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Saga of the People of Vatnsdal

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.

Chapter 34

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.

Fate and Magic

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’.

Chapter 10

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.

Casting Lots

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.

Chapter 42

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.

Chapter 42

The lots were then places in a small cloth and it was always Silver’s lot which came up, because of his magic powers.

Chapter 42

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.

Saga of the Volsungs

The Saga of the Volsungs is a Norse Epic dealing with the dragon slayer, Sigurd. It’s a wonderful tale that makes many references to the runes. In chapter 21 we get a close look at how many of the runes are used when Brynhild speaks a short verse to Sigurd. Throughout this tale we see how important it is not only to know how to use the runes, but to use them and read them properly.

Chapter 13

Regin, the son of Hreidmar, was Siguard’s foster father. He taught Siguard sports, chess, and runes.

Early in the story we can get a look at how important the runes are going to be in the tale. It’s mentioned that Sigurd is taught how to use the runes by his foster father. Later in the story we’ll come to find out how important it was for Sigurd to learn how to read and cut the runes.

Chapter 21

She answered: “You know them better than I. But gladly I will teach you, if there is anything I know that will please you about runes or other matters that concern all things.”

Chapter 21 is a great section to read. If you’re not planning on reading this entire saga I would suggest that you at least glance over this chapter. It’s full of information on the runes. This is the section where Brynhild tells Sigurd all that she knows about the runes and their uses.

Chapter 21

Beer I give you,
Battlefield’s ruler,
With strength blended
And with much glory.
It is full of charmed verse
And runes of healing
Of seemly spells
And of pleasing speech.

Victory runes shall you know
If you want to secure wisdom,
And cut them on the sword hilt,
On the center ridge of the blade,
And the parts of the brand,
And name Tyr twice.

Wave runes shall you make
If you desire to ward
Your sail-steeds on the sound.
On the stem shall they be cut
And on the steering blade
And burn them on the oar.
No broad breaker will fall
Nor waves of blue,
And you will come safe from the sea.

Speech runes shall you know
If you want no repayment
In hate words for harm done.
Wind them,
Weave them,
Tie them all together,
At that thing
When all shall attend
The complete court.

Ale runes shall you know
If you desire no other’s wife
To deceive you in troth, if you trust.
They shall be cut on the horn
And on the hand’s back
And mark the need rune on your nail.

For the cup shall make you a sign
And be wary of misfortune
And throw leek into the liquor.
Then, I know that,
You will never get
A potion blended with poison.

Aid runes shall you learn
If you would grant assistance
To bring the child from the mother.
Cut them in her palm
And hold her hand in yours.
And bid the Disir not to fail.

Branch runes shall you learn
If you wish to be a healer
And to know how to see to wounds.
On bark shall they be cut
And on needles of the tree
Whose limbs lean to the east.

Mind runes shall you learn
If you would be
Wiser that all men.
They were solved,
They were carved out,
They were heeded by Hropt.

They were cut on the shield
That stands before the shining god,
On Arvak’s ear
And on Alsvid’s head
And on the wheel that stands
Under Hrungnir’s chariot,
On Sleipnir’s reins,
And on the sleigh’s fetters.

On bear’s paw
And on Bragi’s tongue,
On wolf’s claws
And on eagle’s beak,
On bloody wings
And on bridge’s ends,
On the soothing palm
And on the healing step.

On glass and on gold
And on good silver,
In ale and in wine
And on the witch’s seat,
In human flesh
And on the point of Gaupnir
And the hag’s breast,
On the Norn’s nail
And on the neb of the owl.

All that were carved on these
Were scraped off
And mixed with the holy mead
And sent on widespread ways.
They are with elves,
Some with the Æsir
And with the venerable Vanir,
Some belong to mortal men.

The are cure runes
And aid runes
And ale runes
And peerless power runes
For all to used unspoiled
And unprofaned,
To bring about good fortune.
Enjoy them if you have learned them,
Until the gods perish.

Now shall you choose,
As you are offered a choice,
O maple shaft of sharp weapons.
Speech or silence,
You must muse for yourself.
All words are already decided.

A lot of what is said above is pretty much laid out for you. There shouldn’t be much to explain, however I will say a few things about the runes that may have been used. As always we are uncertain as to which set of runes were used around the time of this saga and we will assume the use of the elder futhark.

When we take a look at the elder futhark and the mention of the runes above we can make some connections. For example the “runes of healing” could be uruz, which is a healing rune. The stanza which mentions “victory runes” also mentions the name Tyr which would be the rune Teiwaz since it’s name is derived from Tyr’s name. There are of course some other easy connections between the runes mentioned in the verse and the runes of the elder futhark, but the rest I’ll leave for you to take a closer look at.

Do not always assume that since the runes listed on the elder futhark page stand for something other than what you are looking for that it’s not the proper rune. For example in the verse above one stanza talks about “mind runes” yet there is no rune that stands for the mind or for thought. However, if we look at the meaning of the rune Kenaz we see that it deals with learning and knowledge, two things handled by the mind.

Chapter 34

The drink was mixed with the strength of the earth and the sea and the blood of her son, while the inside of the drinking horn was carved with all manner of runes, reddened with blood, as is here told:

The horn was lined
With runes manifold,
Carved and cut with blood.

This is another case where the runes are used to protect the drinker from added poison in the drinking horn. The runes are carved on the inside of the horn and reddened with blood to set them in motion. The idea here is that if some poison were to enter the drinking horn, either in some mead or simply poured in, the horn would counter the poison. We see in Egil’s Saga (chapter 44) that the runes counter such poison by shattering the drinking horn. In this saga we see that the runes are carved only as a precautionary measure and are never put to the test.

Chapter 35

The queen, aware of the king’s private meeting with his counselors, suspected there would be treachery toward her brothers. Gudrun cut runes, and took a gold ring and tied a wolf’s hair onto it. She gave it to the king’s messengers who then departed as the king had ordered. Before they stepped ashore, Vingi saw the runes and changed them in such a way that Gudrun appeared to be urging the brothers to come and meet with Atli.

Here we see the runes being used to deliver a message to Gudrun’s brothers. However, before the message is sent it is changed in order to make it look like Gudrun is trying to get her brothers to visit her and to come into danger.

Chapter 35

Vingi then showed him the runes that he said Gudrun had sent them. Now most people went to sleep, but some stayed up drinking with a few of the men. Hogni’s wife, Kostbera, the fairest of women, went and looked at the runes.

As with the passage above we see the runes that Gudrun had used to warn her brothers have been changed. However the message was never closely examined by anyone except Kostbera. She is a competent rune reader and notices that some of the runes do not appear to be correct.

Chapter 35

Kostbera began to look at the runes and to read the letters. She saw that something else had been cut over what lay underneath and that the runes had been falsified. Still she discerned through her wisdom what the runes said. After that she went to bed beside her husband. When they awoke she said to Hogni: “You intend to go away from home but that is inadvisable. Go instead another time. You cannot be very skilled at reading runes if you think you sister has asked you to come at this time. I read the runes and wondered how so wise a woman could have carved them so confusedly. Yet it seems that your death is indicated underneath. Either Gudrun missed a letter or someone else has falsified the runes.

The last part of chapter 35 dealing with the runes is when Kostbera brings the false rune message to her husband Hogni. Kostbera has already noticed that the runes had been carved over and tampered with. Knowing that this was more likely a message of warning than of invitation she tells Hogni that it could mean his doom. She knows that Gudrun is well versed in the use of the runes and that there is no way she could have made a simple mistake when carving the rune message.

This saga is full of rune information and it’s worth reading if you are interested in studying the runes. You get to see the many different ways that the runes were used as well as some good idea on which runes were used for specific purposes. You also get a good idea on just how important it was to understand the runes to avoid situations where a changed message could mean something totally different than what it was intended to mean. If you read any one saga I highly suggest that it be this one, not only because of the rune information found in it, but because the story is excellent as well.