One of the most common myths about the Vikings is their barbaric and mindless brutality. Brutal, mindless, plundering, pillaging, murdering heathens do not encourage images of simple farmers that worshiped a God, Odin, who had given up his eye for the knowledge of runes. It is true that while raiding fear and terror were powerful weapons and there was glory in a warrior’s deeds but when at home the Vikings were farmers, family oriented and valued education.
The Vikings wrote, yes wrote, Poetic Eddas, Sagas, and entertaining stories and songs. Their primary form of expression was dramatic story telling and best stories and histories were written using runes. In runic writing the vary symbols had power and magic. Runes gave the ability to “draw sounds” and thus preserve the message for all time.
The earliest known appearance of runic alphabet contain a series of twenty-four angular runes called the Elder Futhark (2nd-8th Century), named after the first phonemic sounds of the first six runes.
The Younger Futhark (8th-12th Century) has only sixteen runes. The Younger Futhark became the prominent runes during the Viking Age while the Elder Futhark remained the language of the elite. The Younger Futharks became known through out Europe as “Alphabet of the Northmen” and any culture wanting to trade learned the runes for contracts and trade diplomacy. These contracts and contacts can be found in what is called Ogham of the Scandinavians" or the Book of Ballymote .
The Younger Futhark broke off into two forms during the Viking Age as language and regional influences developed the verbal and written languages of the Vikings. These two divided branches became known as the Danish “long branches” and the Swedish/Norwegian “short twigs.” The Norwegian branch developed into the Icelandic runes
The Danish Runes
As the Viking world became Christianized the runes became “Latinized.” Additional symbols for specific phonemic sounds were added and were used mainly as decoration in many of the Scandinavian churches until 1850ish.
Go to http://www.omniglot.com/writing/runic.htm and check out the Lord’s Prayer in runes.
As the Vikings traveled and stayed in various places around the world the runes evolved. The Northumbrian Futhark from Northern England is heavily influenced by the Celtic language. As the Vikings settled in Russia and Turkey the runes became influenced by those languages and evolved into their own language. In every Viking settlement
archeologist have found countless artifacts from simple combs with “Helga’s comb” inscribed on it to sword hilts inscribe with runic prayer to the Gods.
One of the most intriguing uses of runes are the Runestones that can be found through out the Scandinavian world and wherever the Vikings traveled. The
tradition is believed to have started around the 4th century. These stones were erected as memorial to deceased men often near gravesites.
For men of consequence a mound should be raised to their memory, and for all other warriors who had been distinguished for manhood a standing stone, a custom that remained long after Odin's time.
—The Ynglinga saga
When King Harald Bluetooth was baptized he erected large Runestones in memory of his parents. The inscriptions reads, “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Þyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” These large Runestones have the earliest inscriptions and pictures of Christ. King Harald Bluetooth started a trend and for a generation after him every King in Denmark, Sweden and Norway had to erect their own Runestone.
Runes for the Vikings were a form of written communications. They were also tools of magic and divinations.
The Magic of the Runes-Part II
For further reading on the use of Runes see…
Runes, Alphabet of Mystery (my go to site) http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/links2.html
Viking Answer Lady. http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/VALArtAndLiterature.shtml
ARILD HAUGE’S RUNES http://www.arild-hauge.com/eindex.htm
Jonathan Dee The Runes An Illustrated Guide to Interpreting the Stones