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A Runic Mystery

Those of you who know me, know that I like language and especially like writing systems, and if you know me really well you know that I have a soft spot for runes, particularly the Elder Futhark. So you will probably understand that this graffiti caught my attention.

Seven runic characters on a barrier to a broken escalator.

I’ve spent the last few hours working on it, and if this says anything I don’t have enough to figure it out. The leftmost glyph I can’t find in any version of the runic alphabets, either it comes from somewhere else or they made it up. The second from the left only exists in one Anglo Saxon inscription, the Ruthwell Cross, which is old enough that we can’t be sure whether the character was only briefly in use, or only used in that region because they had a funny way of pronouncing “K” when it was is followed by a secondary fronted vowel. The last two are jera in the Elder Futhark and calc in Anglo Saxon, I was only able to find those two specific shapes together in the
runic alphabet variant from Gothenburg in Sweden.

So whatever this is intended to mean, it’s not using a historical version of the runes. Seven unique letters isn’t enough to work out even the simplest substitution cipher, and if they’ve done something more arcane like made up their own language it might be literally impossible for me to figure it out. I mean, I still honestly don’t know if that first character is just made up or not.

But that’s boring, and I like to try to figure things out. So I dug out my old runic divination book, loaded up some likely meanings for that Ruthwell rune, remembered that in divination you read the runes from right to left, and assumed that the mystery glyph is a signature or initial of some sort.

I think the best interpretation I came up with was “Danger, the harvest of giants nears completion, seek the chalice, Signed.”

It’s both a very cool feature and a frustrating bug that broad symbolic interpretation is really wide open. I think I mentioned in my post about runic divination years ago that the handy part is you automatically discard the interpretations that don’t apply to you. Going totally in the dark like this, there’s just too many possibilities! And of course we can’t discard the idea that this person just liked runes, much as I do, and took a lot of drugs and felt inspired to write some runes down.

I’m going to ignore that possibility for now, though, for two reasons. First, because this is clearly writing, not just a doodle, and writing is always intended to convey meaning. Second, because on my way home tonight I saw jera, in the Elder style, (that’s the second from the right that looks like two offset angle brackets in that picture), painted prominently on a utility box. With dots to either side, which is important because in a lot of runic writing dots are used instead of spaces. So whoever painted it wanted us to know that it was meant to stand alone.

Look, this could easily be some kid who’s into old writing systems. Hell, during the more troubled years of my youth it could have been me. Whatever it means, I’m really curious about this, so do me a favor and if you see any rune graffiti, please take a picture and send it to me. I don’t just mean people in my area, either.

This is mostly pure curiosity, but there’s also a more serious possible explanation. One group of people, or maybe group of groups of people, who have been using runes and growing in popularity lately, is white supremacists. If this graffiti is coming from neo-nazis active in my city, I damn well want to know about it.

Take care everyone.


Late Saturday night I was sitting alone, drinking the last of my homemade booze (which I should have taste-tested sooner) and idly wandering the internet when I stumbled over this site about runes and felt inspired to dig out my bag of runes and cast them. When I was a kid I used to have an interest in divination, and the runes were always my favorite method, but I don’t think I’d done this in any form since I was a teenager. Even before I became a skeptic I had learned from the story of Croesus and stopped trusting oracles.

But that night I was in a mood, so without really thinking about it I drew five runes and placed them face down in an order that seemed right. I’m assuming I used the same method as I did when I was a kid, since it felt familiar, but I didn’t really think about it. One by one I turned the stones over, and promptly received a very clear message about my life and my situation. If you don’t want to be bored to tears with the details of this reading, just skip the next five paragraphs.  Read the rest of this entry

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