The Vikings used Runes, smooth stones carved with symbols like our modern alphabet, to tell fortunes and to communicate. The word rune is an Old Norse word meaning a secret or mystery, and in a time when hardly anyone could read or write, Runemasters were considered to have magic powers. Any young Viking could learn to fight or build a Longship, but only the most special children were selected to learn the secrets of the Runes.
Runes first appeared about 200AD and were known as the Futhark, after the first seven letters, a bit like our keyboards are called qwerty after the six top keys. Runes carved onto metal, like sword blades, or on stone such as gravestones, have survived, and only a small number of documents like the sagas of Eric the Red and Harald Finehair, a King of Norway, managed not to rot away, which is just as well or we’d not know that Eric’s son Leif discovered America, or that Harald had a great hairdresser.
In 960AD when King Harold Bluetooth of Denmark and many of his subjects converted to Christianity, the use of Runes was discouraged by the Church, because of the stones’ mysterious Pagan past, and, in fact, the Puritans in the 16th century, long after the Vikings era had ended, were still so concerned about the influence of the magical rocks that they passed a law stating that anyone caught owning Runes would be instantly arrested and burnt. Holy smoke!
There has been a great revival in recent times in the historical interest of rune stones, unfortunately, though, if you go searching Google on how to make and read your own stones (as I just did) you came across an awful lot of practicing witches and modern days pagans and crusty people you wouldn’t take home to meet your mum. The genuine historical sites are spread a little thinner.
One decent website I did find was that of famous author Joanne Harris, writer of Chocolat and Runemarks and loads of other books. Her site has more information that you’ll ever need. I really enjoyed it.