Runes are an ancient Germanic alphabet. They were used throughout northern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Iceland from about 100 B.C.E. to 1600 C.E.
Since ancient times, runes have been used for divination and magic, in addition to writing. Tacitus, in Chapter X of his Germania, describes a form of divination used by Germanic tribes:
“To divination and casting of lots, they pay attention beyond any other people.
Their method of casting lots is a simple one:
they cut a branch from a fruit-bearing tree and divide it into small pieces which they mark with certain distinctive signs and scatter at random onto a white cloth. Then, the priest of the community if the lots are consulted publicly, or the father of the family if it is done privately, after invoking the gods and with eyes raised to heaven, picks up three pieces, one at a time, and interprets them according to the signs previously marked upon them.”
Runes can be an oracle for one seeking advice. They hint toward answers, but you have to figure out the details. This is when the rune casters intuition becomes paramount.
Runic divination (“casting”) is not “fortunetelling.” Runes give one a means of analyzing the path that one is on and the likely outcome. Those who use the runes tend not to believe in pre-destination. The future changes as we act in the present. By changing ones actions one can change the path one is upon.
Odin, the Norse High God of the Aesir, hung from the world tree, Yggdrasil, impaled on his own spear, for nine days and nights in order to gain the knowledge of runes. When the runes appeared below him, he reached down and took them up, and the runic knowledge gave him power . He later passed on this knowledge to the Vanir goddess Freya. She, in turn, taught him the magic of seidr. Heimdall, the god who guarded the Rainbow Bridge, taught the runes to mankind.
The Old Germanic Runic alphabet or “Elder Futhark” contains 24 runes. The first six runes of the alphabet spell out the word “FUTHARK”. As the runes spread northwards into Scandinavia, some rune symbols were dropped and the alphabet was reduced to only 16 runes.
The Runes are divided into three groups (called Aettir’s). Each group contains eight symbols.
One who aspires to become adept with runes must have some knowledge of the mythology, history, and culture of ancient Europe and Scandinavia.
Meanings of the Runes
There are many versions of the runic alphabets. Each has variations in names, shapes, esoteric meanings and magical uses. Here we’ll be talking about the 24 symbol Elder Futhark.
One should not mix futharks, or the intent or meaning becomes confused. The Elder Futhark, the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, and the Younger (or Scandinavian) Futhark are the most frequently seen versions of the runic alphabets in use today.
The runes are broken into three group (called aettir, the singular of which is aett). This grouping not only helps one remember the runes, but ultimately can have magical significance.
— Fehu — “Fay – Hoo”
Fehu represents wealth earned or won through luck. It can represent current financial strength or strength in the future. It is also a sign of prosperity, success, and happiness.
— Uruz — ” ooo – rooze” as in “Moo” Auroch, a wild ox.
Uruz represents untamed physical strength and speed. It can be an indication of great energy, or great health. It might also represent sudden or unexpected changes, or high masculine potency.
— Thurisaz — “thur — ee — saws” as in “Thursday.” Thorn or a Giant.
Thurisaz represents a force of destruction and defense or conflict. Thurisaz represents hard times through change, or a cleansing fire. While it doesn’t represent destruction (see Dagaz and Hagalaz) it can represent difficulties during a time of growth.
— Ansuz — “awn — sooze” as in “Awning” The As, ancestral god, i.e. Odin.
Ansuz represents a message, or unexpected insight. Inspiration, true version, and the taking of advice are all represented by Ansuz. This insight or advice is generally good and true and will lead to a beneficial future.
— Raidho — “Rye — Though” Wagon or chariot.
Raidho represents travel, either in a physical sense, or in terms of lifestyle. It can represent a journey, relocation, or a change in where you dwell. It might also represent your seeing a larger perspective on things which takes you a different direction.
— Kenaz — “Cane — Awes” Beacon or torch.
Kenaz represents knowledge and technical ability. It represents your ability to create your own reality and improve it. It represents your ability to use self-reliance to grow and improve yourself and your surroundings.
— Gebo — “Yee — Boo” Gift.
Gebo represents gifts of generosity and the obligations they bring. It can serve as a reminder that a “gift demands a gift.”
— Wunjo — “Woon — Yo” ‘Joy.’
Wunjo represents joy and comfort. Can also represent prospertity, ecstasy, or a spiritual reward. However, wunjo can also represent the possibility of excess.
— Hagalaz — “haw — gaw — laws” ‘Hail.’
Hagalaz represents uncontrolled destructive forces, sometimes with respect to weather. Can also refer to crisis, including fincial crisis.
— Nauthiz — “now — these” ‘N: Need.’
Nauthiz represents delay, and frustration due to lack of progress. It represents resistance and conflict, and the need to persevere to overcome the resistance.
— Isa — “eee — saw” ‘Ice.’ Isa represnts frustration. Unlike Nauthiz which represents delay, Isa represents a complete lack of progress and the frustration that goes with it. Isa may represent a time to sit and look inward to find clarity regarding a matter.
— Jera — “yare — awe” ‘A year, a good harvest.’
Jera represents the harvest, the rewards of hard work. It can represent a time of peace and plenty after hard work. Hopes and expectations are fulfilled.
— Eihwaz — “eye — was” ‘Yew tree.’
Eihwaz represents the sturdiness, strength and dependability of a tree. It represents protection, and sense of purpose. It can indicate you’ve set your sights on an achievable goal. It might also represent something you can depend on, like the strength of a tree.
— Perthro — “perth — row”
‘Lot cup, vagina.’
Perthro can represent hidden things or mysteries. It can represent a secret matter, or an initiation. Heavily tied to Seidhr magical practices. It may also represent the feminine mysteries, including fertility.
— Algiz — “all — yeese” ‘Elk, protection.’
Algiz represents protection, like a shield. It can also represent the desire to protect and defend others. Algiz may also represent the need to follow your instincts. In addition Algiz can represent your connection with the gods, and your “higher self.”
— Sowilo — “soe –wee — low” ‘The sun.’
Sowilo represents honor through achieved goals. It can also represent good health. Positive changes occur with Sowilo.
— Tiwaz — “Tea — Whaz” ‘Tyr, the sky god.’
Tiwaz represents vows, honor, and justice. It can represent agreements one has made and honoring them. It may also represent success through self-sacrifice. Also can relate to legal matters.
— Berkano — “Bear — Kawn — Oh” ‘Berchta, the birch-goddess.’
Berkano generally refers to fertility and childbirth. May represent a personal rebirth and regeneration. Might also represent a new beginning.
— Ehwaz — “Ay — Wawz” as in “day” ‘Horse, two horses.’
This should not be confused with Eihwaz.
Ehwaz is similar to Raidho in that it represents travelling. However while Raidho focuses on the destination, Ehwaz focuses on the Journey. Raidho is about where you end up, Ehwaz is about how you get there. Sometimes refers to marriage, or some kind of partnership.
— Mannaz — “Man — Awes” ‘Man, mankind.’
Mannaz represents yourself, your attitude, and your attitude towards others. May represent your friends, or the social order of things. It can represent help from an outside individual or a group.
— Laguz — “Law — Goose” ‘Water, or a leek.’
Laguz represents the healing power of water, and the power of renewal. Can sometimes represent the imagination and intuition. Relates to Dreams, fantasies, and mysteries. May also represnt gain of one thing with the loss of another.
Inguz represents internal growth. It can also represent the home, family love, and caring. Also possibly a sign to stop and relax, and enjoy what you have. It’s a time when you don’t have obligations and can relax and listen to yourself, and your needs.
— Dagaz — “Daw — Gawz” ‘Day or dawn.’
Dagaz represents a time of change. It may represent a time of breaking down the old and starting anew. Dagaz is a sign of a new enterprise, or a new path. It can represent the power of change directed by your own will. Can also represent clarity regarding a future matter.
— Othala — “Oath — Awe — Law” ‘Ancestral property.’
Othala represents wealth that was neither earned (like Fehu) or given to you (like Gebo). Othala represents “familial wealth.” It may also represent what is truly important to you and “your group.” Othala is strongly tried to heritage, your family, and its future.
Runecasting is not “fortune telling”. Runecasting works with the subconscious. The pouch and its symbols represent the universe and all its possibilities. As the question is raised one must focus ones thoughts on that question so that the runes being select are not “truly random” as they are choices of your subconscious.
Even back in Viking times, there was a remarkable understanding of the human psyche. They recognized the relationship of cause and effect and how all thing are interconnected. The nature of these relationships is called “wyrd.”
Vikings also had a different view of “fate.” Today we use fate as an excuse to be helpless and establish pre-destination. However, the viking used fate as a term to describe the future result of your past actions.
A “Runecast” is traditionally done to address a particular issue by examining the past, the current situation, and what the results will end up being if one follows the path one is currently on. However, the future is always mutable, as the future is changed by the actions we have taken, and are about to take. The purpose of a “Runecasting” is to examine our actions in the past to determine where we are headed, and ultimately, whether we want to “go there.”
A runecaster does not see the future. He/she examines cause and effect and points (the Wyrd) to develop a likely outcome.
It’s not supernatural. Instead it is a methodology for examining the path one is on and what the effects might be, by making use of one’s subconscious (i.e. an “intuitive perception”), unfettered by limited conscious belief systems.
The Mechanics of a Runecasting
Find a suitable place to do the reading. You do not want to be disturbed. Some people recommend the caster sitting facing North if possible, the direction of the Gods in Norse mythology, however I’ve never found it critical.
A cloth can be extremely helpful as a casting surface. It not only provides a place to focus your attention on, but it also keeps your runes clean if you’re working on the ground.
The questioner should carefully form the question in his mind. He may either state that question or hold it to themselves. The important thing is that the questioner must stay focused on the question, or the reading may become confusing.
Next, you the questioner can either draw runes out of the bag, or alternatively, place all the runes out in front of the questioner, face down.
The most basic “read” requires three runes representing:
- The Past
- What’s coming into being
- The end result
The caster should then “reveal” the runes one at a time, talking about and exploring the meaning of each rune. It’s worth taking time talking about each rune as it’s drawn and how it fits into the questioners “question.”
The representation of the “past” rune is fairly evident, it represents past conditions, or actions of the questioner or those around him. However the other two runes have meanings that aren’t always clear to someone who has done reading with other tools, such as Tarot.
The Second rune represents what’s “coming into being.” Vikings had a very strong preference for not “standing still” and abhord inaction. The second rune is a reflection upon this. It doesn’t represent “what is,” rather it represents “where we’re headed.” This isn’t an extreme future sense, but rather it represents the path you’ve chosen and why.
I’ve chosen to describe the final rune as “The end result.” Rather than the future. As we’ve previously discussed, fate is not about what must happen, it’s about what’s likely to happen if we continue down our current path. I’ve described the third rune as “If you keep going the way you are, here’s what’s likely to happen.” Since the questioner has the free will to change their course of action, the future is by no means sure.
After you’ve completed the discussion of these three runes, I’ve taken the habit of having the questioner draw a fourth rune. There’s absolutely no basis for this, other than my own intuition, but I’ve found it helpful.
When the questioner draws a fourth rune its a representation of how things may change, now that they’ve examined their past, and possible future through the runes. It may indicate that they are happy with the path they are on, but it may also indicate they are thinking about change.
There are many other “layouts” which various people have developed over the years. For additional information I recommend reading Sunnyway’s rune site at http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/layouts.html
Making a Rune Set
Make your own rune set can give a “close personal tie” with your castings. While many people choose to use purchased runes for their castings, as you progress you may decide that you want to take this additional step.
Making a rune set can be as simple, or complex as you want it to be. It can be extremely ritualized, or more informal, depending upon your circumstances. What I discuss here lays the foundation for you, the reader, making your choices about how you want to create a rune set.
Wood, by far, is the most common material used by people when they create their rune sets. Trees give us a sense of life, and tie us to the earth. They remind of us the tree of life, Yggdrasil, and also remind us of the sacrifice Odin made by hanging on the tree to gain the knowledge of the runes. the branch of a fruit tree, such as apple, pine, or yew. Some makers claim that to use “dead wood” (wood already fallen) from the tree is inappropriate for runes, however I think that’s a personal choice. The important thing is that your choice of wood resonates for you.
There are other materials as well. From glass beads, to stones, to metal. Everyone seems to tune themselves to a different material. Just remember that with whatever material you’re going to make, you will need to be able to mark it.
Next you need to find a way to put the runes on your set. As with materials, it’s largely a matter of personal preference, both from a practical standpoint, and a spiritual standpoint.
Fine point sharpees are the easiest, and will mark on almost any material. We’re also all used to writing with a pen, so it’s easy. You can also use an exacto knife, a wood burning tool. A Dremel tool also works well.
Traditionally one consecrates a set of runes by “marking” them with a “life fluid.” This is normally blood, however also could be saliva, semen, or urine. You’ll need to either provide this “fluid” when you ritually consecrate the runes, or you’ll need to collect and store it for use in ritual.
About blood collection and safe practices – In modern society the extraction of blood raises a significant number of safety issues, both to yourself (through disease and infetion) or to others. If you’re going to use blood, and store it before hand, you’ll want to contact a friend with medical expertise that has blood collection and storage vials. Typically a blood storage vial has a small amount of heprin in it to keep it from clotting.
You’ll need a saw if you’re cutting a branch, sandpaper if you’re working with wood. You’ll want Linseed oil or varnish for final treatment, and a bag to store them in.
The question of linseed oil or varnish is one worth spending some time thinking about. Linseed oil is viewed as “more natural” while varnish can give you the ability to give your wood certain colors. However varnish may create a coating that “seals” the runes in a way you don’t like. Spend some time thinking about it.
Creating the slips
My experience, particularly when working with a branch, is that the process of creating the slips you are going to carve the runes on is best left to a non ritualized process. Whether you do it with a handsaw, or a table saw, or some other way, it takes awhile, and for me personally, doesn’t fit well within the ritual process.
You’ll also want to create “extras” (I recommend doing 36 slips) for mistakes. No matter how many times you do it, you’ll make a mistake.
After you’ve cut your slips, and have your materials together, it’s time to set up for ritual, and create your runes.
Rune Creation Ritual
Before you go into ritual, take a pencil and “pencil in” each rune on a slip. Think about the Rune, it’s meaning, and chant it’s name as you draw it on the rune. Doing this beforehand will make the actual creation process easier. If possible, you want your rune strokes to be downward, into “the earth” (downward meaning towards the bottom of the rune), and across the grain of the wood, showing an affirmative intention to put energy into the slip.
Now set aside a ritual space, and do whatever ritual you deem appropriate for your path. I typically do a [Blot http://asatru.mohnkern.com/index.php?title=Blot_Outline] to Odin, asking him to join me.
Now put down two cloths, one for your “blanks” and another for your finished runes.
Now, through whatever process you choose based upon your materials and marker, create each rune. As you’re writing or carving, entone (say) the name of the rune, or chant it. Think about the meaning of the rune, and what it means to you.
After you’re done with the carving, place the rune on the “finished runes” cloth, and make a hammer sign over it.
Proceed onto the next rune. I recommend you go through all 24 at a setting, one aett at a time. This generally takes an hour or two if you’re doing it for your first time.
After you’ve finished your last rune, you’ll now want to consecrate them with your fluid of choice. I recommend doing this before placing the linseed oil or varnish on them, as the oil or varnish will “seal” the rune.
After you’ve consecrated each rune, galdor (entone) each rune again, as a set, pushing your personal energy into the runes”
Recite the Icelandic Rune Poem
Close your ritual space.
After you’ve closed your ritual space, you should take the time to apply the Linseed oil or Varnish onto the runes, and let them dry. I generally recommend this is done out of space because the fumes of the runes can be problematic and you may need to take frequent breaks.
Congratulations you now have your own personal set of runes
Controversies and other stuff
As with all things related to religion and magic practices, there’s always controversy over how “the right way is.” What I’ve represented here is “my way” that I’ve learned through practice. However, you may read, specifically with regard to some common issues.
This section talks about those briefly, and gives “my opinion” regarding the matter.
The “Blank Rune”
Most times when you purchase a commercial set of runes it will include one tile with no symbol on it at all. It’s commonly referred to as “The Blank Rune.”
Historically, there’s absolutely no evidence of there being the equivalent of a “space” like we see in the English language as we know it. While writings may include single dots, or two dots between words, they weren’t specifically required in the language, and we don’t see evidence of a “blank” like we know it.
My conclusion is that the “blank” actually came from two items:
1) Manufacturing — If you’re cutting pieces of a given substance for rune tiles, it’s much easier to cut 25 (a 5 X 5 square) than 24 (which would be a 8 X 3 or a 6 X 4 square). The 25th tile is just leftover.
2) Practicality — I can’t tell you the number of rune sets I’ve had where one rune has gone missing. Fortunately, having a “blank” allows me to recreate the one rune I am missing.
Position and Aspects
Many resources talk about the position of runes, either being inverted, Merkstave, or how they are positioned in relationship to each other if you’re doing an alternative casting.
I’ve personally found that these “alternative” positionings aren’t really needed. The 24 possible runes alone provide sufficient “ammo” to answer your question, and the “position” of a rune largely clouds the matter, at least from my experience.
However, if you want to explore the meaning of merkstave and reversed runes, Sunnyways is an excellent resource.
There are literally tons of online and printed resources one can use to learn more about the runes. There are a few which I happen to personally like, and have included them here, in the event you wish to do more research:
- Sunnyways — Without a doubt probably one of the best researched and complete rune research web sites — http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/
- Diana Paxson — She has written a huge tome on runes, and rune meditation work — Probably one of the best resources out there. http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Up-Runes-Paxson-Diana/dp/B000WS37C8/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1209501882&sr=8-14
- The Icelandic Rune Poem and The Norse Rune Poem can provide excellent insight into the meaning of the runes.
Conclusions are annoying, but you have to have them 🙂
The Trick to runecasting is practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Once you’ve got your first set, sit down and do castings for anyone you can find. The first time you’ll find yourself referring to your guide (maybe this one) time and time again) but after a time, you’ll find yourself increasingly comfortable with the runes, what they mean, and how they should be interpreted in a given case.
Don’t feel you have to necessarily be constrained by any given “approach” there’s very little historical evidence as to what was actually done in terms of mechanics. Learn from those who have done it in the past, and add and subtract what you feel is appropriate.