The later Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (58-120AD) records a Germanic tribal Runemal in some detail in Chapter 10 of his ethnographical work Germania from about 97AD when he was Consul to the region:
When the high chieftains and lawgivers of Anglo-Saxon England met in secret, their assemblies were known as The Runes: and a 4th Century translation of the Bible uses the word Runa for "mystery" or "secret proceedings".
The ancient Norse prose tales of the Edda have Odin hung on the World Tree when he spies the runes and seizes them up to gain wisdom and well-being. The Edda also mentions Bragi, master of the skalds (minstrels) and a great storyteller who reputedly had runes tattooed on his tongue - a reference to his magical gift as a raconteur.
The slightly later poem Erik the Red describes a Runemistress in full regalia.
Coming to modern references, the traditional lore of Finland as recorded in the Kalevala by Lönnrot in 1835 describes a confrontation of wizards where runic songs were used to cause fire and devastation.
Some modern experts allege that stones were commonly used for the Runemal, but I have found no evidence of this despite extensive research. The indications, whether from runology, known Pagan religious beliefs, or Saxon witchcraft ritual, all point to the use of wood, particularly from fruit-bearing trees.
In my efforts to accurately recreate the Ancient Runemal, my rune sets were made from Blackthorn, Ash, Beech, Birch, Chestnut, Elder, Hawthorn, Hazel, Rowan, Sycamore, Willow and a few other wild woods. In keeping with the Pagan respect for living things, I never cut from living trees, but used windfall or forested branches. Each rune set was individually dated, serial numbered and identified as to the wood and its origin.
Please see the Rune Sets pages for more information on
sets of the past.