Home Survey - summa summarum

The automatic translation is necessarily imprecise. This translation does not replace the reading of German or English original texts.

[Revised version February 2012]


Or: A Kingdom for a pocket calculator

Magic and the nature of things
If today we speak about „magic“, we tend to think in terms of witchcraft, which suspends the law of nature. In the Middle Ages, however, they understood "magic" in terms of power over things (OE magan = can; mæg = he can). Behind the concrete things they suspected hidden forces that determine their kind. It would therefore be possible to gain power over things, if one knew the formulas to which they obey, in this context name and number1. This does not seem very different from our referring to the periodic table where H stands for Hydrogen (value 1) and O for Oxygen (value 8) and expect H2O to be water.
From the rune master's point of view a rune (e.g. the rune t-Rune which stands for ‘victory’) was the very thing itself, while the individual victory (e.g. Titus’s victory over the Jews) was just one occurrence of this kind. Since the symbol (rune) represents the thing in itself, it was considered more real than the individual phenomenon. And since these runes have an ordinal number according to their position in the runic row, the number turns into an organizing principle of magic quality. Thus the 24 runes of the Older fuþark were divided into three groups (aett, pl. ættir) of 8 runes each . The rune t-Rune, for example, is number 17 (position and value) in the runic row of 24, ranging in the 3rd aett as number 1, identified as 3/12. Thus the system of 24 runes defines things by their runic names, numbers and values. To know them meant to gain power over the phenomena. Even the entire row of 24 runes (fuþark) was a spell all by itself, probably due to its total value 300.

This system did not change much with the Anglo-Saxon fuþorc of up to 33 runes in Christian days. The 9th century Seax of Beagnoþ bears the Anglo-Saxon runic row (fuþorc) of 28 runes along with that name Beagnoþ, probably as a protective charm. In stanza 6 of the eddaic poem “Sigrdrífumál” the valkyrie Sigrdrífa teaches her hero Sigurd how to engrave runes on his sword to provide magical protection: "Victory runes you must know if you will have victory, and carve them on the sword's hilt, some on the grasp and some on the inlay, and name Tyr twice." (Wikipedia, Sigrdrífumál). Tyr is the God of war, Woden's predecessor, and Tyr is the name of rune 17 which in turn stands for victory and justice.

Magic to manage Fortune and Fate
Or How to help a royal protégé

The five panels of the Franks Casket show six emblematic scenes with inscriptions on the four sides while the lid bears just the name Ægil(i) as a titulus. These panels are designed to guide a hero's life from birth to death and thereafter: Valhalla according to Germanic tradition. From all we know the rune master designs a sequence of runes, figures their values and looks for motifs which go with these runes.

Heroic Themes in runes and pictures

Four emblematic pictures on the three panels referring to life depict this way to the top, each relating to the initial of a name: Fisc and Gasric, Romulus, Titus. [The two remaining panels, referring to death, work the same way by the initials of Herh-os and of Ægili.
A 9-rune charm on the left rim (hronæsban, oþlæ unneg, her fegtaþ) precedes each of these initials, which render the theme of the pictures they go with.
Likewise the right panel - referring to afterlife - bears a 9-rune charm (drigiþ swæ), but now on the right rim.
This magic formula follows a regular pattern:
On the left edges ofthe Panels F, R, T we have phrases, which we comprehend as incantation or charm. These are always composed of 9 runes, the value of which is divisible by 3.

  (123 + 102 + 105 = 330; 330 : 3 = 110)

The total value of 3 x 9 runes is 330, which correlates with 3 x 110.
The right edge3 of the H-Panel offers a comparable formula.
Here 9 runes produce the value 110.

Three Panels referring to Life

Front: f-Rune (1) and g-Rune (7) meaning to produce and distribute “wealth” (value 8) These topics go along with pictures of the elfish goldsmith with never ending resources and the generously giving Magi.
g-Runegifu hands the 'gift' to some one worthy the present. f and g spell feohgift, which is the king's 'treasure giving'

Left: r-Rune (value 5) for a safe ride followed by the runes t-Rune and g-Rune
The Roman twins, sons of Mars (Romulus later a War God himself) along with Woden’s wolves, serve as patrons on the way to war.

Back: t-Rune (value 17) stands for victory and glory by justice as Tiw is Lord of the Þing. Again the runes f-Rune and g-Rune appear in this context.
The conquest of Jerusalem and judgment over the inhabitants by the later Roman emperor illustrate the peak of power and glory.

At this point we have a closer look at the values. This, of course, is speculative, but "without speculation there is no good & original observation." (Charles Darwin)
f = value 1 and g = value 7 appear 3 times in alliterating position, resulting in the powerful 24.
r = value 5 appears 3 times in alliterating position. This results in 15, rune z-Rune sign of the Valkyrie
t = value 17 appears once in the corner position (upper left), powered by the name giving God of War,17.

[These 4 thematic runes: f-Rune g-Rune r-Rune t-Rune on the 3 fortune procuring panels produce 30, which is (10 x 3) and should be understood as a powerful value.]

One Panel and Lid referring to Death and Afterlife
An apotropaic Spell
Power and glory admit the hero to the "other world". To promote this the rune master had to choose the appropriate topics fitting the necessary set of runes on the H-Panel and Lid. Here on the right side of the casket he tries to determine fate by securing death in action (thus averting Hel, the realm of the shadows) and by procuring resurrection (meaning afterlife in Valhalla) for the hero.
The right panel (H-Panel) opens with the ‘harmful’ first verse (herh-os sitæþ on harmbergæ) on the upper rim, followed by a 9-rune charm (drigiþ swæ), which precedes the alliterating s-Rune in Sær. The Lid (Æ-Panel) bears just the name Ægil(i) as titulus.
Right: s-Rune (value 16) stands for light and life, illustrated by the life-spending Valkyrie.
Lid finally promises communion with Woden's heroes at Valhalla, a promotion from needing protection (H-Panel) to granting it (Æ-Panel).
A-Rune æsc (value 26) 'ash' means 'defence' ”against many a man” (Runic Poem).

[These 2 thematic runes s-Rune and A-Rune (16 + 26) produce a value of 42, which by itself is of no particular significance to us] But:…
All these thematic runes (1 + 7 + 5 + 17 + 16 + 26) produce the most significant value of 72 (= 3 x 24).

At this point we may have a closer look at numbers values of these two apotropaic panels
1st vers
h-Rune hagal (2 x value 9) 'hail' means 'fatality' which Herh-Os on Harmberg brings about.
2nd vers
a-Rune ac (value 25) 'oak' is said to be of apotropaic nature
e-Rune eoh (value 19) 'horse' is likewise said to be of apotropaic nature
3rd vers
s-Rune sigel (3 x value 16) 'sun' means 'light' and life (in contrast to shadow and death)
The S-runes in the last vers produce the value 48.
All alliterating runes (h h, a e, s s s) together produce the value 110.

The Lid (Æ-Panel) finally promises communion with Woden's heroes, a promotion from needing protection (H-Panel) to granting it (Æ-Panel).
A-Rune æsc (value 26) 'ash' means 'defence' against many a man (Runic Poem).

Again we have a speculative look at the values.
h = value 9 The initial verse foots on 2 x 9 with 18 as total.
a = value 25 and e = value 19 This adds up to 44
s = value 16 With 3 x 16 we again end up with 48

18 is twice the magic 9, a value often used in charms (e.g. Nine Herbs)
48 is twice the powerful 24 of the Older Fuþark.
The sequence of powerful numbers (9 and 24) seems intended.
26, the value of Æ on the Lid is not spectacular by itself.
The results make an intentional choice of runes and values very likely.

The Inscriptions as a Magical Construct
So far we have had a look at particular runes, prominent within their context. Beyond this there are regular patterns (numbers and values) in all inscriptions which become more obvious when presented as a whole.

PanelRunesMultipleValue    Multiple/24
Front723 x 24 720   30 x 24
Left723 x 24 939? ? 39,13x24
Back482 x 24 612   25.5 x 24
Right74(3,08 x 24)1008   42 x 24
Pictures* 22(0,1 x 24) 295   (? 59 x 5)
Right + Pict.74 + 22 = 96**     4 x 24
Total288(12 x 24)3574

* words within pictures (risci, wudu, bita, mægi, Ægili)
** the number of runes (74)+ those within pictures (22) seem to be a unit (96 = 4 x 24)

The table shows clearly that 24 is a dominant value. Only the left panel does not follow this pattern. This may be so due to 'his' wrong calculation or - more likely - to our wrong reading.
The following table may give us additional insight in the mathematical construction:

Panel  RunesValueTheme Multiple
Front     72 720   8 90
Left     72 939 (940)   5188 (?)
Back     48 61217 36
Right     74100816 63

The runic values of 3 of the panels can be divided by the value of the thematic rune it goes with. Again the left panel does not follow this pattern.

The pictures along with runes, numbers and values were meant to provide a heroic life and a death worthy Valhalla. But how to get the charm started and how to keep it going?

The integrated Calendar
The number of runes on the 3 luck procuring panels (F R T) base on a product of 24 (72, 72, 48) while the harm averting H-Panel bears 74 runes, but along with the 22 runes of the tituli (i.e. words in the pictures: P) we count 96 (= 4 x 24) runes.
72 (F) + 72 (R) + 48 (T) + 96 (H+P) = 288
288 is the product of 12 x 24.
24 stands for 300 (sum of its arithmetic row)
12 such rows produce 3600. If rural solar calendars are based on 12 months, 30 days each
3600 stands for a 10year solar calendar (of 12 months with 30 days each plus 5 days “between the years”).

288 runes and dots [720 (F) + 939 (R) + 612 (T) + 1008 (H) + 295 (P)] produce the runic value 3574
The rosette of the Magi-picture hints with its 13 leaves at a lunar year of 13 sidereal months.
3574 stands for a 10year lunar calendar of 13 sidereal months with 27,49 days to each one 4. If it consists of 7 months at 27 days and 6 months at 28 days we end up with a sidereal year of 357 days.

A lunar calendar of this kind would soon lose track with the Julian year, a time unit defined as exactly 365.25 days. To balance this it takes a number of leap years over a certain period of time. This is provided by the cryptic Latin phrase on the T-Panel, a text kept in Latin majuscule and runes. 20 letters (value 238) render a perfect Metonic Cycle of 235 lunar months plus 3 months (lunations) more to take us from Midwinter (winter solstice) to Easter (equinox).


T-Panel: Latin text part: Hi-RuneCFUGi-RuneANTHi-RuneEr-RuneUS-RuneALi-RuneM

Rosette and Metonic Cycle terminate the lifespan from the noble birth to the heroic death. To make sure that this clockwork does not come to a sudden end, it is calculated on a basis of 10, which is the beginning of the next cycle from 10 to 19, as the previous one has come to an end with 9. That is why the Metonic Cycle here takes 20 characters.

The validity of the charm war probably not limited to a period of 10 years. Those people used to think in terms of cycles. Not unlike 100, the number 10 may have been regarded as a cycle, followed by an endless row of other cycles. The casket was meant to determine their course. Did the spell work? Did our hero live through a victorious and glorious life? Did his Valkyrie take him to Woden's celestial battlefields and Asgard's beer gardens? The records of Valhalla will hold the answer, - surely kept in runes.

1 Helmut Birkhan, Magie im Mittelalter (München 2010) refers to 'magic and mantic (i.e. soothsaying) as forces guaranteeing the coherence of the cosmos.

2 So called twig runes (or cryptographic runes) are designed according to this principle. Here on Franks Casket they appear on the R-Panel (left) and on H-Panel (right). The roots pointing left indicate the ætt, those pointing right render the position of the rune in that ætt . As for that type of runes refer to K. Düwel, Runenkunde, S. 183 -196 (Stuttgart, Weimar 2001)

3 The reading here sets in on the upper edge with a forecast of “harm”. The 9-rune spell the right edge (which produces 110 in value) precedes a verse alliterating on three redeeming s-runes: s-Rune s-Rune s-Rune

4 Wikipedia: “Sidereal month” The period of the Moon's orbit as defined with respect to the celestial sphere (of the fixed stars, nowadays the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF)) is known as a sidereal month because it is the time it takes the Moon to return to a given position among the stars (Latin: sidera): 27.321661 days (27 d 7 h 43 min 11.5 s).


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