Put simply, the term “Ancient Runes” usually denotes writing systems that are no longer in common use in this day and age. In most cases however, they hold significant magical value, used in many texts and complex spellwork. In actuality, chances are you or someone you know may possess or use something enchanted with said runes. Hogwarts actually has many inscribed around the castle, particularly around archways, magical devices, and books.
Most often, the runes you will see are actually a derivative from ancient Germanic scripts. It is commonly known as ‘Elder Futhark,’ as it is considered the grandfather of most runic scripts. Also, fun fact: the word ‘Futhark’ is actually just the first 6 letters of its alphabet! The script is believed to have originated from the Old Italic scripts, quite possibly Etruscan or Raetic, with fairly strong Roman influences.
Runes as used by the Germanic tribes in this period (2nd to 8th centuries CE) were contrived because human memory failed in the increasingly complex task of keeping up with trade, travel, and power. They were also found inscribed in bits of jewelry and amulets as well as on “rune stones” — longer pieces of writing that were typically memorials dedicated to fallen heroes. In recent years, the Muggle world has seen a revival in Norse mythology and the runes in particular. It is not uncommon for Muggles to have a set of runes in their possession, or be familiar with their meanings. However, each rune is infused with a meaning, a word, and power greater than anyone in the Muggle world could predict. For this we have Sofia Schreiber to thank, and the runes as the Wizarding World understands them are known as Schreiber’s corrections.
Around the 8th century CE, Vikings began to convert to Christianity, and by 1,000 CE, their priests were hunted and forced into hiding. Many of them actually gave their tomes to Rowena Ravenclaw to be placed in the Hogwarts library.
The script itself is phonetic, and is not nearly as easy to read as the Latin alphabet. For example, they don’t have a set direction to read and write from. You may also come across conjoined runes, where one rune has been combined with another for efficiency. It is also very common to have both runes with phonetic meaning, and also symbolic meanings in the same sentence. The rune ‘Thurisaz’ phonetically has a ‘th’ sound. However, it may also be used to denote the ancient Norwegian God ‘Thor.’ Ideographic runes are just as, if not more, important than phonetic runes.
Interestingly enough, if you decide to venture into the world of runology, you will more than likely come across runes in their ‘Merkstave’ form. Put simply, the rune is either flipped backwards or upside down, and is used to denote the negative or complete opposite effect of the rune in its original format. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, the rune ‘Kenaz’ is most notable for this. In its original format, it is often used noticed as having an effect of disease, weakness and confusion. However, many hospitals use this rune in their wards. Why? Well, if you reversed said rune into its merkstave, it actually symbolises vigour, health, illumination, and creativity!
If you plan on using runes for their magical effects, be extremely careful! Runes like Kenaz can cause disastrous effects if used in their wrong forms. Runes are extremely old, and while not flashy, are very powerful forms of magic. Make sure to be careful and responsible whilst using runes, and make sure to do your research on them. Happy Rune-ing!