Runic History – Divination Thursday

Many years ago Ankhie and her best Bestie decided to make their own runes. Their knowledge of  runic history and use were limited, but they were young and underemployed and feeling bored and crafty – so they voyaged to a small, stony beach, north of the city where they lived among nasty yuppies and other free-roaming pests, and scoured the shoreline for flat stones smoothed by the restless tides. There were plenty to be found, and so they filled their satchels and scampered away before a gimlet eyed neighbor called the law. They weren’t doing anything illegal, but they were, in those days, often unsavory looking. So with metallic paint pens (gold for Bestie, silver for Ankhie) and a rune book they marked the  stones for casting. Best Bestie – being skilled with a needle – sewed black velvet bags for their new magical treasures. All was good.

Time passed, things changed, Ankhie and her Bestie found themselves living very different lives very far away from each other. But each retained love of the other in her heart and many joyful memories to ease the pain of separation. And, of course, the runes – tangible evidence of  times spent together.

Years later, when Ankhie and Bestie were reunited, they talked about that day on the beach and the magical runes. Strange thing though. Ankhie had noticed that she had one rune in her bag with gold writing on it. She had it still. Bestie smiled. She had a silver scripted rune in her velvet bag.  Each had held in her possession all those years, the other’s rune of happiness. Awwwww…

Now for a little Runic History from Edred Thorsson and the Runecaster’s Handbook:

Runic History

In the most exoteric historical sense, the runes represent an “alphabet” used in an unbroken tradition by the Germanic peoples from ancient times to as late as the early twentieth century in remote areas of Scandinavia. This continuous tradition went through many transformations, however. It is important to realize that the runes, although a system of symbols (a metalanguage), do not constitute a language in the usual sense. Any natural language (e.g. English, Russian, Japanese) theoretically could be written in runestaves, though historically the runes were never employed outside the Germanic group of languages, i.e they were never used by the Celts or Finns.

The oldest runic tradition is that of the twenty-four stave or Elder Futhark. The system may have begun as early as 200 B.C.E., but certainly was in use by the first century C.E. (the oldest inscription found to date is the Meldorf brooch, which dates from about 50 C.E.) In Scandinavia this system continued in an unbroken stream until around 800 C.E. when it was systematically reformed into sixteen-stave or Younger Futhark. Within the time frame of the Elder Futhark (beginning as early as 450 C.E.) an extended twenty-eight stave futhorc was developed in Frisian and Anglo-Saxon territories. This system continued to be expanded and extensively represented in more diverse media (in manuscripts) until around 1050. Also within the formal tradition of the twenty-four stave futhark there was a South Germanic runic tradition that flourished in the sixth centuries C.E., especially in Bavaria, Alemania, and Thuringia.

In Scandinavia the vigorous sixteen-stave futhark system, which had begun at the dawn of the so-called Viking Age, was slowly being corrupted by the southern European alphabetic system. The runestaves were taken out of their distinctive futhark order and put into an alphabetic one. The alphabetic reform was more or less complete for most exoteric purposes by about 1300. However, the rune poems show that the esoteric tradition of the futhark order survived into the fifteenth century.

Knowledge of the runestaves as a writing system all but died out everywhere except in Scandinavia, where it continued to be an alternative utilitarian script (especially for carvings) among clerics, merchants, and farmers. Eventually runelore was only preserved in the most remote interior areas of Scandinavia.

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