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Runes: A Brief History

What are Runes?
Runes are a kind of alphabetic script used in Northern Europe from the first century well into the Middle Ages. What is unique about Runes and differentiates them from other scripts is that in addition to their use as a written alphabet, the runes also serve as a system of symbols used for magic and divination.

In addition, each letter or Rune has a meaning. While A, B and C are meaningless phonetics of the English alphabet, the names of the first three Runes, “fehu”, “uruz”, and “þurisaz” are actual words meaning “cattle”, “aurochs”, and “giant” respectively. Runes also have religious and magical significance transforming the simple act of writing into a magical process! Runes are thus used for divinatory readings and to create magic spells since ancient times.

History Of Runes

Norse Gods
Norse mythology believes that Odin, the Norse High God of Asir, impaled upon his own spear, hung from Yggdrasil (the world tree) for nine day and nights to gain Runic knowledge. When the Runes appeared below him, he reached out and picked them up and became very powerful. He later passed this knowledge onto the Vanir goddess Freya in exchange for the magic of seidr. Heimdall, the God guarding the Rainbow Bridge taught Runes to mankind.

The Elder Futhark
Runic alphabets first made an appearance among German tribes in eastern and central Europe. The name “futhark”, corresponds with the word “alphabet” and is derived from the first six letters in the Runic sequence. The futhark originally consisted of 24 Runes, beginning with an F and ending with an O. This form of Runes is known as the Germanic or the Elder Futhark.

The Younger Futhark
As the Runes spread towards Scandinavia, some changes were made to the alphabet around the eight century. Some Runes were dropped and others came to represent multiple sounds so that the Futhark was reduced from 24 Runes to a sequence of 16. This subsequently came to be known as the Younger Futhark.

The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
Between 400 and 600 A.D., the Angles, Saxons and the Jutes invaded Britain and brought the Rune with them. The forms of several Runes changed, notably the Runes for A/O, H, C/K, J, S and Ng. Also nine Runes were added to the language to compensate for the extra sounds and several Runes were given different corresponding letters. The Futhark now expanded to 33 Runes and came to be known as the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc.

The Rise Of Runes
The Younger Futhark was commonly used well into the 17th century. Runes were found on everything from coins to coffins and even laymen knew simple Runic spells. Unfortunately, the Church officially banned Runes along with all magical arts in 1639 as part of the drive to rid Europe of all evil. A large amount of Runic knowledge was lost in this zealousness.

However, worse was yet to come. Runes were revived by German scholars during the period following the First World War. Subsequently, Runes became associated with the Nazi movement and what began as a genuine folkloric resurgence eventually ended up being the focus of world disfavor.

It was only in the mid-eighties with the interest in the New Age movement gathering momentum that Runes regained their current popularity as both a divinatory system and a tool for self-awareness.