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Learn The Runes

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Written by

Elin aka MooseLady

BA in Cultural Heritage Studies and BA in Archaeology from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Huge runestone enthusiast and history buff. Elin is using social media to bring awareness to the runestones, petroglyphs and early history of Scandinavia.

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What are runes?

Runes are historical characters whose purpose is to reproduce and mimic certain sounds, to create words and meanings. They are in that sense comparable to any other alphabet. The oldest finds of rune carvings date back to the year 0, in 2021 the oldest rune carving was found on the “Svingerud Stone” located in Norway.

Geographically the runes have been used mostly around Scandinavia, this statement is based upon how many archaeological finds we have from this part of the world. There oldest sources of languages documented in their indigenous language in Europe is Ancient Bulgarian, Latin, Ancient Greek and proto Germanic through the Runes.

It is worth mentioning that the bigger part of the different societies in Europe using Germanic Languages has used runes in different capacities and some have archaeological traces of this, so runes have not only been found in Scandinavia.

Since Scandinavia is the rune’s “home” and since that is where finds go back to the year 0, this post will mainly focus on the Scandinavian usage of these characters. However, we will absolutely show and inform about different runic alphabets other than the ones found in Scandinavia. If you have ever wondered about what runes used to be, what they are used for nowadays and most in between - welcome and enjoy!

Did you know?

Runes might have gotten their pointy shapes because of them being carved into wood or stone. During the times where the runes were used there was no access to softer material than wood to note them down on. Which also explains why the rune staves aren’t carved horizontally, since that would crack, break or melt together with the veins of the wood.

Runes and language

The first language of the runes (elder futhark) is still somewhat of a mystery, since we can’t be 100% sure exactly how it sounded like. Proto-Norse (a form of a Proto-Germanic language) is the foundation for what the Nordic languages would become later on.

The first runes to be found before the year 2021, were found on a small comb in Denmark. It is known as the Vimose Comb and has been dated back to around the year 160 AD.

The runic inscription has been translated to the word “harja”, which could refer to the comb’s owner. It has also been theorised to mean “warrior”. The word “harja” has also been found carved on a runestone in Sweden (Sö 32), this stone dates back to around the 5th century.
Even though the earliest finds of this language are from the 2nd century, we can assume that the runes are much older, since the first finds show a defined way and an awareness of using these characters.

Earliest carved runes found on a comb from Denmark around 160 AD

A very old new discovery
I am sorry, but a play on words was necessary with this happy news! There has been a huge discovery in terms of runestones, and I feel it is my obligation and big pleasure to provide you guys with what we know so far about it!

Every now and then, scientists make huge discoveries that throw everything written into history books straight out of the window. What was found in Svingerud, Norway in 2021 is such a discovery.

The archaeologists had a task of conducting a dig of a grave field found in Svingerud by the Tyrifjord. In one of the graves containing burned bones and charcoal, they also found a stone. A runestone. Thanks to science and the lovely C-14 method, the archaeologists could successfully date the burned bones and charcoal found next to this stone. The grave’s insides are dated to around the years 0-250 A.D. This runestone is around 2000 years old. Which makes it the oldest runestone ever to be found (with proof of its age). It is named after its place of origin and has the name the Svingerudstone.

Around 2000 years ago someone put time and effort into carving these elder futhark runes into this stone, and then putting it into a grave. Since it was carved so long ago, the language it is carved in is so far away from the one that was spoken during the Viking Age, which makes it much harder to translate.

The archaeologists in Norway have translated the rune carving into “Idiberug”, which is speculated to be a woman's name, or maybe a family name. There is also a peculiar ᛒ-rune in this carving, with 2 ᛒ on top of each other. There’s also different patterns carved on the stone here and there. Maybe this is the work of one person or several, maybe it's made for teaching purposes or as some kind of game? Furthermore, the stones’ ᛖ-rune is earlier thought to have been used as an E-sound on runestones from the 400’s, which this stone again disproves.

Earlier research has presented the 300-400’s as the introduction of runestones in Scandinavia, which the Svingerudstone beats with many years. This new find has knocked the history books over and history now needs to be rewritten.

We are all anxiously awaiting the experts' new interpretations and conclusions about these new finds and their context.

The Svingerudstone found in Norway

The language had changed drastically during the 6th- and 7th- centuries, which also naturally changed the rune’s sounds and shapes (younger futhark).

Theories implies that traveling and the need for broader communication might have been the indicators for these changes. A society where you can communicate is a society that expands culturally. If a society can also add characters in order to communicate, that’s a sign of an expanding community and dynamic times taking form.

The first changes we can see in the language through the runes is that the words were shortened down (examples: stainaR -> stæin, wulfaR -> ulfR, jara -> ar), which maybe also shows why the runes became fever in number.

The next big change regarding the Nordic language and the runes came during the medieval times. The medieval runes were made to fit the Latin alphabet, so new runes were created in order to have the same number of runes as Latin letters. All of these different looking runes were not included in the rune row however, so even if the runes expanded in number, the official number of futhark runes kept on being 16, like in the Viking age.

Did you know?

The teachings and knowledge about runes has its own field of expertise. It is called ‘runology’ and has a long history in Sweden. In Sweden it dates back to before the 16th century but became more organised and specialised under the lead of the founder of The Swedish National Heritage Board: Johannes Bureus.

Did the Scandinavians count?
When it comes to numbers and having a system for that, as with most things in ancient Scandinavia, there is no tutorial of how that system worked documented down anywhere as far as we know of.

What we do know however is that the iron age Scandinavians were successful in selling and trading, which shows that there must indeed been a system in place to keep track of various tasks. Furthermore; it is a necessity to use counting when it comes to everyday tasks such as smithing, weaving and cooking. There has been many grave goods directly connected to merchant activities such as weights and scales with origins from Iron Age Scandinavia (in for example the Viking age city of Birka and on the island of Gotland).

Other evidence of that the Iron Age Scandinavians had some kind of numbering system can be found on runestones. On the “Runestone in Stora Ek”, county of Västergötland, Sweden. There is a carved down story about a father honouring his dead son. The runestone further covers information on what this father is inheriting from his son, which is 3 farmsteads and 30 coins to gather from a man named Erik. On this stone the 3 is carved as “þria” and the 30 is carved as “þria tiugu”. These words are old Norse for three and three and ten.

Futharks and finds

Finally, we have reached the part of our journey with the runes where we will address the futharks!
Now that we have the explanation for why the runes look as they do in different ages, it is more than time to show these runes in a more organized manner.

So what is a FUTHARK?
A futhark is the collection of rune characters from a specific era. It works easily explained as an alphabet, where the characters come in a specific order (which can vary here and there).
The expression “futhark” is used because of the six first runes of these “alphabets”, they spell out ᚠᚢᚦᚨᚱᚲ (or ᚠᚢᚦᛅᚱᚴ ) which translates into “futhark”.
How do we know which order the runes of the futharks are written in?
Because of various archaeological finds such as the Kylver-stone (Sweden), the Vadstena-bracteate (Sweden), and the Grumpa-bracteate (Sweden). On all of these finds the elder futhark is written down in a specific order.
The Kylver-stone (4th century) is the oldest find of a fully carved down elder futhark. The oldest find containing younger futhark runes is quite macabre.

It is the skull fragment from Ribe (Denmark), where the younger futhark runes are carved on the inside of a human skull (8th century). The oldest find of the complete younger futhark can however be seen on the Gørlev stone (Denmark), this stone is from the 9th century.
The three main groups of Scandinavian runes
Elder Futhark
Circa year 0 - 8th century, containing 24 runes
Younger Futhark
Circa 8th – 11th century, containing 16 runes
Medieval Rune Row
Circa 11th – 14th century (and specific locations in Sweden 16th and 19th century), containing 16 - 27+ runes

Even more runes!

Above we have explored the most common groups of futharks. But since we are exploring the world of the runes and the futharks, let us look at even more exciting examples!

The Futhorc – Anglo-Saxon Runes
These Old English runes are a development from the Elder Futhark and were used during the 5th - 11th centuries.

It is theorised that these runes came from Frisia (what is now parts of Germany and the Netherlands) to the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, hence they are also called Anglo-Frisian runes.

The Futhorc takes different shapes depending on location and point in time.

Younger Futhark – Staveless Runes
Staveless runes (or Hälsingerunes) are minimalistic Younger Futhark runes.

These types of runes are mostly found in Hälsingland, Sweden. They are mostly found on stones. Wood carvings with these runes are very few.

Younger Futhark – Short-twig Runes
The Short-twig runes are a variation of the more common Younger Futhark runes. This type of futhark can also be called Rök-Runes. This is because the famous Rök-runestone (Sweden) is mainly carved with these runes.

The Short-twig runes were also commonly used in Norway (Oseberg ship, 9th century).

Secret Runes (Lönnrunes)
Secret runes (or Lönnrunes) are runes carved in various imaginary patterns to keep the reader from cracking the code to their meaning. The Rök-runestone mentioned above in the section about Short-twigged runes has Secret runes as well.

Believe it or not, but the beardy faces you can see on the wooden stick (late 11th century, Bergen, Norway) are runes. The beard-staves to the left represents where in the Futhark the rune belongs, and the beard-staves to the right represents which one of these runes of the family it is more specifically. The same principle can be used on other secret runes. It is however very hard to read these types of runes and they are absolutely for the more hardcore rune-enthusiast to decipher.

In the county of Dalarna in Sweden, the Dal-runes were used locally for a long time (16th – 19th centuries). What stands out with the Dal-runes is that they were used for such a long time and that they were mixed with letters of the Latin alphabet. These runes were carved into tables, in bowls and most famously theorised on the Kensington runestone in Minnesota, USA. The Kensington runestone has been theorised to have been carved with late 19th century Dal-runes, and these Dal-runes has been linked to a set of peculiar looking runes in Medelpad Sweden called the Hassela-runes – which today (2021 AD) have the strongest direct link to the Kensington runestone.

Where do the runes come from?

“I know I hung on that windy tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises.

None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence”
– Odin, Hávamál

The Hávamál is a collection of old Norse wisdom that can be found in the Poetic Edda written down during the 13th century.
It is however theorised that its content is much older and that its tales have been a part of the oral tradition in Scandinavia before it was ever written down.
In the poems we are told that Odin was the one to give the runes to the humans of Midgard after discovering their secrets when he hung from the worldtree Yggdrasil.
If these tales are much older than the 13th century, it is possible that the people living through the 7th and 8th centuries didn’t know either where the runes came from originally, and these stories could be an expression of that.
Especially when the earliest form of runes might have been difficult to understand as well for them, since the evolution of the language drastically had changed at a fast pace.

This theory gets stronger when you take in consideration that there are runestones from the 7th and 8th centuries, which means this information comes straight from the source, that mentions the runes being invented by the gods.
The Nolebystone and Sparlösastone (Sweden) are two of these runestones whose carvings mention how the runes are originating from the gods.

Sparlösastone in Sweden

But if not from Odin – then who and where?

The discussion of where the runes came from originally is a topic that keeps being debated by runologists. There are constantly new archaeological discoveries being made and with this there are naturally new theories taking form.
The three most discussed theories where the runes originate from are as follows:
The Greek theory
“The Greek theory” presents a solution where the Goths created the runes. This is based upon Greek cursive writing supplemented by a few Roman cursive letters. And that the runes would have been created when the Goths encountered Greeks and Romans. This theory concludes that the runes would have been created around 250 AD. This theory was presented during the 1930’s, and it falls apart due to that the dating of runic finds has improved. Some of these finds are way older than 250 AD.
The Etruscan theory
“The Etruscan theory” takes another turn with the origin with the runes. According to this theory the runes are based on one of the North Italic alphabets being used during the later centuries BC. These alphabets were modelled on the Etruscan alphabet. This theory presents that the runes probably were created in the south of Germany during the last century B.C. This theory falls flat when it comes to archaeological backing in finds. There are no runic finds in southern Germany that are older than the 6th century.
The Latin theory
“The Latin theory” is one of the more accepted theories out of all of these three. It centres around the Romans as the inspirational sources for the futhark. Since the Romans were the dominating culture during the beginning of our era. It is a known fact that Germanic people came in close contact with Romans during these times. Since also many runes resemble the Roman alphabetical letters, for example how ᚠ, ᚱ and ᚺ resembles the Roman F, R, H. There however lacks an explanation to the divergences in sound values and forms of the characters in this theory.

It is very hard to pinpoint of course.
When does borrowing shapes or letters become their own, after being inspired from another source than their own language?
Since cultures constantly change and language evolves uncontrollably during many periods of human history, it might seem an impossible task to know where to start with trying to find the origin of the runes.
“Impossible” is however a word enthusiasts and experts never have believed in, luckily.
Will we ever get a completed answer to when and how the runes came to be?
Maybe one day.

Then what – where did the runes go?

Let us start off with a very important fact; it is impossible for us today to know how big part of the population during the Scandinavian Iron Age actually had the ability to read the runes. It is a fact during many other time periods that mainly a society’s elite has had the privilege to read, but who knows during these times. It is important to acknowledge what we do not, and cannot know about these times, and who could and who couldn’t read is one of those things.

To understand why the runes are not used as the common style of writing (carving) anymore we must understand two things:
- What the runes were mainly used for
- What went on in the society during the 11th and 12th centuries in Scandinavia

The end of an era
Every great era must end eventually, and this also meant that the people in Scandinavia stopped raising runestones during the 11th and 12th century to honour their deceased loved ones.
Before the 11th century it was more common to raise a runestone close to different roads and paths where people would easily see them. The bodies of the deceased were often buried in a burial field close by to the farm.

Did you know?

There are messages of love carved in runes from medieval Sweden. On a wooden weaving-knife (Lödöse, Sweden) the runes say: - Think of me, I think of you. Love you me, I love you.

In Scandinavia these grave fields can still easily be spotted, with their grave mounds looking like tiny “hobbit like” hills.
Somewhere during the early 11th century and during the 12th century the Scandinavians, in different capacities, stopped burying their loved ones in the burial fields. The dead were instead brought to the cemetery. In a cemetery the deceased were often given a tombstone instead of a raised runestone near a road.

Picture of a miniature church showing runestones used as tombstones

No runestones - no runes?
Absolutely not the case! Even though the runestones and burial ceremonies changed during the early medieval times the usage of runes didn’t decrease. Instead of carving runestones, the carving continued with different objects, some made out of wood. There were messages being sent back and forth, secrets shared, prayers carved down and the names of the owners of different tools.

Did you know?

There are also medieval messages in runes, on wooden sticks (Bryggen, Norway) saying things like: - Lovely c*nt, let d*ck fill it.

The finds of carvings of runes in wood shows very interesting patters, one of these patterns is how objects have been “named” in a peculiar way, as it is the object itself that tells you who they belong to. An example is an axe found in Lödöse, Sweden. It says “Petar a mik iohannes risti mik”, which translates into “Peter owns me, Johannes carved me”. Just like it is the axe talking. Since people must have been very tied to their belongings back then, it would make sense that they would gain somewhat of a personality of their own.

However – wooden materials aren’t spared by time passing by as well as stones. So not many of these wooden objects have been found. There have been many finds of medieval messages carved in runes made on metal-, horn- and bone- objects.

The tradition of carving in stone didn’t die out completely either, since there are different stone objects found in churches that have medieval messages carved on them as well.

Baptismal font showing runes being used on it

The fading
It took a couple hundreds of years for the Latin alphabet to become the norm in Scandinavia.
When Christianity in Scandinavia became more and more common during the 10th, 11th and 12th century, so did the art of writing the much softer shaped Latin letters on parchment.

That type of writing however required additional tools such as pen and ink.
Since most common people back then had easy access to knives, it was both easier and cheaper continuing to carve runes on tree sticks.
There is absolutely a transition taking place in early medieval Scandinavia, both with how the society was changing in terms of religion, tradition and with the usage of runes. Some finds from these times have a mix of runes written in Latin and not old Norse, but also runes and letters being used together.

Gravelid from Ugglum showing latin and runes together

During the mid-14th century, the art of carving runes disappeared in most parts of Scandinavia. If the sudden decrease around that time was just a natural transition or if it was connected to the horrific ravage of the black plague, we do not know.

The exceptions
There is no period in time that is completely black and white, this also goes for the transition from runes to Latin letters.
As earlier mentioned there is something called the Dal-runes used in Dalarna (Sweden) up until the 19th century. These runes were mixed with the Latin letters and had different shapes than the medieval runes.

The Dal-runes tells us about the starvation taking place during the 18th century. Someone has carved: “On this table a lot of food could be stored. One could be happy to have as much. Amen.” on a wooden table.
Rune carving was also spared longer on the island of Gotland (Sweden) and in Iceland. This tradition was upheld until around the 16th century.

A table showing Dal-runes

They never really went away
Believe it or not, the usage of runes never completely went away and is on the rise again. There have been more modern usages of the runes. Even though we are having a hard time pinpointing where they came from, we can undoubtedly talk about where they have been recently.

The names of the runes - poetry and calendars

The names of the runes is a topic that comes up time and time again, whenever one searches for information about them.
These names have later become connected with mysterious and magical meanings, which we will go through more in the “Magic and binding” section of this post.

The names of the runes however originate from rune poems that have been saved from England, Norway and Iceland.
These rune poems could originate from different points in time, we will be transparent about what we know and what we have no idea about so far (2021 AD).
The Old English rune poem
Preserved in a 10th century manuscript, located at the Cotton library in London. This manuscript was then lost in a fire, it had luckily been copied 26 years before the scripture was destroyed.

That copy from 1705 is the base of what we know about the Old English rune poem today. It contains 16 similar runes to the other two poems, 8 elder futhark runes and 5 Anglo-Saxon runes (these 5 have nothing to do with Scandinavian runes at all).
The Norwegian rune poem
Based upon a 17th century copy of an earlier destroyed manuscript originating from the 13th century.
The Icelandic rune poem
This one can be found in four manuscripts, where the oldest of them dates back to the later part of the 15th century.

The Old English rune poem covers the sounds and “names” of the 29 Anglo-Saxon runes, while the Norwegian and Icelandic poems cover the sounds and “names” of the 16 runes of the younger futhark.
What is fascinating is that these different rune poems tie into each other and have more similarities than differences, when it comes to the 16 runes they have in common.

Now when we have the background of what these poems are, let’s talk about the names of these runes.
It seems like just as when children today use rhymes to remember the alphabet, humans back in the day used rhymes to remember the sounds of the runes.

These poems could connect the ᛋ-rune (s) with the word sól (sun) like this:
“Sól er skýja skjöldr, ok skínandi röðull, ok ísa aldrtregi” – “Sun shield of the clouds and shining ray and destroyer of ice”.

The rune is followed with a poem whose first word starts with the same sound of the mentioned rune.
If there were other local poems going around depending on dialect differences, we don’t know. Since these are the poems we have to rely on in today’s world, the runes have been named thereafter.

Medieval rune calendars are also something showing that the runes never disappeared completely.
The rune calendars are viewed as a Swedish invention introduced during the 13th century (probably earlier), but mostly used from 16th to 17th centuries. They spiked in popularity again during the end of 18th and early 19th century.
In some of these calendars Christian holidays are included and some are without holidays.
These calendars have been carved on horns, wood and bone.
The oldest find of one calendar is a so-called “rune stave” from the 13th century. This stave was found in Nyköping, Sweden.

Picture of a rune calendar from 1778

Table of Runes

This is a section from the Ancient Symbols article, if you'd like to know more about ancient symbols check it out! Here you can expand to show the given or interpreted names of the runes as well as their poem equivalent


When talking about runes, it is inevitable to not get into the magical aspect of these characters. They are after all characters given to the people by the gods or Odin himself (if one is to believe the runestones or hávamál).

Tistel Mistel Kistel

“Tistel – mistel- kistel” is an expression that can be found on runestones and church walls around Scandinavia. It is written somewhat like this: “ᚦ ᛘ ᚴ ᛁᛁᛁ ᛋᛋᛋ ᛏᛏᛏ ᛁᛁᛁ ᛚᛚᛚ”. And these runes have had people scratching their heads, since there is a “rule” with viking age runestones; that they never repeat the same runes after each other.

However, both in Sweden and Denmark this exact sequence of runes has been found on stones. On the Gørlev stone (Denmark) the carver makes sure to mention, after this repetitive sequence of runes, that “I placed the runes right/in order”.
On the Ledsberg stone (Sweden) this sequence shows up yet again.

Tistel-mistel-kistel are the words you get from deciphering the sequence (these are a form of hidden runes).
It is theorised that the tistel-mistel-kistel sequence has to do with spell work.
What the function of this spell would have had is discussed. Maybe it is to keep the deceased safe from graverobbers (there are other examples of curses written on runestones where the carver is threatening graverobbers), or maybe as protection to keep the deceased from walking again. After all, no one wants to have a draugr at their door.'

In Norway there is a beautiful stave church in Borgund, which was built somewhere around the 12th century.
Apart from that this church is beautiful inside and out, it also contains four different variations of the tistel-mistel-kistel sequence.
One of them is carved into logs of the church, and it spells out with runes: “Tistil mistil ok hn thirithi thistil”, this translates to “Tistel, mistel, and the third thistel”.

Why would this “spell” be found in a church?
The answer might be underneath a loose stone, which was found on the church’s floor. It was by the looks of it a place where women buried unwanted children. They were placed into the church in small chests, under the floor, and maybe the tistel-mistel-kistel above their hidden away bodies would give them peace?

Alu is a runecarving that more than often is tied into cult and magic whenever one runs into it, but why is that?

When it comes to runes that are of the elder futhark, it is easy to apply a magic component to them simply because the meaning and use of these words has fallen away and are now covered in mystery.

It has been theorised that the end of the “Lindholmenamuletten” could have meant “öl” (which is Scandinavian ale), or a word that is used for protection. Alu is also found on the famous “Rökrunestone” found in Sweden, a stone also translated to include some magical components to the story it tells. Another example is a small soft, palm sized runestone fragment that has been carved with a knife and the runecarving is to be read from the right to left, which is inverted to how you usually read runes. This small runestone is named “VG134” and has been loosely translated into “aaaaaaaa alu h”, which is mentioned by runologists as very speculative since the runes are so old, but also mentions that it could have to do with the magical runecarving of Alu. Where exactly the beginning of the use of Alu as a magical spell is hard to pinpoint, there is only more modern sources stating that it is a “well known” magical rhythm of runes, where the magic has sneaked into these runes or what their translation is besides “ale” or being “tied to magic” is hard to know. It is all a big historical riddle.
There is an amount of rune carvings that dates back to the elder futhark, from the Scandinavian Migration period (circa 400-800 AD), where a curious words keeps repeating again and again.

Eril, Erillaz, ErillaR are different ways to carve what is believed to be the same expression. This word is found on carvings on runestones as well as bone-amulets from the Scandinavian migration period. Since the elder futhark is made in such an old language, many if the translations are somewhat impossible to get 100% correct. But that has never held the experts back from trying.

Eril has been translated to mean rune-master or an ancient expression for someone withholding magical powers (like a wizard or shaman). It is however more likely it has ties to the proto-germanic word for “jarl” (or the Anglo-Saxon “eorl”) which might indicate it has to do with military status.

An example where you can find Erillaz is the “Järsbergsstenen” in the country of Värmland, Sweden.
Another example is of the more macabre sort, it is the “Lindholm amulet”, where the runes carved upon bone reads:

“ek erilaz sa wilagaz hateka :
ek erilaz sawilagaz hateka :
aaaaaaaazzznnn-bmuttt : alu”

The translation has been deciphered into: “I, eril, named Sawilagar. ... ... ale”, which again – this type of carving is a bit too old for us to be completely certain of it’s meaning. However, how this carving ends is what out next section is about.
Runemagic on Iceland and something small on bindrunes
On Iceland there are numerous accounts mentioning runemagic. As mentioned above, in Hávamál, there’s a mention of how Odin learned the runes and then gave them to the humans. In the saga of Bósi and Herraud (14th century) there’s a mention of the magical rune formula. Also the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson contains magical runes (13th century). They can heal sicknesses and pain, however they also can be used for bad intentions. In the Egil Skallagrimssons saga; a young man tries to cure a sick woman by carving ten different runes on a whalebone and putting it in her bed. When she gets sicker Egil feeds the bone to the flames and then creates a new one with different runes.

Now is a perfect moment to bring up facts and what we do know about rune magic. There are not reliable and authentic sources older than the viking age or the medieval times about rune magic. So those are the sources we have to keep in mind when talking about these things. When it comes to the elder futhark and the migration period we have no reliable source material.
The magical runes that have been hidden away on the inside of clothes, carved on door frames, or carved on small wooden chips - looks far from the usual runes.Here we have examples of magical takes on ᚦ, ᚼ and ᛏ.

Magic symbols that bare similarities to runes

The idea is to bring out the inner meaning of the runes and make them stronger in their qualities.
They could be hidden through spit or other body fluids, so people wouldn’t spot them, and also be used in something called “blótspónn”.

Blótspónn included runes being painted on wooden pawns in visible body fluids, such as blood.
Before they were to be used they would include a full futhark (so at least 16 pawns), and then also some extra characters depending on who and what the purpose was. These pawns were then thrown and from there the ritual would follow.

It is wiser to say that we know less than more when it comes to these types of things, just because the sources are so limited.
In Tacitus Germania (written around the 1st century) there is a mention of activities, much like the blótspónn, going on in Germany around the 1st century:

"For omens and the casting of lots they have the highest regard. Their procedure in casting lots is always the same. They cut off a branch of a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips; these they mark with different signs and throw them completely at random onto a white cloth. Then the priest of the state, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family if it is private, offers a prayer to the gods, and looking up at the sky picks up three strips, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the signs previously scored on them. If the lots forbid an enterprise, there is no deliberation that day on the matter in question ;' if they allow it, confirmation by the taking of auspices is required. Although the familiar method of seeking information from the cries and the flight of birds is known to the Germans, they have also a special method of their own - to try to obtain omens and warnings from horses”.

Since the 1980’s there has been a more modern, new age take on rune magic. Where one carves, burns or paints the elder futhark onto small pieces of wood or bone, and then tells one’s fortune with them. These are unchanged elder futhark runes or sometimes Anglo-Saxon ones. These types of runic pawns are used similarly as tarot-cards. They are said to predict the future and to guide you.

Now to the small part about bind runes. Bind runes can be found at a couple of rune carvings. They are often confused with the Icelandic Galdrastafir (magical staves). Galdrastafirs are not runes or bind runes. A bind rune is a rune that has two runes merged into one. As for example on a runestone in Bolum (Sweden) where ᛅ + ᛒ turn into one rune, a bind rune.

Example of bindrunes on real runestones

Modern uses of the Runes

Political purposes and ownership
When writing about the modern usage of runes, we have to address the big, pink, tooting elephant in the room – the modern political use of them.

It does not often pass anyone by; there was an intense usage of runes during WW2 (1939-1945).
Amongst other ones, the ᛋ rune and the ᛟ has been used heavily in different forms and ways during these times.
Some quirks has also been added to these runes (as is the case with the ᛟ with two wings added at its bottom) which has created new forms of symbols. These symbols do not have a longer running history than from this point in time during and after World War 2.

It is therefore important to know the difference between historical futhark runes and newer adaptations of them.
This has also inspired more modern political movements to use runes to promote their own agendas and ideologies. ᛘ and ᛏ are also runes that has lately been used for these purposes. No matter who these people are or what they promote, one thing is fact – no one owns the runes. Education will always be the solution to end misconceptions and mistakes to these things.

The big mix of Ragnar Lothbrok, assassins and mystical music
The hit TV-series “Vikings” tells the tale about Ragnar Lothbrok and his adventures. Anyone who has an interest in Norse history will have heard about this series, and probably have one or two things to say about the historical accuracy of the show’s different elements.
Even though the series does not give us anything in terms of runestones, it does display runes in different ways. The most noticeable usage of the runes in this series are the big runic tattoos running across the bodies of these TV-vikings.
So the question that many get from watching these types of shows is

Did the vikings have these types of runic tattoos?
The honest answer is that we do not know. There has been no finds from the 8th - 11th centuries to give credit to this. However, there is an account about tattooed northerners by the Arabic observer Ibn Fadlan (10th century). He notes down in his Risala:

“Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tattooed from fingernails to neck with dark green trees and other figures”

There is however no clear mention of runes in this encounter. What we do know is that humans during this time made “teeth tattoos'”, which meant that they carved different lines on their teeth.

Illustration of Floki from the TV series "Vikings". Showing rune tattoos on the side of his head.

Another form of pop cultural expression takes its form in video games.
Recently a game called “Assassin's creed – Valhalla” launched (2020 AD).
In this game you play as the viking hero Eivor, whose mission is to lead her/his clan of Norwegian vikings to the lands of the Anglo-Saxons. This game has the magical approach to runes. In the game you can find different gems with runes, and they will with their magical powers upgrade your armor and weapons.

Music has also been a way to modernise the runes and bring them into the spotlight again.
Remember the Icelandic rune poem? - The Icelandic rune poem is what makes out the lyrics to the band Heilung’s hit song “Norupo”. The Norupo song is the 15th century poem word for word, put into a rhythmic beat and song.
In the music video they have also included elements of magic and some of the magical takes on runes from Iceland.

Wardruna is yet another band where runes take a central role in the music. They have songs inspired after the rune poems naming for each rune, such as the songs “Fehu” (ᚠ), “Tyr” (ᛏ), “Uruz” (ᚢ) and “Raido” (ᚱ) to name a few.

Illustration of Heilung.

Social media and community
No one can deny the importance of social media today. It plays a huge role in spreading a sense of community, knowledge and curiosity when it comes to the runes.

A big part of the community online who dabbles with the runes are often very creative and many are different forms of crafters and creators. Just as this page focuses on design and jewellery, many crafters focus on a modernised way of spreading and creating - with help of the runes.

Be it woodcarvers, tattoo artists, photographers, makeup artists, illustrators, musicians, writers, or any other creative ambition – the “norse / history” community online does its part in keeping the runes alive in today's world. Historically accurate or not, it creates a new historical use for them for the future which is filled with creativity and positivity.

A quick mention of modern runestones
The tradition of raising runestones might have ended somewhere during the early medieval era, doesn’t mean it remained so. There are a lot of examples all throughout Europe of modern runestones and replicas placed in various countries.
This new way of raising runestones also plays a part in keeping this tradition alive. Thousands of years from now on, maybe these runes on these stones will tell the future of us and who we were.

An example of a modern runestone found in Sweden

An example of a modern runestone found in Estonia

An example of a modern runestone found in England

Knowledge and science - always in motion

This article was written in 2021 and updated in 2023, which means that all the information in this article might change.
Questions we are one archaeological find away from getting answers to; can be just around the corner.

We will publish all the sources used for writing this article, some of which are in Swedish and not English.
The goal with this article is to give a fair and informed image of what the runes are and how they have been and are being used. We have been transparent with what is known and what lacks when it comes to source material. All speculations and theories are explained as such, and it should be taken in consideration that these theories might not be the true facts.

I would like to thank all of you who have made it this far – Skål and thank you for your time.

Best wishes – Elin aka MooseLady


http://www.christerhamp.se/runor/gamla/dk/dkfyn19.html https://www.raa.se/kulturarv/runor-och-runstenar/runskolan/allmant-om-runor/
Nordisk runläsebok, Rask Lars, 1996
Lägg Runor, Om din framtid, En nordisk variant av tarot, Hansson Carl-Gustaf, 2006
Runor, Mästarens handbok, Enoksen Lars Magnar, 2015
Vikingarnas egna ord, Enoksen Lars Magnar, 2003
On the Origin and Early History of the Runic Script, Typology and Graphic Variation in the Older Futhark, Odenstedt Bengt, 1990
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READ OTHER 17 comments

  • Erickjohnroth

    Well done an I tip my hat…. I have enjoyed the knowledge, insight an views that this site an the last author the only way to keep a language or system alive is to use it an share what we have learned or saw or felt. I have been more intrigued then ever by the power one can involve with a letter or a symbol or design an how the common core values some do not need a bunch of extra shit an to the point…🤷💪🤘… These are the way fuckin runestones look like to the general population me guilty as charged… When in a world of energy when they claim time is the killer of all but it lives forever in the cloud 🌨️☁️…. The fuck planet am I on!?!?! I lose my passwords an email once a week an your gonna tell me “forever” I call bullshits give me a ball peen hammer a diesel stick welder an an compressed gas of the fire type…. I think i got a plan for a “cloud” so brick an mortar pen an paper hammer an chisel… Leave your mark or your story or plan or the respect’s for the kids to come. Because the only thing worse then death for a man of honor is to be dishonored…(substitute man for woman an if ya can’t figure out to stand or sit to piss) Not sorry life sucks… But leave a positive uplifting one an build up… Not down as we are all equal an only have our “word” or respect or trust an what you do with it is up to you…the negativity downward will never stop so build a ladder with a loved one a reach for the stars an leave a happy positive uplifting message… please 🤔🤬😊💜…❄️🛶❄️🤢🤢❄️👼*️⃣🍽️🛶👼♎… I prefer the younger futhark version much better an the feel an look is gonna be all the redheads running around the “family tree”…. Heritage an family need to be instilled an handed down like physically sometimes as to NOT FORGET THE MESSAGE…. Keep all runes an forms of communication open as to not lose the knowledge!!! (End rant)

  • Aura

    wonderfully written and so informative ! Thank you for putting this together.

  • Ben In Seattle

    This is one of the best resources I’ve found for no nonsense information on runes. I love that you’ve made it both informative and attractively presented. In particular, I appreciated the compact way you presented information, using tables where appropriate. (And the “accordion” sections for the Rune Poems was a great touch!)

  • Konrad

    Amazing job, I am extremely thankful, that is a pill of knowledge that you want to take right away!

  • Khorne

    My grandfather died recently and this article has inspired me to make a ru estone in his honor.

  • HS

    This is one of the best runestone resources I have run across. Thank you for not speculating and keeping to the evidence, it’s extremely helpful.

    I have found that the Anglo-Saxon runepoem had some differences in connotation and even meanings for some of the runes. Specifically, Fehu/Wealth, which appears in the Icelandic to have the connotation of greed whereas the Anglo-Saxon seems to present it as prosperity; Thurisaz translated as Thorn instead of Giant; and Kaunaz/Kannaz, with the completely different translation of Torch instead of Ulcer, naturally with completely opposite representations of meaning. Is there any evidence to say why these changes occurred? I have a couple hypotheses but I only have the poems themselves as evidence. Thank you!!

  • Vicki H

    I am fascinated by your work! I learned a lot from your work, and I hope you are continuing to study the Runes. I have traveled to Sweden several times and feel a strong connection to it. Thank you so much!

  • Wil Dobson

    The dark comedy show the Norsemen (Netflix, 3 seasons) had a running gag with characters using rune sticks to tell jokes or gossip, and were most often read while sitting on the sh*tting log. I’m now curious which rune set was used in the series. Thank you for this resource!

  • Johas

    Thank u for the article, learned a lot!

  • Mercedes


    I have a fortune stick made from buffelo rib by balak tribe of kurdish. And I am trying to get it translated although also looks like some rune vigil. Could you confirm this can email a picture of the antique. I am very interested if it is a rune calender.

  • Nathan

    Very interesting! Language is always so fascinating

  • tony

    Thank you so much for the amazing work you’ve done.

  • Marcus

    What a great read. I learned much. Interesting how ancient language (writing) is still understood today.

  • Jana

    Thank you for this neatly structured and well written article! I learned a lot and enjoyed every part :)

  • Martha

    Thank you so much for this beautiful work. It’s so interesting and open questions that I have to solve.

  • Coral Eisengar

    The structure and content of this essay was incredibly engaging and I’m super interested in learning more. Thank you for sharing and I’m definitely looking forward to the rest! Some examples of runestones and translations from them, or some of the authors speculations on what they were for and why they were carved would be fascinating. I personally enjoy using runes for divination but their history and artistry is so compelling as well.

  • Scot S

    Super job…great info…interesting, accurate, well researched with a really nice flow. Please keep it coming!!