That was, however, not often the case, as the tradition of Vikings was to spread the language, especially the famous sagas, in oral form. Creating runic alphabet, runes, came in the 2nd century AD. On the one hand, it had its practical, pragmatic purpose. On the other, it had a more mystical and ethereal purpose.

Mystical alphabet

The word rune itself means something of a mystery or a secret, and this was one of the two main purposes of the runes. Vikings used them to attract fortune, or good health, to drive away spells they thought someone else cast on them, and in some cases, to cast spells or curse the potential enemies. The notion that Vikings did truly believe adds another layer of strength to the power of runes.

On the other hand, there was a quite pragmatic use of runes – they were engraved on houses, entrance doors, and even on the things such as cups, cutlery, and pottery. Vikings believed runes helped them influence weather, grow healthier crops, and create abundance. They also used runes as a sort of emblem or decoration, but with a certain energetic purpose.

Also, runes were used on runestones – to help Vikings keep loving memories of those who passed away. Runestones can be found throughout the whole of Scandinavia; however, this was not the only pragmatic purpose. 

In later times, the advancement of trading, coins, and all the basics of economy, even though at such early times the economy was in the early phase of development, there was a growing need for written language, to have written proof of handling business.

Runes were mostly carved in stone or wood, by axes, knives, and such tools, so they couldn't have curved forms - all of them consisted of straight lines.

Vikings used runes to attract good fortune or health. Illustration: Ksenia Yakovleva / Unsplash

Understanding runes

One should not make the mistake of reading and understanding runes just literally. There is always the primary, literal meaning of a rune; however, there is always a deeper meaning connected to it. 

For example, if we take a look at the rune with the meaning "ox," it doesn't just mean the animal itself, but also the metaphoric meaning hidden behind the word, in this particular case, "strength," "resilience," "hard work," to name a few.

Viking warriors and raiders, known for their pride, courage, strength, and ruthlessness, seemed to have taken their runes quite seriously. They would often carve the runic symbol for Tyr, the god of war, onto their swords and shields. In this way, believing that carrying the right rune could help them, the blades of Viking swords appeared even sharper and shields even stronger.

 In that same way, the belief that carrying the proper rune would help Vikings in overcoming daily obstacles and problems of whatever nature.

Runes in modern times and popular culture

The first big revival of runes happened in the 19th century, with the appearance of the Scandinavian romantic nationalism, also called Gothicism, and in Germanic occultism, carrying a sense of mysticism, connected with national pride and power of national heritage. 

The 20th-century fantasy genre brought it again on stage, using folklore myths and traditions for creating new fictional worlds. Germanic neo-paganism also uses runes as an important element of this modern Pagan religion.

Nowadays, runes are often worn as a fashion statement – usually as a piece of jewelry, like a necklace in most cases, made of a small round piece of wood, stone, or leather, with a rune carved in it, and carried like a necklace on a string of leather. Some more sophisticated pieces of jewelry include amber and silver and can be anything from necklaces, chains, or statement rings.

Tattoos depicting runes, however, shouldn't be taken lightly, as just a form of cool and hip body modification. There is a strong belief that they carry a potent message and energy hidden behind them, both for women and men who decide to get a rune as a tattoo, so if you're considering getting a runic tattoo - make sure to take your time and think about it. 

Critics claim that getting such a tattoo without being aware of the historical context, meanings, and especially hidden meanings, of what these signs meant to those who really believed in the power of runes, may even be a sign of disrespect towards the Viking culture.

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