Rune FAQs

Per Sigurd Agrell

What is the Uthark?

Per Sigurd Agrell (16 January 1881 in Värmland – 19 April 1937 in Lund) was a Swedish poet, translator, runologist and professor of Slavic languages at Lund University. Sigurd Agrell a Swedish professor at Lund University was the originator of the Uthark sequencing of the futhark runes. Sigurd demonstrated in his controversial and highly speculative theory that each rune has a numerical value value. He called this the Uthark theory, since it is based upon a removal of the Fé rune from the first position in the Futhark. The Fé rune is instead inserted as the last rune, and so all runes are shifted one step. There exist however some slightly different versions of the Futhark, and Sigurd Agrell was not completely sure of which one to use for his theory. Sigurd Agrell explains in his book "Runornas Talmystik och dess antika förebild" (1927), the fact that the rune Dagaz comes before Othilla on the "Kylver Grave Slab" as well as in some Anglo-Saxon rune alphabets and is most probably a misunderstanding. By the 5th century CE. Ehwaz and Pertho were becoming obsolete in the practical sense of writing, which meant that only the truly competent knew the original order of the runes. Ehwaz and Pertho are in an opposite order on the "Kylver Grave Slab", and so are Dagaz and Othilla, but on all bracteates (round pendants with the runes in a circular pattern) the order is different. And considering the fact that the "Kylver slab" is an exception in Scandinavia, Sigurd Agrell draws the conclusion that the rune sequencing order on the pendants are in fact the true accurate order. And in that case Othilla precedes Dagaz? Sigurd Agrell in 1925, claimed that the rune alphabet was modelled on the more or less reconstructed magical alphabet of numbers and symbols employed by the antique mystery-cult of Mithra? This cult practised bull-worshipping, and therefore, according to Agrell, the Uruz-rune associated with the mythological bull occupied the first place in the alphabet. According to Agrell, the runes were originally used solely for magical purposes, and when the runes started to be used for mundane writing, the last F-rune was moved to the beginning of the alphabet in order to hide the magic origins and use of the rune alphabet. Agrell's UTHARK-theory is controversial, and remains yet to be scientifically proved.

Agrell's numerology theory and how Odin's Galder songs is created is described in the following book:

Sigurd Agrell Lapptrummor och runmagi. Tvenne kapitel ur trolldoms vesendets historia. C. W. K. Gleeryps Forlag Lund 1934, Sweden (Republished by Psychick Release, Stockholm, 1991 [Facsimile of original edition])

Spiegelrunen or mirror-runes also belong to the enigmatic category. Mirror-runes are those which are in fact double-sided versions of one rune. Sometimes they consist of one hasta with symmetrical twigs, pockets or loops on either side, in such a way that the rune gives the impression of being mirrored such as [Fig 1]. Others show the same shape on the upper and lower part [Fig 2]: or to the right and left [Fig 3]. These runes should be read as one rune, not as two. These peculiar rune shapes are sometimes refered to as ‘ornamental runes'
 Ref: (Pieper 1987; Looijenga 1995a)

Rune pouches
As far as I am aware, there is no current scholarly consensus (validated) about exactly when or where the runic alphabet originated from or whether it was created within a single timeframe of someone’s life. The likelihood that runes evolved from other writing systems is a possibility but the daunting task lies in positively establishing the tribe of peoples who first used and sounded these symbols. But it is clear that runic writing arose from the contact the Germanic-speaking peoples had with the cultures of the Mediterranean, where the idea of alphabetic writing came about, and that some of the runic characters, though not the order of the alphabet, demonstrate the influence of Mediterranean writing?
Likewise the notion that fuÞark runes were carried around in convenient rune pouches is a very modern one whose consensus stemmed from the early 70s when the New Age renaissance surrounding all things mystical or magical was in popular demand by authors who know very little about the true nature of runes or their historical usage actual. For the record and in my opinion, runes historical were never carried in pouches but rather within the minds of those who wielded them, created once only each time on sticks, not stones and destroyed in the fire afterwards.

Loosening runes?

Þat kann ek it fiórða I know the forth
ef mér fyrðar bera if men fasten
bönd at bóglimum locks on my limbs
svá ek gel I sing a spell
at ek ganga má --- so I may step free ---
sprettr mér af fótum fjöturr the fetters snap off my feet
en af höndum hapt the hasp off my hands!

Hávamál stz 149

Bede substitutes a superstitious interpretation of the loosening bonds being caused by written spells with the central Christian rite of the recitation of the mass, replacing older cultural hermeneutics and teaching us how to read the miraculous from a Christian perspective. It is not even clear whether Bede is referring to runes in this episode, or to a generic superstition about the act of writing and the power of words, and his reluctance to elaborate on the fable may well constitute an ‘act of literary suppression’ as Seth Lerer suggests (1991: 39). The Old English translation, however, seeks to make some sense of this allusion to litteras solutorias through the concept of written characters and the ‘releasing rune’:
Ond hine ascode hwæðer he ða alysendlecan rune cuðe, and þa stafasmid him awritene hæfde, be swylcum men leas spel secgað and spreocað, þæt hine mon forþon gebindan ne meahte.
‘And he asked him whether he knew the releasing rune, and had with him the letters written out, such as men tell idle tales of and speak about, so that, for this reason, he could not be bound.’
(Old English Version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History 4/22: 328)

There is considerable uncertainty as to the earliest purpose of the runes, whether they were originally used as real characters of writing, or, as the name suggests, as mystical signs, bearers of potent magic. But, since the power and force of the spoken word easily pass into the symbol for which it stands, it is not improbable that the latter meaning is secondary, the spell becoming, so to speak, materialised in the graven letter, and, even in this form, retaining all its original power for good or evil. For the earliest Germanici literature abounds in proofs of the magic nature of runes; from the Edda poems down to the latest folksongs of the present day there is continuous evidence of their mystic influence over mankind. Runes could raise the dead from their graves; they could preserve life or take it, they could heal the sick or bring on lingering disease; they could call forth the soft rain or the violent hailstorm; they could break chains and shackles or bind more closely than bonds or fetters; they could make the warrior invincible and cause his sword to inflict none but mortal wounds; they could produce frenzy and madness or defend from the deceit of a false friend. Their origin was, moreover, believed to be divine, since Odin is represented in the Edda as sacrificing himself in order to learn their use and hidden wisdom.

Ref: The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.  Runes in Scandinavian and Old English Literature.