The Blacksmith’s Tale: Deciphering Runes in Dark Souls 3

The Blacksmith’s Tale: Deciphering Runes in Dark Souls 3

Recently, I visited the FextraLife Dark Souls 3 Wiki to see how many more Titanite Slabs I could expect in my current run of the game. It struck me…”hey, this thing is legible.” Compared to almost all other writing through the franchise’s games this was something miraculous. Compared to the scant writing that contains legible characters (like summoning signs) this one contained runic symbols I could recognize. Even better!

So it was that I set out to translate the damn thing.  For the full process (methodology, thought processes and assistance I received) please visit this thread.  What follows below will be but a brief synopsis of the entire project.

Understanding Runes

To understand the final translation, we must first have a quick (long) chat on runes.  There are three ways to “use” runes. Initially, I only considered the first two. While I was aware of the third, it took a little help to get me there. Don’t worry, I’ll give due credit at the right time.

The first two major uses of runes is for writing.  However, their approach differs drastically.

Runes are intended to work much like an alphabet. And yes, the runic “alphabet” is often easily thought of as a parallel for others. In other words, I can spell my name in runes and it’d be perfectly legitimate. One disclaimer though.  It’s an alphabet solely based on phonetics.  What this means is that, compared to English and all our exceptions to rules, runes act more like units of sound (phonemes) than “letters.”  So if I were to write “Dark Souls” in runes this means I’d drop the rune for “u” as it’s not necessary.  Essentially, “Sols” is pronounced the same as “Souls.”  I’ll cut to the chase here. Using the runes on the slab in this way seems to lead to nonsense.  While it’s a legitimate use for runes, it’s likely a dead end in this specific case.

superfluous uruz

We’ve got our eyes on you, ”uruz”

The second major use for runes is to represent concepts or ideas or objects.  In this case they’re a complete thought rather than a unit of sound.  So the rune “Sowilo” (later “sol”) represents the same phoneme as the letter “S.”  But it also means “sun.” By putting together runes, one could create something coherent. For example, if you were cold you could use “naudiz” followed by “sowilo” to express the runes for “need” followed by “sun.”  Because using runes as “letters” led to gibberish, I directed my search down this path.  This seemed to have better success, but a few runes I couldn’t identify to my satisfaction and created a major roadblock.

Before we get to the third use, which drastically shortened the project for me (kudos coming soon), we need to discuss the evolution of runes.  I won’t go into too many details, but overall there are three major periods or ages. Some runes (Isaz for instance) remained completely stable.  The drawing, phoneme/letter it represents and concept (“ice”) all remained the same through the ages.  Others changed how they were drawn (sowilo) but continued to mean the same thing, with the same letter association.  A few changed meanings (kaunan) over the years. Some even changed what sound they represented.

Thor Insult

Graffiti insulting a major deity, circa 2016

Why is this a problem to translation?  Well, sometimes a rune that is drawn one way might mean something different dependent on age.  In short, unless you know the age the writing came from, a couple runes can create big problems.

Complicating things further was the fact that a few symbols on the slab appeared to be something unrecognizable, or it was a runic symbol but not written “correctly.” Then community member dn1nd came in and reminded me of the third use and pointed something out I was unaware of with runes.

The third use of runes is for divination and fortunetelling.  Similar to tarot cards, one or more runes are selected randomly and their symbols are used to answer a question, predict the future or just provide general guidance. Dn1nd pointed out that one rune in particular (first one on the second line) appeared to be a known rune but upside down.  He was right.  This rune gave me MAJOR troubles prior to that. However, I had never heard of runes being used in an “inverted” position.  Which is kinda sad, since I am well aware of it for tarot cards.  Facepalm. For runes, it’s noted that an inverted rune typically means the opposite or a contrasting concept than if it were right side up. Anyway, with this tidbit in hand I went back to work aaaaaaand…

Raido and inverted

If actually casting runes, the bottom symbol shows a correct “inversion.” The slab in game is upside down or flipped rather than rotated.

Deciphering the Script

Every rune save one (due to possible stray markings or “errors”) was now recognizable.  Also of importance, using the inversion rule that the one rune applied, all but one rune was now able to be attributed to a single age. And the one exception to this is a rune that changed meaning over time.  This single rune is the only one that necessarily comes from the elder age.  It changed from meaning “torch” to “ulcer” or “disease.”  It would make sense then that this rune used the elder form because they just didn’t want to say “ulcer.”

Now, before the big “reveal” I have some disclaimers.  Firstly, there is one rune minimally that has a decent degree of uncertainty (last rune, first line).  Secondly, while the trends of “flipped runes” and prioritizing the younger age made each rune make sense, several have other possible interpretations.  I did my very best to logically pick the most likely rune at each position and assign it a corresponding meaning.  Thirdly (and most importantly), as this is based off of divination principles, it is HIGHLY open to personal bias and interpretation. For example, what’s the opposite of the “Tiwaz” rune?  It depends.  This rune is the symbol for the god Tyr and can literally mean “The God Tyr.” However, Tyr represents bravery, wisdom and has associations with triumph.  He is associated with battle and strength as well.  This makes his opposite (inverted rune) cowardice, ignorance, defeat and perhaps weakness.  All from one symbol.

Sol and Isaz

Mortal enemies! Note that inverting runes creates a contrasting meaning. Neither of these runes CAN be inverted, which might explain their contrary nature to each other

I went into this project (logically) assuming it would be related to the games’ story which certainly comes out in my translation.  Anything in parentheses is the in game stuff that attaches to the story.  It should be noted as well that I use the term “ice” or “cold” from the isaz rune.  Most information I can find points to isaz and sol/sowilo as being “opposite.”  As noted above, “sol” is the rune for “sun.”  This is significant for this game as “sun” is associated with the first flame, Gwyn and the gods. Therefore, the opposite rune would similarly expand with game lore to mean “fading” or “loss” of fire, etc.  Basically, when I was in doubt, I picked a meaning I knew made sense from the game.

As a result of everything above, my interpretation is irrefutably correct because you can piece things together the way you think fits best.  This also means that anyone having a different interpretation is also irrefutably correct.  So then, like all psychics and divination attempts, this translation is “For novelty purposes only.”

titanite_slab

Line 1:
The meek sought God/the divine in the trees (archtrees). Yggdrasil, the tree of life (still archtrees) bestowed the gifts of plenty, joy and health.

Line 2:
They remained and hardship set in. They found a spark (Lord Souls in the first flame) which turned into a Sun, driving away the cold/ice.  Terrible trouble came (conflict with dragons).  The Sun (Gwyn and his allies/army) ended this conflict.

Line 3:
This age (gods in Anor Londo) continued and began an era of wealth and plenty. Man will (or has begun to) ascend.  Cold/ice will return.

What do you think about the runic translation of this cryptic stone? Breakthrough? Revelation? Let’s have a discussion in the comments!


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32 comments on “The Blacksmith’s Tale: Deciphering Runes in Dark Souls 3”

  1. Avatar Ekimenryb says:

    So basically we are using the prophecy of the chosen undead to level up our equipment. Neat-o! (get it)

  2. Avatar dn1nd says:

    The Article came together well. Thanks for the credit.

    Now for more rune interpretations lol.

  3. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    Thanks!

    First one to translate my insult slab gets a rep point 😛

  4. Avatar dn1nd says:

    I Got from it Thor Rides his Ox but doesn’t decide where to go on it.

  5. Avatar Fexelea says:

    This is actually really cool, thank you for putting it together guys! Fantastic idea and work. I also couldn’t help but think of Eitr – because of the nordic references.

  6. Avatar Lelouch465 says:

    "gains 99 insight" :-O

  7. Anonymous says:

    That is really cool, but the part about yggdrasil confuses me. I dont remember any mention of anything like that before.

  8. Avatar skarekrow13 says:
    That is really cool, but the part about yggdrasil confuses me. I dont remember any mention of anything like that before.

    Remember this is all best guess and my personal biases could be at work as well…

    Anyway, I reiterate this because the two runes I’m about to discuss to explain the "Yggdrasil" reference both have possible questions surrounding them. Specifically the second and third runes on the first line.

    The second rune COULD be one of three runes when the idea of flipping/inverting them is brought into play. In the Elder Futhark, only one rune looks like this which is Fehu. However, even then, Fehu typically has long lines on the diagonal. I know it’s hard to see on this backgound but note how the upper diagonal terminates at the same elevation as the vertical line. This looks more like the second rune on the third line. With that in mind, I felt the third line looked closer to "Fehu" than the second line and that the two runes were intended to be different symbols. Note also that Fehu was drawn the same regardless of which age it was used. Enter Ansuz and Berkanan…

    This is Berkanan from the Younger Futhark. Note it’s very similar but with shorter diagonals. Ansuz is the same symbol but with the diagonals trending downward. In other words, Ansuz is Berkanan flipped, which is the type of "inversion" that seems to be in play here. Ansuz means "god." Berkanan means "birch" and has the tree associations.

    So then, I actually gave this rune a double meaning by combining the two concepts. I did this not only due to some ambiguity, but also because the entire narrative fit the script of the game better. Which is why I say these are often influenced by personal bias. EDIT: also, it would be a flipped "ansuz" so the "god" reference is more a fragment of the ansuz than actually using it. The primary rune for this symbol was berkanan.

    Ideally, it would actually read they sought "god" OR "trees." I could have easily gone with "The Meek sought the Trees" to imply they hid or sought solace. Thinking on it, it’s probably the cleaner translation honestly.

    Anyway…
    To FINALLY answer the Yggdrasil question, the third rune similarly was felt to be "Algiz" as the third line has a similar rune. The one on the third line however has curved lines, which is exclusive to the younger age. So this then led to me calling it Algiz. However, this rune’s "correct" orientation seems to be erratic. In the Elder it was interchangeable in writing between how it’s seen on the rune and upside down. The younger age seems to MOSTLY have it upside down. However, the younger age ALSO can be written with curved lines. In short, I had to make a tough choice between orientation and age. Ultimately, I decided to call it "rightside up" and go with the "normal" meaning of "yew." Partly because inverting would be "not tree" and I have no flippin’ clue what that would be 😛

    Anyway, since it seemed we had two tree references in a row, one of these SHOULD be different rather than saying "there’s some birches and yews here." While also correct, that’s far from an interesting story.

    Yggdrasil, the great tree in Norse mythos that holds together separate worlds, is often thought of as an inspiration for the archtrees (for good reasons I might add). While often thought of as an ash tree I think, Yggdrasil has also been translated to mean some variation of "yew tree." And coming back to inversions, if I inverted "Yggdrasil" I would get something similar to "Tree of death" or "tree of ‘not’ life" which also makes sense, as the archtrees are from the time before life and death.

    I combined what I knew of the runes with what I knew of the Dark Souls origin story and went with the line as noted above. I like how it came out, and while I admit my bias going in (I assumed it was likely something like this), the order of runes fits so cleanly I have a hard time finding another meaning.

    So, from the opening cinematic we see the camera shooting down a tree trunk (Yggdrasil). Inside the tree we see the writhing "meek" in the pitiful beings that eventually found a spark which led to their sun.

  9. Avatar Rakuyo says:

    Yggdrasil, the primeval ashen tree that holds up the nine worlds.

    Gods may use Yggdrasil as a means of reaching said worlds.

    Below, dragons and serpents are gnawing at Yggdrasil’s roots, threatening the worlds.

    I consider its myth of great importance for explaining the use of roots and giant trees in Dark Souls.

  10. Avatar DE5PA1R says:

    The connection to yggdrasil is pretty obvious considering Ash Lake in DkS1 and how the worlds’ foundations are metaphorical stone leaves on stone trees.

    Fucking awesome article.

  11. Avatar XuitusTheGreat says:

    It’s important to note that the story of dark souls is almost verbatim the Nordic tale of what is supposed to happen after Ragnarok

  12. Avatar Castielle says:

    Crushed it! What a fantastic read! We truly have some special people here 😀

    Cas

  13. Avatar TSMP says:

    … Demon’s Souls. Line 1 sounds like Demon’s Souls. Line 2 would be the beginning of Dark Souls. Line three presumably refers to the coming age of dark, but written in a way that implies it hasn’t happened yet.

    Time for the mother of all speculation: If line 1 refers to Demon’s Souls (first era, part 1 of a larger trilogy), and line 2 refers to Dark Souls (second era, sequels of DaS included), could line 3 refer to a game that hasn’t been made yet? (Third era, ascension of man/age of dark.)

  14. Avatar dn1nd says:
    … Demon’s Souls. Line 1 sounds like Demon’s Souls. Line 2 would be the beginning of Dark Souls. Line three presumably refers to the coming age of dark, but written in a way that implies it hasn’t happened yet.

    Time for the mother of all speculation: If line 1 refers to Demon’s Souls (first era, part 1 of a larger trilogy), and line 2 refers to Dark Souls (second era, sequels of DaS included), could line 3 refer to a game that hasn’t been made yet? (Third era, ascension of man/age of dark.)

    Could Bloodborne cover Man’s ascension?

  15. Avatar TSMP says:
    … Demon’s Souls. Line 1 sounds like Demon’s Souls. Line 2 would be the beginning of Dark Souls. Line three presumably refers to the coming age of dark, but written in a way that implies it hasn’t happened yet.

    Time for the mother of all speculation: If line 1 refers to Demon’s Souls (first era, part 1 of a larger trilogy), and line 2 refers to Dark Souls (second era, sequels of DaS included), could line 3 refer to a game that hasn’t been made yet? (Third era, ascension of man/age of dark.)

    Could Bloodborne cover Man’s ascension?

    Nope, every story mechanic is different from Souls. The magic works differently, Insight is something entirely different from Humanity, the blood is a distinct entity from souls, everything. And, Miyazaki has already said Bloodborne is not related to Dark Souls story-wise. He said the same thing about Demon’s Souls, but there’s also the thing with Sony holding the copyright to cast just enough doubt on the official statement.

    Purely speculation, based on a translation that’s admittedly iffy from the get-go. It’s enough to suggest the possibility, but not enough to function as evidence.

  16. Avatar dn1nd says:

    Now you have piqued my interest.

    If this translation is prophetic for future games I’ll have a chuckle.

  17. Avatar Grehym_Blak says:

    You Indiana Jones the shit out of that! Great insight, really makes me wish I went the linguist/archeology rout instead of architecture.

  18. Avatar Fallenangel700 says:

    Very impressive work. It’s almost like actual archaeology.

  19. Heathcliff64 says:

    I noticed that it is possible to read the runes on the Titanite Scale. I am not as well versed in runes as you are so I was wondering if you might be able to help me with this. I tried but to no avail. If you would I would be very pleased.

  20. Avatar skarekrow13 says:
    I noticed that it is possible to read the runes on the titanite Scale. I am not as well versed in runes as you are so I was wondering if you might be able to help me with this. I tried but to no avail. If you would I would be very pleased.

    I touched on that in my follow up piece with the littler pieces. Sadly the symbols aren’t runes (well, one MIGHT be). I’ve looked around at a lot of alphabets and writing systems but can’t find a good match for it.

  21. InfectedNobody says:

    Very cool stuff here! Maybe some more runes in the dlc!peace

  22. Anonymous says:

    Dudes. I checked on the runes on the titanite scale and it seems to me that thay are just basic anglo-saxon runes (except the first which looks like day/d put on horisontal position)? Please check them out and say what you guys think.

    The third letter on the scale reminds me of u/ur and the fourth "ng" or am i just seeing things :D?

  23. Anonymous says:

    Btw have you noticed that fromsoft uses a lot of hebrew and some other random lanquages on their games, not just some meaningless "crow footprints"? You should check out these threads
    m.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/3
    8t98k/dark_souls_3_concept_art_has_hebrew_on_tombstones/

    hm.reddit.com/r/bloodborne/comments/33r2ts/interesting_
    find_tombstones_in_hemwick_charnel/?utm_source=mweb_redirect&compact=true

  24. Avatar skarekrow13 says:
    Dudes. I checked on the runes on the titanite scale and it seems to me that thay are just basic anglo-saxon runes (except the first which looks like day/d put on horisontal position)? Please check them out and say what you guys think.

    The third letter on the scale reminds me of u/ur and the fourth "ng" or am i just seeing things :D?

    That’s just as good as any guess I had. I took a peek at that rune set before and didn’t feel like the matches were too close.

    That being said, I do see what you’re saying and while I could discuss the differences between the titanite and the Anglo Saxon runes I won’t. I don’t want to discourage any idea or thought.

    And there’s also a chance naturally it’s a derived lettering and not meant to be exact to anything.

    I’ve heard Hebrew mentioned as a possible choice for summon signs. That didn’t seem to pan out. I’ll have to check your links out though

  25. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone of you tried to decipher the titanite scale yet? With regards to the previous research of skarekrow13 and dn1nd and judging by the runes on the scales , it might be legible as well….