Monthly Archives: September 2009

Galdr and Taufr (spells and talismans)

In the basic performance of magic with the Runes, there are two methods that are commonly used. They are known as galdr (or galdor) and taufr (or taufir). These can be simple summed up as spells or incantations, and talismans.

Galdr refers to spells, magic enacted through spoken words. In Old Norse, it also has connotations of singing, as the spells may have actually been sung or spoken in a sing-song way. As there are no existing records of how galdr may have been done, contemporary practices that I have found seem to point to two methods.

One method comes from Edred Thorsson, and can be seen in his book, Futhark: A handbook of Rune Magic. In describing the runes of the Elder Futhark, one of the things he notes is the runes Galdr. These are ways of chanting the runes name, as a means to attune oneself to that runes specific energy. This method is derived form Guido von Liszt, who developed a method of chanting runes, seemingly derived from Hindu practice of seed mantras. In Hinduism, there are seed word sounds, which have certain qualities associated with them. By combining these word sounds, you create a full mantra, for a specific effect. Liszt developed his own version, based upon his Armanen runes, which combine vowels and consonants. The vowels represent energies, while the consonants are forms. These are combined to create a galdr for a specific effect. Thorsson developed on this, extending the letters through the Elder Futhark. Then chant the combination to activate the galdr.

The other method uses poetry to write a spell. Using the symbolism of Runes and their meanings, are woven into the galdr, along with poetic devices common to Northern European peoples, namely alliteration (rhyming using the first consonant of a word) and kennings (inventive names used to describe things, people or places). These are then sung or spoken in pitch, to activate the galdr.

Taufr are talismans. Traditionally, they would have been carved on wood, stone, metal or bone. The talisman then serves as the focus of the magic, conveying its power to its target. The power of the taufr comes from the runes placed on it. The purpose of the taufr is determined by the runes placed on it. Some taufr can be generic for helpful purposes, like general luck or good fortune. Others might be specific, such as the Tyr/Teiwaz rune placed on a sword, to aid the user in combat. The sagas give examples of runes being carved into items, which then destroy the item, such as a cup, because the cup was filled with a poisoned beverage, or a special staff is created which delivers a curse upon foreign rulers, which will only end until they leave the country. Historical sites show place markers for property, as well as spells used to bind people to their grave, as the restless, harmful dead were seen as potentials for mischief and harm.

With the exception of certain archeological sites, we have little information about ancient talismans. Even the sites often leave little clues, except for when the magical uses of the runes are made clear, such as binding the dead to their graves. Contemporary practice does have quite a few methods as to how to determine Runes to create talismans. The easiest is with a single rune, which is alignment with your desires and intentions. For example, if you want to shed light on an issue, use Cenaz. If you want to freeze up some harmful actions, use Isa. This method can be expanded upon by combining runes for your intention. Like combining Feoh with Berkana, to gain money and nurture it to grow.

Other methods are based upon chaos magic techniques of sigil production. Writing your intention, eliminate all the double letters. Take the runic equivalent of those letters, and use that to create your taufr. You can also combine them into a graphic design, known as a bind-rune or sigil. This can be used as a means to conceal your intent from others (if you don’t want it known) and in trying to create a graphic that is aesthetically appealing, adds power and intent to your spell.

You could also perform divination, asking the runes for what to use. From using this method, I have had some surprising results, as the runes indicated may often seen unrelated to your desire, but often act upon internal and external energies to help bring your intent into physical manifestation. This is also an excellent method for creating Thorsson type galdr.

Once you have your runes selected, and you have carved them or placed them on the item, at this point a fluid is then placed upon them. Typically, it is a bodily fluid, blood or spit being the most common. A common substitute is alcohol (ale or beer, but even hard liquor) or red dye or paint, which stains the runes red (blood symbolism). At this point a short incantation may be done chanting the runes names, or simply saying “So mote it be” or something along those lines. Then your talisman is complete. It may need to be placed where it is going to exert its influence, such as carried on your person, or deposited near the target of the spell.

Divinatory Methods

In contemporary runic practice, the Runes are very frequently used for divination aka fortune telling or readings. I say contemporary practice, because there is no solid evidence of divination with the Runes. However, there is quite a bit of lore that indicates that runes were probably used for that purpose, mostly from mythic sources. The sagas indicate runes being used, usually for magic, and sometimes that magic would be divinatory in purpose, but the runes were incidental to the magic, and not the main focus.

The most often quoted example of “runic divination” actually comes from a Roman historian, named Tacitus. In his history of Germania, he makes note of their method of performing lots. However, his language does not explicitly indicate the Runes only that symbols were carved in piece of wood from the branch of a fruit bearing tree, and from those symbols, answers were given from the gods. This method does work very well with the Runes however, and I often use an adapted version for readings with the Runes.

Other methods are derived from tarot, where a specific layout is used, often named after a mythic figure or symbol, or associated with cosmological forces and patterns. The simplest of these is the One Rune or the Odhinn’s Rune, where a single rune is selected and that answers the question or gives insight to the issue being asked about. This method works well for either “simple” yes, no or maybe answers. The yes answer would be an upright figure selected, a no would be an upside down figure selected, while a maybe would be any of the “non-invertible runes” with the maybe being explained more depending upon the meaning of the rune.

Another common version of a layout is the 3 Runes or the Norns Spread, named after the etin women who gather around the well of Urd (Wyrd in Anglo-Saxon), watering Yggdrasil with the well water, and patching it with white clay, who are also the mistress of Fate, or Wyrd. Their names are Urd, Verthandi and Skuld (or Wyrd, Metod and Skuld in Anglo-Saxon). When it is called the Norn’s spread, it is specifically used for looking at the past, present and future, while other values can be used for the three runes. These values are often connected in some way, such as Body, Mind and Soul, or Seed, Plant, and Fruit.
The final method of divination is based upon working magic with the runes that make information known to you. There are numerous ways to do this, from focusing on certain runes to bring you into contact with knowledgeable entities, or beings that possess the information you seek, such as contacting Gods or spirits, to summoning up the dead to ask them questions which they would have had the answer to. You could also work to travel metaphysically, popular known as astral projection, but in northern tradition it has the name hamfaring, referring to the part of the being known as the hamr (shape) which can travel from the body, which can then go seek the information that you desire.

Mythic Origins of the Runes

According to the Lore about the origins of the Runes, they are clearly placed with Odhinn, the primary deity of the Aesir, the most human-like of the Northern tradition Gods. The story of his gaining the runes comes from a literary work known as the Havamal (The sayings of the High One) which relates the story. I highly recommend reading a translation of the Havamal for you, as I will relate a shorter version of the story here.

According to story, Odhinn took his speak, and impaled himself upon Yggdrasil, the World Tree. For 9 days and 9 nights, without food or water, Odhinn hung from Yggdrasil, “a sacrifice of himself, to himself” (as many of the human offerings to Odhinn were hung from a tree in a similar manner). At the end of the 9th night, Odhinn perceived the runes at the roots of Yggdrasil, and reached out, grabbed them, falling from the tree as he did so.
The High One (presumably Odhinn) goes on to explain some of the techniques of working with Runes, and also the 18 spells he knows made of Runes, which cover a number of maladies and situations that might be experienced. While many other authors have theorized runes to these sections, or even created their own Futhark based upon this section, it is my suppositions that these are independent spells that are worked with combinations of runes.
It is from this source that all runic knowledge is given, especially the more esoteric or magical runic knowledge and practices, for all the Futharks.

A brief history of the runes

A brief history of the Runes.

The Runes are a script that appears in Northern Europe. It appears to have been developed as the letters of the people of the areas that are now known as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. The earliest surviving material has been dated to 200 CE (aka AD) from those areas. Later finds show the spread of this script following those people to Frisia (now known as Netherlands) and then to England, and also going to Norway and then Iceland. There is no agreed upon theory as to the actual roots of the Runic script, why it was invented, or who invented it, but there are many theories, some looking to Greek or Roman influence, and some supposing a purely native invention, but there is not much evidence in support of any of those theories.

As the runes spread from their most likely origin, changes in culture, society and language prompted changes in their alphabet and script. The earliest complete Rune Alphabets show 24 letters. As the runes journeyed through what is now the Netherlands and to England, it gained additional letters, as many as 33 letters that were added to it. As the Runes crossed the North Sea into Norway, where literacy was not as prevalent, they reduced to 16 letters. This remained the case as explorers found Iceland, one of the last areas to lose their runic and pagan practices. This created at least 4 identifiable runic scripts or Futharks (named for the first letters of the script). They are known as the Elder Futhark (which is the oldest) The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (found mainly in England and Netherlands) and the Younger Futhark (which has two bodies of lore attached to it, the Norwegian Rune Poem, and the Icelandic Rune Poem).

During the late 19th century and the early 20th Century, there was a runic revival, as interest in historical roots of ethnic culture flourished. During this time, a man named Guido Von List (among others) explored metaphysical and philosophical meanings to the Rune Alphabet, proposing various philosophies. Guido Von List also created his own Futhark, based upon the Havamal, a piece of poetry, which described the mythic origin of Runes by Odhinn. What became known as the Armanen Runes contained 18 runes, with a variety of meanings. This rune row was also picked up by German Nationalists who would later join the Nazi party. Because of that very unfortunate period of German History, the runes as a whole were forgotten in Europe for a few decades, although a few groups from before WWII revived their studies and practices.

In the modern day, the most often used Futhark is the Elder Futhark. Many books about Runes focus on the Elder Futhark. While the Elder Futhark is shown to be the oldest Futhark, it has the least body of lore attached to it, as most other lore focuses on Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, or the Norwegian and Icelandic Futharks. As various groups focused on Northern spiritualities of various traditions grow and prosper, more lore, information and wisdom about the Runes becomes available.

Runic categories

In the mythic lore of the Runes, there are three main sources that people look to. The most often quoted is the Havamal “The Words of the High One” which is often seen as the sayings of Odhinn. The next popular one is Sigrdrifumal “The Words of Sigridrifa” which comes from the saying of the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa to Sigurd, the dragon slayer, where she educated him in runes and magic, so that he might win. The third source, although read by some, by seeming often over looked it the Grogaldr “The Spell of Groa” in which Svipdagr goes to the gates of Hel, to meet his mother Groa, who was a seeress, so that he might learn what magical aid he can get in wooing Mengloth, an etin-maid. In the course of these writings, the speakers (Odhinn, Sigridrifa, and Groa) describe various runes to their audience that they know, or should learn, or use to reach their goals. These runes have a variety of names, and they number listed has never really reached anything close to the length of the alphabets, or the types of runes mentioned, except by the intellectual reaching of authors on the subject.

In other books, you come across various names of runes, signs, and staves for other purposes as well. Some seem to be inspired by the mythic lore, some from sagas, and others existing in Icelandic galdrboks that have been preserved. I made it a point to compile a little list of some of these types of runes, just to give the readers a look at what is present. I have to apologize for lack of accent marks; I just don’t know how to make that happen.

Malrunar- speech runes

Blodhgar runar – bloody runes or blood runes

Leo-runa – song rune (also used to refer to witches, sorcerers and such)

Brimrunar – sea runes (typically for calming the sea)

Bjargrunar – birth runes (for helping in childbirth)

Wyrdstaef – Staff of Wyrd or Urd

Likn-stafir – health stave

Gaman runa – Joy runes

Audh-stafir – Staves of Riches

Sig-Runar – Victory Runes

Myrkirstafir “Murk staves” or “Murk” Runes
Myrkrunar (a lot of writers have used this term to refer to the inverted meanings of runes in a reading, I personally think it refers to runes that deal with visibility

Bol-stafir – Evil staves

Beadu-run – conflict rune

Flaerdh stafir – Deception stave

Valrunar – death runes

Nidhstang – ok, this doesn’t really refer only to runes, but to a certain type of curse spell, where a pole, carved with certain runes, and mounted with the head of animal (typically a horse) is the anchor for a curse spell, used in saga lore to drive a king and queen from the land. I have also seen this spell nydstand or nythstang, which often connected the curse to the rune Nyth or Nauthiz ( Need or Necessity is often how it is translated). It is or was a popular thing for many European northern traditionalists to have on their websites, cursing neo fascist groups who use runes.

Svartrunar – Black runes

Olrunar or alrunar – ale runes

Limrunar – limb runes often considered runes that heal sickness or that bring healing

Hugrunar – mind runes

Helliruna – Hell or Hel runes (helrunar is one of the names that are translated “witch”)

Burgrunan – guarantee runners (used to refer to supernatural beings, especially feminine ones)

Galdrastafir – spell stave

Heidrunar – bright runes

Ginnrunar – cosmic runes

Draumstafir – dream staves (for having prophetic dreams)

Svefnthorn – sleep thorn (a type of magical symbol that causes people to sleep, and not wake until it is removed, or in the case of Sigridrifa, until certain events occur) Interestingly enough, in German folklore that has survived, thorns are a means of delivering curses, by leaving them where people will step on them, the thorn can send a curse to the victim.

Lukkustafir – Luck staves

Thjofastafir – thief’s stave (for catching thieves)

Aegishjalmur – Helm of Awe (or terror)

As you can see, there are a lot of different types of runes, staves, signs, and marks within the body of possible rune focused magic. None of these are mentioned all together, and some come from different historical periods, or are named in the Eddas and sagas. Interestingly enough, only Odhinn ever mentions magic that can be used to draw love or lust. However, if you peruse that list, the one thing I can see in a generic way, is that a lot of what people sought to do with magic is still what is sought in this day in age. Health, Wealth, healing, power, magic, victory, respect, all possibilities are present, even the suggestion of harmful magic, made to cause conflict, to deceive, and conceal, and even working with spirits of the dead (helrunar, and often svartrunar are added to this category). Not much as changed in terms of what people want, or seek, or try to understand or do, with the strange, only once mentioned, exception of love magic. Although love magic does figure quite well into galdrboks, so it is not lost, and the sage of Egill perhaps mention some love magic gone awry (although it seems as though it could have also been healing magic also gone awry, my readings on it seem mixed).

Unlike other authors, it is my contention that all of these various names are probably more likely to be more like bindrunes, combinations of runes worked to various ends. Even in the Eddas, those runes described by the High One, by Sigridrifa, and Groa are separate spells that are formed by the coming together of runes. They might be staves or signs, which would also be empowered by a galdr that is sung or spoken over them. What those are, I don’t know. But I intend to find out. I intend to ask the runes, and to go seek audience with those who gave them, and ask them directly just what it is.

As for the other types, I will be mainly working with the runes to create the stafir. I have started working with one method, rather then intellectually using runes; I do a reading, asking for runes that I should use to create the bindrunes. I have done this a few times before, and I was very satisfied with the results. From an intellectual perspective, it is surprising what runes will come to work various magics, but when you look at it from what you are intending, what they give makes perfect sense.

The most recent bindrune I did was for a galdrastafir, which can be a term used generically for all of them, can also be used to refer to specifically magical acts that relate to magic, and not results. In this case, it was a for a general empowerment stave, that will aid me in charging my magical tools (like candles, wood pieces for charms, to more ritual tools) and the runes I was given were Eihwaz, Ethil, and Iar ( I use the Anglo-saxon runes, with the additional runes that do not have stanzas.) From a purely intellectual viewpoint in dealing with the runes, this may not make sense. If you consider the runes being used, Eihwaz (the yew tree, tied to Yggdrasil as it connects the worlds and realms together) it shows the reach of all the types of energy I could work with, and be connected to them. Ethil (the ancestral homeland) it has to do with marking it with my energy, setting it aside from other items, and focusing it into power for me. Iar (the river fish, considered by some to be tied to Jormungand, the world serpent) deals with binding the energy to the items, and securing it to the object. So, really, the runes know quite well how to aid you with your goal, if you just ask them.

Cup of Runes

One of my favorite tricks is to place runes on a drinking cup, disposable or reusable, as way to incorporate helpful magic into a daily action. I actually came up with this trick during my college years, as a way to help with study, research, and paper writing. It is a great way to turn any liquid into the mead of inspiration.

Items you will need:

A cup or mug (in college mine was solid insulated large plastic mug, with a snap on lid)
A red marker or sharpie

clear adhesive tape
red enamel or paint
paint brush
home made stencil

I highly recommend that you choose the runes you wish to place on the mug. You can choose based upon meaning or symbolism, or by asking the runes for their suggestions. If you can write directly on the cup, just take the marker and write directly on the cup. If you decide to repeat the rune combination, traditional numbers of 3, 8, or 9 are recommended, but you can use any number combination you want. You can also write out each rune separately, or create a bind rune incorporating all of runes, which also be placed singly or in repetition across the mug.

If the mug you choose is not one you can write directly on (finished ceramic, glass, horn, finished wood etc…) you do have options on how to get the runes on there. You could place the runes on a piece of paper, which you affix to the bottom of the cup (at least, that is where I would put it) using clear tape, which you could use to cover the paper completely, thus sealing pretty well to the mug. You could also paint the runes on, using a paint that would be difficult to remove from the item, like long lasting enamel, or creating a stencil of the runes; you could even spray paint them on, very carefully if you wanted.

You may notice that I indicate red as the color to use. This is a historical shade (in the ancient past it would have been blood or red ochre). You can use other shades, but from my experience, using red produces the best results.

As far as suggestions for what runes to use, there are a lot of possibilities. From a certain perspective, you could use the ALU formula, often considered to be alerunes or olruna. Ale-runes are often considered to be runes of spiritual power and protection, and potentially also for inspiration. This is a formula that appears often in runic inscriptions and is often considered to be magical. If you consider the runes of the formula A – Aesc L – Laguz and U – Uruz, it is a formula with great potential, as well as the word together ALU, suggesting ale (a type of alcohol, comparable to beer or mead) it also ties to the mead of inspiration. I also think you could use a variant OLU (Oss, Laguz, and Uruz) for similar purpose.