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.