Old Saxon Runes - The Archaeological & Literary Evidence
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
This article will discuss and show pictures of the archaeological evidence from Old Saxony: All Runic finds in Old Saxon lands are of the Elder Futhark only, giving us pretty strong evidence this was the Runic script of the Old Heathen Saxons, until the Christian armies defeated the Heathen Saxons in the Saxon Wars, ending the spiritual and political independence of Heathen Saxony. Also, it is possible, since many of the Runic finds in Old Saxony are from the fifth century, that two centuries later, a modified version of the Elder Futhark was used. However, we do not have any Anglo-Frisian Futhorc or Younger Futhark finds in Old Saxony. For a brief history of the Saxon Wars, and the forced conversion of the Saxon People, please see this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Wars There are not many Old Saxon manuscripts that have survived. The surviving literature includes the Old Saxon Heliand which was written circa 830 AD and is more than two and a half times the size of the Old English Beowulf. The Heliand is as large as three of the biblical gospels combined. We also have an Old Saxon version of Genesis (partial), along with homilies, a list of Saxons who died by moon names in a new Saxon church in the 9th century (the Essen Necrology), various "bedes" (christian prayers in Old Saxon), and several commentaries on various biblical Psalms. The most important Old Saxon writing for Old Saxon Heathens is the Heliand, as it changed Christ, presenting him as a Saxon Soothsayer and Hero/Drohtin. More importantly, Christ was morphed into a Saxon Healer (the word "Heliand" means Healer, in the Heathen sense, i.e. a modern neo-pagan word with a similar meaning would be "witch-doctor.") Please note, Heathen society was very different from our world today. Any title with the Old Saxon letters "and" at the end, like "Heliand" and "Radand", means there is importance to this title. Healers and counsel givers (Radand), among others, were important in Saxon society. There are three dozen mentions of Uurd and the Shapers in the Heliand, and many scholars have written works discussiong Uurd and the Shapers in Saxon Folklore based on the Heliand. Uurd and the Shapers (uurdgiscapou) would be the Old Saxon equivalent of the Scandinavian "Nornir and Urthr." The Old Saxon Heliand mentions Runes, and the first sentence in the Heliand mentions Saxon Runes. Christ doesn't teach "beatitudes" in the Heliand, he teaches Runes. The Old Saxon Heliand was written in Old Saxon, however, it changed the Old Saxon Runic Alphabet into the Latin alphabet. Germanic peoples did not use Latin script until Christianity came along. While modern German does use the same Latin letters I am typing with now, historical Germanic Heathens used Runes, not Latin letters. This "tragedy" also happened in England with Old English, and Scandinavia with Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish. Scandinavian People also used Runes as their alphabet, but Christians like Snorri (the Prose Edda and Snorri's Sagas) wrote the Icelandic with Latin letters, and not Runes. First, lets cover the literary evidence: Old Saxon Heliand passages regarding the Runes.
Mentions of Runes in the Old Saxon Heliand
The first passage in the Old Saxon Heliand to mention Runes is the very first sentence. The purpose of the Old Saxon Heliand, is to convert Heathen Saxons to christianity. Therefore, the Heliand is a "gospel" story, to make christ be a Heathen Hero figure, worth accepting. Another purpose, is that christianity is so different in thought than Heathenry, the Heliand converts Saxon Heathen ideals into Christian ones. The first sentence of the Heliand, shows how important Runes were to the Old Saxons, claiming that the gospel is in a sense "Runes" and that the Runes prove christ. (We as Heathens know this to be rubbish.) What does the word "rune" mean? In Old Saxon, a "runi" is a secret. The Runes were "divine mysteries" in Germanic Heathenry. Odin was given the (secret) knowledge of Runes, by hanging on a tree for nine days. Odin is the all wise one. The Heliand will later put Christ on a tree (crucifixion) and show that he replaces Odin. (Disappointing, I know.). But the important fact about Runes here, is how important they were in Saxon thought. Monks chose to begin discussing Christ with the Runes, because of how important Runes were in Saxon Heathen thought. Obviously, the books of the bible: matthew, mark, luke and john, all do not discuss Runes. Here is the first sentence of the Old Saxon Heliand, claiming that "christ" is the "reckoning" of the mysteries of the Runes. (Please note, there is a christian word play going on which Saxon Heathens would not understand in this opening passage. The Greek word for "gospel" means "good news." Good words, i.e. Runes, is the "gospel" here. Again, we reject christ and christianity as "nonsense." But, the point of the Heliand was to convince the Saxons that christ was important, and to do this the monks i missionizing the Saxons began with the Runes.
Now, outside of convincing the Heathen Saxons that christ was the "new Odin," the Heliand also has to convince the Saxons that there was something even more important to christ than Uuoden (Odin): the paying of taxes. Yes, the christian rulers believed in christ, but they believed more so in the almighty "god" known as "money." Naturally, whenever tithes and taxes are mentioned in the Heliand, Runes must accompany it. Here is a passages from the Heliand, fitt 5:
This next passage (I give the verse number) in the Heliand, changes the gospel story. I will let my own notes speak for themselves. By the way, I should add, the Old Saxon word for "Runes" is "geruni." This word is pronounced "yee-roo-ni."
Again, the Runes are presented as "divine" secrets, but sadly, the Heliand is saying christ knew the Runes (but he died to forgive sins, not to give mankind the secret knowledge of Runes, which is why Uuoden/Odin hung from the Irminsul for nine days.)
Archaeological Rune finds in Old Saxony
All Saxon graves form the 6th through 8th centuries are super easy for archaeologist to identify as Saxon. The Saxons of Old Saxony were all burying their dead (if they were not cremated) by laying the head to the south, and feet to the north. This is something that the Saxons and only the Old Saxons did, making their graves easy to prove that they were Saxons. Please note, this practice is not found outside of Saxony (i.e. not in England.) With this in mind, let us look at a runic find, in Old Saxon lands, with almost 500 total graves, with heads in the south, feet in the North, with the finds dated to the mid-400s, i.e. the fifth century, proving that these tribes were "Saxons" when Bede states the invasion of England was happening! PS- for evidence that the Saxons buried their dead in a south to north position, see German Archaeolgist Sven Schild's article: https://rotergeysir.net/early-thors-hammer-pendants-outside-scandinavia/
Basically, what I am saying is, Saxons in Saxony did not have kings, spoke a different language than Old English, and did use different Runes than the Anglo-Frisian (or Old English) futhorc. While we cannot prove if the Saxons in Saxony had modified the Elder Futhark when Old Saxon (the language) was in its most common point (the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries), the difference in what is found vs. Frisian and England is important to note. Continental Saxon burial customs did not find their way into England, which does raise questions about the identities of many Germanic peoples who went to England.
Liebenau: An Old Saxon Cemetary In Liebenau 312 cremation graves were found with cremation in 338 burials. All cremations were done on pyres made of wood. The remains of the fire were left at the cremation site and covered with sand. The ashes were only occasionally put in Urns. There were fragments of ceramic vessels presumably added to the fire at the cremation sites. There were 143 body graves in which the deceased were buried in coffins or wrapped in blankets and furs. It was noticeable that there were hardly any graves of children and young people. In the graves from the 4th and 8th centuries, the dead were buried in a north-south direction, with the head mostly facing south. This without doubt places the Runic find here, dated in the fifth century, to the Saxons. Source: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alts%C3%A4chsisches_Gr%C3%A4berfeld_Liebenau
Please note, Liebenau is in south central Old Saxony, in the modern German Bundes (State) of "Lower Saxony." This is without doubt well within the borders of Old Saxony. Here is an English translated Website of a German reconstructionist website, discussing a silver-plated copper disk, originally part of a sword-belt, found at Liebenau, which had the Elder Futhark Runes "RAUZWI". This is their website on what these Runes mean:
The Meldorf Brooch The Meldorf Brooch is a Runic find that scholar's and archaeologists accept as Old Saxon, from Meldorf, which was in Old Saxony. Meldorf was in the northern part of Old Saxony, what many call "original Saxon homelands." Some people feel that the Meldorf Brooch contains the earliest Runic inscription ever found, and if so, this means Old Saxony produced the world's oldest Germanic Rune find to date so far. Meldorf is in the modern German Bundes (State) of Schleswig-Holstein, the this "brooch" or "fibula" was found in 1979. The Meldorf Fibula is dated to the mid first century AD and contains Elder Futhark Runes. Here is an image of the Runes:
The Thorsberg Chape The Thorsberg Chape is a Runic find dated to 200 AD. If Bede is to be believed, this would be just North of the Saxon homeland or the northern Saxon border,. While the land was about 30KM north of Old Saxon lands, archaeologists believe that most of the finds put in the bog of the Thorsberg Moor, were from lands that the Saxons occupied to the south. "The artifact has been localized on archeological grounds to the region between the Rhine and the Elbe." The sources for this are:
1. Henrik Williams, "From Meldorf to Haithabu: Some Early Personal Names from Schleswig-Holstein," Von Thorsberg nach Schleswig pp. 149-66, p. 157.
2. Tineke Looijenga, Texts & Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions, Leyden/Boston: Brill, 2003, ISBN 90-04-12396-2, p. 259
3. Hans Frede Nielsen, "The Dialectal Provenance of the Gallehus Inscription," in Von Thorsberg nach Schleswig: Sprache und Schriftlichkeit eines Grenzgebietes im Wandel eines Jahrtausends: internationales Kolloquium im Wikinger Museum Haithabu vom 29. September–3. Oktober 1994, ed. Klaus Düwel, Edith Marold, and Christiane Zimmermann with Lars E. Worgull, Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde Ergänzungsband 25, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2000, ISBN 3-11-016978-9, pp. 25-36, p. 31
Below is an image of the Thorsberg Chape, which again, is from Old Saxon lands and deposited most likely as war spoils from Old Saxon tribes to the south (or "proto-Old Saxon tribes..") The Runes are once again of the Elder Futhark and broken into these elements: owlþu, meaning "the glorious", þewaz meaning "servant" or it may be a cognate to Old Norse Ullr. Therefore, the translation could me "priest/servant of Ullr" or "servant of the glorious one." This is the first side, the reverse side is "ni waje mariz" meaning "not ill of fame", or to be put more simply "famous." The whole translation then on both sides would mean: "Wolthuthewaz is well-renowned," or "the servant of Ullr, the renowned." (1) (1) Mindy MacLeod, Bind-Runes: An Investigation of Ligatures in Runic Epigraphy, Uppsala: Institutionen för nordiska sprak, Uppsala Universitet, 2002, ISBN 91-506-1534-3, p. 51, note 17
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