The earliest runic inscriptions are Germanic, from the late second or early third century AD. Originally it was probably a secret craft if the interpretation of Old Germanic *run- as 'secret, mystery' etc is to have any value. It was never used by many people and it appears that the runic 'alphabet' or fuÞark was based on a careful phonological analysis of Old Germanic sounds, which indicates a single creator or perhaps a small group.
The early runic inscriptions were very short and found on objects such as weapons, jewellery and talismans. The general appearance of runes is usually explained as resulting from being carved on wooden sticks, which would lead automatically to the avoidance of curved or horizontal lines. It is generally assumed that at first runes had no utilitarian purpose, but were used for religion or magic.
Originally the runic fuÞark had twenty four runes and each rune had a name beginning with the sound indicated by the rune. For example the m rune was called *manna- = 'man'. When the use of runes moved to other countries and other times, the name of the rune often, but not always, changed so it again indicated the rune sound in the new language and new phonetics.
Gradually the small number of runes proved to be a handicap and extra runes were added.
Eventually, in England there were runes corresponding to all letters of the Latin alphabet
and some extra ones as well. Inscriptions use a twenty eight, thirty two or thirty three
rune fuÞorc. Suggested dates for these changes are from before 600AD to after 800AD,
though there are only 30-40 English runic inscriptions so this is mostly inspired guesswork.
Runes were later written in manuscripts, but they tend to be there for some 'special' reason;
as an ornamental script, for cryptograms, or as an object of study. The study of runes has
been a historical interest since about 1000AD.
Sadly, there is no kettle rune. The nearest I can find is the rune k which is from Old English Calc or Kalc = 'Chalice'. Calc seems to have been an English rune - one of the additional new runes beyond the original twenty four. Variously, it is drawn as a three pronged fork pointing up, a three pronged fork pointing down and the first two strokes of a capital K.
Source: Runica Manuscripta by R Derolez pub De Tempel.
This source book is focussed on the later manuscript runes, so I may be able to find out more about Calc when the next book arrives.
Two runes were worth investigating in detail, the sixth rune of the original fuÞark and the Old English k rune.
In addition, there is a front-k symbol found only on the Ruthwell cross
The meaning of 'back-k' and 'front-k' is not explained, but it does not refer to the position of the rune in a word.
24 December 1998