There’s Runes….And There’s Runes

By Bernie Bell

Pics by McB

I like to promote the UHI Archaeology Institute talks and seminars, if I can.  I usually go about this by weaving some words around a link to the information about the talk, or seminar.  This is easy enough when I know something of the subject matter – harder when I have an interest, but very little knowledge.

The next – FREE – on-line seminar, entitled  ‘A great show-off: Carving as an expression of self in the runic inscriptions of Maeshowe’ will be on Friday April the 29th, when Dr Karen Langsholt Holmqvist will present her research on medieval runic graffiti.

When I saw this I thought – what can I say about Runes? I know what they are, and that there are different kinds, but learning to read them would be too much like hard work!  So, I can’t read runes.  I can, however, read the slightly ‘cod’ dwarfish runes which JRR Tolkien included in  ‘The Hobbit’ – probably where most folk have come across them.  I learnt them when I first read the story more years ago than I care to mention.  A few years ago I wrote them out, with a translation, and sent them to one of my Great- nephews.  The idea was that he and his friends could use them as a ‘secret code’ to write messages to each other which most grown-ups wouldn’t be able to read!

Another, slightly different, example of runes being used for mild subversion, was in March 2019 when there was an anti-Trump demonstration outside St. Magnus Cathedral.  There was a young lad there holding up a placard with runes on it.  Those runes said  “Trump is a moron.”  Rune lore can come in handy!

There are runes carved on a couple of the stones of the Ring of Brodgar …..

……but no-one is sure how old they are – was this a more recent visitor making their mark?

It’s something we like to do, us humans, make our mark –

Just goes to show the different ways that runes can be used to express individual personality or group identity.  Which, as far as I can tell, is what this seminar will be about.

Here are a couple of links to other rune-related items which might be of interest….

And – this might not be factually correct, but I can’t resist it.   At school we had a rhyme….

“Latin is a dead language
As dead as dead can be
It killed the ancient Britons
And now it’s killing me.”

Which could be paraphrased by those studying ancient runes – which can be variable and a bit confusing ……..

“Runic is a dead language
As dead as dead can be
It killed the ancient Pictish
And now it’s killing me.”

2 replies »

  1. I would be interested in listening to the seminar on 29 April – how would I access it?

    • Hello Ian
      If you look at the link in the article, the one with a picture of the inside of Maeshowe in it – you’ll see that it says “Click here to book a place’.

      That should do it. I hope.

Leave a Reply