Background and History
Very little is known about the use of runes in ancient times other than for writing. The runes we use for divination today are essentially the first known version of the Norse alphabet known as the Elder Futhark. There are 24 runes in total and name futhark is derived from the first six runes (F, U, Th, A, R and C/K). There is also a Younger Futhark with only 16 runes, which is the alphabet that was in use around the time Scandinavia was Christianised. Hence, there are many Younger Futhark rune stones with Christian prayers, all over Scandinavia.
The word ‘rune’ means mystery, secret, or whisper. Runes have straight lines and no curves due to the fact that they were carved into various materials such as wood, bone and stone rather than written. The first mention of what could have possibly been divination with runes was by the Roman historian Tacitus:
For divination and the casting of lots they have the highest regard. Their procedure in casting lots is always the same. They cut off a branch of a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips; these they mark with different signs and throw them completely at random onto a white cloth. Then the priest of the state, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family if it is private, offers a prayer to the gods, and looking up at the sky picks up three strips, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the signs previously scored on them. If the lots forbid an enterprise, there is no deliberation that day on the matter in question; if they allow it, confirmation by the taking of auspices is required.
The markings on these wood strips could have been runes but they could have also been other magical symbols – we simply don’t know. We do know that the runes were also used for spellcasting but we know very little about how this was actually done. Most of the modern books about both the magic and divination with runes are pure guesswork. Sadly, some of these books also seek to appeal to white supremacists, whereas some are written in attempt to resurrect Asatru, the old faith of my Scandinavian ancestors.
According to Norse lore, the runes were retrieved by Odin after he sacrificed one eye, pierced his side and hung himself upside down on one of the branches of the Cosmic Tree, Yggdrasil for nine days and nine nights. By the end of this shamanic initiation, he reached in to the Well of Urd from which the Tree springs forth and retrieved the runes which he brought back to mankind.
Working Holistically with the Runes
There are some really interesting myths and stories about Odin, the Norns who guard the Well of Urd, Yggdrasil and the whole cosmology of my Viking ancestors. However, my aim in working with the runes is actually more to tune into the essence of each rune from a holistic point of view, rather than to tie them to a misty (rather murky) past which has mostly been lost to us (for a reason) – especially when it comes to magical and divinatory practices
There can be no doubt that runes are powerful and divine in origin and there can be no doubt that they have also been misused – We need to look no further back in history than to Nazi Germany for evidence of this. However, if we truly believe that the runes are part of our shamanic past and collective consciousness, we will be able to retrieve them, liberate them from limiting tribal believes and make them work for us from a holistic point of view. This is the aim with this series of lessons I will be posting about Holistic Runes.
The symbolic meaning for each rune will be described with how it was most likely seen and used in the past, and then I will use my own intuitive ability to tune into chakra, Tarot and other correspondences for both healing and divinatory purposes. As always, you are encouraged to keep that which resonates and simply let go of the rest. You will also be encouraged to perform your own experiments with the runes.
Using the Runes for Divination
When we use the runes for divination, we take the same approach as with other divinatory tools and steer away from fortune-telling as much as possible, since this is a fatalistic and disempowering view of life. The future is not set in stones and the runes suggest rather than compel, just like the stars and the Tarot cards. Free will should always be considered.
I like to think of the runes showing us the current climate, as well as the balance of energy within the Seeker. A rune reading takes in outer and inner influences and then suggests the best way forward. Predictions can be made, of course, just as we can predict a change in the weather based on current systems at work, but they should only be done shorter-term and action advice should be sought for how to best make the desired change to come about. We must never lock ourselves or seekers we read for in with fatalistic statements about the future.
Runes can be used in many different situations. For example, one of the occasions, when it can be useful to consult the runes, is if you’re in a situation where you have limited information, or can only see an incomplete picture.
How to Choose Your Runes
Many runesters make their own runes from fallen branches or pebbles they find on a beach. The process of making the runes is sacred and helps you integrate the energy of each rune. However, many prefer to buy a set at the start of their learning journey. I recommend using runes made from natural materials (wood or stone) as they tend to have a more organic and communicative energy about them. Personally, I love to work with self-cleansing amethyst runes which double up as all-purpose healing runes. Just holding them makes me happy – a good sign they are right for me. Trust your intuition!
How to Ask a Question of the Runes
You can as the runes any sort of questions but try to avoid psychic spying which has karma attached to it. Focus on yourself and what you need for clarity in order to move forward in life. Questions that begin with ‘How can I…?’ or ‘What do I need to know about…?’ are better from a holistic point of view than questions that begin with ‘Will I…?’ You can absolutely ask yes/no questions of the runes and for this purpose, I find that a three-rune draw will pretty quickly tell you if what you have in mind is a good idea or not.
I’m not a great fan of the traditional spreads that many people use, such as the past-present-future spread since even the layout indicates that the future is indeed fixed. You may wish to experiment with different spreads you find online and see what works for you but in my opinion, pulling 1-3 runes from the pouch is all that is need to answer most questions succinctly.
Storing and Casting Your Runes
I recommend storing your runes in drawstring pouch, big enough to get your hand in it for the draw. This keeps your runes together and protects them from dirt/unwanted energies. It also makes it easy to ‘shuffle’ the runes by gently shaking the pouch.
For casting or laying your runes out, I recommend using a special cloth – or the one you normally use for card readings. The main purpose of using a cloth is to protect the runes and keep the clean. However, you may also find that a particular colour (such as black, white, purple or indigo) enhances your ability to read the runes intuitively.
Some people prefer to cast all the runes and read only the central, upturned runes. Again, experiment to see what works best for you. The pattern the runes form can be a reading in its own right.
Be patient with your ability to read the runes. Give yourself plenty of time to study and meditate with them before you begin casting them. You will improve with time and you will master the runes completely when you can feel their energy in your body. You will probably find that as you dive deeper into your rune studies, you will start seeing rune shapes everywhere.
The Blank Rune
The blank rune is a relatively new invention and is extra to the original 24 runes of the Elder Futhark. It is up to you to decide whether or not to include it. Some people use it as a ‘You’re not meant to read on this right now’ when they pull just one rune to answer their question.
How the Runes Can Be Used for Energy Healing
For each of the runes I will cover in future lessons, we will look at Tarot, angelic and chakra correspondences. If you are already familiar with how I work with the Tarot for vibrational healing, this will not be new to you.
We will look at how to meditate with and sound the runes to balance the chakras. We will also look at making rune essences, as well as how to lay out runes when giving someone energy healing.
For those of you interested in the Germanic and Norse tribal connections, I recommend the most excellent book ‘Helrunar‘ by Jan Fries or any books by Freya Aswynn.