We see in the story the Havamal1 that the God Odin hung on a tree (possibly Yggdrasil – the World Tree) for nine days and nights. The first six represent the God himself and the last three make up his spear, Gungnir. The set up looks like so:
The layout image isn’t much the way it looks here. Numbers 1 and 5 are suppose to be Odin’s legs and feet, numbers 2 and 6 are his arms and hands, number 3 is his body and number 4 is his head. The spear is standing up at Odin’s side and consists on numbers 7, 8 and 9. If you use a great deal of imagination you may start to see how the picture is suppose to look. To read this layout follow this guide.
The column with numbers 1 and 2 represent the past factors that have acted on the question you have asked.
The column with numbers 3 and 4 represent the present forces on the question.
The column with the number 5 and 6 represent the outcome of the question.
The last column that shows Odin’s spear represents the powers you have or need to deal with each of the previous three columns.
If you wish to record your rune casts I’ve created a a printable recording sheet for the Odin’s Nine Layout rune cast.
File: Odin’s Nine Layout Record Sheet
Filesize: 129.65 kB
The reason I have combined the Frisian and Anglo-Saxon rune sets together are due to their close relation to each other. Originally the Frisian set was created by expanding the Elder Futhark set by four runes (the first four listed below – Ac, Os, Yr and Ior). Then later one new rune, Ear, was added to form the Anglo-Saxon rune set sometimes called the Anglo-Saxon Futhork.
It should also be noted that the Elder Futhark rune Ansuz was renamed Aesc for these sets.
Sound: “a” as in “sat”
Stands for: Oak Tree
Casting meaning: This rune symbolizes great potential power and is a rune of great usefulness. Ac channels the power of strong, continuous growth from small beginnings to a powerful and mighty climax.
Sound: “o” as in “home”
Stands for: Mouth
Casting meaning: This rune, like Aesc, is a God rune. Os belongs to Odin in his aspects of a master communicator through language and writing. Os denotes the creative power of word in all its forms – in poetry, song, oral tales, and written literature.
Sound: “y” as in “yoga”
Stands for: Bow made from a Yew Tree
Casting meaning: Yr symbolizes the perfect combination of skills and knowledge applied to materials taken from nature. This rune lets us know when we are in the “right spot” for a situation, and is good to use when looking for lost objects.
Sound: “io” as in “helios”
Stands for: The World Serpent
Casting meaning: Ior symbolizes dual natures, evident in the amphibious habits of many water beasts (like the World Serpent). It also signifies the unavoidable hardships in life that we can do nothing about, but should still not worry about.
Sound: “ea” as in “dear”
Stands for: Soil of Earth (actually the dust our bodies become after death)
Casting meaning: Ear symbolizes the grave that we will all return to. However the only way that we can die is because there was life to begin with. “Without life, there is no death and without time there is no life.” More generally Ear signifies the unavoidable end of all things.
In the Saga of the People of Vatnsdal we do not come across too many mentions of the runes, but we do find that magic and witchcraft are mentioned a lot in the story. Whether this magic and witchcraft is rune related in anyway is not known. It is quite possible that some of the magic weapons, staves and other items may have been inscribed with runic symbols. However since there is no evidence to back this up the passages that mention magic and witchcraft have been omitted from this site.
Like Egil’s Saga we do come across the idea of casting lots in this saga. Again I have decided to put those passages onto this page so that the readers can come to their own conclusions if the runes may have been used in the lot casting. There is only one mention of the word ‘rune’ in this saga so I have started with that passage, after that I have put the few other passages that might be somehow rune related. Again that is for you, the reader, to decide.
Jokul carved a man’s head on the end of the post, and wrote in runes the open words of the curse, spoken of earlier. Jokul then killed a mare, and they cut it open at the breast, and set it on the pole, and had it face towards Borg.
In this passage we see that Jokul uses the runes as a way to make his oral curse into a written one. This is much to the same effect as we have seen Egil do in chapter 58 of Egil’s Saga. Take into consideration the similarities between the passage of Egil’s Saga and the one here with Jokul. Both of the men after speaking and oral curse carve the curse in runes on a pole. Also both men use a horse (or a part of a horse in Egil’s case) and set it on the pole. Why this is done I cannot say for certain. It may have something to do with the power and status of the horse. If we look at the Gothic rune Egeis/Eyz we see that the gods used horses in divination, shamanism and royal pageantries. So quite possibly the horse could bring the gods attention to the curse. The only other reason that I could think of why a horse may be used would be because of Sleipnir, Odin’s horse. It was said that this eight-legged steed had the runes carved on his teeth. There may be a connection then that a horse on a rune carved pole would carry the message to the gods in a manner similar to the way Sleipnir carried Odin.
Although I had said that I was not going to make mention of the magic and witchcraft involved in this saga I have decided to include one passage that may possibly be linked to a rune casting. The section talks about determining the fates of men that have gathered at a feast. Traditionally this sort of thing is done by a woman casting the runes and reading a man’s fate from the runes. However, there is no mention of the word rune but there is talk of ‘a magic rite in the old heathen fashion’.
Ingjald and his men prepared a magic rite in the old heathen fashion, so that men could examine what the fates had in store for them. A Lapp enchantress was among those present. Ingimund and Grim arrived at the feast along with a large retinue. The Lapp woman, splendidly attired, sat on a high seat. Men left their benches and went forward to ask about their destinies.
The use of the runes to ‘examine what the fates had in store’ for people was not an uncommon practice. However, the one thing to look at is the fact that the readings were done by a Lapp enchantress. Would she cast runes for this ritual or would she go into a shaman-like trance to see the future? It may be safe to say that this is a reference to a rune casting. If she were to enter into a trance to see each man’s destiny she would possibly have to jump in and out of such a trance for each fate that she was looking at. That’s a very exhausting thing to have to do, but casting the runes for each man wouldn’t require her to do such a thing and might be a more likely a situation.
There are several mentions of the use of lots in this saga. The following chapters and quotes are where this is mentioned. Feel free to have a look at them and decide for yourselves if these “lots” might have been runic symbols or not. I will not explain the situations in which the quotes take place in the story since that has no bearing on whether or not the “lots” could be runic symbols or not.
Thorgrim was considered best suited for the chieftain’s role because of his kinship with the Vatnsdal people, but it was to be settled by lot, because many others thought themselves well suited.
The lots were then places in a small cloth and it was always Silver’s lot which came up, because of his magic powers.
Silver’s lot had secured the godord.
Again we have to determine if the lots used here were some form of the runes or something else completely. It is possible that bindrunes1 may have been used to represent each person that was in the running for the godord. But is just as possibly that each man was assigned a number or symbol that was drawn on some material and then drawn from the cloth.
I’m no longer sure where I found the information that I’m about to present to you. It was a while back when I found it on some web page and took a closer look at the information for myself. In the Hávamál, found in the Elder Edda (or Poetic Edda) there is a section where Odin talks about the runes that he has discovered and their uses. The information below talks about the eighteen charms, their intent and the primary and supporting runes of the elder futhark in relation to that story. We can’t say for certain if the material below is accurate or not, but it is interesting enough that I think it’s worth putting on this site.
I know spells – no king’s wife can say – and no man has mastered; – one is called “Help” – because it can comfort – the sick and careworn, – relieve all sorrows.
I know another – which all men need – who hope to be healers.
I know a third – if I should need – to fetter any foe; – it blunts the edge – of my enemy’s sword, – neither wiles nor weapons work.
I know a fourth: – if I should find myself – fettered hand and foot, – I shout the spell – that sets me free, – bonds break from my feet, – nothing holds my hands.
I know a fifth: – in battle’s fury – if someone flings a spear, – it speeds not so fast – but that I can stop it – I only have to see it.
I know a sixth: – if someone would harm me – by writing runes on a tree root, – the man who wished – I would not come to woe – will meet misfortune, not I.
I know a seventh: – if I see flames – high around a hall, – no matter how far – the fire has spread – my spell can stop it.
I know an eighth – which no one on earth – could fail to find useful: – when hatred waxes – among warriors – the spell will soothe them.
I know a ninth: – if I ever need – to save my ship in a storm, – it will quiet the wind – and calm the waves, – soothing the sea.
I know a tenth: – any time I see – witches sailing the sky – the spell I sing – sends them off their course; – when they lose their skins – they fail to find their homes.
I know an eleventh: – if I lead to war – good and faithful friends, – under a shield I shout – the spell that speeds them – well they fare in the fight, – well they fare from the fight, – wherever they go they fare well.
I know a twelfth: – if up in a tree – I see a corpse hanging high, – the mighty runes – I write and color – make the man come down – to talk with me.
I know a thirteenth: – if I pour water – over a youth, – he will not fall – in any fight, – swords will not slay him.
I know a fourteenth, – as men will find – when I tell them the tales of the gods: – I know all about – the elves and the Æsir – few fools can say as much.
I know a fifteenth – that the dwarf Thjodrorir – chanted at Delling’s door: – power to the Æsir, – triumph to the elves, – understanding to Odin.
I know a sixteenth: – if I say that spell – any girl soon grants my desires; – I win the heart – of the white-armed maiden, – turn her thoughts where I will.
I know a seventeenth, – and with that spell – no maiden will forsake me.
I know and eighteenth – which I never tell – a maiden or any man’s wife – the best of charms – if you can chant it; – this is the last of my lay – unless to a lady – who lies in my arms, – or I’ll sing it to my sister.
Intent: Union of male and female
Primary rune: To be discovered by the reader
Supporting runes: To be discovered by the reader
The Elder Edda is a book of mythological stories of the Norse gods and goddesses and it is in here where we first see Odin learn about the runes. A story called Havamal1 or “Sayings of the High One2” tells us just how Odin first learned the runes.
I know that I hung on a high windy tree
for nine long nights;
pierced by a spear -Odin’s pledge-
given myself to myself.
No one can tell about that tree,
from what deep roots it rises.
They brought me no bread, no horn to drink from,
I gazed toward the ground.
Crying aloud, I caught up the runes;
finally I fell.
We see that Odin, in a shaman-like self-sacrificing ritual, deprives himself of food and drink as he hangs upside down on a tree. In some translations we are told that this tree is Yggdrasil, the Norse World Tree. As the days drag out longer and longer for him, nine nights pass and it is then when Odin sees the shapes of the runes. Crying out, he catches up the runes and falls from the tree.
The poem goes on talking about the runes and how Odin knows how to carve them for magickal uses. There are a total of eighteen runes that are listed but we never are told the names nor hinted at what they may look like. However if you believe the stories and tales of Guido List then you would tend to accept the Armanen Runes to be the runes that Odin discovered. Of course there is no evidence to even come close to supporting List’s claim as his rune set being the very first and original rune set.
If you are looking for the section in the Hávamál where it talks about Odin and the runes, it starts on the 138th stanza in the poem. Or if your poem doesn’t tell you the stanza number look for the section “The Lay of Loaddfafnir” (which starts on the 111th stanza). Skim a little ahead and you should see it.
An important part of runic knowledge can be learned by examining the mythology, sagas, and folklore of the people of Northern Europe, Iceland and even Greenland. By doing so we start to get an understanding of where the runes may have come from, how there were used and even some of the mystery and magick behind them.
For this section I have broken down the stories or myths and have given my input on how the runes come into play in that story or myth. A good place to start is to take a look at how the runes are said to have come into existence in Norse mythology. After we examine the runes in mythology we can begin to learn and understand more about how the runes were used by the people in the saga tales.