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Thread: The Orkney Runes (Scotland)

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    The Orkney Runes (Scotland)

    by Thormod Morrison

    'Nine nights I hung on the tree of the Nornir,
    on the death horse mounted;
    Shone the she trow's sun through weeping cloud sorrow grim, I reached the seven nether worlds.'

    He also gave up an eye to drink the wise blood from the Urdbrunnr, the Stream of Urdr, Goddess of All-That-Has-Befallen. The drink that dribbled from the Sky God's mouth to Midgard became the share of his own cult poets, drunkenly spouting the verse streams:

    'Addled by Odhinn's brew speaks the bard.'
    - Rognvald Kali Kolsson, Jarl of Orkney.

    Rognvald was no spoiler of runes and no mean poet either. It could be that some of the rune carvings in Maes Howe were cut in his reign. Their past messages sing out for us yet:

    Maes Howe, Orkney contains the largest collection of rune inscriptions ever found in one place. The Vikings who initially came as raiders to Scotland eventually settled and intermarried, producing a mixed race known as the Gaddgedlar, the Gall-Gael (or Foreigner Gael) who gave their name to Galloway. It was this race, based in key strongholds such as Orkney, Dublin and York, who were responsible for most of the piratical and trading activity in Britain during the late Viking age. They also came to control the Firth of Clyde with a strong presence at Govan.

    More of their rune carvings can be found at Kilbar on Barra: 'Eftir Thurkithu stinardottir is krus sia reisti' (after Thorgerd Steinarsdottir this cross is raised), at Laws in Angus, Thurso in Caithness, Knockando in Moray and Hunterston, West Kilbride near Largs, where the Norse and Gaelic forces of King Hakon Hakonsson were confronted by those of Alexander III King of Scots.

    As was only to be expected, the Norse Scottish runecraft used names from both tongues in rune carving, as on the famous Hunterston brooch with the runic inscription: 'Melbrigda owns this brooch.' Or on the Norse sword from an Irish grave in Louth: 'Tomnal Selshofoth a soerth theta' (Domnall Seal's Head is the sword's owner). Melbrigda and Domnall are Gaelic names.

    The Isle of Man, seat of the Norse Gaelic Kings of the Isles, has thirty-six stone rune carvings. Norse Scottish runesters also used both elder and younger futharks and even added ogham (the Gaelic tree alphabet), as at Killaloe, County Clare.


    FE the cattle rune stands for wealth (goods and chattels) in the elder futhark, but in the viking futhark of Orkney and Norse Scotland it is gold and also owns the traits of Othala and covers wealth in the way of land as well - Udal.

    UR is the 'melting of ice', the greening of the earth after winter, the strength and growth of the earth itself.

    THURS is the lustful and heavy-handed trow infamous for his capture and rough treatment of the women he keeps 'trow-bound'. He is therefore called 'the bane of women' and 'woman sickness' in the rune verses.

    AS is the rune of Odhinn the Alfather, but it can also mean a loch or river outlet. Loch Assynt in Sutherland is one example. However, a folktale of the area, in which the Wind God is called up, suggests the loch was within the territory of the Odhinn cult as well. Odhinn was held in high regard on the Orkney isle of Boray, while the Stennis Stone Circle had a Stone of Odhinn with a hole through which couples clasped hands in rites of handfasting.

    REIDH (or in Shetlandic: Reena) is the rune of riding, but in the Norse Scottish craft it can also own the traits of the Elder horse rune Ehwaz. The Norse word riddari (horseman) gave rise to the Gaelic ridire.

    KAUN is the rune of the knotted scourge (knutr), soreness and wasting sickness in the rune verses. In the Gaelic legend of Cu Chulainn, the hero's wasting sickness is brought about by the horsewhips of the Danann women.

    HAGL is the rune of hail and storm. It is the 'snake sleep of winter' in the words of Arnor Jarlaskald and the flokkera flua or snowflake of the Shetland goadik (or rune riddle). This rune is appropriate in association with Skadi, goddess of winter, the Gaelic Scath, after whom Scotland was said to be named.

    NAUTHR is need, heavy labour, tough times in which 'the naked are frost frozen', 'slave girl's woe' in the rune verses. However it can also drive a person on to win by the strength of that same need. It was for this reason that the Gaulish valkyrja Sigrdrifa the Victory Granter told Sigurd the Dragon Slayer to mark on his nails 'need'.

    IS or ice is the rune of freezing and stillness. It is of the Frost Giants and in divination can often convey the meaning of 'thin ice', as in danger. However, it can also advise the questioner to 'put things on ice' until the right time.

    AR is the year, associated with Earth (Jurth in Caithness Norn), mother of Thor the Thunder God. Frodhi the fruitful, lover of the Earth Mother, plants the seed that leads to a ripe harvest for the good of the folk. This is the rune of sowing and reaping.

    SOL is the Sun Goddess, whose rune means success, health, happiness and good sailing. The sula, gannet (or sulan goose) was named after her, as was Sulisgeir in the Hebrides. This is one of Sigrdrifa's sea runes 'to stop shipwreck of sail-stallions on sea'.

    TYR is the rune of the War God who sacrificed his hand to the wolf Fenrir for the good of the gods. This rune stands for law and just rule. The Isle of Tiree (or Tyrvist) in the Hebrides was named after Tyr.

    BJARKAN is the birch rune and comes through in Galloway tongue as 'birk'. This is the rune of birth, fruitfulness and love-healing, and shows the out-thrust breasts of the Earth Mother offering milk-feeding to her young.

    MADHR is the rune of mankind and good dealings between folk, one of the thought-and-speech runes of Sigrdrifa, to be used at the Thing (or yearly assembly).

    LOGR gives rise to the old Shetland LJOAG, a kenning for the sea. This rune is fish harvest, the magic of the sea gods and the all-potential of the deep.

    YR is the rune of the yew and the yew bow, tree and weapon of Skadi and Ullr, the god of winter, after whom Ullapool and Ullinish are named. This is the rune of deep death knowledge, evergreen rebirth, and hitting the mark, as with an arrow.


    Festivals of Voar (Spring Season)

    The Horse and Plough festival on South Ronaldsay, Orkney, was a relic of the ancient fertility rites of the Norse, whose goddesses and gods of birth and harvest had as their symbols the mare, the stallion and the phallic plough. Every ploughing therefore represented the erect phallus of Frodhi the fruitful penetrating the dark rich earth womb of his consort Freyja/Frigg, followed by the seeding.

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    An interesting article, that also shows once more that Scotland isn't Celtic on the whole, but more like Celto-Germanic.

    Either way - it would be interesting to know whether these runes as they were used in Scotland only had different names in that corner of the world, or if the way they looked was also somewhat different to the way they looked on the mainland/in the north.
    -In kalte Schatten versunken... /Germaniens Volk erstarrt / Gefroren von Lügen / In denen die Welt verharrt-
    -Die alte Seele trauernd und verlassen / Verblassend in einer erklärbaren Welt / Schwebend in einem Dunst der Wehmut / Ein Schrei der nur unmerklich gellt-
    -Auch ich verspüre Demut / Vor dem alten Geiste der Ahnen / Wird es mir vergönnt sein / Gen Walhalla aufzufahren?-

    (Heimdalls Wacht, In kalte Schatten versunken, stanzas 4-6)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sigurd
    Either way - it would be interesting to know whether these runes as they were used in Scotland only had different names in that corner of the world, or if the way they looked was also somewhat different to the way they looked on the mainland/in the north.
    As far as rune meanings go you could see a major difference between English, Icelandic and Norse traditions. Look at the definitions from the rune poems for example:

    :uruz: in Anglo-Saxon meant the now extinct aurochs beast, in Scandinavia it meant drizzle.

    :ansuz: in Icelandic meant the god Odin, in Norwegian it meant estuary.

    :kenaz: in Anglo-Saxon meant torch, in Scandinavia it meant ulcer or canker.

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