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An Introduction to Runes

An Introduction to RunesIn Norse Mythology, Odin ‘the father of all the gods and men’, hung from the world tree, Yggdrasil, impaled on his own spear, for nine days and nights in order to gain the knowledge of runes. When the runes appeared below him, he reached down and picked them up, and the runic knowledge gave him power. He later passed on this knowledge to the Vanir goddess Freyja. She, in turn, taught him the magic of Seidhr. Heimdallr ‘the whitest of the gods’ taught the runes to mankind.

Today runes have been rediscovered as a symbolic system, gaining immense popularity as a means of divination. Runes give people a way of analysing the path that they are on. They are most effective when someone details their current circumstances and then asks a specific question. Rune readings can sometimes seem obscure. They can hint towards answers, but the rune caster has to use intuition to figure out their meaning.

The History of Runes

Runes are an ancient Germanic alphabet, used for writing, divination and magic (originally spelt as magick). The word ‘rune’ actually means mystery, secret or whisper. Runes were used throughout northern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Iceland from around 100 BC to 1600 AD. Runic inscriptions have also been found in North America, giving evidence that the Vikings arrived in the Americas long before Columbus.

The ‘Elder Futhark’ is the oldest form of the runic alphabets. It was a writing system used by Germanic tribes in central, northern and eastern Europe. Some rune symbols may have been acquired from other alphabets, such as Greek and Etruscan. The runes were made of straight lines to make the characters suitable for cutting into wood or stone. Rune inscriptions have been found on artefacts – including tools, weapons, jewellery, amulets, and rune stones – dating from 200 to 800 AD.

The Elder Futhark originally consisted of 24 runes. As they spread into Scandinavia, some symbols were dropped and the alphabet was reduced to only 16 runes. Three Germanic tribes: the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, invaded Britain, between 400 and 600 AD, bringing the runes with them. Changes led to nine runes being added to the alphabet, and several runes were given different corresponding letters. Expanded to 33 symbols, this alphabet become known as the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc.

Knowledge of how to read the Elder Futhark was forgotten until 1865, until the noted Norwegian philologist and linguist Sophus Bugge deciphered it.

The runic alphabet was no longer used in the mainstream after the Latin alphabet became the preferred script for most of Europe, as the cultures that had used runes underwent Christianisation. However, runes where still used in northern Europe for specialised purposes. Runes where officially banned in the mid 1600’s, due to the Church’s efforts to “drive the devil out of Europe.”

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