Runes (Celtic runes) are an alphabetic script used by the peoples of Northern Europe from the first century c.e. until well into the Middle Ages. In addition to their use as a written alphabet, the runes also served as a system of symbols used for magic and divination. Runes fell into disuse as the Roman alphabets became the preferred script of most of Europe, but their forms and meanings were preserved in inscriptions and manuscripts.
Older than the New Testament, the Runes have lain fallow for more than 400 years. The Runes were last in current use in Iceland during the Middle Ages. The wisdom of the Rune Masters died with them. Little remains but the standing Rune stones, the sagas, the far-flung fragments of runic lore, and the 24 Runes themselves.
The influence of the Runes on their time is incontestable. When the high chieftains and wise counselors of Anglo-Saxon England met in conclave, they called their secret deliberations “Ruenes”. When Bisop Wulfila made his translation of the Bible into fourth century Gothic, he rendered St. Mark’s “the mystery of the kingdom of God” using “runa” for “mystery.
Eight centuries earlier, when Greek historian Herodotus traveled around the Black Sea, he encountered descendants of Scythian tribesmen who crawled under blankets, smoked themselves into a stupor, and cast marked sticks in the air and “read” them when they fell. These sticks were used as Rune sticks.
There is no firm agreeement among scholars as to where and when runic writing first made its appearance in Western Europe. Before Germanic peoples possessed any form of script, they used pictorial symbols that they scratched onto rocks.
Especially common in Sweden, these prehistoric rock carvings, are dated back to 1300BC and were probably linked to Indo- European fertility and sun cults.
The practice of divination (sortilege) was cultivated among Northern Italic as well as Germanic peoples, one using letters the other symbols. Numerous runic standing stones can be seen in the British Isles, in Germany and throughout Scandinavia.
From the beginning Runes took on a ritualistic meaning, serving for the casting of lots, for divination, and to evoke higher powers that could influence the lives and fortunes of the people. The craft of “runemal” touched every aspect of life, from the most sacred to the most practical. There were Runes and spells to influence the weather, the tides, crops, love, healing, fertility, cursing and removing curses, birth and death.
Runes were carved on amulets, drinking cups, battle spears, over the lintels of dwellings and onto the prows of Viking ships.
The Rune castors of the Teutons and Vikings wore startling garb that made them easily recognizable. Honored, welcomed and feared these shamans were familiar figures in tribal circles. There is evidence that a fair number of runic practitioners were women.
Runic symbols have been carved into pieces of hardwood, incised on metal or cut into leather that was then stained with pigment.
The most common Runes were smooth flat stones or pebbles with symbols or glyths painted on one side. The practicioner would keep them in a pouch, shake them and scatter the pebbles on the ground. Those falling with glyphs upward were then interpreted.
Bt 100 AD the Runes were already becoming widely known on the European Continent. They were carried from place to place by traders, adventurers, and warriors, and eventually by Anglo-Saxon missionaries.
For this dispersion to occur a common alphabet was required, the alphabet that became known as “futhark” after after its first 6 letters.
Although later Anglo-Saxon alphabets expanded to include as many as 33 letters in Britian, the traditional Germanic futhark is comprised of 24 Runes. These were divided into 3 families of 8 Runes each, 3 and 8 being numbers credited with special potency. The 3 groups, known as “aettir” were named for the Norse Gods “Freyr” “Hagal” and “Tyr.
As with most oracles of divination – Runes mean different things if held ‘straight up’ and mean the opposite if held in the ‘reverse’.
FEHU – F: Cattle
Abundance through effort, inheritance of self and self value, material gain, earned income. Success, happiness and wealth.
Reversed: Abandonment of plans, loss, disappointment, frustration.
URUZ – U: Brute Strength
Strength, home love on all sides, health, changes, a forceful masculine archetype.
Reversed: Missed abilities, weak will power, lack of motivation
THURISAZ – TH: The seeing of the future
Open the door or gate to seeing the future – luck reflection for action, protection. You will see the truth.
Reversed: Not willing to heed information given, having a stubborn mind-set
ANSUZ – A: references the ancestral god, Odin.
Message from within (listen to your ‘little vioce’), advice from others, chance encounter, careful thought so you will know what to do from this point in time
Reversed: Watch out for trickery, the dark side of yourself when others interferring with your plans, or there is failed communication
RAIDHO – R: Journey
You’re about to embark on a journey – either in the physical world or a journey of your soul to heal something that needs healing.
Reversed: Unexpected, unpleasant journey, transit problems, upsetting plans, lost tickets, communication
KENAZ – K: Beacon or torch.
When you feel in the dark – this rune will bring an opening, to help you open to who you are and your highest possibilities. From the drakness – light will come.
Reversed: withdrawl, anxiety, closing, loss
GEBO – G: Gift of Harmonic Relationships
Unity with self and all others – especially with our higher selves, nature and all things aroud us. Cannot be reversed.
WUNJO – W or V: Bliss and Glory
You do not Need anybody. Peace, pleasure, self-worth, joy and serenity, happy results, harmony, prosperity
Reversed: Sorrow, disatisfaction, disappointment, friction, delay, possession by higher forces
HAGALAZ – H: Destructive forces
This refers to the destructive forces of nature, and things that are out of our control.