Viking Symbolism: Norse Runes
Ever seen these symbols before? These are Norse runes, also called Futhark or fuþark alphabet. They are the written language of the Vikings, but they are also symbols used in divination and imbibed with power. For nearly four-hundred years, these letters were the dominant form of writing throughout much of Western Europe, until they were replaced by the Latin alphabet from the south.
If you are a Tolkien fan, you may take pleasure in knowing that he created the Dwarf or Cirth runes (for the language Khuzdûl) from the Futhark runes. In fact, they are very similar to the point where many letters are the same. For instance, Gandalf’s rune, which is a G in Cirth, is the same as the Norse rune fehu.
Wait– you are probably way more interested in the whole divination thing than the origin of the language, right? Ok, ok. I hear you. That’s way more badass. I get it.
It goes like this: each rune has a particular meaning beyond just the sound that it portrays. It would be like if the letter F also meant, ‘prosperity,’ or if the letter R also meant, ‘journey.’ Each letter would be written on a small piece of bark, stone, or bone, then placed in a bag. The person looking to have their problems solved with the runes would hold their question in their hearts, not speaking it aloud. They would ponder the question carefully until they felt a certain piece sticking to their hands, almost wanting to be pulled. As each rune is pulled, it is placed in a certain order or place depending on the type of reading. The most common reading is the Norns, which involves pulling a rune for the past, present, and future of the problem being considered.
Then, it is up to the reader to interpret which runes were pulled. The reader has to be knowledgeable in what each symbol means, obviously. But they also have to know about the position of each rune, and what certain runes drawn together might imply. Many practitioners spend years and years studying the different ways and means of each rune.
If you are a fan of tarot, you might recognize this form of divination (if it can even be called that!) They aren’t fortune cookies to tell you directly what is coming in your future; they are lessons in creative problem solving. Drawing certain runes when pondering on a question may help present ideas and decisions you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. They may help you open your mind the possibilities that hadn’t even seemed, well, possible before.
Many historians argue over whether or not runes were traditionally used as divination tools. But who cares? Modern practitioners of Asatru and other forms of Norse paganism still use them today as a meditation exercise. They help people make decisions and examine their thoughts before taking rash action. You can’t really deny the benefits of that.
If you are looking to get some runes engraved on your Alehorn tankard, there are a couple ways to select ones that are appropriate. You could simply pick one (or a few) that you really like by looking at a runic dictionary. Or, if you want the more authentic experience, you could go to a rune caster and have them do a casting to help you decide which runes will play an important role in your life, or perhaps help you solve an important problem. NOTE: that problem should probably not be, ‘What runes should I get engraved on my Alehorn tankard?’ unless you want Odin to slap you in the nuts. He is, of course, in charge of these things.