Lønnruner or Cipher Runes: The Secret Runic Alphabet

Lønnruner means “secret runes” in Norwegian. It was a way to encode runic messages (another method would be to create bind runes) and most likely, as runologist Jonas Nordby suggests, they were used to hide a message, as a game or as a way of making the process of learning the runes a bit more entertaining (and in some cases… maybe to brag a little bit!)

How to Create Your Own Lønnruner

We have many examples of Cipher Runes, using different systems to encode a message. One of the examples further explained in the article “Read this is you can” combines the runes so you can hide 2 words in two directions. To read the full message, you should turn the page (or bone, in this case) upside-down, as in the example below:

Understanding the Norse Rune Alphabets

Before explaining different methods to create Cipher runes, it’s important to understand how the Runic Alphabets worked.

Same as the Latin Alphabet, the letters in the different runic alphabets followed a specific order. But, if we take the Elder Futhark alphabet, for example, there is more to it: this alphabet was divided into 3 sections, also known as aettir or, in singular, aett.

This would be the most common division:

Elder Futhark Aetts
Elder Futhark Aettir

And it gets more complicated than this! In some ciphers, the aettir are reversed, so the 1st aett would be the 3rd and vice versa.

In order to explain the different methods and make things easier, I will use the classification pictured above, but feel free to explore other alphabets, such as the Younger Futhark!

Choose your Method

There are many ways to create your own Lønnruner. We can get the best-preserved knowledge in Icelandic manuscripts from the 17th and 18th centuries. One of them is Runologia by Jón Ólaffson, where there is an extensive collection of different ways to draw Cipher Runes:

Lonnruner Jon Olaffson
Page of Runologia showing different examples of Cipher Runes by Jón Ólaffson

However, it would take ages to explain all of them! Here is a selection of the easiest and most straightforward styles, so you can start experimenting at home:

1. Branch or Twig Style

This style consists of a vertical trunk with a number of twigs on the left and right sides. The number of strokes on the left side indicates the aett and the ones on the right, its position within it.

You can get as creative as you want with the branches. In some examples, the branches are simply a straight line, in others, there is a curve to them that also serves as a way to differentiate each word.

Here is an example of this variation spelling “Time Nomads”:

2. Tent Style

The tent style starts with an X shape, which has room for two runes. We read these runes clockwise, so the first arm (upper left) is the aett and the second is the position within the aett. The third arm would be the aett of the second rune and the fourth one, the order within it, etcétera…

Here is an example spelling the name “Anna”:

Tent Lonnruner Example

3. Lines

This method is also known as the isruna system because the strokes are similar to the Isa rune. It’s the easiest method of them all: the first long lines would be the aett and the short lines indicate the position within it.

This would be another example of the name “Anna”:

Isruna Lonnruner System

4. Using a Specific Rune

I’m sure that after reading the methods before, you’ve already got the hang of this! There are some examples that used a specific rune, so the one facing to the left would indicate the aett and the ones facing to the right, the position.

Following the examples before, let’s spell “Anna” using the rune Eihwaz:

Eihwaz Lonnruner Example

Be Creative with your Lønnruner

Cryptography is an art in itself and it has been used by many cultures for thousands of years with different purposes. In the same way, Lønnruner can be as intricate or as simple as you want and can have many uses too.

For example, you can use them as part of an art piece, in a spell or sigil, or, like ancient Norsemen and women did, to help you in your journey of rune learning: gather some friends and challenge them to decipher the message!


To learn more about Viking Runes, don’t forget to join the Clan and download your copy of the Elder Futhark Cheat Sheet!

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