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What are the Runes?

Runes are the alphabet of the ancient northern European tribes, the northern Celts, the Vikings, and ancient Germans. Runes came into usage at least two centuries before the common era and may have evolved after contact with the “civilized” people of the Mediterranean. The word rune has it’s origins in the Gothic word runa, meaning secret, mystery or whisper, and the old German word raunan, which means to cut or to carve. Carved Runic inscriptions have survived all over northern Europe, including Ireland, Scandinavia, Ukraine and Iceland. There are several different forms of the alphabet. The one most often used today for fortune telling is the Elder Futhark, which is the Norse version of the alphabet.

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Rune History

From the earliest times, Runes were associated with magick. In “Germania”, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote how the priests of Odin could use the Runes as an oracle. Tearing a branch from a fruit-bearing tree, the priest cut it into strips. The priest painted each strip with the symbol of a single rune, and cast the lot into a white cloth. A priest would then pick three at a time; from the particular combinations he could divine the future. Runes were also used to carve “cursing stones”, to defeat tomb robbers. The partial inscription on one ancient Swedish tombstone reads, “I hid here magic runes undisturbed by evil witchcraft. He who destroys this monument shall die in misery by magic art”. It’s little wonder that so many of these ancient monuments have survived! Runes were even credited with bringing the dead back to life:

An old Norse poem translates as-

“A twelfth magic I know When I see on high
A corpse swinging from a rope
Then I cut and paint runes
So that the man walks and speaks with me”.

So strong was the association between pagan magic and the Runes, the Catholic church finally banned them in 1639. As late as the 17th century, people in Iceland were condemned to death for merely possessing any object upon which runes were carved or written!

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Rune Mythology

Legends claim the god Odin as the inventor of the runes. Odin’s wisdom and ability to see into the future doomed him to a dismal existence, for he could foresee the downfall of the gods themselves. Knowledge of the runes was Odin’s hard-won sacrifice; during a shamanic initiation, he hung himself between the Nine Worlds from the Yggdrasil, or World Tree, for nine days and nights without food or drink. Wounded with his own spear, passing through the gates of Death, Odin drank a magic potion, returning with the knowledge of the Runes. With this knowledge, Odin gained power over the realm of the Dead as well as the Living. Therefore, runes contain the ability to unlock, balance, and control characteristics within us to harness and achieve our objectives.

The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

The most important surviving Medieval source of information concerning the Runes is the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, which contains 24 verses, one for each rune. The poem was translated by monks into Latin sometime between the 8th and 11th Centuries.


Wealth is a comfort to all men; yet must every man bestow it freely, if he wishes to gain honor in the sight of the Lord.


The aurochs is proud and has great horns; it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns; a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.


The thorn is exceedingly sharp, an evil thing for any knight to touch, uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.


The mouth is the source of all language, a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men, a blessing and a joy to every knight.


Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads on the back of a stout horse.


The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame, it always burns where princes sit within.


Generosity brings credit and honor, which support one’s dignity; it furnishes help and subsistence to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.


Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety, and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.


Hail is the whitest of grain. Whirled from the vault of heaven, hail is tossed about by gusts of wind and then melts into water.


Trouble is oppressive to the heart; yet often it proves a source of help and salvation to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.


Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like gems; it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.


Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven, suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits for rich and poor alike.


The yew is a tree with rough bark, hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots, a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.


Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.


The Eolh-sedge is mostly found in a marsh. It grows in the water making a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it.


The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers when they journey away over the fishes’ bath until the course of the deep bears them to land.


Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.


The poplar bears no fruit. Yet without seed, it brings forth suckers, for it generates from its leaves. Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.


The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors. A steed in the pride of its hoofs, when rich men on horseback bandy words about it; and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless.


The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen, yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow. The Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.


The ocean seems interminable to men if they venture on the rolling bark and the waves of the sea terrify them and the course of the deep heed not its bridle.


Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes, till, followed by his chariot, he departed eastwards over the waves. So the Heardingas named the hero.


An estate is very dear to every man if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.


The glorious light of the Creator, Daylight, is sent by the Lord, it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor, and of service to all.


The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men. Often it traverses the gannet’s bath, and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith in honorable fashion.


The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men. With its sturdy trunk, it offers a stubborn resistance, though attacked by many a man.


Yr is a source of joy and honor to every prince and knight; it looks well on a horse and is reliable equipment for a journey.


Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land; it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.


The grave is horrible to every knight, the corpse quickly begins to cool and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth. Prosperity declines, happiness passes away and covenants are broken.

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