(From Arild Hauges Runer)
A very interesting aspect of runic inscriptions is the Lønnruner, a coded way to write runes, which means “secret runes”, but in English coded runes or cypher runes might be a better description.
The reason for writing runes in this way could be to hide the inscription’s meaning, for example, to hide taboo words, but the method could also be another way to simply write embellished runes – without any thought on magic or secrecy of the text. Often what is written in secret or coded runes gives no explicit reason why the scribe would want to conceal or encode its meaning.
When writing normal runes the writing is based on that the first rune in the Elder Futhark, Fehu is counted as the 1st rune, Uruz is counted as the 2nd rune, Thurisaz is the 3rd rune, Ansuz is counted as the 4th rune and so on. You find the right rune by counting the runes consecutive from the beginning to the end.
When writing coded runes, however, the writing is based on that the upper row in the Elder Futhark, Freya’s ætt is counted as the 3rd ætt, the middle row, Hagall’s ætt is counted as the 2nd ætt and the lower row, Tyr’s ætt is counted as the 1st ætt.
The following table shows how the runes of the Elder Futhark are represented.
Literature says that a coded rune is sometimes represented in the form of 3/4, or 34, which means in this case the 4th rune in the 3nd ætt, the ansuz. By this system 21 would represent the 1st rune of the 2nd ætt, the hagalaz. However, in several cases the ætts are counted in their proper order, and not backwards, as represented above.
Methods of writing Coded Runes
1.) The ‘twig’ style
The number of twigs on the left side of the staff states which ætt the rune belongs to. The number of twigs on the right side of the staff states which rune it is in this ætt. The rune in this inscription will then be the 6th rune in the 2nd ætt. (However, in some cases the reference to the rune and ætt are the other way round.)
This is how a Futhark with younger runes will be if you count the ætts in their natural ranking.
2.)The ‘scratch line’ style
The long lines state in which ætt the rune belongs to. The short lines state which place the rune is in the prevailing ætt. The meaning of this inscription will then be the 3rd rune in the 1st ætt + the 2nd rune in the 2nd ætt + the 5th rune in the 3rd ætt.
This inscription is from the Rotbrunna stone. The coded runes says airikr, which is “Eirik” , and the 4 following runes say hiuk, which generally means “trace, scratch, chop, hew, inscribe (in stone with chisel)” . This inscription is written with the younger runes and the fuþark is counted as the 3rd ætt. The runic text can be translated “Eric wrote (these runes)”
However, in some inscriptions the short lines are regarded as indication of the ætt and the long lines as the runes ranking in the ætt.
The upper inscription (hand-written manuscript of St. Ggallen – Cod. 270) is written in the Elder Futhark and fuþark is counted as the 1st ætt. The lower inscription is written with the younger runes and fuþark is counted as the 1st ætt.
3.) The ‘Vålsta’ style
The Vålsta stone’s inscription, which is shown here, is more or less a summation of methods 1 and 2. The inscription is written with younger runes and fuþark is counted as the 3rd ætt.
4.) The ‘Rök’ style
This inscription is written on the Rök stone. The system is principally similar to the methods 1, 2 and 3. Fuþark is counted as the 3rd ætt. The inscription says [s]akumukmini.
5.) The ‘Ehiwaz’ style
In this method of writing coded runes a sign is used to give the account of the rune and ætt. The reference to the ætt and rune is achieved by using a number of left turned signs similar to the eihwaz rune followed by a number of right turned signs.
The number of left turned signs gives the ætt and the following number of right turned signs gives the ranking of the rune in the ætt. Fuþark is counted as the 3rd ætt. The upper line says þu and the lower line says r. This inscription is written on the Rök stone also.
6.) The ‘Norum’ style
This method of writing coded runes is in principle similar in function to method 5. The inscription is from the Norum baptismal font in Norum Church in Sweden .
7.) The ‘O-S’ style
At first sight this inscription looks like the scribe has used an “o-rune” from the Elder Futhark and a “s-rune” from the younger runes. In this way the inscription says oossoosss. But this is probably not the case, given that this explanation provides no meaningful word or sentence, so therefore here we have an inscription with coded runes.
The system is similar to methods 5 and 6, which use signs or symbols to give the account of the rune and ætt. The number of “O-runes” gives the ætt and the number of “s-runes” gives the ranking of the rune in the ætt. The inscription says 2/2, 2/3 – i.e. 2. rune in 2. ætt + 3. rune in 2. ætt – i.e. ni.
8.) The decorative styles
Among several runic inscriptions from the Middle Ages found at Bryggen in Bergen a runic inscription with coded runes using a man’s head as the staff was found. The method of representing the Furhark’s ætt and the ranking of the runes is in this case similar to several of the mentioned methods. The number of left “beards” indicate the ætt, and the number of right “beards” indicate the specific rune. This is a “S-rune”, i.e. the 5. rune in 2. ætt.
Also found in Bryggen, Bergen , together with the previous one, this inscription could be seen as a decorated derivative of method 1. Here the staff is in the form of a fish. This inscription says: 6th rune in 3rd ætt (k) + 2nd rune in 3rd ætt (u) + 3rd rune in 3rd ætt (þ) + 6th rune in 3rd ætt (k) + 3rd rune in 2nd ætt (i) + 1st rune in 3rd ætt (f) + 3rd rune in 2nd ætt (i), summing to kuþkifi.
This is a bindrune made up of 6 t-runes and 4 a-runes. The bindrune is interpreted as a 6 times call on to the god Tiw and a 4 times call on to the Asa Gods. In this bindrune we have so called concept runes , i.e. instead of writing the words fully out with runes, the rune master has used the rune’s name to express what he wanted to say. Be aware of that runes like this which is written on the Klyver stone, shall not be read as secret runes.
Coded runic inscriptions
roughly: raþe sa er kan namn orklaski This inscription is written on the baptismal font in Kareby Church in Bohuslen in Sweden. In Norse the runic text says Ráði, sá er kann, nafn “orklaski”, i.e. “Interpret you who can the name Orklaski”
If we replace the “name” Orklaski in the written runes, with the runes which preceed the written runes in the 16 rune Futhark in ranking in the ætt, we will get þorbiarn – “Þorbjorn”, which is the name Torbjørn.
This inscription is one of many in a group of the so called “ráð rétt rúnar”-inscriptions. One inscription in Gol Church is also written in “ordinary runes”, and it says raþ rett runar þessar, i.e. ráð rétt rúnar þessar which can be translated “Interpret these runes right”.
On a lost stone cross from the farm Sele in Tangerhaug in Rogaland it was written ra[þ]rt (Sele II N237). This is a contraction of “Ráð rétt”.
A runic inscription found in Hopperstad Church (Hopperstad kirke XIX N408) says rrrar which could be raþ ret runar.
2.) Another method to change the rune places is known from several runic inscriptions, but they are most often interpreted as a training or playing in order to learn the Futhark. One example is a wooden stick found in Iceland on the farm Stóraborg, Austur-Eyjafjallahreppur, Rangarvallasýsla. The fragment of the stick (7,4 x 2,5 x 03 cm) had two inscriptions.
The upper line is interpreted as a training excercise in order to learn the Futhark (rkhnias) based on counting two forward and one backward. The same system would be with the Latin alphabet -fegfhgihgj- etc.
This inscription is attached to the Galder song Buslubæn, in other words Bula’s curse which is written in Bóse’s saga. It is interpreted “ristil aistil þistil kistil mistil listil” by means of each of the 6 first runes – r.a.þ.k.m.u. One rune is attached in front of each of the 5 groups with i s t i l. A corresponding inscription is found in Nore Church (Nore kirke II) and it says:
This inscription is composed by kutram surround of 9 runes on each side. The 2 x 9 runes is 3 i-runes, 5 s-runes, 5 t-runes and 5 l-runes.
On a coffin in Lomen Stave Church another similar inscription is found, but the oldest inscriptions of this group is on the Grølev stone in Sjælland in Denmark and the Ledberg stone in Östergötland in Sweden. They were both written when Scandinavia still was a heathen society: þmk iii sss ttt iii lll, i.e. þistil mistil kistil.
How these runic inscriptions can or must be interpreted is uncertain, but the proposed general effect could be to hold demons away.
4.) An another way to write coded runes is to hide the meaning of the inscription by adding more twigs (lines) to the runes than there should be. Sometimes parts of a rune could also be omitted; for example the top of the rune. An example is the “turn-left” inscription on The Tørvik B-stone. This inscription is written in the Elder Futhark.
The two Tørvika rune stones, Tørvika A and Tørvika B, were found on the Tørvika farm at Kvam in Hardanger, Hordaland. Both rune stones had been part of the walls in a spoiled burial chamber. In addition to the rune stones, fragments of a funerary urn, horse teeth, remnants of iron tools and cremated bones were also found. The inscriptions are dated to the first half of 400 P.E. and the language is nSl.
The Tørvika A inscription is written left turned on a stone of quartz slate (2,34m X 0,70m X 0,08m):
If we follow the writing rules of the runes, the text would be landawarijaR, which might be a man’s name meaning “land protector, land occupier”. What the Uruz-rune look-alike mark above the man’s name means is uncertain. The runes are up to 15 cm high.
The Tørvika B inscription’s runes are approximately 4-6 cm high and are written on a stone of mica slate (2,70m X 0,68m X 0,09m). The inscription stand outs from other inscriptions because there are more twigs carved on the runes than there should be. In addition, several parts of the runes are omitted. This makes the inscription very difficult to read. Probably was this done in order to hide the inscription’s meaning. We have here what is called “lønnruner” in Norwegian, or “secret runes”.
The runic inscription is approximately like this. The unbroken red lines represent the extra twigs. The broken red lines represent the omitted rune parts. If we read the runes accordingly, we come to the following complete text:
heþro dweno k
The inscription might be translated “Leave (here you will grow numb), Kenaz”. The k-rune at the end has to be interpreted by its name and its symbol value. Kenaz stands for “boil, festering, blister”. If the inscription is addressed to the dead, the k-rune, or else the spirit the k-rune represents – Kenaz – should make sure that what the runes say happens. But the runic text might also be a warning that the evil spirit Kenaz who caused this is dead. This inscription can, of course, never be accurately interpreted for certain. For example, some of the extra twigs could be parts of a bindrune. Then we would have an infinite number of possible interpretations.