Are the runes sacred?

Runes are fascinating. And we can choose to use the runes in whatever way that pleases us. There is no ”Rune God” that we could anger, if the runes are used in an ”incorrect” way. So if someone wishes to use runes for divination – fine. And if someone else wishes to use them for writing letters – fine. And another one wishes to use them for ceremonial purposes – fine.
Noone can say that any of these purposes is wrong, without being terribly wrong themselves.

The first runic futhark (alphabet) was constructed approximately 2000 years ago, and many historicians today think that their main purpose was magic. There is a lot of discussion going on among rune enthusiasts, whether they were used for divination or not – but this is in fact quite irrelevant, at least from the viewpoint of what we ”should” or could use them for today. I would say that of course the runes were used for divination from the very beginning, expecially considering the fact that they were utilized in a society that would focus very much on destiny and the ideas of being able to alter destiny, using magic. Most probably, however, the divination looked very different from what we might be doing today. And that’s also fine. Life in general today is a little bit different from life in general 2000 years ago.

Over the years, the runes became more commonplace, used for mundane writing, as well as sacred spells, magic, remembrance texts in stone, and many other purposes. In the beginning of the viking age (8th century) the runes were reformed, since the old system was outdated, and they were even more commonplace and mundane, which was perfect, in the way that they were the answer to a need in society in general.

Actually, in the viking age it was definitely much more common to use runes as regular writing signs, rather tham magical tools. They were also used as magical tools, in the same way that words could be used as magical tools, since the spoken words could be regarded as very strong magic, when used in such a way.

A good example of runes used for mundane purposes are the wooden tags found on the Norwegian coast, by a port, where they have been preserved by the clay under water. They were used for merchants as receipts, price tags, markers, and are much later than the original runes – we are talking 10th, 11th and 12th century stuff here. So the mundane use of runes is much later than the more sacred and magic use of the runes, something one could claim to be a great achievement, or a bad thing, depending on one’s own outlook on life. But that is of course also quite irrelevant.

Personally I’m all for it. Anyone can use the runes in any way they choose, and noone has the right to claim anyone wrong. Or even more ridiculous – blasphemic. I don’t believe in anything being inherently sacred in itself. Things are sacred if we make them sacred.

Runes are not magic. Runes are not sacred. Not in themselves. However, they can be used for very sacred and magic purposes, since they are very good tools for such activities.

But I can also use runes to write a shopping list, just for the fun of it, and to make myself more familiar with them. And of course, there is nothing wrong with that. And even if your primary purpose for the runes is sacred, having fun with them can actually deepen your understanding of their respective meaning.

Grimner 2006