Runes: A Fascinating History

Burning candle and old scull in the enchanted forest. Occult, esoteric concept.
A brief history of the Elder Futhark Runes as a divination tool and their impact on modern paganism, culture and society.

Today we will tell you about the Elder Futhark runic symbols and their meanings. To date, just under 400 runic inscriptions have been found. The oldest runic letters and inscriptions found date back to 150 AD. Runes were used by many Germanic communities around the 1st or 2nd century AD. They were used by both Germanic and Scandinavian tribes and changed over time. It is believed that the first runes were used during magical rituals (calling on powerful forces) long before they were used as a writing system. Runic script served as letters and were used to write various Germanic languages. They were also used in conjunction with our current alphabet, until the 14th century.

With the spread of Christianity, the runes were replaced by the Latin alphabet. In the 8th century, due to changes in the English language, they were improved and replaced by several sets of regional minor runes. After about the 12th century AD, and until the 16th or 17th century, they were still sometimes used in amulets and commemorative inscriptions, mainly in Scandinavia.

Being the literal Futhark alphabet used during the Viking Age, it was believed (and still believed by some) that the runes were very powerful, symbolic of intrinsic qualities and values, and associated with magic. Even still today the meanings hold a special place in modern divination, magical practices, and oracle readings. It is this history of Scandinavian tradition that leads us to suspect that the Vikings saw runes not just as mere letters, but as symbols with powerful inner qualities that could be used to connect with the supernatural realm. While the prophets and ceremonial priestesses of Völva used runes to sense the ways of the cosmos, many runic inscriptions have been found as relating to law or commerce, or simply a man or woman carving their name on a personal item.

The meanings of the Elder Futhark runes were much deeper than the meanings of the simplistic line-based letters we know today. A quick Internet search will turn up thousands of images of the Elder Futhark runes, as well as runic poems giving the name and meaning of each of the twenty-four rune stones. Despite the largely uniform nature of the Elder Futhark, variations also existed, and it is important to understand that the rune series commonly presented today for the Elder Futhark is only a basic lineage. Around the beginning of the Viking Age in the late 700s, the Futhark was reduced to only 16 runes. In the middle of the 11th century, the extended medieval futhark began to be used in Norway and some other areas. The Scandinavian alphabet, called Futhark, had several regional variations.

In the 8th century, the basic Scandinavian futhark consisted of 24 letters. The Anglo-Saxon alphabet added letters to the early alphabet to represent Old English sounds that did not exist in languages ​​that used the Old Germanic alphabet. The Scandinavian languages ​​were even richer in sound than Old English; but instead of adding letters to Early to represent new sounds, Anglo-Saxon users made up letter values ​​using the same letter to represent more than one sound – for example, one letter for keg, one letter for a, ae and o.

For example, such sounds as “e,” “g,” and “u,” were added to the dashed runes of the 11th century. There are no more runes for “o, e, e, and r.” Instead, the runes used the runes closest to the sound they were supposed to use. Sticking to mostly sixteen runes, a few extra bits have been added to the runes themselves, especially in the form of dots that distinguish a certain sound value from other sounds a dot-less one may represent.

The ettir, or runic groups known to the Elder Futhark, remained in place over time, becoming groups of six, six, and four, respectively. In fact, the new form of writing is actually the Younger Futhark itself, with minor changes since the spread of the Latin alphabet led to the addition of new runes corresponding to letters. These had no analogues in the 16-runic system. Although the Viking Age runic alphabet (Junior Futhark) has fewer letters, it is easier today to use the Futhark because they can be easily rewritten with the letters we have today. Modern experts have determined the Futhark (or “Futhorka”) runic alphabet is based on the first six letters of the Elder Futhark. A complete runic system has been discovered that appears in order on the Kilver stone in Gotland, Sweden, dates to the beginning of the era of the migration of peoples (in about 400).

The modern Elder Futhark consist of 24 runes divided into three groups of 8, called A|tt (singular for A|ttir), and are said to be ruled jointly by a god and a goddess. Given the local variations and differences among engravers, 16-rune engravers were a common form of Scandinavian writing in the Viking Age. They created new scriptures that better represented Old Norse, and by the time of the Vikings, the ancient runes had been abandoned for nearly a century.

Cited Sources




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