With great shows such as Vikings and a rise in Nordic influences it is not uncommon to see people walking down the street wearing rune pendants or even, as in my self, sporting rune tattoos, but they are not supposed to be used for fashion or as a fad, they are very much a powerful and useful form of magick, One of the most iconic and well known forms of magick is the Norse practice of Seidr where runes are a huge part and also the using of runes for the likes of divination and devotion. All though these are both acceptable uses of the runes, there is more to these strange characters than meets the eye, the very name rune comes from the Old Norse word Runir meaning secret or mystery, and I believe there is a lot more to these symbols than just simple fortune telling. Right now however lets take a look at what runes are…
The Runic alphabet or futhark is a form of writing system thought to be used by the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe, Britain, Iceland and of course Scandinavia. The term Rune means secret and they are thought to have derived from symbols of the Etruscan (Northern Italy) alphabet with Latin Influences The earliest runic inscriptions date from around 2nd century more specifically and arguably the earliest possibly runic inscription that we know of is found on the Meldorf brooch., before this a form of pictorial symbols were used and carved into rocks, similar to that of hieroglyphics, which are called Hallristningar and are dated from roughly 1300 BC common to Sweden
Runology is the study of the Runic alphabets, Runic inscriptions and their history. It was initiated by Johannes Bureus (1568-1652) who was very interested in the linguistics of the Geatish language or Old Norse. However, he did not look at the runes as merely an alphabet but rather something magical. The study of runes was continued by Olof Rudbeck Sr (1630-1702) and presented in his collection Atlantica. The physicist Anders Celsius(1701-44) further extended the science of runes and travelled around the whole of Sweden to examine the rune stones.
There are many great magicians out there that have worked with runes from Stephan Grundy, Freya Aswynn and Diana L Paxson but the best way to learn about the Runes and Rune Magick is to practice yourself and discover the secrets that the runes can offer for yourself.
There is also the traditional view ,and I prefer this view, that Odin himself hung himself from Yggdrasil and pierced his side with Gungnir. There he hung for 9 days and nights without food or drink, until in a hazy dream the runes appeared to him and at that moment he fell screaming from the tree and when he woke he knew the knowledge and magic of runes which he taught to Kvasir the wise and Bragi the Skald, and when he travelled to Midgardr he taught this to man also. We know this from a section of the Poetic Edda which talks about this sacrifice.
Hung I was on the windswept tree;
Nine full nights I hung,
Pierced by a spear, a pledge to the god,
To Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree which none can know the source
From whence its root has run.
None gave me bread,none brought a horn.
Then low to earth I looked.
I caught up the runes, roaring I took them,
And, fainting, back I fell.
-Poetic Edda, Runemal.
Whichever theory we choose to believe, we know that the oldest set of runes are called the Elder Futhark, which were used between the the 4th and 9th centuries The earliest known carving of the entire futhark (alphabet), in order, is that on the Kylver stone from Gotland, Sweden, which dates to roughly 5th century, and had 24 runes representing not only letters of the alphabet but different aspects for instance the rune Fehu was used as a representation of the letter F and for the aspects of Cattle or Wealth (cattle at this time were highly prized and so used as wealth). Even today the Elder Futhark is the most commonly used Runic alphabet, especially in Magickal and Heathen practices, due mainly to its simplicity.
However it was not the Alphabet used by the Vikings for instance (a common misconception) in fact the Vikings used a 16 letter system called the Younger Futhark or the Scandinavian Futhark. These were used from the 9th century onwards till around 12th century and were only stopped when further and more complex writing systems came into play, such as Latin, Saxon Runes and Medieval scripture.We also know that runes were often taught and used by people called Rune casters, there is also evidence of many being women and according to the Skald of Erik the Red’s saga they wore quite elaborately decorated robes. For now however we will be talking about and using the Elder Futhark, as in modern day magick it is the preferred system and in my opinion the most interesting and beautiful of all the runic scripts.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of Runes the next step is to learn each of their meanings and characteristics, this however is not a case of reading and following a chart, to truly understand the runes you will need to , using a cliché here, become one with them, and that takes time and practice and effort but I can guarantee it will be worth it ….