AN INTRODUCTION TO RUNES
Or: A Very, VERY, VERY Brief History Of Runes (Abridged)
The word rune has been translated as meaning secret, mystery, perhaps even whisper. The runes are a series of symbols that, on a practical level, each represent a phonetic sound. On a magical level, runes connect with a very primal Power, the elemental substance of the Universe. It is the same power that binds atoms together, & tears atoms apart.
Runes are the cornerstone of Asatru. Asatru is a very old, earth-based heathen (or pagan) religion. The term means “true to the Gods” (as is Icelandic for God), or more specifically “true to the Aesir”. The term Aesir generally refers to two allied races of Gods & Goddesses, the Aesir & Vanir. These were the primary deities of the peoples of Northern Europe. In some archetypal form or another, they date back to the first pre-historic humans that wandered onto the European continent.
Foremost among the Aesir is Odin, the one-eyed All-Father, chief of the Gods of the Northlands. It is said that Odin discovered the runes amongst the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, as he hung for nine nights & nine days, suspended head down, having sacrificed himself to himself.
There are several different sets of runes. These are called futharks (or futhorcs), from the phonetic sounds of the first six runes in each set. The oldest of these, dating from at least the 1st century Common Era, is the 24-rune Elder, (or Germanic) Futhark. It was used over much of northern Europe until around 800 C.E. The 16-rune Younger (or Norse, or Viking) Futhark was used from around 800-1100 C.E., mostly in Scandinavia & Iceland. The Anglo-Saxon (or Frisian) Futhorc, with 26 to 33 runes, was used primarily in the British Isles from about 750-1100 C.E.
With the end of the Viking Era and the Christianization of Northern Europe around 1100 C.E., rune usage went “underground." Although Christianity became the state religion of Iceland (lasting until the 1970s), many still secretly practiced the old heathen ways, and rune lore was passed orally from generation to generation. It was much the same in the Scandinavian countries, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, in the other countries of Teutonic descent.
The revival of German folkways in the latter half of the 1800s brought a renewed interest in the runes. In the early 1900s, the Austrian mystic Guido Von List developed the 18-rune Armanen System (armanen is a Teutonic word meaning essentially high priest). List claimed that these runes came to him in a vision as an interpretation of the 18 rune poems in the Havamal (The Sayings of the High One), from The Poetic Edda. The Armanen System is still used today, primarily in modern German ceremonial magic by such secret societies as the Fraternitas Saturni and the Ordo Templi Orientis.
By the 1930s the National Socialist Party in Germany had risen to power, and had co-opted many runic symbols as well as begun to persecute mystics in general, including the runic secret societies. While some rune scholars fled Germany, many were imprisoned and some executed. The runes again went “underground”.
The most recent rune revival began in the late 1950s in Germany, but didn’t really arrive in the U.S. until the early 1980s when Ralph Blum published his first book. Although much of Blum’s work was self-admittedly based on drug-induced insights rather than historical research, he still deserves credit for jump-starting the current popularity of the use of runes as a divination tool.
RUNE CHARMS: PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF RUNE MAGIC vol I by Rick R. Wilson
Used with the permission of the author.