Runes are symbols representing various sound values, belonging to a runic alphabet. The runes themselves can be used both as an alphabet or as stand-in for whole words (as logograms). They were used to write various Germanic languages in North-Western Europe - including Old English - in the period 100-1100 AD. As a writing system they were used to write texts, but also to carve inscriptions in stones or other items. During the Early Middle Ages many Old English inscriptions were written in runes; this caused them to be widely used by many Medieval wizards community in Great Britain. Runes are still widely used by the modern magical community, and are studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under the subject "Study of Ancient Runes".



Sirius Black's Azkaban placard, showing runic inscriptions

During the Early Middle Ages many famous wizards and witches (such as Merlin, the Peverell brothers and the founders of Hogwarts) very likely used runes to write in Old English. As such, runes were widely used by both the Early Medieval magical community as well as the muggle community in Great Britain. Many ancient magical items like the Hogwarts Pensieve, and the Elder Wand in the movie adaptation, contain runic inscriptions.

Many texts in Old English were completely written using runes, for example, Albus Dumbledore's old version of Tales of Beedle the Bard, requiring translation before mass-production for the general public. The esoteric Quibbler magazine has been known to publish runic texts (including instructions for a spell to turn another's ears into kumquats).

Runes are still widely used for administration purposes by the Ministry of Magic in Great Britain. The teachers at Hogwarts had to enter their magic rune on an evaluation form given by Dolores Umbridge. There also was a magical rune of Alastor Moody's on the file in Umbridge's office in 1998, it is possible that these features are of particular importance, and serves as a form of identification or a social security number. Similarly, the placards that prisoners of Azkaban hold up in the film adaptations contain runes.

Known Runes

Although only a small number of runes are revealed in the books, other corners of the franchise, especially the movies, reveal more. For example, the purple cloak that the depiction of Dumbledore is seen wearing on the children's back cover art of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is also inscribed with a wealth of runes. Below is a list of all the known runes that appear throughout the franchise:



Symbols in the Elder Futhark runic alphabet, with their Latin equivalents

The runes represented in the movies that are used to write words in an alphabetic manner all belong to the Old English runic alphabet (also known as Elder Futhark).

Personal Runes

Rune Dictionary

Rune Dictionary

Various wizards are known to have their own magic rune, that they use in a manner similar to a signature to sign documents or to indicate their possession of certain objects. Possibly these personal runes are either normal runes from the Elder Futhark alphabet that spell out initials, or a composed symbol combining several runes into a new symbol. An example of such composed runes can be seen on the cover of the Runic Dictionary. It is also possible that these composed runes on the cover of the Runic Dictionary stand for whole words or often used expressions in texts.


To represent the numbers various magical creatures are used

Ancient Runes Made Easy

Ancient Runes Made Easy, showing the Ancient Rune numbers

  • Demiguise Demiguise: the creature's invisibility abilities represents "0".
  • Unicorn runes Unicorn: the creature's single horn represents "1".
  • Graphorn Graphorn: the creature's dual horns represent "2".
  • Runespoor Runespoor: the triple-headed creature represents "3".
  • Fwooper Fwooper: the creature comprised of four different colours in feathers represents "4".
  • Quintaped Quintaped: the five legs of the creature represents "5".
  • Salamander Salamander: the maximum hours of the creature's ability to survive out of fire represents "6".
  • Unknown Unknown: due to the magically powerful number still being shrouded in mysteries, the unknown symbol represents "7".
  • Acromantula Acromantula: the eight-eyed creature represents "8".
  • Hydra Hydra: the nine-headed creature represents "9".

Other runes

    • Fehu (Lucius Malfoy's Azkaban placard, cover art)
    • Uruz (Lucius Malfoy's Azkaban placard, cover art)
    • Ansuz (cover art)
    • Raido (cover art)
    • Kaunan (Sirius Black's Azkaban placard)
    • Gebo (Sirius Black's Azkaban placard, cover art)
    • Isa (cover art)
    • Teiwaz (Lucius Malfoy's Azkaban placard)
    • Berkana (cover art)
    • Perth (Sirius Black's Azkaban placard)
    • Algiz (Sirius Black's Azkaban placard)
    • Sowilo (cover art)
    • Ehwaz (Order of the Phoenix, cover art)
    • Mannaz (Lucius Malfoy's Azkaban placard, cover art)
    • Laguz (cover art)
    • Othila (Lucius Malfoy's Azkaban placard, cover art)
    • Dagaz (cover art)

Notable runologists

Behind the scenes

  • All the runes represented in the franchise belong to the Elder Futhark runic alphabet in real life (with the exception of the numbers, which are entirely fictitious).
  • The 7 Elder Futhark runes thus far not represented in the franchise are: Thurisaz (þ a.k.a. "th"), Jera (j), Wunjo (W), Hagalaz (h), Naudiz (n) and Ingwaz (ŋ a.k.a. "ng"), though this might be because of the limited number of runic inscriptions shown in the franchise to date.
  • It is not truly known to what extent the Elder Futhark runes retain their meanings in the Harry Potter universe; One runic word on the HP&PS cover art (on Dumbledore's cloak) spells out DUMBLEDARE in Latin. However, the "A" was probably a mistake ( meant to have been an "O", Othila in runic) and so they most likely relate to the letters in the Latin alphabet the same way in the franchise as they do in real life.
  • It is possible that more than just one runic alphabet is in use in the wizarding world, albeit with some wizarding additions - such as the aforementioned numbers (given the length of study that may be allotted to their study in the Hogwarts Curriculum and the number of books on the subject). However, Elder Futhark is probably the most popular given how frequently it is seen throughout the series.
  • One of the possible questions in the Sorting quiz at Pottermore mentions that Merlin marked his possessions with a mysterious rune. Since this is just a possible answer to a hypothetical question, it is unclear if Merlin actually used this symbol as his mark in historical canon.


External links

See also

Notes and references

  1. According to his father, Bartemius Crouch Snr, B.C. Jr obtained twelve O.W.L.s, the maximum number attainable (which would, naturally, include Study of Ancient Runes.
  2. According to possible questions posed on the sorting quiz on Pottermore, Merlin may have owned a book handwritten in runes and used a rune as his personal mark.
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