Runes as Intra-personal Communication – Dr. Matthew T. Jones

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This is a piece pyrography (also called wood burning” or “fire writing”) I created for “QuarArtine” depicting Yggdrasil, the world ash (tree) of Norse mythology, surrounded by the runes of the Elder Futhark, an early alphabet primarily associated with the geographic regions of Scandinavia, Iceland, and other locations in Northern Europe.

As the old story goes, the Norse god, Odin, in his quest for wisdom, plucked out an eye and stabbed himself with a spear carved from a branch of Yggdrasil. Then, hanging upside down from the tree for many days, the runes appeared to him in a vision.

As an ancient alphabet, the runes served the obvious purpose of communicating information in written form, such as found on grave-markers, and other monuments. However, what is unique about this alphabet is that each letter has a symbolic significance associated with it, which captures the experiences and struggles of the ancient cultures who used them. For example, the “Hagalaz” rune (the one that appears similar to the letter “H”) means hail, but also symbolically refers to any form of disruption one might experience that is beyond their control (such as COVID-19).

Due to this unique feature, the runes of early Nordic and Germanic cultures were also used as a system of divination meant to provide insight to apparently unknowable phenomena such as the future and divine will. But in the modern era these ancient symbols are sometimes used as a means of gaining knowledge about oneself and facilitating (intra-personal) communication between the different facets of our own psychology. The runes provide a playful means of breaking out of our typical thought patterns and rethinking our perspectives. As such they are like a modern oracle which, though lacking the mysticism of ancient times, is nonetheless insightful for gaining a new perspective on our own thoughts and patterns of behavior.


Dr. Matthew T. Jones is chairperson of the Department of Communication at County College of Morris. His current research focuses on the adaptation of folklore, myths, and legends into popular culture. Dr. Jones has presented and published on the subjects of film, media theory, comic art, and the folklore of The Brothers Grimm. He teaches courses in speech, film, and screenwriting at CCM.