtliche Altertümer in Kiel
Nydam arrow shafts
The Nydam arrow shafts (DR MS1995;344 and DR AUD1994;266) are two arrow shafts discovered in Nydam Mose, South Jutland, Denmark that bear the inscriptions la
respectively. They have both been interpreted as alu
, but it is not certain. The arrow shafts are dated to around 300 to 350 CE. Today they are housed at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.
Nydam axe shaft
The Nydam axe shaft (DR MS1995;341) is a wooden axe shaft discovered in Nydam Mose, South Jutland, Denmark that bears a runic inscription. It is dated to around 300 to 350 CE. Today it is housed at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.
A 3rd century silver fibula (DR EM85;123) from Værløse, Zealand, Denmark features a runic inscription on its pinholder that simply reads "alugod" followed by a swastika. The Værløse Fibula is housed at the National Museum of Denmark.
The Lindholm "amulet" (DR 261) is a bone piece found in Skåne
, dated to the 2nd to 4th centuries. The inscription contains the word alu
Three 5th century cremation urns
from Spong Hill
bear the impression of the term alu
by "the same runic stamp" in mirror-runes.
The Setre Comb is a comb from the 6th or early 7th century featuring runic
inscriptions. The comb is the subject of an amount of scholarly discourse as most experts accept the reading of the Germanic charm word alu
, though there exists questions as to if Nanna
is the same figure as the goddess from later attestations.
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