Rune Stones Magic How Vikings Made, Read, and Understood Their Meanings

Rune Stones Magic: How Vikings Made, Read, and Understood Their Meanings

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Rune stones hold significant meaning for many spiritual practitioners and stem from ancient Norse traditions. These stones come in two main types: standing rune stones and rune stones used for divination.

While standing stones often symbolize historical events or mark graves, divination stones are tossed to interpret their meaning. Curious to learn how Vikings used these stones to make decisions and read the future? Dive in to learn more!

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.

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What are Elder Futhark Runes?

Norse Runes are ancient symbols carved into Rune Stones throughout Northern Europe. The name rune comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning mystery or secret. The Rowan tree held spiritual significance, with the root term “runa” identifying it as sacred.

Around the 3rd century through the 17th century A.D., Germanic peoples in northern Europe, England, Scandinavia, and Iceland utilized the Elder Futhark Runic Alphabet. Their origin is unknown. The Goths may have adapted it from the Etruscan alphabet of northern Italy.

The Goths were a nomadic Germanic people who rebelled against Roman power and authority in the late 300s and early 400s A.D. The Goths helped contribute to the Roman Empire’s collapse. The rise of the Goths signaled the start of Europe’s Middle Ages.

Unlike the Celtic Ogham Alphabet, the Norse runic alphabet comprises 24 letters divided into three sections, each containing eight runes known as Aetts. According to legend, Odin bestowed these runes upon humans as a gift. No objective evidence indicates people used them for divination, although they believed the runes had magical properties.

Today, pagans, witches, and spiritual practitioners often use runes to create Bind Runes, Sigils, or other spiritual symbols.

What are Elder Futhark Runes?

What is a Rune Stone?

The term Rune Stones refers to two different topics: Rune Stones used for divination and Standing Rune Stones. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the two different types.

Standing Rune Stones

People carved inscriptions into stones containing the symbols of the runic alphabet to create Standing Rune Stones. Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, boast over 2500 of these stones.

People typically erected these monuments in memory of the dead, often painting them in colorful red, white, or earthy hues. However, people rarely used them as gravestones; instead, Standing Rune Stones celebrated the lives of departed loved ones, who were often wealthy or powerful. People typically placed these stones on personal properties, hilltops, or along pathways to ensure passersby could see them.

In Viking civilization, people considered boasting about triumphs, legends, and personal success a virtue. Several Standing Rune Stones celebrate prosperity, affluence, and intellect. People intended Standing Rune Stones to display property ownership and show connections to influential individuals. Rune Stones also bear the name of the person who ordered the erection of the monument and their relationship, as well as the creator who carved the stone.

The tradition of carving runic inscriptions in stone began between the 4th and 5th centuries in Norway and Sweden. In Denmark, they began to appear around the 10th century. Most of the Rune Stones still standing date from the 10th century, and the tradition continued until the 12th century.

As Pagans started converting to Christianity, the converted Christians used Rune Stones to announce their beliefs to their pagan neighbors. You’ll find many Rune Stones inscribed with crosses and mentions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Standing Rune Stones of Scandinavia

Rune Stones For Divination

The tradition of creating Standing Rune Stones faded with the end of the Viking Age, but people still chose to use runes. For centuries, people have carved Runes into simple objects to claim property, use for divination or spiritual purposes, and enchant items or amulets with magical symbolism.

In more modern times, pagans, witches, and spiritual practitioners will carve, paint, or burn rune symbols onto stones, crystals, wood, clay, or other materials for divination or symbolism.

Rune Stones For Divination

Where Can I Find Viking Standing Rune Stones?

You can find Standing Rune Stones throughout Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Here’s a brief overview of the most popular locations.

More than 4,000 runic inscriptions and several runic manuscripts are [in existence]. Approximately 2,500 of these come from Sweden, the remainder being from Norway, Denmark, Britain, Iceland, and various islands off the coast of Britain and Scandinavia, as well as France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia.

Britannica – rune writing character

Norway

Here are three of the most popular Standing Rune Stones in Norway.

Tune Stone

Location: Originally discovered in 1627 in Tune, Østfold, Norway, a region with multiple burial mounds and Viking traces. However, later, authorities moved it to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.

The original reddish-colored stone, with runic writings on both the front and back, dates back to around the 5th century A.D., making it one of the most important discoveries in Norway.

Authorities do not agree on the translation, but it is clear that WiwaR carved the runes in memory of WoduridaR. The latter part of the inscription tells how WoduridaR was honoured after his death and that he left three daughters, but no sons or male relatives.

Britannica – Tune Stone Norwegian artifact
Tune Rune Stone, as displayed in the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway
One side of the Tune Rune Stone, as displayed in the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Skadinaujo

Eggjum Stone

Location: It was found inside a tomb at the Eggja farm in Sogndal, Norway, in 1917. It’s now located in the Bergen Museum.

Also known as Eggja or Eggum, archaeologists found this flat stone face-side down on a grave, similar to the Kylver stone. Archaeologists believe the Eggjum Stone is from the 7th century, while runologists believe the language is more modern and estimate it to be from the 8th or 9th century.

It has the longest runic inscription written with the Elder Futhark, with approximately 200 runes. However, it has some transition runes to the Younger Futhark. The runes are organized in three irregular lines and split by a simple engraved illustration of a horse’s head.

The interpretations differ significantly, but it’s believed to be written in poetic form and alludes to a funerary rite. It also states the stone is not lit by the Sun, and the inscriptions were not carved by using a knife.

Runic inscription on the Eggja stone (ca. 600-700 c.e) from Sogndal, Norway.
Runic inscription on the Eggja stone (ca. 600-700 c.e) from Sogndal, Norway. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Arild Finne Nybø/mediebruket.no

Dynna Rune Stone

Location: it was found on the Dynna farm in Gran, Norway. However, it’s currently in the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Oslo to prevent damage from erosion.

The Dynna Stone has a triangular shape, stands almost 10 feet high, and boasts a pinkish-red color. It dates back to the last years of the Viking Age in the 11th century and serves as a commemorative monument erected by a mother for her daughter.

It’s the first stone that shows the process of Christianization through its carved images, representing the birth of Jesus with the star of Bethlehem and the three wise men. With runic writing on one side and Christian themes on the other, the Dynna Stone represents a pivotal moment in Norwegian religious history.

Due to its location, the stone indicates that despite the introduction of Christianity in Viking culture, people continued to perform the same rites alongside the new religion.

You can check out a remarkable and interactive digital display of the Dynna Stone here.

The Dynna Stone, a runestone from the late Viking Age originally located in Gran, Norway, as the centrepiece of the VÍKINGR exhibition in the Historical museum in Oslo.
The Dynna Stone, a runestone from the late Viking Age originally located in Gran, Norway, as the centrepiece of the VÍKINGR exhibition in the Historical museum in Oslo. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Wolfmann

Sweden Rune Stones

Here are three well-known Standing Rune Stones in Sweden.

Kylver Rune Stone

Location: The Kylver Stone was found in a tomb on a farm in Gotland, Sweden. It was later removed and taken to the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, where it is not currently on display.

This is one of the earliest stones, dating back to the 5th century, with the oldest inscriptions written in Elder Futhark.

The runes faced the inside of a coffin and probably were intended either to protect the grave or to bind the dead person to it.

In addition to the runic alphabet, the rune carver also carved a reinforced ṭ-rune that looked like a fir tree and the uninterpreted palindrome (a word that reads the same backward or forward) sueus in order to achieve the magical protection desired.

Britannica – Kylver Stone runic stone, Sweden

The Kylver runestone from Stånga Parish, Gotland, Sweden. The Kylverstenen is now at the State Historical Museum in Stockholm.
The Kylver runestone from Stånga Parish, Gotland, Sweden. The Kylverstenen is now at the State Historical Museum in Stockholm. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Gunnar Creutz

Björketorp Stone

Location: the historical province of Blekinge, Sweden, one of the smallest in the country and standing over 12 feet tall. Björketorp Stone includes menhirs (both solitary and forming stone circles).

This 7th-century stone contains a curse as a way to safeguard the tomb it’s protecting. It’s believed to be a transition stone due to its runic inscriptions and has Elder Futhark and Younger Futhark runes.

The Björketorp Stone features a runic inscription whose meaning is often fiercely disputed. The writing has magical qualities and is believed to guard a grave. However, other experts claim it is a cenotaph (a memorial to someone buried in another location, typically dedicated to a person or group of people who died in a war). Others believe it’s a shrine dedicated to Odin.

One possible interpretation is: “I have here the secret meaning of powerful runes. He who destroys the monument will forever be tormented by evil witchcraft. He shall die a treacherous death. I prophesy ruin.”

Britannica – Björketorp Stone monument, Blekinge, Sweden
Björketorpsstenen (Björketorp Stone) at Björketorp, municipality of Ronneby. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Sendelbach

Rök Rune Stone

Location: Ostergötland between Lake Vätter and the Baltic Sea on the grounds of the Rök church.

This five-ton granite monolith is believed to date back to about 800 A.D. and is considered the most famous and emotionally touching. It’s the longest known runic inscription, is 8 feet high, and contains over 700 runes along its length. It contains a mix of Younger Futhark and Elder Futhark.

It was a memorial monument engraved by Sibbi and authored by Varinn, who was struggling to come to terms with the death of his son Vämod. Varinn wanted to place the death of his son in a meaningful context through a monument that would last forever and help his son’s soul be immortal.

Interpretation and Debate

A recent study by Swedish professor Per Holmberg and other scholars believe Varinn did this by creating nine riddles on the Rök stone, whose answers allude to sunlight, someone who died but is now alive, and Odin and his warriors.

Varinn begins by referencing Theodoric the Great (a Goth who invaded Italy and became the king from 493 to 526). Not long after Theodoric the Great died, a string of volcanic eruptions appears to have thrown what is now Sweden into a long-term cold spell, destroying crops, causing hunger, and eventually killing half the population.

It’s believed the Vikings feared these climactic events would occur again, which is what Varinn is referencing. Between 775 and 810, before the Rök stone was erected, another series of climactic events alarmed Varinn.

Before the Rök runestone was erected, a number of events occurred which must have seemed extremely ominous: a powerful solar storm coloured the sky in dramatic shades of red, crop yields suffered from an extremely cold summer, and later a solar eclipse occurred just after sunrise. Even one of these events would have been enough to raise fears of another Fimbulwinter.

Bo Gräslund (an archaeologist at Uppsala University)

These events likely sparked widespread worries about Ragnarök (In Norse mythology, it represents the end of the world). At Ragnarök, they believed they would face an epic battle for light alongside Odin.

I think it’s important to note not everyone agrees with Per Holmberg’s recent study including Professor Henrik Williams (University of Uppsala). He believes the inscription on the Rök runestone has nothing to do with bravery on the battlefield.  Instead, it’s focused on the battle between light and dark, fire and ice, and life and death. Check out this interview with him for a more in-depth analysis.

Rök Rune Stone

Denmark

Here are three well-known Standing Rune Stones in Denmark.

Jelling Rune Stone

Location: In Jelling, Jütland, Denmark, near a church and enormous burial mounds known from the Nordic Viking period.

This location contains two 10th-century Rune Stones and was once the royal residence of Gorm the Old, who was the last Pagan Viking king. He is also the beginning of the royal line that still leads Denmark today. Gorm the Old erected the small stone in memory of his wife, Queen Thyre.

Gorm the Old’s son, King Harold Bluetooth, erected the second Rune Stone in memory of his parents, Gorm the Old and Thyre. It’s almost 8 feet high and weighs 10 tons!

[King Harold Bluetooth’s second Rune Stone] is a three-sided pyramid, two sides bearing pictures and the third, an inscription. Its carvings depict ornamental animal forms, sophisticated interlacing linear patterns, and a Christian theme (the Crucifixion).

Britannica – Jelling stones Danish gravestones
Jelling Standing Rune Stone
Around the year 1900. Jelling is the small city where Harold Bluetooth had the giant Jelling stone erected to honor his parents and to tell that he turned the Danes to Christianity. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: National Museum of Denmark

Rimsø Stone

Location: it was found in Djursland, near Århus, Denmark. It is located in the surroundings of the Rimsø church near an untouched burial mound.

This Rune Stone is incredibly touching and is one of the few stones erected for a woman, specifically a mother. Thorir, who commissioned the Rune Stone, says the worst thing to happen to a boy is to lose his mother. Its exact date is unknown, but it’s believed to date back to the year 900.

Snoldelev Stone

Location: found at Snoldelev, Ramsø, where it was later transferred to the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

This stone is just over 4 feet high and dates back to the 9th century. The carved runes are an early version of the Younger Futhark, and its red ink decoration shows three drinking horns intertwined as Borromean rings. This symbol has been compared to the Triskelion or the Valknut(a Norse symbol of three interlocking triangles believed to be associated with Odin and the nine worlds of Yggdrasil).

Snoldelev Stone Snoldelev, Ramsø
Runestone from Snoldeled, Denmark (c. 8th – 8th century AD). On display at Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen. Photo licensed by WikiMedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Ktp72

How To Use Rune Stones For Divination

Runes contain the secrets of the Universe and can be interpreted by those who understand their spiritual meanings. Those seeking spiritual advice or explanations from the Otherworld can consult a set of Norse runes, which can be burned or carved onto bits of wood or rune stones. These runes can be bought, made by hand, or with some natural material.

Rune casting is traditionally done on an 18″ by 18″ piece of white fabric, but you can use whatever works best. Before casting, meditate with your runes and focus on your questions, intentions, or concerns. It’s easier to ask about an outcome or help see the big picture when asking a question. Avoid asking closed questions like yes or no.

It’s crucial to notice when the same rune appears repeatedly. The universe may be communicating a topic about your life you may not be asking about. Please don’t dismiss it; the universe may be sending you a more urgent message.

Rune readings are incredibly personal, and your interpretations are more reliable than anything you would read in a book or on the internet.

Toss your runes onto your clothes or designated area when you’re ready to cast them. Make sure you look up so you don’t see the runes as they land. Choose the number of runes you need for your corresponding spread (see below) while your eyes are closed. Consider each rune separately, then explore their interpretations as a whole. 

How To Use Rune Stones For Divination

Rune Stone Reading Spread Ideas

After you’ve cast your Rune Stones and selected the appropriate amount of runes for your corresponding spread, continue thinking about your question or intention. Then, while keeping your eyes upward, use your non-dominant hand to play them in the appropriate layout.

Here are a few spread examples to get you started, but remember, always trust your intuition to guide you over anything you read on the internet or in a book.

3 Rune Stone Layout

A three-rune is the most common and straightforward spread. It represents the past, present, and future. Place your runes in front of you from right to left (the first one is on your right, the second in the center, and the last on the left).

Some people use a three-rune spread to represent their current situation, the second a challenge, and the third the possible outcome of the events.

3 Rune Stone Layout

5 Rune Stone Layout

If you’d like to do a five-run layout, start by putting the first rune in the center, the second to the left, the third above the first, the fourth in the bottom, and the fifth to the right. The rune will look similar to a cross. Those who follow a Wiccan path may consider the remaining four runes to point toward the four cardinal directions, similar to the Magic Elements of Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit.

The three runes in the center (1, 2, and 5) represent the past, the present, and the future. The bottom rune (4) describes the current challenges you need to overcome, and the one above (3) represents what future outcomes will occur.

5 Rune Stone Layout

7 Rune Stone Layout

This case is very similar to the three runes layout. Place two runes on the left (to symbolize the past), two runes in the center separated from the others (to represent the present), and lastly, two runes on the right (to symbolize the future).

The last rune can be placed below or above the center runes, representing advice for your current challenges. This spread can help add more comprehensive details to your reading.

7 Rune Stone Layout

9 Rune Stone Layout

For this method, you must take nine runes at random and keep them in your hands for a moment, meditating on your question or spiritual intentions.

This layout is typically used for complex questions or spiritual situations and to help you gain deeper insight. When you feel ready, drop them onto the white cloth. The runes closest to the center of the fabric are the most relevant to your question or intention. The further they are from the center, the less they bring to your reading.

Any touching runes influence each other, and their meanings are connected. Do not be worried about reversed symbols. Some people don’t incorporate reversed meanings, others see them as a signal to slow down and wait, and others believe they represent outside influences that are somehow involved. For later insights, don’t forget to record your sessions in a journal, grimoire, or Wiccan book of shadows.

I hope you found this article about Rune Stones Helpful! Lots of love to you, and remember, as always…

Sources

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “rune”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Feb. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/rune.

Calderon, Justin. Swedish Runestones Open Gateway to Ancient Viking Civilization. CNN. 26th November 2020.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Jelling stones”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Oct. 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Jelling-stones.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Tune Stone”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Oct. 2015, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tune-Stone.

Milwaukee Public Museum. Viking Age Rune Stones. https://www.mpm.edu/research-collections/anthropology/online-collections-research/scandinavian-archaeology/rune-stones

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Eggjum Stone”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Jul. 1998, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eggjum-Stone. 

Wu, Katherine. Viking Runestone May Trace Its Roots to Fear of Extreme Weather. Smithsonian Magazine. 10 January 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/viking-runestone-may-have-its-roots-fears-climate-change-180973937/

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Kylver Stone”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Dec. 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Kylver-Stone. 

Further Suggested Reading

Britannica. The Editors of Encyclopaedia. Denmark The Viking Era. https://www.britannica.com/place/Denmark/The-Viking-era

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