The Elder Futhark Runes - are the magical alphabet of the ancient Germanic tribes of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. We will discuss the mythology and magical uses of the runes in another post. This post focused briefly on the history of the runes.
The runes are perhaps derived from the Greek or Etruscan alphabet as long ago as 300 BCE, possibly having a shared ancestry with the Latin-alphabet, which may explain the similarity of some symbols to roman equivalents representing approximately the same sound.
The runes are often found engraved on jewellery, weapons, stones etc. They have been used in this manner since around 200 CE. Their angular shape is possibly explained by the relative ease of carving them compared to curves.
The runic alphabet is known as the Futhark. Many old inscriptions show it in a particular sequence of symbols as shown below.
The first six symbols correspond to the sounds F-U-Th-A-R-K. This oldest version of the alphabet is known as the Elder Futhark and contains 24 symbols/letters.
The earliest surviving inscription showing this sequence dates from around 400CE on the Kylver Stone in Gotland, Sweden. It was inscribed on the inside of a grave cover, so not designed to be seen by the living, leading to speculation that it was to pacify the dead or had some other magical significance.
Each rune has a sound equivalent and the Elder Futhark was used to represent the early Proto-Germanic languages. Later as languages developed other groups adopted and adapted it for their own needs. Major variants that you may come across include the Gothic
Futhark in use to around 500CE. The Anglo-Saxons took a version of the Futhark from Europe around 500CE and extended it to 33 letters to represent the changes of the sounds in Old English. This is known as the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. Around 900CE further changes were also taking place in Scandinavian languages resulting in the birth of the much reduced 16 symbol Younger Futhark. The Futharks were eventually replaced by the Latin alphabet around 900-1050CE in England disappearing from Scandinavia by 1600CE.
We have further information on specific aspects of the runes in some of our jewellery and other listings => here
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