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Question about rune knowledge

Hi all, I'm curious about what you guys know about runes. This site and the forum are about runic divination, talismans, and the like, but in the academic field of runology this stuff is given very little consideration.

Aside from this one guy who wrote paper after paper about how everything was magic, but nobody likes him. Too bad, really, because I've asked my runologist friends (who've studied this at the university), and they don't know much about how runic magic was supposed to work.

The mainstream, scholarly study of runes is about their usage as an alphabet. Most of the runic inscriptions left to us from the past are mundane, people sending a package of pepper, expressing their love for someone, making monuments for their dead, or practicing their ABC's. So the academics study primarily how the Futhark changed over time, the sound associated with each rune, what an inscription might translate as, and what all this stuff meant for the Nordic language and society. Lots of interesting stuff, I think, but do you guys agree?

I guess my question is if people who start off with runes for divination ever interest themselves for the other uses of runes or other aspects of runology like how to date an inscription.

By the way, all the known inscriptions are stored in an excellent searchable database you can get for free here. Just click the top link and then find "Ladda ned rundata_2-5_inst.exe". Enjoy!

Re: Question about rune knowledge

Hello Marcus. I suppose the runic community could be said to be split into two camps -- the runologists, who study the futharks and historical inscriptions, and those with an esoteric interest in runes, inspired by poems such as Havamal and Sigrdrifumal.
Those in the former camp tend not to bother themselves much with any esoteric element the runes may have, and some frankly deny it. Those in the latter camp often tend to see everything in terms of the esoteric i.e. spells, invocations, divination. It would be fair to say that individuals from both camps can be at fault here.
The esoteric community often seem unaware that the runes were used just as much for simple inscriptions: everything from memorials to the dead, to traders' slogans, to bawdy verse.
The runologist community on the other hand conveys a reluctance to consider any esoteric use for the runes at all, despite the fact that Old Norse etymologies, saga literature and old poetry boast a wealth of references to esoteric practices, from chanting to spells, invocations and divination (often mentioning runes in the same breath), and repeated use of certain power words in runic inscriptions.
Old Norse society was much given to the notion of luck and destiny. No one had a PhD. Needs were often straightforward - to get a good crop, to make a profit in trade, to marry the best girl you could, to defend against enemies. In an often dangerous world (especially during war) people turned to esoteric practices in an attempt to strengthen their luck. Not much different from individuals with dangerous professions in our own day, who(despite rational criticism)cling to a good luck charm in the belief that it will get them through.
As is the case with most circumstances, it would be better if folk walked the middle road and studied both aspects of the runes - the everyday and the esoteric together, but they probably won't lol.
Thanks for the link to the database.

Re: Question about rune knowledge

Thanks for your reply, Thormod. Do you fall in the middle of the road, then?

I must admit, part of my curiosity is that I have no idea where much of the ritual elements come from. I've read quite a few renditions of many sagas, but there's not much meat there in terms of "how-to" manuals. You sound like someone who has some insight both into this community and proper runology, could you give me a name or something? I've seen one book called "Amulets and Magic" or something, but at the time I didn't feel enough interest to look at it more...

I'm sure that people used runic inscriptions for magical purposes in the past. The evidence for that is clear, but I also understand why the runological community might shy away from explanations of inscriptions that include magic. There was a period in the field where everyone explained everything with magic with very little basis, and the backlash is still with us today. Since you could explain anything by invoking "magic", you end up with no explanation of anything. This is, however, quite a different issue from learning about rune magic and divination today...

Re: Question about rune knowledge

Yes, Marcus. I try to walk a middle road. I agree that the clues are sparse at times, but the material in the sagas is of a nature that certain elements keep repeating themselves, giving just enough to go on.

Bob Oswald's Discovering Runes (Bookmart 2008), Sweyn Plowright's The Rune Primer (LULU 2007) and Jan Fries Helrunar (Mandrake 2002) are good studies of runes from an esoteric perspective.

I can understand the shyness of the runological community about magical subjects if scholars at one time read magic into everything. If the subject is covered lightly, then it also casts aspersions on the credibility of runology as a science. But it is time for both sides to come together, I think.


Re: Question about rune knowledge

Thanks Thormod. When my meager income grows my wealth into the black again, I'll look for those books ;)

In the meantime, I've had a pretty good time reading about the new runestone found in Norway. I'm afraid I have no English-language articles, but it's a fascinating find. Check out this blog for some pictures and use GoogleTranslate or something to read! For one, it's at least as old as the oldest Norwegian stone, over 1500 years old. Second, it's a gravestone, carvings face down on top of a rough tomb.

These are the runes they found:
a. kelbaþewas s^tainaR aasrpkf
b. aarpaa inana naloR/naboR/(nawoR)
c. ek naudigastiR
d. ek erafaR

The text is translated by runologist James Knirk roughly as follows:
Skelba-þewaR’s [a name: “Trembling-servant”] stone [=(grave-) memorial].
[Runic magic?:] aaasrpkf aarpaa
Inside/from within the [axle?].
I [=the carver] [am called] NaudigastiR [=”Need-guest”];
I [am called] Wolverine.

Pretty cool! It's a gravestone for a guy called Trembling-servant, carved by Need-guest (gastiR is the oldest and most common name-element in old-Nordic names, like "__son" or "__sen" is today). NaudigastiR is also known as Wolverine (not a name in use today, but compare to the common Björn [bear]).

And as you can see, he and by extension the rest of the runological community primarily believe that the "aaasrpkf aarpaa" bit to be rune-magic. He's also expressed the belief that it could be a cipher, but nobody has cracked it yet so who knows? You guys know more than I about this, what could all those a-runes mean? Pairs of a's surrounding an "rp"? Any thoughts?

The bit about "within the axle" could be a comment about the grave geography. Such graves were often formed like a wheel, with the dead guy in the middle. Archaeological excavations are ongoing to see if we can find the dude or traces of this wheel.

So there you have it, a bit of ancient Scandinavia dug up for all to enjoy!

Re: Question about rune knowledge

Sounds like a fascinating discovery. I've read that multiple A runes are an invocation of the gods - AEsir (singular As). It's a reasonable theory.


Re: Question about rune knowledge

Pity someone has gone over the carvings with computer-generated red lines or we might have been able to see what kind of tool was used to carve them, whether the carver was left or right handed, how weathered the markings were and thus we could have determined a lot more about the age and origin.

Is it just me, or has the picture on the blog been mirror-imaged? Seems to have a lot fewer incorrectly drawn runes reading it in the mirror. I didn't actually hold it up to a mirror you understand, I simply mirrored it in a graphics program.

I think it's probable the double Ansuz runes are representing a long or depressed A vowel phoneme rather than any magical formula. Archaeological runologists have a habit of shouting "Magic!" when they can't figure out what an inscription means.

Re: Question about rune knowledge

Runemaker, the red overlay was added to help regular people read the signs. Here is a picture gallery from the first few days of work, which has a few different views of the stone. As you can tell, it's hard to read by sight. Ordinarily, you'd go to the stone and trace the carvings with your hand, which helps a lot when the carvings are shallow and the stone is rough.

The images aren't mirrored, nor are the runes "incorrect". Quite a number of inscriptions are written backwards using vändrunor (literally "turned runes"). In a considerable number of older inscriptions it looks like the carver got to the end of a line and just started going the other way. Other inscriptions (like this one) are written entirely in vändrunor. This could be related to the orientation of the stone — it was found (and probably placed) lying face-down on top of the grave rather than face-up or standing. But as far as I know that's considered a guess. Vändrunor are seen with decreasing frequency in younger (Viking and Medieval) inscriptions. In any case, you usually read vändrunor from right to left, although in some cases they seem to be an actual mistake and will read correctly from left to right.

As to alternative interpretations of the potentially magical bit, I'm sure the community is excitedly exploring the possibilities. They're very confident that these aren't just unknown language because carvers practically never repeated runes just to write words, going so far as to actually join two words together if they happen to end and begin with the same rune. The only alternatives are that the inscription is nonsense (not likely in this case), it's a cipher, or it's magic. James Knirk said a few words on the radio about common rune ciphers and which ones might apply to this inscription. One tantalizing lead is the repetition of the pairs 'aa' and 'rp', which together with the even number of runes in those words suggests a cipher in which two runes are combined to make up one symbol. The question is then what we can make of "aa-as-rp-kf aa-rp-aa", just 4 symbols and 3 symbols? It seems unlikely that we'll ever solve this one for sure...

Thormod, that's a nice idea. One of my books mentioned the repetition of the Tyr (t) rune on weapons as an invocation of the god of war for soldiers (as opposed to Odin, who was the god of war for officers). Insofar as the a-rune stands for the Aesir, perhaps this is an invocation that involves them somehow. Hehe, I've always wondered what in the world you'd call on them for, it's not like they won't put you in the underworld with Hel unless you've already proven your mettle in battle. Maybe this is a "Hey remember me! I killed some dudes a couple of decades ago, I can totally help in Ragnarök"?

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