A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: runes

26 Aug 1998
Many thanks for creating what I believe to be the most useful reference source on the internet. On the topic of "runes" though, I think it would be remiss of me not to point something out. You wrote that "There is no ancient document indicating any magical use of runes."

While I do not want to disagree, I would like to remind you of The Poetic Edda which is a compilation of poems collected during the 12th or 13th centuries and rediscovered in Iceland by Danish scholars. The runes are referred to in "the Sayings of Har" ("Harvamal"). Go to the fourth part, the so-called "rune-poem", which are stanzas 138 - 148. The question is not whether or not the Norse used runes for magic, but whether or not they worked (no prizes for working out that they don't).

Despite the stereotype, the Norse were an extremely superstitious people. Remember too that this is from a period of great social change for them which undoubtedly contributed to their reliance on personal magic, as opposed to choosing which god to put their faith in. For more information on this, you can read Myth and Religion of the North (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964) by Professor E.O.G Turville-Petre. For another broader picture of the Vikings, I can recommend any book by H.R. Ellis Davidson, in particular Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe (Syracuse University press, 1988), as well as the very skeptical work by Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their nature and legacy (Blackwell, 1991). For a skeptical view of history, Ronald Hutton's book is a must. He is as far as I know still Reader in British History at the University of Bristol.

Thank you again for your efforts producing the Skeptics Dictionary. I am often referring to it as ammunition against irrational "new agers".
Philip Peters (member of the Australian Skeptics)

reply: Thank you for sharing this information.

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