Magic 1, Requirement 7
Discuss the place of alphabetic symbolism (runes, Ogham, Greek letters, etc) as part of the symbolism of magical practice within one Indo-European culture examine how this alphabet may or may not relate to the earlier sound, word and poetic magical methodologies. (minimum 300 words)
Our most clear-cut case for a magical system based on an alphabet is, of course, the Germanic runes. We can find ample evidence of individual letters being used as magical symbols, especially when combined with other individual letters. Bind runes are an excellent example of such, as are inscriptions on weapons.
The futhark inscriptions (including one known as the "Thames scramasax") sometimes are used in magical ways, and are generally seen as transferring the power of the secrets of information transmission, and thus a powerful way of inscribing an artifact.
What most impresses me, though, is the use of letters to stand not only for the letter, but also for entire words. This shows a high concept of magical replacement. An excellent example of this would be a shield boss that contains the inscription "Hail Bringer", where "hail" is not spelled out, but noted only by the initial letter, which happens to mean "hail", Hagalaz.
Because Indo-European is a family of inflected languages, I sometimes wonder if this doesn't reduce the usage of sound in magic. Individual sounds are useful still, but they are better suited to a language where individual sounds can be related to the letters and strung together, much like Hebrew does, where the letters stand for a sound instead of a component of a sound.
The word "rune" itself, of course, means "secret", and can also mean "poem" or "song". Runic poetry indicates an affinity between runes and poetry, but it is difficult at best to say how they are truly related.
Most of our inscriptions are not poetic at all, though we do have several rune
poems where the meaning of each rune is expanded upon by the author. It seems
that the runes, much like anything else, can be used by a truly creative
person as a basis for poetry, but this is not a primary function.
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