The World of Icons, Runes, Numbers and Values
Pictures originally served as icons, they were either objects of religious adoration or means of magic manipulation. Eventually such images turned into a set of symbols: hieroglyphs, letters, runes etc.
Runes – and that goes for characters of other scripts as well – had been symbols to spellbind the world. Originally they were not meant to convey messages but to gain power over the object itself, to conjure it. The same applies to runes, what H. P. Aleff (Board Game, The Phaistos Disk) says with regard to hieroglyphs. They » ... were the “gods’ words” and had supernatural powers. They did not merely convey the word sound or picture of the object or idea represented, but the Egyptians believed that each hieroglyph contained the essence of the object or idea depicted and was identical with it, or at least equally effective in the realm of magic to which these powerful signs belonged. «
Likewise numbers and values served this purpose. In many – if not all – cultures the
The common Germanic fuþark comprises
To give a plain example: There is the magic formula “alu” which means ale or
beer. The number
Icons, runes, numbers and values; the Casket combines all that with highest perfection. These are the 3 levels on which to view that ancient monument:
1. The iconographic aspect:
The program, starts out with “Birth” in presence of the “birdishly disguised valkyrie” (Magi) and continues quite consequently with valkyrian partnership (Weland).
The left panel bears an appeal for divine assistance on the way to war (Romulus).
The back panel brings life to the peak of glory by victory and justice (Titus). These three panels determine life.
The right panel – depicting a deity of the grove (Herh-os), who in fact is the valkyrie in her ghastly shape – procures an appropriate death for some unknown hero of a lost saga. As his fylgja she visits him in his grave, revives him and takes him to Walhalla (comp. »Helgiakwiða«.
The lid describes a hero’s life in Valhalla, backed by his valkyrie, while he is fighting off the frost giants with some success. Woden’s Hall, the arch, is marked by the knot and the double headed animals, as »Grimnismál« (17) says: “They who come to Odin can recognize his hall easily, when they see it: A wolf hangs in front of the western door and above him an eagle is threatening.”
2. The runic aspect:
Each of the 4 panels starts out with a thematic rune in the upper left edge. In case of the front we have two pictures and, consequently, two alliterating runes to comment on them.
: R on the left panel invokes a safe ride, protected by the travelling twins, equals (by their father Mars) to Woden and his daughters. Their rune is related to the sign of the travelling twins k. (Rock drawing from Ryland / Tanum)
; T on the back panel stands for the chief god Tyr and spells his attributes, victory and justice. So far the 3 luck-procuring panels.
: H The fourth panel is a harm averting charm. It refers to the valkyrie as herh os (forest deity), thus making dangerous (hagal, hail) the thematic rune. Two vowel runes, , A and ,E which appear in the picture as horse and (oak) tree, change the fate, and after
. Æ The lid bears only a name. Ægili, a legendary archer and Wayland brother, backed by his Fylgja.If we regard the initial rune Æ as a thematic symbol it goes quite well with the scene: “The ash … offers stubborn resistance, though attacked by many a man.”
3. The numeric aspect:
All runes and “dots” together amount to 288. That
These 3 well-wishing panels start out with a spell on each left border (hronæsban, oÞlæ unneg, her fegtaÞ) These spells consist of 9 runes each (altogether with a total value of 330.
The harm averting right Panel counts 74 runes – including one bind rune in
The inserted words (mægi, risci, wudu, bita, Ægili) consist of 22 runes, bringing up the total to
Both results, 3600 and 3572, seem to have calendar quality, as they indicate ten years of solar. respectively lunar measurement.
Apart from all that the carver even seems to have observed meaningful totals of individual runes basing on the decimal system. It seems as if he had reserved certain totals of runes for certain texts, which he then composed in the manner of a scrabble play.
If the carver intended all those numbers and values he had to phrase his text accordingly. Just for this purpose he used odd word forms like giuþeasu or affitatores, which have nothing to do with Northumbrian dialect. And if he needed he changed an and into an end, not thinking of 21st century runologists, who may take him for ignorant when he does not correspond with their ideas of runic practice.
The cryptic vowel runes on the H-panel
If the casket really is a hoard box with qualities of determining a ruler’s way of wyrd, it is evident that the panel forecasting his death must not become effective before the hour decreed. That required some sort of cryptography. One means to make things difficult, was to render the bottom line upside down, just the same as on the opposite panel, which also touches the realm of the divine. Moreover, when replacing the vowel runes by rune-like symbols the rune master actually put the spell into a code, just the way good old Venerable Bede used to encrypt messages.
From the 29 vowels he replaced 27 (3x3x3) by such symbols. To keep this powerful number he placed 2 regular vowel-runes into that part of the text, where the well-wishing S-runes, , carry the staff (3rd long verse). And it is not by chance that the rune master chose the two harm averting runes a, and e , , which carry the staff in the second verse, to appear in their ordinary shapes: one as a bind rune the other one just by itself. In order to work they do not want a disguise.
Anyway, the e-rune might be a symbol replacing the vowel u, which does not occur elsewhere on this panel. This, of course, would ruin the mystic 27. Moreover, we are not sure which of the two symbols stands for a, (ac) and which for æ (æsc),. . Neither of the readings is free of problems. But more than that, some spellings are so strange that they cannot be attributed to the carver’s incompetence and much less – the ace-of-trumps-argument – to some odd Northumbrian dialect, if not “confused” execution.
As grammar and orthography seem to be so deliberate, we have to interpret the symbols themselves: The one used for the I-rune, appears 6-times in 5 different shapes, which are known as variations of the s-rune, , elsewhere. As the rune I, , is is associated with ‘death’ and the rune s, , (sigel) with ‘light’ and ‘life’ the harm averting quality of the symbol seems to be intended. The variations in shape may have to do with numerological calculations, if not with different aspects of the symbolic rune itself.
A similar interpretation is possible for the symbol used for the letter e, which is rendered five or six times, respectively, i.e. one regular rune and five symbols. The characters are mirrored n-runes, , which mean nyd, ‘need’ or ‘distress’. Again this may be a try to turn the “Way of Wyrd” from ‘the worse to the better’. The runes a (ac) and Æ (æsc) are replaced by two symbols which can be seen as variations of the rune for u (ur), in shapes used elsewhere. There seem to be 6 symbols for ac and 6 others for æsc, depending on the reading of the partially erased agl(ac). Anyway, we would gain a powerful total of 12 u-runes (value 24).
The symbols, used here, resemble the c-rune, c (cen), the torch, which again means light in the darkness.
In order to replace the 4th rune of the fuþorc, o, which means os (one of the Æsir) and appears 4 times on this panel, the carver introduces a symbol which looks like a mirrored H, , hagal, ‘hail’. With the help of his gods he tries to ‘mirror’ bad luck into the opposite. If retrograde script actually contains the opposite quality of the regular rune or text, it would explain, why on the front panel the bottom line, which expresses the pain of the unhappy whale, is carved that way. Likewise, each different course has its particular meaning.
Whether or not the runes helped the owner of the box we don’t know, but it certainly is recorded in the archives of Walhalla; in runes for sure.