Rune Stick Divination

In Lex Frisonum (14, 1) specially prepared lots are called tenos. The corresponding Icelandic word teinn appears in Hymiskviða. To interpret this stanza we have to decide whether the act of foretelling described there is based solely on lots or it is supplemented with divination from sacrificial blood. The latter interpretation can be supported by Strabo’s (Geography 7, 2,3: 1961: 169–171) relation about fortune-telling from blood practised by the Cymbres. The word hlaut, used in Hymiskviða, means ‘sacrificial blood’ and if we accept the traditional interpretation, it is the only trace of divination from blood preserved in Norse texts

Note: it is known that such practices were cultivated among the Slavic Abodrites, close neighbours of Norse peoples (Helmold, Chronica Slavorum I, 52: 1963, 196–199). It is possible, however, to amend the text by changing hlaut to hlutr. The two words are etymologically related; the basic meaning of hlutr is ‘lot’, while hlaut ‘sacrificial blood’ is an innovation limited to Scandinavia, unknown in other Germanic languages, which may indicate that for the Norse peoples lots and offerings were somehow specially linked. An explanation of this fact may be sought in the fortune-telling practices of the Cheremis, who dipped the tokens in blood before the drawing ritual (Holmberg 1926: 134–135 and 151–152; cf. Słupecki 1998: 114–115). Bearing in mind the uniqueness of the mention about divination from blood, it seems permissible to amend the first stanza of Hymiskviða.

Such a step is additionally motivated by the fact that Voluspá 63 mentions a magic object, called in different manuscripts either hlauttvidr or hlutvidr similar analysis can be applied to the name of another ritual object, hlauttein. Sagas describe it incorrectly as a counterpart of the Christian sprinkler (aspergillum), serving to sprinkle temple walls with the blood of sacrificed beings (Snorri Sturluson, Hákonar saga goða 14: 1979, 167–168; Eyrbyggja saga 4: 1935, 9). The proper interpretation of the kenning hlautteins hreytir appearing in one of skalds Þorvaldr Koðránsson stanzas (Skj. B1, 1912: 105) meaning “the one casting or tossing the hlautteinn” (it is a term applied to a person serving the gods), suggests that this object functioned in the context of lot-casting (de Vries 1956: 417; Słupecki 1998, 113). Nevertheless, we cannot deny that lots were strongly associated with blood and offerings. Similar associations are evident in the sources concerning the Slavic and Baltic peoples.

Lots (hlutir) were drawn (upp taka) from a sheet of cloth into which they had earlier been placed; those procedures were described by the Old Icelandic formula bera hluti i skaut. The formula appears e.g. in Grágás (Þingskappa Þáttur 27, Grágás 1992: 401–402). It was a method of choosing one out of many options (people, etc.). According to Fagrskinna, in such a way the scald Sighvatr was selected to fulfil the unpleasant mission of warning King Magnus against turning into a tyrant. The tokens had to be specially marked (markadir). The clever marking of lots is the core of Snorri Sturluson’s tale about Haraldr Harðraðe’s trick. Haraldr outwitted a Byzantine general by marking his own token identically with the rival’s one (Słupecki 1998: 119–121).

Lots (hlutir) may have been marked with runes. It is difficult to decide whether Germanic peoples applied them already in the times of Tacitus, but it is very likely that they were in early medieval Scandinavia. Such marking, along with the contrast between the white, debarked, and the dark side of the twigs used as tokens, offered quite a wide range of combinations. There was also a custom of repeating the drawing, usually three times. Alternatively, the lots may have been only notched (as in Lex Frisonum). That primitive mode of marking appears in Voluspá (20), where the Norns sitting at Urdarbrunnr shape human lives by carving notches on wooden sticks (scáro á scíði).This archaic account has an interesting Slavic counterpart. Khrabr Charnoresiets (9th c. AD) in his apology of the Slavonic alphabet states that before Cyril and Methodius’s mission Slavs did not have any books (it means: writings), and only with marks and nicks did they count and foretell the future (Kujev 1967: 188; cf. Słupecki 1998: 122).

Lastly, the fire of 1955 destroyed part of Bryggen, the old quarter of Bergen (Norway). This made possible large scale excavations of a medieval town. Archeologists brought to light over 550 objects with runic inscriptions, dating to 1150-1350. The most of them are on wooden sticks with flattened sides. At a time when everyone had a knife, such sticks, called in Icelandic rúnakefli, served as both notebooks and a way to send a letter. Bergen inscriptions revealed much about everyday life in a society, in which runes played a very important role. Below are a few runic inscriptions from Bergen that deal with love. Throughout this post, first goes the Bergen Index number (it is also a link to a picture of the original inscription, if available) with the date, then the runic text, a transcription, the same text in normalized orthography, and an English translation.

I suggest very strongly that this was and still remains a survivalism of the very ancient heathen practice of rune stick divination. I only wish the plethora of it works for me New Age rune players out there would stop using fabricated traditions of "rune-stones" and start engaging critical thinking in order to do some real research. It seems that the intelectual laziness of re-manufacturing pseudo-traditions via Ralph Blums cash cow in all its myriad New Age forms remains the constant today.