Viking Runes

When were Runes in use?

Evidence suggests that Norse Vikings had a written alphabet as early as 100 AD. Although early Viking history was not recorded in written form. Only a few members of the community were able to read and write. It was more usual to pass the stories down the generations orally. ‘Skalds’ memorised and retold the histories, sometimes in the form of poetry, particularly when they were long and there was a lot to remember.

We use the word ‘alphabet’ to describe the set of symbols which form the written words of our language. Alpha and Beta like many other words in the English language are from the Greek, and form the first 2 letters of the Greek alphabet.

What was the Viking Alphabet called?

The early runic alphabet is known as the Elder Futhark. The alphabet began with 24 different characters but over hundreds of years this was gradually reduced to 16, known as the Younger Futhark. Futhark comes from the first 6 letters of the Viking alphabet, F, U, Th, A, R, and K. Vikings carved the characters of their alphabet into bone, wood, metal or stone, readily available material, paper was not available. For this reason, they are angular in shape.

Written recording was used for matters of importance like inscriptions rather than everyday use. ‘Runestones’, large rocks covered in inscriptions would be used to mark the memory of a great man or woman. Written recording, what little there was would have been in the form of short messages on ‘Runesticks’, pieces of wood. This could also have been how they practised their skill of writing.

Did Runes have Magical Powers?

Stories suggest, Vikings believed that runes held magical powers. They used them in a form of fortune telling. Whilst thinking of a question they may have cast the runes and used the reading to interpret an answer or seek guidance. A practice which continues to be observed in some cultures.

Each rune can represent a letter or a meaning. For example, the angular uppercase B which represents the letter B, can also having a meaning of, birch tree, spring or new life.

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