If you’re feeling stuck in a bit of a rut perhaps it’s because you’ve been staring at the same QWERTY keyboard for far too long. Time to liven things up and switch to something new – or, in the immortal words of John Cleese, “and now for something completely different”. By the way, if you haven’t seen it, that Monty Python film spin-off classic of 1971 is available on DVD from Netflix and is Must See TV despite last year’s retirement of NBC’s John Miller. I’ll spare everyone the image of a pig being roasted while wearing a pink bikini. Back to your keyboard, liven things up by clicking here https://sites.google.com/site/windowskeyboards/Home and choosing perhaps Old English, Deseret Mormon or the short-lived Esperanto versions. My favorite, though, would have to be the Elder Futhark, the alphabet of the Vikings. If you thought the Hiragana keyboard for Japanese language enthusiasts was complicated, wait until you experience the power of Nordic Runes!

Two obvious questions simply have to be addressed straightaway. First, what the heck is a Futhark? This is more easily explained by looking at the 24-rune alphabet directly. Think phonetically and cycle through the first six runes, remember that the third rune is a Th sound, not a B. No this isn’t some sort of ancient curse word nor is it a rite similar to the Boy Scout’s ceremony chanting to the elders Owa Tagu Siam. For the latter, say the words all together out loud and be prepared for affirmations from those around you.

The other obvious question has to do with lineage and the progenitorial relationship with the Younger Futhark. As with many descendants, the Younger Futhark is akin to texting and makes do with a 16-rune alphabet set. It also did away with the secrecy surrounding the Elder Futhark – apparently “keep it secret, keep it safe” has its origins in the Elders restricting alphabet access to the literate elite – and as a result the Younger Futhark spread throughout Scandanavia becoming the Alphabet of the Norsemen with day-to-day diplomatic and trade usage. Theologians such as Walahfrid Strabo refer to the alphabet as Abecedarium Nordmannicum which I mention mostly because I’d like to see the name Walahfrid make a comeback. What the Younger Futhark lacks in characters, however, is made up for by the development of two sets of runes. The long-branch version wound up being used for writings carved onto stone, while the short-twig version was used for writings on…err…wood. Later generations further refined the alphabet by adopting the Staveless Runes, which meant simply getting rid of all the vertical lines and writing with, essentially, a series of apostrophes, quotation marks and tildes.

Knowledge of either generation of Futhark becomes particularly handy if you’re trying to work with a Runic Calendar. These are known as perpetual calendars as they follow the 19-year Metonic Cycle of the moon. When you reach the end, wrap yourself around to the beginning and start over. Each year in the cycle has its own Golden Number, and for the Runic Calendar each was then assigned its own rune from the Younger Futhark. Wait a minute, 19 years but only 16 letters, how’s that going to work? Easy, remember these are the formative years of alphabets and calendars, the solution is to create three new runes: Arlaug, Tvimadur and Belgthor. Lest you think that all these are quaint, ancient traditions no longer in use, may I direct you to the Christian Faith tradition and the determination of Easter? Aha, you’re thinking you’ve heard this before, Easter is always the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon (first full moon after the vernal equinox), right? Well, yes and no. It turns out that astronomy plays no part in the calculation, rather the powers-that-be use a theoretical model called the Ecclesiastical Full Moon as part of the Computus which relies heavily on Golden Numbers – that’s a topic for another email.

Back to the Runes! Traditionally the calendars are arranged with three lines of characters. The middle line comprises 52 weeks with seven days each and serves to mechanically count out the days of the year. The upper line allows for the designation of festive days and also important events for the agrarians of the day (when to sow, when to harvest). The bottom line, though, is where the “magic” happens as this line designates the dates of the full moons and becomes the method for distinguishing one year from another – for example, if you’re in year 17 of the cycle, you would look for the character Arlaug on the third line to find your place. When to start the “clock” so to speak? Easy, each year begins on the first full moon after the winter solstice, easily identified as all the folks around you would be celebrating the pagan feast of Disting.

I can’t help but to draw reference from signs of panic in the picnic attendees on Sunday when it became clear that there were only 12 more ferries leaving the north end of Vashon Island that day – run for the docks, we could be stranded, heaven help us if darkness descends – that’s when the “eaters” come out. To ease your mind for future journeys, Washington State ferries offers a deeply recursive set of calendars: boats arrive and depart the island on a somewhat-consistent 30 minute basis, this then repeats each day of the seven-day week with some refinements for the weekends. If you assemble roughly 12 of these weeks you arrive at the quarterly Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter ferry schedule (typically green, red, purple and blue) which then, barring sudden increases or decreases in the size of the fleet (think Kalakala), repeat on an annual basis to become the marine highway system. Not quite a Metonic Cycle, but almost as understandable as a Runic Calendar.

All that being said, many thanks to all who joined us for a very enjoyable day in the sun and helped make it a success. With Martin’s attempts to channel his inner Ryan Dungey, and the necessity of riot control measures to restrain the horseshoe enthusiasts, the third annual summer spectacular lived up to its billing.
Cheers!

Credit where credit is due: many thanks to the wikipedia folks for help with the random trivia throughout.