A Brief Introduction to Runes

This part of the Hall contains basic information regarding five runic alphabets, which are named based on their time, place, and first six runes (futhark, futhorc, futhork, etc.). It is important to keep in mind that runes were generally meant to be written based on their sound, not just their letter equivalent. If you encounter an inscription, keep that in mind, since the spelling you’ll end up with will correspond to the sound of the word rather than the supposed standard that most folk get used to seeing. Furthermore, while I have included the common languages used for each runic alphabet below, runes can, in theory, be used for any language, so long as they correspond to the general sounds expected from each rune. While runes work best for the Germanic languages that originally used them, they are alphabets, not a language in-and-of itself. If someone here in the Hall would like to compose something in runes, keep these things in mind — and do carve with caution. This page will not provide anyone with the skills needed for confident rune-carving, but it will familiarize folk with what letters each rune roughly reflects in the latin alphabet that many are accustomed to.

If you want books, articles, and other resources, check out the bottom of this page! But I also highly recommend Thorraborinn’s Runic Resources page. He’s got a lot of great resources there (more than I have listed here), and he is happy to help if you have any questions. But now, without further delay, let’s talk about runes!


Elder Futhark

Dates: c. 100 — 700 AD
Language: Proto-Norse

Unicode Elder Futhark: ᚠᚢᚦᚨᚱᚲᚷᚹᚺᚾᛁᛃᛇᛈᛉᛊᛏᛒᛖᛗᛚᛜᛞᛟ


Anglo-Frisian Futhorc

Dates:  c. 450 — 1000 AD
Languages: Old English; Old Frisian

Unicode Anglo-Frisian Futhorc: ᚠᚢᚦᚩᚱᚳᚷᚹᚻᚾᛁᛡᛇᛈᛉᛋᛏᛒᛖᛗᛚᛝᛞᛟᚪᚫᚣᛠ


Younger Futhark

Dates: c. 700 — 1100 AD
Language: Old Norse

Unicode Younger Futhark: ᚠᚢᚦᚬᚱᚴᚼᚾᛁᛅᛋᛏᛒᛘᛚ


Short-Twig Futhark

Dates: c. 900 — 1100 AD
Language: Old Norse

Unicode Short-twig Futhark: ᚠᚢᚦᚭᚱᚴᚽᚿᛁᛆᛌᛐᛓᛙ


Medieval Futhork

Dates: c. 1100 — 1500 AD (but some inscriptions are later)
Languages: Old Norse-Icelandic; Latin; Old Swedish, Old Norwegian, Old Danish

Unicode Medieval Futhork: ᚠᚢᚦᚮᚱᚴᚼᚿᛁᛆᛋᛐᛒᛘᛚᚤᚧᚵᛂᛑᛔᛅᚯ


The Icelandic Rune-poems

These poems, although giving some insight into the meanings of the younger futhark (or rather, you’ll notice, their later medieval descendants–the medieval futhork), come from manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thus, I urge my guests to take caution when contemplating these poems and the meanings of these runes in earlier periods. But, without further delay or lecturing, here are the poems:[1]

[Fig.6] The Icelandic Rune-poems
Rune Old Icelandic English Translation
(fé) Fé er frænda róg ok fyrða gaman
ok grafseiðs gata.
Wealth is family strife and men’s delight
and grave-fish’s path.
(úr) Úr er skýja grátr ok skára þverrir
ok hirðis hatr.
Storm is cloud’s tears and hay’s destroyer
and herdsman’s hate.
(þurs) Þurs er kvenna kvöl ok kletta íbúi
ok Valrúnar verr.
Giant is women’s torment and crag-dweller
and Válrun’s mate.
(óss) Óss er aldingautr ok Ásgarðs jöfurr
ok Valhallar vísi.
Ás is ancient Gautr and Asgard’s warrior-king
and Valhalla’s ruler.
(reið) Reið er sitjandi sæla ok snúðig ferð
ok jórs erfiði.
Ride is bliss of the seated and swift journey
and horse’s toil.
(kaun) Kaun er barna bör ok bardagi
ok holdfúa hús.
Ulcer is children’s scourge and struggle
and home to putrefaction.
(hagall) Hagall er kaldakorn ok knappa drífa
ok snáka sótt.
Hail is cold-corn and driving sleet
and snake’s sickness.
(nauðr) Nauðr er þýjar þrá ok þungr kostr
ok vássamlig verk.
Need is servant’s grief and rough conditions
and soggy toil.
(íss) Íss er árbörkr ok unnar þekja
ok feigra manna fár.
Ice is river-bark and wave’s thatch
and trouble for the doomed.
(ár) Ár er gumna gæði ok gott sumar. Year is men’s benefits and good summer.
(sól) Sól er skýja skjöldr ok skínandi röðull. Sun is cloud’s shield and shining halo.
(Týr) Týr er einhendr áss ok úlfs leifar. Tyr is one-handed god and wolf’s leftovers.
(bjarkan) Bjarkan er laufgat lim ok lítit tré
ok ungsamligr viðr.
Birch is leafy foliage and little tree
and youthful wood.
(maðr) Maðr er manns gaman ok moldar auki
ok skipa skreytir.
Man is man’s delight and earth’s increase
and ship’s painter.
(lögr) Lögr er vellandi Vimur ok víðr ketil
glömmunga grund.
Water is bubbling Vimur and great cauldron
and fish’s field.

If you discover something wrong with this page, please contact me at fjorntheskald@gmail.com (and please do include a citation for the correction so that I may check the accuracy of the revision, as well as include the information on this page for others!)


Endnotes

[1] These versions of the Iceland rune-poems have been standardized by R.I Page through a consideration of various versions and manuscripts. I have omitted ýr, since its poem is obscure, both in regards to transliteration and translation. For more on this process, please see R.I. Page, “The Icelandic Rune-peom” (University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1999). (Links to full article) [return]


Figures

[Fig.1] Graphic designed by yours truly. Information from Tineke Looijena, Texts and Contexts of the oldest runic inscriptions (Leiden: brill, 2003), 7 (links to full text); and Dr. Jackson Crawford’s video on the names of the Elder Futhark. [return]

[Fig.2] Graphic designed by yours truly. Information from Michael P. Barnes, Runes: A Handbook (Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2012); and Tineke Looijena, Texts and Contexts of the oldest runic inscriptions (Leiden: brill, 2003), 7 (links to full text) [return]

[Fig.3] Graphic designed by yours truly. Information from Michael P. Barnes, Runes: A Handbook (Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2012); Jesse L. Byock, Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas (Pacific Palisades: Jules Williams Press, 2013); and Dr. Jackson Crawford’s video on the names of the Younger Futhark. [return]

[Fig.4] Graphic designed by yours truly. Information from Michael P. Barnes, Runes: A Handbook (Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2012); Jesse L. Byock, Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas (Pacific Palisades: Jules Williams Press, 2013); and Dr. Jackson Crawford’s video on the names of the Younger Futhark. [return]

[Fig.5] Graphic designed by yours truly. Information from Graphic designed by yours truly. Information from Michael P. Barnes, Runes: A Handbook (Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2012); Jesse L. Byock, Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas (Pacific Palisades: Jules Williams Press, 2013); and R.I. Page, “The Icelandic Rune-peom” (University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1999). [return]

[Fig.6] This table was reproduced, with minor alterations, from R.I. Page, “The Icelandic Rune-peom” (University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1999). (Links to full article) [return]


Books Used

51CJ7ZtZPoL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_ 51F2wsvIcxL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_ 51jbnmm-EUL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_


Acknowledgements

I would like to offer my most sincere thanks and gratitude to Fjörn’s Fellowship. Without their support, this post would not be possible. In fact, this entire Hall would be nothing if not for their support and companionship. Here are the names (taken from Patreon) of the members of this Fellowship who supported me during the time I wrote this post:

Anastasia Haysler, Cataclysmit, Cooper Brown, Froggy, and Kathleen Phillips.

Support this Hall by joining Fjörn’s Fellowship (on Patreon)


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