Runes: Origins, History, and Their Use Today

01/25/2010 00:21

Those interested in pagan spirituality often use or are familiar with divination. The most widely known technique is the use of Tarot cards which can be purchased in many varied styles at just about any book store near you.

Another form of divination that is not as widely practiced is the use of runes.

Where They Came From

Runes were first developed by early Germanic tribes in northern Europe and adopted by the Scandinavians soon thereafter, though many scholars disagree as to when runes were first used. The runic alphabet is believed to have originated in the first century because the earliest artifacts containing runes can be dated to the second and third century A.D. It is accepted that they were adopted from an earlier alphabet (probably Etruscan) though this is a point of contention in the field.
(NOVA online)

Runes and Their Path Through Time

Runes are the writing system of early Germanic and Scandinavian cultures. The runic alphabet is called futhark because it is based on the first six symbols of the alphabet: F, U, Th, A, R, K. There are three runic alphabets that I will discuss here: The Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon Futhark, and the Younger Futhark (also known as the Scandinavian Futhark). (runes: alphabet of mystery)

The Elder Futhark

The Elder Futhark is thought to be the oldest of the three, in use from the 2nd through the 8th century. It contained 24 runes arranged into three sets (or aett) of eight: Freya's eight, Hagal's eight, and Tyr's eight. According to legend, Odin, Father figure/Chief of Norse Gods, either speared himself to Yggdrasil (the world tree) or hung from Yggdrasil while his spear pierced his side. He stayed this way for nine windy days and nights in order to gain the knowledge that would give him power in the nine worlds. He then passed this knowledge, the sacred knowledge of the runes, on to his people

The Anglo-Saxon Futhark

The Anglo-Saxon Futhark is an extended alphabet for the Anglo-Saxon/Old English alphabet that began with 29 characters and grew to 33. Until there is more definitive archeological evidence, it is unknown whether the runes were introduced by the Frisians or Scandinavians into England. They were used from the 5th to the 11th century by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians.

The Younger Futhark

The Younger, or Scandinavian, Futhark was used sporadically in Scandinavia until the 17th century, particularly in Denmark and Sweden. It is a reduction of the Elder Futhark containing only 16 characters and corresponds with a change in the language from Proto-Norse into Old Norse. The change is also reflected in the way it is written. It is divided into short twig (Swedish and Norwegian) and long branch (Scandinavian) runes with the reason for the differences in controversy.

Runic Use
The runes were viewed as a gift from the God, Odin, and therefore sacred. This idea is supported because many the earliest known artifacts contain the name of a person and do not seem to be used for general writing. Th
e name adorned on the artifact is probably that of a Rune Master, a skilled craftsman trained in not only the power of the runes, but also their application. Runes adorned a variety of objects from swords to chalices, their uses running from talismans to either ward off evil or harm, or to provide healing magic for the sick. They were also used in divination where one rune is carved onto a stone until the entire alphabet is available. Then they were thrown or dropped onto the ground and read according to the meaning associated with that letter.

How We Use Them Today

Runes have seen a revival of sorts, especially in Germanic Neopaganism. It can be said that many on a pagan path have used or seen runes. Wooden runes are often created from sacred trees, though they can be created on a variety of mediums ranging from stone to glass. No matter how they are created, they are still being used in much the same manner as they were 2000 years ago. For the purpose of divination.

A great place to visit on Rune divination is Bewitching Ways. The site has practical advice on different ways to cast your runes, as well as simple instructions on how to read them.

Divination has manifested in many forms throughout history in a variety of practices; working with runes is only one of these. Their ease of use and appeal has allowed them to stand the test of time. Every culture strives to learn the unknown and to touch the divine, many believe that divination allows them to do just that. Tarot Cards, Scrying, and Runes have survived for a reason. Perhaps because in the proper hands, they actually work.

Blessed Be

all information used to write this article can be found on the following pages.