Runes F A Qs

    Runes Frequently asked questions

Was rune divination ever actually practiced?

Ancient or classical references to runes for divination, writing, etc are virtually non existent. So it has been argued in scholarly circles that modern Neo Pagan theories as to what our ancestors did with them are inherently based more on personal interpretation rather than actual facts. Derisively so there is little evidence to back up reliably what our continental Germanic or peninsular Scandinavian tribe folks may or may not have used  as regards runes within their communities. We have instead footprints for writing systems and vague references for actual divinatory practices. These off course could be something entirely different from their current interpretations or indeed usage in the modern sense. It could further be argued that many Neo Pagan Eclectic authors have added to this cocktail by fanciful theories based on their own personal gnosis and devoid of Ockhams razor methodology and application.

The most used quote to back up rune divination theories has to be that of the works of Tacitus in his Germania. Rune poems, the "Runattal thattr Othins", and the "Ljothatal" form the primary basis of modern magical usage of runes. Scholars would argue strongly that there is no conclusive proof from historical sources that the runes were used for divination and they would be RIGHT!

Tacitus Germania:


The Ljothatal can be found in stanzas 147-165 of the Havamol (The ballad of the High One), a collection of charms;

147. The songs I know | that king's wives know not,
Nor men that are sons of men;
The first is called help, | and help it can bring thee
In sorrow and pain and sickness.

Ref: The Poetic Edda, Havamol Bellows HA

Runattal thattr Othinns:

Veit ec at ec hecc Veit ek at ek hekk Veit g a g hkk
vindga meii a vindga meii vindga meii
ntr allar no, ntr allar nu, ntur allar nu,
geiri vndar geiri undar geiri undaur
oc gefinn Oni ok gefinn ni og gefinn ni,
sialfr sialfom mer, sjlfr sjlfum mr sjlfur sjlfum mr,
a eim meii, eim meii eim meii
er mangi veit er manngi veit er manngi veit
hvers hann af rtom renn. hvers hann af rtum renn. hvers hann af rtum rennur

I know that I hung, on a windy tree, for all of nine nights, wounded with a spear, and given to inn, myself to myself, on that tree, which no man knows, from what roots it runs.



Here is my opinion on the matter. No one knows for certain that rune divination did not exist? I disagree to a point when all we keep hearing about from the scholastic worldview is WHERE IS YOUR PROOF?

Point 1: Lack of evidence is not proof that something did not exist

From the earliest stages of civilisation people have used various means of divination to communicate with the supernatural especially when seeking help in their public and private lives. Divination is most often practiced as a means of foretelling the future, and sometimes the past. It is one of the primary practices used by witches, wizards, medicine men, sorcerers, and shamans or whatever name one goes under these days. Diviners have always been with us, some belonged to special classes of priests and priestesses in past and present civilizations, and are specially trained in the practice and interpretation of their divinatory skills. The Greeks had their oracle which spoke for the gods. During the Middle Ages grain, sand or peas were tossed onto a field in order to read the patterns after the substances fell. As far back as 1000 BCE. the Chinese had "I CHING," an oracle which involved the tossing and reading of long short yarrow sticks. And the scholars argue over physical evidence for rune divination?

Point 2: Rune evidence for usage in healing

There is historical evidence that runes were used for healing and that a serest was the way our Norse ancestors sort advise on the future?

Demon of the fever of wounds,
Lord of the demons,
Now you must flee,
You have been discovered.
Three kinds of pain on you, wolf.
Three times the misery, wolf.
|sa |sa |sa, the rune of Ice.
These ice runes will be your only joy, wolf.
Enjoy the seidr well.

11 century Rune Poem find on copper plate, Sigtuna

There was a woman in the settlement who was called Thorbjorg; she was a prophetess, and was known as the Little Sibyl. She had had nine sisters, but she was the only one left alive. It was her custom in winter to attend feasts; she was always invited, in particular, by those who were most curious about their own fortunes or the season's prospects. Since Thorkel of Herjolfsness was the chief farmer in the district, it was thought to be his responsibility to find out when the current hardships would come to an end. Thorkel invited the prophetess to his house and prepared a good reception for her, as was the custom when such women were being received. A high-seat was made ready for her with a cushion on it, which had to be stuffed with hen's feathers.

She arrived in the evening with the man who had been sent to escort her. She was dressed like this: she wore a blue mantle fastened with straps and adorned with stones all the way down to the hem. She had a necklace of glass beads. On her head she wore a black lambskin hood lined with cat's-fur. She carried a staff with a brass-bound
knob studded with stones. She wore a belt made of touchwood, from which hung a large pouch, and in this she kept the charms she needed for her witchcraft. On her feet were hairy calfskin shoes with long thick laces which had large tin buttons on the ends. She wore catskin gloves, with the fur inside.

When she entered the room everyone felt obliged to offer her respectful greetings, to which she responded according to her opinion of each person. Thorkel took her by the hand and led her to the seat which had been prepared for her. He asked her to cast her
eyes over his home and household and herds; she had little to say about anything. Later that evening the tables were set up; and this is what the prophetess had for her meal: she was given a gruel made from goat's milk, and a main dish of hearts from the various kinds of animals that were available there. She used a brass spoon, and a knife with a walrus-tusk handle bound with two rings of copper; the blade had a broken point.

When the tables had been removed, Thorkel went over to Thorbjorg and asked her how she liked his home and people's behaviour there, and how soon she would know the answer to his question which everyone wanted to learn. She replied that she would not give any answer until the following morning, when she had slept there overnight first.

Late next day she was supplied with the preparations she required for performing the witchcraft. She asked for the assistance of women who knew the spells needed for performing the witchcraft, known as Warlock-songs; but there were no such women available. So inquiries were then made amongst all the people on the farm, to see if anyone knew the songs.

Then Gudrid said, 'I am neither a sorceress nor a witch, but when I was in Iceland my foster-mother Halldis taught me spells which she called Warlock-songs.'

Thorbjorg said, 'Then your knowledge is timely.' 'This is the sort of knowledge and ceremony that I want nothing to do with,' said Gudrid, 'for I am a Christian.' 'It may well be,' said Thorbjorg, 'that you could be of help to others over this, and not be any the worse a woman for that. But I shall leave it to Thorkel to provide whatever is required.'
So Thorkel now brought pressure on Gudrid, and she consented to do as he wished. The women formed a circle round the ritual platform on which Thorbjorg seated herself. Then Gudrid sang the songs so well and beautifully that those present were sure they had never heard lovelier singing. The prophetess thanked her for the song.

'Many spirits are now present,' she said, 'which were charmed to hear the singing, and which previously had tried to shun us and would grant us no obedience. And now many things stand revealed to me which before were hidden both from me and from others.
'I can now say that this famine will not last much longer, and that conditions will improve with the spring; and the epidemic which has persisted for so long will abate sooner than expected.

Ref: Eric the Red Saga, Chapter Four based on a 13th C account of the happening in late 10th C Greenland. This is taken from pages 81-84 of THE VINLAND SAGAS, trans. Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1978 (1965)

Folks are the scholars telling us on the one hand that rune magic and seering may have existed in Viking times but rune divination does not? I do not believe it is a far fetched concept that the Norseman motioned the idea of divination with his natural tool on hand, the runes. It is most likely that divinatory systems are not uniform in practice from one region to the next or over any given amount of time. This is true even of systems using the same tools -- tarot, geomancy, coins, dice, crystal balls, water etc

One final thought,  The word rune (Old English run) is not merely a form or writing but stirs the imagination and conjures up many possible attributes to it, such senses as 'whisper'; 'mystery'; and 'secret', suggesting that the symbols were originally used for magical or mystical rituals. Anyone who actua1ly understands historical linguistics will realise that it is fundamentally unshaken and that it has cultural implications, even if the age has long since gone when we could envisage Indo European warriors sweeping away earlier populations by force of arms.  This is very much the case where history is determined by the victorious in battle? The real knowledge of runes it seems lies logically with the warrior classes or at least by those who are capable of surviving conflict?

Menstrual blood for runes?

The usage of menstrual blood for reddening runes is a common practice amongst the eclectic Neo-Pagan female populace today but is IMO grossly incorrect and not in keeping with tradition. Consider that the Havamol tells us, "Do you know how you must sacrifice?".

Veiztu hv rsta skal?         Do you know how you must cut [them]?
Veiztu hv ra skal?         Do you know how you must interpret?
Veiztu hv f skal?            Do you know how you must colour?

Veiztu hv freista skal?      Do you know how you must try?
Veiztu hv bija skal?        Do you know how you must invoke?
Veiztu hv blta skal?     Do you know how you must sacrifice?

Veiztu hv senda skal?      Do you know how you must send?
Veiztu hv sa skal?         Do you know how you must kill?

Havamol stz  144

I further suggest that fresh blood taken from yourself via a self inflicted wound (this takes some courage even today) has a potency unlike anything else you might be willing to offer to the gods or indeed the runes. Ask yourself, for example exactly what element of sacrifice is present when you use end of cycle blood that is more akin to a natural body cleansing function? No heathen (not to be confused with eclectic neo-pagan) today that I know would use menstrual blood for reddening their futhark runes. Instead we all cut ourselves and offer our freshly sacrificed blood in keeping with lore. Try to remember also that in the dark ages when these arts were believed to have been practised, what seems to be a simple cut can have serious heath implications to the person who cut themselves. Today you would simply go to a doctor or a hospital to get some antibiotics and treatment for your injury. In the dark ages, it was possible that infection may set in and you got very ill or even died!

Consider also that menstrual blood and menstruating women are taboo in some way in nearly all cultures. Taboos are created to control things, which are considered powerful or dangerous. The ability of women to bleed without being wounded, and to bleed in a predictable rhythm, like the cycles of the moon, combined with the ability to give birth, has been considered a kind of power by people all over the world since we became human. And whether the women were feared, worshipped or envied because of their periods, taboos were developed to protect society and the woman against this incredible menstrual power. We no longer think of menstruation as a kind of power (although maybe we should), but we still hold on to some very old menstrual taboos.

When looking back at the history of menstruation is almost never mentioned as a good thing. Most old medical and religious writings on menstruation discuss it as shameful, unclean or unhealthy. These beliefs come from very ancient menstrual taboos. Ancient Greek and Roman writers described menstrual fluid as powerful and unclean.

For example, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder described menstrual fluid as having these powers:

"Contact with it turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison..."

Most of the writing we have from the past is written by men, and of course, men don't have periods. So it should not be surprising that they thought menstruation was awfully strange, since they did not bleed that way. It had to be normal not to have periods (after all, they didn't), and they searched for the reasons women bled.

They believed there had to be something inferior about the way women are put together. Or they thought women bled because they were cursed by God. Some thought that women just had too much blood, so some of it had to come out monthly. Others thought women menstruated because they didn't exercise or get out of the house as much as men did. They thought the blood came out of the womb (uterus) because the womb was considered the weakest organ in the body, so it was the place the blood was most attracted to, like a hole in a bucket.

At one point they thought the womb could move around inside the body, even go up a woman's throat, and cause all sorts of strange medical problems. This was known as the "wandering womb." These strange stories go on up to the present day. As late as the 1960's, medical guidebooks suggested that women should not take baths or exercise during their periods. If menstruation has always been feared or misunderstood, how do we learn to feel good about our bodies when we bleed?

What is the fuark?

The term fuark refers to the first six runic symbols, namely Fehu, Uruz. Thirisaz, Ansuz, Raidho and Kennaz in a collection of runes known as the Elder Fuark. There are three accepted timelines of fuark runes. The first period fuark consisted of 24 runes, reading left to right, and a mirrored variant reading right to left. It was sometimes written using a combination of the two, as a plough goes back and forth over a field. This period, referred to as the 'older futhark' by Pritsak, is generally identified with the Kylver stone (ca. 400) found in Gotland, which has the earliest known sequential listing of the 24 runes inscribed on it. There exist several other relatively minor variants from the Kylver stone format. The most significant major variant of the first period is an Anglo-Frisian fuark of 31 letters (ca. 500 AD).


The Elder Fuark

The second period fuark consisted of 16 letters and is considered to have originated just before the dawn of the Viking Age. Pritsak refers to this period as the 'younger futhark'. It exists in two major variants - the Danish and the Swedish-Norwegian. There is only one known example, from South Jutland, that reads from right to left. In this period some of the runes have curved segments. Moltke takes this as evidence that metal engraving and stone carving were probably commonplace uses of this script.

The Younger Danish Fuark

The Younger Swedish/Norwegian Fuark

In the third period, the Middle Ages, the alphabet is properly called a fuork and not the fuark, due to a change in pronunciation of the fourth letter. It had 27 runes, with numerous variants for some of them, and was based on the second period Swedish-Norwegian script. Numerous inscriptions from this period exist on stones used to construct churches, where they appear to be the systematic marks of workmen rather than graffiti. The major problem confronting a runologist is usually the deciphering of the text of the inscription. Inscriptions dating from the transitional time between the first and second periods are somewhat problematic simply due to a lack of a coherent standard orthography. There are also the obvious hurdles of imperfect preservation such as missing pieces or defacement.

The Medieval Fuorc

Ref: Erik Moltke, Runerne i Danmark og deres oprindelse (Copenhagen: Forum, 1976), pp.24-58

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