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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7 Responses to How to Make Your Own Rune Staff Calendar

  1. Pingback: Results for week beginning 2017-03-27 | Iron Blogger SF

  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.

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