There is considerable uncertainty as to the earliest purpose of the runes, whether they were originally used as real characters of writing, or, as the name suggests, as mystical signs, bearers of potent magic. But, since the power and force of the spoken word easily pass into the symbol for which it stands, it is not improbable that the latter meaning is secondary, the spell becoming, so to speak, materialised in the graven letter, and, even in this form, retaining all its original power for good or evil?
"The possible limited reserve of the runes to a small section of society would have in effect removed their 'correct' interpretation and use from amongst the respective society in general thereby creating an aspect of mystery if they are associated with practitioners of divining or healing. Their use as transmitters / receivers of information to a small, specialized, section of society may permit such speculation that they may have been carved on wood and used for example, for divination"are claimed to have been inscribed with this writing. The runologist Wolfgang Krause in his work “Die Sprache der urnordischen Runeninschriften" favoured magical explanations for rune inscriptions that seemed undecipherable. See: https://tinyurl.com/j5glsp5 The fuÞark arrangement of alphabet for want of a better term was first used by the North European Germanic tribes, namely the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish around the 3rd and 17th centuries A.D. with approximately some 3500 runic stone monuments scattered throughout Northern Europe, concentrated mostly in Sweden and Norway.
The study of historical fuÞark runes is a study of wisdom poetry and the religious mysteries associated with them, not merely a study of an ancient “alphabet” as academics would assert on. So in essence a delicate balance has to be found between sounds, meanings of words but especially the variance’s of possibly huge timelines between the many various proses. The meters are not all from the same time periods and we have to allow for how the runes evolved during those periods. The problem with modern interpretations of the runes remains that many Asatruers simply choose to ignore the complexities that the rune poems presents, from whence they gather those meanings are vast and varied for runes do not transliterate directly into modern English, German, Russian or any other later day languages. They each have their own unique sound and value created at the time of their first inception by whosoever created them, carrying with them an original understanding or set of meanings. Also we have the consideration of Old Norse Religion and magic; examples of using the fuÞark runes in magic can be found in the sagas.
Ref: She had a small flat surface cut on its smooth side; then she took a knife, cut runes upon it, reddened them with her blood and muttered some spells over it. After that she walked backwards against the sun around it and spoke many potent words. Then she made them push the tree into the sea, and said that it should go to Drangey and that Grettir should suffer hurt from it.
—Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar, ch. 79
The Anglo-Saxon Runic Poem is taken from the Cottonian MS.Otho B X, which perished in the fire of 1731. It had, however been printed by Hickes in his Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium Thesaurus, I.135 (London, 1705), from which the present text is derived. It consists of short stanzas, 29 in all, of two to five lines each. At the beginning of which stand the runic characters described, preceded by their equivalents in ordinary script and followed by their names. Most of what we consider the meaning of the runes is taken from here although The Norwegian and Icelandic Rune Poems also add their own unique distinctions.
Icelandic Rune Poem
The Icelandic Runic Poem which is supposed to date from the 15th century, is somewhat more elaborate than its Norwegian prototype. It consists of 16 short stanzas dealing in succession with the letter names of the Scandinavian Runic alphabet. In each of these stanzas are contained three kenningar---the elaborate periphrases which is commonly found in Icelandic literature. The first and second lines are connected by alliteration, the third has two alliterating syllables of its own. The Icelandic Runic alphabet contained several more letters at this time; but only the sixteen current in the Viking Age are treated here. It is suggested that this poem is based on an earlier original now lost to us.
The Poem is taken from four MSS. in the Arnamagnaean Library at Copenhagen.
1. AM 687,4to, parchment of the fifteenth century and containing the runic charecters, but not the names.
2. AM.461,12mo, parchment of the sixteenth century, with names only.
3. AM.749, 4to, paper of the seventeenth century, with names and letters in alphabetical order, followed by "dotted runes."
4. AM.413,folio,pp.130-5,140ff.,from parchments of the sixteenth century copied in Jon Olafsson of Grunnavik's MS. Runologia (1732-52)
(a) with names and letters in alphabetical order,
(b) with names and letters in runic order except that logr precedes maðr.
Cf.Kalund, Smastykker, pp. 16 ff.; Wimmer, Die Runenschrift,pp.281 ff
I Íss er árbörkr ok unnar þak ok feigra manna fár glacies jöfurr. Ice: bark of rivers and roof of the wave and destruction of the doomed.Maðr er manns gaman ok moldar auki ok skipa skreytir homo mildingr. Man: delight of man and augmentation of the earth and adorner of ships.
Norwegian Rune Poem
ᚠ - Fé Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen;
the wolf lives in the forest.
ᚢ - Úr Dross comes from bad iron;
the reindeer often races over the frozen snow.
ᚦ - Þurs Giant causes anguish to women;
misfortune makes few men cheerful.
ᚬ - Óss Æsir is the way of most journeys;
but a scabbard is of swords.
ᚱ - Ræið Ride is said to be the worst thing for horses;
Reginn forged the finest sword.
ᚴ - Kaun Ulcer is fatal to children;
death makes a corpse pale.
ᚼ - Hagall Hail is the coldest of grain;
Herjan created the world of old.
ᚾ - Nauðr Need gives scant choice;
a naked man is chilled by the frost.
ᛁ - Ís Ice we call the broad bridge;
the blind man must be led.
ᛅ - Ár Plenty is a boon to men;
I say that Frothi was generous.
ᛋ - Sól Sun is the light of the world;
I bow to the divine decree.
ᛏ - Týr A god is a one-handed god;
often has the smith to blow.
ᛒ - Bjarkan Birch has the greenest leaves of any shrub;
Loki was fortunate in his deceit.
ᛘ - Maðr Man is an augmentation of the dust;
great is the claw of the hawk.
ᛚ - Lögr Sea is a River which falls from a mountain-side;
but ornaments are of gold.
ᛦ - Ýr Yew is the greenest of trees in winter;
it won't crackle when it burns.
Translation: The fish beat up the sea(s) on to the mountainous cliff The king of ? terror became sad when he swam onto the grit. Whale's bone
The inscription is a riddle with the answer whale's bone, which is what the casket is made of. From the Franks Casket. Photo by Simon Ager, taken in the British Museum.
Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
The Anglo-Saxon Runic Poem is taken from the Cottonian MS.Otho B X, which perished in the fire of 1731. It had, however been printed by Hickes in his Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium Thesaurus, I.135 (London, 1705), from which the present text is derived. It consists of short stanzas, 29 in all, of two to five lines each. At the beginning of which stand the Runic characters described, preceded by their equivalents in ordinary script and followed by their names
Old English / Modern English
Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum; sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan
Wealth is a comfort to all men; yet must every man bestow it freely, if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.
Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned, felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum mære morstapa; þæt is modig wuht.
The aurochs is proud and has great horns;it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.
þorn byþ ðearle scearp; ðegna gehwylcum anfeng ys yfyl, ungemetum reþe manna gehwelcum, ðe him mid resteð.
The thorn is exceedingly sharp, an evil thing for any knight to touch,uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.
Os byþ ordfruma ælere spræce, wisdomes wraþu ond witena frofur and eorla gehwam eadnys ond tohiht.
The mouth is the source of all language, a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,a blessing and a joy to every knight.
Rad byþ on recyde rinca gehwylcum sefte ond swiþhwæt, ðamðe sitteþ on ufan meare mægenheardum ofer milpaþas.
Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads on the back of a stout horse.
Cen byþ cwicera gehwam, cuþ on fyre blac ond beorhtlic, byrneþ oftust ðær hi æþelingas inne restaþ.
The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame; it always burns where princes sit within.
Gyfu gumena byþ gleng and herenys, wraþu and wyrþscype and wræcna gehwam ar and ætwist, ðe byþ oþra leas.
Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one's dignity; it furnishes help and subsistence to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.
Wenne bruceþ, ðe can weana lyt sares and sorge and him sylfa hæfþ blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht.
Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety, and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.
Hægl byþ hwitust corna; hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte, wealcaþ hit windes scura; weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.
Hail is the whitest of grain; it is whirled from the vault of heaven and is tossed about by gusts of wind and then it melts into water.
Nyd byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.
Trouble is oppressive to the heart; yet often it proves a source of help and salvation to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.
Is byþ ofereald, ungemetum slidor, glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust, flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne.
Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.
Ger byÞ gumena hiht, ðonne God læteþ, halig heofones cyning, hrusan syllan beorhte bleda beornum ond ðearfum.
Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven, suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits for rich and poor alike.
Eoh byþ utan unsmeþe treow, heard hrusan fæst, hyrde fyres,wyrtrumun underwreþyd, wyn on eþle.
The yew is a tree with rough bark, hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots, a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.
Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.
Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.
Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fennewexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme, blode breneð beorna gehwylcne ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ.
The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,covering with blood every warrior who touches it.
Sigel semannum symble biþ on hihte,ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.
The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers when they journey away over the fishes' bath,until the courser of the deep bears them to land.
Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ
Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.
Beorc byþ bleda leas, bereþ efne swa ðeah tanas butan tudder, biþ on telgum wlitig,heah on helme hrysted fægere,geloden leafum, lyfte getenge.
The poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers, for it is generated from its leaves. Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.
Eh byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn,hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymb[e]
welege on wicgum wrixlaþ spræce and biþ unstyllum æfre frofur.
The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors. A steed in the pride of its hoofs,when rich men on horseback bandy words about it;and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless
Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican, forðum drihten wyle dome sine þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.
The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen; yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,
since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.
Lagu byþ leodum langsum geþuht, gif hi sculun neþan on nacan tealtum and hi sæyþa swyþe bregaþ and se brimhengest bridles ne gym[eð].
The ocean seems interminable to men, if they venture on the rolling bark and the waves of the sea terrify them and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.
Ing wæs ærest mid East-Denum gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est ofer wæg gewat; wæn æfter ran; ðus Heardingas ðone hæle nemdun.
Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes, till, followed by his chariot,he departed eastwards over the waves. So the Heardingas named the hero.
Eþel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men, gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.
An estate is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.
Dæg byþ drihtnes sond, deore mannum, mære metodes leoht, myrgþ and tohiht eadgum and earmum, eallum brice.
Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord; it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor, and of service to all.
Ac byþ on eorþan elda bearnum flæsces fodor, fereþ gelome ofer ganotes bæþ; garsecg fandaþ hwæþer ac hæbbe æþele treowe
The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men. Often it traverses the gannet's bath, and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith in honourable fashion
Æsc biþ oferheah, eldum dyre stiþ on staþule, stede rihte hylt,ðeah him feohtan on firas monige.
The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men. With its sturdy trunk it offers a stubborn resistance, though attacked by many a man.
Yr byþ æþelinga and eorla gehwæs wyn and wyrþmynd, byþ on wicge fæger, fæstlic on færelde, fyrdgeatewa sum
Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight; it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey.
Iar byþ eafix and ðeah a bruceþ fodres on foldan, hafaþ fægerne eard wætre beworpen, ðær he wynnum leofaþ.
Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land; it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness. .
Ear byþ egle eorla gehwylcun, ðonn[e] fæstlice flæsc onginneþ,hraw colian, hrusan ceosan blac to gebeddan; bleda gedreosaþ,wynna gewitaþ, wera geswicaþ. .
The grave is horrible to every knight, when the corpse quickly begins to cool and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth. Prosperity declines, happiness passes away and covenants are broken.