My grandfather came from Denmark, hence my last name: Eriksen. It literally means “son of Erik.” He was a fascinating man, who saw more than a century of changes from the time he was born in a small village in Denmark in the early 1900’s to his life as a farmer on the plains of central Saskatchewan throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. I’ve always been proud of the Scandinavian blood that runs in my veins. Our family tree has been traced back several generations and I have a number of black & white photos of my distant kin, including one of my great-great grandfather—a sailor with a white beard and gold hoops in his earlobes. It’s not hard to see the evidence of our Viking roots in the lined contours of his weathered face.
There’s such a long, deep, and rich history that came out of those lands north of the Baltic Sea. From their primitive beginnings, to the cultural development of the Norse people and their fascinating mythologies and paganistic religious practices, and on to the time of the Vikings and their eventual Christianization—there is no shortage of interesting narratives from those times.
There’s abundant evidence that early Germanic tribes populated the plains of Denmark and southern Sweden since the Neolithic age (10,000 BC). It was around then that human beings first began learning how to control their environment through animal domestication and agriculture. Like other cultures, the northern Germanic people’s eventual development of forged weapons and tools from iron and bronze further cemented their mastery over nature, and allowed for the establishment of stable communities that didn’t have to be as nomadic as their ancient ancestors. It gave them breathing room.
The oldest form of the various runic alphabets, Elder Futhark, is estimated to have been developed sometime in the first century, shortly before the Germanic tribes began moving south en masse during the great migration period (between the second and eighth centuries). The crudely hatcheted design of the runes was necessary, given the way they were inscribed on to early writing mediums like wood and steel, but were not an exclusive feature of their alphabet. They were a common motif noted in other early alphabets as well, including the Old Italic scripts used by the early Romans, from which modern historians believe Elder Futhark developed from.
These historians theorize that at one point there was some kind of cultural exchange between the northern Germanic tribes and the Romans. It’s likely that small groups of Germanic wanderers became mercenaries for the Roman army or traded with them as merchants. Eventually they took the Roman’s written language back with them to their homelands where it was developed into the Elder Futhark runic alphabet. Elder Futhark remained in use until it was further modified into Younger Futhark around the eighth century and the Anglo-Saxon futhorc alphabet thereafter.
In modern times these ancient runes have come to be associated with the mysterious pagan practices that represented heathen worship before Christianity became the dominant religion of the western world. Their’s was a world filled with strange gods, terrifying omens and blood sacrifices of appeasement. These symbols stand as an enduring reminder of practices that have long since been relegated to history books and museums. In popular entertainment their use has been associated with the occult and dark magical rites, and it’s not hard to see why. Given their primitive appearance and esoteric meaning, they look like something some evil mage would write in his spell book while consorting with dark forces.
In reality, though, they are simply the symbols of an old alphabet that fell by the wayside long ago. For many centuries the knowledge of how to read Elder Futhark was lost entirely, and wasn’t regained until a Norwegian scholar deciphered it again in 1865. Below is the transliteration of the Elder Futhark runes to their modern English equivalents (Image Credit-Wikipedia).
I have a fascination with these runes, not just because they look cool, but also because they represent part my own history. This is how my ancient ancestors communicated with each other. This is how they transitioned from oral history to written history. Like other cultures, it enabled them to preserve their wisdom and teachings in an accurate way. This led to advancement, as their collective knowledge grew and compounded. It’s part of the reason why I’m able to sit here at this computer and bash out stuff for other people to read.
As an aside, it should be noted that with the above transliteration key, it would be possible for someone to translate the writing in those weird videos contained in the artifacts section of my website. Just for fun, it might be interesting for inclined individuals to see what they mean. Just saying…