Monday, October 19, 2009

Runes And Runemagick- Exploring the mysteries of the Elder Futhark

This is taken from a runes workshop I did at Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day recently. This isn't the original handout, and some of the graphics are missing. In place of the missing graphics though, is this great new rune casting plate I painted the other day!

There are many runes and runic systems out there, but the oldest and most popular is known as the Elder Futhark. The Elder Futhark is the oldest known European rune row, and is slated to have been used from the 2nd to 8th centuries, although the legend of the runes purports the usage of the runes from as early as 250 BC. Over 3000 runestones have been found in Scandinavia, with many more scattered in the countries which surround the Baltic Sea. There have even been runestones found in England, Ireland, Scotland and the Berezan Island in Russia. Several runestones have also been discovered in North America, but their authenticity remains questionable. Runic inscriptions were also added to pre- existing stone structures in Turkey and Greece by Viking traders and mercenaries.

The Legend Of The Runes

I trow I hung on that windy Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence.

Havamal, stanzas 137 and 138

In the Havamal, the legend of the runes states that Odin (the high god or “allfather” of the Germanic tribes) hanged himself on a tree for nine days and nights to receive the power of the runes. The runes manifested themselves to him in the form of nine staves which fell at his feet. This is the “bind” rune which encapsulates all 24 of the original Futhark runes.

The nine staves are what the entire Futhark looks like when all the runes are laid on top of each other. From these staves Odin was able to learn the wisdom of the runes. Legend states that these events happened in the year 250 BC, although most of the runestones found are dated between the 2nd and 8th centuries. The true birth of the runes is not known, but their popularity throughout Northern Europe in the early first century is a true testimony to the power and influence they had on the indigenous people of that region. Their appearance in places far away from the Baltic Sea is also a testimony to the hardiness and ambitiousness of the Viking raiders, explorers and traders.

Uses Of The Runes

Although commonly thought of as merely an alphabet or simple divining tool, the runes actually have many varied meanings and uses. As one can tell, many of them resemble the letters in the English alphabet, and they do in fact have phonetic values, but each rune can also be associated with a color, a sound, an object, an action, and much much more. They also relate to each other in a form of code which is hidden by the way they are ordered in the three rune rows, or “aetts”. Runes are often “read” in much the same way that tarot cards are read, but they can also be used for meditating upon and sending by means of galdr (Old Norse for “spell” or “incantation”). There are also runic yoga and runic martial arts systems, although these are likely to be more contemporary developments developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The word “Futhark” is actually an acronym for the first six runes in the first row (or aett) of the Futhark. The phonetic values of the first six runes (Fehu , Uruz , Thurisaz , Ansuz , Raido , and Kenaz are F, U, Th, A, R and K. The 24 Futhark runes are divided into three
different “aetts” (eighths) and the order which the runes fall in is very important, as is the significance of the number 24. Twenty four is twelve times two, and twelve is both a very important magickal and natural number. Using this easily divided number makes for rune casting which is very orderly and easy to learn.

How to read runes

Runes are commonly used in much the same way that tarot cards are used. One can do a rune reading by selecting either 3, 6 or 9 runes, with a 9 rune reading offering the most information. A standard three rune reading will illuminate basic questions about the past, present and future. When doing a nine rune reading, one can use the Yggdrasil or “world tree” spread as shown here:
When doing a three rune reading, the first rune represents the past, the second rune represents the present, and the third rune represents the future. If more information is desired, a full nine rune reading can be done, which will reveal the true nature and needs of the individual, as well as the obstacles and advantages which may be unseen to them. Like anything, practice is the key, and remember- all readings merely serve as a guide, as the future is never written in stone!

When runes are “sent” for a magickal purpose, they can often be sent in the form of bindrunes or rune rows. A rune row is often inscribed onto a stick (stave) and is a magickal working which has a personalized rune row which is necessary for a desired result. A bindrune is a rune row which has been combined into one shape. Bindrunes are often inscribed onto a charm, amulet or hex, and usually contain three or more runes. Depending upon how a bindrune is arranged, different viewers can pick out different runes, as the possibilities when inscribing them are limitless!

When one looks upon the 24 Old Norse runes, one cannot help but be moved by the intensity they emanate. The runes are the wellspring of all creativity, the gateway to ethereal knowledge and the imprint of the gods and ancestors. They are truly elegant in their simplicty. One could devote an entire lifetime to their study and still barely scratch the surface of their true meaning.

Reading List:
Futhark, A Handbook of Rune Magic by Edred Thorsson
Teutonic Magick by Edred Thorsson
Runes Of Mind by Thor Shiel
Advanced Runecraft And Spellcraft by Thor Shiel
The Old Norse Wizard by Thor Shiel
The Poetic Edda by Henry James Bellows
Germania and the Agricola by Tacitus
Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe by HR Ellis Davidson
Lost Gods Of England by Brian Branston
The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley Holland
The Troth-
Thortrains Network/ Trollwise Press-

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