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The Origins and Nature of the Elder Futhark Runes

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Elder Futhark runes are an alphabet dating back to ancient times. They have always been (and are now more widely being) used for magical purposes such as magical inscription, bind runes, and divination. Much of the written Norse and the Icelandic sagas (particularly the Icelandic Egil's Saga) contain mention of the runes and their uses for communication and magic.

While the runes, like our alphabet, were phonetic, this was certainly not their only usage. Magic and language closely intertwine. And the Elder Futhark runes provided the ability not only to communicate through writing but to read situations and alter outcomes with their magical qualities.

What Are Elder Futhark Runes?

The English translation of the Norse term "runa" refers to whispers, secrets, and hidden knowledge.

While they were initially a written alphabet, they are now more commonly used for magic and divination. There are only 24 Elder Futhark runes, each with varied meanings. These meanings may vary if the rune is reversed or read in opposition (in other words, sideways).

The runes are split into three ættir (or families), consisting of 8 runes each. Each ættir is associated with a different diety (each of which has its own unique mythos to look into): Freyr's Ætt, Hagal's Ætt, and Tyr's Ætt.

To learn about runes in even more depth, I recommend Runes for Beginners by Lisa Chamerblain over any other introductory rune book.

Mythical and Magical History of the Runes

The runes have, according to myth, been in existence eternally. In Old Norse legend (particularly in "Hávamál" in the Elder or Poetic Edda), Odin pierced himself and hung from the universal tree Yggdrasil for nine nights and nine days to obtain knowledge. He sacrificed one of his eyes for knowledge of the runes and gave the runes to the people.

Beneath Yggdrasil, the Norns (who are weavers of Fate) carve runes into the tree's trunk. The runes that they carve influence the 9 worlds of existence. The Norns are Urd (what was), Verdandi (what is), and Skuld (what will). These are loose definitions, as the past, present, and future are less linear and more malleable than most believe because time is illusory, interwoven, and cyclical.

For this reason, the runes (and, for that matter, all forms of divination) are not fatalistic. The present constantly influences the future and the past. (If you are interested in understanding more about this influence, I recommend Aidan Wachter's Weaving Fate.)

During the 16th and 17th centuries in Iceland, an Icelandic grimoire called the Galdrabók surfaced. This grimoire is currently available to explore with the internal addition of aspects from other fragmented Icelandic grimoires as revised by Stephen E. Flowers.

Archaeological History of the Runes

As humans, we started out writing things down in the form of images, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics. Through the migration and trade of civilizations, our forms of writing have adapted across the centuries. Old Etruscan script (which was derived from the Greek alphabet) bears similarities to the Elder Futhark runes.

The various alphabets throughout the ancient world are a shared part of our collective history. Around the early centuries C.E., there is evidence of runic inscriptions on various weapons, armor, accessories, and rocks. Our ancestors understand that writing has power, as runes and bind runes allow for subliminal influences to penetrate the fabric of existence, helping to guide us and manifest what we desire.

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