What do cursed runes say?

It has been written since the beginning of time, even unto these ancient stones, that evil supernatural creatures exist in a world of darkness. And it is also said man using the magic power of the ancient runic symbols can call forth these powers of darkness, the demons of Hell.

Basically, runes are really bad news in the 1957 film Night of the Demon (or Curse of the Demon in the US). For some reason, the part about ancient runic symbols was left out of the trailer, but the film starts with the quote above. For my purposes, the most important part of the plot is this: A plucky American psychologist, Dr John Holden, decides to investigate the death of his British colleague Dr Harrington (and flirt with “the frightened girl”, Harrington’s niece, because of course he does) but ends up cursed in the same way: by [dramatic voice] runes. The mad magician Karswell slips the runes in among Holden’s things, written on what the film keeps calling a piece of parchment, but which looks more like a piece of flimsy paper.

Curse of the demon
I can’t believe it’s not parchment.

So what does it say? Allow me to transliterate. (Am I part of the Transliterati?) Actually, first allow me to pontificate. There’s a problem in choosing which futhark this is. It could be either the Older Futhark or the Anglo-Saxon one, and if it hadn’t been for two runes, I could have picked one without even saying which. But there’s one rune that doesn’t belong in the Older Futhark, and that’s the fourth in the top row, the one that looks like a rhombus with a line through it. It’s part of the Anglo-Saxon futhark (futhorc, sorry) and transliterates as j. Funnily, the other problematic rune also transliterates as j, only in the Older Futhark, and that’s the first one on the top line, the two angles. Since any rune or sign that isn’t in the futhark you’re transliterating from needs to be marked with capital letters (in a similar way to Latin characters, see the weird runestones in Year Walk), I now need to choose. The film is set in England, so let’s go for the Anglo-Saxon runes. So:

-J omj÷ufmu dofJxs ¶ -Jil lxjfmlut þoaJ?x÷lj

Notes on the transliteration: ÷ stands for a punctuation mark that isn’t one of the common ones (x or : for instance). I’ve interpreted the cross hatching here as a punctuation mark rather than a stack of runes. I must have seen it used that way somewhere, or I wouldn’t have transliterated it like that – it’s not like there are obvious words to separate here. The  signifies a line break, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, the means that I can tell there’s a rune or other character there, but can’t say what it is. In any case, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent linguistic meaning in the text, but I have to admit I don’t speak Demon. Whoever wrote this is not a fan of vowels, but does seem to like those j runes.

At one point in the film, Dr John realises he needs to go to (apparently nearby) Stonehenge to compare his runes to… the runes carved on Stonehenge? Well, alright, while there is a 3000 year age difference between Stonehenge and runes, you don’t need to carve your runes the minute you erect your stone.* Still.

Curse of the demon 2

Since the image (a screenshot, to be honest) is a bit hard to read, I’ve made a clarified version in good runological tradition (and in MS Paint):

Curse of the demon 2 ifylld

Also in keeping with runological tradition, I’ve attempted to fill out everything that appears carved on the stone. That’s the principle behind the Swedish painting of real live runestones – the runologist doing the painting shouldn’t interpret the text beforehand, only clarify what’s there. Of course, I’ll have to go to Stonehenge to examine the grooves for myself in order to make sure they’re all made by humans and not natural.

Here’s the transliteration:

+?tjos jim? ¶ hofjtus?x^ftj{K}÷Jtj? mtiKts ¶ flu???J?

So, not much more sense to be had here. The ^ between two letters in the transliteration means that those two are part of a bind rune, that is, a rune that can be read as two runes in one. In this case, I’ve interpreted it as an x and an f. I should also point out that several of the transliterated letters above are unsure. There are ways of showing that in a transliteration, but I can’t get WordPress to do them for me.

In short, demons and their human minions don’t communicate as most rune writers do, oddly enough, but they do for the most part use actual runes. It’s interesting that in the short story that the film is based upon, Casting the Runes by M.R. James, the runes are in fact described as impossible to decipher. Dr Harrington (who’s the main character in the story, not having been written by Hollywood) describes a “strip of paper with some very odd writing on it in red and black–most carefully done–it looked to me more like Runic letters than anything else” and later we learn that “the characters on it were more like Runes than anything else, but not decipherable”. The film may have made poor Harrington the victim rather than the hero, but to be fair, that’s a pretty good description of the runes in it.

Oh, and a P.S: in Casting the Runes, most of the cursing and rune writing is part of an academic feud. The evil magician Karswell has had a book negatively reviewed by one of the intended victims and a paper rejected by the other. I’m not saying this happens a lot. But I am a runologist with some things up for peer review soon… [OMINOUS THUNDER]


* On the subject of adding to an existing monument, here’s a gratuitous runestone: The Sparlösa stone has a pretty odd and difficult 9th century inscription. Then wonderfully, in the 11th century, a guy called Gisli decided he’d carve his own, much clearer message, stating that he made the monument in memory of his brother Gunnarr.