Monday, November 21, 2005

Runeous Communication

Meet the Elder Futhark. I learned about it from a crossword clue recently, and had to Google it. For someone interested in communication, runes are the first language – and the first symbology in the European heritage.

Runes are a Norse alphabet (even though they aren't really an alphabet, are they?) developed around 200 BCE, from characters used for magical purposes. According to Nordic legends, they were discovered by Odin as he hung upside down and wounded for nine days on Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

There are three commonly known rune sets: the Anglo-Saxon futhork; the Danish short-twig or script alphabet; and the Younger and Elder Futhark. It’s obvious that JRR Tolkien knew all about ‘em.

The Elder Futhark is the oldest. There have been as few as 16 and as many as 33 runic characters at various times. Runes have been used as a divinatory device from the beginning. Some scholars believe that at one time, a special class of diviners who dealt exclusively with rune-reading. The word “rune” literally means whisper or secret.

As currently accepted, the Elder Futhark has 24 runes. It consists of three sets of eight letters. This “runic alphabet” got its name after the sound of what is traditionally held to be the six first runes in this alphabet: F - U - Þ - A - R – K. Listen to how they're pronounced here.

Looking at these runes as symbols, a simple transliteration of my initials would allow for a divination. “R” is raido. “L” is laguz. And “B” is berkanan.

Raido-Laguz-Berkanan. According to one divinatory Web site, the first English word in each symbol’s set of meanings may foretell the runic message. In the case of RLB, those words would be “journey,” passage,” and “renewal.” Isn’t that an interesting gloss on my life and career?

The Elder Futhark makes up a fascinating sidebar in the history of human communications. At the same time, it’s a clever starting point to examine shapes and meanings as visual signals, since each of the runes itself stands for an object, just as Chinese characters did originally.

On the other hand, it may be mere entertainment. What do you call a Norwegian paleolithographer wearing a Stetson? A “Runestone Cowboy.”

Happy Monday, y’all. – and best wishes for Thanksgiving to come.

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