In stanza 156 (or 157 depending on translation) of Hávamál, we learn that runes have the power to bring back the dead:


A twelfth I know: if I see in a tree
a corpse from a halter hanging,
such spells I write, and paint in runes,
that the being descends and speaks.

Hávamál, The Words of Odin the High One, from the Elder or Poetic Edda (Sæmund's Edda), translated by Olive Bray and edited by D. L. Ashliman

Was this a wider belief? Is there a story where a corpse is resurrected by a rune spell?

1 Answer 1


Not exactly

We probably come closest in Balder's dreams: Balder dreams of being killed, and thus Odin rides to Hel and wakes the corpse of a Völva to find what it means. However, while is not clearly specified which kind of magic is used, runes or seiðr (Odin was proficient in both), it is said that he worked it by saying it, rather than carving or painting it.

A similar motif is also found in Grógaldr, where Svipdag summons his dead mother (also a Völva) to aid him in a quest given him by his evil stepmother. Again, the kind of magic is not specified.

However, the method of waking her is similar to the one employed by Freya in Hyndluljóð to wake Hyndla. Here, it is not specified that she is dead when she is woken, but given that this seems a common trope, we can assume it. If so, then we can be reasonable sure that this is seiðr rather than rune magic, since Freya was the one who brought the knowledge of this to the Aesir.

Finally, we have the Hervarar saga, where Hervor awakens her father to get the cursed sword Tyrfing from his Burrow. Again, this is done by calling out to him, in a similar manner to Grógaldr and Hyndluljóð.

Thus, while there is a common motif of heroes waking the dead temporarily to get something from them, it is never explicitly linked with runes.

(For an example of someone actually using runic magic, see Egil's saga, where he breaks a botched attempt at love runes and renders a cup of poison safe to drink).


I remembered another resurrection in the myths: when Odin revived Mimir's severed head. This is retold in Heimskringla, and is said to have been done by galdrar.

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