For more than a thousand years, runic symbols with magical properties have been inscribed onto objects to make them more powerful. Small items stamped with these were carried around for good luck, protection and general well-being. Runic charms were also carved into wooden and metal amulets to ensure peace and prosperity, as well as larger items which would be placed in meaningful areas. These runes were not a part of the Furthark alphabet later used for communication, but had meanings which have been revealed to be either magical or superstitious.
Examples of specific combinations of runes have been found on objects made during the early centuries. This was a time of ongoing war and conquest, and everyday life was sometimes dangerous and unpredictable. One regularly used combination was the rune trio ALU, which was carved into jewelry and magical bracteate (thin single-sided gold discs worn as jewelry) and were icons which gave protection.
Weapons would also have various inscriptions to encourage triumph and protection during war, or defense. After a battle, victory runes were carved on swords, both on the grasp and inlay, with specific requirements such as naming the god associated with heroic actions, Tyr, twice.
The Vadstena Bracteate was found in Sweden in 1774, along with a gold ring and a piece of gold sheet, and has become instrumental in the study of the runes as magical symbols. In 1938, it was stolen from the Swedish Museum of Natural Antiquities, and its whereabouts are still unknown. The item is believed to have been made in approximately AD 500, and had a picture of a man behind the head of a bull. This symbolized the god Mithras beside a sacrificial bull, and was associated with Roman soldiers as the ‘unconquerable god.’ Its use demonstrates the influence that older civilizations had on Norse warriors. In addition, inscribed upon the object is a full set of runes, in a unique format which has been discovered to have magical properties. When examined further the combination of runes symbolizes the numbers 24 and 216, which have extremely powerful magical qualities.
Memorial stones make up most of the artifacts bearing runes that have been found. Blekinge is an important runic site, with four stones that refer to magic and the use of charms. Included among them is the Istaby Stone, which is the oldest surviving Danish runestone located to date. It is inscribed in the memory of Hariwolfarf, who cut the stones. Along with the memorial, there are warning inscriptions such as ‘he who breaks these stones will suffer by the hidden forces of rune magic.’ Despite skepticism about whether the prophecy will come true, the stones have not been broken since their creation 1300 years ago.