Writing in Anglo-Saxon Runes
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Runes
Edit: For how I write in runes now, please see my update to this post at here. I’m leaving the blog post below untouched as a record of my journey.
I threw the idea out on Twitter a couple days ago of doing a blog post on how I write in runes. About 10% of my followers liked the tweet, so I’m going to do it. While this doesn’t really have anything to do with Heathenry, per se, it has uses that Heathens might find handy. Personally, I use them when I want to write down something private or something that is important. Writing in runes seems to impress it into my subconscious a bit more than writing it with the Latin alphabet (which is the alphabet that we usually use to write in English).
Some (many?) Heathens believe that the runes have magical properties, so in that respect writing modern English in runes may not have many uses, except maybe to write spells in runes in candle magic (I admit that in my earlier days in paganism, I dabbled in candle magic a little bit).
I use the Fuþorc when I write in runes. These runes were the ones used by the Anglo-Saxons in England. It was derived from the Elder Fuþark which is the runes used by the continental Germanic tribes. Due to Old English acquiring new sounds (languages evolve naturally with use over time), they developed new runes to accommodate these sounds. You can read more about the Anglo-Saxon Runes on Wikipedia.
There are two methods people use to write in runes. One is runic substitution, and is much more common because it is simpler. The other is writing the runes phonetically. This is more authentic to the way they were originally written, and it is how I write my runes.
In this method, you use modern spelling but replace the letters with runes. Here is the key I would use to do so if I was going to do this method:
(I hate the Unicode versions of the runes. Anywhere that you see curves, the rune is supposed to be straight. But that’s a rant for another time.)
For TH or NG, use that rune instead of the individual runes for N and G or T and H. For double letters (like the t in letters), only use one rune. I would also suggest for ck (as in back), just use the K rune, and getting rid of any other silent letters. This will make it harder for nosey people to decode your message without a key. Use dots in between words instead of spaces, and colon as an end of sentence (period). For example, I think you are cool. would be ᛁ᛫ᚦᛁᚾᛣ᛫ᚣᛟᚢ᛫ᚫᚱᛖ᛫ᚳᛟᛚ᛬ (To see this in [sloppy] handwriting, check this out.)
Writing the Runes Phonetically
However, the ancient Anglo-Saxons (as with the other Germanic peoples) wrote their runes out phonetically, meaning it was written the way it is spoken. An example would be writing knight or night as nait (the ai is used in many languages for the sound represented by ie in lie, or the y in my).
Here is the key I use:
ᚠ f, v
ᚢ u as in put, doubled it sounds like the oo in root.
ᚦ th in this, and thin
ᚩ oa as in boat
ᚳ ch as church
ᚷ g as in go (this sound is the hard g in Old English)
ᚹ w as in wet
ᚻ h as help
ᛁ i as hit
ᛄ y as in yellow (this sound is the soft g in Old English)
ᛉ x as in Saxon
ᛖ e as bet
ᛝ ng as in long
ᛟ o as in go (same as ᚩ, but I avoid this one due to its association with white supremacists)
ᚪ a as in father
ᚫ æ, the a in apple
Based upon my understanding of Old English pronunciation, I use the following combinations of runes for modern English sounds not represented by the runes:
ᚫᛄ y as in try (æg in Old English made this sound)
ᛁᛄ i as in machine (ig in Old English made this sound)
ᛖᛄ ey as they (eg in Old English made this sound)
ᚳᛄ j as in judge (cg in Old English made this sound)
ᛋᚳ sh as in ship (sc in Old English made this sound)
ᚫᚹ ow as in how
ᚩᛄ, ᛟᛄ oy as in boy
Again, use dots in between words, and a colon for the end of a sentence. Here is an example:
I was raised a Christian. Now I’m a Heathen.
(This is based upon how I pronounced these words. Because accents vary, you may write these sentences differently. Also, these are obviously not all the runes. They are just the ones that I use.)
Some notes about this key. In Old English, f was pronounced both /f/ and /v/, depending upon the surrounding letters. Manuscripts from the middle ages added a dot to represent /v/, becoming ᚡ. This was post conversion and not used in runic inscriptions from the Heathen period. You may do this if you feel the need though (I don’t).
Similarly, Old English s represented both /s/ and /z/. J. R. R. Tolkien (an Old English expert who used runes in his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series) used a backwards ᛋ to represent /z/. Since this is not in the Unicode standard, I only use it sometimes, only when handwriting runes.
In Old English, c could represent both a hard c (/k/ sound) or a soft c (ch as in church). I use ᚳ for ch, and ᛣ for k.
To type runes, you need to use Unicode. I use UnicodePad on my Android smartphone, available for free on the Google Play Store.
Writing Numbers in Runes
Writing numbers can be tricky in runes. We have one example from a manuscript from the middle ages that appears to use Roman numerals in runes, using ᛁ for I and ᛉ for X. Based on that, I use the following:
Using Roman numerals, you can only go up to 3,999. In the middle ages, people started using a bar over letters to represent it being multiplied by 1000. I don’t think this would look very good on runes, so I put a runic cross ᛭ before the numbers that need multiplied by 1000, and the other numbers after it. I also surround the numbers with colons because in Old English texts (using the Latin alphabet), Roman numerals were preceded and followed by a period. So 10,562 would be ᛬ᛉ᛭ᛞᛚᛉᛁᛁ᛬
(I have not yet figured out a satisfactory way to write decimals or fractions. I haven’t given up yet!)
So, there you go! That’s how I write in runes. Feel free to leave constructive criticism, questions, comments, and thoughts in the comments below!