The futhark on the Vadstena bracteate.

Unearthing Ancient Magic in The Runes –Messages with Hidden Symbols and Powerful Numbers

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The etymology of the word “rune” means: “to carve, or to cut.” In Low German the word is “raunen.” As the runes were cut and carved into wood, metal or stone, the word “rune” was analogous to the rune letters themselves. Their form and shape varied according to the materials. For example, runes carved into wood had more straight lines than the more rounded rune shapes inscribed into granite.  In Northern Europe the runes were actively used for a thousand years approximately between the ages of 150 CE to 1100 CE, and like any writing system, they were used as a reliable form of information storage and as a verbal representation. After 1100 CE they were replaced by the Latin writing system with the incoming colonization of Rome.

Runestone Sm10 behind Växjö cathedral. It reads:"Tyke - Tyke Viking - erected this stone in memory of Gunnar, Grim's son. May God help his soul."

Runestone Sm10 behind Växjö cathedral. It reads:"Tyke - Tyke Viking - erected this stone in memory of Gunnar, Grim's son. May God help his soul." (Pieter Kuiper/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Magical Symbolism

However, when we study the runes and runic objects, we do not only come across linguistic patterns representing practical information such as accounts of dates and names, we also come across “non-linguistic” inscriptions which represent magical symbolism and incantations of protections, blessings or curses. The most famous example is the rune trio ALU. This trio is seen carved in brooches and magical bracteate (thin single-sided gold discs worn as jewelry in Northern Europe during the Iron Age), the motifs on the discs are of Northern mythology with icons giving protection.

Bracteate DR BR42 bearing the inscription Alu.

Bracteate DR BR42 bearing the inscription Alu. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Inscribing weapons and tools with runes was a widespread magical practice. Reading the Poetic Edda, the Sigrdrífumál mentions "victory runes" to be carved on a sword, "some on the grasp and some on the inlay, and name Tyr twice.”  These examples reveal that the runes contained in themselves an old magical form and tradition: each rune had a potent symbolic meaning and had an underlying purpose.  But sadly, as the runic writing faded away, so did its magical use and today we only have a few echoes left from this “thousand-year-long” history. 

The runic charm word alu.

The runic charm word alu. ( Public Domain )

Hidden Knowledge

Professor Sigurd Agrell dedicated his whole life to try and uncover the magical and non-linguistic significance of the runes to regain some of the knowledge that we had lost.  The subject of runes and language is vast, but I am hoping here to leave the reader with a glimpse of the magical information that Professor Agrell revealed to us in the 1920’s, and how it can offer us an understanding of the many layers of the meaning of the runes.

Sigurd Agrell (1881-1937), Swedish poet, runologist and professor in Slavic languages at Lund University, Sweden.

Sigurd Agrell (1881-1937), Swedish poet, runologist and professor in Slavic languages at Lund University, Sweden. ( Public Domain )

What he set out to study first was the sequential listing of the rune alphabet itself— this is the basic A to Z, and to find out how the runic letters were organized.  The rune-row and sequence can only be found in three places: the Kylver Stone, the Vadstena bracteate, and the Grumpan bracteate

The Kylver runestone from Gotland, Sweden.

The Kylver runestone from Gotland, Sweden. ( Public Domain )

When we approach these talismans and carvings something unexpected happens immediately - and here lies the first part of Professor Argell’s uncovering: when you look closely at the Kylver stone rune-row, the runes have a different sequence of letters than the other amulets.  For example, on the Kylver stone the rune ODAL is the last rune and on the Vadstena and Grumpan bracteate the rune DAGAZ is the last - both runes have shifted positions, comparatively it would be as if suddenly the Y was listed after Z in our own alphabet.  Today, scholars regard the bracteates as a more reliable source as they were “stamped” into the amulets and worn by people, whereas the Kylver stone was carved by hand by one individual, and it looks as if it was done in haste, but we cannot be sure of this discrepancy. 

Vadstena Bracteate. (via author)

Vadstena Bracteate. (via author)

Ancient Gods

The bracteates were imitations of the Emperor coins of late antiquity.  To illustrate this further, on the Vadstena Bracteate you find the head of a horned bull and behind it, the head of man; in late antiquity, this was the symbol of the God Meithra (or Mithras) next to a sacrificial bull. The God Meithra was affiliated with Roman soldiers and called the “unconquerable God,” his bracteate would have been worn by the soldiers for protection when they went into battle and these bracteates were worn late into the Christian era. Many German soldiers served in the Roman armies, and the Emperor Commodus himself was an initiate of the Meithras religion, which increased in numbers amongst officials and soldiers. The northern bracteate’s relationship to the late antiquity coin is clear to see simply with the naked eye: they are identical in design. 

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