Ancient Runic Inscription
Uploaded by absynthe on Oct 03, 2004
In this essay, I will discuss the history, origins, and other aspects of Futhark, the runic alphabet. I will focus on information and theories based on Scandinavian script, and use the Stentoften stone as an example of these ancient inscriptions.
“The Latin alphabet was introduced into Scandinavia about the year 1000. Before that the only method of recording was the runic script. These mysterious symbols, incised on stone, were believed to have been created by Odin…” (Cohat, 1987, p.148). Runes are associated with “wisdom and well-being, words and deeds, and the Gods and Magical powers. They are both practical and mystical…” (Barrett, 1995, p.12). They have shown up over a period extending from 200BC to the present as historical and archaeological items, in an area spreading well past the Baltic to the Mediterranean (King, 2002, p.2). Their origins are unclear, but there are many theories as to how these symbols became, which will be discussed later. Even the origin of the word ‘Rune’ is unclear, but many different interpretations have been put forward, most being magically based. Peter Taylor, in a book by John Matthews (1992, p.34) states that “the word ‘Rune’, which occurs in both Germanic and Celtic languages, means ‘a Mystery’ or ‘Holy secret’ that is ‘whispered’”.
Each rune has a name and meaning, and all 24 runes make up the runic alphabet, said to be the most developed magical alphabet. Nigel Pennick (1992, p.9) argues that technically, runic is not actually an ‘alphabet’, as this implies a row of characters beginning with alpha and beta, and so on. Unlike most letter systems, the first aett (group) of runes begin with the letters F, U, Þ (now replaced by the Latin ‘Th’), A, R, K. Runic ‘alphabets’ are therefore known as the Futhark.
As with any script, the original developed over a period of time, resulting in three main variants of futhark. The oldest known to scholars is the Common Germanic Futhark, which consists of twenty-four symbols (King, 2002, p.4). Its letters were divided into three main groups of eight symbols, each group called an aettir. Each aettir was attributed to a deity, Freyja, Heimdall and Tiwaz. This was in use from its beginnings to the 9th century, until “a drastic modification took place to the sounds and their symbols, and their number...