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 The Roots and Use of Runes

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Silver Wind
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Silver Wind

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PostSubject: The Roots and Use of Runes   The Roots and Use of Runes Icon_minitimeThu Feb 28, 2008 9:32 am

Like the Anglo-Saxons themselves, runes came from continental Europe in about the 5th century. It could be said that there were two separate introductions of runes into the British Isles. Firstly with the Angle, Saxons and Jutes, the rune finds brought by these people are not surprisingly found almost exclusively within the borders of England. The second runic introduction was the result of Viking attacks and settlement that occurred from about the end of the 8th century onwards. These Viking runes can be found all over the British Isles from Northern Scotland to Southern England and as far west as Ireland, pretty much anywhere the Vikings decided to call home. The runic alphabet is known as a futhark or futhorc, this is because the first 6 runic characters of each alphabet make up the very word futhark or futhorc. So from the elder futhark we have the runes feoh(F), uruz(U), thurisaz(TH), ansuz(A), raidho(R) and kenaz(K). Whilst with the Anglo-Saxon futhorc the ansuz and kenaz runes are called os(O) and cen(C), and these two word differences give us the differing names of futhark and futhorc. The word futhark is more commonly applied to the elder or Norse younger runic script, whereas futhorc is the name given to the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Frisian one. The term Anglo-Frisian is used at times as runic finds in England and the Frisian area of the Netherlands show many similarities.

Although all runes and their scripts are from the same source, over time and through the centuries slight differences occurred, and not just in relation to the differing languages of the Germanic people, but more so in relation to the amount of runic characters used. The elder futhark commonly has 24 runes in it's system, whilst the younger one was reduced in size to as little 16, whereas the Anglo-Saxon futhorc expanded to have as many as 33 runes in it's system. Runes themselves are far older than both the Anglo-Saxon and Viking ages, but like the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, runes are regarded as wholly Germanic in origin. The origin of runes are to some extent still shrouded in a mist of darkness. Some say that runes came about through the adoption of the Etruscan script and adapted to Germanic usage, this adoption is said to have happened in the Alpine region of Europe in about the 2nd century BC. Whilst it's also possible the roots of runes are to be found in Bronze age Scandinavia. But if we look to the myths of the Norse, they will tell us that runes were discovered and given to man by the Germanic god Odin, known to the Anglo-Saxons as Woden. So it is possible that at one time the Anglo-Saxons of England, and all the Germanic people of Europe, believed in similar myths surrounding runes and their discovery by Odin. Slight evidence from an Anglo-Saxon point of view showing the belief that Woden gave runes to mankind is found in Old English literature, where, the question "Tell me, who first wrote letters" is asked in the prose Solomon and Saturn, to which the reply is "I tell thee, Mecurius the giant". Mecurius is of course the Roman god Mercury, but we know that when our Germanic ancestors adopted the seven day week they replaced the names of Roman gods with the native Germanic god or goddess that most closely resembled the Roman one. So Mercurii dies or day of Mercury to the Romans became Wodnesdaeg or day of Woden to the Germanic people, Wodnesdaeg of course being the ancestor of our modern Wednesday. So the giant who first spoke letters is clearly the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, and the letters he first wrote were of course runes. But whatever the roots of runes and whatever their descent, runes came to the Germanic peoples, and these people made good use of them in many ways. Runes are extremely simple in their design, they are made up of short lines that either run straight or at a slight angle, and there is good reason for this. Germanic Heathens didn't use pen and paper like we do today, their form of writing was to carve runes upon objects made of materials such as stone or wood or bone. And of course the simplest way to carve runes upon such materials is not to use letters or characters that contain any kind of curve, so runes contained nothing but straight lines. Both stationary and transportable objects were used for the carving of runic inscriptions, and surviving examples show runic inscriptions upon rocks, jewellery, crosses, urns, tombs and much more. These runic inscriptions seem to have both mundane and magical purposes. The more magical side of runes is that they were more than likely used for the purpose of divination or giving an object, such as a weapon, some form of power or strength, possibly from a god. Whilst the more mundane is that they were used as a simple script used simply in literature. With the Anglo-Saxons this simple use of runes in literature came after the introduction of Christianity to England. After the introduction the magic our Heathen ancestors found in runes faded as they slowly converted to the Christian faith, and they were used, is seems, purely as a script in itself with no magical or divinitory connections. So in a sense we can split the rune finds of the Anglo-Saxons in England into two groups, pre-Christian runes, those with a possible magical use, and post-Christian, those with none. The use of runes at the very least lasted for a couple of thousand of years, and like so much that was part of the pre-Christian culture of our ancestors, their demise came with the rise of Christian culture. Runes did survive in use well into the Christian age, but they were never the same, or used the same way again.

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