Rune stone U 1173

Who was Erik the Runemaster?

Many thanks for
the translation to:
Michèle Maurer

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 know Erik.

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 Erik.

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 runestone.
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 rolled-up tongue.
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 big deeds.
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 cross.

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 they were.

With the 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 his turn.

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 advantages.

He 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.

The years 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.

The stone 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 in Uppsala.
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.

Once the 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.

After twenty-three years of travelling,
carving and raising runestones in unfamiliar places,
Erik was tired and longed for his home and his family.

The runestone in Uppsala became his very last piece.

Closing words!
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
could have 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.


U 732 Grillby
U 738 Grillby
U 755 Grillby
U 762 Enköping
U 768 Enköping
U 769 Enköping
U 774 Enköping
U 779 Enköping
U 793 Enköping
U 798 Enköping
U 857 Uppsala
U 943 Uppsala
U 978 Uppsala
U 1153 Fjärdhundra
U 1154 Fjärdhundra
U 1155 Fjärdhundra
U 1156 Fjärdhundra
U 1157 Fjärdhundra
U 1165 Enköping
U 1172 Vittinge
U 1173 Vittinge
Vs 30 Möklinta

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Updated 02 mars, 2017 by Kalle Runristare, All rights reserved ©