The Runes of Hellblade


HellbladeFeatured image is by K putt on flickr

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In this part of my series about the manifestations of Senua’s psychosis, we will focus (pun not intended) on a certain kind of – let’s just call it magic – that Senua uses to open locked gates. Nordic runes shimmer from the faces of the gates. Senua, who has the ability to look beyond reality, can see those runes in the landscape. They are in the branches of the trees, in the cracks of the walls, even in the traces of burned grass on the ground. The moment she sees those hidden runes, the gates open, and the heroine may proceed with her quest to save her beloved’s soul.

Have you read my other posts on Hellblade? There is one for general entertainment and one going in-depth about the voices.

Runes in Hellblade as a Symbol for Delusion

In my opinion, Ninja Theory decided to use this kind of riddle in order to portray something that is really hard to understand and even harder to explain. It is the concept of delusion that is the center of what used to be called schizophrenia and is now labeled “paranoid psychosis”.

Let me just state this here: I think this is way more than just a form “pareidolia”, which is the innate tendency of our brains to see faces in lifeless things, just as Senua sees her mother’s face in the rocks and clouds. When a non-psychotic person sees a face in a potato (be honest, it has happened to you, too), they usually do not assign any meaning to this. Nor does the potato suddenly give them well-needed advice on how to improve their personal finances. But for Senua, hearing her mother’s voice has a deep meaning. Her mother guides her from the great beyond, in a time where Senua is in desperate need of help.


Delusions play an important role when it comes to diagnosing and treating psychosis. A delusion is a belief that is illogical, irrational and most unlikely. However, no argument or reasoning will convince the patient to the contrary. Here are some classical examples:

  • Everyone working for the police is a satanist
  • The neighbor is watching me with a webcam he installed in my bedroom


In Hellblade, Senua’s train of thought is the following: There are runes on the gate. I cannot open those gates just yet (although there are no bolts or locks!). I have to look for those runes in the surroundings to unlock the gates.

In Senua’s case, we may speak of a delusion of reference, which means that she interprets mere coincidences in a meaningful way. There just so happens to be a shadow on the wall that looks like the rune “Hagalaz”, but to Senua, seeing this rune means that the gate will magically open.

Nordic Runes: a clever choice

The choice of Nordic runes for portraying delusions of reference bears a deeper meaning.

You may have heard about runes a way of fortunetelling. They are more than letters the Norsemen used to write with. In the old days, runes were magical signs that magicians used to bend the fabric of reality in their favor. They are so complex and mysterious, that Odin had to sacrifice himself on the Tree of Life to learn them. The meanings of the runes are difficult to grasp and understand, as they stand for complex concepts.

Hellblade, of course, does not deal with the meanings of the runes. Senua, after all, is a Celtic woman. However, by choosing runes as part of the game mechanics, the developers show that in psychosis it is not just about abnormal perceptions. It is about how a perception can be filled with a meaning so powerful that it seems to bend the person’s reality.


Now, we have learned that at the center of psychosis there are delusions, which are firmly held beliefs or ideas that are highly improbable or absolutely impossible to be a part of objective reality. Senua’s delusions manifest themselves, not solely but to some extent, by looking for runes in her surroundings in order to unlock gates. We can also conclude that runes are a perfect symbol for delusions of reference, as sorcerers used runes to influence matter, spirit, and fate.

What are your thoughts on this? Comment down below!