The ancient alphabet

Runes were in use in many germanic languages from the 2nd century until they, little by little, gave way for the latin alphabet. Though in some areas they were still in use as late as the early 20th century and in a way one could say that people around the world are still using runes as a form of expression or communication. The Scandinavian variants of runes are also known as fuþark, the name being derived from their first six letters of the alphabet: F U Þ A R K. It consists of 24 runic symbols.

Runes on a margin
Runes written on a margin of an Icelandic manuscript

Magical use

The oldest runic system is often referred to as The Elder Fuþark and is easily the most recognizable runic system. The Elder Fuþark was used for mystical purposes as well as for writing and recording. The stanza 157 of Hávamál attribute to runes the power to bring that which is dead back to life. In this stanza, Óðinn recounts a spell:


Þat kann ek it tolfta,
ef ek sé á tré uppi
váfa virgilná,:
svá ek ríst ok í rúnum fák,
at sá gengr gumi
ok mælir við mik.

English translation

I know a twelfth one
if I see up in a tree,
a dangling corpse in a noose,
I can so carve and colour the runes,
that the man walks
And talks with me.

Runic inscriptions found on artifacts indicate the possibility that the early runes were mostly used as magical signs, intended for charms. The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite.

Runes on wood
The oldest Icelandic artifact inscribed with runes is from the 12th century.

A book on runes coming out this fall

We at the Icelandic Magic Company are proud to announce that we are publishing a new book on runes later this year. Stay tuned for more updates in the next few weeks.

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