Runes, also known as Marks, are symbols that grant beings various supernatural abilities, with both angelic and demonic runes known to exist. For Shadowhunters, runes are a complex runic language given to them by the Angel Raziel, which grants them powers beyond those of mundanes. Runes are burned into Shadowhunters' skin using steles, and are their most common tool in their fight against demons.
Runes are markings given to the first generation of Shadowhunters by the Angel Raziel to assist them in fighting the demons they were tasked to eradicate. Every rune that is accessible to Shadowhunters is recorded in the Book of the Covenant, and have also been copied into the Gray Book, which is a specially crafted book with each rune placed in its pages. Copies of the book are rare because each book must be specially made, due to the fact that steles, made of the holy metal adamas, burn normal paper.
The first ever recorded Mark was the biblical Mark of Cain, set upon Cain, which protected him from harm, as any harm against him would result in the same harm rebounded upon the assailant sevenfold.
In 2007, a large number of Shadowhunters were forcibly Turned into demonically-aligned Dark Shadowhunters with the Infernal Cup by Sebastian Morgenstern, which resulted in their angelic runes fading from their skin. After being Turned, the Dark Shadowhunters were only able to apply demonic runes.
While runes do cause some uneasiness and a slight stinging pain, most runes do not actually cause harm against a Shadowhunter.
When young Shadowhunters are set to begin their formal training, usually around the age of ten or twelve, they receive their first rune. While the Voyance rune is normally the first rune given to young or newly-ascended Shadowhunters, it may be changed in special cases, such as when it was decided that the sickly Adele Starkweather should receive the Strength rune first. The first rune is usually Marked upon them in a formal ceremony done by Silent Brothers.
While most runes are meant to be used on Shadowhunters' skin, many runes can also be applied on physical objects, giving a variety of effects and abilities. Many of these runes are placed on their weapons to prevent demons from healing when injured by them; others are used to lock and unlock doors, create fires, and a wide array of other abilities.
Runes are what make the Nephilim different from average humans, as they are the only beings who are able to bear the Angel's marks. When drawn on mundanes, they burn the skin; powerful marks could drive them insane and turn them into Forsaken. The demon disease that causes lycanthropy in werewolves prevents Marks from taking effect, while other Downworlders who are Marked cannot bear the runes and, like mundanes, may either go mad or die upon contact; the only exception is the Alliance rune, which was specifically designed to be applied to both Shadowhunters and Downworlders. According to Magnus Bane, angel runes can only be applied on the Nephilim because that's what the runes given to them are for, being part-angel themselves.
Runes are an integral part of an individuals' identity as Nephilim. When one violates the Law severely enough to warrant an expulsion from Shadowhunter society, or when one chooses to leave of his/her own accord, the Shadowhunter is stripped of their Marks, a process that is excruciatingly painful. While this will only typically turn a Shadowhunter into a mundane, the Clave has occasionally made it so that the former Shadowhunter will turn Forsaken to serve as torture or a punishment, though the latter has since been forbidden by their Law.
Though most runes have immense power, there are runes used by the Nephilim that are purely symbolic. The love rune, for example, is merely a symbol of two people's love and cannot create the actual feeling. The same can be said for the mourning rune; it cannot diminish the loss that its wearers feel and only honors the dead and symbolizes the pain of their loved ones' deaths. There are also runes of peace, seen in the Silent City and can be used to possibly soothe someone's mind to give them peaceful sleep.
Runes can be drawn as a whole while there are runes, depending on its purpose, that can be drawn partially at first and completed when the wearer wishes to activate it.
The strength and efficiency of runes is based on and related to the inscribing Shadowhunter's talent for runic magic, specifically the strength and accuracy of the drawn Mark. Poorly drawn Marks would have no effect. Likewise, using the stele to draw random, non-runic symbols or writing will only produce the "icy hot" feeling similar to the one brought about by using it to draw Marks, but there will be no effect.
The placement of runes adds to their effectiveness. The closer a rune is placed to the heart, the more effective it is. Some runes are placed on hands and arms and legs because they target that particular area. The force that the rune is drawn with is also a factor in how long it lasts; the harder someone presses when drawing the rune makes it last longer.
In addition, Marks made by ones' parabatai upon another are stronger than other Marks, and there are Marks that only parabatai can use, because they draw on the partners' doubled strength. In another special case, Clary Fray, whose additional angel blood gives her the power to create new runes, can also place Marks on herself and others that are typically more powerful than those placed by regular Shadowhunters, although this ability has been known to sap her of energy.
When drawn on the skin, fresh runes appear black. Some runes on objects are drawn in different colors, such as red, silver, and gold, among others. Many runes are temporary and fade with time. These runes will almost always leave behind a faint white or silver scar as if as a reminder of the rune that was once placed there. These runes would need to be drawn again for their effects to be felt again.
Other runes, like the Voyance rune, the Mnemosyne rune, runes for weddings, parabatai rituals, and some for mourning, are permanent. These runes never fade and their effects constantly work on the Shadowhunter on whom they were placed. In the case of wedding runes, though they are permanent, can be broken in half in a very painful process. As with parabatai runes, which fade when the bond is broken or cut (something much harder to do than the ending of a marriage), such as when one is made a Silent Brother or Iron Sister, these wedding runes may also dissolve and fade when the partnership is annulled.
Despite the innate capability of most Shadowhunters to bear runes, some Shadowhunters, though only a few, are resistant to Marks. For others, it may just be a bit more painful compared to the experience of others. However, some may reject the first Mark they receive entirely, which would send them into shock or madness, giving them excruciating pain and agony that would be suffered through a fever so intense that only stripping the Mark or cutting through it would save the life—and, no longer able to bear more Marks after as a part of the conventional treatment, would also end ones' life as a Shadowhunter, as these Nephilim are made to live out the rest of their lives as mundanes. The fever may last for an indeterminable amount of time (weeks, months, possibly longer). While one could die during this time, if the Shadowhunter survives and lives through the ordeal with the Mark intact, which can be made to happen through sheer will, he/she can live and bear runes normally with no risk of future danger.
While there are other existing runes, the only runes the Shadowhunters are permitted to use are the ones found in the Gray Book. Demonic runes, which are accessible to warlocks and often used in summoning, are forbidden to them by Law and also cannot work alongside the seraphic blood of the Nephilim. There are also other angelic runes that are said to have existed since time immemorial that were not given to the Nephilim for their use. The most well-known of these is the so-called first Mark, Mark of Cain.
Only the most common runes are referred to by their true names, while the others by their informal descriptive names. Their true names are in the language of Heaven; these names being the only words of the language human beings have ever been permitted to know.
There are some very powerful runes only accessible to those who become Silent Brothers and Iron Sisters. These runes are found in the hidden parts of the Gray Book and bestow upon them different magic, which allows them to perform their duties unique to their organization.
While normally, the underlying language of the Marks are incomprehensible to Shadowhunters, making them unable to create new Marks, Clary Fray has the ability to recall old runes that were not documented into the Book of the Covenant/Gray Book. This gift of runes was given to her as a result of the angelic blood of Ithuriel running through her veins, due to her father giving her mother tonics of it while Clary was in her womb. Because of her connection to Ithuriel, the angel is able to give her images or visions in her mind of ancient runes not found in the Gray Book. These runes are assumed to have already existed long before Shadowhunters, and are even possibly runes of Heaven, that date back to the time of angels. These Marks include the Fearless, Alliance, and resurrection runes, as well as the Mark of Cain, among others. These come to her in dreams, or visions, typically when she calls on them by thinking of something, or spontaneously in times of need.
|Alarm||A rune by Clary that sets off an alarm after a certain period of time.|
|Amissio||Slows blood loss and speeds natural blood replacement.|
|Compass||Gives the Shadowhunter a sense of the four cardinal directions at all times. It is one of the first runes given to most Shadowhunters.|
|Dexteritas||Gives the Shadowhunter dexterity.|
|Farsighted||Sharpens vision; allows user to see faraway things more clearly, though not without some limitation.|
|Fortis||Gives the Shadowhunter strength.|
|Mendelin||Grants partial and temporary invisibility through glamour. As a healing rune, it strengthens the victim's constitution.|
|Necromancy||Another rune image Clary conjured in her mind. Temporarily brings back a deceased Shadowhunter when drawn on their body. Clary meant to use it to let the deceased speak for a short time. However, the pain of having their soul forcefully pulled back to the world of the living would combine with the pain of their existing injuries, causing them immense pain, rendering them unable to speak. When the rune is destroyed, as Luke did with green acid, the resurrected dies once again.|
|Night Vision/Nyx||Allows the Shadowhunter to see in the dark.|
|Opening / Unlocking runes (Open)||A rune with several variations that ensure that there are no mundane lock, in theory, is closed to Nephilim.|
|Portal rune||A rune by Clary that works by creating a Portal for rapid travel all over the world. Clary is the only one able to use it.|
|Sangliers||Blood-replacement rune used to transfer blood when the body needs it, but is extremely dangerous.|
|Shelter||Acts to shelter one from the elements if stuck outside—protecting them from things such as rain or hypothermia.|
|Thermis||Keeps the Shadowhunter warm.|
|"To hold against pursuit"||A curved rune that looks like a sickle, with three parallel lines and a rayed star. It can be drawn on doors to block it against pursuers, and its efficacy is largely dependent on the strength and accuracy of the Mark and the inscribing ability of the person who drew it.|
|Tracking||Allows someone to track a person's whereabouts and, in some cases, see what the person is seeing, if one has a possession of the person being tracked. It is drawn on the back of the hand of the tracker, while gripping the object in the other hand. They are easy to learn to draw but difficult to use correctly. If used successfully, the Shadowhunter will see visions of the subject's location and may be accompanied by a knowing sense of orientation. This is often used by the Clave to track down criminals and even demons.|
Other runes briefly mentioned in the series include:
- A rune (pictured on the right) that looks like a winged sword which Clary used to siphon Jace's heavenly fire onto Heosphoros, which she had dreamt of several times prior to using it. It was also the first rune—one that wasn't in the Gray Book—that she ever saw in a vision. The rune signifies intensified, directed angelic power.
- A rune that seemed to scare demons away from Clary when she was Marked with it. The rune was drawn on her in her dream by her mother, and the message that came with it was that the rune would protect her.
- A rune Clary drew on herself that briefly made her appear as whomever the person looking at her loved most. She used this to demonstrate her power to a roomful of people.
- A rune that showed Clary, in words that appeared shortly after the rune was applied, where a piece of fabric had come from.
- A rune Clary used to destroy Sebastian's apartment. It looked like an unfinished Opening Rune.
- Clary has since created several new runes that has been added to the Gray Book, including a rune that aids in long distance running.
- Runes that can knock someone out.
Compilations of the runes:
- Disclaimer: Some of the runes in these compilations are not canon or have different names now. Consider them, as they are, original drafts.
- Runes are not compatible with internal combustion engines. As such, automobiles cannot be glamoured for Shadowhunter use.
- The runes were designed by Valerie Freire for the series.
- Some of the runes changed names or were switched with other designs since they were first created.
- Some of the runes were shown in the Agent Carter episode Time and Tide.
- City of Lost Souls
- Clockwork Princess
- City of Fallen Angels
- City of Glass
- Vampires, Scones, and Edmund Herondale
- The Shadowhunter's Codex
- Clockwork Angel
- City of Heavenly Fire (chapter 7)
- Permanent runes — Cassandra Clare on Tumblr
- Permanent runes — Cassandra Clare on Twitter
- Divorce — Cassandra Clare on Tumblr
- The Evil We Love
- The Mortal Instruments (book series)
- The Lost Book of the White
- Clockwork Prince
- Queen of Air and Darkness
- Lord of Shadows
- "If you are out in the elements, the Shelter rune will behave as if you have shelter. You won’t get rained on, or get hypothermia, etc." Cassandra Clare on Tumblr
- City of Bones
- Lord of Shadows NYCC chapter sampler
- City of Ashes
- BookTube Interview with Cassandra Clare
- Lady Midnight
- Shadowhunter Army March 2020 newsletter