Just a quick one this time so you know I’m still here! My recent post on the Kingmoor Ring got me thinking about a number of things. Firstly, whilst people in southern England probably expect to find anglo-saxon archaeology, it’s a bit of a novelty in Cumbria. Secondly, why are we surprised to find an inscription that is a variety of good luck charm? And thirdly, why does this ring get a fancy name with capitalisations – actually, it gets two because it’s sometimes known as the Greymoor Ring – when other fabulous, and magical, things do not?
Let me introduce this unnamed brooch. It was found near Penrith and acquired by the British Museum twenty years ago, although I know no more of the circumstances.
It’s of Norse viking manufacture, probably dating to the 10th century. That in itself isn’t strange, as Penrith was a strongly viking settlement. There are even far more spectacular Norse brooches, such as the one found near Flusco. What’s special about this one is that it has a Norse runic inscription on the back.
Sadly, I’m not expert in runes – although at this rate curiosity will have me reaching for text books very soon – and the BM doesn’t seem to have got around to setting its experts on the inscription. I clunkily blew up the high-res version of this picture and I reckon the runes are:
Now this, to someone who knows nothing about runes, is darned odd as ‘futhark’ is the first six letters of the runic alphabet, and, for the uninitiated, is also the proper name for the runic alphabet. I’m hoping a reader will come along and enlighten me on that one.*
*Edited to add: The futhark row, as it is called, or ‘runic equivalent to an ABC, clearly has an amuletic or magical function’ (p72). Its intent is ‘to reinforce the charm’(p42). (Source: Runic Amulets and Magic Objects by Mindy MacLeod and Bernard Mees, (2006) – two lecturers at Melbourne University.) What charm, of course, is the next question…
Runic inscriptions are often simply the owner’s name, but some, like the Kingmoor ring, are believed to have been a charm, or written spell. Plenty of others are untranslateable. There are also examples of some rather vicious curses like that on the 7th-century Björketorp standing stone in Sweden: ‘The runemaster conceals here runes of power. He who breaks this monument will be plagued by evil and doomed to a insidious death’. Were important messages written in runes because runes held magical power, or was writing still sufficiently uncommon that all written messages were, by definition, of the utmost importance?
Whatever the case, I’m a bit sad that Penrith’s Futhark Brooch hasn’t got a fancy name and fancier reputation. Perhaps it will, by the time a rune expert finally gets around to looking at it.
This is the British Museum’s slightly sparse entry. The pictures there are their copyright: don’t nick ’em. You can get your own licence from the BM.