Choosing your Runes
If you speak to people who read runes regularly about what rune set you should use, and how to acquire it, you’ll get several answers. Some will be quite opinionated. Some people will tell you that you have to cut a branch off a fruit tree on top of a mountain while the moon is full. Others may tell you to go to your local pagan store and buy the cheapest set of runes you can find. None of these answers is entirely correct.
What is correct is that whatever set you end up using, they need to feel “right” to you. You need to be comfortable with them, and feel like you can develop some kind of bond with them. I use the question “does this set sing to you?” I’m not a terribly psychic energy focused individual, but I do believe that one develops a relationship with a rune set, and this relationship is important.
So, find a set that works for you, and feels good. They are going to be “Your 24 friends” for a long time, and you’re going to use them to help others through their life. I generally (though not always) find that runes that are either given to me, or ones that I have made myself work the best. However, I’ll also say one of my favorite sets is a set I purchased on Ebay. I count it as a “gifted” in some respects, because I hadn’t gone Rune set shopping in a long time, and found this one amazing set by chance one day that was unlike any other set that I purchased.
I also have another set that was gifted to me by someone I care about deeply, and it “sings” to me as well.
Ultimately, as you test sets out, you may change sets over time, or you may have 2-3 sets that you really feel comfortable with. It’s something you need to experience and experiment with on your own.
Taking Care of your Runes
Runes have the advantage over other divinatory systems (such as tarot) that they are physically very tough most of the time (there are of course, exceptions, such as crystal, paper, thin wood, etc.). So I’m not going to talk about the care of the physical objects themselves. What we’re talking about here is how one should treat the runes from a psychic and emotional perspective. Because one develops a relationship with the runes, making sure that your relationship remains strong is an important one.
First, I tell people that over time you’ll likely end up with several sets of runes. Here’s the categories I divide them into, and how they should be “dealt with.”
Everyday Rune Sets
These are runes that you don’t have a significant relationship with, and have them so that if they become damaged, or start to not feel right, that’s okay. I teach classes in rune reading, and keep several of these sets on hand for teaching purposes. Since you’re letting lots of other people use these sets, I make the following recommendations:
- Don’t consecrate these runes. Consecration involves taking your energy and personality and putting it permanantly into the set. Since these are sets that other people may be using, it’s inappropriate to place this level of energy into the set.
- Periodically purify the set. Everyone has a different way of doing this, from keeping them in salt for a day to washing them, to storing them in the sun. Whatever approach works for you, you want to “clean” the pre-existing energy that is in them. My personal choice is to put the runes on the shelf for months, literally months. Within that time any energy that’s in them should dissipate.
Rune Sets for Friends and Family
I’ve never found a good phrase for this other than a set that you’d be willing to loan out to someone someone you know so that they could do a reading for someone. These are sets that you have a relationship with, but you aren’t closely tied to. They can have you “positive energy” inside them, but you shouldn’t feel like loaning them out to someone generates fear, jealousy, panic, or anything else. These are sets of runes that you wouldn’t loan to a stranger, but would loan to a good friend if they wanted to read for someone.
Whether or not you consecrate these runes is entirely up to you. I consecrate mine, but I also don’t tend to hand my sets out very often. The advantage of consecrating them is it ties the set “closer to the gods” in my opinion, because there’s the affirmative sacrifice you made in the creation. One could equally argue that the process of consecration colors the reading in a real way without you being present, and this could be a undesirable consequence.
Personal Rune Sets
Now we get to the set you’re going to use on a regular basis to do readings. This set is one that’s going to be important to you, one you have a relationship with, and one you use for the majority of the readings you do. I recommend that you consecrate them (it’s practically mandatory to do so), and that you never loan this set out. Every time you loan a set of runes out, it gets colored by the emotions and energies of the person using them. You want this set to only retain your energies.
Some people purify even their own personal sets. I don’t. I believe that runes, like people in some ways, gain wisdom with experience. By purifying them, you’re reducing that experience.
Special use Rune Sets
These are rune sets that are like the china you may have. You don’t want to use it on an everyday basis, and they are only for “special occasion.” I classify rune sets that have unusually high monetary value, would be hard to replace, or are special gifts in this category. You should still develop a special relationship with these runes, however you probably don’t want to bring them out to your local pagan festival, where they might get lost, damaged, etc.
Choosing your Space
“Choosing your Space” actually entails a lot of things, from the physical location where you’re going to read your runes, to how that space is set up. Some people prefer a very formalized space, with an altar table, a cloth, and all the trappings of ritual. Other people will slap themselves down on the grass, and do the readings that way. Either way or anything in between is acceptable.
What is important is that you, as the reader are comfortable, and your “readee” can appropriately focus on the question and listen to you. It can be difficult (though not impossible) to do readings in crowded areas with lots of distractions. You want to make sure that whatever environment you choose, you’re able to generate focus for the two of you on the runes, and on your words as you talk to the person, since what you say has as much (if not more) importance as the runes themselves.
You may also want to consider whether privacy is important or not. If the person you are reading for desire privacy, you need to find a location where that can be done. Make sure when a person comes to you for a reading you ask them whether they would be bothered if someone came up and watched.
Once you start doing readings, particularly in public areas, you’ll be amazed at how other people may come up and watch out of curiosity. You want to make sure that the person you are reading for is comfortable with the possibility that someone may come up and watch. If they aren’t, pick your space accordingly.
Setting the Mood
Once you’ve choosen your space, you next need to set the mood (or tone) of the reading. Experienced readers have a variety of styles from extremely serious and ritualistic in nature, to very open friendly with an almost joking manner. No one mood is correct. However, you do need to establish a mood, and make sure that mood is going to provide the following:
- You as the reader can focus your energy on the runes, and what they are saying at that instance.
- The person who is being read for should feel open and comfortable about answering questions and absorbing information.
The latter of these is extremely important because you, as the reader, may be asking them questions throughout the reading in order to focus on the answer. If the person being read for is uncomfortable answering questions, or “closes down” giving an accurate reading becomes difficult. I try to establish an extremely friendly atmosphere, with almost a humerous level to it so that the person on the opposite side is comfortable.
As the reading unfolds, it may become much more serious, and by starting with an “open and conciliatory” position to start, when it does get serious, the person being read for gets that feeling as well.
This does not mean one should treat reading jokingly. reading runes is about asking the gods and goddesses to let you peer into a possible future. There’s a certain level of respect that goes with that, and being joking all the time may not show the appropriate respect. You’re also communicating advice to the questioner, and they may (hopefully) act upon that advice.
Knowing the Person you are Reading For
In the introduction we talked about “easy” skills to develop, and harder ones. This is one of the hard ones. When you first start reading the runes, you read for friends and family. These are people you know, and you know what their problems and issues are. You know their past and what they “are about.” As a beginner, this is a good thing, provided that you don’t color your reading based upon your own biases. Its true that you can’t eliminate these biases, and some of them may be relevant. However, you shouldn’t let your biases with respect to a person color reverse, or significantly color what the runes are saying.
For example, if you’re doing a reading for someone, and they are asking about whether or not they should get a divorce, and you know their spouse is not good for them, don’t color the reading to indicate they should get a divorce. Unless the runes are showing this, you have no business trying to color them that way. If you do, you are changing the “message” that the gods and goddesses are giving to the reader.
That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t let knowledge point you a direction. If you know this person has been having a hard time with a job, when you look at the runes, and try to figure out what they mean, that fact can be used in figuring out the meaning. Really it comes to a matter of “facts” vs. “judgement.” Don’t judge a persons situation, but do take it into account. This can be extremely difficult as you get closer to the person you are reading for, and in fact, may be emotionally impossible for those closest to you.
On the opposite side of reading for friends is reading for strangers. This is even more difficult because as you read the runes, you don’t have any context with which to apply them. During the reading the questions you ask of the person you read reading for become very important. As you go to interpret a rune, think about the person who has just stepped up to their table, now is the time where through intuition and questioning you get “inside their head” and figure out what’s going on. I tell my rune reading students that understanding and reading the person they are reading for is at least as important as the runes on the table. Look at the person, make a connection with them, get inside their head and try to figure out what they are really thinking. Once you’re their the meaning of the runes on the table will take shape.
To Know, or not to Know, that is the Question (or is it?)
When someone you are reading for first comes to a table you typically tell them to “think of a question.” Alternatively, they may not have a question and are wondering what the gods and goddesses have to say to them. Whether or not they tell you what that question is can be a critical decision, and as with all things rune related, it depends on the individual reader as to their preference. Rather than advocating one side or another, I’ll simply list some factors that come to mind in making this decision.
Lack of Context When you Don’t Know the Question
This is especially true when you are reading for someone you don’t know. If you don’t know them, and you don’t know their question, you have absolutely no context with which to read the runes. If you don’t know the question, it can be very difficult to “get a start.” You’ll likely end up having to ask a lot of questions of the person you are reading for to get pointed in the right direction. In some respect you may look foolish as you say “Have you thought about _____?” or “Is ____ something of relevance to your life?” If you aren’t the type to delve into a lot of questions, not knowing the question may be a problem.
Alternatively, by not knowing the question, you remove any biases at the beginning, and if the gods and goddesses are saying one thing, and the question is actually another, you can get to that as well.
One of the problems with knowing what the question is center around your personal biases and focus. If a person comes to your table asking about something like “should I get divorced?” You might miss the fact that the runes are actually saying “I’m in danger during my next trip.” Not knowing the question gives you the advantage of exploring the meaning of the runes on their own, absent a desire to focus on a specific question.
Not knowing what the question is can sometimes make you look foolish. You may spend time talking about something that’s not of any relevance at all with regards to a persons life. If you’re going in “blind” be sure you’re comfortable with saying “the runes just aren’t speaking” or have no problem exploring a variety of possibilities.
Letting the Runes Speak
I’m not one to go off and talk about inanimate objects (or even plants, trees, etc.) “speaking to us” and I don’t even believe the runes talk to us as we traditionally think. However, as we draw them out of the bag, the gods and goddesses (and other spirits as appropriate) are giving us a message they want us to listen to. As the reader, its your responsibility to determine what that message is, and give it context.
One approach to this process that works quite well is turning the reading into a teaching lesson about rune reading, and what the process involves. If you’re doing a typical three rune reading, here’s a brief script of what one might say during a reading.
“Draw three runes out of the bag, or from the table, place them down in front of you”
Flip over the first rune.
The first rune represents the past, and all that has brought you here to this reading, it represents your history, your questions, and why you are here.
Rune ___ stands for ____, it is a sign of ____ or ____.
Does this seem to fit within the question you are asking? If yes, do you know how it fits in?
Flip over the second rune.
The norse didn’t have a true philosophy of a static now as we think of it today, one couldn’t truely look at now. This is the rune of the instant, it’s the snapshot of the river as it flows.
Rune ___ stands for ____, it is a sign of ____ or ____.
Is the situation becoming more clear? Are things better in focus? Do you understand how this rune fits together?
Flip over the third rune.
This rune represents the end of your current path. The northern europeans didn’t have a sense of inevitable destiny. What this rune represents is, if you continue down your current path, here’s where you’ll end up.
Rune ____ stands for ___, it is a sign of ___ or ____.
Does this rune make sense? Do you see how it fits with the other two? Do you understand its implications?
Typically, a reading will go in one of the following directions.
- Sometimes as you read the runes, each rune will statically make sense to the reader, they’ll understand how it fits as you flip each one over.
- Alternatively, the reader may be completely befuddled (and you will be too) until the last rune is turned over. This is like listening to an incomplete sentence. Sometimes the first few words start to develop a picture, however sometimes you have to wait until the end.
- And finally, the person you’re reading for may say it makes no sense at all. This is where you, as a reader, begin to ask questions about circumstances in their lives. Here you have to listen to the runes, and ask questions of the person you are reading for, so you can mesh what’s lying before them into their lives.
These skills aren’t always easy to develop, and require practice, but as you work with the runes, you’ll begin to “hear” them and what they have to say.
Listening to the Person who is Getting the Reading
Getting good at understanding the runes and what they mean is only 1/2 (or perhaps less than 1/2) of what “happens” when a good reader practices their craft. A good reader also must become adept at understanding a person, and also drawing information out of a person by asking the right questions or making the right statements. Every good reader does this differently, but ultimately all end up doing it. Like a good poker player can tell when the person across the table from the is bluffing, a good reader needs to develop the skill to watch those physical, and sometimes not so physical queues as to what the reading is about.
The runes that sit between the reader and the readee are a message from the gods, and the readers job is to help the readee understand what the gods are trying to tell them and give it context within their lives. As the reader, you should be looking for indicators while you are telling the person about the runes. Even if the readee is unwilling to admit it at first, you may bring up a topic about a rune and see a flinch indicating that you’ve hit on something. When you see that sign, you may need to dig deeper, or ask questions about that subject.
As an example, lets take a case where we draw the following runes:
Looking at these runes a quick “summary” would be:
- The past represents frustration, and feeling like you’re not getting where you want to be.
- The “coming into being” rune represents a trip somewhere.
- and the resultant Rune represents Childbirth, or a rebirth.
As we turn up the 1st rune, nauthiz, we tell the readee that they seem to be just frustrated with something, like they are just going through the day filling their needs and nothing more. They say they don’t feel this way, that they are actually quite happy with their life.
Now we move onto Raidho. We tell them they are going on a trip somewhere. They say they are taking a vacation. I tell them it’s not the trip that’s important, and they begin to look confused. You explain how Raidho is about the destination, not about the Journey.
Now we flip up the third rune, and bring up rebirth, and that perhaps this trip is about them coming back to a new life. They kind of look confused, as they don’t intend to make any major changes in their life, in fact they’d rather not when they get back. So you move onto childbirth. Their ears suddenly perk up, and say “well, we have been having to have a child for some time…”
Suddenly it all comes into focus, very quickly based upon the one statement that “we’ve been trying to have a child.” We now see that Nauthiz isn’t about fulfilling ones day to day needs, and the frustration of it. Nauthiz is now about the frustration of not conceiving. Raidho is still about the trip, and Berkano is childbirth. You tell the person not to worry, yes, things have been frustrated, but the gods are telling them that they’re going to conceive if not during the trip, certainly soon thereafter, and then they’ll have a child.
This is a perfect example of “putting the pieces together” in combination of listening to the person, and watching their cues. One sentence can open up a huge door.
Combining Everything Together
Effective rune reading has four parts to it:
- The Gods
- Your runes
- The questioner
Other than the gods (which hopefully, you’re comfortable with) we’ve talked at length about the remaining three. It’s the unity of these three pieces that turns an average dull reading into a meaningful experience for both the person you’re reading for, and yourself. In a good reading, both of you should gain something from the experience.
The trick of uniting these three factors is something you have to work at. It’s not just a matter of sitting down, pulling out three runes, and reading something from a book. Uniting these factors is like piecing a puzzle together. The actual runes themselves are the pieces, its your job, as the reader to fit them into the readee’s life in a meaningful way to them. The best way to do that is practice on people. Do readings for your friends, your family, or anyone who will take a reading. Start to explore the types of questions you should ask. Begin to get a feeling for how your runeset relates to itself, to you, and the gods. Every set it different, and it takes to realize that.
But perhaps most important to remember is that reading runes is about helping people. We don’t think about that often enough. When someone comes to you for a reading, they are looking for guidance in their lives. They may feel completely adrift, and need direction. Or perhaps they know what direction their headed and are worried about it. If you aren’t interested in helping the person on the other side of the runes, you aren’t going to do them, or yourself, very much good.
And finally, remember, reading is an art. As you read the various texts on runes (including mine) you may find yourself drawn to a set of hard and fast rules about what the runes mean. Without doubt there are rules about what each rune means, however, the nuances of how that fits into a given persons life is where you as the reader get to demonstrate your skill in the art as a craftsman. You’re art is the result of the reading, and what the person takes away from it.