Unlock the Ancient Secrets of Norse Runes: The Complete Guide to Viking Runes and Runic Alphabets

By Eric S 3 comments

Unlock the Ancient Secrets of Norse Runes: The Complete Guide to Viking Runes and Runic Alphabets

Runes hold an enduring mystical allure across 1500 years of history. To the ancient Norse and Germanic peoples, runes represented the elemental forces that wove the very tapestry of fate. Runes were not simply letters - they were symbols infused with a deep magic that could influence destiny itself. Despite centuries of suppression under Christianity, runes have undergone a modern renaissance among Pagans who use them for divination, protection, and spellcasting. Let's explore the mythic origins and enduring meanings of these ancient symbols that continue to fascinate today.

The Mythic Origins of Runes Link Them to Magic

Norse mythology provides an origin story for the runic alphabet which establishes its connection to magic. According to legend, the runes were discovered by Odin, chief among the Norse gods. Seeking divine wisdom, Odin hung upside-down from the cosmic World Tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights, pierced by his own spear. He fasted and suffered this ordeal as a sacrifice to gain sacred knowledge. At last, Odin perceived the runes scattered below him. He reached down and grasped them, screaming in pain as their power flowed into him.

The Old Norse poem Havamal describes Odin's epic quest to obtain the runes:

"I know that I hung on a windy tree nine long nights, wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin, myself to myself, on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run..."

No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn, downwards I peered; I took up the runes, screaming I took them, then I fell back from there.

This myth establishes the runes as a gift from Odin obtained through sacrifice. Hanging upside-down from Yggdrasil, Odin received prophetic insights from the Well of Urd below, one of the "wells of fate" holding knowledge of destiny. Odin's mythic discovery of the runes linked them to magic, prophecy, and the cosmic forces governing fate.

Runic Alphabets Evolved Over Time

Several versions of the runic alphabet emerged over centuries of use across Northern Europe. The earliest runes belonged to the Elder Futhark, used from around 100-800 CE by Germanic tribes. It had 24 letters divided into three groupings called aettir. After the start of the Viking Age in 793 CE, the Younger Futhark runic alphabet developed as a more streamlined writing system better suited for recording the Old Norse language.

The 24 Runes of the Elder Futhark

The Elder Futhark contains 24 runes representing distinct sounds and concepts. The names of the runes reveal their significance. The 24 runes of Elder Futhark are:

  • Fehu - Wealth, possessions, luck

  • Uruz - Strength, health, vitality

  • Thurisaz - Conflict, overcome obstacles

  • Ansuz - Wisdom, communication, Odin's blessing

  • Raidho - Journey, momentum, right timing

  • Kenaz - Vision, creativity, inspiration

  • Gebo - Gifts, balance, relationships

  • Wunjo - Joy, fellowship, harmony

  • Hagalaz - Disruptive change, destruction

  • Nauthiz - Survival, endurance, adaptability

  • Isa - Stasis, stillness, freezing

  • Jera - Cycles, seasons, progress

  • Eihwaz - Endings, transformation, yew tree

  • Pertho - Mystery, fate, unseen matters

  • Algiz - Protection, shielding, guardian

  • Sowilo - Success, goals achieved, life force

  • Tiwaz - Justice, leadership, warrior

  • Berkano - Rebirth, renewal, spring

  • Ehwaz - Movement, partnership, trust

  • Mannaz - Relationships, society, friendship

  • Laguz - Flow, water, emotions

  • Inguz - Fertility, new beginnings, creativity

  • Dagaz - Breakthrough, hope, daylight

  • Othala - Inheritance, ancestral home


The 16 Runes of the Younger Futhark

The Younger Futhark contains 16 runes reflecting changes in language and society during the Viking Age:

  • Fehu - Wealth, luck

  • Uruz - Health, vitality

  • Thurisaz - Danger, enemies

  • Ansuz - Wisdom, communication

  • Raidho - Journey, momentum

  • Kaunaz - Wound, pain

  • Hagalaz - Crisis, upheaval

  • Nauthiz - Need, survival

  • Isa - Stasis, stillness

  • Arlaug - Year, harvest

  • Sowilo - Success, life force

  • Tyr - Justice, victory

  • Bjarkan - Renewal, fresh start

  • Maðr - Humanity, family

  • Lögr - Emotions, intuition

  • Yr - Change, death-rebirth

This leaner version of the runes retained their magical might for Viking Age divination, protection, and sorcery.

Runes Embody Deep Metaphysical Concepts

Beyond representing sounds, each rune symbolized a profound idea or metaphysical concept. Working with runes meant tapping into these archetypal energies and forces. Key meanings include:

  • Ansuz - Divine wisdom, communication, blessing of Odin

  • Berkano - Rebirth, renewal, fertility, springtime cycles

  • Dagaz - Breakthrough, awakening, hope, light overcoming darkness

  • Ehwaz - Movement, transportation, teamwork with allies

  • Fehu - Wealth, prosperity, possessions, community

  • Gebo - Gifts, balance, relationships between humans and gods

  • Hagalaz - Sudden destruction that precedes rebirth

  • Inguz - Fertility, masculine virility, new ventures and opportunities

  • Jera - The cycle of seasons, sowing and reaping what is sown

  • Laguz - The mysterious flow of water, emotions, and intuition

  • Mannaz - Relationships, society, friendship, shared humanity

  • Nauthiz - Survival, stoic endurance of hardship, adaptability

  • Othala - Inheritance, ancestry, the sacred homestead

  • Perthro - Uncertainty, chance, hidden matters awaiting revelation

  • Raidho - Journeys to transform your path and purpose

  • Sowilo - Success,goals achieved through strong life force

  • Teiwaz - Justice, leadership, following the spiritual warrior path

  • Thurisaz - Conflict and destruction that give rise to change

  • Uruz - Vitality, health, primal instinct and strength

  • Wunjo - Fellowship, community, harmony with others

Practical and Mystical Applications of Runes

Runes served both mundane and metaphysical functions in ancient Norse society:

  • Practical uses included labeling possessions with ownership runes, recording information in writing, and communicating in letters and messages.

  • Mystical purposes involved divination, magic, ritual, and spiritual development:

    • Divination with runes provided guidance on the hidden forces shaping past, present, and future. Rune casting involved throwing carved staves or stones and interpreting their patterns.

    • Magic harnessed runic energies for goals like protection, healing, or success. Runes were carved into amulets and charms, inscribed onto ritual tools, and vocalized in incantations.

    • Rituals invoked runic power during ceremonies, funerals, and rites of passage.

    • Spiritual growth came from meditating upon rune meanings for self-knowledge.

The Modern Rune Revival

Under Christianity, the Church suppressed the mystical uses of runes in magic and divination. Everyday use of runes declined as other writing systems dominated society. But runic knowledge survived in artifacts, mythological texts, gravesite markings, and folk traditions.

Within the modern Pagan movement, runes have experienced a vibrant revival as living symbols of metaphysical wisdom. While academic runologists reconstruct the linguistic history of runes, Pagans approach runes as spiritual tools for contemporary use. These dual streams of knowledge drive the widespread fascination with runic alphabets, symbols, inscriptions, and artifacts.

Pop culture reflects this runic reawakening with references to runes in movies, video games, comics, and more. Jewelry, tattoos, fine art, and products incorporating runic designs proliferate today. For contemporary Pagans, actively working with runes offers a tangible link to the magic practiced by their ancient Norse ancestors.


Viking Rune Jewelry


Crafting Rune Stones and Sets

Many modern Pagans craft personalized rune sets for divination or magical work. Carving and painting rune symbols onto stones, wood discs, ceramic tiles infuses them with energy and intent. Here are some tips:

  • Research Elder Futhark and Younger Futhark runes to select which to include. Sketch rune shapes before transferring onto material.

  • For wood, carefully burn rune symbols with pyrography tools or paint with acrylics.

  • Natural stones can be engraved using a rotary tool. Etch runes into ceramic glazes.

  • Create bindrunes by merging two or more runes into a singular symbol for amplified power.

  • Consecrate finished rune stones under the sun or full moon. Invoke Norse gods or charge with personal energy.

  • Store your handcrafted rune set wrapped in silk or velvet when not in use.

By mindfully making your own runes, you deepen your connection with their ancient magic and gain a powerful divination or spellcasting tool.

Advanced Rune Magic Techniques

Those well-versed in rune lore can incorporate more advanced magical techniques into their practice:

  • Rune yoga - Each rune represents a body position. Sequence through rune postures to build energy and willpower.

  • Rune chanting - Chant the name, meaning, and mystic poem of each rune to invoke its power during rituals.

  • Rune mantras - Repeat a word or phrase connected to a rune's meaning to manifest goals. For instance, chant "wealth" for Fehu.

  • Rune mudras - Form specific hand positions linked to each rune during meditation to channel its energy through your body.

  • Rune sigils - Draw simplified rune shapes in repeating patterns as sigils for tattoos, talismans, or ritual markings.

  • Stadhagaldr - Practice rune stances by standing in positions mimicking their shape to embody their qualities.

  • Galdr - Intone rune names, chants, or mystic poems aloud to vocally activate their potential.

  • Spaeworking - Invoke rune energies through ecstatic trance dancing, drumming, or chanting during divination.

Mastering these esoteric practices takes time but unlocks deeper runic knowledge. Performed with care and wisdom, they amplify the power of the runes in your magical work.

Runes in the Modern World

Despite their ancient origins, runes hold relevance for modern spiritual seekers who work with their symbolic potency:

  • Runes help connect us to the worldview of pre-Christian Northern Europe and its indigenous metaphysical traditions.

  • The runes encapsulate principles and life lessons key to human existence across time. Their meanings remain relevant.

  • Runic magic offers an empowering, Earth-centered system of divination distinct from tarot or astrology.

  • Crafting rune sets promotes creativity and a deeper bond with these meaningful symbols.

  • Runework provides a profound tool for self-development and exploring fate's mysteries.

  • Combining rune casting with other modalities like tarot gives a broader perspective for guidance.

  • Runes inspire personal exploration of nature-based spirituality and mysticism.

For today's Pagans and magical practitioners, the runes retain their mythic power as symbols of ancient mysteries, destiny, and the unseen realms where gods and magic dwell. Their resurgent popularity is no passing fad, but the manifestation of an enduring connection that transcends temporal limits. The runes' magic endures.

Interpreting Runes in Divination

When casting runes for divination, how the stones or tiles land provides insight into the energies and hidden influences at play. Some tips on interpreting their patterns:

  • Runes landing upright relate to conscious circumstances, while reversed runes depict unconscious factors.

  • Runes near the center of the casting cloth reflect core issues, while outliers signify external events.

  • Repeating runes emphasize their meanings. Take note of these doubled or tripled energies.

  • Opposing runes like Isa and Sowilo indicate conflicts between stillness and movement, caution and boldness.

  • Pairings can reinforce each other, like Raidho and Ansuz showing a fated destiny. Or they may represent alternatives, as with Berkano and Isa (growth or stasis).

  • The overall layout shapes the narrative. For example, a spiral formation suggests cycles, while runes in a line show step-by-step progress.

  • Let your intuition guide you in reading the patterns. The symbolic meanings will speak to you beyond logic.

Regular practice strengthens your skills in discerning the runes' messages and the connections between them. Be open to inner wisdom as you learn this sacred language.

Crafting Rune Bindings

One powerful form of rune magic involves crafting bindsrunes by merging multiple runes into a unified symbol. Combining their energies concentrates power for a chosen purpose.

For protection, one could bind Algiz, Nauthiz, and Thurisaz. Algiz shields, Nauthiz boosts survival instincts, and Thurisaz repels harm. Draw them overlapping as one emblem to invoke this safeguarding force.

To promote fertility and new life, join Berkano, Inguz, and Jera into a bindrune. Berkano governs fertility, Inguz sexual vigor, and Jera the seasons' eternal renewal. Unite their creative might as one sigil.

For mental clarity, vision, and inspiration, merge Raidho, Kenaz, and Ansuz. Raidho clears obstacles, Kenaz illuminates paths forward, and Ansuz brings Odin's wisdom. Fuse them to amplify these enlightening energies.

Craft bindrunes using runes whose meanings align with your magical goal. Empower the sigil through ritual, meditation, or chanting. A bindrune concentrating numerous relevant forces can birth formidable magic.

The Outlawing of Rune Divination

When Christianity spread across Northern Europe, church authorities associated rune divination with forbidden pagan practices. Efforts intensified to prohibit using runes for magic, sorcery, and fortune telling.

The Icelandic law codes of the early 11th century outlawed runecraft. The Church strongly condemned casting rune sticks or stones to predict fate. Secular and ecclesiastical forces collaborated to ban the spiritual traditions surrounding runework.

Despite this religious suppression, common folk continued secretly consulting runes well into the medieval period. Surviving records mention fines assessed for illegal rune casting. Pagan practices persisted, though the Church sought to break runework's power by sanctifying the symbols with Catholic meanings.

Persecution drove much old runic knowledge underground. But the universal urge to know one's destiny and influence fate through arcane means could not be fully suppressed. Runecraft survived through folk magic, preserved wisdom, and intuitive resurgence over time. The runes' ancient potency endured.

Today's rune revival allows their magic to again operate openly. The mystical dimensions of runework need no longer hide within the shadows as religious taboos. The runes have reclaimed their rightful place as guides of fate.

Runes in Viking Age Society and Culture

Let's take a look at how runes showed up in practical, everyday Viking life during the Viking Age in Scandinavia from 793-1066 CE.

On a basic level, runes served for regular writing needs like letters and record keeping. You'd see runic inscriptions labelling goods, recording who owned what, noting important events, and more. With Vikings trading and settling across Europe and beyond, their runic scripts got around.

Craftsmen carved runes onto jewelry, weapons, tools, and household items for decorative purposes and symbolic meaning. Viking art and motifs frequently incorporated runic designs along with mythological elements. Runes were totally part of the classic Norse visual style.

Those memorial runestones you see dotted around Sweden, Denmark and Norway - there are over 3,000 still surviving? - have runic inscriptions honoring dead heroes, telling their stories, and tracing their lineages. They reminded people of their roots and kept family legacies alive. The rune stones also staked claims over lands and inheritances. Having one on your property gave it major status. Elders would invoke them to settle disputes.

In magic and religion, runes invoked the power of the gods and various spirits. Runic symbols charged up amulets, charms, ritual tools, staffs, and standing stones as physical vessels of supernatural energy. Viking magicians totally used runes in their ceremonies and trance work. Carved runic markings consecrated temples, altars, and other community sites. Runes ritually blessed all kinds of important events - births, deaths, marriages, initiations - aligning the human realm with the sacred. Funerary stones called upon protective powers.

Because of their connection to the divine forces, runes had major ritual power as consecrators and conduits of magic. Runecraft governed the supernatural side of Viking society.

So in Norse culture, the runic system was both an everyday practical tool for writing and a profound mystical tradition for working magic. Runes were everywhere in the Viking Age - from the mundane to the sacred. The versatile Futhark revealed its influence across all aspects of Norse life.


  • Laurie

    WOW! Thank you. I’m trying to learn and this article was very insightful.

  • astrologerdevanand

    Thank you for this insightful information about Norse runes! It’s clear and effortless to follow, making it best for novices like me. I admire the distinct explanations and historical context provided. I hope to uncover even more historical secrets and methods.

  • Michel Normand

    Fantastique, cela dépasse en information, toutes les lectures que j’avais déjà faites. Merci.

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