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 Detail of the Codex runicus, a vellum manuscript from c. 1300 containing one of the oldest and best preserved texts of the Scanian law (Skånske lov), written entirely in runes.

Runes of Power and Destruction: Reading the Cursed Runestones of Sweden

Runes are often associated with magic and sometimes curses too. For many centuries, they were used as magical symbols to guide people to the knowledge which they believed was created by their gods. They were also used as a warning to the ones who disturbed sacred space.

Runes were mentioned in so many stories over the years that it is perhaps impossible to count them all. They have also been a very important tool for fortunetellers, people who follow esoteric practices, people with pagan beliefs, and other people drawn to ancient practices.

The Björketorp Runestone

There are many runestones in Scandinavia however the most famous ones are located in Sweden. Their inscriptions terrified people for many centuries. This article describes only a few of them, because it is impossible to explain all of them in such a small space.

The Björketorp Runestone is located in Blekinge in Sweden. It is one of the tallest runestones of the world and measures 4.2 meters (13.78 ft.) in height. Near this stone are located two high menhirs (large standing stones) without any inscriptions on them.

The runes were carved in the 6th or the 7th century in Proto Norse language, which was an Indo-European language – a dialect of Proto-German. It was in use perhaps from the 2nd to the 8th century and became the basis of the Old Norse language. The most characteristic part of the language seems to be the Elder Futhark, the oldest runic alphabet. The stone contains two inscriptions, one on each side of the stone. The shorter line of the runes was transcribed and translated into ''I foresee perdition''.

The Björketorp Runestone.

The Björketorp Runestone. ( Joachim Bowin/CC BY SA 3.0 )

 The message on the other side of the stone says:

Haidz runo runu, falh'k hedra ginnarunaz. Argiu hermalausz, ... weladauþe, saz þat brytz. Uþarba spa.

This means:

I, master of the runes(?) conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this (monument).
I prophesy destruction / prophecy of destruction.

The stone has the listing of DR 360 in the Rundata (Scandinavian Runic-text Data Base), and is a part of a burial field which also contains menhirs. These are usually stones put into stone circles. Researchers have dated them back to the 7th century AD, and count the runes as a form of language which linked the Elder and Younger Futharks. It doesn't contain names, but seems to be connected in some ways with a few other stones including Stentoften, Gummarp, and Istaby. It contains very similar messages to the one from Stentoften. Moreover, researchers believe that they could be created by the same person.

Detail showing the inscription on DR 360.

Detail showing the inscription on DR 360. ( Henrik Sendelbach /CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Stentoften and Istaby Runestones

The Stentoften Runestone is listed in the Rundata as DR 357. It was discovered in Stentoften, Blekinge, Sweden. As mentioned, the stone contains an inscription related to the previously described stone with a curse in the Proto-Norse language.

The inscription of the runes says:

<niuha>borumz <niuha>gestumz Haþuwulfz gaf j[ar], Hariwulfz ... ... haidiz runono, felh eka hedra
niu habrumz, niu hangistumz Haþuwulfz gaf j[ar], Hariwulfz ... ... haidiz runono, felh eka hedra
ginnurunoz.
Hermalausaz argiu, Weladauþs, sa þat briutiþ.

The English translation for this is:

(To the) <niuha>dwellers (and) <niuha>guests Haþuwulfar gave ful year, Hariwulfar ... ... I, master of the runes(?) conceal here nine bucks, nine stallions, Haþuwulfar gave fruitful year, Hariwulfar ... ... I, master of the runes(?) conceal here runes of power.
Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who this
breaks.

Stentoftastenen, exhibited in Sankt Nicolai church, Sölvesborg.

Stentoftastenen, exhibited in Sankt Nicolai church, Sölvesborg. ( Henrik Sendelbach /CC BY SA 3.0 )

In this case, the inscription describes animal sacrifice as a part of a ritual related to fertility. Both of the runestones were discovered in 1823. They were found lying down on the field with visible inscriptions.

The Istaby runestone also still exists, but it doesn't contain a curse. Instead, the text has the words: ''In memory of Hariwulfar. Haþuwulfar, Heruwulfar's son''. Unfortunately, although it sounds promising, the words have a symbolical meaning as well: hari is a warrior, wulafa - a wolf, haþu is the battle. This translation has made researchers suggest that the inscription is related to the initiation of warriors or perhaps a curse to support military goals.

A forth runestone was moved to Copenhagen and lost in a fire in 1728. In 1914, researchers decided to start new works in the area where the runestones were discovered. They wanted to find out why someone put them in this place.

The Istaby Runestone from Blekinge.

The Istaby Runestone from Blekinge. ( Achird/CC BY SA 3.0 )

There are at least three hypotheses that have emerged from these studies, which are still an object of scientific debate. Firstly, some researchers believe that the runestones marked a border. Another theory says that the complex of stones was a sort of a shrine dedicated to a deity, perhaps Odin. Finally, some suggest that the runestones could also be a memorial which was located far away from a real burial.

Protective Curses Made for Women

Curses were sometimes made by women. One of very few existing examples of runestones created in the memory of a woman is the Saleby Runestone, known as VG 67. It was discovered in Saleby, Västra Götaland County in 1794, in the church of Saleby. The 2.7 meter () tall stone was removed from the original location to the Dagsnäs Castle.

The inscription is:

Frøystæinn gærði kumbl þausi æftiR Þoru, konu sina. Su [va]R ... dottiR, bæzt með aldum. Verði at <rata> ok at argRi konu saR es haggvi [i] krus, ... of briuti.

In English this means:

Freysteinn made these monuments in memory of Þóra, his wife. She was ... daughter, the best of her generation. May he who cuts to pieces ... breaks ... become a warlock and a maleficent woman …

Runestone Vg 67, Saleby, Västergötland, Sweden.

Runestone Vg 67, Saleby, Västergötland, Sweden. ( Berig/CC BY SA 3.0 )

The name of the woman was a female form of the name Thor. The stone was carved later than the runestones described above, and it was written in the Younger Futhark. The inscription warns against anyone destroying the special place created in the memory of the wife of a man named Freysteinn. The words ''maleficent woman'' is related to the fact that the woman was involved in some sort of sorcery, or even a witch.

Rune Magic in Modern Times

After many centuries, there are still people who believe in the power of runic curses. It is also possible to meet people who say that they have experienced the power of these old symbols. The curses are still powerful in the minds of many who visit the sites where they are located. Are the curses for real? Not too many people would want to test the power of the warnings.

A 16th-century depiction of children taught to use runic calendars.

A 16th-century depiction of children taught to use runic calendars. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: Detail of the Codex runicus, a vellum manuscript from c. 1300 containing one of the oldest and best preserved texts of the Scanian law (Skånske lov), written entirely in runes. Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Peschel, Lisa, Kompletny przewodnik runiczny: od magii po przepowiadanie przyszłości, 2014.

Antonsen, Elmer H., On Defining Stages in Prehistoric Germanic, 1965.

Looijenga, Tineke, Texts & Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions, 2003.

MacLeod, Mindy; Mees, Bernard, Runic Amulets and Magic Objects, 2006.

Translations of rune stones are available at:

www.abdn.ac.uk/skaldic/db.php?id=16598&if=runic&table=mss

www.abdn.ac.uk/skaldic/db.php?id=15228&if=runic&table=mss

http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskn/samnord.htm

Comments

I wonder if the DR 357 Runestone translates as follows:

"This year the local wolf warrior people offered.. I have recorded that the gated nine stags and nine horses are protected for a good year (offering?). I write with authority that cursed is anyone who frees (releases) them.

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