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by Nokki Nollason February 29, 2020 12 min read

What are the Viking runes? Do they really exist? What was their purpose?

We are familiar that various civilizations around the world had their own way of communicating through carved images on cave walls as well as many other methods. Many old civilizations like Egyptian, Mayan, Norse, and others came up with the unique way of communication that was used for hundreds and thousands of years.

However, the Norse mythology universe is filled with more exciting stories, and for some of them, there is evidence. Archaeology and history showed us that the runic alphabet was invented by the Germanic people, which includes Norse Vikings.

Various symbols carved in stones were what we now know as the runestones. The Viking runes were their method of expressing specific events, feelings, and they were also used as war signs.

The Viking Runes

The Norse culture was unique in the way of passing down the stories. The culture itself was based on oral interpretation rather than leaving written trails. Old Norse is known to be an oral language of Vikings, and they used the oral method to pass the sagas and all the magnificent stories to their children.

Before the Latin alphabet was accepted, rune letters were a set of alphabets known as the runic alphabet. The runic alphabet was used to write in many different Germanic languages at the time.

Viking runes were used to describe various places and things like the mystical course of future events, but it was also believed that some of them were used for protection.

However, some Norse runes were used to spell the health, tides, love, the seed, and even the weather. On the other hand, some runes were used for cursing, abortion, or even death and birth.

Additionally, among everything else, attracting good fortune was one of the things Nordic runes were used for by the Vikings more 2000 years ago.

The runes from the Norse mythology era were usually carved into amulets, cups, and the ships’ bows. The Northern European tribes invented these runes for presenting specific things like the forces of nature.

Back then, people believed that they can hold power over the weather by controlling the Viking weather runes.

Scientists have so far discovered three different Futhark forms, and we’ll mention them beginning with the ones used more recently:

Anglo-Saxon (Medieval) Futhark (Anglo-Saxon Futhorc) was used in England during the Viking era (from 1100 AD until 1500 AD), and it has 33 characters.

Younger Futhark had 16 different characters and was mostly used in the period between 800 AD and 1200 AD.

Elder Futhark was the earliest form that was used in the early beginning between 100 AD and 800 AD, and this form had 24 different characters.

Viking Handmade Runes Elder Futhark

Viking Handmade Runes - Elder Futhark

The name of the Norse variant of the runic alphabet was derived from the first six letters of the alphabet (F, U, Þ, A, R, and K), and are therefore known as Futhark (Old Norse Fuþark).

The Origin of the Viking Runes

The development of the runic script is still under debate, whether it originated from the Old Italic alphabet or not. All historical records and facts show that the Norse runic alphabet was created from the Italic alphabet. Still, scientists and historians can’t agree with which form of Italic alphabet the runic scripts were made.

Moreover, scientists believe that the runic alphabet came to existence from the Italic alphabet, considering that the Germanic people served in the Roman army as mercenaries in the Italian peninsula during the imperial period of the Roman Empire (from 1st century BC up until 5th century AD). The Kylver Stone was the first evidence of the Elder Futhark creation in the early 5th century.

Additionally, the Raetic alphabet of Bolzano is presumed to be the Viking rune origin alphabet. Raetic alphabet had just five Elder Futhark runes that weren’t found in the Bolzano alphabet. Therefore, the Scandinavian scientists and scholars prefer to believe that the derivation came from the Latin alphabet instead of the Raetic one.

Early Norse Runic Inscriptions

The first period of known Viking runic inscriptions lasted for four centuries (from 150 AD until 550 AD) and is also known as the “Period 1.” The letter shapes were not standardized ones, although all of the inscriptions were written in Elder Futhark.

Plenty of theories claim that the Viking runes are actually the advanced version of their predecessor – the Gothic runes. Gothic runes are sometimes described as the first alphabet from which the Futhark came to be.

Although all these claims have little to none archaeological support and findings (the only one is the spearhead of Kovel). Scientists believe that even if there were Gothic runes, they were quickly replaced with the Gothic alphabet.

Additionally, a small number of Elder Futhark inscriptions were discovered from the 3rd and the 5th century in the Gothic territory known as the Ring of Pietroassa.

Viking Runes In the Poetic Edda

The poem Rígsþula in the Poetic Edda explains how the humans came across the Norse runic alphabet. The verse says that Heimdall had three sons with a human woman, and all three of them had different fates. Churl was a freeman, while his brother Thrall was a slave, and their third brother Jarl was a nobleman.

The poem further explains that when Jarl became a man that knows how to wield a weapon and when he expressed other signs of his nobility, Heimdall came down to Midgard to teach his son the mysteries of the Viking runestones.

In the middle of the 16th century, a Swedish archbishop came up with another story. The story depicts how a mortal man took three staffs with Norse runestones from Allfather Odin, so then he learned the magic of the runestones by himself.

The Meaning Of Viking Runes

Norse runes' inscriptions had other significant meanings unfamiliar to all different neighboring cultures. The runes were used to mark the ancestral burial grounds or to commemorate their fallen heroes.

Because of the implications the Viking runes had, it’s believed they were also used to connect the supernatural and our, mortal realm, which further explains the belief that Nordic runes are powerful and magical objects.

It’s believed that every rune had its own magical features and that every one of them could help people cast various spells, control the weather, bring success, or even death. Most Viking runes were discovered in today’s Sweden, but there were also some across today’s Norway and Denmark territory.

Various Stone Viking Runestones

Various Stone Viking Runestones

The Viking age brought a lot of interaction and trading with other cultures, and the need for literacy and writing became essential. Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of runic inscriptions that explain more about the trade laws, which demonstrates that the Norse runes weren’t only used by seers to predict the path of the Norse Cosmos.

Additionally, Vikings were expanding the boundaries of their world so far that the various runic graffiti were found in Istanbul (Constantinople), and all the way to Orkney.

We’ll explain the ten most frequent Norse runes and the meaning they had for the Vikings. All of them were predicting the future and the new changes in the lives of people. These are some of the Norse symbols and their meanings found on the runes of the Viking era:

1. Uruz Viking rune (ᚢ) – A Wild Bull, Manhood

Uruz Viking rune

Uruz Viking Rune

The Uruz rune represented a new beginning in one’s life as well as the termination of the old one. This rune symbolizes all the future changes yet to come into your life. The rune speaks of ending one part of a man’s life (childhood) and how a man grew outside of the “childhood frame,” which means it must be left behind for the manhood to arise.

2. Nauthis Viking rune (ᚾ) – Suffering, Need, Compulsion

This Nordic rune means that whoever wields it needs to reconsider his/her plans and ideas. This means that if a person can’t achieve the desired goals in life, it needs to further reconstruct, improve, and reconsider his/her ways by doing everything from the beginning.

For example, if a hunter can’t catch a hare, he must improve his hunting tools and his skills. There’s no place for anger and demons in your head, and you must remain calm, modest, and patient at these hard times.

3. Ingwuz Viking rune (ᛝ) – The God-Hero, Fertility, New Life

This rune represents a unique way, and the new beginning of a new life. It also signifies that everyone has the right to start a brand-new page in their lives. The Ingwuz rune also signifies completion, but it also means fertilizing the soil so a person could achieve the ultimate liberation.

4. Ansuz Viking rune (ᚨ) – The God Loki, Messenger/Signal Rune

Ansuz Viking rune

Ansuz Viking Rune

This Norse rune gives the power of messaging or a timely warning about the incoming problem to people. Additionally, Ansuz is the rune that brings the sacred knowledge, and it means that the person shall be blessed.

It teaches people to be kind, patient, and polite in every conversation or decision-making situations. Still, it also teaches people that they should be incredibly careful and most patient with the wise ones.

5. Wunjo Viking rune (ᚹ) – The Joy, The Light

Wunjo Viking rune

Wunjo Viking Rune

This rune gives people a sensation of “the light at the end of the tunnel.” When all the wrong things and sadness is long gone, it’s time for light and joy. It means that people are ready for a blessing after they’ve experienced bad times and great sadness, emotional or material.

This rune is the core representation of the harmony between the higher-self and the person’s ego, making people more secure and confident. The most crucial meaning this rune has is that you can’t fail whatever you do.

6. Gebo Viking rune (ᚷ) – Companionship, And A Gift

Gebo Viking rune

Gebo Viking Rune

The Gebo rune symbolizes companionship and unity received as a gift. On the other hand, it’s advised that people should not accept what this rune provides because the partnership is something that only two people can have between themselves. It shouldn’t come as a gift, but as a unified wish between them.

Additionally, this advice is valid for everything else, whether it’s a commercial relationship or a romantic one.

7. Fehu Viking rune (ᚠ) – Livestock, Property, And Food

Fehu Viking rune

Fehu Viking Rune

This Norse rune represents balance or fulfillment. This rune also offers the food from the common to the holy, while it helps people to preserve the things that they had already achieved.

In case of the celebration of happy times, it’s advised not to waste your time on unimportant little things, but put your focus on more important ones instead.

8. Othila Viking rune (ᛟ) – The Separation From The Past

Othila Viking rune

Othila Viking Rune

This Othila rune represents the need for new changes, like shedding old skin and letting the new one thrive. This could also be incorporated into all life events like romantic relationships that came to an end or even life itself.

Release yourself from experience you had for the one you will have. Obedience was a necessary virtue people needed to have when they pulled this rune.

Moreover, Othila rune also represents profit and gain, but one must learn to refuse the provided benefit and remain modest and obedient.

9. Algiz Viking rune (ᛉ) – Calmness And Protection

Algiz Viking rune

Algiz Viking Rune

This Algiz rune was known for the one that thought people calmness, and it represented the one’s emotion control. Life brings many changes, and people must know how to adapt to these changes without letting their feelings lead them into the abyss.

In the case of romantic issues or even business problems, people were supposed to adapt to changes instead of allowing their emotions to bring even more harm than good.

You may not win the battle, but you won’t lose because you’ll learn how not to lose by controlling your emotions.

10. Perth Viking rune (ᛈ) – Initiation and a Secret Gain

Perth Viking rune

Perth Viking Rune

It is thought that this Norse rune brings the powers that people have within themselves are all connected, and they’re continually interacting. It’s not easy to recognize what a person could gain from them, but it’s a mystery that helps people heal their souls and bodies.

Some of these mysteries may be in the form of various material surprises or personal gains that came out of nowhere, mending people’s souls in the process.

Odin And The Runes

It’s familiar to all Norse mythology enthusiasts that Odin was the Allfather and the ruler of the Gods. What you probably didn’t know is that Odin knew the oghram. Odin was in constant pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and mysteries of life. In one of his pursuits, he gave up his eye so he could gain more wisdom.

The center of Norse Universe is held by Yggdrasil – the Tree of Life and Knowledge. Its high branches are home to Asgard, and it rises from the Well of Urd. This well has no bottom, and this never-ending pit holds a vast amount of incredible beings and powers unknown even to the Gods.

Among many other creatures, in the depths of the Urd, Norns reside. Norns are the three withes that craft the fate of all Nine Realms of Norse Universe by carving the Viking rune inscriptions into the Tree’s trunk. That way, they affect the fates of all creatures in the Norse Cosmos.

As Allfather Odin watched the Norns from Asgard, he became envious of Norns’ wisdom and power, so he decided to learn more about the Norse runes and the mystical powers they hold. The runes originated from the Well of Urd, and they wouldn’t show themselves to anyone unworthy of knowing them.

Odin hung himself on Yggdrasil’s branches and pierced his heart with a spear refusing any help from other Gods and ordering them not to provide him with any kind of support, not even with water. As he hanged from the Tree, he constantly watched down to the Norns, and the Viking runes trying to catch a glimpse of their power.

Odin was hanging for nine nights and nine days, and that’s when the Viking runes accepted his unselfish sacrifice and decided that he is worthy of knowing more about them. Since Odin found the secrets of how to use the power of the Norse runestones, he became the first being in the entire Norse Cosmos that had such vast knowledge and abilities.

The benefits and powers Odin learned from the runestones are countless, but among the most curious ones are the spells and chants that allowed him to heal both physically and emotionally, as well as how to cripple his enemies and defeat them in every battle. The Viking runes allowed Odin to protect his fellow warriors in battle, to raise the fallen and the dead, and to control the ones that practice the use of black magic, and many others.

What Odin did is known as the ultimate sacrifice since he sacrificed God (himself) to God. Therefore, this is known as the Odinnic sacrifice – the one like none other.

Odin and the Blank Viking Rune

Blank Viking Rune Wyrd

Blank Viking Rune Wyrd

There’s no concrete meaning to this rune in the known history or in modern runology. This Viking runestone is also known as Wyrd. The runologists believe that its meaning can be either absolute possibilities or complete emptiness. Whichever it is, the message that Odin’s rune sends is all-powerful.

Runologists believe that the blank Norse runestone sends a message that people should look deeply within themselves. The forces that we cannot see are the ones that we have put in motion. These forces are depicting all the life-choices that we’ve made and the ones that have influenced our lives. Today, this is known as “higher forces” or “fate.”

Not a single person is perfect, and all of us have flaws and virtues. Both virtues and flaws will lead our life path in a specific direction, and the blank rune teaches us that we should look within ourselves to understand our path.

A “clean slate” as some people would call it today, the Wyrd runestone represents (at least runologists believe so) the point in life where all of us must think about everything we’ve done so far and where did our actions bring us.

Viking Runestones Today

Runology is an incredible segment of historical study. It teaches us about runestones, runic inscriptions, runic alphabet, and the history behind the runestones.

Probably the most significant Viking runestone of today is Kjula Runestone, located in Södermanland, Sweden. This runestone has an inscription of an Old Norse poem fornyrðislag. The poem depicts a man by the name of Spear (Old Norse Spjót), and his warfare efforts:

“Sigríðr’s son, Alríkr, raised this runestone in the memory of his late father, Spjót. Spjót was in the west, fighting and breaking down entire towns while he was aware of the dangers ahead on every one of his journeys.”

The Kjula Runestone showcases the celebration of traditional Viking values such as bravery, heroism, valor, and honor. Spjót is commemorated as a fallen Viking warrior who had bravely fought and died abroad.

The Use Of Viking Runestones In Modern Age

The Anglo-Saxon runes were implemented on a map to showcase their unbreakable connection to the Dwarves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel “The Hobbit.” The Anglo-Saxon runestones were supposed to be presented in the “Lord of The Rings,” but they were replaced. Tolkien’s invented his Cirth-rune alphabet that was used as the language of the Dwarves.

Besides Tolkien’s use of runestones in his fictional novels, runestones appear in plenty of popular and modern fantasy novels and books today. Even other media, like recent video games, have presented runestones to its fanbase.

The 21st Century Runestones

One of the modern technological achievements of today is the Bluetooth wireless connection. Most of us (if not all) know what Bluetooth is, but did you know that the Bluetooth logo is created from Nordic runestone symbols?

Bluetooth Symbol Made from Viking Runes Berkanan and Haglaz
Bluetooth Symbol Made from Viking Runes Berkanan and Haglaz

To be more precise, it’s a mix of two Viking runestone symbols from the Younger Futhark – Berkanan and Haglaz, whose initials represent the Viking era famed king of Norway and Denmark - Harald Blåtand's (English Bluetooth).

Let’s Wrap Up

The Norse runestones belong to a collection of unbelievable Norse mythology items that were used for many things, and yet, they were unknown to many until Allfather Odin decided to decipher their magic.

How much did you know about the Viking runestones before reading this article? What do you think of the ultimate sacrifice that the Allfather Odin made to himself and for himself? Do you believe that people of Midgard would ever learn about runestones if Odin didn’t make that sacrifice?

Feel free to discuss the topic in the comment section below, and let us know if there’s anything that we have missed to mention.

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