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The Origin of the Runes - Page 1 of 3

     

No-one knows exactly how old the runes are. Rune-like symbols appear as cave markings as early as the late Bronze Age (circa 1300 BC), and they are mentioned in the Bible, but their use in ritual and as an Oracle for consultation must certainly pre-date their use as a system of writing.

Eminent scientific runologist Dr R. I. Page of Cambridge University (An Introduction to English Runes 1973,1999 and Reading the Past - Runes 1987) notes that the runic forms were well established and gave the appearance of having been in use for some centuries before the time of the earliest written language inscriptions.

gif image: runestavesThe fact that the runes were each given meaningful names confirms that they had some magical or religious significance to their users long before they emerged as an alphabet for records and messages.

The word rune itself comes from the old Norse word Runa meaning a secret or mystery, and it seems likely that the early runemasters and runemistresses were considered to have some magic or mystic power in their understanding of the runes.

The runes represent objects, gods, people, animals, concepts and occurrences. They were known by names from which their alphabetic and phonetic values were taken, but it must be remembered that the early Germanic and Norse tribes who developed them did so long before they had any need for writing messages.

It was not until about AD200, when the runemal (i.e. the art of runic interpretation) was wide-spread in Northern Europe that the runic alphabet emerged. This alphabet became known as the Futhark or Futhorc, after the names of the first 6 runes (Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raido, Kauno) and it is these 24 symbols that now comprise the rune set. Some modern diviners also use a blank to represent Odin, fate or destiny - but it is probably more useful as a spare in case of loss. A blank cannot rightfully be called a "rune" because there is no symbol on it. And in any case, the rune Ansuz is generally accepted to represent Odin by the majority of experienced rune users.

There are very few surviving runic inscriptions and most of them are on stone or metal - the most durable of materials. Only a handful of inscriptions carved on wood have ever been found, and none of these is from Britain.

There is sufficient evidence to show that the Ancient Pagan or Anglo-Saxon runes (known to runologists as the Anglo-Friesian runes from their geographical occurrence) are the same 24 basic runes with variations in their form due to usage over the centuries.

For example, the Hagalaz of the Norse resembled an angled H but the Anglo-Saxons added a second cross-bar.
 
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