The Power And Mystery Of The Runes

By | December 5, 2019

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Franks casket. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

J.R.R. Tolkien readers are familiar with runes, the mysteriously shaped letters that exert mystical power on things like secret maps or hidden doors. But Tolkien’s runes were based on the historic runes developed by Germanic peoples in the 1st or 2nd centuries A.D. Runes have exerted their alluring pull on people ever since. 

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a vellum manuscript from c. 1300 containing one of the oldest and best preserved texts of the Scanian law written entirely in runes. Source: (Wikipedia)

Runes were first developed by northern Germanic people who had been exposed to the alphabet of southern Europe such as Greek and Latin. The first runic alphabet is called futhark which is named after its first six letters: f, u, þ, a, r, and k. There are two variations of futhark, the Elder which had twenty-four characters and the Younger which possessed sixteen. The Elder Futhark was supplanted by the Younger variation in the 700s and is more familiar to people since this system was the set used by the Scandanavian raiders commonly referred to like the Vikings. Younger Futhark was used throughout the so-called Viking Age until approximately 1100. Two other systems of runes were used, the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc until the year 1000 and Medieval Futhork until about the 13th century. There are other minor variations as well.