Like the elder and younger fuþarks, the medieval runes were not fixed (in fact pinpointing an actual break from younger fuþark to medieval runes difficult). The alphabet itself was continually modified, as well as some features of the orthography (for example, using the h rune for the sound [ɣ], and allophone of /g/, even when there was a g rune, became common on mainland Scandinavia though it never picked up in Iceland). Especially after interest was reawakened by scholars like Ole Worm, Icelandic scribes frequently copied descriptions of runes (hand-copying persisted into the twentieth century), and sometimes manuscripts reveal unexpected changes.
I’m not an expert, and I don’t have that much access to things everyone else doesn’t. Most of what I’ve found comes from manuscripts hosted on handrit.is. Therefore this is far from exhaustive, and I haven’t even made an attempt at reading all of those manuscripts. They’re just things I’ve stumbled across that I thought were interesting. So consider this a work in progress; I’ll update if I find anything else interesting.
For the function of rune names and kennings in poetry, see here.
Note: I make frequent references to rune kennings here, without a full description of them. I plan to make a future post out of a more general collection and translation of kennings, so I’ll save them for that.
1. New runes with names and kennings
- / plástur (‘bandage’)
- ör (‘arrow’)
- æs, æsa, (‘excitement,’ ‘a stirring up’), æsir (‘inciter,’ ‘agitator,’ ‘stirrer’)
2. Runes given names but no kennings
- / dís, dí (‘female divinity’, ‘god/priest’); for ⟨d⟩ and ⟨ð⟩ (ÍBR 64 8vo, Lbs. 2334 4to)
- grafið kaun (‘graved wound’); one example (Lbs 2886 8vo)
- qvíði (kvíði, ‘anxiety’); one example (Lbs 2334 4to)
3. Additions to the Norwegian Rune Poem
4. Runes in Sigfús Sigfússon
1. Runes with names and kennings
Three New Runes with names and kennings
/ plástur (‘bandage’)
The p rune is especially interesting. It begins its life as a variant of the b rune, often looking something like this: . At this point, it may have been called stungið bjarkan, but I couldn’t say for certain.
At some point, a different shape, , comes to be used for p. For a long time both existed, and there’s at least one example of one that’s kind of mixed: .
In general, I don’t know much about the distribution of these two forms, but a conference paper by Terje Spurkland entitled “ and : One Grapheme or Two?” examines their use in Bergen, Norway (which is the best site in Scandinavia for dating runic inscriptions and “common” inscriptions by everyday people). Spurkland observed that acts a little different, on rare occasion standing for an /f/ sound, and after a certain time seems to drop off almost entirely. He proposed that there was an imbalance in the system – the three consonants which could be ‘stung’ were k, t, and b (to make g, d, and p). That means that usually, marking a rune to indicate a change meant “say this, but voiced,” except that the opposite was true with b and p. Therefore, it made more sense to make a new ‘base’ rune. may have been seen by some people as a variant of the base form . This change wasn’t complete until a fairly late date, and I’ve never found any full rune-rows that replace with .
was already known to Ólafur hvítaskáld, writing in the mid-thirteenth century, who said that to make a /p/ sound, you take and “open the belgir (‘bags’ or ‘pockets’).
Both forms appear interchangeable in Icelandic manuscripts, but it also gets its own name, plástur (‘bandage’) and kennings, and in AM 746 4to even its own rune Icelandic poem verse:
Plástur er meina mýkt
og benja bót
Bandage is the softening of pain/damage
cure of men
and remedy of injuries
*supplied from IB 299 4to because what I get from the AM 749, manna grátinn (‘weeping of men’), doesn’t seem to make sense and I can’t find it listed anywhere else; might be a scribal error.
I don’t know whether the change to and the name plástur happened at the same time or not.
ÍBR 64 8vo, which does show other innovations, calls this stungin björk.
I’m afraid I don’t have a story to go with this one. At one point, this was one variant of the many óss runes, standing either for a nasal vowel or /o(:)/. In time the short-twig took over that position exclusively, while the longer form continued, standing for the sound written ⟨ø⟩ or ⟨ö⟩. It’s very often listed in runic manuscripts with this name, and with kennings, although it’s sometimes specified that it uses the same kennings as , and not given a name (ÍB 200 8vo, ÍB 299 4to). For this reason, I’d propose that it’s probably a later change than the addition of plástur, which is named pretty consistently.
(See also: D and Ö runes in the Norwegian Rune poem below)
various, but usually æs, æsa, (‘excitement,’ ‘a stirring up’), æsir (‘inciter,’ ‘agitator,’ ‘stirrer’)
As with the previous rune, the short-twig glyph came to stand for ⟨a⟩ while the long-twig represented the sound written ⟨æ⟩. The kennings indicate an association with water.
2. Runes with names, no kennings
Some runes with occasional names, but no kennings
/ dís, dí (rare, see below), standing for ⟨d⟩ (and ð)
grafið kaun (very rare, see also grafið mein below). Simply another way to say stungið kaun. Grafið can mean ‘buried’ but also ‘graved’ as in marked with a grave accent, as stungið can mean ‘stabbed’ or ‘marked with a diacritic.’ Found in Lbs 2886 8vo. Never gets its own kennings.
qvíði – nothing to say here, I just saw it in Lbs 2334 4to.
3. Norwegian Rune Poem additions
(New 8 March 2014) The manuscript AM 738 4to (dated on handrit.is to 1680) contains a copy of the Norwegian rune poem with twenty-four verses, including ones for stungnir rúnir and other additions to the original sixteen runes. I had some difficulty figuring out what it means (and even some trouble just reading it), but I’ll post a very tentative translation here along with the Icelandic, which I’ve normalized to the best of my ability.
Here is an image of the manuscript page with the rune symbols courtesy of the Skáldic Poetry Project: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/skaldic/db.php?id=16615&if=default&table=images&val=&view=
|(D) Stunginn Tyr særður ásinn djarfi
sá var í víga starfi
|Stunginn Týr the bold injured ás
he was in the business of battle
|(E) Stunginn ís stendur reyndur
stuldur oft er leyndur
|Stunginn ís (‘ice’) stands tested
theft is often secret
|(G) Stunginn kaun stofnar mæði
stór sár trú ég blæði
|[Stungið] kaun (‘wound’) causes exhaustion
I believe big wounds bleed
|(P) Plástur mýkur mein sára
mörg er komin til ára
|Plástur (‘bandage’) softens the pain of wounds
many are come to age
|(C? Z?) Knésól kallar reina
kemur í stríði skeina
|Knésól (‘knee-sun’) calls a horse
comes in battle to harm/scratch
|(Æ) Æfingur öllum grómur
æpir barn kvelur dómur
|Æfingur (‘practicer’?!) grime to all
judgment afflicts a screaming child (?!)
|(Ö) Tvíörvaður bogi úr stóðu ylgjar hvopti
örvar tvær á lopti
|Tvíörvaður bogi (‘two-arrowed bow’)
out stood wolf’s cheek
two arrows in the air
|(X?) Elli hvíld erfiði og elli
ei vill vera á felli
|Elli hvíld (‘old age rest’) labor and old age
never wants to be on a mountain
Stunginn kaun is a grammatical error – kaun is a neuter word so it actually should be stungið kaun. The author might not have been applying “stunginn” like an adjective and just thought “say stunginn before everything.”
Knésól is often a c rune although there is often some ambiguity as to how to actually use ⟨c⟩ since Icelandic doesn’t have any alternation between /k/ and /s/ like (medieval) Latin and modern English. Graphically, it resembles , originally an s rune, but later came to be used mostly for ⟨z⟩ as opposed to s. I believe the name comes from the shape of the rune – kné means ‘knee,’ and the shape is bent like a knee (sort of), so it might be called that no matter what its Latin equivalent.
I would expect that æfingur would be æsingur (see: the rest of this page on the æ rune) and it could be a scribal error. In some old orthography, /s/ is written ⟨ſ⟩ (a “tall s”). Here it’s written with an insular ⟨ꝼ⟩ so it’s clearly an /f/ but maybe it comes from a mistake when copying.
I assume that tvíörvaður bogi is an ö rune, which is usually called ör (‘arrow’) but the actual rune shape is totally different from the normal .
I expect that elli hvíld is an x rune, since there often is one and it’s one of the few that’s left. It could also be c or z, depending on what knésól is. It’s possible that the scribe didn’t know.
Lbs. 2334 4to, compiled in 1894 by Sighvatur Grímsson Björgfjörð, contains a lot of runes and magic symbols and things, but for the current purposes the most interesting is a copy of the Norwegian rune poem with two additions. The normal 16 runes are given only the first line of their rune poem verse (fé veldur frænda rógi, etc), but the last two have both lines:
D dí er ein af nornum
etur tröllskap fornum
dí is one of the norns (‘witches’ in modern language)
incites ancient witchcraft.
Ö ör flýgur af álmi
engin meinak tálmi.
Arrow flies with strength/power
nothing can obstruct it.
I’m not positive what dí is supposed to mean. From the verse it seems possible that dís was meant. I have found it called dís in one other manuscript, ÍBR 64 8vo. Graphically this one is týr with a diacritic.
On the other hand the word díar (plural) meant ‘gods’ or ‘priests,’ and this may have been a late attempt at a singular. The two could also have been combined and confused. Another possibility – the alliteration is off on this one (there should be three stressed syllables beginning with vowels), though that would be fixed if this were not dí, but æði, a æ rune (which usually gets its own name, but is unmentioned here, while d runes are almost always stunginn týr). Æði means ‘madness’ or ‘frenzy’ (something like ‘óður-ness’). The symbol itself looks like a modified þurs rune .
4. Collected by Sigfús Sigfússon
Íslenskar þjóðsögur og sagnir by Sigfús Sigfússon, volume 5 – some alternate names
I can’t figure out what his source was. I suspect it was Jóhannes Örn Jónsson, whose material is attributed for most of the rest of the chapter. Early 1900’s.
There are no actual rune symbols printed – I’m reproducing it here exactly as-is. It gives the name and the types of kennings which can be used to refer to it in poetry (see this page).
- A heitir ÁR, og er kennt við sumarblíðu, græna jörð, græna akra, fögnuð manna, gleði og lífsþrótt. (‘year/harvest, and is known with nice summer weather, green earth, green fields, joy, happiness, liveliness’)
- B heitir BJÖRK, kennt við allar trjátegundir. (‘birch, and is known with all types of trees’)
- D heitir DAUÐI, kennt við vígarferli, fallinn val o. fl. (‘death, known with warfare, fallen slain, and more”)
- E heitir BROTINN ÍSS, smár, kurlaður ís m. fl. (‘broken ice, small ice chips’)
- F heitir FÉ, kennt við allskyns auðlegð. (‘money, known with all kinds of wealth/riches’)
- G heitir GRAFIÐ MEIN, sár ógróin. (‘unhealing wound’)
- H heitir HAGL, snjókorn, skýjasáldur. (‘a snow-corn, things which fall from clouds’)
- I heitir ÍS, t. d. vatnapallur. (‘ice, for example “water-platform”‘)
- K heitir KAUN, flumbra, meiðsli. (‘wound, scratch/scrape, injury’)
- L heitir LÖGUR, allar sjókenningar. (‘liquid, all sea-kennings’)
- M heitir MAÐUR, allar mannkenningar. (‘man, all man-kennings’)
- N heitir NEYÐ, sorg, örðugleiki m. m. (‘distress, sorrow, difficulty, and others’)
- Ó heitir ÓS, vogur, fjarðarbotn m. m. (‘river-mouth, cove/bay, fjord, and others’)
- P heitir PLÁSTUR, meinagræðir m. m. (‘bandage, wound-healer, and others’)
- R heitir REIÐ, allskonar flug og ferð. (‘riding/ride, all kinds of flights and trips’)
- S heitir SÓL, allar sólarkenningar. (‘sun, all sun-kennings’)
- T heitir TÝR STUNGINN, særður ás, fallið goð. (‘stung/stabbed god, fallen god’)
- Ú & V heitir ÚÐI, öll nýyrði má brúka sem rétt eru. (‘rain, may use all new words which are right’)
- Þ heitir ÞURS, allar jötnakenningar. (‘thurs, all jötunn-kennings’)
- Æ heitir ÆSIR, tign. (‘æsir/gods, nobility/magnificence’)
- Ö heitir ÖR, örvakenningar allar, t. d. hremsa. (‘arrow, all arrow-kennings, such as ‘shaft’)
Ós originally meant ‘a god’ but it had a weird declension, and got replaced by ás. Since this was an o rune the word attached didn’t change but ceased to mean ‘a god’. A different word, ós, with a different etymology and declension, replaces it here.
As a common noun, týr means pretty much the same thing as ós (‘a god’). Kennings usually attached to them differentiated them by identifying the first as Óðinn specifically, and the second as Týr specifically.
I’ve seen æsir listed as a name for the æ rune before, but meaning a completely different word (‘exciter’ or ‘agitator’, or ‘terrorizor,’ from the verb æsa, earlier ǿsa), rather than the plural of ás. If this was composed from a list without kennings it would be easy to make the mistake. ÍBR 64 8vo also calls the æ rune æsa and notes ein af ásum (‘one of the gods,’ feminine – ásynja?)
Once that mistake is made, the word týr is redundant because it means the same thing, so it has to become stunginn týr to differentiate (apparently the meaning of stunginn referring to a diacritic was lost on the compiler).
Úði means the same thing as úr, so that’s an easy switch. Hagl and björk are the normal Icelandic words for hagall and bjarkan. Grafið mein is just another way to say stungið kaun, and one that happens to make it correspond to the acrophonic principle.
Dauði, then, is the only totally unexplainable one here. I have no idea where that comes from.
- Óláfr Þórðarson. Málhljóða- og Málskrúðsrit. ed. Finnur Jónsson. Copenhagen: Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri, 1927, retrieved from http://www.septentrionalia.net/etexts/
- Sigfús Sigfússon. Íslenskar þjóðsögur og sagnir. volume 5. ed. Grímur M. Helgason. Reykjavík: Bókaútgáfan Þjóðsaga, 1984.
- Spurkland, Terje. “ᛕ and ᛔ: One Grapheme or Two?” Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Runes and Runic Inscriptions. Ed. James E. Knirk. Runrön 9. Uppsala: Institutionen för nordiska språk, Uppsala universitet, 1994: 269-278.
- Everything else comes from manuscripts named above, available here: http://handrit.is/en/search/results/B1KrKQ