The origin and age of Runes is unknown, but Rune-like symbols appear as cave markings as early as, 1300bc in the late Bronze Age. Their use as an oracle for consultation probably pre-dates their use as a written language.
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The Elder Futhark - Runes - The White Goddess

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Wednesday, 29 June 2022

The Elder Futhark

The Elder Futhark


According to Norse mythology, the runes were give to man by Odin, who hung upside down for nine nights on the World Tree - Yggdrassil, searching out the secrets of the mind and of the Universe. It is said that the mysteries of the runes were revealed to Odin after passing into the afterlife, on his rebirth he passed this wisdom on to man. The Havamal, which means "The High One's Words" (the high one being Odin), is a narrative mythic poem, dating from around the 10th century, dedicated to the god Odin. In verses of the Havamal it describes how the god Odin received divine power through the magic of the runes.

"I know that I hung on the windy tree
For nine whole nights,
Wounded with the spear, dedicated to Odin,
Myself to myself."

Magical Properties

Runes were used to ward off strife and care, to charm away sickness and disease, to blunt the foeman's sword, to break fetters that bind, to still the storms, to ward off the attacks of demons, to make the dead to speak, to win the love of a maid, and to turn away love that is not desired. They have also power over death and the world beyond.


The Runes are the alphabetic and magical script of Germanic, Scandinavian and North European peoples, consisting of betwen 16 and 33 letters. They are commonly called Futhark, from the first six letters of the runic alphabet, namely Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raido and Kauno - F, U, Th, A, R, K. The word rune comes from the Old Norse and Old English word rûn, meaning mystery and is similar to the Old High German rûna, meaning secret discussion.

The earliest runes date back to the 3rd century AD and are possibly based on an even earlier system of pictographs. There are several variations of runic scripts, the oldest being known as the Elder Futhark, the Anglo-Saxon Futhark, the Younger Futhark and others. Their angular shape made them ideal for carving rather than being written and short inscriptions can be found throughout Northern Europe and Iceland. They were in use for around a 1000 years, for inscriptions, magical utterances, divination and in the writing of the poetic Eddas. Most modern Rune Sets are based on the 24 symbols of the Elder Futhark, though often a blank rune is also added.

The 24 runes are often divided into three groups of eight. Each "Aett" is associated with one of the Norse Gods.

The First Aett - Freya's Eight
Fehu, Uruz, Thurisa, Ansuz, Raidho, Kenaz, Gebo & Wunjo

The Second Aett - Hagal's or Thor's or Heimdallr's Eight
Hagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa, Jera, Eihwaz, Perthro, Algiz & Sowilo

The Third Aett - Tyr's Eight
Tiwaz, Berkano, Ehwaz, Mannaz, Laguz, Ingwaz, Dagaz & Othala


These are magical symbols made up from 2 and as many as 8 separate rune characters that are overlapped to make one single symbol, in effect combining the powers of each individual runes into one. Personal Bind-Runes can be made using the intials of your name, other Bind-Runes are made for a more practical and specific purpose such as health or protection.

Reading The Runes

Tacitus (55-118AD), son of a Roman Knight, who later became a senator, describes in chapter X of his book, Germania (97-98AD), a method of divination used by Germanic Tribes.

"For auspices and the casting of lots they have the highest possible regard. Their procedure in casting lots is uniform. They break off a branch of a fruit tree and slice it into strips; they distinguish these by certain runes and throw them, as random chance will have it, on to a white cloth. Then the priest of the State if the consultation is a public one, the father of the family if it is private, after a prayer to the gods and an intent gaze heavenward, picks up three, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the runes scored on them."


The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer, Wordsworth Editions, 1993
The Poetic Edda, Bellows, Henry Adams, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1936.
Longmans Dictionary of the English Language, Peguin Book Ltd, 1991
H. Mattingly, Tacitus on Britain and Germany, Penguin Book Ltd, 1954
Teutonic Myth and Legend, by Donald A. Mackenzie, Published 1912??
The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft, Raymond Buckland, Samuel Weiser New York, 1974

For more information on the history of the Runes and Havamal see:

Oswald The Runemaker
Rune Gild - Havamal

For more information on Bindrunes see:


To learn more about runes, to interpret their meanings and more, visit Jennifer Smith's Website "The Runic Journey".

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