Saturday, November 25, 2017

the Runes (part 5)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
The third part was seen recently 'the Historic Use of Runes' (November 23, 2017
The fourth part was seen recently 'Evidence of 'Mystic' Runes' (November 24, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

'Casting the Viking Runes'

Through this discussion, I have used two Wikipedia articles as a major reference (*).
For an informed overview, from the perspective of archaeology and history, I would recommend reading both of the articles (links below), which do have quite different points of view.

The 'Rune Magic' (2) article does attempt to trace the historic origins of the modern system of using rune marked tile sets as a divination method:
- Johannes Bureus / 1600's / 'based on visions'
- Guido von List / 1902 / 'revealed'
- Ralph Blum / 1982 / 'first book on runic divination' (**)

Comparing academic history to contemporary 'Rune Magic':

The Runes as used during the Viking Age
Modern 'Viking Runes' tile set - made / photo by Runologe
The Elder Futhark - screen capture from Wikipedia - Runes (1)
R. Blum's arrangement of Runes (scan from 'The Book of Runes'
So what is clear is that the letter forms used in modern Rune divination are in fact not the actual set of letters used during the Viking Age ( c 800 to 1000 AD).

Once again, I must stress that I am not attempting in any way to comment on the value of the modern practice of 'Casting the Runes'.

However, as can be seen through this series, there is no direct archaeology to support this modern practice as existing in the actual Viking Age itself.

(*) The 'Runes' article is primarily an academic form, describing the development and historic use of the Runes in Northern Europe. There is only a short reference to Runes as a divination tool.
The 'Rune Magic' article is primarily focused on the development of the Runes as a divination system.

(**) I have access to two versions of contemporary Rune Casting sets:
Ralph Blum / 'The Book of Runes' / 1982
Blum does include two bibliographies - one of more academic sources, a second he titles 'Guides to the Transformational Process'
Blum suggests variations of the 'three stone' system indicated by Tacitus.
Horik Svensson / 'the secret of the Runes' / 1995
Svensson does not indicate any references.
Svensson suggests far more elaborate casting system, including the use of a marked cloth target.

(1) Wikipedia - Runes
(2) Wikipedia - Rune Magic

Friday, November 24, 2017

the Runes (part 4)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
The third part was seen recently 'the Historic Use of Runes' (November 23, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

Evidence of 'Mystic Runes'

Again, what can we find in actual archaeological evidence?
• As stated several times : There are no existing objects - as tiles with single rune marks on them.

• There are a number of objects which have short runic letter groups on them. Typically scratched on the back of a decorated metal object (*). These tend to be from the early Migration Period (so not within the 'Viking Age' itself).
Migration period golden bracteate of Type C ... from Djupbrunns, Hogrän parish, Gotland, Sweden.
A bracteate (G 205) from approximately AD 400 that features the charm word alu with a depiction of a stylized male head, a horse, and a swastika, a common motif on bracteates. (1)
Some are just groups of letters, some single words. As most often the letter groupings don't translate into known language words, it is unclear exactly what they might have intended to mean. The grouping ALU (as above) is seen on more than one object, but again as a 'word' itself has no direct known meaning.
Many inscriptions also have apparently meaningless utterances interpreted as magical chants, such as tuwatuwa (Vadstena bracteate), aaduaaaliia (DR BR42) or g͡æg͡og͡æ (Undley bracteate), g͡ag͡ag͡a (Kragehul I).
Alu is a charm word appearing on numerous artifacts found in Central and Northern Europe dating from the Germanic Iron Age. The word is the most common of the early runic charm words and can appear either alone or as part of an apparent formula. (2)
There are however a very limited number of written references :

• The most significant reference is by the Roman historian Tacitus :
Tacitus (Germania 10) gives a detailed account (98AD):
They attach the highest importance to the taking of auspices and casting lots. Their usual procedure with the lot is simple. They cut off a branch from a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips these they mark with different signs and throw them at random onto a white cloth. Then the state's priest, if it is an official consultation, or the father of the family, in a private one, offers prayer to the gods and looking up towards heaven picks up three strips, one at a time, and, according to which sign they have previously been marked with, makes his interpretation. If the lots forbid an undertaking, there is no deliberation that day about the matter in question. If they allow it, further confirmation is required by taking auspices.[1] (2)
 This does at least suggest the outline of a practice, with the objects employed at least briefly described. (*) It is unclear from the description if Tacitus is giving refers to a 'single use' object set, or a more permanent, retained collection.
• There are a number of historical written references to the use of 'runes' as charms or to enhance objects :
The most prolific source for runic magic in the Poetic Edda is the Sigrdrífumál, where the valkyrie Sigrdrífa (Brynhild) presents Sigurd with a memory-draught of ale that had been charmed with "gladness runes" (stanza 5),
Biór fori ec þer /brynþings apaldr!
magni blandinn / oc megintíri;
fullr er hann lioþa / oc licnstafa,
godra galdra / oc gamanruna.
"Beer I bring thee, tree of battle,
Mingled of strength and mighty fame;
Charms it holds and healing signs,
Spells full good, and gladness-runes."[6]
She goes on to give advice on the magical runes in seven further stanzas. In all instances, the runes are used for actual magic (apotropaic or ability-enhancing spells) rather than for divination:
  • "victory runes" to be carved on the sword hilt (stanza 6, presumably referring to the t rune named for Tyr[7]),
  • ølrunar "Ale-runes" (stanza 7, a protective spell against being bewitched by means of ale served by the hosts wife; naudiz is to be marked on one's fingernails, and laukaz on the cup),
  • biargrunar "birth-runes" (stanza 8, a spell to facilitate childbirth),
  • brimrunar "wave-runes" (stanza 9, a spell for the protection of ships, with runes to be carved on the stem and on the rudder),
  • limrunar "branch-runes" (stanza 10, a healing spell, the runes to be carved on trees "with boughs to the eastward bent"),[8]
  • malrunar "speech-runes" (stanza 11, the stanza is corrupt, but apparently referred to a spell to improve one's rhetorical ability at the thing),
  • hugrunar "thought-runes" (stanza 12, the stanza is incomplete, but clearly discussed a spell to improve one's wit).[9] (2)
It should be carefully noted that the source, the Poetic Edda, is known from its earliest written form, the Codex Regius, created about 1270 in Iceland. This is certainly a Medieval, post Christian, document. (**)
The Poetic Edda also recounts the story of O∂in acquiring his skill at foretellling the future / divination through the use of Runes.
The Poetic Edda also seems to corroborate the magical significance of the runes the Hávamál where Odin mentions runes in contexts of divination,[dubious ] of healing and of necromancy (trans. Bellows):
"Certain is that which is sought from runes / That the gods so great have made / And the Master-Poet painted" (79)
"Of runes heard I words, nor were counsels wanting / At the hall of Hor" (111)
"Grass cures the scab / and runes the sword-cut" (137)
"Runes shalt thou find / and fateful signs" (143)
" if high on a tree / I see a hanged man swing / So do I write and color the runes / That forth he fares / And to me talks." (158) (2)
Within a purely archaeological context, there remains the lack of supporting objects. In both in the texts quoted above, and scattered through other recorded Sagas, there are descriptions of runes or rune like symbols being marked on objects to alter their potency. The problem remains that the actual artifacts from the Viking Age do not show these marks. (***)

(*) The 'Accidents of Preservation' effect may be distorting our view here. 
• Objects of cast metals, commonly jewellery items, are both valuable and durable. For those reasons (and the related cultural practices - both historical and more modern), these type of objects tend to dominate as archaeological finds.
• Tacitus specifically gives 'nut tree branch' as the material. Typically medium density woods, there is of course the very real possibility that any such objects that did once exist have not physically survived. 

(**) All the problems of conversion of a much older, oral work into a written form do come to play here. Certainly it should be remembered that the oldest written form is some 300 years after the generally accepted end of the 'Viking Age' proper.

(***) I freely admit that this is a rather sweeping statement! 
It is based primarily on my own examination of literally thousands of objects from the Viking Age over a period of study going back to the later 1970's. This has included both academic and more popular books, and personal viewing of major exhibits (including actually working on several) and museum collections in both North America and Europe.
If any readers can contribute references to specific objects bearing 'power runes' I would be in their debt!

(1) Wikipedia - Runes
(2) Wikipedia - Rune Magic

Thursday, November 23, 2017

the Runes (part 3)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

Historic use of Runes in the Viking Age

There is a very complete discussion of the development and use of Runic inscriptions available on the Wikipedia article 'Runes'
Generous use of Wikipedia references used here.

There are a progression of linked letter systems, listed loosely cultural and temporal:
Elder Futhark - Germanic / 100 - 700 AD / 24 letters
Anglo Saxon Futhorc - England / 400 - 900 AD / 29 - 33 letters
Younger Futhark - Scandinavia (Viking Age) / 800 - 1000+ AD / 16 letters
  further broken into long twig (Danish?) and short twig (Norwegian & Swedish?)
Medieval - Scandinavia / 1100 - 1400 AD / 27 letters (composite system)
Although there are hints that the Runes as a written system may extend to roughly 200 - 100 BC, the first actual artifact know bearing a Runic inscription is on a comb from the early AD period:
" The Vimose Comb from the island of Funen, Denmark, features the earliest known runic inscription (AD 150 to 200) and simply reads, ᚺᚨᚱᛃᚨ "Harja", a male name.[39] " (1)
Image from the National Museum of Denmark :
Obviously, the use seen, as a person's name (likely signifying ownership), indicates both widespread understanding, and everyday use, of a Runic letter system for language, even at this early date.
Generally, there are four well documented (supported by objects) Viking Age uses for Runes:
a) Memorial text - most typically carved on stones
b) Owners Names - may be just the name, or 'person owns me'
c) Makers Names - typically 'person made me'
d) Message text - records, personal notes

Memorial texts are often more complex than they first seem. The order of naming may be intended to represent inheritance sequence, the placement may indicate land boundaries. 
The best example of the last class - everyday notes, are the Brygeen Inscriptions, the collection of 670 found in Bergen, Norway. These include Christian themes (Latin language rendered in Runes), owners and makers, even pornography. (2)

As has been indicated earlier - what is completely missing from the artifact record is any kind of  'one rune' tile - in any material what so ever.

(1) Wikipedia - Runes

(2) Bryggen Inscriptions

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

the Runes (part 2)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 
The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006). 

NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

the Norse Runes

    In the main the Norse culture can be thought to be an oral one, with tales such as those known from the Sagas handed down in smoky halls for generations before they were ever written down. Archaeological evidence, as seen in the range and distribution of written fragments, suggests the Norse were a literate people as well.  The style of writing used by the Scandinavian peoples is called RUNIC, and is another distinctive feature of their shared culture.  The set of these letters is also referred to as the 'futhark', a name taken from the first six characters (just as is our 'alpha-betta').
    In their original form, the runes consist of a series of vertical strokes and diagonal lines. The form of the letters derives from the fact that they were originally designed to be carved into wood. For this reason there are no hard to carve curves or horizontal lines that would run with the grain. There is no clear evidence for exactly when and where the runes were first developed, but the forms show the influences of early Greek and Roman scripts. Certainly there is evidence that early versions of the the system were in use by the Germanic tribes before the birth of Christ. As with other sets of symbols which would become used for writing, these ‘proto runes’ each had a specific symbolic meaning. The given name for each symbol came to represent its sound in writing. (For example, the first rune was called ‘faihu’ to the Goths, ‘fe’’ to the Norse and originally symbolized ‘cattle’ and by extension ‘wealth’.)

     By the beginning of the Viking Age, this symbolic use has disappeared, the letters are just sounds. The Norse had developed their own distinctive system,  although this continues to change and evolve through the centuries. There are two primary versions of these Viking Age runes; the Danish or Common runes, and the Swedo-Norwegian or short twig runes. Each consists of only sixteen characters. The most widely used ‘Common’ runes are shown below:

    To save space, words are separated not by a gap, but most commonly by a dot, and there is no upper case form. To mark the division between sentences, usually a double dot is used (:).  With the reduced set of letters, spelling becomes dependent on the whim of the carver. Typically, d becomes t, g becomes k, p becomes b, and missing vowels are substituted for as best as possible. (For example the name Gormr is seen as 'kurmR’ and Svein as 'suin'.) In keeping with the limited size of the original writing material, the text of the messages are usually short and to the point. Memorial stones were commonly painted, with the runes often highlighted in red. Individual words were sometimes painted differing colour s, to make reading easier. Often the text of a stone will be found cut into  its edge, or in a serpent shaped band running around the central design.
    The selection of artifacts that remain today owe more to the random forces of preservation than any true reflection of period usages. There have been a few inscriptions found carved on sticks, far more are seen on memorial stones. Even still, the content of runic inscriptions gives a clue to the  spread of literacy amongst the Norse. Runic messages can be found almost everywhere the Norse traveled, from Greenland to Constantinople. Samples include such things as owner's or maker's names and marks. The iron pail handle on a bucket from Oseberg says 'asikrir' - "Sigrid owns".  Casual use of runes can be seen in what is basically graffiti, such as the name 'Halfdan' scratched on the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Literacy among women is suggested by such finds a s birch bark note from Novogrod ("Come home your dinner is ready."). There are a number of finds that indicate that runes were used by the middle class in the form of tally sticks and similar business records. As has been mentioned, the greatest source of runic inscriptions that have survived are in the form of memorial stones. These range from simple markers carved for family members to elaborate monuments to great kings and heroes. The text may be short and direct, or consist of elaborate poetic verse. Carved stones also served to mark ownership of property or to commemorate deeds done.
    Although much as been made recently, especially in 'new age' culture, of the use of the runes as a magical tool, the actual evidence is sketchy at best. Despite the statements of those who consider the Victorian mystical revival "ancient knowledge", there is not a single piece of archaeological evidence for 'casting the runes'.  There are no surviving ‘rune tiles’ (of any type of mat erial) indicating that a hand full of markers was scattered and interpreted as a means of divination.  There is some evidence, in the form of artifacts, for the use of prayers and petitions to the gods written in runic type, but this is not proof that the runes themselves were considered magical. This connection has been made because in Norse mythology, the god O∂in derives his knowledge of the runes through the self sacrifice of hanging on the world tree for nine days. (see the section on Norse religion). Simple petitions for divine assistance have been found partially burnt, it is thus assumed that these simple prayers were placed in the fire to loft them to Asgard.

This article originally prepared for ’the Norse Encampment - Training Manual': 1997 - text © Darrell Markewitz

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'We were so much older then...

... we are younger than that now."

From the 1997 Newfound Tourism campaign
From a 2000 Corporate Advertisement*

Both images shot in 1996 - at the test demonstration of the 'Norse Encampment' living history program at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.
This program was for Parks Canada, but managed by the Viking Trails Tourism Association (a local business group).

* The photographer (Shane Kelly) was hired by Parks Canada, with model releases stating specifically that any images were ONLY to be used for Parks Canada / Tourism promotion. 
I was to find out later that the various images of me as 'the official Viking Poster Boy' would be used widely. This second image was used for advertising by a major Corporation - without notice and certainly without permission. 
In 2000, during DARC's involvement with the Norstead - 'Grand Encampment'**, I was to find my image placed on things like letterheads, coffee cups and T shirts. Again all without my knowledge or permission.

** I wrote the original outline for the 'Grand Encampment', and was later to find my document in the hands of Government and Norstead management. It was the actual hard copy I had created - with my letterhead replaced with someone else's!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Veteran's Day 2017"

Since the start of my own blog in 2006 I have always written a piece for Remembrance Day. My own enlistment was only a short 4+ years, in the Canadian Reserves. I was young (lied about my age), and it was 1972 (obviously a much different service).
I'm hard pressed after reading this excellent piece to even conceive of anything I could say myself that might contribute beyond what [Jim Wright has] written. I hope you don't mind that I will just be sending my (few) readers over to read [this] piece tomorrow.

I was deeply influenced by all Heinlein's work - I've read all of it. Troopers framed my concepts of military service, at a time when (even in Canada) wearing a uniform meant getting spat on (more than once).

I guess I'm rambling a bit - but thanks for [this] eloquence.
Tomorrow I will once again raise a glass 'for absent friends'.

Veteran’s Day 2017

Jim Wright = Stonekettle Station


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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