The meaning of the word Rune is “secret, or hidden”. There are signs that early in their history runes were as magical signs instead of a writing system. They were used mostly in magic and divination. Unfortunately, nothing of that original belief system survived into the modern era except the sagas, the scattered fragments of runic history and the runes themselves
Runes held a powerful influence over the superstitious people of this time. The runes had a ritual function, for divination and invocation of higher powers that could affect the happiness of the tribe and its individuals. The prognostications of the runemasters touched every aspect of life, from the most sacred to the mundane. There were runes and spells to influence every aspect of life. Runes were carved on amulets, drinking cups and weapons, and carved on the lintel of the houses and at the bow of the Viking ships.
The runemasters or shamans wore striking clothes. They were revered and feared and it seems that a sizable number of shamans were women. Although in later Anglo-Saxon period alphabets included up to thirty-three sign, the traditional Germanic Futhark script consisted of twenty-four runes. These were divided into three “families” of eight runes, it was said that the numbers three and eight, had special magical powers. The three groups (aettir) were named after the Nordic gods Frey, Hagal and Tyr.
Odin is the chief god in the pantheon of Norse gods. His name is derived from the term for “wind” and “spirit”. Through his suffering, his self-sacrifice, Odin brought the runes to us. According to the legend, Odin hung from Yggdrasil for nine days and nights, pierced by his spear and near death. A sacrifice to himself to receive the power of the runes. The power of the word, of divination, of blessing and curse. Near-death he saw a vision of the runes and reached out and grabbed them.