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March 05, 2023 9 min read

All About Viking Runes Origins and Meanings ! Viking Heritage

Viking Runes Origins and Meanings

The Vikings are a people considered as barbarians. Warriors, plunderers, they spread terror throughout Europe. This is what appears from the writings of other civilizations of their time. They were called pagans because of the violence of their raids and their acts of piracy.

However, they are a civilization with a rich and interesting history, creating all kinds of objects. And like other peoples, to share this culture, they had an alphabet. In this article, we tell you everything about the Viking runes.

The origin of Runes

Viking Runes are the alphabet and writing system invented and used by the Norse. The origin of the runes can be traced back to the Nordic raids in Europe, especially in southern Italy. Scholars wonder whether the runes originated from an ancient Italic alphabet or from an Etruscan script.

The nascent runic alphabet was then called Futhark because of the appearance of the first 6 runes: Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raidho, Kaunan. The invention of the first alphabet, the old Futhark began in the first century of our era, ending before the year 400. The first real runic inscriptions are found on the comb of Vimose, Denmark.

The harja inscription (perhaps a proper name) on the Vimose comb (Fionie, second half of the 2nd century) is one of the oldest known runic texts.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen.

A special meaning

First of all, there is no Indo-European root for the word rune. This means that it was only used by the Nordic peoples.

Etymologically, the word *rūno- means secret, mystery, or incantation in most known Celtic languages. In Old Norse, the Viking language, or the Old Saxon of the Anglo-Saxons, rún means secret knowledge, whispering or simply secrecy.

God of victory but also of wisdom, Odin would have acquired the knowledge of runes during a physical sacrifice. Wounded by his own spear Gungnir, Odin will then hang himself from the tree of life, Yggdrasil, for 9 nights. This ash tree contains branches and roots containing the Nine Worlds. Below this tree is the well of Urd, which would have been the original habitat of the runes.

The invention of the runes would therefore be divine according to the Poetic Edda. Odin would have given the runes to the Vikings.

They then engraved them on small stones, which we finally call the runic stones. The first use was to separate the tribe, in disagreement on a certain subject. As they did not agree on the common action to be taken, they would then pick a stone and obtain a divine answer to their problem. This allowed them to discover the solutions and finally agree.

The legend says that a Viking druid discovered the secret and the power of the runes. He used the rune stones to perform magic and predict the future. This is how the druid of the village realized clairvoyance for the inhabitants and enlightened them on their future. The strength of the spirits also allowed the sick to be cured.

There were 24 rune stones in all, each corresponding to a rune.

The Old Futhark

The Kylver stone (Gotland, around 400)

On the stones that the Vikings used to draw, the symbols finally correspond to what is called the old Futhark.

This initial alphabet is divided into 3 groups of 8 runes each, which are called ættir (i.e. families). The first rune of each æt gives the group its name. The first group we will focus on is the æt of Freyr.

Æt de Freyr

Rune Fehu

The one that gives its name to the æt is called Fehu. It corresponds to the grapheme f, which we know better. Some of the Vikings were farmers, and this symbol is also associated with prosperity and abundance.

Rune Uruz | Viking Heritage

Uruz, representing the grapheme tu, means Auroch. It refers to raw strength, courage and vigor, directed towards a just cause. Uruz was also the perfect symbol of the wilderness.

Rune Thurisaz | Viking Heritage

Thurisaz was pronounced "Thor is as". This letter was related to chaos and destruction by natural forces. On the positive side, it corresponded to Thor defending Asgar. On the negative side, it was associated with Loki, the Nordic trickster.

Rune Ansuz | Viking Heritage

The Ansuz symbol embodied the qualities of the most powerful god, Odin. It represented the power of mind control, enthusiasm and the inspiration of languages.

Rune Raidho | Viking Heritage

The runic letter Raidho represented travel and movement. It helped to recognize the place where one wanted to go. It was thus a perfect compass for a better place in life.

Rune Kenaz | Viking Heritage

Kenaz is a rune that means torch. It was thus used to shed light on matters of life. It was also interpreted to mean boiling or eruption.

Rune Gebo | Viking Heritage

Gebo corresponds to the current g was used for gifts and fair exchanges. The word gift is understood to mean sacrifice and generosity.

Rune Wunjo | Viking Heritage

Wunjo, pronounced "won-jo," was closely related to joy and pleasure. Luck, hope and harmony were also meanings of this rune.

Æt by Hagall

Discount Viking BLOG10 | Viking Heritage

Rune Hagalaz | Viking Heritage

In futhark, the Hagalaz symbol in this very ancient language is very similar to the H. Its meaning revolves around destruction and salvation in the sense of crisis. Its destruction is always followed by rebirth.

Rune Nauthiz | Viking Heritage

Rune of desire and innovation, Nauthiz also indicated necessity. Like that of re-learning or planning future actions in order to have what is expected.

Rune Ísaz | Viking Heritage

The symbol Ísaz represents ice and immobility. The simplest letter of the runic alphabet, it plays an important role because ice played a role in the creation of the cosmos according to Norse mythology.

Rune Jera | Viking Heritage

Jera meant the good harvest, having two scythes for representation. In the modern sense, this rune was considered the reward for trials.

Rune Eihwaz | Viking Heritage

The rune Eihwaz, corresponding to æ, represented strength and reliability to face the changing phases of life. This could take place during youth or adulthood.

Rune Pertra | Viking Heritage

This letter was the most controversial of the Viking runes Pertra (Perð). Its meaning revolved around the word stone and the possibilities of the future as well as the word fate.

Rune Algiz | Viking Heritage

The rune Algiz is found in other Viking symbols such as the Aegishjalmur. It represents protection against evil powers as well as enemies during battles. Algiz was also a source of spiritual strength.

Rune Sowilo | Viking Heritage

Sowilo is the 16th letter of the alphabetfuthark. It represents the sun and the source of energy and inspiration.

Æt of Týr

Rune Tiwaz | Viking Heritage

The rune Tiwaz is closely related to the god Tyr in Norse mythology. This symbol, corresponding to the grapheme t, indicates honor and authority, qualities of the deity.

Rune Berkanan | Viknig Heritage

When the Berkanan symbol appeared, it indicated a new beginning in life. This meaning is not limited to birth. It indicates a great source of creativity within one's mind.

Rune Ehwaz | Viking Heritage

The name Ehwaz looks like another one. But this symbol here means transportation, carried out with the help of two horses. It was also compared to the collaboration between several individuals.

Rune Mannaz | Viking Heritage

In the same theme, the rune Mannaz represented humanity, man and social relations. This included family, friends and colleagues.

Rune Laguz | Viking Heritage

The Vikings represented water with this letter. Laguz is finally similar to an l in our alphabet. The rune could also represent something uncertain that one could suffer from.

Rune Ingwaz | Viking Heritage

Pronounced "Ing-Huz", Ingwaz represented the land and the connection the Vikings had with it. They had to pay attention to the environment.

Rune Othala | Viking Heritage

The Othala symbol was finally represented by what we call an o today. It signified the domain or ancestral possession, of one's house for example.

Rune Dagaz | Viking Heritage

The last Viking rune Dagaz represented the day and the day, in the sense of awakening or dawn of a person.

The New Futhark

Erected by a father in memory of his son, the Rök stone (Östergötland, around 800)

Like any alphabet in the world, this one evolves. It undergoes modifications, transformations which redefine it continuously.

From the 8th century onwards, the old Futhark was reduced and the runes only had 16 characters. It was used to transcribe Old Norse during the Viking Age. Thus, we find symbols with more or less the same meaning.

Æt de Freyr

Rune Fehu | Viking Heritage

If the symbol does not change, it is called fe or fé. It is associated with growth, dynamism and prosperity.

Rune Uruz | Viking Hritage

Translating into u, y or o, úr then represents iron or rain.

Closely related to Thor, this rune represents the alliance of fire and ice. It is still used in the Icelandic alphabet today.

Named áss or óss, this symbol still represents divinity in the new futhark.

Drakkar voyages through Europe did not change this letter, which was then called reið or reiðr.

In new futhark, kaunan has been shortened to kaun and its design has changed.

  • ᚷ and ᚹ

These letters did not exist in the new futhark alphabet.

Æt by Hagall

In new futhark, the letter that means salvation is called hagall. However, it does not look like the grapheme H.

nauðr was also used to transcribe the sound of the letter N, and describe servitude and slavery.

The name loses its final z to become ísaouíss, while retaining the meaning of ice.

In new futhark, jera turns into ár. This symbol still means culture and production, even abundance.

  • ᛇ and ᛈ

These two letters do not exist in the new futhark alphabet.

Yr replaces in this alphabet the symbol for algiz. It then means if and is used when the R sound is the last rune in the word.

This letter is called sól. So it represents the sun but also heat.

Æt of Týr

This rune means, in addition to Týr, the word warrior. It thus borrows the direct name of the god.

The letter is called bjarkan also means birch, or even birch branches.

The difference between ehwaz and eihwaz has gradually been lost. It is not present in new futhark.

Man no longer represents himself by mannaz but by maðr.

Surrounded by large surrounded by water, lögr orlaukr represented the sea. It is pronounced as an l.

  • ᛜ, ᛟ and ᛞ

These runes are not present within the new futhark.

Geographical variations

But it also varies according to the many Germanic peoples that existed. Whether they were in Norway or Sweden, the Vikings did not have quite the same runes, some of them not even existing.

Æt de Freyr

  • ᚠ, ᚢ,ᚦ,ᚱ and ᚴ

The Danish version does not change while the Swedish and Norwegian versions have shorter twigs.

In the Danish variant, the symbol does not change, while Norwegian and Swedish used this one instead:ᚭ.

  • ᚷ and ᚹ

No variations have been found to date for these two symbols.

Æt by Hagall

The Danes have not changed it. The Norwegian and Swedish variant is this: ᚽ.

The Norwegians and Swedes shortened the twig (ᚿ) while the Danes did not change it.

The Danish version does not change while the Swedish and Norwegian versions have shorter twigs.

In Norway and Sweden, the symbol loses its straight bar. The twigs remain normal in Denmark.

  • ᛇ and ᛈ

No variations have been found to date for these two symbols.

The basic version was used by the Danes. ᛧ was then used by Norwegians and Swedes.

Normal form among Danes while it is shortened (ᛌ) for Swedes and Norwegians.

Æt of Týr

No change in the south of the Nordic countries. The rune in Norway and Sweden is this one: ᛐ.

The Danish variant has the same twigs when the Norwegian and Swedish letter is shorter: ᛓ.

  • ᛖ, ᛜ and ᛟ

Runes with no geographical variations.

The Danes used this symbol for man while the Norwegian and Swedish Vikings used ᛙ.

The twigs were shorter on the Norwegian and Swedish versions. The Danish one did not change.

Dagaz is named differently depending on the territory: daeg in Anglo-Saxon for example.

The disappearance of the Vikings

Scandinavian looting and warfare stopped at the end of the Viking Age. At the same time, the new futhark and its variants fell into disuse. This is the consequence of the Christianization of this territory.

From the 12th century onwards, runic manuscripts were written in two types of runes, alongside the Latin alphabet. They return in particular to the system of correspondence by phoneme of the old Futhark.

The medieval runes were used from 1100 to 1500, while the Dalecarlian runes were used from 1500 to 1910.

An astrological link

Rune and astrology | Viking Heritage

Of the 24 letters of the runic alphabet, 12 correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac. For example, the fish corresponds to the rune Gebo, the bull is linked to the rune Uruz or the scorpion corresponds to Eihwaz.

In addition, there are some that are associated with the planets of the solar system. This is the case of Thurisaz, linked to Mars or the rune Perthro which goes with the planet Saturn.

An artistic use

Finally, the Viking runes are not only used as an alphabet or magic. The various signs and symbols of this culture had an artistic significance. Many objects have one or more runes.

This is the case of the bell of the church of Saleby in Västergötland in Sweden which dates from 1228 for example. But it is not the only one. The runic circles surround very famous symbols such as the Aegishjalmur. Meaning "helmet of terror", it is a symbol which associates the notions of magic and protections. It was found in a grimoire of runic magic, the Galdrabók.

Finally, Viking runes are also present in the form of runic circles. They surround the Valknut or the Vegesir. On Viking Heritage, we propose you different clothes and accessories which present this symbolism. Do not hesitate to visit our site to discover them.

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