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Where Did the Runes Come From?

Where Did the Runes Come From?

If you’re a Heathen, you probably know the story of how Odin hanged himself for nine days and nights on Yggdrasil and obtained the runes.  It’s a great story and one we love telling to explain the overall mystical qualities the runes possess. But, like anything, our stories don’t necessarily tell the whole story of how the runes came into being.  So, this piece looks at the runes and how they evolved.

The Havamal and Archetypes

The Havamal describes how Odin sought wisdom by hanging himself on Yggdrasil for nine days and nights.  He hanged with a spear stuck through him to earn the runes’ wisdom.  For those who follow Christianity, the image is oddly reminiscent of Jesus on the Cross.  Think about it: a god sacrifices himself to himself via crucifixion.  He is stabbed with a spear.  He dies and comes back to life, even before he created the world.

It just shows how the archetypes of ancient legends filter through to today’s most popular religion.  The idea of a crucified god isn’t new, nor is the concept of a god dying and being resurrected.  But that discussion is for another time.  We’re still talking about the runes, here.

Runes in the Havamal

137.
I trow I hung on that windy Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven.

138.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence.

139.
Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
son of Bale-thorn, Bestla’s sire;
I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
with the Soulstirrer’s drops I was showered.

140.
Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word following word, I found me words,
deed following deed, I wrought deeds.

141.
Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
graved by the Utterer of gods.

142.
For gods graved Odin, for elves graved Daïn,
Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,
All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,
graved some for the sons of men.

143.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?

144.
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
……..
Thus Odin graved ere the world began;
Then he rose from the deep, and came again.

Havamal, 137-144, translated by Olive Bray

Where Did the Runes Actually Come From?

If we look at the runic alphabet from archaeology, we can get a sense for where the runes came from.  Even so, it’s sort of a mystery how the runes came into being.  We know that the oldest runes, the Elder Futhark, were written as early as 150 AD or CE (Common Era).  But whence they came is as interesting as the story in the Havamal. Runes may have be derived from what are called the Old Italic Alphabets, which includes the Raetic and Venetic alphabets.  These alphabets may have come from a Proto-Indo-European language and made their appearance as far back as the 700 BC or BCE (Before Common Era). You can see the similarities in the Elder Futhark and the Raetic and Venetic alphabets, if you look closely.  Many of the same letters in the runic system are there.

We can assume that the runes and the modern alphabet came from a similar source. The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use today, was derived from the Etruscan alphabet which had most of the same letters. These letters came over from the Greek language from a Greek colony in Italy, around 600 BCE.  There’s a possibility that this alphabet influenced the runic alphabet as well.

There’s also a hypothesis that the runes may have Germanic origins because of the Vimose Inscriptions. These inscriptions are some of the earliest Elder Futhark inscriptions, and they’re written in Proto-Norse. They were found on an island off of Denmark, making a case for West Germanic origins.

Scholars just don’t know the exact origins of the runes, but they can guess given the similarity of the alphabets.

Why the Runes are so Powerful

Our ancestors ascribed magical powers to the runes, and it’s not hard to guess why.  If you’ve never had a way to keep knowledge available for generations to come other than oral tradition (which had problems with changes over time, and lost information due to untimely deaths), it would seem like magic.  Think how magical it would be to have a way for your ancestors to speak to you.  Those who could write the runes must have appeared to be very powerful shamans to less learned folk.  And those who could read the runes were certainly powerful in knowledge.

As the Rational Heathen, I’m not really into the woo-woo stuff. And yet, I do and have done runecastings. I suspect that the runecastings work through your subconscious–that your mind knows what is going on and you’re in touch with it.  Your fingers pick out the runes that your subconscious knows well.  Perhaps a person who does a runecasting for someone else gets cues that only our subconscious can understand and comes up with a reading that makes sense.

Or, maybe not.

Whether you believe that Odin brought us the runes, or whether you think they evolved from another written language, I hope you enjoyed this post.  Let me know what you think and whether I should write more rune posts.

More Valuable than Gold, Salt Shaped Civilizations and Magic

More Valuable than Gold, Salt Shaped Civilizations and Magic

In ancient times, there were few commodities more precious than salt.  Yes, salt.  If you remember your high school history lessons, you know that the Roman legions got paid in salt, hence the word, “salary.”  But why was salt  so important, how did it affect our northern ancestors, and what is the history behind salt?

Yes, I got busy and did some research on salt.  I thought I’d share what I discovered.

Why Salt was so Important

The history behind salt is actually pretty interesting.  Salt is still an indispensable commodity for life. In the past it was used for preserving food, medicines, the processing of leather, mummification, and smelting metals. Livestock required salt as a supplement, so anyone who had livestock that couldn’t forage, would need to provide salt to keep their herds healthy.  It was used in magic, religious, and purification rituals.  And, of course, it was used to season food. In the Middle Ages, salt was actually considered a “spice,” rather than a mineral.

It seems odd that something we take for granted today — and are told that we get too much of — was so valuable then.  This is because salt needed to be mined or extracted, and there were only a few ways to get salt, comparatively speaking.  You either mined it by hand, or you set up some sort of evaporative system that enabled you to get the salt from sea water or salt water springs.  The further inland you were, the less access you had to salt, unless you discovered a salt deposit and mined it.

The Oldest Town Discovered in Europe was a Salt Mine

Roman salt mining tool

Before the wheel was invented, nearly seven thousand years ago, people were mining salt in northwest Bulgaria.  They lived near salt water springs and boiled the salt water in kilns to distill the salt, itself.  The workers would then bake the salt into bricks. They traded those bricks with local tribes for precious items, like gold.

Even though these people had no carts or wheels, they managed to build high rock walls to protect their investment.  They were rich with gold; archaeologists have found 3000 gold artifacts in the area.  This town, known as Provadia-Solnitsata, had about 350 inhabitants.  350 very wealthy inhabitants who lived in two-story homes and a gated community.  Some things never change.

Salt Mining in Austria and Poland

The Last Supper carved from salt

According to the Hallein Salt Mine’s website, salt mining has been going on for 7000 years there.  Mined by neolithic Celtic peoples, salt was valuable to them as well. Prehistoric salt mining on the Dürrnberg began in the 6th century BC, rivaling the town Provadia-Solnitsata in age.  My guess is that as people learned to harvest salt, there was a “salt rush,” akin to a gold rush.  People who got in on the mining probably fared pretty well, comparatively speaking.  Archaeologists have uncovered gold, amber, and coral objects, suggesting that the Celts were trading their salt for valuable items from other areas.

In Poland, the people have mined salt since the 13th century from the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines.  They’re kind of cool, having even an underground Christian chapel composed entirely of salt.

So What About Salt in Norse Mythology?

Salt was apparently crucial enough to talk about in our own creation myths.  Auðhumbla, the primeval cow, licked the rime from where the cold and heat came together.  This salt rime created Buri, the first god, and nourished Auðhumbla, even though we know full well today that there are no calories in salt.  But maybe the Norse figured it was a magic rime, or the cow needed nothing else.

Stories of How the Sea Became Salty

Like many cultures which relied on the sea, the Norse had their own just-so stories that described how the sea became salty.  In the Skáldskarpamál and the Poetic Edda, Grottasöngr, that is, the Song of Grotti, tells a story how King Frodi of Denmark purchased two giant woman slaves named Fenja and Menja to grind the magic millstones, known as Grotti.  These millstones were so large that ordinary men could not use them.  Frodi had the women grind out peace and prosperity for his people, but he forbade them to rest.  The women then ground out an army that overthrew Frodi and the Viking leader, Mysing, took the millstones and the women on his ship.  He ordered the

Fenja and Menja

m use the mill and grind, but when the two women became tired, he forbade them to stop.  They became angry and began to grind salt.  They ground so much salt, that they sank the ship. The place where they purportedly sank is a whirlpool where below they grind salt to this day.

Salt in the Viking Era

Despite having a lot of salt water surrounding Norway, Sweden, and Finland salt was very expensive in the northmost countries and nearly nonexistent in Iceland. The Norse were more likely to use pickling, drying, smoking, and fermenting to preserve foods rather than salting them.  The further south you went, the more likely you’d see salt as a method of preservation. In Denmark and England, you’d see more foods preserved in salt than you would in the northernmost lands.  That’s not to say the Norse weren’t aware of salt and didn’t use it, but the further north you went, the more expensive it was.

Salt in Religious Ceremonies and Magic

Not surprisingly, when you realize how important salt was, our ancestors used salt in religious ceremonies and magic.  Because of it’s antibacterial properties, our ancestors used salt in purification rituals and other types of magic.  In my next post, I’ll cover some of those magical uses and maybe give you some ways to use salt in your own rituals.

 

 

 

Cool News! Germanic Iron Age Settlement Found Near Famous Viking Settlement (Free Content)

Cool News! Germanic Iron Age Settlement Found Near Famous Viking Settlement (Free Content)

Check out this article about a 1500-year-old farming village near Jelling in central Jutland.  Way cool!

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Why You Really Didn’t Want to Live in the Viking Age: Dentistry

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Why You Really Didn’t Want to Live in the Viking Age: Dentistry

Well, the piece on Viking lifespans got me looking at all sorts of interesting stuff. One interesting paper was about the teeth of Viking Age Icelanders.  The researcher made some conclusions that I’d love to share and give my overall impression on it… [READ MORE FOR JUST $1]

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Icelandic Archaeologist Discovers Frost Giant Under Ice Melt

Icelandic Archaeologist Discovers Frost Giant Under Ice Melt

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Þórhallur Hárlaugsson                                        

Ægissiða 15
610 Grenivík 
354 475 9456

 Icelandic Archaeologist Discovers Frost Giant Under Ice Melt

Scientists Trying to Determine if Blue-Skinned jötnar is missing link

1 April 2016 — Reykjavík, Iceland. Icelandic Archaeologist Þórhallur Hárlaugsson PhD discovered the body of a 20,000 year old, 5 meter tall, blue-skinned man that Dr. Hárlaugsson claims must be a jötnar or giant as mentioned extensively in the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, and Norse mythology.

Incredible Find Near Eyjafjallajökull Glacier

“I was looking for Huldufólk near the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and tripped over a boot,” Dr. Hárlaugsson says. “I didn’t expect to see a jötnar this far up the side of a volcano, but there it is.”  Dr. Hárlaugsson then called his team to the site and they began carefully excavating the find. So far, the archaeological team has uncovered the head and shoulders of the jötnar as well as one foot.  “It’s remarkably well preserved.  I’m guessing that it died from the blow to the side of its head. It looks like it was hit with a hammer or something.”
Dr. Hárlaugsson speculates that the hammer strike might have been done by a great warrior, who may have given rise to the myth of Thor, the thunder god. “It was probably a great warrior in Iceland.  Maybe an Inuit,” he postulates. “There’s no way it could be Thor.  Nobody believes in those old myths about gods.  Those people you hear following pagan gods, well that’s just silly. They’re doing it for tax exempt status. There aren’t really gods.”

“Don’t be Dissing the Huldufólk

When asked about his belief in Huldufólk and jötnar, Dr. Hárlaugsson became emphatic. “Don’t be dissing the Huldufólk.  My grandmother saw one once out of the corner of her eye.  You saying my gramps is a liar?”
When asked about the jötnar, Dr. Hárlaugsson’s interns put down their pipes and swear that the jötnar is real, even when asked why the photo looks remarkably like a Marvel jotun.
“This is simply amazing,” said Kolbrún Birgisdóttir, an intern with Dr. Hárlaugsson, who asked that she remain anonymous. “I never thought that Marvel was right, but I guess this proves they’re ‘jotun.’  It’s like they were psychic or something.

A Missing Link?

 Dr. Hárlaugsson believes that the jötnar may be one of modern day’s ancestors.  “I can totally see them having sex with Denisovians,” he said.  When pointed out that Denisovians have only been found in Asia, Dr. Hárlaugsson waved his hands.  “Denisovians!  Neanderthals!  They’re all the same.  Next you’ll be telling me that Adam and Eve really didn’t exist!”

For more information about this fantastic find, contact Dr. Þórhallur Hárlaugsson.