|Rune stone U 1173
Who was Erik the Runemaster?
Many thanks for
the translation to:
I’ve carved Erik’s runes. I’ve studied the original in
Edinburgh and all
the other known runestones carved by Erik.
I’ve gotten to
We both work with people who want to be famous and renowned
even long after they’re gone. In order to give them that
possibility, we take control over the beautiful stone
surfaces using our hammer and iron and let runes and
ornamentation carry the message into an unknown future.
There are a thousand years separating Erik and myself, but
we still have a lot in common, and I’ll be using all my
knowledge, everything I’ve seen and learned to describe
The ornamentation and the runes he used suggest that Erik
was active between 1030 AD and 1050 AD. His home seems to
have been five kilometres north of the town of Enköping in
the province of Uppland, Sweden.
Erik was one of the early runemasters.
He was active many years earlier than the famous
runemasters Fot, Öpir etc.
The Tale of Erik the Runemaster
By Kalle the Runemaster
Erik was born in 1013.
The area of Grop-Norrby, Back-Norrby and Rotbrunna,
north of the town of Enköping, was his home.
Erik was fascinated by runes and runestones
already when he was a little boy.
During dark winter nights, in the light of the fire, he
listened to stories about long travels and big deeds, tales
of old and new gods and kin long since gone. Erik was
spellbound, and within his heart, a special allure started
to grow strong.
When he was sixteen years old,
he had a set of chisels
made by the local blacksmith. Shortly after, he started
carving his very first runes into one of the stones on the
farmyard. The first carving lines were crooked and shallow
and the chisels were quickly blunted.
Erik was disappointed, but he
didn’t give up. The blacksmith was asked to re-forge the
chisels and to harden them in a different way so they would
stay sharp for a little longer.
A week later, Erik had become more skilled. The carving
lines became deep and straight, and the chisels could be
used for longer. Erik now felt ready to carve a real
runestone, and he abandoned his practice stone not far away
from the farm.
Erik found a stone and set out to carve his first real
It was arduous work and many mistakes were made, but Erik
learned from them and finished his first runestone by the
end of summer. It wasn’t big, and the inscription was short,
and one didn’t need to be an expert to detect that the
carver was lacking experience.
Erik, who by now had a trained eye, saw this all but too
clearly. His expectations had been much higher, and once
more, he was disappointed. He lost both his desire and his
courage to follow his calling.
|Of the 18 known heads carved
by Erik, only two are
seen from the side, both
in Uppsala, U 978 and U 943.
Only U 1137 shows a
The most even head is the one
on U 732.
Fortunately, friends and family came to the rescue. They
praised Erik’s bold venture as well as the result and
encouraged him to go on. Erik’s desire was rekindled. He
became more passionate and decided to show the world that he
could do much better.
During the next autumn and winter, Erik
gathered knowledge where he could find it. He studied the
runestones in the area from a new angle, with the eyes of a
true runemaster. He examined every piece of art he came
across, tapestries, jewellery and wood-carvings alike. In
the town of Sigtuna, he saw a cross that inspired him so
much that it became his companion for many years.
Spring arrives and Erik is ready for
In secrecy, Erik’s father had persuaded a farmer, who lived
a short distance away, to let Erik carve his first
commissioned runestone. When Erik visited the farm, they
soon came to an agreement and a suitable stone was chosen.
It was moved to the place where Erik was planning to execute
his work and where the stone was to be raised.
While discussing the looks of the stone,
Erik showed off the sketches he’d made during the winter.
The big cross which he was so fond of even appealed to the
farmer, as he and his family as well as most of the area had
recently converted to Christianity.
|Erik carved two different types
of knots between the neck and the tail. On the
stones which were crafted with extra care, the loops
are open as seen on U 768 above.
If the arms of the cross are pointy, then the knots
are pointy as well. On U1173, you can see how Erik
strived to let the runes end on the same level. He
saved quite a bit of space for runes under the knot.
The farmer thought it important to show
off his beliefs. In addition to that, the cross was one
of the most beautiful things he’d ever set eyes upon.
A hard piece of coal
became Erik’s pen, and he started to sketch the
ornamentation upon the stone: a snake, seen from above
with round eyes and a tongue, whose body followed the
edges of the stone. Where the neck and the tail of the
snake met, Erik bound them together with a knot that was
elongated upwards, eventually turning into the big
The work started,
and Erik lay on his fleece day after day. Sometimes he
spent the night at the farm, but on most evenings, he
returned home, as it wasn’t that far. On those nights,
he would sharpen and harden his chisels. He now owned
ten of them.
One day, when he had been working hard and long and was
tired and losing his focus, a chip of stone ended up in
Erik’s eye. Instinctively, he started rubbing his eye to
make it stop hurting, but that just made everything
worse. With a watering eye and a runny nose, Erik
staggered up to the farm where he was given help.
Towards the evening, the weather became dull. Rain and
rough weather aren’t the best conditions to carve runes,
but that was just as well, as Erik’s eye needed time to
heal. Erik was surprised by the good care that he was
given. He didn’t know that the farmer had given orders
that Erik was to be treated well so he would soon be
healthy and sharp-eyed again. The farmer was keen to
have his stone raised, now more than ever.
After two days, the bad weather was
driven away by the sun and the surface of the stone was
once more dry. Erik’s eye had healed, and there was no
reason why he shouldn’t go back to work. Having learned
from his painful experience, Erik now screwed up his
eyes while he was working and often took short breaks
when he grew tired. He made good progress and soon he
had finished the ornamentation.
Erik gets ready to carve runes.
Erik didn’t have a say in the content of the
inscription. The farmer knew very well what he wished to
say. Erik’s task was to spell correctly, to distribute
the runes evenly and to carve them well.
Distributing the runes wasn’t as easy as Erik had
hoped. The runes were supposed to be distributed
evenly and to start and end on the same level, so the
inscription would look good as a whole. In addition to
that, Erik wanted the runes above the knot to have the
same height as the ones below.
The problem was that the runes either
didn’t fit or that they didn’t fill out the whole space.
In the end, the surface of the stone was all black from
Erik’s coal sketches. The next problem was even harder
to solve: all runes don’t take up the same amount of
space, so when Erik started carving, he realised that
his markings weren’t correct after all. It was
impossible for Erik to distribute the runes evenly. He
got it almost right, and that had to be good enough.
Erik concentrated so much
on the shape and
placement of the runes that he almost made several
other mistakes, like carving the wrong rune in the
wrong place. He managed to correct those little
hiccups, but when he was done carving his runes, he
realised that he had flipped two of the S-runes.
Erik could not understand how this
could have happened, but since pronouncing those
runes was no problem, he decided to leave them as
joined physical powers of everyone on the farm,
the runestone was raised by the side of road. It
was cleaned and painted in a variety of colours.
Finally, a runestone carved by Erik stood there in
all its beauty. He walked by it several times,
imagining what kind of impression it would make on
the people travelling the road.
Erik liked what
he saw, and his heart swelled with happiness and
a sense of satisfaction. People in the area talked
about the new runestone and praised Erik’s work.
Now that he had found his feet, Erik started to
think about how he could make his work easier. He
arrived at the conclusion that the A- and N-runes
only needed half branches to one side. Everybody
would understand them anyway, and it would save Erik
quite a bit of work. He was planning to introduce
the changes already on his next stone.
Over the years, Erik had many commissions. At
times, he carved up to two stones during one summer.
Sometimes, he had to leave off his work in the
autumn and continue the next spring.
The adventurous artist within Erik
tempted with innovations and challenges, but the
ornamentation and the cross which Erik had
become famous for seemed to be the thing
everybody wanted to see. Erik had become a real
runemaster and made his living out of his
ornamentation. The adventurous Erik had to wait
By 1043 Erik had carved ten runestones.
Most his commissions had been far away from his
home, so he had stayed there for the duration of
his assignment. This led to Erik getting to know
new people, which in its turn gave him many
had the chance to listen to many peculiar tales
about journeys to strange countries, about great
deeds of the past, about gods and powers capable
of both good and evil. Erik listened attentively
and gathered all the knowledge he came across.
Soon, he could tell those tales
as if they were his own when he sat down at a
table or by the fire. After every new stone he’d
carved, he became more popular. People wanted to
hear his tales, and he had always something new
and exciting to tell them. Now Erik wasn’t
simply a runemaster anymore. He had become a
skáld and messenger.
During the late winter, Nocke, the brother of Erik’s best
friend, died in an accident. Nocke’s parents, Torsten and
Hjälmdis, wanted Erik to carve a runestone in memory of
their son. Torsten promised that Erik would have a free hand
and an unlimited amount of time, which turned out to be the
same as no payment but gratitude and lifelong friendship.
In turn, Erik asked for Nocke’s brothers to assist him in
his work, which shouldn’t be a problem, as long as they were
available for the autumn harvest.
Soon, Erik and the brothers found a big, suitable stone. As
location for the stone, they chose a spot on an open field
between the villages of Rotbrunna and Back-Norby, close to
the home of Nocke and his brothers.
For the first time,
Erik was able to release the adventurer within.
Encouraged by the brothers, he sketched his usual
ornamentation but this time with “extra everything”. As
crowning of his piece, he planned to sign the stone with
secret runes. This brilliant idea had come to him and the
brothers during a night in high summer, over some nice mead.
Erik and the brothers took turns
carving, which turned out to be a liberating task shared
among friends, which was both entertaining and
inspirational. In the end, already before the stone was
finished, the brothers decided to commission Erik with a
second stone in memory of Nocke. This time, Nocke’s brothers
would be the consignors.
The brothers and Erik soon
found a suitable stone close to their farm.
Eager to finish the first stone in order to start with the
second one, they made mistakes. Those became very clear for
them and their critical eyes once the stone had been raised
and painted. They unanimously decided that Nocke’s second
stone was to be without any errors and mistakes. They’d
carefully double-check every detail before carving it.
This was to become Erik’s best stone.
The next spring, the time had come to carve a runestone on
the island of Ängsö.
Erik, who was still having troubles with the S-runes, had
finally come up with a solution. Now he was going to carve
in a new manner he’d heard about, a way that could not
possible go wrong and that would make his work much easier.
The new S-rune was to
consist of half a main staff and nothing more.
Erik carved three stones
in this manner, the first one on Ängsö, the second one in
Forsby and the third in Urlunda. After every stone, the
complaints sounded louder: many people found it hard to read
regular runes and now it was almost impossible to decipher
them. Erik listened and took the criticism to
heart, and after the runestone in Urlunda, he once more
started using regular S-runes.
passed and in the end, Erik had become
famous far and wide, even as far as Uppsala.
Erik’s crosses, sometimes having rounded
arms and sometimes pointy ones, had become
renowned, and Erik received the commission
of a lifetime: a runestone that was to be
raised in the legendary city of Uppsala.
that had been chosen for Erik beforehand was
a big block of red sandstone. Erik was
familiar with this material, as he had used
it many miles to the west, in Fornby, so he
knew what to expect: easy work and chisels
that would endure.
Since the cross was what had enabled him to
come to Uppsala, Erik carved it with utmost
care, which resulted in the most beautiful
cross with needlepoint sharp corners. It was
the best cross Erik had ever carved.
Unfortunately, the yielding material made
Erik work a bit too fast. In result, the
dragon’s head seen from the side, a somewhat
unconventional wish from the commissioner,
did not turn out as well as Erik had hoped.
He tried to distribute the
runes evenly and make them especially
well-shaped, but as always when his focus
was on the shapes of the runes which he,
once again, only had marked out with lines
of charcoal, Erik forgot a rune, the F-rune
in the word “efter” (after) which now read “eter”.
The mistake wasn’t spotted until it was too
late, when the stone had already been
painted and raised.
Some years later, Erik gets a new chance
Once again, he was to work with red
sandstone, but this time, it was but a thin
sheet. Once more, the commissioner wished
for a dragon’s head seen from the side. This
time, Erik was prepared. He had done his
research in books written in foreign tongues
and had seen many depictions of demons and
dragons. He went all in and gave his dragon
two tufts at the neck, fangs and he even let
it breathe fire.
Despite the inspirational head, Erik
failed with his commission.
He wasn’t familiar with the shape and big
surface of the stone, and the proportions of
the dragon were all wrong: the neck was too
thick and the body too thin. The big cross
ended up both off-centre and crooked. Erik
decided to skip the thin, slender arms of
the cross and the pointy corners that were
so hard to carve. Instead, he chose rounded
corners, which were easy to carve.
stone was finished, it was raised and
painted. It wasn’t until then that Erik
realised that he had forgotten to carve one
of the tufts at the neck of the dragon. He
simply painted it on and let it be, eager to
finish and get away.
years of travelling,
carving and raising runestones in
Erik was tired and longed for his home and
runestone in Uppsala became his very last
What you’ve just read or heard is a
combination of experiences, facts and
imagination. No one can tell if any of this
really happened. On the other
hand, no one
can claim that it hasn’t.
My reason for creating this tale was to make
it easier to understand how it
been to be a runemaster, and how it still is
today. Also, I wanted
to encourage new
visions with different points of view and
start a debate.