Our modern runes originated as an important part of the Norse mythology. According to myth, the Viking god Odin hung twelve days from a tree by his foot to obtain the runic alphabet. Odin then sacrificed his eye to the Norns (Fates) in order to empower the runes with ability to see past, present and future.
The word “rune” means “a secret” or “to whisper”. Runes were originally an oral tradition of mysticism, magic and prophecy passed through the generations by ancient Teutonic races. The runes evolved into a system of symbols, which were carved into wood or stone for use as protective talismans and prayers. Myths, legends, and the ancient lore of their ancestors were carved into tree bark or chiseled in stone by the Vikings using an ancient twenty-four letter alphabet.
Over time, each letter became associated with an aspect of ancient mysticism, mythology, or the everyday life of the Vikings. The runic alphabet essentially replaced the runic symbols used by the rune masters, although the symbols were still used on occasion. This runic alphabet became known as the Elder Futhark.
Prior to battle, the Viking warriors tossed pebbles from their helmets to foretell the outcome. The ancient rune masters perfected this tradition, replacing pebbles in a helmet with runes carried in a bag hung from the belt. These runes were tossed from the bag to prophesize the future.
Runes were popular throughout Northern Europe, even during the Dark Ages when other forms of divination and mysticism were shunned. The Nazi party used runic symbols and charms extensively. The swastika (or sun wheel) was a runic charm for luck and victory. The insignia of the SS comes from the Anglo-Saxon version of Sowelo (the sun), worn for courage and valour. Because of their association with the Nazis, the runes lost popularity for several decades after the fall of the Nazi regime. Interest in the runes returned in the 1970’s, and runes continue to grow in popularity to this day.
The Elder Futhark is divided into three groups of eight, called Aetts.