By Kerstin: Runes have been gaining popularity as a divination system through recent times. In order to use them well, knowing their background helps. Runes are an ancient system of written communication from about 2000 years to a few hundred years ago. The system was developed into localized branches after spreading throughout Northern Europe, and before slowly being replaced by our current Latin alphabet.
The origin story of runes tells of the god Odin gaining knowledge of them through ritual, allowing his mind to receive them from something greater than himself. They were a realization. A gift. Most likely, runes came from a development of influences via surrounding cultures, possibly the Etruscan writing system. Possibly, some of the Hällristningar ancient carved symbols were also an influence. Odin was the god of communication, wandering and learning from others. Runes are not only an alphabet, but embody ancient concepts sacred at the time.
On a practical level the rune names, and three surviving Rune Poems that relate to them (from which I’ve drawn my rune meaning below), enable us to memorize the glyphs. However, studying each rune brings to life the spirituality and world these people lived in. They are a door into the ancient past, where the natural environment was closer to home for most people than in present times. Today, much like tarot, using runes for reflection can help us stay grounded. We can also reflect on a single rune of choice, to bring awareness and focus.
The Elder Futhark
These are the basic 24 runes which most people recognize as familiar when they buy a modern set. Whilst runes for divination come in many different materials, it’s an interesting process to make your own as an extension of yourself, perhaps carved into pieces of wood.
Here are the basic meanings for the Elder Futhark Runes:
Drawing the Runes
Drawing 3 (or more) runes out of a bag or box works much like a 3 tarot card draw. You can decide on a Past, Present, Possible and/or Future spread, a Situation, Challenge, and Goal spread, or simply read the runes by letting the meanings synthesis into an idea. They may even literally spell something out. You might wish to start by clearing your mind in any way that works for you (even a few deep breaths help). Focus on a topic or question.
As you draw each rune, take note if it is reversible. Some runes are the same no matter which way they’re turned, and these can be interesting ‘anchors’ to the reading, perhaps referring to a situation or timing that you may question the acceptance of, or whether it can consciously be changed. Also take note if the runes are face-down. You can question whether these are concepts “in shadow” or not yet active, or even if they might be diminishing?
To conclude, record what you’ve read for reference. Reflect on your situation or question through the formula of the runes drawn. Remember that a reading can help define the root of a situation, making options more obvious. A way to move life forwards.
Casting the Runes
This is my favorite, and involves tossing the runes from your bag or hands, letting them fall onto a cloth on your table or the ground. Some reading cloths have markings, which are often the elements, the directions, or even a more complex Nordic 9 Worlds system. To keep things simple, however, just just a clean cloth large enough to catch your runes.
You can read from how the runes fall organically, and usually only those right-side-up are considered, but also look to see if they pointing in a particular direction. What does that add to the meaning for you? Which runes cluster together? Which are alone or far apart? What meaning does that remind you of? You can look at the patterns created throughout the whole casting, like a map.
There is often much to explore with this method, especially as all 24 runes are used. Use the interpretation guidelines as for rune draws too, if your like. Or enjoy discovering your own!
Love and Light,
Runic Primer 2002, by Sweyn Plowright (Rune-Net Press)
Runes for Transformation 2008, by Kaedrich Olsen (Weiser Books)
Old English Rune Poem (unknown)
Old Icelandic Rune Poem (unknown)