The Application of Peircean Semiotics to the Elder Futhark Tradition

Establishing Parameters of Magical Communication

by Scott Shell (Author)
©2023 Monographs XX, 196 Pages


This work addresses the issue of magical communication found in the Elder Futhark runic inscriptions. It examines the Kragehul Spear Shaft (DR 196), Björketorp runestone (DR 360), the Horn(s) of Gallehus (DR 12), Gummarp runestone (DR 358), Lindholm amulet (DR 261), Straum whetstone (KJ 50), Ribe skull fragment (DR EM85; 151B), the Noleby runestone (KJ 67), and the Eggja runestone (N KJ 101). It seeks magical communication which may putatively be encompassed by the law of magical semiosis.
By setting objective parameters for measuring this law of magical communication, it can be determined whether or not a particular inscription should be understood as magical or non-magical specific to the Umwelt and Weltanschauung of the Runemaster. Essentially, this work is meant to challenge runologists in postulating falsifiable criteria so that magical communication in the world of the Runemaster can be discussed in an academic setting.
The work begins by discussing how Charles Sanders Peirce can help provide a basic framework regarding the sign. His phenomenological framework is applied to the world of the Runemaster. The next section then addresses the problem with the word "magic," which goes far beyond the concept of "if it does not make sense, it must be magical." It then leads to a discussion of runes and numinous qualities and finally to a corpus chapter which applies the theories and methods the author has adopted.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Diagrams
  • List of Photos
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Applying Peircean Semiotics to the Elder Futhark Tradition
  • Chapter 2. Peirce and the Semiotic Whole
  • The Complete Sign
  • Definition of the Sign
  • Triadic Relations
  • Phenomenological Categories and How They Relate to the Runemaster’s Experience
  • Peirce’s Phaneron and the Umwelt of the Runemaster
  • Peirce’s Typology for the Sign in Relation to the Object: The Role of the Icon
  • Peirce’s Typology for the Sign in Relation to the Object: The Role of the Index
  • The Dynamic Relationship between Icon and Index within the Magical Object
  • Peirce’s Typology for the Sign in Relation to the Object: The Role of the Symbol
  • The Shared System(s) of Signs
  • Chapter 3. What Is Magical Communication?
  • Magical Communication and Subjectivity
  • Magic: The Etymon
  • The Evolutionist Approach to Magical Communication: Tylor and Frazer
  • Peirce and the Zeitgeist of Tylor and Frazer
  • A Sociological Approach to Magic: Mauss and Durkheim
  • Emotionalist Approaches: Malinowski and Lévy- Bruhl
  • Traditional Semiotic Approaches to Magic
  • Runes, Magical Signs, and Relatedness
  • Defining Magical Communication within a Runic Context
  • Animism vs. Dynamism
  • Further Commentary Concerning Flowers (1986; 2014)
  • So-called Magic Words
  • Runes as Symbols
  • Sn and Interconnected Sign- Networks
  • Connecting Peirce with Frazer
  • The Law of Magical Semiosis
  • How Does the Sign- Network Operate within the Umwelt of the Runemaster?
  • Chapter 4. A Brief Overview of the Origin of the Elder Futhark
  • The Origin of the Runes
  • Transition from the Elder Fuþark to the Younger Fuþąrk
  • Transition from the Elder Fuþark to the Anglo- Saxon Fuþorc
  • Chapter 5. Runes and Numinous Qualities
  • Attestations of the Word Rune
  • Gothic Sources
  • Early Old (West) Norse Attestations
  • NWGmc Appellations
  • Old Saxon and the Word of God
  • Song-Rune
  • Rune Poems as Source Material
  • Concluding Comments
  • Chapter 6. Elder Futhark Analyses
  • Discussion of Corpus
  • Kragehul Spear Shaft (DR 196)
  • Björketorp (DR 360)
  • The Horn(s) of Gallehus (DR 12)
  • Gummarp Runestone (DR 358)
  • Lindholm Amulet (DR 261)
  • Straum Whetstone (KJ 50)
  • Ribe Skull Fragment (DR EM85; 151)
  • The Noleby Runestone (KJ 67)
  • Eggja Runestone (N KJ 101)
  • Chapter 7. Conclusion
  • Conclusions Concerning the Umwelt, Weltanschauung, and Phanera of the Runemaster
  • Appendix A. The Elder Fuþark Names, Meanings, and Standard Transcription
  • Appendix B. The Younger Fuþąrk Names, Meanings, and Standard Transcription
  • Appendix C. The Anglo-Saxon Fuþorc Names, Meanings, and Standard Transcription
  • Appendix D. Gothic Data Concerning Rune, βουλή, μυστήριον, and συμβούλιον
  • Index

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First and foremost, I would like to thank one of the most influential people I have ever had in my life: Professor Irmengard Rauch. It was she who inspired me to take on such a daunting task. Not only did she help me grow as a scholar, but also as a person. I will very much miss being her student and our conversations on historical linguistics and semiotics. With her guidance, I can say that I have proudly carried out this work mid uuordun endi mid uuercun.

My gratitude also goes out to Professor Thomas Shannon. The hours spent in his office discussing syntax and semantics are some of the fonder memories I will have in the German department— especially our conversations on the theories of Anna Wierzbicka, Jack Hawkins, Charles Fillmore, and many other scholars.

I would like to extend my thanks to Professor Jonas Wellendorf who helped me when it came to all matters concerning Old Norse. His feedback throughout this study regarding runic inscriptions is greatly appreciated.

Professor Winfried Kudszus also has my gratitude for his advice in matters of semiotic theory found throughout this magnum opus.

I would like to thank my wife, Jody Shell, who also vicariously experienced my joys and frustrations while I completed this work. My good friends Lothar Tuppan, Janet Didur, and Dr. Michael Moynihan are also partially responsible for encouraging me to take on such a challenging subject.

←xx | 1→

· 1 ·


Runology— if it does not wish to be transformed into a heap of groundless fantastic speculations, of which there have been many in its history— can and should become just as exact and strict a discipline as is the comparative grammar of the Germanic languages.

(Makaev 1996, 81)

This study is focused on a semiotic approach with which I propose falsifiable criteria when measuring magical communication within sign-networks of various runic inscriptions from the Elder Fuþark period (approximately 50 CE to 700 CE). The semiotic school found within this study is rooted fundamentally in the ideas of Charles Sanders Peirce. However, as will become apparent, I have also incorporated the views of many other semioticians such as Winfried Nöth, Robert Yelle, Juri Lotman, Thomas Sebeok, Jacob von Uexküll, Karl Bühler, and Roman Jakobson. Throughout this work, it is imperative to understand the notion of an interconnected sign-network (Peirce), how these signs share an environment (Jacob von Uexküll), the concept of autocommunication (Juri Lotman), and the role of iconicity and indexicality when it comes to magical communication in general (Robert Yelle). Nevertheless, Peirce is the foundation for any of my interpretations regarding a semiotic whole. All of these concepts will be discussed in depth in the later chapters.

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The need for such a work is made manifest because of the lack of objective criteria when it comes to measuring the concept of magical communication which could place the argument into the objective realm. As I discuss throughout this work, the lack of an objective framework has led to arguments between so-called “skeptical” runologists and “imaginative” runologists. The former is reserved for the runologist who often wishes to ignore many extra-linguistic factors, i.e., they would often focus on the phonological aspects alone and then offer a pseudo-holistic interpretation. The latter group of runologists, however, often suggests baseless conjecture, which then in turn often becomes convention. Ultimately, their actions can be summed up in Barnes (1994, 12– 13):

1. Claims are based on little more than the author’s conviction.


XX, 196
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (April)
runes semiotics linguistics mythology runic inscriptions historical linguistics magic magical communication German Germanic linguistics The Application of Peircean Semiotics to the Elder Futhark Tradition Establishing Parameters of Magical Communication Scott Shell Irmengard Rauch
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XX, 196 pp., 31 b/w ill., 14 tables.

Biographical notes

Scott Shell (Author)

Scott Shell received his PhD in Germanic linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley in 2020. His research has been dedicated to historical linguistics, semiotics, and runology since 2014. He is currently an independent scholar.


Title: The Application of Peircean Semiotics to the Elder Futhark Tradition
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218 pages