The Runes

According to Norse mythology, the god Odin (or Wodin) brought the runes to human beings. For 2,000 years, this oracle was used throughout Northern Europe and Scandinavia, until 1639 when the Christian church banned it. Viking and Saxon invaders brought the runes to the British Isles. In the United States, J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings introduced many readers to the runes and Ralph Blum's bestseller, The Book of Runes, taught them how to use the oracle.

Early runes were carved on stones, wood, and bone. The most popular version of the runes comes from an old Teutonic alphabet, the Elder Futhark, which contains twenty-four letters. Each rune is a letter. Unlike the letters in modern alphabets, however, these ancient glyphs aren't intended simply to form words. Instead, they individually convey complex meanings.

The Rune Alphabet

Each rune is named for an animal, object, condition, or deity. For instance, the rune “Uruz” correlates to the wild ox and represents the quality of strength. Although most people today don't have contact with wild oxen, the rune's inherent meaning — strength — is still relevant.

The word rune means a secret or mystery. It also refers to things that are whispered, to knowledge that's revealed to us during moments of stillness and contemplation. To understand the meaning of the runes, it's necessary to quiet the restless, analytical mind and allow the truth to gently penetrate into your consciousness.

The easiest way to do a reading with runes is to spread out all the rune stones in your set, then close your eyes and mix up the runes while you contemplate your question or situation. Select one. Its meaning provides the answer to your question. More complex rune readings involve casting several runes onto a cloth and interpreting their positions. Or you can lay out runes in patterns or spreads just as you might lay out cards in a tarot reading. In these instances, the positions of the runes as well as their individual meanings become significant.

Runes, like most oracles, aren't particularly good at timing events and outcomes. You probably won't be able to pinpoint when a job offer will come through or when you'll meet the love of your life. It's usually not a good idea to ask about something in the distant future, either. For best results, focus on current issues that are foremost in your mind.

Sample Reading

Brad wanted to know if he should accept a job offer he'd received. He spread out his rune stones and drew the rune Jera. This rune advised him that he could harvest rewards if he accepted the offer, but not immediately. To gain additional information, he closed his eyes, mixed up the runes, and selected three more to represent the past, the present, and the future.

Brad chose a rune called Nauthiz to symbolize his past. This rune represents limitations, and indeed, for quite a while he had been feeling stifled in his current job. Next, he drew Kano to signify the present. This rune, which means opening, suggested he was ready to receive new opportunities and responsibilities. The final rune he selected, Dagaz, in the future position showed that the new job he was considering offered a breakthrough that would lead to greater achievement.

Using Runes in Spells

Runes can be used for magical purposes as well as predictive ones. In early times, runes were carved on swords, amulets, jewelry, and household objects to encourage blessings — such as love, fertility, health, prosperity, or victory in battle — as well as to ward off harm. A runemaster was believed to possess the ability to communicate with divine forces and to command supernatural powers to do his bidding.

Usually, when people speak of the runes, they are referring to the letters in one of the old Norse alphabets. However, letters from other alphabets, such as the Irish language Ogham (which links each letter with a tree), can be used for divination, too.

You can use rune symbols in your own spells, just as the ancients did. If you're making a love charm, for example, you might want to paint the rune Gifu, which looks like an X, on a small stone and slip it into the pouch, along with other love-drawing ingredients. Carve runes that represent your intentions on a candle, and then burn it to make your wishes come true. You could also paint or inscribe runes on your magic tools to enhance their power. Leslie Wind, a jeweler in Rockport, Massachusetts, engraves runes onto pendants, rings, and earrings. Her customers wear them as handsome talismans to attract health, wealth, and happiness.

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