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RUNES: A Short History

Most people associate the runes with the Vikings, but their history begins much earlier.

The origin of the runes as an alphabet began in about 1300 BC with the early civilizations in the Indo-European area, located where today you would find northwestern India, Pakistan and the lowlands of Afghanistan.

However, many of the runic symbols have been found throughout the world in archaeological sites dating back thousands of years earlier.

During the Bronze Age, the runes as a true alphabet evolved along with the Proto Indo-European Language and spread primarily in a north-western direction.

This Proto Indo-European Language eventually developed into a wide variety of modern languages, including German, English, Greek and the various Scandinavian languages.

It is also the root of Latin and interestingly and kind of surprisingly, Persian.

You will notice that the runes have many similarities with some of the alphabet that you use today.

Time, culture and technology are responsible for the evolution of the runes into the A.B.Cs- some of them have not changed a bit, some only changed by rounding sharp angles into curves.

The runes are all straight lines for the practical reason that straight lines are easier to carve, engrave or chisel than are curves.

In the days before paper, pen & ink, the means of written communication was usually carving into wood or stone, and getting uniform curves into these materials was not easy.

As the use of clay tablets started to spread, curves became less difficult, so in some cases the runes began to be modified into more rounded figures.

Then as early forms of paper such as parchment, papyrus etc. began to appear, further modifications into a more flowing script became popular.

What was a convenience with carving became a hindrance because, generally, curved lines are faster to put onto paper than straight lines and sharp angles.

Although the cultures using runes as an alphabet are diverse, most of the symbols are the same throughout, and although the phonetic spelling of the names of individual runes may vary, the meanings usually are fairly consistent.

Also, you should be aware that while English and most modern occidental languages are read from left to right, the runes were often written right to left or even vertically or around in spirals etc.

So if you are trying to translate a rune inscription and it is just not making sense, you may be reading in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, for our purposes here, historical translations will not be of major importance, as generally we will be dealing with the meanings and purposes of individual symbols for something other than extensive communications or literature.

(individual rune meanings)


Most of the following information is based on general traditional understanding.

These symbols are presented in more or less modern alphabetical order rather than the traditional FUTHARK order.

In one context, OS refers to the Divine, Primarily to (the) God(s) of creation and specifically to the Father Deity.
It is also a rune of communication, poetry and music.
OS can represent the link between the Gods and humanity.
Other symbolism for this rune includes: Pine trees, Good fortune, Immortality, Inspiration and Personal power.

Relates to birth, healing, forgiveness and atonement for misdeeds. It refers to the birch tree and symbolizes shelter, concealment and (passive) protection [concealment].

 KEN (can be used as C, K or Q)
Relates to light and the controlled power of fire It is the rune of knowledge and technological advance. The knowledge of Ken is that of the student, the scientist etc. and does not necessarily indicate wisdom.

In general, it represents the wheels of a chariot and thus can refer to travel. In specific application, it represents the "SUN CHARIOT" and indicates the light of day and the diurnal cycle.
It is symbolic of personal growth, the gaining of wisdom and leaving the past behind.

Is symbolic of the horse and also of two specific gods- twin brothers who roamed the world to help people in trouble. As such it can indicate divine aid in a time of need.
It is also representative of partnership- (platonic, not romantic).

Is symbolic of cattle, one of the main measures of wealth among early peoples. As such, it is indicative of wealth, money and material possessions.
It can be a sign of fertility, and it may also be indicative of psychic power or spirituality.
FEOH is the direct root of the word FEE, and therefore may indicate a payment due or other debt.

The word gift is a direct root of gyfu; Therefore it indicates sharing, hospitality or sacrifice. It can also have a meaning of partnership; Unlike EHWIS, this is directed more at matrimonial matters or sexuality, rather than just comradeship.

Is the rune of winter. It symbolizes snow ice, the cold north wind, and frost. The modern word HAIL is directly derived from this rune. It is also a rune symbolic of "The Trickster" (Loki, Coyote etc.)
Haegl is indicative of bondage, frustration and unpleasantness. In its best connotation, it means overcoming all of these negatives and achieving greatness.

Is a rune of strength and masculinity. It is symbolic of the spear, the staff and the Shepard's crook.
In one aspect it is confrontational, aggressive and indicates strife, stress and struggle. However in its other aspect it is protective, it signifies leadership and overcoming difficulties.
It is also symbolic of the Norse god Odin and the Celtic god Lugh (Llew) who are known for their magical spears.


 GER (used for J and Y)
Is a rune of growth; symbolic of agriculture, gardening and harvest. It is the root of the word YEAR and indicates the annular cycle and living and working with nature.

Is a rune of water, especially the sea and lakes, in fact, the word LAKE comes directly from this rune.
It can mean transition, hope and honor. It can also symbolize community, friendship and romance.

Indicates humanity- either as the self (the individual) or mankind in general.
In a negative context it indicates selfishness and greed, but in its positive aspect, it is a symbol of generosity and service to the community.

 NYD = N
Is a rune of impossibility- Not necessarily in a negative sense; it can mean overcoming the odds and achieving the impossible.
It is also a symbol of personal power, somewhat akin to the Japanese concept of the Hara or the Chinese concept of Chi.
It is the direct root of NOT and NEED and therefore may represent either or both concepts.

Is the rune for family matters: Marriage, genetics, inheritances, ancestors etc. and it can possibly indicate Royalty or dynastic lineage.

Is the gamblers rune: the shape of the rune represents the dice cup. It can indicate the coming of major change- opportunity on one hand, disaster or failure on the other.
In another context, it is a symbol of the feminine- "womanly traits" as well as sexuality.

Is a travelers rune. It can indicate change, a physical journey or a mental one. A mental journey can be a dream, astral travel, channeling or just learning something new and exciting.
It can also symbolize death- after all, death is also a journey.

Is the rune of the Sun; yet it also represents lightning. It symbolizes natural power.
It can be indicative of spirituality, redemption and protection from evil and chaos.

Is the rune of the Warrior. It represents the spear (like ISA) the sword and the axe. It is the symbol of the Norse god Tiwaz and brings his protection and attributes to those who bear his symbol. It is for courage, strength, endurance and agility.

 UR =U
Is the symbol of wild cattle (musk ox, buffalo etc.). Like FEOH, (the symbol of domesticated cattle) UR can represent wealth, but this is the kind of wealth that is rarely won--that of the prospector, the wildcat oil driller and the treasure hunter--- possible great wealth, but only at great risk.
UR can indicate great opportunity, hope and excitement.

It is the rune of winning- the root of the modern word victory and Viking. Somewhat in the vein of TYR and UR, it indicates winning through courage, audacity and great risk.
It also indicates artistic talent (especially in the visual arts) and creativity.

Is the rune of wisdom and divination. It can be used as the symbol of the Runemaster, the Loremaster, the Scholar, the Wizard or the Oracle.
It can indicate Divine power, Fate and Destiny.

This symbol probably predates most of the runes, and has been seen in a wider variety of ancient cultures than the runes.
Not to be confused with the swastika which has the "arms" pointing in the opposite direction.
KEST is the rune of good luck. Not "winning the lottery" good luck, but the luck of being just beyond the reach of disaster. It can be seen as the "luck of the fool". Being born attractive, talented or into a very loving family is an example of KEST luck.
It also indicates a happy, carefree state with little stress, strife and worry.
Can also be used as a symbol of humanity's place in nature, and a reminder that eventually, natural law will prevail over all man made laws.

The rune of protection, both from physical, mundane danger and protection from evil and magickal attack.
It symbolizes the antlers of a deer or an elk.

Is the symbol of the demon Thorn- who rules the icy wastelands. Like HAEGL, it evokes the image of snow, ice, hail, and wind.
It is a symbol of testing: Man against Nature, Courage against Fear. Generally an indication of danger, but it can also be used as a talisman or sigil of defense (Must face outwards-toward your enemy in this use).

 ING =ing
Somewhat like MANU, ING is a symbol of humanity, but it generally refers to it in terms of the community, the tribe or the clan.
In a modern context, it can also indicate a corporation, organization, club etc. or even close friends or "comrades in arms".

symbolizes the yew tree, which is one of the most powerful "magickal" woods. The meanings of the symbol can be quite confusing as it can indicate immortality or long life; it can also mean death or illness, poison or pollution. The context in which the rune is found should help clarify which meaning it indicates.