Discover the Hidden Roots of the Runes
A long time ago, runes were used by the Shamans of Scandinavia and the word “rune” at its origin made reference to mystery. Runes were used as protective symbols and were carved in wood, bone, or stone.
The Runes Revealed to Odin
The appearance of the runes goes back to the times of Odin, the god of magic and wisdom. Odin was a man always in search of absolute knowledge, but such knowledge cannot be attained by the simplistic human means provided by the senses. It was because of this fact that Odin had to renounce an eye in order to be able to drink from the spring of wisdom.
He then reversed the human methods of knowledge by mortally hurting himself with a spear and hanging down from a tree in a cold region for two days and two nights. The 18 magical runes were revealed to him when death was drawing near. The images of these runes were spread across the land by the god who had conquered death and their number increased to 24.
Odin the Wanderer (1896) by Georg von Rosen. ( Public Domain )
The Connection Between Wood and the Runes
The Futhark alphabet was derived from the runes, but the runes themselves kept their magical properties. They were used to contact the dead, for protection, or for flight. Runes were also used for divination and as a means of contacting other plains of existence. Runes can be drawn on wood (especially oak wood, beech wood, or pine wood), bone, shells, paper, or stone (especially quartz). By manually drawing or carving the runes, a stronger connection is created than using runes made by others.
The Runic Alphabet. ( Public Domain )
Generally, the most common material for making runes is wood. This is due to the importance of this element for Norse mythology. Two examples can be given to explain: First of all, the universe is structured in the form of a tree. This is the sacred tree Yggdrasil, the one that sustains the various worlds that hang from its branches. There are nine worlds in the Norse perspective: Muspellheim (the land of fire), Asgard (the heaven of the gods), Ljosalfheim (the land of the spirits of the light), Vanaheim (the land of the spirits of water), Midgard (the land of the humans), Jotunheim (the land of the giants), Svartalfheim (the land of the spirits of the night and the first underground land), Hellheim (the land of the dead) and Nifelheim (the land of ice, cold and fog, a sort of exterior inferior world).
"The Ash Yggdrasil". The world tree Yggdrasil and some of its inhabitants. Wägner, Wilhelm (1886). ( Public Domain )
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Norse Mythology and the Beginning of Humanity
The second example refers to the appearance of humans. It is said that Odin and his two brothers, Vile and Ve were taking a walk around the sea shore when they looked at two logs that had captured their attention. Odin looked at the shadows of his brothers moving over the logs and decided to breathe life into the logs. The elm log became a woman, while the ash log became a man. Then Ve offered them the gift of speech, while Vile endowed them with judgment and senses.
According to Norse mythology, it is said that in the beginning there was the Ginnunga Gap , the primordial abyss that contained all the existing worlds. At first there was Muspellheim, the world of fire and the “house of the destroyers of the world” which was inhabited by the giants of fire, the ones with bodies made of lava and with fire as their hair. Opposed to Muspellheim there was Nifelheim, the land of ice and fog, where black poisoned ice existed. Between these two, a sort of border land was formed, a world where life appeared.
Graphic depicting the Nine Worlds of Norse Religion. ( Cush/CC BY SA 3.0 )
The Three Gods
There were more types of genesis from this point on. First, from the mixture of fire and black poisoned ice, the giant of chaos Ymer was born. Second, from the mixture of fire and clear ice, the old giant cow Audhulma was born. Audhulma licked some blocks of ice until the strong god Bure was born. Bur, the son of Bure, married Bestla and they had together the three guardian gods of the world: Odin, Vile, and Ve.
These three gods managed to kill Ymer and, from his blood, rivers, oceans, and seas were formed. Each of the three gods took a piece from his body and created the world by making plains, hills, and mountains. It is said that the bones of Ymer formed the mountains, while his hair formed the forests.
The skull of the giant became the sky, that was to be sustained by four dwarfs, Norr, Soder, Oster, and Vaster - one in each cardinal point. The land, which was surrounded by water and called Jotunheim (the house of the giants), was given to the giants, the sons of Ymer. The land surrounded by the eyebrows of Ymer was given to the humans. This was Midgard, Middle Earth.
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A depiction of Óðinn, Vili, and Vé (Odin, Vile, and Ve) creating the world by Lorenz Frølich. ( Public Domain )
Odin Learns 18 Chants
After all of this, the time had come for Odin to go searching for the secrets of the runes. He climbed until he reached the top of Yggdrasil and hung himself after having hurt himself with his spear. After three days, the wound started to heal by itself.
Then, after nine days and nine nights, when death was drawing near, Odin heard the song of two women who were chanting while engraving runes on pieces of wood. Odin also started to recite the nine magical chants. These chants had various purposes: making sadness go away, protection against wounds, protection against arrows and tight ropes, stopping the spear in flight, calling upon the death of thy enemy, putting out fires, making danger go away, and stopping a storm.
These were the first nine chants against the nine different perils. The next chants were for stopping the witch in flight, making the friend invincible in battle, resurrecting the one who died by hanging, bringing happiness to a newborn child, making giants go away, making the sun rise, stealing the heart of a girl, stealing the love of a woman. However, the 18th was the strongest of all the chants, but this chant Odin never revealed to anyone.
Legend says that Odin escaped when he recited the 18th chant. The rope was untied and, while he was falling, Odin managed to obtain the pieces of wood with the nine basic runes along with the knowledge that he later on bestowed upon man.
Featured image: Detail of the runic inscription found on the 6th- or 7th-century Björketorp Runestone located in Blekinge, Sweden ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
By: Valda Roric
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The development of Germanic runes can be clearly traced to the old Italic alphabets of Italy. Especially if you look at older versions of the Latin alphabet, you can see the clear resemblance. You still can with a lot of letters if you compare them modern Latin capitals, especially if you realize that the distinct angular shape - avoiding any horizontal lines - is an adaptation for writing in wood, so that you can avoid carving into the grain of the wood.
"Generally, the most common material for making runes is wood. This is due to the importance of this element for Norse mythology."
Or maybe it was just because in northern Europe, wood was extremely common, and paper and vellum were extremely expensive.
This article should have had the headline: "the Hidden Roots of the Runes - according to Valda Roric". Most of it is a already a strong personal interpretation of the old sources.
The Havamal says, "For nine long ghts I hung on the Tree."
One rune for each day, one rune for each night, makes the 18.