When the Norsemen from The Thirteenth Warrior decide to help a neighboring lord get rid of the monster that has been feeding on his warriors at night. they summon an old woman, a seer to help them plan their quest. She throws a set of objects that look like dice made out of bones on the ground. Based on the symbols and on the way those objects fall, she is able to advise the men on their quest. The seer tells them that to be successful their number is to be thirteen, twelve Norseman and a foreigner. From there, twelve Norseman and the Arab start their journey with the words of the woman as their only guide. The objects she throws on the ground are runes, and in the dark ages, men believed that their destiny, their "wyrd", was written upon them.

The word runes has two meanings. One is an alphabet that was used in Northern Europe; the other is an attempt to break through the veil of the unknown by means of fortune telling. The exact origin of the runic alphabet is unknown. It was used by Germanic people of Northern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland from about the 3rd century BC to the 16th or 17th century AD. Runic writing is not an ancient language. Its characteristics, such as its"angular letter form" and its left to right direction, seem to indicate that it belongs to an older system, with origins probably around Mediterranean. The origin of the name is probably related to the attribution of magic power by the ancient Germanic tribes, who like all primitive peoples, attributed mystical meaning to the mysterious symbols scratched on armor, jewels, and tombstones. However the only proof of this lies in the fact that in both Old Germanic and Gothic the root "ru" means "mystery, secret, secrecy".

The original set of runes is called elder Futhark, which is named after the first six runes. It developed as traders, adventurers, and warriors traveled throughout the European continent, spreading the runes. There were twenty-four original runes, but variations began to occur. Variations contained 33 different letters. The Vikings simplified it to 18.
The second meaning of runes is spiritual. Runes were believed to be able to tell fortunes. Certain associations were made between symbols and events or characteristics. Feoh, the first letter, for example, is probably associated with wealth, money, possessions, energy, hard work, spiritual riches, and fertility. Symbols were carved on stones or wooden blocks and either pulled out in specific order or were tossed out to the ground. People able to read runes were held in great esteem. Almost all of such seers were women. The meaning of the runes was a closely guarded secret several centuries ago. Because of this, only the protégé of the rune-reader would be given the information of meaning of the runes. No written information was recorded and very little information on this form of fortune-telling has survived.

Whether the runes told the future we shall never know. Modern attempts at rune-reading would probably make the rune-readers of the old laugh. But runes, as a written language, enabled folklore to survive close to 15 centuries and to be read by us. Many very important works such as Beowulf and "The Wanderer" survived because there was an organized form of a written language.

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