In the age of the Vikings (800-1100AD) Scandinavia used a runic alphabet known as Younger Futhark (fuþark). It was made up of 16 sound symbols known as runes. Younger Futhark developed from Elder Futhark (150 to 800 AD), an older form of Germanic language consisting of 24 runes. Both alphabets are called after their first six runes F-U-þ-A-R-K. Younger Futhark is basically the written form of Old Norse – the language of the Vikings.

long-branch-runes

The Younger Futhark became known throughout Europe as the ‘Alphabet of the Norsemen’. It is divided into two sets:

long-branch (top line)
(also called Danish Runes even though Swedes and Norwegians used it)

short-twig or Rök Runes (middle line)
(also called Swedish-Norwegian Runes even though the Danish used it).

The bottom line in the diagram below are the runes sounds.

young-futhark-runes

You’ll notice that the first six runes of each futhark are identical. The long-branch runes were formal and generally used for official or public documents but the short-twig, being informal and a little easier to write, was used in personal letters and private communication.

The runes each have a stave name and sound:

Symbol

Sound/Letter Name Meaning
F fe wealth
U ur shower
TH/Þ thurs giant
O as/oss god
R reid riding
K kaun ulcer
H hagal hail
N naud constraint
I iss ice
A ar plenty
S sol sun
T tyr tyr
B bjarkan birch
M madr man
L logr water
Z/R yr bow

These names and sounds have been classified in a 1500AD Icelandic Runes Poem. Even though there is a Norwegian Runes Poem also (a 17th century copy from a destroy 13th century original manuscript) the Icelandic Runes Poem is considered more authentic as it comes from a 900AD catalog called Abecedarium Nordmannicum. The poem was translated by B. Dickins and published in 1915.

Each verse of the poem has the sound and name of the rune followed by an explanation of its meaning.

Runes Icelandic Rune Poem English Translation
Fé er frænda róg
ok flæðar viti
ok grafseiðs gata
aurum fylkir.
fé, ‘wealth’
source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.
Úr er skýja grátr
ok skára þverrir
ok hirðis hatr.
umbre vísi.
úr, ’shower
lamentation of the clouds
and ruin of the hay-harvest
and abomination of the shepherd.
Þurs er kvenna kvöl
ok kletta búi
ok varðrúnar verr.
Saturnus þengill.
þurs, ‘giant’
torture of women
and cliff-dweller
and husband of a giantess.
Óss er algingautr
ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.
Jupiter oddviti.
óss, ‘god’
aged Gautr
and prince of Ásgarðr
and lord of Vallhalla.
Reið er sitjandi sæla
ok snúðig ferð
ok jórs erfiði.
iter ræsir.
reið, ‘riding’ joy of the horsemen
and speedy journey
and toil of the steed.
Kaun er barna böl
ok bardaga [för]
ok holdfúa hús.
flagella konungr.
kaun, ‘ulcer’
disease fatal to children
and painful spot
and abode of mortification.
Hagall er kaldakorn
ok krapadrífa
ok snáka sótt.
grando hildingr.
hagall, ‘hail’
cold grainand shower
of sleet and sickness of serpents.
Nauð er Þýjar þrá
ok þungr kostr
ok vássamlig verk.
opera niflungr.
nauð, ‘constraint’
grief of the bond-maid
and state of oppression
and toilsome work.
Íss er árbörkr
ok unnar þak
ok feigra manna fár.
glacies jöfurr.
iss, ‘ice’
bark of rivers
and roof of the wave
and destruction of the doomed.
Ár er gumna góði
ok gott sumar
algróinn akr.
annus allvaldr.
ár, ‘plenty’
boon to men
and good summer
and thriving crops.
Sól er skýja skjöldr
ok skínandi röðull
ok ísa aldrtregi.
rota siklingr.
sól, ’sun’ shield of the clouds
and shining ray
and destroyer of ice.
Týr er einhendr áss
ok ulfs leifar
ok hofa hilmir.
Mars tiggi.
týr, ‘Týr’ god with one hand
and leavings of the wolf
and prince of temples.
Bjarkan er laufgat lim
ok lítit tré
ok ungsamligr viðr.
abies buðlungr.
Bjarkan, ‘birch’
leafy twig
and little tree
and fresh young shrub.
Maðr er manns gaman
ok moldar auki
ok skipa skreytir.
homo mildingr.
maðr, ‘man’
delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.
Lögr er vellanda vatn
ok viðr ketill
ok glömmungr grund.
lacus lofðungr.
lögr, ‘water’
eddying stream
and broad geysir
and land of the fish.
Ýr er bendr bogi
ok brotgjarnt járn
ok fífu fárbauti.
arcus ynglingr.
ýr, ‘yew’
bent bow
and brittle iron
and giant of the arrow.

Staveless
There is also a simplified form which is called ‘staveless’ runes. The use just the sticks of the Younger Futhark for a minimalist design.

staveless-runes

Norwegian Runes
Eventhough the Danish and Swedish-Norwegian Young Futhark are considered ‘standard’ runes, each area develop their own variation, just like dialects. Even though there would have been numberous ‘branches’ only a few are known. The diagram below is a considered Norwegian Runes variation:

norwegian-runes-dialect

Even though the Viking Age ended, (largely due to the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia – St Olav’s ‘convert by the sword’ methods) Old Norse continued to develop into the Scandinavian languages. To the dismay of the church, Viking runes where commonly used up until the 15th century. In some parts of Norway runes were still being used well into the 18th century. Rune calendars and decoration were actually used as late as the early 20th century.

Runes Magic
The two main reason runes where ‘squished’ out of first formal, then general, use was the introduction of the Latin alphabet and the plight to rid Scandinavia out of the pagan practise of rune magic. Runes were first used as a writing system but the Vikings believed that Old Norse was a gift from the divine – a belief from Norse Mythology. The Vikings adopted the ‘secret, something hidden’ meaning of runes and used writing for charms and curses – the most common charm word being ‘alu’ which was commonly written on amulets.

There have been a few Viking rings found with inscriptions of magical power (think Lord of the Rings). The Kingmoor Ring was found in North-West England in 1817 with an inscription that translates to a protection spell for ‘staunching blood’.

Several Scandinavian manuscripts have references to spells and magic.There is poem called Hávamál (Sayings of the high one) written in the Poetic Edda (a collection of Norse poems) which is supposed a spell to raise the dead. It is found in a Icelandic manuscript dated 800AD and is a spell made by the Norse god Odin:

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

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.

Some runestones (stone tablets) have spells to ward off evil and some may have been made as ‘oracles’. ‘Victory runes’ have also been carved into swords to ensure glorious wins. Runes tiles were used for telling fortunes. A Christian monk called Rimbert accounts Vikings drawing lots to decide on which city to conquer. The tiles were marked with ‘sacrificial’ blood and thrown as dice. The throw would be read to give either a positive or negative outcome.

Norwegian Calendar Stick
One of the lasting methods of runic writings is the Norwegian calendar stick which known as a Primstav. Developed from early Viking times, a primstav was typically used to keep track of the days for the growing season. As the sun days are different in each region of Norway, each farmer or village had their own primstav to mark the time for the sowing of seed. During the winter the farmers notched off the days on a stick from when the sun didn’t appear over the horizon until the day it re-appeared. This helped the farmers prepare for the growing season.

runic-calendar-diagram
An example of a primstav.

It became common for runes to mark special pagan days and celebrations on the stav. Images were also used to represent different days. When Christianity reach the north it became important to mark spiritual days on the stav such as Sundays and Saint days. Even though Christianity had was in full swing by the 1500s, pagan images and symbols were kept on the stav as part of the ancient culture but also the church had adopted pagan celebrations and given them a religious significance.

Writing in Runes

writing-runes

The way to translate modern language into Viking runes is to write phonically. There are no silent or double letters in runes, so skip these letters in your translation. Words are written with no spacing or with a dot in between each letter. Complete words can have either a space, a double dot or a triple dot between them. It is best not to mix runes, meaning, use either the long-branch, short-twig or staveless but don’t mix and match as you’ll loose the aesthetics.

Below is a simple key that you can use to translate words into runes. Remember the top line is long-branch, a formal form, the middle line is short-twig, an informal form and the bottom line is staveless, or decorative. The letters underneath correspond to the sounds of the runes (which you’ll find in the tables above). As Younger Fathark only has 16 characters and sounds, the extra letters underneath are the extra Latin alphabet sounds to help you translate. Enjoy!

Here is our translation:

my-little-norway-runes

runes-key

Sources:
Wikipedia (Runes, Old Norse, Proto-Norsk, Alu, Rune Magic, Primstav, Icelandic Runes Poem, Odin, Norse Mythology) , Wiki Commons, www.omniglot.com, www.uponreflection.co.uk, www.vikingrune.com

*NOTE*

Due to an increasing amount of requests, we will not provide rune translations. Please do not ask us for translations, wether it be in the comments below or via e-mail. Such requests will go unanswered. Translating English phrases phonetically into Old Norse is time-consuming since the two languages have very different sound patterns, and such complex phrases are not found in old Runic writings.

After doing this, we then have to create the runes letter by letter in a graphic application, convert it into a picture, upload it to the website and link to it in the comment reply. All this can easily take 30 minutes or more out of our day.

We kindly ask readers to follow the instructions provided in the post to create your own runes. Readers are, of course, welcome to help each other.

If you’d like us to translate something into runes for a fee, please e-mail us.