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Norse mythology attested a divine origin (reginkunnr) to the runes. Of particular importance is the “Hávamál” ("sayings of the high one"), a series of verses composed from the 9th or 10th centuries onward but presented as a single piece in “Poetic Edda,” the “Codex Regius,” a 13th-century Icelandic collection of Old Norse oral poetry. Attributed to Odin himself, it includes magic chants and spells as well as advice for living, proper conduct, and wisdom. The introductory ”Gestaþáttr” section ends with an invocation of the reginkunnr:That is now proved, what you asked of the runes, of the potent famous ones, which the great gods made, and the mighty sage stained, that it is best for him if he stays silent.The “Rúnatal” section is an account of how Odin won the runes by sacrificing himself to himself:I know that I hung on a windy tree nine long nights, wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin, myself to myself, on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run. No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,downwards I peered;I took up the runes,screaming I took them,then I fell back from there.The closing ”Ljóðatal” is a collection of lists of charms. There is no explicit mention of runes or runic magic except the 12th song, which takes up the motif of Odin hanging on the tree and its association with runes, attributing to them the power to resuscitate the dead:I know a twelfth one if I see, up in a tree, a dangling corpse in a noose, I can so carve and colour the runes, that the man walks and talks with me.[tr. Carolyne Larrington]The “Rígsþula,” another Icelandic Eddic poem dating from the 10th t0 13th centuries which is included in the mid-13th-century manuscriopt, “Codex Wormianus,” relates a different story of how the runes became known to humans: Ríg (identified as Heimdall, the father of humankind, in the prose introduction) had three half-human sons, the ancestors of the three medieval social classes. The youngest was Jarl (earl, noble), When Jarl was old enough to handle weapons and use hawks, hounds, and horses, Rig taught him the runes. Jarl and Erna (Brisk), the daughter of Hersir (lord), had 12 sons, who became the ancestors of the warrior nobility. Their youngest son, Konr, had the strength of eight normal men and was able to understand the speech of birds, to quench fire, and to heal minds; he was the only one among his brothers to learn rune-craft and other magic. Much later, in 1555, Olaus Magnus, the exiled “archbishop of Uppsala” (his older brother Johannes Magnus was the last actual holder of that position; by the time Olaus was appointed as his successor, Sweden was no longer Catholic) published “Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus” (History of the Northern Peoples), which was not translated into Swedish until 1909 though it had long been available in other European languages. In that book, he recorded a tradition that Kettil Runske had stolen three rune staffs from Odin and from them learned the runes and their magic. Kettil punished Gilbert, an apprentice who defied him, by throwing a rune staff at him, causing him to be imprisoned in a cave on Visingsö in Lake Vättern. These mystical associations led to the modern study of runes (runology) during the Renaissance, when Johannes Bureus (1568–1652) investigated them from a holy or magical perspective (in a kabbalistic sense).
Actually, runes (Old Norse: rún) were the letters used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet as a result of Christian conversion between 700-1100, and for specialized purposes thereafter, especially in the 18th-century, when the word “Viking” (from the Old Norse “víkingr,” signifying a sea-rover or pirate), was introduced into Modern English, often with romanticized heroic overtones; in the 19th century, when Norwegian nationalism rose after centuries of rule by Danish and Swedish monarchs, when the Swedes’ Geatish Society promoted Romantic nationalism in Scandinavia, and when Danes such as N. F. S. Grundtvig (whose translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic,“Beowulf,” into Danish was its first into a modern language) promoted popular interest in Old Norse subjects and inspired a special “dragon style” architecture in wood inspired by stave churches and featured false arcades, lathed colonnades, protruding lofts, ridged roofs, and dragon heads; and when Richard Wagner’s operas inspired Germanic occultism. During the 19th century, interest in the runic alphabets was revived in Germany by the völkisch movement, which promoted interest in Germanic folklore and language as a reaction against the rapid modernization of the German Empire under Wilhelm I, and the collapse of Germany at the end of the First World War led to an upsurge of interest in völkisch ideology, which rejected liberalism, democracy, socialism, and industrial capitalism as "un-German" and inspired by subversive Jewish influences. By the end of the war there were about 75 völkisch groups in Germany that promoted a variety of pseudo-historical, mystical, racial, and anti-semitic views. Adolf Hitler wrote in his 1925 book Mein Kampf that "the basic ideas of the National Socialist movement are völkisch and the völkisch ideas are National Socialist."
Chiefly inspired by the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, the Austrian journalist, playwright, and novelist Guido Karl Anton List (“Guido von List” after 1907—he adopted the “von” which denoted membership in the nobility because it connected him to the ancient Wotanist priesthood, from whom he believed Austria's aristocrats were descended) expounded a modern pagan religious movement known as Wotanism, which he saw as the exoteric, outer form of pre-Christian Germanic religion, which included an inner set of esoteric, secret teachings that he called Armanism. In the 1890s, he suggested that ancient German society, which had been a culturally unified civilization that occupied most of Europe, had been led by a hierarchical system of initiates, the Armanenschaft, which he modeled after Freemasonry. The Armanenschaft had acted as teachers, priests, and judges but were persecuted by Christian missionaries and fled northward into Scandinavia and Iceland; however, they developed a secretive language to transmit their teachings through later esoteric traditions such as Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. The Knights Templar had been keepers of the Armanist secrets. A number of Renaissance humanists – including Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Johannes Trithemius, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, and Johann Reuchlin (of whiom List was a reincarnation) were also aware of the Armanist teachings. In the 8th century, Armanists imparted their teachings to the rabbis of Cologne in hopes of preserving them from Christian persecution, and thus they became the Kabbala. List believed that the basic teachings of Wotanism were found in the runic alphabet and that they could be deciphered by linking these letters with the spells in the “Havamal.” During an 11-month period of blindness in 1902, he became increasingly interested in occultism, in particular under the influence of the Theosophical Society, and contemplated the origins of the German language and the use of rune. During a vision which opened his “inner eye,” the 18 Armanen Futharkh, based on the historical Younger Futhark encrypted in the Rúnatal (stanzas 138 to 165 of the Hávamál), where Odin enumerated the 18 wisdoms, which represented the "primal runes" upon which all historical runes were based, were revealed to him. In “Das Geheimnis der Runen” (The Secret of the Runes), published as a periodical article in 1906 and as a standalone publication in 1908, he detailed the proto-language of the Aryan race which reproduced the letters and sounds of runes, emblems, and glyphs found on ancient inscriptions. The first 16 runes were slightly modified from Younger Futhark, and the last two were inspired by the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, as were all the names and sound values.
In 1903–4, Jörg Lanz-Liebenfels (subsequently, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels), an ex-Cistercian monk, and inventor, published "Anthropozoon Biblicum" ("The Biblical Man-Animal"), a comparative survey of ancient Near Eastern cultures that pointed to the continued survival of hominid ape-men into historical times. In 1905 his “Theozoologie oder die Kunde von den Sodoms-Äfflingen und dem Götter-Elektron” (Theozoology, or the Science of the Sodomite-Apelings and the Divine Electron) claimed that "Aryan" peoples had originated from interstellar deities (Theozoa) who bred by electricity, while other races resulted from interbreeding between humans and ape-men (Anthropozoa), leading to the atrophy of paranormal powers inherited from the gods. In the same year, he began the journal “Ostara” to promote racial purity. On Christmas, 1907 he founded the Order of the New Templars (Ordo Novi Templi) to harmonize science, art, and religion on the basis of racial consciousness and promote the theological system Lanz called Ario-Christianit, The ONT was the first to use the swastika in an "Aryan" sense. In 1915 he coined the term "Ariosophy" (wisdom concerning the Aryans) but in the 1920s he labeled his overall doctrine "Theozoology." Lanz's publisher, Herbert Reichstein, formed an institute with himself as director in 1925, declaring itself as the successor to the Armanen priest-kings; in 1926 it became the Ariosophical Society, renamed the Neue Kalandsgesellschaft (from Kaland, List's term for a secret lodge) in 1928, and renamed the Ariosophische Kulturzentrale in 1931, the year it opened a school in Pressbaum that offered courses in runic lore, biorhythms, yoga, and Kabala. The völkisch movement, which had already adopted the swastika as a symbol of Germanic antiquity, also adopted the Armanen runes as an integral part of German and Austrian national socialist symbology. While some Listian runes had been adopted by members of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and its predecessor organizations, Heinrich Himmler, one of many leading Nazis associated with the Thule Society völkisch group, systematized their use throughout the SS. Until 1939, members of the Allgemeine SS were given training in runic symbolism on joining the organization, and by 1945 the SS used 12 Listian runes, in addition to the swastika and the sonnenrad. Karl Maria Wiligut derived his own runes from List’s models and personally featured some of them on the SS-Ehrenring insignia.
After World War II, Karl Spiesberger reformed the system, removing the racist aspects and putting the whole system in a "pansophical" (eclectic) context. In 1976, Adolf and Sigrun Schleipfer established the Armanen-Order to revive List's ideas. Stephen Edred Flowers (aka Edred Thorsson, Darban-i-Den) became associated with the order and thus became acquainted with List’s works and founded the Rune-Gild, an initiatory order focused on "the revival of the elder Runic" which became the locus for the the Germanic Neopagan movement in North America.
The word”rune” comes from the Germanic root run- ("secret" or "whisper"), derived from the Indoeuropean root for "dig.” Ogham was a Celtic script, similarly carved in the Norse manner; in Gaelic, “rún” means "mystery," "secret," " intention," or "affectionate love." In the Baltic languages, the root” run-“indicates "speech. In Lithuanian, “runoti” is “to speak” (and also, “to cut [with a knife]"). The Finnish term for rune (riimukirjain) means "scratched letter," and the Finnish word for “poem” is “runo,” which comes from the Proto-Germanic word ( *rūnō) for "letter, literature, secret," the same source as the English word "rune."
The earliest runic inscriptions date from ca. 150 and were found in Denmark and northern Germany, when a continuum of dialects existed, before the clear separation into North, West, and East Germanic. They derived from Old Italic scripts (probably either the Raetic alphabet of Bolzano, Venetic, Etruscan, or Old Latin), a result of the Romans’ interaction with German mercenaries. The three best-known runic alphabets are the 350 examples of Elder Futhark (ca. 150–800), of which about half are on bracteates, a hundred Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (400–1100), and the Younger Futhark (800–1100), named after the first six letters of the alphabets. The Younger Futhark was further divided into the long-branch “Danish” runes (though they were also used in Norway and Sweden), probably for documentation in stone, the short-branch Swedish-Norwegian (Rök) runes (though they were also used in Denmark), probably for everyday use for private or official messages on wood, and the stavlösa (staveless) or Hälsinge runes; it also evolved into Medieval (ca. 1100–1500), and Dalecarlian (ca. 1500–1800) runes, a mix of runes and Latin letters used in the isolated province of Dalarna in Sweden. Corresponding with phonetic changes induced by the evolution of Proto-Norse into Old Norse, the Elder Futhark had 24 runes, while the Younger Futhark only had 16, even though the later North Germanic language had more phonemes than the earlier form; for example, voiced and unvoiced consonants merged in script, as did many vowels, while the number of vowels in the spoken language increased. Medieval runes, most commonly found on sticks or other small objects, expanded Younger Futhark by adding new signs so that it once more contained one for each Old Norse phoneme. The Anglo-Saxon futhorc consisted of 29, and later, 33 characters. A runic alphabet that mixed Elder Futhark with Anglo-Saxon futhorc was recorded in “De Inventione Litterarum” by Hrabanus Maurus, and represented an attempt by Carolingian scholars to assign runic equivalents to all the Latin letters; the treatise falsely attributed the runes to the Marcomanni. The term “runes” was used to distinguish these symbols from Latin and Greek “letters” and was attested on a 6th-century Alamannic runestaff as “runa” and possibly as “runo” on the 4th-century Einang stone (Einangsteinen) on a grave mound east of the Einang Sound near Fagernes, Norway, the oldest runestone still standing at its original location (translated as “[I, Go]dguest painted this runic inscription”). Generally, early runes referred to the carver or proprietor rather than to the deceased or other person, so they may have been intended as charms rather than just an alphabet. Some later runic finds are on monuments (“runstenar, runestones) and often contain solemn inscriptions about people who died or performed great deeds, leading scholars to believe that this was the primary use; but in the 1950s some 600 runes (the Bryggen inscriptions) were found in Bergen that had mundane purposes (name tags, personal messages, business letters, expressions of affection, bawdy phrases, and prayers, which were often in Latin. In 1999, the “Unicode Standard,” which is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems, developed in 1988 by Joe Becker of Xerox after consulting with Lee Collins and Mark Davis from Apple, encoded the Elder Futhark, the Anglo-Frisian runes, and the Younger Futhark long-branch and short-twig variants, resulting in 81 symbols: 75 letters, 3 punctuation marks, and 3 symbols used in early modern runic calendar staves; later, 8 characters were added: 5 "cryptogrammic" vowel symbols used in an inscription on the Franks Casket and 3 attributed to J. R. R. Tolkien's mode of writing Modern English in Anglo-Saxon runes.
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