Now and again I stop to marvel at the wonder of the written word. The greatest gift, possibly, is the ability to read, hence to learn. Then I look at the funny little shapes that are letters and the meanings we put to them. It is easy to see how ancient peoples thought that these squiggles were signs from a divine power. None more so than the Norse runes.
The Teutonic alphabet is the oldest Germanic script. It was used by them and the Norse peoples before they adopted the Latin language brought by the Romans.The symbols were designed to be carved onto stone, wood or horn, therefore they were made up of straight lines.
The word rune signifies mystery and hidden knowledge and has many magical connotations, even today.
The myth of the runes comes from ancient Norse. Odin (or Woden to the Anglo-Saxons) sacrificed his eye to gain knowledge and wisdom. The runes will only appear to those worthy of their power and insight and Odin/Woden hung from the great tree of life, Yggdrasil, for nine nights. He pierced himself with his spear and hung there, without food or water and forbadee anyone to help him.
After he had proved his worthiness, the magic and secrets of the runes revealed themselves in the waters below him. His tale is found in the epic poem, Poetic Edda:
I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.
(Translated by Carolyne Larrington)