Sunday, January 29, 2012

Elder Futhark Rune Dice

In October of last year an idea crossed my mind. I thought of making dice with the Runes of the Elder Futhark. Not the usual 6 sided dice, but three dies of eight sides. That's 3d8 for those of you who have played table top RPGs.

Each d8 represents an Aett of the Elder Futhark. Each die has 24 angles and represents the whole Rune row. Freyr's Aett has the Runes Fehu through Wunjo and the numeric values on the Runes on any two opposite side is 9. Hagal's Aett contains the Runes Hagalaz through Sowillo and the sum of opposite sides is 25. Tyr's Aett contains the Runes Tiwaz through Othala and the sum of opposite sides is 164. The sum of all Aetts is 300. The following table shows the pairs and sums:

Frey'rs Aett
Rune PairsFehu & WunjoUruz & GeboThurisaz & KenazAnsuz & Raidho
Numeric Value and Sum1 + 8 = 92 + 7 = 93 + 6 = 94 + 5 = 94 * 9 = 36

Hagal's Aett
Rune PairsHagalaz & SowilloNauthiz & ElhazIsa & PerthoJera & Ihwaz
Numeric Value and Sum9 + 16 =  2510 + 15 = 2511 + 14 = 2512 + 13 =254 * 25 = 100

Tyr's Aett
Rune PairsTiwaz & OthalaBerkano & DagazEhwaz & IngwazMannaz & Laguz
Numeric Value and Sum17 + 24 =  4118 + 23 = 4119 + 22 = 4120 + 21 = 414* 41 = 164

All 3 Aetts add to 300

I searched all round online and the first mention I found that sounded similar to my 3d8 was on Witch School. The post popped up in a google search and reads:
Does anyone use rune dice? I just purchased a set of futhark 3 dice which are 8 sided. They haven't arrived yet for UK, I live in the USA. So I am not sure how to read them. My intial thought is a 9 rune spread, with 3 rolls of the dice. I am very connected to Dragons and I expect my Dragon guides to give me push in the right direction. But was hoping this group might have some information.Brightest Blessing, Runestar 

So I joined the website just to ask about these Rune Dice. No answer yet.

I have been making the dice in paper and clay since October of last year. I would really love to make them of wood, but I have no idea how to go about that.

A couple of hours ago I found a patent in google patent search. It's the exact same layout as I have. I can't find them for sale anywhere, though. You can find it HERE.

Anyway, I have been making my dice from Premo Sculpey clay. I just knead them until they feel and look right, bake them and then sand them down and paint on the Runes with paint markers.

As you can see from the picture, I've worked everything out on paper first before marking the Runes on the clay dice. I made my dice extra large because I like the over-sized feel.

If you would like to see what the 3d8 Rune dice look like, print this out, cut and fold. I'm sure you can figure it out.

Of course, the first thing that one tries to work out is a system of divination, but I am now playing with concepts for true Rune Games. I'm working on unique dice notation and figuring out the probability distributions. Is there already a Beowulf RPG? I need to do more googling.

Creative Commons License
Elder Futhark Rune Dice by Jason Bales is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Addenda: On further inspection, the patent does not match my dice in the Rune forms or in their pairings based on Runic Numbers.

7-2-2012: I just found these on Etsy. They also do not match my design, but they look cool. No, I don't know this person and I won't make any money if you buy from him (seems to matter to some people).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hahalruna and El-Mushajjar

On January 18th I googled Cipher Runes at 3 a.m. When I clicked the first result, I found that Wikipedia was blacked out for Americans to raise awareness of SOPA and PIPA.

So I decided to see what a public domain search at google books would turn up. The first search result was interesting, but when I got to Sir Richard Burton's Ultima Thule: or, a summer in Iceland, I paused. Sir Burton connects the Runic cipher to an Arabic cipher called "El-Mushajjar".

Soon I find an article Sir Burton wrote about "The Ogham-Runes and El-Mushajjar". In this article Sir Burton traces everything with a stick, branch, or stave back to Iran. The article is two parts genius and one part crackpot.

While reading related materials in google books I saw that later writers state that the Arabs based their El-Mushajjar cipher on the Norse cipher after coming into contact with Varangians. This explanation is simple and rational, but none of the sources put all the pieces together with simple diagrams in a step-by-step fashion.

So, that's what you're about to see...

Rune Ciphers
The first to use this cipher were the Germanic tribes. The marks were used to refer to Runes. The Runes were separated into three groups of eight Runes. These groups were called Aettir meaning "eights". The sense of the word Aett is "group" or "family". The first group or family of Runes is called Freyr's Aett after the god Freyr. Frey'r's name starts with the first Rune of the Aett, Fehu (F). The other Aetts are called Hagal's Aett and Tyr's Aett and start with Hagalaz (H) and Tyr (T) respectively.

The oldest explanation of the system as it is applied to Runes that I can find is that of Saint Gallen in the second half of the 9th century. In the Alcuin manuscript we see several types of the same cipher.

The first two types of cipher Runes described by Saint Gallen are called "iisruna" and "lagoruna". These are the Runes Isa and Laguz. In Saint Gallen's manuscript, the short Runes represent the Aettir. One short Isa or Laguz represents the first Aett, Freyr's Aett. Two short Runes represent Hagal's Aett. Three short Runes represent Tyr's Aett. Directly after the short Runes are taller Runes. The number of taller Runes tells you the index of the Rune.

The third type of cipher Rune described by Saint Gallen is called "hahalruna" and is based on the same pattern as the others. We make a vertical line. To the left of this line we make one, two, or three marks based on which Aett the Rune is in. Then we make a number of marks to the right of the center line equal to the Rune's index. If you slant the lines upward you get the forms you see in my table above. No matter which way the lines point, they mark either the Aett or index. Sometimes you see the lines facing upward on one side of the stave and downward on the other side.

The fourth type of Runic cipher described by Saint Gallen is called "soofruna". It's the same as the others, but with dots.

In all four examples, Saint Gallen has written the name CORVI.

 As times went on, the Runes underwent some changes and were reduced in number to sixteen. The following table shows how the old cipher was applied to the Younger Futhark.

I could not find a good free Younger Futhark font, so I just wrote it out quickly on graph paper. I attempted to copy the rune forms found in Johan Gustaf Liljegren's Run-Lara.

As you can see, tree runes were used by the Norsemen before they journeyed into Arab lands and were still used in the Viking age.

It was the opinion of Sir Richard Burton that the tree runes were an Arab invention that was borrowed by Varangians and adapted to use with their own runes. Why it did not occur to him that the transmission was from northern runes to Arabic is uncertain.

The oldest Arabic manuscript I could find that contains the cipher called El-Mushajjar is that of Ibn Wahshiyya (9th century):
The Arabic reads:
The alphabet of Dioscorides the philosopher, commonly called the Tree alphabet. He wrote on trees, shrubs, and herbs, and of their secret, useful, and noxious qualities in this alphabet, used since in their books by different philosophers.

Sir Richard Burton suggests that it was an Arabic translation of a work by Dioscorides that was written in this cipher and then attributed to Dioscorides. Let it be written down that I officially agree with Sir Burton about this one issue.

In his article in "Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom", Sir Burton gives the following form of the cipher:
Here Sir Burton mentions El-Abjad, but does not give much in way of explanation as to what that means.

The Arabic alphabet was originally arranged in a different order than you see it today. The letters, like the letters of so many other alphabets were also used as numbers. The change to Arabic numerals (which the Arabs call Indian numerals ;) had already occurred by the time Ibn Wahshiyya recorded the cipher. This can be seen by looking at many of the other ciphers in Ibn Wahshiyya's work. This leads me to believe that the ciphers recorded in Abjad sequence were already in use by Arabs before the new letter sequence arose and those with the new sequence were developed closer to the time Ibn Wahshiyya recorded them.

Of this system Idries Shah (The Sufis, 1964) writes:
While the Arabic letters have equivalents up to one thousand, the Hebrew alphabet has equivalents only up to four hundred, inclusive. For mnemonic purposes this arrangement of letters is always memorized as follows, as a string of meaningless words, adding diacritical points to make pronunciation possible:

In Persian, Urdu and other non-Semitic languages, the letters are given slightly different sounds in some cases, but this does not affect the use of the letters, whose numerical values remain constant.

Date names, dates of birth or death, words expressing the character or aspirations of a person, all are often evolved from the scheme. Ignorant repetition of the meaningless words has in some places endowed the barbarous Abjad "words" with spurious baraka, the belief in special inherent functions, but this belongs to the realm of repetitious magical procedures and is not important.

It is at this point I would like to point something out. The Abjad system is based on number. So was the Elder Futhark. When viewed as a base-8 tally system, Hahalruna not only have a one to one relationship with the position of the Runes of the Elder Futhark within the three Aetts, but also give the numeric values of the Runes. This is not true for the Younger Futhark or Abjad adaptations. It is still a fine cipher system no matter what alphabet it refers to.

Here is a little table I made up showing the way in which the cipher was applied to Arabic:
The first Abjad "word" has one branch to the right, and the letter's index is indicated by the number of branches to the left. This reflects the right-to-left reading direction of Arabic.

So, yeah, this is what I did when Wikipedia went down for a day. What would I do if the internet kill switch were used?

Creative Commons License
Hahalruna and El-Mushajjar by Jason Bales is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

5:08 A.M.
Tuesday, 3/13/2012
I was up all night reading the internet again and just came across this text at Princeton:
it's a text titled "Treatise on ancient, alchemical and magical alphabets"
I managed to find El-Mushajjar written in the left margin on this page:

As marginalia goes, it looks pretty clumsy. Notice the modern letter order written underneath the cipher and then crossed out. The Abjad order is written above.

Monday, 7/30/2012
Take a look at this 18th century manuscript:
 In the upper right we see what looks like our El-Mushajjar cipher. But count the branches. If we translate the branches into numbers we get the following:

1:10 , 3:9 , 2:9 , 1:9 , 3:8 , 2:8 , 2(3):8 , 3:7

The second character, reading from the right is smudged and looks to me like the transcriber originally had 3:8 , but scraped away parchment to make it 2:8. As you can tell by comparing the tree runes in this manuscript with those in my table above, there's something different. Whereas there are only eight abjad words, the final tree rune implies at least ten.

The solution to this problem is simple. The 18th century version of this cipher makes its divisions based on the hijā’ī order of modern Arabic.

More on coded Runes:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rune Time: Making A Modern Runic Clock

I have been watching the clock a lot lately. This and the beginning of 2012 with all the talk of the Mayan calendar, Templar astrology, and the end of time... All of that has got me thinking about the runes and time. How did the Old Norse or Anglo-Saxons think of time? And how might the runes relate to the passing of time? Not too long ago I did quite a lot of reading about the astrolabe. This lead to reading about the related topic of sundials as well (inquiring minds want to know). I remembered reading about a curious sundial in England. On page 57 of The Book of Sun-Dials by H. K. F. Eden, there is a description of a dial at Aldbrough Church in England.

It is circular, about 15½ inches in diameter, and divided into eight equal parts, with a central hole for the style. In one of the spaces there is a rather elaborate fylfot. The inscription is on the outer circle, and runs thus:

[Ulf bade a rear church for poor (or "for himself,") and for Gunwara (her) soul.]
. . . The inscription is a curious example of a mixed dialect, old English and Scandinavian.
. . . There is another point worth noting. Anglo-Saxon dials are usually semicircular, this one is completely circular, and exactly resembles those sun-wheels which have been found on stones and relics of the bronze age in Denmark, Ireland, and other parts of Europe, and which are considered to be sun symbols of great antiquity. On the same dial stone we find the fylfot, an Aryan emblem, representing, says Count Goblet d'Alviella, "the sun in its apparent course, the branches being rays in motion." We shall see as we go on that these little wheel dials are frequently found on churches of much later date than Aldbrough. The equal division of the circle into eight parts, though it should indicate the eight tides of the Norsemen, is a useless one for a sun-dial, where the night hours are not needed."

(Here's a University of Pennsylvania web page with pictures and more about the inscription on the dial: )

On reading this again I grew curious as to what these "eight tides of the Norsemen" could be. After a few google searches and quite a bit of reading I had my answer. There is actually quite a lot of information about this subject, but the most accessible is this article at Harvard:

The Norse divided the horizon into eight (Aett) equal parts. The eight divisions were measured by the sun's movement. At eight different points of the horizon the Norse would assign a marker for each of the eight important times of day.

The first and most important daymark is the midday mark. This is the time of day that the sun is at its highest. If you face the sun at this time of day, you are facing south. We now call this time "noon". This point stays the same every day throughout the year. This is the warmest time of day.

Midnight is directly opposite midday or noon. This is north.

On each equinox, the point the sun rises is the rise measure. It is roughly east.

Opposite the rise measure is the Mid-Evening measure in the West.

Day-Measure, Night-Measure, Undorn, and Otta
In the spaces between the four marks already described are four more marks. All together these marks divide the plane of the horizon into eight equal parts. The other four day marks are called Undorn, Night-Measure, Otta, and Day-Measure and are situated as in this illustration

The Names of the Day Tides
The names of the day tides varied from time to place. In one place the tides may be called noontide, undorne, eventide, nighttide, uht (otta), morning, and undernoon. Anglo-Saxons called these times of day tíd (from whence we get the word tide) and named them middaeg, gelotendaeg, aefen, niht, midniht, úht, morgen, and undern.

Old Anglo-Saxon sundials in England are divided into four equal sections representing the four tides within daylight. They maintained the four other tides, but as Mr. Eden points out, the night hours are not needed for a sundial (in England, at least).

Oh, I just had a great idea. Let's take Ulf's sundial back home. No, really, grab it and follow me. We had better start moving now, we only have a few months to get there. . .

Good, You made it! Just in time too. Today is the summer solstice in Scandinavia. The locals tell me it is noon. Set down Ulf's sundial, place the stylus in the hole and align the sundial so the shadow points due north. That's right, when you are looking down on a sundial, the divisions are reversed. The north division is midday, not midnight. Keep that in mind as you watch the shadow on the dial for the next few hours. . .

. . . Oh, you're still here? That's great. What time is it? You look confused. Where is the shadow? Yeah, the shadow really is due south and it really is midnight!

When Mr. Eden wrote, "The equal division of the circle into eight parts, though it should indicate the eight tides of the Norsemen, is a useless one for a sun-dial, where the night hours are not needed." Well, he did not take into account where Ulf came from. It seems that summer in these parts doesn't include many sunsets. If you come back in winter you may find you can still read the dial after sunset. Even with the sun below the horizon, the light will often be enough to cast a shadow on the dial. Ulf isn't looking so silly now is he?

But I'm not Scandinavian and I don't use sundials. I want a system of time keeping that feels authentic and modern and makes sense in MY world. I want a system that reminds me of the runes and daytides and can still get me to work on time.

These days most of the world uses clocks and watches that measure time the same way. One day is 24 hours. One hour is 60 minutes. Every day is measured the same no matter what the sun is doing. Some clocks count the hours from 1 to 12 and we make the distinction of A.M. or P.M. Other clocks count all 24 hours of a day. If there were only a way of marking these times with runes. I mean, every clock, watch, phone, computer widget, and bank sign uses Arabic or Roman numerals, but how in the world could we mark those times with runes?

Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic all used the same characters to write their words as they used to write their numbers. So, it should come as no surprise that the runes of the Elder Futhark also have numerical values.

The runes and their values are as follows:

The runes have values of 1 to 24. Since there are 24 hours in a day, this means we can assign one rune to each hour of the day. Ideally we would make 24 equal divisions, each with a rune, on a clock face and have the clock run at half speed. Since I have only seen one clock that runs at half speed, we will need to make a new face for a standard 12 hour clock. Modeling my clock after a military clock, here is my design:

As you can see, I have placed the runes where their Roman or Arabic numeral equivalents would normally go. The Old Norse would probably rotate this clock one position to the left so the count starts nearer the noon daymark, but no matter how you hang the clock, I suggest you set it so you will not be late for work or school. If you do not know how to use a 24 hour clock, you can ignore the runes in the center ring.

This arrangement places three runes in each day tide. In noontide we have Isa, Jera, and Ihwaz. If we turn the clock one position to the left noontide contains the runes Jera, Fehu, and Perthro. The following table shows which runic hours are in each of the daytides.

Jera at Midday Mark
Isa, Jera, IhwazPerthro, Elhaz, SowiloTiwaz, Berkana, EhwazMannaz, Laguz, IngwazDagaz, Othala, FehuUruz, Thurisaz, AnsuzRaidho, Kenaz, GeboWunyo, Hagalaz, Nauthiz
Fehu at Midday Mark
Jera, Fehu, PerthroElhaz, Sowilo, TiwazBerkana, Ehwaz, MannazLaguz, Ingwaz, DagazOthala, Fehu, UruzThurisaz, Ansuz, RaidhoKenaz, Gebo, WunyoHagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa

If I were more crafty with a compass and brush, I would buy a clock from the store and modify it. But I am not that crafty and do not want to spend money just so I can ruin a clock. So, in order to fill the spot on the wall above the table where I start fires with my poor soldering skills, I have uploaded my modern runic clock design to

I would like to hear your feedback on any part of this article. If I made a mistake in describing the eight tides or daymarks or if you have a suggestion for a better clock design, please let me know.

As a side note: The positions of the daymarks requires the observation of the sun over the course of an entire year. The sun is highest above the midday mark on midsummer. Likewise, the other seven dividing marks land on the solstices, equinoxes, and so-called cross-quarter days. I find the Wikipedia page on the Wheel of the Year needs serious revision.

Creative Commons License
Rune Time: Making A Modern Runic Clock by Jason Bales is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

It has come to my attention that my work above may be similar to ideas in Nigel Pennick's "Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition". I have not read this book, but it is now on my wish list.