Runes (Runic Alphabet)

Runes are a Norse alphabet developed around 200 BCE, from characters used for magical purposes. According to Norse myth, the alphabet was discovered in a vision by the god Odin as he hung upside down and wounded for nine days on the World Tree Yggdrasil. There are three commonly known runic alphabets: the ‘elder’ and ‘younger’ Futhark (futhark being the transliteration of the first few letters of that alphabet), the Anglo-Saxon futhork, and the Danish ‘short twig’ or script alphabet.

The word ‘rune’ literally means a ‘whisper’ or ‘secret.’ The Elder Futhark is the oldest, and consists of three sets of eight letters; there have been as many as thirty three runic characters, and as few as sixteen at various times in history. Runes have been used as a divinatory device from the beginning, and some scholars believe that at one time, a special class of diviners existed dealing solely in rune reading.

In the present time, runes are created and used by Asatru believers as a device for meditation and divination. One is generally expected to construct their own set of rune stones.

To read more about Runes, and rune divination: The Alphabet of Odin

Related Symbols:
OghamCable Tow

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Luke Price-Robinson March 27, 2015 at 1:02 am

I feel I must contribute to this discussion. Firstly, the Scandinavian Futhark alphabets tended to lose characters, whereas the Anglo Saxon FuthOrk expanded. The 24 character Elder Futhark is the standard used for divination. Now, in relation to Odin’s ordeal on the tree. In the Havamal Odin says “I took them, screaming I took them unto me, the Runes…” Odin was desperate to find an edge in his war with the Vanir, and since prophecy was denied him (but not Frigga) the ordeal on the tree was to find some great insight.
In some myths, Holda, the ancient Earth Mother, is said to have the front of a beautiful woman and be a tree from behind. Ymir was also said to have the form of a great tree in some myths. Perhaps Yggdrasil represents a time when they were joined. See the NZ Maori creation myth, when the sky and earth were one the God’s pulled their parents apart to form the world. Don’t think too literally and there is more commonality between the most divergent cultures on earth!

Anonymous March 21, 2017 at 6:11 am

Interesting thoughts. Always do my best to keep open mind to all possibilitys. I have my core values. But try to stay away from tunnel vision.
Thanks for the articulate insight.

Maria September 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

I am afraid that the image above is wrong, as the futhark didn’t have a blank rune at all. That’s an invention of Ralph Blum, so they are the meanings of each of the runes he has done for his book. Probably Brian is correct, as the futharks kept adding more symbols as the Nordic culture evolved. The Old Nordic Futhark is believed to have 24 symbols divided in 3 families of runes, or aetts.
Edred Thorsson is good source :)

Jennifer September 14, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Yes, I am well aware of this, however, there is a shortage of images that can be used unless I am willing to draw one myself. I have never heard anyone ever suggest the invented blank was anything historical, I don’t think anyone mistakes it. We have several articles on runes you are welcome to read in the meantime.

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Ona February 16, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Looking for very simple symbols re: women. Especially goddesses or female warriors. I say a Norse symbol somewhere that looked like a circle with a cross that supposedly was for a Norse goddess. I can’t find the reference anymore.

Oscar November 30, 2013 at 4:31 am

Hi I have been looking for inspiration for tattoos and came across a rune that I didn’t recognise, I was wondering if anyone could explain it to me. It looks like the Yr rune, but with a horizontal line through it, it is located on the hammer which I presume is meant to be Mjolnir, The link to the picture is below, Thanks in advance vour help.

nathan January 26, 2014 at 9:27 pm

looks to me like the Algiz rune on top of the cross.

Jennifer January 27, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Hi Oscar- I can’t make out the lettering surrounding, but I’m guessing the image is a bindrune with some special significance to the owner. Alternatively, it may be some artistic license. :)

keith swiatkowski November 6, 2013 at 12:59 pm

looking for nordic rune for pain or despair. or anything along those lines.please help

Grimnir January 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm

The above mentioned critiques aren’t absolutely correct…. At least according to author and multiple PHD’s in Northern European Anthropology / Indo-European anthropology; Edred Thorsson… Excellent source for further information and extremely spirituality ‘in-touch’ books and the head of the Rune Guild…..
Anyone interested in this area of ancestral knowledge & spirituality should seek out his works, namely ‘Futhark’ …. His first publication of Runelore….
Yggdrasil IS the universe; hence The World Tree….

Acheron June 6, 2011 at 7:48 pm

That’s simply not true einherjar.

He learned the runes while hanging in Yggrasil and the 9 poems of Fimbul.

He gave his eye for knowledge and wisdom when he drank out of the well of Mimir.

Brian April 15, 2011 at 5:59 am

Hello there.
Nowhere in the original myth is the world tree reffered to as Yggdrasill, but rather “Yggdrassil’s Ash” the myths all agree on this point (even the christian Snorri Sturlurson). Askr is the norse word for ash-tree. Yggr-drassil is, in fact an odhinn-name. Yggr means “the terrifying”, or “the horrific”, and drassil is a word for either horse or “one who walks”. So the true name for the world tree is NOT Yggdrassil, but rather “Odin’s Ash” or “Odin’s Horse’s Ash” – depending on your interpretation of the name.
The Futhark posted above is not representative for the runes used in the viking-era, which is the period we know, people worshiped Odin. The viking-era people – or norsemen – used the so-called 16-futhark.

Anyhoo: Great pictures, and for simple inspiration, they are awesome, but should not be taken for truthful, since the facts are wrong.

einherjar August 27, 2010 at 1:20 pm

odhinn didnt hang from yggdrasil for an alphabet but for knowledge of the universe which is what the symbols of the runes contain and the runes r 250yrs b.c.e

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