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Huginn’s Heathen Hof

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Reconstructing Runic Magic (Part 2)


After our previous article on reconstructing historically accurate Pre-Christian runic magic, I got a lot of requests for a follow-up.  Our ‘practical application’ section on that article was pretty short and simple, and a lot of our readers really wanted to see that section expanded with more detail. So today I’m going to apply the theories explored in part 1 to an example piece, showing three different approaches to creating the same object!

If you haven’t read the first part of this article yet, I recommend you do so before reading this one as you will need the resources therein. 

Before we even begin, I want to provide a quick disclaimer. The following are purely theoretical applications, written with the context of a modern Heathen in mind. They are modern RECONSTRUCTIONS, not RECREATIONS. 

For this article, we’ll be reconstructing a hypothetical amulet in three different styles based on different time periods. All of these will be between 200CE and ~1000CE; after the creation of the runes but before the conversion to Christianity. Once again, we will be relying on MacLeod & Mees’ categories from “Runic Amulets and Magic Objects“. These are not exclusive categories, merely common elements.

  1. Rune Sequences: Coded rows of runes, or series of repetitive runes.
  2. Naming Expressions: Either a single name or sometimes a more ritualistic phrase like “I am called X, maker of XYZ”.
  3. Charm Words: Formulaic keywords like *Alu, *LaukaR, *Lina, *Auja, or *Laþu.
  4. Symbols: Triskelia, Swastikas, and other common deific motifs.
  5. Item Descriptions: Usually part of a phrase identifying the object it’s on. “This horn is XYZ” “This buckle was made by X”

Theoretical Application:
A charm necklace to ensure a good hunt

Example One: Old Norse

We’ll start with the later style of runic inscription, as the language is more readily accessible. Later magical inscriptions varied more widely than their predecessors, however, they still generally followed the same core ‘rules’. Most of these later pieces fell into categories 2, 4, and 5. Rune Sequences and Charm words had already become much less common (though not unknown).

We’ll start with a more standard inscription, similar to the “Strand Buckle” which reads siklisnahli. This breaks down into “siglis ná/ hlé”. The ná is an abbreviation, and thus the buckle is generally interpreted either as “Jewel/Treasure is shelter/protection from the dead.” This is a category 5 inscription. We’ll follow a similar design for our piece.

We’re creating a necklace, so we already know that we’ll need to indicate that in the inscription. The Old Norse word we need here is hálsmen (necklace). We also know we want to try and invoke a productive hunt, so we’ll use Laðar (invites/invokes) and veiðarefni (A good hunt |OR| A good catch of fish). In Old Norse, the verb should always be the first or second element so we’ll need to arrange our sentence accordingly.

Laðar þetta hálsmen veiðarefni  |  This necklace invites a good hunt/catch

Example Two: Elder Futhark

Elder Futhark runes were used to write in the Proto-Germanic dialects which preceded Old Norse, from about 200 CE to 700 CE. The majority of this language is entirely reconstructed by modern linguists, as the vocabulary that was preserved in the remaining inscriptions is somewhat limited. Inscriptions during this period most frequently fell into MacLeod’s categories 1-3. (Rune Sequences, Naming Expressions, & Charm Words.) For this example, we will be modeling our necklace after the Migration Era Bracteates from ~3-500 CE. These early inscriptions more often relied on invocation of deities as opposed to the more clearly stated purposes of many later inscriptions.

The ancient Norse had a number of deities related to the idea of ‘the hunt’ in one way or another. Óðinn, Skaði, and Ullr being some of the most common. Ullr is one of the most frequently mentioned in regards to archery, which the ancient Norse used predominantly for hunting as opposed to warfare. However, these are later names, which we would need to trace back to their earlier forms. The name Skaði doesn’t date back that far, and the hunting attributes of Óðinn seem to have been a later feature. This leaves Ullr, however, we lack a solid answer regarding exactly how far back Ullr’s association with archery/hunting really go.

If one were inclined to hypothesize that Ullr’s association with hunting dated back to that era (or was simply content to use the more recent interpretation even while using the older name) we could use the category 3 inscription:

Wulþuz Laþu :ALU:  | Ullr’s Invitation :alu:

If one wanted to be more general with the inscription, while still following the Elder style, we could instead use:

Laþu Ansuz Waiþijôn :ALU: | Invite the god of the hunt :alu:

Example Three: Modern English

It’s important to keep in mind that the terms being used in most of these inscriptions would have been in the mother tongue of the person who carved them. As the language changed, so did the terms and ideas found in the written inscriptions. The perceived power in the words had nothing to do with the language, and everything to do with literacy. The act of creating permanent words, in an age when most were not literate, where ‘secret’ knowledge could be gained more easily by those who knew how to read, was its own kind of magic. Technically, it would be entirely appropriate for an English speaker to write their inscriptions in English. If one wanted to maintain the same effect that most of those who scribed these ancient inscriptions would have had on their fellows, one would only need to write the words in such a way that most would not be able to read them unless they shared your own level of knowledge.

Elder Futhark and Younger Futhark are both arranged for use with specific languages, so while it would be possible to at least approximate English words with either one, it wouldn’t work very well. However, there are actually runes which follow the same conventions as the pre-Christian writing systems, which are actually designed for use with modern languages. (Including English!)

So let’s say we want to take an amalgamation of the other two examples. Something like: “This necklace calls upon Ullr to bless the hunt.”

Once again, these are all reconstructions, not recreations. They are based on archaeological evidence and linguistic reconstruction in order to best show how something of this nature MIGHT have been done during specific time periods, in order to accurately utilize different types of runes commonly known among the Heathen community. These articles are not about remaking exact copies of known artifacts, but rather trying to understand the methods behind their creation and attempting to make something NEW in a similar style.

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