In “Stopping Hate” (EW, 7/3), the Othala rune is described as “popular among white nationalists.” While this problem is hardly confined to our local racists, I feel the need to speak out and educate our community about the origins of this symbol and its other associations.
Racists have already managed to irreparably damage the reputation and use of one ancient and originally benevolent symbol (the swastika), and we can’t let them have another one.
The runes were the alphabet used by various Germanic and Scandinavian languages in antiquity, and they can be found in ancient inscriptions and medieval manuscripts. Over time, they also acquired symbolic meanings and were (and are) used in divination and magic.
Othala, also called Odal and representing the sound “o,” has connotations of ancestral homeland (hence the appropriation by white nationalists) and inheritance. The runes are now used, and considered sacred, by many practitioners of Heathenry, Asatru and other modern pagan and polytheist religious traditions — the vast majority of which are vehemently opposed to all forms of racism both in their spiritual communities and beyond, and are devastated at the recent increase in usage of Othala by neo-Nazis.
In order to prevent the runes from being totally corrupted by racist propaganda (and to prevent non-racist pagans from being attacked, verbally or otherwise), I urge everyone to consider the context when encountering runes, and remember that they are still sacred imagery for many people.
It is horrible to have your spiritual symbols twisted into a tool of hate.