Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Demise of the Druids?

One of my hand carved stones.
A wee druid - See the link below!
The name druid conjures up images such as  shamanic priests contacting the otherworld, white garbed modern druids  gathering at Stonehenge, or even Getafix from the Asterix cartoons. Druids  are cited as being active between 400BC-400AD in Gaul, Britain and Ireland. However  druidic origins may lay hundreds of years earlier. 

The word comes from druidh in Scots gaelic, droaid in Irish gaelic, which refers to a 'cunning man' or magician. This possibly stems from the Celtic dru, Greek, drus, an oak -  and oak worship does feature in druidic lore.  Substantiating this further is that the Welsh name for druid, Derwyddon, means 'oak knowledge'. 

Ancient sources tell us that druids were astrologers and therefore some  link them with rituals associated with stone circles*.   It is likely that druids presided over sacrifices, some of which may have been those of prisoners set aside for rituals. This  practice  repelled the Romans, but accounts of the bloody practices of the druids may also be propaganda. Roman writers tended to exaggerate the barbarity of other nations. 

Julius Ceasar tells us that would-be practitioners crossed to Britain to learn their arts. This suggests that there might have been a centre where druidic wisdom was taught.  We know that there were orders of druids, bards and ovates (fili in ireland), but there were also seers, magi, soothsayers etc… but whether these can also called druids is uncertain. 

“The Druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. Induced by such great advantages, many embrace this profession of their own accord, and [many] are sent to it by their parents and relations. They are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. 

“Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek characters. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory. They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valour, the fear of death being disregarded. They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.” 

Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars

Druids were more than priests,  they were also statesmen who held the warrior caste in check. Some scholars view them as the Celtic intelligentsia or as philosophers. Druids were mystic philosophers whose minds brimmed with astronomy, astrology, laws and folklore. Exactly how far back this lore stretched we cannot tell. It is entirely possible that ideas, concepts - religious and proto-scientific - were conveyed over generations. This ‘transmission’ was achieved orally, by word-of-mouth, utilising the storehouse of memory. It is hard to imagine this,  in our technological era where mobile phones and computers are used as external hard drives for our minds. Hard to  imagine a culture in which there is no written word! In which every lore and ritual and religion has to be committed to memory.  

Druids were the glue that held Celtic society together. For the Celts were never a unified people, they were ethnically diverse  but held certain cultural commonalties.  Being a  warrior based, tribal culture, they were constantly fuelled by internecine rivalries - a fact the Romans exploited to their advantage. 

Druids presided over inter-tribal assemblies. In Ireland we know that such gatherings were held at sacred centres, on specific festival dates, such as Lughnasa and Beltaine. In Britain one such sacred centre may have been Mona,  now known as the isle of Angelsey  off the coast of North Wales.  

The sacred isle of Mona, Anglesey off the coast of north Wales

Before turning to the terrible events on Mona, it is interesting to understand Rome’s motives for invading Britian in the first place. In 55 BC  Julius Caesar attempted a foray onto mainland Britain after he had conquered the Gaulish tribes. This was more to pump up his status than an all-out invasion.  In the century that lay between Claudius' conquest, Rome traded  with Britons,  currying support for their future endeavours. 

Nearly a century had passed before Emperor Claudius took an interest in the island. Claudius was not a disliked statesman and didn’t need to invade. The Britons could hardly have posed a threat to Rome either, but they may have ceased trading, and that pissed Rome off! By invading, Rome meant to return  trade to normal…  and to own it. 

Emperor Claudius

In 43 AD Claudius landed on British shores with four legions. An estimated 40, 000 men including auxiliaries. And while much of the land was subdued the locals were not all happy. There were revolts and many tribes proved troublesome.  

Suetonius writes that Claudius had  "utterly abolished the cruel and inhuman religion of the druids among the Gauls”**. Surely this sentiment was still running high when his legions arrived on British shores - Zero tolerance for druids! Given the importance of the druid caste, such an intolerant policy could only instil a bitter hatred toward the Empire in those it conquered.

Nearly two decades later, in 60 AD, Suetonius Paullinus moved against the sacred island of  Mona. It was here that great assemblies were  most likely held and had also become home to refugees fleeing the devastation of their homelands at the hands of the Roman Empire. It was also known as a stronghold for  Druids. The islanders had also been sending rebellious tribes supplies. The Roman writer Tacitus tells us the rest. 

  “He (Suetonius) prepared accordingly to attack the island of Mona, which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for refugees; and, in view of the shallow and variable channel, constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms. By this method the infantry crossed; the cavalry, who followed, did so by fording or, in deeper water, by swimming at the side of their horses. 

"On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames. The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a duty to consult their deities by means of human entrails."

Pallinus was called away as the Iceni  rose in revolt.  The Iceni were powerful Celtic tribe,  their territory covered an area equatable with Norfolk, parts of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. They called themselves Eceni and they had previously courted the Romans, possibly accepting trade deals and money to placate their tribesmen to act more favourably to the Romans. 

Their Queen at the time was Boudicca. Her husband, Prasutagus, was pro-Roman, and upon his death cited the young emperor Nero as his heir, together with his two young daughters. Despite this, within days of his death, his kingdom was pillaged by centurions. Boudicca was whipped and her daughters raped.  The chief men of the Iceni were stripped of their estates and relatives of the king treated as slaves. A demand was then made by Rome that all the money lent by Claudius to the Iceni be paid in full right away. This was a loan of 40,000,000 sesterces that the Iceni had not wished for anyway.*** 

Boudicca is described by Cassius Dio: 

In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh;  a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. 

The Queen addressed her people thus:

"You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery. For what treatment is there of the most shameful or grievous sort that we have not suffered ever since these men made their appearance in Britain? Have we not been robbed entirely of most of our possessions, and those the greatest, while for those that remain we pay taxes? 

 "Besides pasturing and tilling for them   all our other possessions, do we not pay a yearly tribute for our very bodies? How much better it would be to have been sold to masters once for all than, possessing empty titles of freedom, to have to ransom ourselves every year! How much better to have been slain and to have perished than to go about with a tax on our heads! Yet why do I mention death?  For even dying is not free of cost with them; nay, you know what fees we deposit even for our dead. Among the rest of mankind death frees even those who are in slavery to others; only in the case of the Romans do the very dead remain alive for their profit.  Why is it that, though none of us has any money (how, indeed, could we, or where would we get it?), we are stripped and despoiled like a murderer's victims? And why should the Romans be expected to display moderation as time goes on, when they have behaved toward us in this fashion at the very outset, when all men show consideration even for the beasts they have newly captured?

"But, to speak the plain truth, it is we who have made ourselves responsible for all these evils, in that we allowed them to set foot on the island in the first place instead of expelling them at once as we did their famous Julius Caesar, — yes, and in that we did not deal with them while they were still far away as we dealt with Augustus and with Gaius Caligula and make even the attempt to sail hither a formidable thing. As a consequence, although we inhabit so large an island, or rather a continent, one might say, that is encircled by the sea, and although we possess a veritable world of our own and are so separated by the ocean from all the rest of mankind  that we have been believed to dwell on a different earth and under a different sky, and that some of the outside world, aye, even their wisest men, have not hitherto known for a certainty even by what name we are called, we have, notwithstanding all this, been despised and trampled underfoot by men who know nothing else than how to secure gain. However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen, — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name, — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?

"All this I say, not with the purpose of inspiring you with a hatred of present conditions, — that hatred you already have, — nor with fear for the future, — that fear you already have, — but of commending you because you now of our own accord choose the requisite course of action, and of thanking you for so readily co-operating with me and with each other. Have no fear whatever of the Romans; for they are superior to us neither in numbers nor in bravery. And here is the proof: they have protected themselves with helmets and breastplates and greaves and yet further provided themselves with palisades and walls and trenches to make sure of suffering no harm by an incursion of their enemies. For they are  influenced by their fears when they adopt this kind of fighting in preference to the plan we follow of rough and ready action. Indeed, we enjoy such a surplus of bravery, that we regard our tents as safer than their walls and our shields as affording greater protection than their whole suits of mail. As a consequence, we when victorious capture them, and when overpowered elude them; and if we ever choose to retreat anywhere, we conceal ourselves in swamps and mountains so inaccessible that we can be neither discovered or taken.  Our opponents, however, can neither pursue anybody, by reason of their heavy armour, nor yet flee; and if they ever do slip away from us, they take refuge in certain appointed spots, where they shut themselves up as in a trap. But these are not the only respects in which they are vastly inferior to us: there is also the fact that they cannot bear up under hunger, thirst, cold, or heat, as we can. They require shade and covering, they require kneaded bread and wine and oil, and if any of these things fails them, they perish; for us, on the other hand, any grass or root serves as bread, the juice of any plant as oil, any water as wine, any tree as a house. Furthermore, this region is familiar to us and is our ally, but to them it is unknown and hostile. As for the rivers, we swim them naked, whereas they do not across them easily even with boats. Let us, therefore, go against them trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves." ****

Cassius Dio - Roman History

Coin of the Iceni Tribe

However, I think there were numerous events that steered the temperament of the Britons along the path of destruction. Given the status of the druids, and the timing of the attack on Mona,  this must have played a part in the decision of the Iceni and their supporters to rise. 

The ensuing rebellion was a product of tribal grievances  harboured over decades. Their ranks swelling with sympathetic tribesmen, Boudicca's army  marched on Roman targets, razing them to the ground. No prisoners were taken, no mercy or quarter given.  The ferocity of the assault is evidenced  in  archaeology.    

However the uprising was crushed, in its wake some 80,000 people were slain. Sources disagree on Boudicca's fate, she might have perished through illness or claimed her own life. Over a decade after her death, in 77 AD,  a mandate was given by Emperor Vespian to bring all Britain to heel. Agricola was the general chosen for this task. Of course, the island of Mona was once again on the agenda and this time he finished the job. 

My notion is that after the massacre and subjugation of the Isle of Anglesey, in both 60 AD and 77 AD, the Druidic caste was very much reduced in power (Claudius had already been   purging the lands of their influence already). I think the events in 60/61AD  left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Britons.  It spelt the beginning of the end of Celtic culture. The druids were storehouses of Celtic lore, and they had been effectively crushed. Wholesale Romanisation began.

Suffice to say that druidry was percived as a threat. It reinforced tribal identity, and Celtic culture amongst the Britons. Their practices were viewed as repulsive by the Roman elite, (whether such stories were substantiated or not). Given the brutality of the Roman counter-insurgency, and the wiping out of hundreds of druidic practitioners, how much survived of pre-Roman druidic lore? In what form did it take? Did the slaughter, and the fact that the druids could do nothing to save their people from conquest,  weaken the caste’s position? 

After 77 AD Agricola embarked on a cultural conquest superimposed upon Rome's military success. As well as new towns, temples were built to honour Roman gods, while Celtic deities were fixed with Roman appellations.  Being brought into the domain of anthropomorphic Deities: in effect this was a degradation of form. People were encouraged to adopt Roman ways. Not that this was truly and utterly successful. The country people, the pagani, held to old traditions, some of which are still visible to this very day, even if further clouded by a veil of  Christianity. 

Roman policy was not to interfere with religious affairs that did not affect them directly. But the influx of Romanised settlers had a telling legacy. The thousands of centurions and auxiliaries that accompanied the conquests and later guarded the forts and walls to maintain control, were mainly from other  provinces, and with them they brought their own collection of deities. 

After the Iceni revolt, the process of Romanisation began. Changing the name of  deities, in effect superimposed a  divine hierarchy upon the genii loci or local gods. For the power of any god resides in its name, that is essentially its essence, and within the umberella of 'name' come a host of associations, stories, tales. The fixing of Roman apellations, such as Mars, Jupiter etc, restructured this thinking - assumed that these gods were the same as those of the conquerers, and worse,  offered a civilised version!  

Celtic religion was thus distilled into  Romano-Celtic religion. But not prehaps entirely. For the conquest of 77 did not complete its requisite of taming the entire island. And though many Caledonians were slaughtered  at the battle of Mons Graupius, the Romans were forced to retreat, little by little over the decades until they secured Hadrian's wall as a boundary between the civilised world and barbarian. 

Another of my carvings. A druid. Serpentine from Iona.

Perhaps in the North, beyond the great wall, refugees and Caledonians kept their culture alive. Perhaps  Druids did remain  and possibly thrived until the spiritual conquest of the Holy Roman Empire completed the job. But after the slaughter on Mona how could the order ever remain the same? The massacre was surely was as devastating to  Celtic culture, as the destruction of the library of Alexandria was to the ancient world. 

Unfortunately much that survives of bardic and druidic tradition is very much shaped and changed from its orignial form. The recorders of ancient traditions were fervent Christian scribes, and they couldn’t help Christianise - just as the Romans had Romanised.  It doesn't mean we should discount all they wrote, but we need to be selective. Nowadays there are heaps of books purporting to reveal the wisdom of druidic lore, rebranded and much of it fluffed up. Much of this is the continuation of seventeen century romanticism, part of the reaction to the changing world of agricultural and industrial progress that was sweeping the country at that time. Again, I don't see that there is so much wrong with this. You believe what appeals to you. In any doctrine or philosophy there may be elements you wish to adopt and incorporate into your worldview. And I am not wholly discounting that some essence may have survived in a water down form. I think those looking to faithfully reconstruct druidic traditions are aware of this problem. There is good work out there, amongst the 'feel-good philosophy/spiritually'. If you are interested in where this line of thought is at check out this site here: Celtic Reconstructionism.

Getafix the potion swigging Druid!

STONE MAD CRAFTS  -I carve rocks, if you want to know more have a gander at my FaceBook page

R4H - article about the attack on Mona.
BBC Blog - another article about Anglesey and druids, 


*Stone circles and megalithic sites date from 2 to 3 thousand BC and are found throughout Ireland and the British isles. Many of these sites have been proven to have astrological underpinnings and align to various solar, lunar and constellatory formations/events. The druids, being known for their astrological guile, may well have inherited such knowledge. 

Hypocritical really,  considering the hideous spectacle of the colosseum, the depravity of certain Roman emperors, and the brutality in which Roman soldiers dealt with conquered  tribes. 

"Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it."  Cassius Dio .

These are words placed in the mouth of an historical character long after the event. Treat with caution. However I do like the essence of the piece. The hatred of an empire and the imposition of its laws is tangible.


A Brief Introduction To Druids - Barry Cunliffe
Celtic Art Before The Romans - Ian Stead
History Of The Celts - Horace E. Winter
The Silver Bough - F. Marian McNeill
The Life And Death Of A Druid Prince - Anne Ross And Don Robbins
Agricola - Tacitus
The Histories - Tacitus
Religion In Roman Britian - Martin Henig
The Gallic Wars - Julius Caesar

Antiquæ Linguæ Britannicæ Thesaurus: A Welsh and English Dictionary

Thursday, November 9, 2017


News - Added 11/05/20

a lot has changed since I originally wrote the following post. In the time since then I explored the runic origins and their use in early magic. The result of this research is my book, Stone Mad Runes; Drinking at Mimir's Well.

It goes into some depth about the history and use of the futhark runes, and each symbol is pared back to its origins. It is also filled with my illustrations from various sketchbooks. 

Available here:

Reviews are encouraging :>

"A thorough and enlightening journey through the runes, this has revived my interest in these symbols. While most people think of the runes as a divination system and modern interpretations have been layered onto the symbols, this book provides the older, deeper, broader meanings, allowing for greater understanding of the symbols, and their power."

And now, after the hard sell,  back to the post :>

One of my carved rune sets - see link below for more details

I know that I hung on the wind battered tree
Nine full nights,
Pierced with the spear
And given to Odin,
Myself to myself

On that tree which no one knows
Whence the roots come.
They did not comfort me with the loaf
Nor with the drinking horn,
I glanced down;
I took up the runes,
Crying out their names,
I fell back from there.
Nine mighty songs I took*

This is how the discovery of the sacred runes is described in the Havamal, an ancient poem that tells of Odin’s self sacrifice on the world tree and how, in a state of religious ecstasy, he ‘discovered’ the runes. But what is a rune?  Etymologically speaking runár was an  old Germanic and Celtic word that designated magic secrets, while Gothic runa indicated a sense of a secret decision,  rūn is old Irish for  mystery, secret purpose, and Finnish runo refers to epic and magical chants. These appear to stem from the Proto  Indo-European Reu - to roar and to whisper.

Orkney futhark

There is little doubt that before they were transcribed runes were linguistic tools. The earliest records of symbolic runes, as we know them today, come in the form of runestaves that were in use from about 50 CE. Though the runic system mutated considerably, it was still being used in Iceland in the 1700's (The Icelandic book known as the Galdrabok details various spells and charms featuring the use of runes and runic talismen).

Page from the Galdrabok

However there are different versions concerning the origin of the runes - one is that it developed via Roman trade routes in Germanic tribal locations, and was a system based upon Latin - another is that it developed during a period of Hellenic influence, or that it developed in the north of Italy, via  Etruscan and Italic tribes, and went north. Each theory is valid, and each has its drawbacks, but I’m not going to go into them as all are fairly speculative. Perhaps the myth of how Odin hung on the world tree for nine days and nights is sufficient enough. *

Etruscan alphabet

The Roman author Tacitus wrote about the Germanic tribes and wrote :

“Augury and divination by lot no people practice more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. The public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes toward heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them.”

We cannot be sure if the marks were runes but the passage is certainly evocative of such. 

The original 24 runic symbols became known as the elder futhark (the name futhark/futhorc deriving from the first letters of the runic sequence). However younger futhark developed around the  7th c. AD from the elder. The Anglo Saxons also had their own runic alphabet too, but obviously runes  mutated depending on region. In the megalithic tomb known as Maeshowe, on the island of Orkney, there is some brilliant examples of runic graffiti. Some are carved in a form known as ‘twig-runes’. 

In Northumbria the runic inscriptions that survive are mainly of Christian subjects, such as the Rood poem on the sandstone cross at Ruthwell, Dumfries and Galloway. So even though their origins are most certainly pagan, they were used by Christians too. 

Orkney twig runes

Runes were also carved on more perishable material that no longer survives. They also  appeared on weapons such as the spearheads from Dahmsdorf and Kovel - early examples of the symbolic power associated with the runes: just as one might engrave a wolf onto a sword to invoke the power of the wolf, so too runes invoked different meanings.  They were used to protect, to give power and to curse. 

Runes were often carved into staves and then reddened with sacrificial blood, thus enhancing the potency of the device. This is evidenced by certain inscriptions that appear to be meaningless barrages of repeated letters: the repetition of a particular rune was meant to enhance its power.

Kovel spearhead

A scatter of runic poems survive to this day. Some are pretty cryptic. Sometimes they agree with each other, but not always. Below I have provided the verses of these  poems beneath each rune. 

1 - OE - Old English rune poem
2 - OI - Old Icelandic rune poem
3 - ON - Old Norwegian rune poem


Wealth is a comfort to any man
yet each person
must share it out well
if he wants to win
a good name before his lord


Wealth is kinsman’s quarrel
the flood-tide’s token
and necromancy’s road



Money/wealth causes kinsen’s quarrels;
the wolf is reared in the forest



Aurochs are fierce and high-horned
the courageous beast fights with its horns
a well-known moor-treader
it is a brave creature


Drizzle is the cloud's tears
and the harvest’s ruin
and the herder’s hate



Slag is from bad iron;
oft lopes the reindeer over the frozen snow



Thorn is painfully sharp to any warrior
seizing it is bad,
excessively severe
for any person who lays among them


Giant is women’s illness
and a cliff-dweller
and Vardhrun’s husband



Giant’s cause women’s sickness;
few are made cheerful by adversity



God (Odin) is the origin of all language
wisdom’s foundation and the wise man’s comfort
and to every hero a blessing and hope


God (Odin) is progenitor
and Asgard's chief
and Valhalla's leader



Estuary is the way for most onward journeys:
and the scabbard is the sword’s



Riding is for every man in the hall
easy and strenuous for he that sits upon
a powerful horse along the long paths


Riding is sitting joyful
and a speedy trip
and the horse's toil



Riding they say is for horses worst;
Reginn hammered out the best sword



Torch is known to each living thing by fire
radiant and bright
it usually burns where nobles rest indoors


Sore is children’s illness
and a battle journey
and putrescence’s house



Sore is the disfiguring of children;
adversity renders a person pale



Gift is an honour and a grace of men
a support and adornment
and for any exile
mercy and sustenance when he has no other



Happiness he cannot enjoy who knows little woe,
pain and sorrow
and has for himself
wealth and joy
and sufficient protection too



Hail is whitest of corn
from heaven’s height it whirls
wind blown 
it becomes water after


Hail is cold seed
and a sleet shower
and snake’s illness



Hail is the coldest of seeds;
christ shaped the heavens in fore times



Need is hard by the heart
yet for men’s sons it often becomes
a help and healing if they need it before


Need is a bondswoman’s yearning
and a difficult circumstance
and drudging work



Need renders little choice; 
the naked will freeze in the frost



Ice is too cold and extremely slippery
glass clear it glistens most like gems
a floor made of frost
fair in appearence


Ice is a river’s bark
and a wave’s thatch
and doomed men’s downfall



Ice is called a bridge road;
the blind need to be led



Harvest  is Men’s hope when god allows
- holy king of heaven
the earth to give up
fair fruits to warriors and to wretches


Year/harvest is men’s bounty
and a good summer
and a full grown field



Year/harvest is men’s bounty;
I guess that generous was Frodhi*** 



Yew is an unsmooth tree outside
hard, earthfast, fire’s keeper
underpinned with roots
a joy in the homeland


Yew is a bent bow
a fragile iron
the arrow’s Farbauti ****


Yew is the winter-greenest wood;
and is found wanting, when it burns, to ignite



Gaming is always play and laughter
to proud men… where warriors sit
in the beerhall happily together



Elk-grass most often dwells in a fen,
grows in water, harshly wounds,
marks with blood any warrior
who tries to take it



Sun to seamen is always a hope
when they travel over the fish’s bath
until the sea-steed brings them to land


Sun is the cloud’s shield
and a shining ray
and ice’s old enemy



The sun is the land’s light;
I bow to holy judgement



Tyr is one of the signs, holds faith well
with noblemen, on a journey is always
above night’s gloom, never fails


Tyr is a one-handed god
and the wolf’s left-overs
and the temple’s chief



Tyr is the one-handed god;
oft will a smith be blowing



Birch is fruitless, yet bears
shoots without seeds, 
is pretty in its branches,
high in its spread
fair adorned
laden with leaves
touching the sky


Birch is a leaf covered limb
and a slender tree
and a spritely wood

fir tree


Birch is leaf-greenest of limbs;
Loki bore treachery’s fortune



Steed is nobleman’s joy before heroes
a hoof-proud horse
where about it warriors
rich in stallions
exchange words
and is always a comfort to the restless



Man is clear to his kinsmen in mirth
yet each one must fail the others
since by his judgement the lord wishes
to commit the poor flesh to earth


Man is man’s pleasure
and mould’s increase
and a ship's embellisher



Man is mould’s increase;
great is the grip of the hawk



Water is seemingly endless to men
if they must fare on a tilting ship
and sea-waves frighten them mightily
and the sea-steed does not heed the bridle


Sea is a welling water
a wide kettle
and a fish’s field



Water is, when falling out of a mountain, a cascade;
and costly ornaments are of gold



Ing was first among the East Danes
seen by men until he later eastwards
went across the waves
the waggon sped behind them
thus the hard men named the hero



Homeland is very dear to every man
if there rightfully and with propriety
he may enjoy wealth in his dwelling generally


This list is not exhaustive, but the main runes are covered in all these poems. 

You should also keep in mind that  runic symbols have often been appropriated by less savoury elements of the political spectrum. The Nazis famously used the Sowilo symbol, just as they staked a claim on the swastika and perverted its  significance. Today right-wing groups still like to think that Norse mythos bears something in common with the dumb racial doctrines they aspire to, but these ideas are a throw-back to Germanic nationalism of the 1800's - equally as blind and untrue as they are nowadays. 

Runes also feature in loads of fantasy, and were  brought into the public imagination by the fantasy author J.R.R Tolkien, who used a form of runic script for the Dwarfs. He borrowed heavily from Norse and Germanic literature for Lord Of The Rings.  

Personally I like the runes, I find that they work for me. Like any form of divination or augury  I use them with caution, sometimes skeptically, and never too often. I have carved them for years and they always feature at my stall as wee charms. I find many people identify with them, from all cultures and all ages, and that's the way it's meant to be. 

I recommend the books  below and that you check my FaceBook page, like it and have a look at what I do.


(or in Larrington’s version)
I took up the runes. screaming I took them
Then I fell back from there.

Nine mighty spells I learned from the famous son**
Of Bolthor, Bestla’s father
And I got a drink from the precious mead

Poured from Odrerir

** it is interesting to note that, in the poem quoted above, Odin takes nine mighty spells from the giants. It was also another giant, Alsvidr, who knew the secrets of the runes. 

***One of great knowledge - might refer to Christ at the time but was used in relation to older pagan deities originally.

****Loki’s father - a ref to the action of the bow’s flinging the arrow.


Gods Of The Ancient Northmen - Geoges Dumèzil  
Runelore - Edred Thorsson 
The Rune Primer - Sweyn Plowright
Rudiments of Runelore - Stephen Pollington
Runes - Martin Findell