Rune of the Month
After nearly five years, I’m finally on the last article! Now that all twenty-four runes of the Elder Futhark have been discussed, I will end the series as follows:
- Suggestions for further reading and study on all aspects of the runes.
- Brief comments on the Younger Futhark.
- Somewhat longer comments to serve as an introduction to the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (yes, I spelled that right)!
- And finally, just for fun, some easy suggestions for writing Modern English (and other languages) with the Elder Futhark.
Please keep checking Jordsvin's Rune Pages, for new links. It is designed to be a rune course. Pay particular attention to the Rune of the Month series and to my “First Steps in Runework” article. Thanks to all you long-time readers for your patience as this series has slowly taken form.
Here are some books containing excellent information on the scholarly aspects of runic study. Most of them are mentioned in the introductory article to this series, but as five years have passed, I think they bear repeating. Runes: an Introduction by Ralph W. V. Elliott is essential reading. Either the 1959 or 1989 editions will do. I also highly recommend Runes and their Origins: Denmark and Elsewhere by Erik Moltke and Anglo-Saxon Runes by John M. Kemble (the latter first published way back in 1840, but still in print!). Ditto for An Introduction to English Runes by R. I. Page. Please note that this means all runic inscriptions found in England, be they of Anglo-Saxon or Viking origin. With these books, along with Dr. Stephen Flowers’ dissertation, mentioned in the next paragraph, you will have the solid background information you need to develop your own sound metaphysical study of the runes. At the very least, you won’t join the ranks of certain New Agers who think that the runes came from Atlantis. No, I'm NOT joking; I wish I were!
By way of clarification, most of us Germanic Heathens are Norse/Viking Age oriented, mainly because this is the best known and preserved form of our religion. Others are Anglo-Saxon or German oriented. You need not be Heathen or even Pagan to work with runes, although Heathens may expect somewhat better results. Edred Thorsson's runic trilogy: At the Well of Wyrd, Futhark, and Runelore are excellent. They are published by Weiser. His other works are published by Llewellyn (1-800-THE-MOON for a free catalogue). Also good and by Edred Thorsson: A Book of Troth (his book on Heathen religion) and Northern Magic. Nine Doors of Midgard is meant as a sequel to his runic trilogy, but in my honest opinion it's a bit iffy and very heavily under the influence of (non-Heathen) ceremonial magick. Thorsson has written a number of books as well, but these are the best known, and in my opinion the best. Under Edred Thorsson's legal name, (Dr.) Stephen E. Flowers, his doctoral dissertation, Runes and Magic: Magical Formulaic Elements in the Older Runic Tradition was printed by American University Studies, Series 1: Germanic Languages an Literature, Vol. 53. The publisher is Peter Lang of New York, Berne (Switzerland) and Frankfurt am Main (Germany). You can readily obtain this learned, detailed, and fascinating book from Interlibrary Loan for about a dollar (in the US and Canada anyway).
Nigel Pennick is a popular writer. His Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition is great. Go ahead and read it if you like. His Runic Magic book is interesting, but runic astrology, a concept he discusses at some length, is a modern concoction. Much of the Northlands were too far North and too damn cloudy for astrology to evolve! On top of that, in some places in Summer, it doesn't get dark for months.
Freya Aswynn's Leaves of Yggdrasil (recently republished with a CD of her "Songs of Yggdrasil," which is excellent but she sounds like the Vulcan priestess Te Pao from the old Star Trek series, and some additional material as Northern Mysteries and Magick) should probably be saved until after you've read some of the works of the other authors. The book is good but is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. Please don’t forget to check out the bibliographies in the books I’ve mentioned for further reading.
To counter the tendency I’ve noticed among some folks to turn runic study into something exclusively intellectual and deadly dull, I’m quoting with permission the following insightful and poetically beautiful statement from Pam C., a fellow student of Thorr and Audrey Sheil: "...to know a thing's "name" gives us power over it (according to magickal tradition), but there lies the mystery. What is meant by a name is to know a thing to the core, to understand how it thinks and feels and reacts. Only then do you know its "name" regardless of what it prefers to be called. It is the occult name, the hidden name that is most important. And so it is with Runes. They are more like living things than not. Each has a personality with many facets, and a polar opposite. They are more known than learned. Introduced, than taught. Therefore, is this a clue as to runes being magickal potencies?"
On to the Younger Futhark! Around the beginning of the Viking Age, the Elder Futhark in Scandinavia was shortened from twenty-four to sixteen runes, and the shapes of some of the staves were changed. Numerous local variations eventually developed. In writing, the effect was clear. The runes became rather imprecise and harder to read. A rune could represent two or three different sounds in many cases! Magickally it is hard to tell. One possibility is that, for instance that when Dagaz/Dag dropped out, Tiwaz/Tyr took over for it magickally as well as phonetically. I’d love to hear from folks who’ve worked with the Younger Futhark. I could post the information at the end of this article on my webpage. For most modern runesters, the Elder Futhark, as the Ur (Original) Futhark, is the one to use!
Somewhat before the Futhark was shortened in Scandinavia, it was lengthened in Frisia, from whence some of the Germanic settlers in England came, and once in England, it was lengthened yet again in some areas. The result was the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc, which developed to accommodate additional sounds in Anglo-Saxon. This is much easier to understand than the shortening of the Futhark in Scandinavia. To facilitate the further study of those interested in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, which includes but is not limited to Anglo-Saxon Heathens, I’m including a brief description of Thorr and Audrey Sheil’s investigation into the additional Anglo-Saxon runes, which number from four to nine depending on location and time.
The Sheils feel that the runes in their fullest sense are those of the Elder Futhark, and that the later additions are best viewed as magickal sigils or at most as auxiliary runes. The meaning of these symbols are as follows:
The first addition is Ac, which has the value of “A”, and means Oak Tree. Its verse in the Old English Rune Poem describes how the Oak is a blessing for humans, a source of food for pigs, and a good timber for ships. The Oak was sacred to Thorr and Odin. Ac is a strengthening rune, especially in difficult situations. It helps one to withstand tests gracefully. It has ramifications for feeding and raising livestock and for workings involving boats and sailors. It may protect against lightening.
Aesc (AE) means Ash Tree. Yggdrasil is often seen as an ash tree, although others see it as a yew. Ash is a tall, beloved tree, as its verse describes. It helps you stand your ground against outside pressure and hostility and weather opposition with resolution.
Yr (Y) means saddle. It might also mean a yew bow, but those meanings are covered pretty well by Eihwaz, so saddle seems more likely. It ties in with journeying and the passage of time, and the ability to travel freely where one wishes. It helps one get through the day and get through troubles.
Ear (EA) means Earth or Grave. It has to do with digging and burying things. Holes of any sort, tombs, caverns, and pipelines can be described by it as well. It has to do with things returning to Earth.
Ior (IO) means some sort of amphibian. I've also seen it as Iar (IA). Many see it as a beaver, and the description provided in the Old English Rune Poem matches beaver behavior well. Ior denotes the ability to adapt oneself to a new and rather different environment or situation. An adaptable, chameleon-type person can be indicated. Such and individual changes faces from situation to situation. It may have to do with commuting (working one place and living in another). It ties in with Dagaz in the idea of the daytime human world and the shadow realm of less corporeal wights.
The last four runes do not have extant verses, and were used mostly in Northumbria, in Northeast England.
Calc (a K sound) means Cup, Pitcher, or Beaker. It may also indicate a basin or tub. It is a supply of water. As a cup contains water, so Calc indicates containing something and keeping it from spreading. It provides a proper field of expression for what it holds. It keeps things within controllable bounds.
Gar (a harder G sound than that represented by Gebo/Gyfu) means Spear. The Sheils see it as a stylized, squared-off Sunwheel. Runes had no straight lines at all until folks began to write them on parchment instead of carving them on wood. It is a defensive rune operating on all planes, and in effect says “stop.” Gar also stabilizes.
Cweord (QU/KW) is probably a misspelling of “Cweorn,” a quern or hand-mill. It represents a change of small dimensions, limited in size, content, and importance. It refers to small amounts, brevity, short duration, and short-term effects. An impending change of small importance and brief duration, often less than twelve hours is indicated. Think of a little hand mill, which is quicker than a trip on foot carrying a sack of grain to the water mill, but grinds only relatively small amounts of grain!
Stan (ST) means Stone. It can mean both weight and standstill. In England, a “stone” is fourteen pounds. Stones don’t change very fast. While Isa blocks, Stan indicates total stasis and inertia coming from within. It can be an unchangeable, immovable foundation. It can refer to “dead weight.” This rune is a rune of the status quo and is literally a hard rune!
Meditation on these nine later addition to the runes, a fourth aett, as it were, may yield further insights. These brief descriptions are meant to encourage those who are interested to begin their own investigations.
Here is an easy system I’ve devised to write English with the Elder Futhark. It is based on rune-to-letter correspondence, rather than phonetics, and is thus easier for the vast majority of folks who are NOT linguists!
Fehu is used for F (and PH if you like). Uruz transcribes U (long, short or whatever). Thurisaz = TH, Ansuz = A, Raidho = R, Kenaz = K or C, Gebo = G, Wunjo = W or V, Hagalaz = H, Nauthiz = N, Isa = I long or short, and Jera = J or Y. Eihwaz varies. Sometimes it’s E; sometimes it’s I; sometimes EI; it can even be CH! Some folks don’t even use it in writing at all! Perthro is P; Elhaz Z, Sowilo S, Tiwaz is T; Berkano is B; Ehwaz is E in all its sounds; Mannaz is M; Laguz L, Ingwaz NG; Dagaz D, and finally Othala is O! I render QU by Kenaz Wunjo and X by Kenaz Sowilo.
Please note that this is NOT the only option for writing Modern English in runes. The late J. R. R. Tolkien of Hobbit fame (may Odin feast him well; Tolkien was a devout conservative Roman Catholic but did tons, howbeit unwittingly, to popularize runes, Heathen mythology, etc.) popularized using Anglo-Saxon runes for writing in Modern English. Several years back a Standard International Futhark (SIF, cool acronym) was proposed and you can see it in action in the runic puzzle section of Yggdrasil, a little magazine put out by Freya's Folk in California. It comes out four times a year and is very enjoyable. They are printing these articles. SIF consists of the Elder Futhark, plus Anglo-Saxon borrowings to write C and Y, plus newly invented runes for Q, V, and X. Both SIF and modern uses of the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc tend to work on letter-to-rune correspondence, rather than attempts at phonetic spelling.
I’ll close with a funny true story: some civic-minded small-town Heathens set up a booth at a school fair and wrote people’s names in runes for a dollar donation to the school fund-raiser. They gave customers a key similar to the one just above, except of course, they wrote in the rune-staves. Later, many of the school kids started writing in runes! The school personnel, unaware of their provenance, labeled them “the kids’ secret code.” When runic graffiti started appearing (it still does from time to time there, years later) the Heathens gave a copy of the "code" to the principal. “How did you decipher the kids’ secret code?” was his amazed response!
Enjoy your work with runes, but please don’t spray-paint them on other people’s property! :-) This series is finished; thanks be to Odin!
The Road to Bifrost volume III: the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor and Audrey Sheil. Out of print.
Fascinating Rune Comments from Badger: In Volume 6 of The Road To Bifrost, Thor Sheil refers to a traditional Runic ordering referred to as "Roof Runes". This ordering of the runes leads to a deep analysis of abstract thought. In Roof Runes, the Elder Futhark is arranged linearly from left to right in three rows. The three in each vertical row are considered to be related, with the first rune being a source or type of energy, and the two below it are abstract ways that energy flows through the Nine Worlds.
There are eight sets of these: this is the first ordering:
Sheil, p. 10, RTB, Vol. 6:
"Fe is at the peak, representing matter, material, and "stuff"; On one side Hagal denotes material strewn randomly; opposite Hagal, Tyr represents material sent forth with tactical precision".
This is the first arrangement of eight. Each, taken in turn , make great food for thought. The description of the first provides a key for those that don't have Thor Sheil's materials to unlock the rest. A key to remember here is not to look for "cookbook" approaches for meanings, but rather introducing new ways to think.
Very advanced for some old Northerners. although the traditional Norse mindset was linked to natural cycles instead of mathematics , psychology, sociology, and physics, their thought was no less abstract and precise, and just as understanding for them as our modern science is to us.
last modified 08/11/2004