I’ve been mulling writing this document for about a year now and I’ve edited down to literally a blank page several times. I decided that instead of writing a commentary on the heathen/pagan communities, the electrons would be better spent just talking about the topic at hand. To use runes in both their forms you have to make two assumptions about the world: Magic works, Divination works.
Divination is a tough subject for a lot of people to approach. The secret from my experience is to not think about if something works or doesn’t work, but rather to find something you’re comfortable operating and then determining the results. The Wright brothers skipped unpowered flight entirely – they simply put wings on a motorized bicycle and went from there. Similarly, if you’re comfortable with tarot, you have a leg up already and can make choices about divination. If you’re new to divination entirely and you prefer the imagery on the tarot, you should start with the tarot. Wiccans may prefer the witch-stones instead, for instance. There is no right or wrong way to do it, divination merely provides a framework with which your mind can communicate.
That being said, the more you use the runes, the more subtle vocabulary beyond the traditional attributions you will find. Don’t be afraid to buy a book and annotate the definitions as you become more comfortable with the system. In some ways, this makes the runes more flexible than other divination systems because it leaves more room to interpretation.
One bag of runes. These typically have a blank rune. The blank rune is a present because in a set of 24 runes on a 5 blade press, there’s one extra. Just tuck this one somewhere safe, you can write on it when you lose one. The traditional material was white birch or ash trees and the traditional color of the ink was red. The traditional shape was round. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. There are several alphabets within the futhark system, 90% of the rune bags you encounter will be in the elder futhark. This is the alphabet I use, it is considered the standard. If you want to make your own, use these materials. I’ve seen people use coin blanks, bottle caps, wood spacers and all sorts of things. Do not use rune-cards. Those are for tarot.
One cloth. The traditional color is white. It’s important the cloth stays clean and is unobtrusive. Treat it with a modicum of respect. The cloth should be square and the size of a large bandanna is perfect. Solid colors are preferred. The cloth really plays no part in the divination except to give us a playing field.
An Interpretive Book. Anything to get the meanings of the runes. I have high praise for Odins Gateways if you want a book to annotate, otherwise most internet sources tend to agree. If you can spare the cash, the book is worth a buy. Other good books include Wyrdworking and Travels Through Middle Earth, but if you can only afford one, go for Odins Gateways. The advantage of the other two is they cover all the popular versions of futhark in addition to the standard futhark and have a huge depth of material in addition to working with the runes. At very least, read this page to get the 10 cent tour. Finding an anglo-saxon futhark rune set is a topic for advanced runecasters only.
How do we know how to do all this good stuff? Thankfully, the anglo-saxons wrote a good portion of it down and their records survived history. What little was left in modern day Germany has been tainted by the lens of the Nazis and the first two world wars. The Romans also encountered Germania and took notes, but sadly their notes are sparse and at some point were Christianized. Specifically we should look to Tacitus’s Germania:
Auguries and Method of Divination. Augury and divination by lot no people practise more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes toward heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them. If they prove unfavourable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augury is still required. For they are also familiar with the practice of consulting the notes and flight of birds. It is peculiar to this people to seek omens and monitions from horses. Kept at the public expense, in these same woods and groves, are white horses, pure from the taint of earthly labour; these are yoked to a sacred car, and accompanied by the priest and the king, or chief of the tribe, who note their neighings and snortings. No species of augury is more trusted, not only by the people and by the nobility, but also by the priests, who regard themselves as the ministers of the gods, and the horses as acquainted with their will. They have also another method of observing auspices, by which they seek to learn the result of an important war. Having taken, by whatever means, a prisoner from the tribe with whom they are at war, they pit him against a picked man of their own tribe, each combatant using the weapons of their country. The victory of the one or the other is accepted as an indication of the issue.
Literally, that’s all he wrote.
- Divination works – and you’ve read all the rune meanings at least once to ensure you’re comfortable with the definitions. If you’re not comfortable with what it might say, pick another form of divination.
- Runes cannot be “reversed”. Runes which are face up in any direction are runes you should be reading.
- Runes which are face down are not in play.
- Runes which are not on the cloth are not in play. Please put the cloth on the floor.
- Runes which are touching are related. Having nauthiz fall next to tiwaz expresses a need specifically for justice.
- Runes tend to be frustratingly literal. My wife is pregnant. She will draw berkano every single time.
- Runes are meant to be read in successive series. You typically do a reading, then pick a portion of that reading for more information on. Very rarely is a one rune draw or single throw effective at giving you the entire picture. Conceptually you are “drilling down” or “climbing a tree”. Whatever direction you pick, you will see more of it and you can and should ask.
- Runes are supposed to be read as symbols in groups. Both the quierent and the caster should be sitting on the same side of the cloth. Similar to how picking a group to ask more about “zooms in” the picture, you look for groups of runes to “zoom out”.
There are three ways of doing this and one way I really don’t like. If you want to use the runes as tarot cards and do a tarot spread, that’s fine. In my opinion it really short-changes the system since there are 1/3rd as many runes as tarot cards. I would vastly prefer you don’t use the runes as tarot cards.
The basic method is always the same. Create a hallowed space if you’re going to be working for awhile, ask a question, blow into the bag or otherwise connect with the runes, then throw them. Question and throw as many times as you’d like, then I prefer to leave out a small portion of beer or similar as thanks and disassemble the space.
Single Rune Draw. Ask a question, draw one rune. Observe the meaning. That being said, sometimes it’s also worth tossing the rune instead of just drawing it. Rolling off the cloth (and I’ve seen some pretty incredible bounces doing this) means “no”.
Three Rune Draw. Ask a question, draw three runes. I rarely do this unless I drop a rune while mucking around in the bag or if one absolutely falls out of my hands while shuffling. Then I treat it as a single rune draw or draw of however many runes I’ve dropped. Observe the meaning. There’s no “runic numerology” so you can do a two rune draw, five, ten, whatever.
Full Spread. This is where the system shines. Take the runes in your hand, shuffle, ask your question, blow on them and give them a toss onto the sheet. Runes which aren’t in play I pick up and toss into the bag so I can read the rest better. The full-spread is the best spread in my opinion. You could ask what color the sky is and the answer might be “blue” for a single rune draw, but wouldn’t you prefer “sky blue, with a touch of clouds and golden sun?” Do the full spread and let the runes speak.
The standard interpretation of runes is that there is no standard interpretation of runes. I find I get a lot more out of them if I look at the “one word” definition of the rune and then come up with a story than if I try to tease out the subtlety of one single rune. Remember, the runes are frighteningly literal. This vocabulary is stripped down and utilitarian, like the lifestyle of the culture they came from.
The number one question I see about reading is “One of my runes fell on edge. What does it mean?” The answer is the runes mean what you interpret them to mean. You might decide if you can’t see the face of it, the rune counts as face-down. You might decide since this rune climbed to the top, it’s the rune you should give extra significance to. Maybe you want to do two readings – one including this rune and one excluding this rune. This is the fundamental hook of all forms of divination: the meaning is entirely up to the reader. This isn’t a non-answer, it just means you will need experience to fully employ the depth of the system.
This section intentionally doesn’t include pictures for one reason: The hardest part to get the hang of is the groups of runes. I had a rune reading where the topic came up that the rune spread either represented balance of forces or it represented two distinct groups of runes for two separate problems. The solution? Make a detailed analysis of the runes for each possible outcome then do a one rune draw and ask them what it meant. In this case, we drew tiwaz. When we think about the forces of justice, the classical image of a blindfolded person holding the scales comes to mind. It became immediately clear that the correct interpretation was balanced concourses of forces and we should interpret the spread as one whole thing. Experienced runecasters might go “ah ha but they were all on the cloth, you should have known!” This ignores the spirit of the system – it was always used as a series of refinements. Instead of thors hammer out of the blue providing immediate answers, it tends to do better when used as “this is my interpretation of this answer and I would like to know more…”
The runes tend to fall in groups, and the groups tend to occur in the order of “immediate” to “future”. This is one of the reasons why I insist everyone sits on the same side of the cloth – multiple people present in the space tend to all affect the reading. For example, my wife sitting across the cloth had berkano land at her feet for six draws in a row. She was, at the time, six months pregnant. I was doing a reading for my brother. My brother obviously doesn’t have to worry about birthing, but the message was fairly clear. Try to keep the amount of people in the space to a minimum and try to keep them sitting close together.
There’s a point important to make here: Many people phrase divination questions as “what’s up and coming?” or “How will this career change go?”. This is why the runes tend to band together like sand art or a timeline, starting with you and moving into the future. For spreads related to an issue which is not phrased as a question-over-time (“Should I change jobs?” or “Who can help me most with this decision?”), the spreads tend to clump up into balls of significant runes.
Whats a strata? How big on the “clumps”? This comes with experience. My general guideline is “Can you draw similarly shaped lines between the runes? That’s the strata.” It might be “now, soon, future” or it might be “past, present, future” or even more groups like “now, day, week, month, year…” Clumps tend to touch, but a good rule is the size of your palm for a thumbnail sized rune set.
This comes up a lot when people ask “Who” sort of questions. “Who will help me” or “who will I marry?” or “Who didn’t flush the toilet?” Normally runes are either concepts or things, so it’s important to have not only your own vocabulary for individual runes (typically noted in books) but also for groups of runes. Thurisaz is almost always “male” in addition to its traditional “thorn” interpretation. Likewise, pertho is traditionally “cup” but also means “female”. Drawing berkano-pertho touching might indicate your mother, and drawing othala-thurisaz is likely grand-father or uncle. Who is your pertho-thurisaz? Your father. It’s important to work up not only definitions of individual runes but be open to interpretation of groups of runes. That being said, try to stay within the spirit of the system. If you’re adding meaning to a rune, keep it short and sweet and try for a concise, one word assignment.
Any system which is physically similar to runes will work the same way. You could, for instance, just take a bag of scrabble tiles and toss them. Each letter is interpreted as a word beginning with the letter of the tile. Witch stones work the same way. You could even probably find hebrew letters on stones and use those if runes don’t speak to you but you’re interested in the system.
Fr. Phergoph – c2012 – all rights reserved.