Odal Rune History: From Norse Alphabets to CPAC Nazi Symbol Claims

Outraged social media users condemned the Conservative Political Action Conference organizers this weekend for what they speculated was a nod to Nazi pagan ideology and modern white supremacy, drawing angry rebuttals by the CPAC and prominent conservatives.

The shape of the stage at this weekend's conference in Orlando, Florida, raised eyebrows given its similarity—when viewed from above—to the Elder Futhark Odal or Othala rune, a letter from a Germanic writing system that emerged in the Migration Period in Germany, Scandinavia and elsewhere.

CPAC vehemently denied the shape of the stage had any white supremacist or fascist link. Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union which organizes the event, wrote on Twitter that the "conspiracies are outrageous and slanderous."

"We have a long standing commitment to the Jewish community," he wrote. "Cancel culture extremists must address antisemitism within their own ranks. CPAC proudly stands with our Jewish allies, including those speaking from this stage."

The Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which owns this year's CPAC venue, said in a statement: "We take the concern raised about the prospect of symbols of hate being included in the stage design at CPAC 2021 very seriously as all such symbols are abhorrent and unequivocally counter to our values as a company."

Here is a well known Nazi symbol and the stage design at the 2021 #CPAC Convention. What a wacky coincidence! #CPAC2021 pic.twitter.com/ZM5Q38XoBQ

— Daylin Leach (@daylinleach) February 27, 2021

The rune first appeared between the third and eighth centuries and is believed to have been associated with concepts of heritage, ownership and inheritance—the root can be found today in property law in Scandinavia and the northern British Isles which were settled by Scandinavians.

But the rune and versions of it were later adopted by pre-World War II fascists in Germany as part of the Aryan mythology and paganism that underpinned the white supremacy and racism of what would become the Nazi regime.

The Nazis—and in particular the elite and fanatical Schutzstaffel, or SS—adopted aspects of Norse culture and history as a sign of their claimed descent from ancient Germanic communities and their disproven racialist theories. Indeed, the organization's infamous emblem was an adaptation of the Sig rune.

The SS were at the forefront of the Nazi industrial effort to ethnically cleanse Europe, and were instrumental in the regime's countless other war crimes and atrocities against Jews, Slavs, Poles, communists, socialists, Catholics, members of the LGBT community, and many other groups.

Versions of the Odal rune were used as an insignia by at least two Nazi military divisions during World War II. It served as an emblem for the Nazi 7th SS Mountain Division that fought in Croatia and the Balkans in the 1940s. A 1995 memoir about the division by SS commander Otto Kumm also features the Odal rune on its cover.

Another version of the rune was used by the 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland—a Dutch collaborationist military unit—during the war.

After the war, the Odal rune was adopted by other white supremacist and fascist groups, including the racist Afrikaner Student Federation group in apartheid-era South Africa and the Italian neo-fascist National Vanguard organization. Snopes also found the rune described as popular with "skinheads" in a 2006 Edmonton Journal article.

Modern neo-Nazis routinely use Norse symbols, including the Odal rune. The Anti-Defamation League website explains: "Today, it is commonly seen in tattoo form, on flags or banners, as part of group logos, and elsewhere."

One such flag was pictured during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, which saw violent clashes between racist marchers and counter protesters, culminating in a car ramming attack by neo-Nazi James Fields that killed one person and injured 28 others.

Donald Trump speaks at CPAC 2021 Orlando
Former President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference held in the Hyatt Regency on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Getty