Frequently we see arguments being made by academics that the origin of the runic Futharks lies in alien alphabetic systems such the Etruscan, Old Italic or Greek. However there is no doubting that the runes are intimately related to the culture of the Germanic peoples and have a distinctive look which makes them readily identifiable like no other writing system. Now it is certainly true that some of the rune staves do closely resemble the letters of the Roman alphabet but the more honest of scholars at least admit that there is great uncertainty. Indeed I would call this uncertainty a mystery which is at the heart of the meaning of the Old Saxon word runa.
R.I. Page in his Runes (1987) has this to say:
"Where and when runes were invented we do not know. The obvious similarities with the Roman alphabet brought early scholars to the belief that the script appeared first among Germanic peoples within or close to the Roman Empire, with the implication that runes were an adaptation of the more prestigious alphabet for barbarian purposes. Early finds of rune-inscribed objects in eastern Europe, at Pietroassa in Rumania, Dahmsdorf in central Germany and Kowel in Russia, suggested that runes may have been invented in that general area, perhaps by Goths on the Danube frontier or beside the Vistula. To support an eastern European origin, theorists have pointed to the similarity of occasional runes to letters of one or other of the Greek alphabets, as b to beta, s to sigma."
Mr Page however concedes that there are alternative theories that place the origin of the runes more directly in the Germanic cultural area:
"In the 1920s yet another hypothesis was put forward, based on the resemblance between the early futhark and the characters used in inscriptions in the Alpine valleys of southern Switzerland and northern Italy. The invention of runes is then ascribed to Romanised Germani from that area. More recently the influential Danish scholar, Erik Moltke, argued patriotically that runes were the creation of one of the Germanic tribes of Denmark, perhaps of southern Jutland where Scandinavia was nearest to Rome. It is certainly a fact that many of the earliest inscriptions known come from this general area, and continued discovery of early runic texts in various regions of Denmark make this the most attractive theory so far published. For all that, the matter still remains unproven."
Clearly there is no concensus in the academic world to account for the origins of the Futhark and whatever explanation they may tender it is without doubt a system which has been derived by and derived for the Germanic peoples for the various Rune Poems make clear that within the Futhark there is a clear outline of a cosmology which is unique to the Germanic peoples.
Our mythological texts, most clearly in the Eddas give a spriritual and divine explanation for the origin of the runes:
"I know that I hung on a windy treenine 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." (Havamal 138-139, Larrington translation)
The Elder Edda thus makes it clear that the runes were discovered by Odin. It does not however state that they were invented by Him and this is an important distinction that my readers must bear in mind. Whilst Odin did not invent the runes I have come to the conclusion that He gave them order! He and He alone created the Futhark, the order in which they fall. I came to this conclusion following my reading of Jan Fries' Helrunar. A Manual of Rune Magick (1993) over 10 years ago. Fries is not a folkish author but his book is worthy of reading for it contains much useful information. There are numerous illustrations of pre-runic symbols from caves in Norway. These Bronze Age carvings are known as Hällristningar and are quite clearly the inspiration for the later runes of the various rune rows. There are literally hundreds of these pre-runic symbols and their study is worthy of merit, something which has been neglected for a very long time. Is it not time that this was rectified?
Somewhere in antiquity there appears to have been a synthesis between Germanic pre-runic symbols and possibly European alphabetical letters and this synthesis has as its product the Futhark. Most students of the runes will be familar with the Common Germanic/Elder Futhark, the Anglo-Saxon, Frisian and Northumbrian Futhorcs, the Younger Futhark and the Armanen Futhork but few will realise that there are many more rune rows than these. The standardised Younger Futhark which we are familiar with today has regional variations such as the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Orkney and the Gothenburg Futharks. Furthermore there is a late mediaeval Latin Futhark, twig runes and dot runes. Outside of the known rune rows we also have the Mediaeval or Healing Runes referred to in Nigel Pennick's The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Runes (1999). I believe that there is a case for including these 9 runes with the Northumbrian Futhorc as a 5th aett. This is a project of mine which I will continue with in a few months time once I have retired and have more time to devote to this.
One of the main reasons why we have so many different rune rows is due to dialect changes amongst the various Germanic peoples once the rune staves became used as alphabetical symbols although their original useage was magical. The original rune hoard however is to be found in the Hällristningar. Odin as Lord of the Runes, the great High Lord of magic through a shamanic experience caused the synthesis of some of these pre-runic symbols with alphabetical symbols to form the Futhark and so structured the Futhark that it presents a complete cosmological picture of the Germanic peoples. In this moment of inspiration Odin caused a connection to occur in the left and right hemispheres of the human mind, represented by His ravens Hugin and Munin. Hugin representing analytical thought or the 'left brain' and Munin representing the subjective mind, the Unconscious or the 'right brain'. The fusion of the two parts of the mind caused the Futhark to come into being, order came from chaos. Indeed in Odin Himself we have the unique synthesis of order and chaos, light and darkness which makes Him a deity which is representative of the Germanic mind and soul.
Nigel Pennick sums up this divine act of Odin perfectly in these words:
"The symbolism of the tormented flash of realization which enabled Odin to release the full potential of the runes for the benefit of humans describes a rare moment in history where the two sides of the brain were linked by a unified response to a single sign." (Secret Games of the Gods)
Awakening and inspiration is surely the synthesis of rational thought and memory:
"In listening to the speech of the ravens one is eventually inspired to know (vita) reality in its most absolute sense. This is direct knowledge of the Runes (mysteries) themselves with no intervening models or conceptions. This kind of knowledge (vissa or mannvit) is ultimately facilitated by the spiritual faculty of wode (ON odr: 'inspiration'). It is the effect of wode on hidge and myne that ignites the pure form of awareness which characterizes the absolute activity of vita (inspired knowledge). (Gildisbok, Edred Thorsson, 1994)