No one really knows how old the runes are. The earliest document written in runes dates back as far as 200 AD, but it is believed that they were used, probably by the druids, for magical, divination and religious purposes long before they emerged as an alphabet. Some argue that they constituted a secret language as early as the seventh century BC.
"Rune" comes from the old Norse word "Runa" meaning "secret". The Celtic expeditions encouraged the emergence of several different types of runic alphabets. Among these variants, the Elder Futhark is the best-known. It was named after the initial phoneme of the first six rune names and it was widely popular between the second and the eighth centuries AD.
The religious beliefs of the Germanic peoples bear witness to the fact that the runes were perceived as mediators between the mankind and the Divine. For example, each of the 24 runes has its own patron deity. However, they are also associated with aspects of everyday life such as animals, plants, natural features as well as mundane objects.
Moreover, the Germanic tribes believed that the runic symbols were mysteries in the truest sense of the word, the powers they were imbued with being revealed only to the initiated. These peoples thought that the runes could change the weather, influence the crop growth and development, heal the wounded and the sick and protect those in danger. This is the reason why rune chants and spells were transmitted orally and not through writing. Inscriptions referring to runic divination do however exist and we owe them our ability to use the runes for that purpose.
Interestingly enough, there's also a strong connection between the runes and the Christian mysteries. And according to the Hermetic principles, it's not just coincidence that there are 24 symbols in the runic alphabet and 24 Elders surrounding the throne of God in the Book of Revelation. Many scholars argue that these entities were entrusted by God with the task of overseeing what we do in body so as to be judged accordingly on Resurrection Day. And this perspective does share some similarities with the Germanic belief that runes function as intermediaries between the realm of the mortals and the divine kingdom.
The runes also thought to have astronomical/astrological correspondences. On the whole, they are associated with the Beehive Cluster in the constellation Cancer.
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