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Medicinal Runic Inscriptions

Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery

The discovery of the script of the ancient Germans, supposed to be of

Egyptian or Phenician origin, was attributed to Wodan, who was regarded

as the chief expert in magical writing. The so-called noxious runes were

thought to bring evil upon enemies; the helpful ones averted misfortune,

while the medicinal runes were credited with healing properties.

These ancient characters formed the earliest alphabets among the

nic peoples, and are found throughout Scandinavia, as well as in

Great Britain, France, and Spain, engraved upon monuments, stones,

coins, and domestic utensils. The Gothic word runa meant originally a

secret magical character, and was used to signify a mysterious speech,

song, or writing. The reputed inherent therapeutic qualities of

medicinal runes were potent psychic factors, through the subconscious

mind, in healing disease.

The Anglo-Saxons made use of runic inscriptions, not only as curatives,

but also to banish melancholy and evil thoughts. After their conversion

to Christianity, biblical texts were substituted for the runes, and the

art of composing the former was studied with as much care as had been

devoted to the heathen charms. The term rune became a synonym

for knowledge and wisdom; an oracular, proverbial expression. The

traditional belief of the Anglo-Saxons in the efficacy of healing runes

persisted in the fourteenth century. When foreign medical practitioners

settled in England at that period, the cures wrought by them were

attributed to the superior virtues of the charms employed, rather than

to their professional skill.

The ancient Saxons, before their arrival in Britain, were wont to go

forth into battle, having engraven upon their spears certain runic

characters, which were valued as protective charms, and served to

inspire confidence on the part of the warriors. These magic inscriptions

were believed to have been either invented or improved by Wodan, who

taught the art of putting them into rhyme, and engraving them upon

tables of stone. In William Camden's "Britannia," are

described divers medicinal inscriptions, found in Cumberland. These were

used as spells among the borderers even as late as the close of the

eighteenth century. A book of such charms, of that era, taken from the

pocket of a moss-trooper or bog-trotter, contained among other things a

recipe for the cure of intermittent fever by certain barbarous characts.

In Paul B. du Chaillu's work, "The Viking Age" (London, 1889), mention

is made of the ancient northern custom of employing runes as medical


One Egil went on a journey to Vermaland, and on the way he came to the

house of a farmer named Thorfinn, whose daughter, Helga, had long been

ill of a wasting sickness. "Has anything been tried for her illness?"

asked Egil. "Runes have been traced by the son of a farmer in the

neighborhood," said Thorfinn.

Then Egil examined the bed, and found a piece of whalebone with runes on

it. He read them, cut them off, and scraped the chips into the fire. He

also burned the whalebone, and had Helga's clothes carried into the open

air. Then Egil sang:

As man shall not trace runes,

except he can read them well,

it is thus with many a man,

that the dark letters bewilder him.

I saw on the cut whalebone ten hidden

letters carved, that have caused the woman

a very long sorrow.

Egil traced runes and placed them under Helga's pillow. It seemed to

her as if she awoke from a sleep, and she said that she was then


The ancient northern peoples wore protective and defensive amulets,

which were fastened around the arm, waist, or neck. These amulets were

styled ligamenta, ligaturae, or phylacteria, by the writers of the

early Middle Ages. They were usually fashioned as gold, silver, or glass

pendants. Cipher-writing and runes were commonly inscribed upon them,

often for healing, but contrariwise, to bewitch and injure.

Among the peoples of Western Europe, ancient magical healing formulas,

relics of previous ages, were employed in medieval times by rural

charlatans, who professed to cure ophthalmic disorders by the recitation

of ritualistic phrases, together with suitable gestures of the arms and

fingers over the affected eyes. Dislocations were said to have been

promptly reduced by means of runic enchantments, which were doubtless

supplemented by mechanical treatment; while fractured bones of man or

beast were alleged to unite readily under the influence of Odinic

charms. Wherever the Teutonic races were found, a knowledge of runic

remedies appears to have prevailed.