Sadly, the meanings of these symbols and their purpose are now lost. Like runes, they were believed to be used for divination and they may have strongly influenced the magical function of later runic alphabets (Smith 1996).
Historians and anthropologists are uncertain about the early uses of runes. They may have been used as actual characters for writing. However, the name rune suggests that they were also used as mystical signs or symbols which possess powerful magic. Early Germanic literature bear testimony to the magical character of runes. The Edda, a series of poems, and folk songs to these modern days attest to the influence that runes have on humanity.
In fact, the supernatural powers of runes are said to have not only influence, but can overcome natural and physical laws. Runes can summon rain or violent thunderstorms. They can break chains and shackles, or bind men into them. They can heal illness or cause someone to suffer disease. They could raise the dead from their graves. Warriors can become invincible with the help of runes, and cause his weapon to inflict mortal wounds to the enemy. Runes can make men mad, as they can also protect men from the deceitful designs of others.
Runes are generally considered as of divine origin, since Odin himself, as related in the Edda, had to sacrifice his person in order to learn the secrets of the runes. Odin was also the foremost runemaster, according to Germanic literature, and was known to have used the stones to exercise personal revenge.
Simultaneous with the magical use of runes, there is also evidence that they were used as a means of communication. These messages may have been popular or used in secret. Saga of Egill Skallagrmsson, his daughter Thorger apparently carved the Sunatorrek -- a beautiful poem on a runic staff or runakefli -- where Egill laments the death of his son.
Stone monuments are also lasting evidence of the roles played by runes in olden times. These are more common in England and Scandinavia. Some of these monuments simply bear the name of a fallen warrior. Others relate his life and exploits. Since these runic inscriptions were often found in England and Scandinavia, it could be inferred that the use of runes for such purpose may be a later development (Ward & Waller, ed.).
A. General Development and Transformation of Runes
Runes are also known as Futharks, named for the first six letters in their alphabet, namely, F, U, Th, A, R, and K. The Elder Futhark has 24 letters, the Younger Futhark has 16 letters. Futhark was brought into England by the Anglo-Saxons and transformed into the 33-letter Futhorc, which accommodated the phonetic changes which occurred in Old English (AncientScripts.com).
The runes of Scandinavia can be classified into three periods. They are also not related to the Futhorc of the Anglo-Saxon. The first period dates from around 175 A.D. to the 8th century. However, some evidence show that the period may have started much earlier, as far back as 50 A.D. This period is referred to as the Primitive Norse, and Christianity had not yet reached that far north. The language was called Primitive Old Norse for the Nordic Inscriptions and were in Germanic or Gothic languages in lands farther south. The language of this