What exactly are Runes?
I am often asked this when another inquires about my hobbies. I never mind explaining.
Runes were a system of writing that was first developed as symbols deeply etched upon burial sites, obelisks, and thresholds of homes in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and eventually Iceland. The ancient Norsemen and women created these symbols which later became it’s own writing system & Language.
When did the symbols appear?
There are two main theories (and so many more) but only one of which is supported by respected rune historians.
The widely accepted theory states: The very first singular or paired symbols were dated at 50 AD (CE). Runes were officially recognized as fully developed language when longer texts first appeared in the 2nd century AD(CE).
The controversial theory states: Kjell Aartun (which is a Dr of Philosophy/Language researcher) wrote a book called ” RUNER” (Which is regrettably out of print!) stating that the symbols have been dated furthest back at 2000 BC(BCE) without being deemed a fully developed language. He also believed that Latin and Greek were derived from Rune writing. The first theory group believes the opposite. There is much speculation and turmoil between these two factual theory groups and the second theory has yet to be resolved by any concrete evidence. Regrettably, Kjell’s work has been accused of being pseudoscience and is not accepted by “Authoritive Norwegian Rune-ologists.”
Both parties agree that the writing was accepted as a fully developed language between 100-200 AD (CE).
“Dr. Jackson Crawford is Instructor of Nordic Studies and Nordic Program Coordinator at the University of Colorado Boulder (formerly UC Berkeley and UCLA). He is a historical linguist and an experienced teacher of Old Norse, Modern Icelandic, and Norwegian.”
You can get a few lessons from him regarding timeline and sound of the language dialects here.
Ambiguous runes were found approximately 50 AD (CE) and were questioned as to whether they were originally Runic or Roman in nature. We have not been able to prove which language inspired the other.
Unambiguous runes were found dated at 160 AD (CE) at Vimose comb from Vimose, Denmark and Øvre Stabu which was inscribed on a spearhead somewhere in Southern Norway.
Runes were brought over by Germanic mercenaries whom of which were drafted by the Roman Army. A few historians also believed this writing was first developed by warlords of the north which initially came from Sweden and spread southward.
If you want to know more about Kjell Aartun’s work, Explore!
What were Runes used for?
They used symbols on personal items like weapons, upon a threshold of a home, or upon a grave of an ancestor. These symbols were created to honor and thrive as the extended power of the Norsemen’s Pantheon, which was lead by Odin, Freya, and the rest of the gods and goddesses of their faith.
Where did the Rune language go?
Norn, which is the language spoken from Rune writing was soon replaced by Latin in 1200 AD(CE) due to the spread of Christianity. The original Norn Language dwindled in the Shetland islands and were last depicted to be spoken by the elders of the community in late 1700’s to early 1800’s.
Icelandic language is the west-most and closest surviving language of Norn. Icelandic and Norn are both West Scandinavian languages.
What are Runes used for now?
Each Rune has a Symbol which initially meant something in the ancient language.
-Because of the archaic nature of the writing, we have been able to speculate and expand on the language in a form of divination. When Runes are used, the blindly selected set taken from the lot of 25 stones can bring up subjects that all human beings may experience. The act of doing this may invite the person casting the runes to reflect upon what the writings mean to them specifically. A person may also cast for another and read what is taken.
Much like Tarot cards, Runes do also have reversals. Reading styles vary from person to person, but I specifically incorporate the idea that a rune facing down is a reversal of the assigned meaning.
You can look at the alphabet vowels and consonants on the Omniglot to understand how they might sound when spoken. Remember, the Icelandic language is the closest to what the Old Norse sounded like all those years ago…
My diagram below depicts the 25 symbols that make up the Norse Alphabet.