The Runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes, formerly used to write Germanic languages, mainly in Scandinavia and the British Isles. In all their varieties they may be considered an ancient writing system of Northern Europe. The Scandinavian version is known as Futhark (derived from its first six letters: 'F', 'U' 'Th', 'A', 'R', and 'K'), and the Anglo-Saxon version as Futhorc (also so named after its first letters). The earliest runic inscriptions date from ca. 150, and the alphabet was generally replaced by the Latin alphabet with Christianisation, by ca. 700 in central Europe and by ca. 1400 in Scandinavia. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes, mainly in Scandinavia and in rural Sweden until the early 20th century (used mainly for decoration as Dalecarlian runes and on Runic calendars).
The three best known runic alphabets are:
- the Older Futhark (ca. 150800)
- the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (4001100)
- the Younger Futhark (8001910)
The Younger Futhark is further divided into:
- the Danish futhark script
- the Swedish-Norwegian runic script (also: Short-twig or Rok Runes)
- the Hälsinge Runes (staveless runes)the latinised Dalecarlian futhark script (ca. 15001910)
The most likely candidates for the origins of runic scripts are the 5th to 1st century BC Northern Italic alphabets, Lepontic, Rhaetic and Venetic, all closely related to each other and themselves descended from the Old Italic alphabet. These scripts bear a remarkable resemblance to the Futhark in many regards.
The runes were introduced to, or invented by, the Germanic peoples in the 1st or 2nd century (The oldest known runic inscription dates to ca. the 160s and is found on a comb discovered in the bog of Vimose, Funen. The inscription reads harja). While at this time the Germanic language was certainly not at the Proto-Germanic stage any longer, it may still have been a continuum of dialects not yet clearly separated into the three branches of later centuries, viz. North Germanic, West Germanic and East Germanic. Most of the early runes from the Scandinavian countries are assumed to be in the Proto-Norse, the common ancestor language of the modern North Germanic languages. No distinction is made in surviving runic inscriptions between long and short vowels, although such a distinction was certainly present phonologically in the spoken languages of the time. Similarly, there are no signs for labiovelars in the Elder Futhark (such signs were introduced in both the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc and the Gothic alphabet as variants.
The sounds represented by the runes themselves began to diverge somewhat, and each culture would either create new runes, rename or rearrange its rune names slightly, or even stop using obsolete runes completely, to accommodate these changes. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc has several runes peculiar unto itself to represent diphthongs unique to (or at least prevalent in) the Anglo-Saxon dialect.
However, the fact that the younger Futhark has sixteen runes, while the Elder Futhark has twenty four, is not fully explained by the some six hundred years of sound changes that had occurred in the North Germanic language group. The development here might seem rather astonishing, since the younger form of the alphabet came to use the same few runes to express an unusually great number of different phonemes that the older version had distinguished clearly. For example, voiced and unvoiced consonants merged in script, and so did many vowels. Later, this disadvantage was partly eliminated in the dotted runes of Dalecarlia.
The name given to the signs, contrasting them with Latin or Greek letters, is attested on a 6th century alamannic runestaff as runa, and possibly as runo on the Einang stone (ca. 4th century). The name is from a root run- (Gothic runa) meaning "secret" (c.f. also the chapters of the Kalevala, called runo, plural runot, a loan from North Germanic).
In Norse mythology, the invention of runes is attributed to Odin: The Hávamál (stanzas 138, 139) describes how Odin receives the rune through his self-sacrifice.
The Icelandic sources do not relate how the runes were transmitted to mortal men, but in 1555, the exiled Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus recorded a tradition that a man named Kettil Runske had stolen three rune staffs from Odin and learnt the runes and their magic.
The runes developed comparatively late, centuries after the Central European alphabets from which they are probably descended. There are some similarities to alphabets of Phoenician origin (Latin, Greek, Italic) that cannot possibly all be due to chance.
However, other letters seem to be independent. The Old Italic alphabet is usually quoted as a candidate for the origin of the runes. Their angular shapes are generally interpreted as an adaptation to the practice of carving in wood (rather than writing with a reed or a brush). This hypothesis is supported by the inscription on the Negau helmet dating to the 2nd century BC. This is in a northern Etruscan alphabet, but features a Germanic name, Harigast.
Runes are a popular field for scholars, and many imaginative ideas have been advanced, such as a claim by Olaus Rudbeck Sr in Atlantica that all writing systems originate from proto-runic scripts.Another theory is that the runes originated directly from the Middle East, and are related to the Nabataean alphabet, a variant of the Phoenician alphabet.
The introduction of runes is in this scenario ascribed to the Roman legions, which left Syria Palaestina during the 2nd century. This theory is based on discovery of early runes on weapons, such as longbows, and arrow heads, characteristically belonging to these soldiers. (The historical Nabataean kingdom, spanning Jordan, Sinai, and South Israel, corresponds to early Arabia.)
The "West Germanic hypothesis" speculates on an introduction by West Germanic tribes. This hypothesis is based on claiming that the earliest inscriptions of ca. 200, found in bogs and graves around Jutland, exhibit West Germanic name forms, e.g. wagnija, ni¦ijo, and harija, and that these names refer to hitherto unknown tribes located in the Rhineland.
However, Scandinavian scholars interprete these inscriptions as Proto-Norse, but it should be noted that the differences between Proto-Norse and other Germanic dialects were still minute and that the classification is mostly based on location rather than forms. Any claim that the forms refer to unknown tribes must be considered highly speculative.In the later Middle Ages, runes were mostly used in the Clog almanacs (sometimes called Runic staff, Prim or Scandinavian calendar) that became standard equipment within Northern Europe with the introduction of Christianity. The authenticity of some monuments bearing Runic inscriptions found in Northern America is disputed, but most of them date from modern times.
Magic and Divination
The Björketorp Runestone. It is 4.2 m tall.The earliest runic inscriptions were certainly not coherent texts of any length, but simple markings on artifacts (e.g. bracteates, combs, etc.), giving the name of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or, sometimes, remaining a linguistic mystery. Because of this, it is possible that the early runes were not so much used as a simple writing system, but rather as magical signs to be used for charms, or for divination. The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite. The eerie 6th century Björketorp Runestone warns in Proto-Norse using the word rune in both senses.
The same curse and use of the word rune is also found on the Stentoften Runestone. There are also some inscriptions suggesting a medieval belief in the magical significance of runes, such as the Franks Casket (AD 700) panel.However, it has proven difficult to find unambiguous traces of runic "oracles": Although Norse literature is full of references to runes, it nowhere contains specific instructions on divination or magic. There are at least three sources on divination with rather vague descriptions that may or may not refer to runes, Tacitus' Germania, Snorri Sturluson's Ynglinga saga and Rimbert's Vita Ansgari.
The first source, Tacitus' Germania, describes "signs" chosen in groups of three. A second source is the Ynglinga saga, where Granmar, the king of Sdermanland, goes to Uppsala for the blÛt. There, the chips fell in a way that said that he would not live long. The third source is Rimbert's Vita Ansgari, where there are three accounts of what seems to be the use of runes for divination, but Rimbert calls it "drawing lots". One of these accounts is the description of how a renegade Swedish king Anund Uppsale first brings a Danish fleet to Birka, but then changes his mind and asks the Danes to "draw lots".
According to the story, this "drawing of lots" was quite informative, telling them that attacking Birka would bring bad luck and that they should attack a Slavic town instead.The lack of knowledge on historical usage of the runes has not stopped modern authors from extrapolating entire systems of divination from what few specifics exist, usually loosely based on the runes' reconstructed names. Perhaps the most popular of these is the system created by Ralph Blum, whose Book of Runes comes with a set of runes on ceramic tiles, that are loosely based on the runes of the Elder Futhark. In his book, Blum writes the meanings of the runes "came to him" (that is, he either made them up, or else received them as a revelation, but did not derive these from scholarly research). Another author is Edred Thorsson, whose best known books are Futhark, Runelore and Runecaster's Handbook (originally published as At The Well of Wyrd).
Later runic finds are mainly monuments (rune stones) and often contain solemn inscriptions about people who died or performed great deeds. For a long time it was assumed that this kind of grand inscription was the primary use of runes, and that their use was associated with a certain societal class of rune-carvers.However, in the middle of the 1950s, about 600 inscriptions known as the Bryggen inscriptions were found in Bergen. These inscriptions were made on wood and bone, often in the shape of sticks of various sizes, and contained inscriptions of an everyday nature - ranging from name tags, prayers (often in Latin), personal messages, business letters, expressions of affection, to bawdy phrases of a profane and sometimes even vulgar nature. Following this find, it is nowadays commonly assumed that at least in late use, Runic was a widespread and common writing system.
Theories of the existence of Gothic runes have been advanced, even identifying them as the original alphabet from which the Futhark were derived, but these have little support in actual findings. If there ever were genuinely Gothic runes, they were soon replaced by the Gothic alphabet. The letters of the Gothic alphabet, however, as given by the Alcuin manuscript (9th century), are obviously related to the names of the Futhark. The names are clearly Gothic, but it is impossible to say whether they are as old as, or even older than, the letters themselves.
As with most oracles of divination - Runes mean different things if held 'straight up' and mean the opposite if held in the 'reverse'.
FEHU - F: Cattle
Abundance through effort, inheritance of self and self value, material gain, earned income. Success, happiness and wealth.
Reversed: Abandonment of plans, loss, disappointment, frustration.
URUZ - U: Brute Strength
Strength, home love on all sides, health, changes, a forceful masculine archetype.
Reversed: Missed abilities, weak will power, lack of motivation
THURISAZ - TH: The seeing of the future
Opening the door or gate to see the future, luck reflection for action, protection. You will see the truth.
Reversed: Not willing to heed information given, having a stubborn mind-set
ANSUZ - A: references the ancestral god, Odin.
Message from within (listen to your 'little voice'), advice from others, chance encounter, careful thought so you will know what to do from this point in time
Reversed: Watch out for trickery, the dark side of yourself when others interfering with your plans, or there is failed communication
RAIDHO - R: Journey
You're about to embark on a journey - either in the physical world or a journey of your soul to heal something that needs healing.
Reversed: Unexpected, unpleasant journey, transit problems, upsetting plans, lost tickets, communication
KENAZ - K: Beacon or torch.
When you feel in the dark - this rune will bring an opening, to help you open to who you are and your highest possibilities. From the darkness - light will come.
Reversed: withdrawal, anxiety, closing, loss
GEBO - G: Gift of Harmonic Relationships
Unity with self and all others - especially with our higher selves, nature and all things around us. Cannot be reversed.
WUNJO - W or V: Bliss and Glory
You do not Need anybody. Peace, pleasure, self-worth, joy and serenity, happy results, harmony, prosperity
Reversed: Sorrow, dissatisfaction, disappointment, friction, delay, possession by higher forces
HAGALAZ - H: Destructive forces
This refers to the destructive forces of nature, and things that are out of our control. Cannot be reversed.
NAUTHIZ - N: The Negatives of Human Needs
Caution, hold, coming in touch with a side of you that you may not like, resistance, distress, delay, constraint or restraint. Reflect on how bad things can and appreciate what you have.
Reversed: Improper course of action, think twice before acting, don't make hasty judgments!!
ISA - I: Ice
Frozen in time, calm, non-action, everything on hold, letting go of ego and seeking your inner truths, you are blocked by your emotions. Cannot be reversed.
JERA - J or Y: The Cycle of One Year
Reaping of a reward when your world seems stagnant, harvest the seeds you have planted, gain, fruition, things happening in their own time and space when they are supposed to! Cannot be reversed.
EIHWAZ - EI: Yew Tree
Stability, doing the right things, patience, perseverance, endurance. Decided what is the right way to get the things accomplished in your life. Cannot be reversed.
PERTHRO - P: Initiation, Things Unexplained, Something Hidden
A hieratic or mystery rune pointing to that which is beyond our frail manipulative powers.
Perth is associated with the Phoenix, the mystical bird which consumes itself in the fire then rises from its own ashes. Its ways aresecret and hidden. Powerful forces of change are at work here. Yet what is achieved is not easily or readily shared. After all becoming whole - the means of it - is a profound secret. On the side of the Earthly or mundane, there may well be surprises, gains or rewards that you did not anticipate. On the side of human nature this Rune is symbolized by the flight of the eagle. Soaring flight, free from entanglement, lifting yourself above the endless ebb and flow of ordinary life to acquire broader vision - all this is indicated here.
Perth stands for the heart of Initiation - Nothing external matters here, except as it shows you in its inner reflection. ThisRune is concerned with the deepest stratum of our being, the bedrock on which our destiny is founded. For some Perth means experiencing some form of death - or transition. It is a letting go of everything, no exceptions, no exclusions. Nothing less than renewal of the Spirit is at stake.
Hidden information and truths, mysteries, esoteric, that which is unknown on a conscious level, it could come into the light and you would understand the 'higher meaning' of things.
Reversed: Events stalled, you need to clear out something - unpleasant surprise - the old way has to come to an end, do not focus on outcomes, nor bind yourself with memories of past achievements or you will orb yourself of the true present. When your inner being is shifting and reforming, on a deep level, patience, constancy, and perseverance are called for.
Do no repeat the old - let it go!
The initiation - the veils of the illusion are being lifted - let the old ways go!
Stay centered, see the humor and keep your faith firm.
Spirit guides - (How interesting as my guide is Zoroaster and I call him Z!) - protection, fortunate new influence, making the connection with spirit and working through your issues.
SOWILO - S: The Sun
The circle is completion - wholeness, the sun, the path to awareness and self knowledge. See you 'dark side' - that which makes you destructive to yourself and others. Seek change to heal and be complete with yourself. Cannot be reversed
TEIWAZ - T: Tyr, the sky god.
To be successful in competition, very motivated, finding the spiritual or transcendental self.
Reversed: Low energy and lack of enthusiasm
BERKANA - B: Birch-goddess
To be prepared, cautious in what you do. Also references your family and home.
Reversed: An unfortunate domestic situation - so use caution.
EHWAZ - E: The Sacred Horse
The balance of things in the universe, stability, move forward carefully focusing on the tools that will help you get there
Reversed: Sudden unexpected change that is not wanted
MANNAZ - M: The nature of Humanity
The self and its place in the collective conscience of humanity. We are all part of the collective unconscious - we are all One. Your attitude towards and their attitudes towards you. Take this time for personal reflection. Cannot be reversed.
LAGUZ - L: Water - Emotions
The moon, the flow of emotions and all things into the collective unconscious - all bodies of water - Aquarius - feminine energies - higher mind, spirituality, health and healing - a time of cleansing.
Reversed: Not listening to your inner voice, tackling something you know you should not do - or are not capable of doing.
INGWAZ - NG: Fertility
Fertility of the joining of human beings, usually for a new life - a pregnancy. Finish what you are doing, tie up lose ends and start something new. Cannot be reversed.
DAGAZ - D: Daylight or Dawn.
A new day begins and go to work. You become more insightful, breaking through your new ideas. Light is around you. Cannot be reversed.
OTHALA - O: Ancestral property - Inheritance
Freedom and independence through releasing ideas and things that keep you 'stuck'. You will feel 'free'. You will inherit from someone.
Reversed: Not letting go of outmoded ideas and concepts. You will feel 'stuck'.
BLANK RUNE: Sometimes called "Odin's Rune":
Anything is possible and can happen. The sum total of who you are, what you have done, and what you have become. Choose a direction and go for it. The blank Rune was added to the others in the 1980's. It shows that as humanity has grown - the possibilities are beyond what was conceived by the original Runes. Some people include the blank Rune in a reading - while others leave it out! I prefer to leave it in as the Universe has limitless possibilities!! If you get this Rune - and you believe in yourself - you can manifest anything!
Third Reich - Runes have been used in Nazi symbolism by National Socialists and neo-Nazi groups that associate themselves with Germanic traditions, mainly the Sigel, Eihwaz, Tyr, Odal (see Odalism) and Algiz runes. The fascination that runes seem to have exerted on the Nazis can be traced to the occult and volkisch author Guido von List, one of the important figures in Germanic mysticism and runic revivalism in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1908, List published in Das Geheimnis der Runen ("The Secret of the Runes") a set of 18 so-called "Armanen Runes", based on the Younger Futhark, which were allegedly revealed to him in a state of temporary blindness after a cataract operation on both eyes in 1902. In Nazi contexts, the s-rune is referred to as "Sig" (after List, probably from Anglo-Saxon Sigel). The "Wolfsangel", while not a rune historically, has the shape of List's "Gibor" rune.
Neopaganism - The runes are a major element in Heathenry and Asatru in particular, often used to indicate ancestry, in crafts and for ritual purposes. They are not to be construed with political implications without additional evidence. Neopagans such as Wiccans and some occult groups may often also sometimes use runes under various conditions.
Military use - The German Bundeswehr uses a design reminiscent of the odal rune as a part of their shoulder-board ranking system on a
variety of levels, including the German Army and German Navy.