History & Mythology
Origins of the Runic Writing System

In German the word "rune" is related to the word for "whispering". In Old English the word meant "mystery". In modern times however, any obscure markings are referred to as runes. The word connotes the mysterious because first and foremost the runes were used as a "magical system" and only secondarily a mode of writing.

Though there are differences of opinion about when Runic writing began, there is general agreement that the runes were used by pagan tribes over a vast area of northern Europe. Some historians say that the Runes had their birth among the Teutonic (German speaking) tribes of northern Europe as long ago as 500 BC. Others say the Goths of Scandinavia adapted the Greek cursive script during their contact with the Hellenic culture around 200 AD. Still others speculate that they originated much later in northern Italy and that they were derived from the Latin alphabet. And some take the view that they were invented during the Viking civilization around 800 AD.

In the eyes of our Northern European ancestors, the earth and all things created were believed to embody the sacred. So the 24 runic symbols were painted on twigs, leather, bone, or more commonly carved onto one side of a smooth, flat pebble worn by water.
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From the beginning, runes took on a variety of ritualistic functions. There were runes to influence almost every aspect of human life including birth runes, death runes, weather runes, health runes, battle runes and love runes. Sometimes the runecaster would stain his or her runes with red pigment to enhance their magical potency (which incidentally may have descended from the symbolic use of red soil during the Paleolithic - Old Stone Age). The runecaster would shake the pouch and scatter the runes onto the ground. Only those runes falling with the glyphs facing up were then interpreted.
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According to Norse mythology, it was Odin, the god principally associated with war and battle, who "gained" the runes by performing a ritual of self sacrifice. Interestingly enough, this self sacrificial ritual myth is similar to the archetype associated with that of the "Hanged Man" tarot card. First he gashed his body with the point of his spear and then bound himself by the ankles to Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life. For nine days he refused all food and drink. Finally, it is said, he peered down into the very depths of his being where he saw the runic characters and "seized" them.
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The Elder Futhark Tradition

Just as the word "alphabet" comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta, similarly the Norse alphabet is called "futhark" after the sound of the first six characters. Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raido and Kenaz. The 24 runes of the Elder Futhark are the oldest, most commonly used system as well as the most sophisticated magically.

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Five Rune Readings
Interpreting Each Rune (39k)
E-Mail Freya Runestones