How to Make Your Own Rune Staff Calendar

I’d recently been studying Rune Staves and how they were used as perpetual calendars on the 19-year Metonic Cycle, and I got to wanting to make my own.

The idea is pretty simple: three rows convey all the information you need.

The middle row depicts all the days in a year by repeating the first 7 runes of the Younger Futhark ~52 times. So kind of like F U ᚦ A R K H F U ᚦ A R K H etc (in Younger Futhark, th is a single character represented as ᚦ). Or, if we did it using the Latin alphabet, it would be A B C D E F G repeated ~52 times. Keep in mind that this is just a convenient way to split the year into chunks of 7, it does not represent days of the week! Because, for example, Monday will not always fall on the same day every year.

The top row has illustrations that indicate which of the days are “feast days” or “good days” or “evil days” or whatever else special days they’d want to indicate.

The bottom row has all the letters of the Younger Futhark (plus 3 “bonus runes” made for this purpose) to represent the golden numbers 1 – 19. So, depending on where you are in the 19-year cycle, you look and see wherever that year number appears in the “golden numbers” row, that is when there will be a full moon. According to the Metonic Cycle, the moons fall the same day every 19 years.

To summarize the three rows:

Keep in mind that the golden numbers are not in order 1 – 19 on the staff, however. Based on when the moons occur, the order of the golden numbers is actually:

  • 19
  • 8
  • 16
  • 5
  • 13
  • 2
  • 10
  • 18
  • 7
  • 15
  • 4
  • 12
  • 1
  • 9
  • 17
  • 6
  • 14
  • 3
  • 11

Also keep in mind that not every day has a golden number assigned to it! I guess not every day was cut out to have a full moon fall on it.

I wanted to get the full pattern so I could make my own, but all the photos of rune staves were segments, and they did not show one complete cycle of the 19 golden numbers, so I could not recreate the whole pattern! Until I found the piece MS 2913. This is a calendar drawn in Norway in 1636 which is apparently a sort of rune staff inspired / parchment calendar hybrid. They use the Latin letters ABCDEFG instead of the runes FUᚦARKH, and use a different numbering system for the golden numbers (not runes), and they also include the days of the month (which traditional rune staffs did not have), but the whole idea is represented there with the three rows serving the same purpose.

To save you the trouble, I have “translated” MS 2913 into something that I find more easily readable, so that I can begin to make my own rune staff:

The Norwegian calendar from 1636 translated into an Excel Spreadsheet

You should notice a couple of things. First, that the golden numbers 19 and 8 alternate every other cycle between having a gap between them and having no gap between them. Second is that the golden number pattern is (gaps represented by ‘-‘):

19,-*,8,-,16,5,-,13,2,-,10,-,18,7,-,15,4,-,12,1,-,9,-,17,6,-,14,3,-,11

*This gap alternates between being there and not being there

I looked up a 2017 full moon calendar, and found that this calendar from 1636 totally accurate for 2017, and that we are currently on golden number year 18 in the cycle! I thought that was super cool. There were some days that the modern calendar predicted as being 12AM on the next day as predicted by MS 2913, which is I think due to daylight savings time shenanigans (I couldn’t find a full moon calendar not in daylight savings time, alas), but that I found to be an acceptable failing.

Then I looked up a 2018 full moon calendar, and compared it to the golden number 19 cycle on MS 2913, but unfortunately there were a few days in the second half of the year that were 2 days off – no longer could this be explained away with daylight savings time. This is hardly surprising, apparently every 300 years the rune calendars need to be adjusted by a day. What was really surprising was that it was 100% accurate at predicting 2017’s full moons!

So then I thought that, if I wanted to make my own rune staff, I would want it to be accurate for beyond 2017, so I tried to lay out my own rune staff. I’m thinking I’ll put my own “feast days” on it, like my birthday and Doc’s birthday and our anniversary and my siblings’ birthdays, along with some of the old feast days that I can find from photos of old rune staffs.

Again, there’s the issue with the daylight savings shenanigans, and I couldn’t find lunar calendars that always agreed with each other, but overall I checked this layout against every single full moon calendar from 2017 – 2050 and it is never more than a few hours off (which, recall, according to where those hours fall might predict the full moon a “day” early or late, but that’s it). I might tweak it some more before I actually carve it into a piece of wood, and of course my staff will have actual runes carved into it, but for laying it out I find using Arabic numerals and Latin characters the easiest (because that is what Excel supports). I also will not include month names or days of the month on my rune staff, because I want it to be very traditional, but I’ll admit those were very handy for quickly checking its accuracy against those online full moon calendars.

What I don’t like about this layout vs MS 2913 is there appears to be no consistent pattern, the gaps seem random and move around everywhere. I might have to study the Metonic Cycle a bit more to see how to get it updated for modern time, but still have a predictable spacing to the golden numbers. I dunno. It might also be weird spacing to accommodate leap years, which apparently the rune staffs did not traditionally account for. Despite the chaos this layout does seem to work very well for a very long time.

Feel free to use this layout for your own rune staffs, and/or tweak it to make it better, etc:

My tweaking of the spacing of the golden numbers to more accurately predict future full moon cycles

But, even though the spacing is chaotic, notice that the order of the numbers is preserved. The order should always be the same.

Hopefully this gives everybody enough understanding to make their own rune staves! And happy golden number 18 year!

About Steen

Steen is a nerdy biologist who spends a lot of time trying to cultivate Chloroflexi. When she isn't working, she likes to draw comics, play video games, and climb.
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16 Responses to How to Make Your Own Rune Staff Calendar

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  2. Susan Granquist says:

    I was so pleased to find this article. I have been trying to work out how to make an accurate rune almanac for years. Could you explain the additional 9 and 18 under September in the third row?

    • Steen says:

      Oh my, good catch! Those look like notes I accidentally left in when I was tweaking the old calendar I “translated” to be more accurate for my own lifetime. Whoops!

      Those were days I shifted back by one, and I left notes for myself as to where they originally were, just in case that turned out to be a mistake and I wanted to put them back to the original arrangement.

      Glad you enjoyed the article! Are you planning to carve one out of wood? I’m still planning on doing that, although I’ve been dragging my feet on it :-/

      • Susan Granquist says:

        I am definitely planning on making more than one. I saw this bowl by Lucy Tokheim. http://lucy-tokheim.squarespace.com/passingtime/ while researching the primstav/runic almanac. I have a large wooden salad bowl with straight sides that I decided to try and do something similar to and started out by cutting the strips of your chart out and gluing them together. I’ve had to do a couple of versions to get it to fit, but finally have the basic divisions marked. It was really helpful that you documented the cycle to 2017 too. Years ago I came across this article http://www.maritimeheathen.org/Documents/The%20pagan%20Great%20Midwinter%20Sacrifice%20and%20the%20%E2%80%98royal%E2%80%99%20mounds%20at%20Old.pdf which I can only find on-line as the pdf now. I had bought a primstav at a Scandinavian folk festival and became interested in how it worked. I’m not very good at math and can’t really evaluate the article on that basis, but it does speak to the cycles and mentions a primstav that had to be calibrated to the proper year.

        • Steen says:

          Awesome! Carving into a bowl sounds like it would be really cool, and give it more of an idea of perpetuity and cycles of seasons than a linear staff would! I’m really excited that you’re planning on carving it.

          Also: thank you so much for sharing those resources; Tokheim’s work is gorgeous, and that paper about the use of lunar calendars in Sweden is super interesting.

  3. Amanda says:

    This is super helpful and timely for me! I have been trying to figure out how to represent my wedding date (September 3rd, 2017) in either Younger Futhark or Pentadic numerals for a tattoo, and there just isn’t much help out there. I’m still totally lost… but this is a huge step in the right direction for me. So thank you!

    • Steen says:

      I’m glad this was helpful! Good luck on your research, and a belated congrats on your marriage! I’ll let you know if I find anything else that might help you with the design.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Please let us know if you find an updated metonic cycle for use in an ancient pagan-style calendar where we start the year on 21 May. I’ve just discovered that you can’t simply copy the golden numbers of the Gregorian Metonic cycle to a different date or you end up with madness (i.e. number 19 occurs both on 22 December (2 Æfterra Geola) and 1 January (12 Æfterra Geola) which is obviously impossible).

    I’m likely to just sit down with an astronomical calendar and calculate it out for the next 19 years unless someone knows of one that’s already been done.

    • Steen says:

      Hm, interesting. For this updated calendar, I did actually make it by manually going through full moon calendars for the next 19 years. I absolutely did not just copy/paste the numbers, this was very laborious for me to make.

      I’m curious to know why it would be impossible for the full moon this year (2018 is golden number 19) to fall on both Jan 1st and Dec 22nd? I just looked up the full moon calendar this year, and it says this year we had the full moon on Jan 1st, and there will also be a full moon on Dec 22nd. So it seems accurate and not impossible?

      Note that this calendar is based on the Norwegian artifact I linked to, which has the years start/turn over every January, so January #19 and December #19 are almost a year away from each-other (and not less than a month apart). If you want the year to start on May 21st, then yes I believe you will have to shift all the golden numbers from Jan – May down by one, to make it in the “proper year.”

      • Jeremy says:

        Good questions, and yes you seem to be correct. I’ve examined this more and here’s what seems to be the case. The number 19 (or any other golden number you’re using) is only good for the Gregorian year which starts on 1 January and ends on 31 December. After 31 December on year 19, the next moon in January falls on the golden number 1, obviously not the golden number 19 (or whatever number comes after the year number in question). So what I would need to do is shift all of my golden numbers ahead about 3 months from your golden numbers (so from 1 Jan to 20 March your golden number 1 would still be my 19). Similar shifts in the opposite direction would need to happen for a calendar that starts at Samhain or any other date instead of 1 January like your Gregorian runic calendar.

        This sort of mathematics is only going to open me up to many potential errors so I’m going to do it from scratch like you did, but as an interesting exercise I’ll check my numbers against yours as see if my theory above does work out (although I don’t see why I wouldn’t).

        Look at us! The medieval science of computistics is still alive and well haha!

        • Steen says:

          Yes, absolutely, 2019 will be golden number 1 (and not 19), and therefore the 1’s will indicate the full moons then.

          I agree that you should just be able to shift the golden numbers back for the months between 1 Jan and 20 March – it just makes sense. But as you say there might be complications. So I agree that if you have the time and inclination, it would be safest to manually check all the dates (unfortunately).

  5. M. Ferguson says:

    Hello,
    I’ve recently gained an interest in learning more about the Runic Calendar. I think I’m starting to fully understand it. However, one part is escaping me a little, and maybe you can answer it. I have three questions, all related: Do you know if every given year always starts with the first rune? Or does the first rune of a given year depend on whatever the rune that fell on the last day of the previous year was? And if the latter, is there an easy way of determining what rune a given year starts on? If you could answer this, when and if able, I’d be very grateful. Thank you.

    • Steen says:

      If I’m understanding your question correctly:

      The runes (the “actual” Futhark and not the ones representing the Golden Numbers) simply represent 1-7 on most rune calendars, and are a way of dividing up into 52 chunks, so it is easier to look at than just ~364 slots. So in this case, they are somewhat arbitrary, and you could technically start them on whichever rune you want. But yes, every rune staff I’ve seen seems to start with the first rune on the first day of the year, and then repeats (“F-U-TH-A-R-K-H-F-U-TH-A-R-K-H-F-U-TH-A-R-K-H,” etc).

      TL/DR: yes, the year always starts with the first rune of the Younger Futhark.

      If you’re talking about the weird made-up runes which represent the “golden year numbers” 1-19 and indicate the days that the full moon falls on in any given year, then no, the year does not always start with the first one. The years move in order from 1 through 19, sequentially. But, keep in mind that the order of the “golden year numbers” and how they appear on the calendar is:
      19, 8, 16, 5, 13, 2, 10, 18, 7, 15, 4, 12, 1, 9, 17, 6, 14, 3, 11
      with moving gaps between them, which you can read about for more clarity above. This is because, according to the Metonic cycle, the full moon should fall on the same day once every 19 years.

      But in short, yes, the starting rune of the year does determine which rune the next year starts on. And I figured it out by looking at a full moon calendar for 2017, and saw that it matched perfectly to where all the “18 runes” were in the Norwegian artifact I cited, so I surmised that 2017 was “golden year number” 18. Which makes this year, 2018, a “golden year number” 19. So this year, the full moon should fall on all the days that I have marked with a 19.

      And this means that next year, 2019, will be “golden year number” 1 – so the whole cycle will begin again from 1 next year (and 2020 will be 2, 2021 will be 3, etc).

      Hopefully this helped, and if I totally misunderstood your question then feel free to tell me so, and I’ll try again!

      • M. Ferguson says:

        Yes, that does answer the initial question. Thank you. 🙂

        If you don’t mind my asking another question, now: I’m curious as to which equation you’re using for figuring out the actual golden number for a given year. It doesn’t seem to add up with the sources I’ve found. Although my sources may be in error.

        My sources tell me that the equation goes as follows:
        Take the year, and divide by 19. Then add 1 to the Remainder of the result.
        Example:
        2018 ÷ 19 = 106.21
        Remove the decimals, that’s 106.
        Then, multiple 106 by 19…
        106 × 19 = 2014
        Then subtract 2018 from 2014
        2018 − 2014 = 4
        That’s our Remainder. Then add 1, and that’s 5. So 2018 would be 5.
        I’ve found this equation on Wikipedia, as well as a few other blogs, and some church websites as well. However, there’s room to accept that my sources may still be wrong.
        Any way to possibly verify?

        • M. Ferguson says:

          Slight correction.
          Where I said “subtract 2018 from 2014”, I meant “subtract 2014 from 2018”

        • Steen says:

          I got the golden number for the years based on the piece here: http://www.schoyencollection.com/calendars-almanacs/folding-calendars/norwegian-girdle-calendar-ms-2913

          I noticed that, in that calendar, every single full moon in 2017 lined up exactly with wherever there was a number 18. So that’s why I said 2017 was #18. It could be that the Norwegian calendar uses a different system. Or it could be that I “translated” the numbers incorrectly. I’d have to research if there are other systems etc.

          Honestly, though, so long as the cycle repeats correctly every 19 years, and the full moons line up with the dates they should, what the actual numbers are called is largely arbitrary.

          If you’d prefer to make your calendar based on the Wikipedia equation, then all the principles are the same, it’s just that your years would just be called different golden numbers.

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