Someone put this question to me last week and it was sort of a neat idea. They asked me which was better: “Runes or Grimoires?”
Well that’s like asking me if a screwdriver is better than a hammer. I don’t really see one being “better” so much as “whichever one does the job”.
Grimoires have a tendency to be “better” in some people’s eyes because the spirits can tell you things. However there’s really three layers of finesse here: The spirits have to be able to be perceived by the seer well enough to actually get the message across, the spirit is limited to using what’s in the magicians head (I could no more conceive of a new color with a spirit or… without a spirit), and the spirit will answer the magician within the nature of it’s office. If you summon up a spirit which has a reputation for being hostile and go ask it about your professor in school, you’re going to get a negative, inhospitable answer.
However this idea doesn’t exist by itself nor is it limited to the nature of spirits. If we use runes for the purposes of divination, they are limited by the amount of vocabulary the diviner has assigned to them. At the most vulgar level this would be the individual characters themselves. When we examine those, we get some answers as obvious as “traveling” and some as ridiculous as “the sky god”. Really they’re on equal footing, but the operative tip here is we call it “reading” the runes (or cards). Sure I could consult a spirit, but it doesn’t give me a written log of what was said, or how good the contact was. On the other hand I can take a picture of a card spread. I tend to gravitate towards “ask the spirits” for personal divination, with confirmation from the cards or runes. For doing readings for other people, I usually find it produces wild, meaningless (to me) images and it’s much better to stick to cards, or runes. However folks tend to want to “command the spirits to do something”, rather than just get the lay of the land, so I prefer the first, mixed mode.
Think of it this way – you wouldn’t pay someone to stand on a street corner and yell the name of the street at passer bys. If we remove the interaction from the reading, we simply have a need for a streetsign to tell us the way. At the same time, someone who needs a bit more interaction might consider stopping their car, quieting their mind, and asking directions. And finally, someone who really needed something might consider paying someone to go get it for them. At the same time, it would be worthless in that last example to write a letter in runes and leave it on their coffee table in hopes something would happen.
That’s really the reason why Enochian tends to be an interesting hack, and it’s one someone can port back into runes (modernity: AO Spare’s Alphabet of Desire). If we accept the idea that the spirits are the letters of their name, then the act of composing the ritual and spelling the name is the magic… I’ve covered that before in the Enochian work. It’s a neat idea and I think it follows, but it’s akin to making a road simply by putting up a street sign. Did the road come first, or did the street sign?