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Double Acrostic Puzzles and the lineage of the Viking Ragnar Lothbrok

I happened to be glancing at a book on acrostics during my research into Cryptographic schemes used by early peoples.  It’s titled “Whetstones for Wits; and Double Acrostics by Various Hands” and was published by Horace Cox publishing in London, in the year 1872.  It concerns acrostics, and thus it caught my attention.
An acrostic is a poem or writing in which the initial letters of the successive lines make up some name, word or sentence; hence the term acrostic, which is derived from two Greek words signifying the extremity of a line or verse, the required words appearing at the commencement of the verses in a perpendicular line.

Sometimes the final letters of the respective lines spell an acrostic as well as the initial ones; acrostics thus arranged are called double acrostics.  When an acrostic dips down into other parts of the poem as well, we have a triple acrostic, where the central letters form a word as well as the initial and final letters.    Today we will be examining, and solving, a triple acrostic.

It would be false to say that this particular example had not been solved previously.  But the beautiful part about its construction is that it was designed to have two distinct solutions; one for the common man and perhaps the Church and Government leaders in power at the time, and a much deeper meaning hidden for the eyes of those adepts that could “puzzle” it out, if you will excuse my pun.   This is the first publication of that hidden communication.

During times of stress, when Government and Religious oppression runs rampant, the common man always seems to rise to the occasion; and, by using his wits alone, allow an expression of his beliefs by poking fun at those in power.  This is what we face in this example.

I grew up solving puzzles and acrostics.  When I was very young my mother taught me to turn the multiple-piece puzzles (hundreds and then a thousand pieces) over to the back side to solve – without the help of the picture on the front.  She explained that it presented more of a challenge that way. And she was right.  And for the rest of my life I have always been interested in solving the mysteries that others try to hide.

From the times of the Early Middle Ages the Angles, Saxons, the Welsh and Irish, Frisians, Scandinavians and Germans, have been known to record much of their true history inside of verses of text; at first perhaps due to the joy it provided in using their minds in this manner. Later this became a helpful form of communication, especially in the types of messages that went across borders and were sensitive in nature. Some of those contents would have been punished by death had they been uncovered.  And they got quite good at it.

The Church in Rome itself employed their own form of Cryptography – mostly via a substitution of letters, although most of these can be solved very easily.  I worked for several years as a Cryptographer, and it took me about 10 minutes to solve the Church system.  The Anglo-Saxon versions were much more complicated.  I became proud of their accomplishments as an ancient people when I was finally able to figure this one out, after days of study. They obviously were much more intelligent than the brutish savages that they were made out to be by their enemies.

In fact, since no repercussions are noted in the historical records, the “conquerors” obviously never figured out their scheme.

As a historical researcher I must take you back, if only for a few moments, to those early days, so that you will better understand this particular acrostic and its multiple solutions. Bear with me, please.

The Britons and Anglo-Saxons, along with the Welsh and Scots, had their lives upturned one evil day in the year 1066 AD.  After the death of Edward the Confessor, William invaded England, leading an army of Normans to victory over the Anglo-Saxon forces of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, and suppressed subsequent English revolts in what has become known as the Norman Conquest.

Having attended some of the poorest excuses for public education, my previous ideas about the 1066 battle were that the French had conquered England.  Years later I pieced together the truth on my own, which is that these “French” were led by and composed of Vikings, who were the descendants of Rollo and formed the basis for the character of Ragnar Lotbrok and especially Ragnar’s brother.   You may recall them from the History Channel television series “Vikings.”   (I loved that series by the way.)

The real-life Viking Rollo (first ruler of Normandy) had married Poppa of Bayeux, a West Frankish noblewoman, and been granted lands in Normandy, in western France. William the Conqueror and his heirs down through 1135 were members of this dynasty.   Historians have not formed a conclusion as to whether Rollo’s family was Norwegian or Danish – there is conflicting evidence supporting both opinions.  But a Viking he was.

Some historians have identified Rollo with Hrólf the Walker, a personage from the 13th-century Icelandic sagas, Heimskringla and Orkneyinga Saga. Hrólf the Walker was so named because he “was so big that no horse could carry him”.

And while no authentic portrait of William has been found; there are some written descriptions of a burly and robust appearance, with a guttural voice.  He was strong enough to draw bows that others were unable to pull and had great stamina.  Geoffrey Martel described him as without equal as a fighter and as a horseman. Examination of William’s femur, the only bone to survive when the rest of his remains were destroyed, showed he was approximately 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) in height, which was taller than the average for that period of history.  So no, the forces that the English faced were not your average Frenchmen of that day.

While nobody likes a foreign conqueror,  the real problem that the people of Great Britain had was not so much with William,  as it was with Odo, his half-brother and sometime second in power after William as the King of England. Odo was heavily involved in the planning of William’s invasion of England in 1066 and contributed 100 ships to the expedition. He also took an active part in the Battle of Hastings.

Odo of Bayeux (born c. 1030, died 1097), was appointed as the Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux.  There is no reported “training” for the Bishopric, and it appears that he simply wished to become one.   On the Bayeux Tapestry, Odo is depicted with a club in his hand, smashing heads as he rallies Duke William’s troops during the Battle of Hastings in 1066. No doubt the locals would have had a difficult time comparing their own Bishops actions to that of Odo. In fact, Odo met his downfall later in life when he attempted, using his wealth, to have himself appointed as the Pope in Rome.

While William was busy consolidating his power in the capital, Odo roamed the countryside; murdering and dispossessing the former owners and taking their lands and income for himself.    Bishop Odo’s share of these spoils was immense.  In the county of Kent alone, as well as holding Dover Castle, he possessed at least 184 manors; he has been described as “perhaps the greatest single figure in Kentish history”. By the 1080s Odo held large estates in twenty-two counties dotted throughout England.   The Domesday Book (sometimes called the Doomsday Book) of 1086 reveals that the yield extracted from the men and women who day-long toiled in Odo’s fields and did his bidding had risen by 40 per cent from what it had been in 1066.    Odo’s English fortune was estimated in modern terms as £43.2 billion, putting him in fourth place overall on a list of the richest non-royal Britons during the last millennium.

When William was absent in Normandy, checking on his lands there, Odo seems to have had wide powers to rule the country in his stead, together with William Fitz-Osbern. It is clear that he used his powers with considerable severity. The English would long remember their sufferings under his rule. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when Odo was left in charge of England in 1067 the people were sorely oppressed: “Bishop Odo and Earl William [Fitz-Osbern] . . . built castles widely throughout this nation and oppressed the wretched people and afterwards it always grew very much worse. When God wills it, may the end be good.”

In the first half of the next century, the half-English, half-Norman Orderic Vitalis also complained that Odo and Fitz-Osbern protected Normans and paid no heed to the legitimate complaints of the English: thus, said Orderic, “when their men-at-arms were guilty of plunder and rape, they protected them by force, and wreaked their wrath all the more violently upon those who complained of the cruel wrongs they suffered. And so the English groaned aloud for their lost liberty.” On another occasion, Orderic wrote that Odo was “dreaded by Englishmen everywhere”.

Odo was variously described by contemporaries as ambitious, rapacious, greedy, ruthless and destitute of virtue. He forcibly seized lands for his family and associates, leading one chronicler to describe him as a “ravening wolf”.

However, in addition to his cruel treatment, it was his conversion to Catholicism and his position in the Church that represented the greatest threat to the spiritual lives of the locals – for France was one of the strongest supporters of the Pope and the Church of Rome. This stood in contrast to the local form of “Celtic Christianity”, one of the earliest forms of Protestantism, and pagan worship as well, both of which were extant in Great Britain at that time.

The traditional historians like to convince us that England was purely Catholic in their beliefs by the 700s AD, if not earlier. After you have studied this double acrostic from 300 years later, perhaps you will form a different opinion as to where their true faith was placed.

The example reproduced in Whetstones for Wits was produced circa 1070-1080s AD, when Odo was still very much active, and very much despised by the English people. But how could the local people express their wrath and at the same time escape being sacrificed for their efforts?

They did so by producing a double acrostic; one that was clever enough to attract attention and be spread far and wide, and one that, on the surface, honored the deeds of dear Odo, who, in his vast vanity, would be sure to show it to those who were in power, both in Great Britain and in Rome.

Since it was, to the untrained eye, a simple message, and one that did not need translation to be understand in the common language of the day, it was taken as such by the people of Great Britain. And because of this it acted very much like a quickly spreading virus.

The image below is the double acrostic as it was published in “Whetstones for Wits; and Double Acrostics by Various Hands”, in 1872.  I was doing research concerning the methods of Cryptography employed during the Early Middle Ages and came across this somewhat obscure book.  Nearly immediately I recognized that the explanation given was not the entire story.  Not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as we hope to expect.


Book of Puzzles text
This is how the image appears as an acrostic in the puzzle Book.

Ostensibly it was written in Middle English, a Norman-influenced version that William and company introduced with the invasion.  There are three words formed in this version of the acrostic:

“Now” is from the Middle English now, nou, nu, and the Old English nu, with the meaning of “now, at present, at this time, immediately, very recently”.

“Won” is the past participle of win, and is the (Norman) Middle English version of the (Anglo-Saxon) Old English word winnan.   To the Normans it meant “to conquer, defeat”.  In the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons, the word winnan was defined as “to labor, toil, trouble oneself; resist, oppose, contradict; fight, strive, struggle, rage; endure”.   To win by way of a struggle, in other words.  And so right away any linguist would understand that they were trying to tell us something, even in this “approved” version.

“Odo” is of course the wicked brother of William.  Other words that can be formed from the acrostic include:

“Don”, defined as to “make, cause, make war, to do harm, give, supply, furnish, to put, bring, take”, which also seems to be a message.

And “Wod”, defined in Old English as “mad, raging, furious, enraged, senseless, blasphemous” and also as “to go, move, stride, to advance.”

Here is my own interpretation of the surface message that is provided in those letters:

Surface solution to acrostic
Depicts ODO’s victory against the Britains during the invasion of 1066

In these Old English (Anglo-Saxon) terms they were perhaps expressing the hope that their fellow man would resist, oppose, fight, make war, do harm, in a mad rage, against the blasphemous, Odo. And thus to advance and to move forward.  And then we have the truly hidden meaning, which we will deal with shortly.

The Anglo-Saxons of England were very skilled at composing acrostics.  A very early acrostic, if not the earliest double acrostic known, occurs in the “De Laude Virginitatis,” of the celebrated Aldhelm of Malmesury, afterwards Bishop of Sherburn (A.D. 696-709). He is said to have been the first Englishman who wrote in the Latin language, whether in prose or verse. King Alfred the Great used to say that Aldhem was by far the best of all the Saxon poets.  We can see that they had employed this same double acrostic system for over three hundred years before Odo and his brother arrived on the scene.

One of the reasons behind their rage against the Normans, in my opinion, is due to the fact that Rollo and William and Odo, along with their followers, had renounced the faith of Odin.  They had completely forbidden the ancient pagan beliefs among their followers and those that they ruled over, and instead adopted the Catholic faith wholeheartedly.

The English would have perceived that as a renouncement of their heritage, and they became deeply concerned when reports came in from the mainland in Europe that pagans and their places of worship were being put to the torch.  They were witnessing nothing less than a Holocaust of their historical legacy, and not just the ends of their lives and livelihoods.

To remind Odo and company that some people still held faith in Odin and the Scandinavian religions of old, and to raise hope among their people, they composed a message.  A message that would serve to draw a line in the sand, in opposition to the “conquerors”, so that material goods would be the only thing of value taken by the Normans.

But how to do that using such a short message?  What logo or symbol could they compose that would be invisible to the eyes of those who had forsaken Odin, and yet strike a fire in the hearts of the local believers who still clung to the ancient faith?   And could they include not one but two hidden messages in one work; where they sufficiently intelligent to accomplish that? Yes.

We are perhaps all aware of the fact that Odin is associated with the creation of Runes and Runic symbols. In fact the epic tales inform us that he perfected that form of writing, which had previously been known only to the gods, and that his sacrifice enabled him to share that knowledge with mankind.   So let’s look at a typical spread of blank rune stones, formed by tossing them out of a pouch and allowing them to land where they may.  Normally these would have letters upon them, but for this example let’s just start with blank runes. The next image shows what that might resemble:

Rune symbols displayed in a group.
This is how the runs would end up shuffled after being removed from a bag and thrown to read them.

And in the next image I have placed numbers next to nine of the rune pieces; one for each of the nine letters that we have in our double acrostic.  The pattern is not yet obvious but will become very clear when I reveal the hidden name in the message, in a moment.

Nynbered Viking Runes of Odin or Woden
Numbered Rune Pieces, to show the pattern that I found.

While it is clear that the surface message gives us “Won Odo Now”, in reference to his winning a battle, doesn’t it also seem likely that this could imply the idea of  “Odo won, for now”?

As a translator of Anglo-Saxon, I recognized that you can also form the word Wodon, from those nine letters.  In fact you can form it many times; horizontally, vertically, forwards and backwards. And what does Wodon signify?  Here’s a snippet from “The Oxford Companion to World Mythology”, found at: , where it informs us that:

Wodon,  (also spelled as: Wotan, Wodan, Woton, Woden) was the Germanic antecedent of the Norse Odin and of our name for Wednesday. He was married to Freya (Norse Frigg).  Yes, Wodon is the earlier name for Odin, and one that a great majority of the people in Great Britain would recognize.

Here’s how the word for Odin (as Wodon) is found in our double acrostic. I’ve also provided you with the pattern that this word follows, in multiple directions.

Design patter of Wodon or Odin name.
This shows WODON or ODIN in various directions.

Now it may be easier to understand why I numbered nine of the runes, and placed the numbers in the directions that spell out Wodon or Odin by name.

Let’s take each of those occurrences and draw them onto our rune tiles, one at a time, and see what form they remind us of.

First occurrence of Wodon
First time Wodon or Odin appears. This pattern is important.


Second appearance of Runic Odin Woden
So if we place the next occurrence of Odin as Wodon we see the pattern emerging. This follows the text itself.
The complete Hidden Message
This is the completed symbol, easily recognizable, that was hidden inside the acrostics text by those clever Anglo-Saxons.
This follows the letters.
The Swastika follows exactly along with the letters form the double acrostic hidden message.

The days of our midweek (in English) do homage to four beloved Norse deities. Tyr, the god of war and justice is remembered in the word “Tuesday,” or Tyr’s Day.

Odin, the patriarch of the Norse gods, is remembered as Wodon and is celebrated in Wednesday, or Wodon’s Day.   Thor, the god of Thunder, is remembered in Thursday, just as Friday recalls Frigg or Freya, the female goddess associated with love and fate.

So it would have been easily recognizable to the Anglo-Saxons of England to see it in either the form of Wodon or of Odin, his early Scandinavian name.  And now I have revealed the two forms of encrypted message – one in the multiple mentions of Odin, and the other pattern that is formed when you trace those word formations into the shape that they were presented in – the symbol of a Swastika, that, to our misfortune, was later adopted by the Nazi party of Germany.  And the symbol of a Swastika is more than three thousand years older than the days of Hitler.

The swastika is one of the oldest and most widespread of humanity’s symbols. It can be found on artifacts thousands of years old from several continents. While it was used by the Norse and other Germanic peoples from the beginnings of those societies, the swastika is far from just a Germanic symbol. It was one of the central symbols of Proto-Indo-European society, the society that gave rise to the Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, Greek, and Roman societies in Europe, as well as Hindu society in India, which accounts for its use by both ancient and modern-day Hindus and Buddhists.

Nor was it an exclusively Indo-European symbol, however; it can also be found in the indigenous art of the American Indians, the Sami of the far north of Scandinavia, and plenty of other peoples across the world.    The Germanic peoples were carving the swastika onto rocks as far back as the Bronze Age, before most other Germanic symbols, including the runes, had yet appeared.  Its meaning for them was dynamic and hard to pin down into any simple definition, but it had much to do with luck, prosperity, power, protection, and sanctity, and was often associated with the sun and sky.

The Swastika, the Sunwheel, and Thor’s Hammer, as they were used by the Germanic peoples, were so closely tied together that the three were practically interchangeable.

My family once traced our relatives back to England and Scotland, and especially to the border areas between them. We have quite a few relations to the Anglo-Saxons of old, and thus this discovery was important and memorable to me.  But regardless of whether you might have any Scandinavian, English or Germanic blood flowing in your veins or not, we surely can take pride in the fact that these brave and intelligent people of Great Britain were able to pull one over on the pompous Odo and William the Conqueror.

I often wonder why I happened to be the first to discover and publish this.  But perhaps it’s simply the fact that my fellow historians need to expand their empathetic understanding of the early people that lived on our fair planet.  Perhaps it’s time that we stop underestimating their intelligence and abilities, and instead reveal as much of the truth as possible.   I promise to do my share.

Thanks for reading this rather long report.  Please let me have your comments, good or bad.