Tag Archives: history

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.