History & Origins of Runes

History & Origins of Runes

The word rune can be translated to “mystery,” “secret,” “hushed message.” Rune also means “letter,” and before being recognized as one of the earliest alphabetic systems, they were more of a hieroglyph or pictorial representation of what the source or message was for them. They were carved, inscribed onto swords, shields, stones as they were initially intended to invoke protection or strength or luck in battle or other endeavors. They were primarily also used as a form of communication.

Germanic runes are the only known source of written information predating 160 CE from Scandinavia where inscriptions were mainly found across the land, but they were also used throughout Southern & Northern Europe, England to Constantinople; wherever the Germanic tribes called home, and then wherever the Vikings may have touched throughout 790 – 1100 CE.

The first named system is the Elder Futhark which is comprised of 24 symbols. Each of the symbols used in runes was created to be easily carved, drawn into, or onto items. They are made up of vertical, curved, & diagonal lines (occasionally horizontal, but not ordinary) with a unique meaning & sound. Runes were formed to be carved or inscribed into stone, wood, metal. As time progressed, they were drawn on parchment with red ink. The significance of each rune & its letter is almost always directly related to the first letters of the rune’s name.

Each alphabet following is a “futhark,” which references the first six runes/letters. The Elder Futhark was initially started around 1 CE and then completed by 400 CE. The Younger Futhark was shortened to 16 characters and came around the Viking Age around 750 CE. The 33-character Anglo-Saxon Futhorc was the Elder Futhark with more letters & was seen in England.

The runic systems are believed to have been influenced by Old Italic alphabets that the Mediterranean people were using & they were also close to the Germanic Tribes of the times. As writing & alphabets had to be used through movements, their migration from Southern to Northern Europe can be attributed to Germanic war movements & claimed territories.

During the Proto-Germanic period, the origins of the runes have always been shrouded in mystery as to their creation. Roman historian Tacitus notes that at this time, Odin (originally Wodanaz) was the dominant god for many of the Germanic tribes of the time by the first century. There is no clear history as to whether the runes were created before their association with the god Odin or if they came to be together. However, according to the Germanic tribes, there are no associations with the Old Italic alphabets, nor were they invented. The runes are pre-existing eternal forces that Odin himself discovered through self-sacrifice to himself.

Main Runic Futhark(s) Timeline

  • from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany… & wherever the Germanic tribes may have been for any length of time.
    • Elder Futhark circa 160 CE – 700 CE
    • Younger Futhark circa 700 CE – 1200 CE
    • Anglo-Saxon Furhtorc circa 5 CE – 1000 CE
    • Medieval Futhork fully formed circa 13 CE

The survival of runes in Scandinavia can be attributed to Iceland & Scandinavia having the most resistance to Christianity, eliminating pagan religions and customs. This is the same reason that their Gods have spanned the same amount of time & survived through history. The runes are a Germanic “invention,” & their shamans or other religious leaders traveled with & interpreted the runes throughout their migrations.

Source Credits

Groeneveld, Emma. “Runes.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 19 June 2018, Runes - World History Encyclopedia.

McCoy, Daniel. “The Origins of the Runes.” Norse Mythology for Smart People, Daniel McCoy, 2019, Runes - Norse Mythology for Smart People.

Tyson, Donald. “Where Did Runes Come From?” Llewellyn New Worlds of Body, Mind, & Spirit, 24 May 2004, Where Did Runes Come From?

Other resources & information
History of Runic Systems
Rune Poems in History


How exciting to learn more about the runes- there is so much to explore, these guides are really helpful in making sense and understanding it all! Thank you so much for putting this together, @Siofra_Strega! :heart:


I love it, I love using runes! The history is a must of anything you use or practice!!! Thanks girl!!


Thank you both! I’m really enjoying learning the runes. I started drawing 1 a day & using a journal to write down what I learn about the rune & making notes about things that happen that correspond with the runes. I will do another informational type of post about them next week.


That sounds like both a great daily practice and a really smart way to learn the runes one by one, Siofra- good for you! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: Hope your rune studies are coming along well, I’m looking forward to your future informational posts about runes! :heart:


I made a master rune information post the other day, so I don’t duplicate too much of what @Liisa already had posted. Plus it kind of gives me an idea of what topics I can expand on too! I’m happy that you enjoy them :blush: