following is an excerpt from The Runes Revealed: A
Beginner’s Guide to Runic Divination by Beth Taylor.
Origins of the Runes
Runes are the ancient
alphabet-like symbols used by the Germanic, Anglo-Saxon and
Scandinavian tribes of northern Europe dating back about 2,000
years to the beginning of the Christian era.
Archeologists date the earliest runic inscriptions found from
the late second century AD; due to the maturity of the script
and the techniques of recording it, there are hints of origins
a century earlier.
However, since it appears the
first runic symbols were carved almost exclusively on wood,
there are no surviving examples of these earliest inscriptions.
The actual origin of the runes
is shrouded with mystery. The word rune itself comes from
a root meaning “secret” or “mystery” in
Old English, and “to whisper” in Old German.
This reflects the fact that their meanings were passed down
orally for centuries; the first written
manuscripts of the names and
meanings of the runes were the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian
rune poems dating from the ninth to the twelfth centuries AD.
Comprised solely of straight
vertical and diagonal lines, the runes were carved first into
wood and bone and later into stone and metal. They were
used to mark property, record events and imply certain magickal
forces or qualities such as victory in battle, fertility in
marriage, and protection of home and family. Runes were
also used for divination, much as they are today.
There is debate among runic
scholars about the origin of the runes. Theories offer
Latin, Greek, and Northern Italic derivation; the latter would
explain why many of the runes resemble Roman letters.
Other sources point to the
Hallristningar rock carvings of the latter part of the Stone
Age or early Bronze Age as the origin for the runes.
These primitive pictorial and symbolic carvings can be found
throughout the northern European countries of the ancient
Germanic tribes including the Scandinavian countries,
(particularly Sweden), and as far south as northern Italy.
Some of these Hallristningar
symbols are identical to those in the later runic alphabet;
others represent concepts, (such as the sun, water, horse, and
man), which may have became the basis for different runic
There are runic scholars who
believe it was a combination of the influences of the Roman
alphabet and primitive Hallristningar rock carvings that led to
the development of the runes. This, if one can judge by
at the runic symbols, seems to
me to be quite likely.
Whatever their specific
origins, by the fifth century AD, the runes had spread
throughout the northern Germanic tribes. The alphabet was
called a “futhark;” this name taken, (like the word
“alphabet” from its first two Greek letters “alpha”
and “beta”), from the starting letters of the first
six runes in order: fehu,
This original alphabet was
called the Elder
(or Germanic) Futhark and
consisted of 24 symbols. It was used by the northern
Germanic tribes of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and northern
Germany. It continued in use in Scandinavia until about
In Anglo-Saxon England around
the fifth century AD, the futhark evolved to accommodate the
extra sounds and letters of their language and the Anglo-Saxon
33 runes developed.
A third futhark came to being
in the eighth century AD in Scandinavia, when changes in the
Old Norse language occurred. This Younger
and discarded many of the runes, reducing the number from 24 to
This form of the runic alphabet
became commonly known as the “Viking runes” and
continued in use in Scandinavia into the seventeenth century
AD, when, in 1639, they were officially banned by the Catholic
church as “pagan.” The runes existed only
underground, (with a brief and misguided period of partial use
by the Nazis during the W.W.II era), until their reemergence as
a divinatory tool in modern times.
The Elder Futhark is considered
the original runic alphabet from which the Anglo-Saxon and
Younger Futharks evolved. It is the most widely used
futhark, and the one upon which this book is based.
The letters of the Elder
Futhark are divided into three groups of eight letters called
singularly as aett.
Aett simply means family or related group. In the
following chapter, The
the rune meanings in each aett are discussed in detail.
I have listed a number of books
in the bibliography that go into greater historical detail than
I have here; I would recommend that those interested in delving
deeper into the roots and origins of the runes refer to some of
these noted volumes.
Throughout history, the runes
have been closely linked to the Scandinavian peoples and the
gods and goddesses of their religion. The runes are a
part of most of the significant poems of the period, called
Eddas, as well as most of the sagas that tell of the Norse
The runes are presented in the
myths of the Eddas as something already in existence and
waiting to be revealed. The poem Havamal, (“Song of
the High One”), in the Poetic Edda (1200 AD) describes
how Odin, the All-Father and the god of magic and wisdom in
Norse mythology, discovered the runes during a self-imposed
ordeal of shamanic initiation in an attempt to receive greater
wisdom for mankind.
Odin hung upside down for nine
days and nine nights from the branches of Yggdrasil, the World
Tree or Tree of Life. With a self-inflicted wounded from his
own spear and without food or drink for nine days, Odin had a
shamanic vision and “saw” the runes.
I know I hung on that
Hung there for nine days and
Wounded by my own blade
Bloodied for Odin.
Myself an offering to myself
Bound to the tree that no
Wither the roots of it ran.
None gave me bread.
None gave me drink.
Down to the deepest depths I
Until I spied the Runes.
With a roaring cry I seized
Then dizzy and fainting I
Well-being I won
And wisdom, too.
I grew and joyed in my
From a word to a word
I was led to a word.
From a deed to another deed.
self-imposed initiation by hanging upside down from the Tree of
Life is portrayed on the twelfth tarot card of the Major
Arcana, the Hanged Man, which commonly symbolizes
self-sacrifice and a resulting change in perspective.
Man tarot card
The individual runes have
associations with the Norse deities as well. Odin, Thor,
Tyr, and Ing all have their own runes.
Ansuz, the rune of
communication and words, is linked with Odin, the All-Father,
the god of wisdom and the runes.
Thurisaz, the rune
of change and protection, represents Thor’s hammer,
Mjollnir. One of Odin’s sons, Thor was the god of
thunder and lightning and was similar in size and strength to a
giant, whom he battled to keep under control.
Teiwaz, the warrior rune, is
associated with Tyr, the god of war and battle. Tempered
with a sense of justice, Tyr represented law and order as well.
Inguz, the rune of conception
and fertility, is named for the god Ing, the Danish/Anglo Saxon
name for Freyr, the god of agriculture and fertility.
Rich in tradition, magickal
lore, and history, the runes are an integral part of the Norse
mythology and Northern culture.
above is an excerpt from The Runes Revealed: A Beginner’s
Guide to Runic Divination by Beth Taylor.
Box 387 • Mt. Airy, Maryland 21771
2009 Beth Taylor. All Rights Reserved.