Have you seen rune sets for sale at book stores? They resemble domino pieces in construction, with painted symbols replacing the dots. Perhaps you read instructions on how to make a set for your own use. Perchance a seer performed a fairground reading by throwing them and interpreting those that landed face upwards. When it comes to divining the future, runes have been the tool of choice for centuries. If you are curious as to their origins, well, they have an intriguing tale to tell.
Their story dates back thousands of years, when shamanic ritual took a sudden turn in new directions. Increasing numbers of medicine men started creating small tokens to use in their rituals. In the icy regions of Scandinavia, shaman began carving images onto pieces of wood and bone. Once inscribed, these objects protected against illness and negative magic. They also guided by allowing people a glimpse into the future.
Ancient Scandinavian culture had a high regard for such magical symbolism. Where the belief originated from is unclear, yet there are several legends that tell of those early origins. One saga concerns the Norse deity, Odin, who was a powerful shaman and supreme god of the Norsemen. He was master of the mystical, and discovered much that was vital for cultural growth. This deity faced numerous trials while questing for knowledge. During one adventure, Odin sacrificed his eye to sip from the fountain of wisdom.
Questing and sacrifice were part of his life, and he was constantly striving to learn and understand. In an attempt to push beyond all limits, Odin fastened a rope around his feet and hung upside down from a tree. In that position, he performed the ultimate sacrifice and offered his life. After piercing his chest with a spear, Odin hung in a deathlike state for nine days. On the tenth day, a group of runic symbols appeared before him and revealed mystical secrets. Odin became ecstatic and tried to grab them. His attempt failed and he gasped his last breath and expired.
Fortunately, Odin experienced resurrection, and lived again. This enabled him to share the secrets of the mystical runes with other shaman. Knowledge of the original symbols spread and became incorporated into every aspect of life. The runes evolved into the earliest Germanic alphabet. Even in this guise as a language, the runes lost none of their mystical occult symbolism. For example, an ancient Norse word relating to “secrets” translates directly into the word “rune”.
As time passed, rune symbols adapted and became an intrinsic part of Germanic speech and culture. Many people believed that the symbols contained powerful magic. Vikings carried them as divining tools. Warriors inscribed images onto weapons to gain protection during battle. Pregnant women drew figures onto their palms to ensure successful and pain free delivery.
Through rune-based ritual, magic users cast effective spells and could commune with dead ancestors. Homes daubed with rune symbols ensured special blessings for those who dwelt therein. Traveling seers would throw the pieces onto white cloth and predict the future of the village or an individual. Magic relating to runes was deeply rooted in Northern Europe for centuries, yet this was about to change.
As Christianity gained a foothold in Europe, anything linked to magic acquired pagan overtones. Belief systems harking to ancient times were intolerable to the new system. Magical practice became unacceptable, and rune wisdom did not offer solutions that suited Christian dogma. For a long time, anyone caught consulting the runes was severely punished. As this domination continued from one generation to the next, the secret knowledge that Odin had uncovered was almost lost.
Then, the early twentieth century brought major changes to the situation. By this time, society was straining against the shackles of dogma. Many old beliefs were re-examined in the clear light of modern times. People started investigating beliefs that had been lost to the generations before them. A number of German seers resurrected the runes, and gave them a new lease on life. Thus, they were reborn, as Odin had been.
The enigmatic symbols found an eager audience ready to be enthralled again. Since then, they have enjoyed global popularity. Some students spend years studying their secrets and sharing that knowledge with others. The tale of the mystical runes has not yet ended.