In my continuing series on the Northumbrian runes, today we learn about Gar. This rune translates to ‘spear’, and is likely closely related to the Gyfu (Gebo) rune. In early English, Gyfu could represent either a ‘j’ or ‘g’ sound. Gar may have been created to exclusively represent the ‘g’ sound as these two sounds grew further apart. It can be seen carved on the Ruthwell Cross, and is also used in documents from the later runic period.
Gar descends from the ancient proto-Germanic word *gaizaz, which in turn descends from the proto-Indo-European *ǵʰayso. These things all have the same sense about them; pointed stick, javelin, spear. It stands to reason that the word would be so ancient. The spear was probably one of humanity’s first weapons, used both to hunt and to make war.
Perhaps the most famous spear in Norse mythology is Gungnir, wielded by Odhin. It was crafted by mastersmith dwarves, who also crafted Sif’s hair and Freyr’s magical boat. Odhin and His spear are strongly associated. When Odhin sacrificed Himself to Himself on the World Tree to obtain the runes, He was stabbed with a spear. The spear is strongly associated both with Him and with the magic of the runes.
In The Runes of Sweden by Sven Birger Fredrik Jansson, he states “The oldest known runic inscription from Sweden is found on a spearhead, recovered from a grave at Mos in the parish of Stenkyrka in Gotland.” There are other inscriptions found on other spearheads, linking the runes and the spear again. Odhin is a God of magic and knowledge, and also warfare and sacrifice. That these things would go hand in hand in the Germanic worldview is no surprise.
Like the bow, another weapon found in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc, the spear has dual uses. In its capacity as a hunting weapon, the spear is a provider. It enables survival, and brings in a good meal. As a weapon of war, however, it is far more sinister. It can easily take the life of human beings; lives which in the Migration Age were often dedicated to Odhin.