Runes come from Anglo Saxon culture. The word “rune” finds its origins in Old English. Its meaning is “secret” or “mystery”, and it has “letter” as a secondary meaning. Runes were used as a system for writing. They are not unlike an alphabet. In addition, Norse prophets used runes in their spells and divination practices.
They are usually etched into stones, but you can also find them carved in wood, horns, bones, and shells, among other organic materials. Now, you can even find them in a variety of materials. If you’re planning on getting started with runes, use the material you feel more connected to. Similarly to a Tarot deck, Runes are spiritual tools with which you’ll hopefully build an intimate connection. Bonding with them might take some time.
It’s also important to get to know their origins. According to a Norse legend, they appeared in front of Odin after he sacrificed himself in search of knowledge. The story is filled with pain, suffering and answers which may not be pleasant. As you awaken your consciousness and try to understand an issue from a more spiritual perspective, some challenges may arise.At the beginning, the blunt and honest perspective of runes can hurt. It’s up to you to do something to make their wisdom more bearable or gradually ease into the insights they have to offer. Wisdom is not a means to get answers. It’s an everlasting question.
No one really knows when Runes first appeared. Legend says they’ve always existed as eternal whispers, secrets from the Universe. Odin, also known as father of the Runes, got that title, not because he created them but because he discovered them. His yearning for wisdom led him to give one of his eyes to drink from Mimir’s well. Afterwards, he hurt and hung himself from an Yggdrasil’s branch for nine days and nine nights. Odin sees the runes as symbols which the Norns, who are mythical beings believed by the Old Norse to control human fate, carved into the tree, writing fate with them.
This legend comes from an Old Norse poem called Hávamál, which can be translated to The Saying of the High One.
Many cultures in history acknowledged the importance of words. They were not only a way to communicate with each other, but a tool to create. Greeks used to gather in public spaces and share their knowledge and thoughts. They needed words to explain what surrounded them.
In more recent times, theater performers during the Elizabethan era in England wouldn't walk around on stage. They stood in place and said their lines. That's why the costumes look so uncomfortable for moving around in. They believed words were enough to convey the artistic value of a piece, and they didn’t need to move.
Back to Norse people, they took words almost as promises. Their understanding of a promise was that it was a sign of dishonor to break them. If someone dared to go against their own word, they’d be judged and most likely punished. Words are runes’ foundation when it comes to their interpretation.
Each rune can be associated with a letter. It also represents a concept. In addition, some of them are directly attached to a deity. In divination, readers interpret their meaning in context to answer someone’s questions or concerns. You already know the importance of words in Norse culture.
Nordic people would take advice from a sage. The claim on fortune tellers was high, as runes were thought to be a direct line of communication with the deities. From royalty to villagers, everyone would check with the local rune reader when they needed to make an important decision or had other significant questions.
Nowadays, the tendency is to read runes recognizing both Ancient Norse and modern philosophy. Through runes, both ancient and new wisdom, as well as philosophy, have a dialogue with each other.
It’s important to note that you won’t find two practitioners who read runes the same way. In regards to this “mancy”, it is not about merely repeating the meaning of runes. It has a lot to do with how the words are said, and that falls on the reader's reasoning. It can be an almost poetic practice.
Although readers should act as channels for Divine messages, they are free to convey that message the way they please. Every person has their own way of speaking, and that may affect how you feel about their advice. So, if you’re looking into getting a rune reading, preferably choose someone you feel comfortable talking to.
How to Read Runes
In regards to the structure of runes, it is of particular importance to describe the disposition on the Elder Futhark as it’s the basic one. A Futhark is a set of 24 runes divided into 3 aetir or subsets with 8 runes each, plus an extra rune. This last one is added to recognize Odin’s contribution in runes origins. There's a specific energy relevant in ancient Norse culture ruling over each aett.
The first aett is made of Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raidho, Kaunan, Gebo and Wunjo. This aett is related to the siblings Freyja and Frey. These deities ruled over nature, wealth and health. It’s said that this aett represents childhood, as it’s the beginning subset. It is also related to deities associated with fertility. Each rune here has a deep relation with nature and creation. Their meanings are part of daily life and are used to describe tribal issues. This first set also bears a deep connection with desire and pleasure.
The second aett is not ruled by any deity, but it’s related to Odin as it also depicts times of trial and tribulation. Its first rune is Hagalaz. Hagalaz was an ice giant who spent their time bothering the deities. Winter meant the hardest season for Nordic regions because during this time, resources were scarce. It’s not as ominous as it sounds, though. This set was associated with desired changes and hope. In fact, the last rune in the set is the one related to sunlight and fire. The runes in this aett are Hagalaz, Naudhiz, Isaz, Jera, Eihwaz, Pertho, Algiz and Sowilo. This aett has been compared with adulthood. Every rune here talks about hard work and self-sacrifice. Pretty much how being independent, carrying out your duties and paying your bills feels like, right?
The last set of runes is ruled by Tyr, the god of war, and the trustee in matters of law and justice. This third aett is associated with strategy and spirituality. As many of these runes are related to planning and political skills, you can use them to gain insight into business matters. They are also the end of the Futhark journey, and they’re related to old age. This aett is basically the life perspective of someone who has experienced it all and can offer the kind of wisdom you can only acquire from lived experience. These runes carry a more thoughtful kind of reasoning. Don’t expect direct answers from the runes in this set. The runes belonging to this aett are Tiwaz, Berkana, Ehwaz, Mannaz, Laguz, Ingwaz, Othalan and Dagaz.
Odin’s rune is the last one, and it’s one that sparks controversy among practitioners. Some take it as a part of the third aett. Others say it’s an isolated rune that doesn’t belong in any subset. However, it certainly deserves a whole paragraph. This is one of the scariest runes for beginners. It consists of a blank rune. Some rune sets, however, mark it with a dot. Seeing this blank rune can feel like the runes are breaking their own rules, which can be quite disruptive (the more practical-minded of you out there, you may think it’s a spare). It actually means the flux of each Rune in one. It acts as a reminder that fate is already set and there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome. It’s a bit terrifying to trust in external forces. But there’s nothing to be scared about, if you come to think of it. There’s nothing you can do because you’ve done everything you could. It’s more a comforting message than a nihilist one.
Rune readers say that the rumbling sound when pulling them out gives them the answer they need. Having a growth mindset is a must when working with runes. You have to cultivate knowledge and build your own perspective. The path towards building your own personal understanding of runes is a thorny one. Despite its challenges (or perhaps because of them), it provides different perspectives and many tools to face life.
As said before, wisdom is not about getting answers, but about asking questions. Instead of wanting to know it all, focus on asking better questions that can help you acquire more insight and grow. I find it’s the same with witchcraft. Both witchcraft and runes have in common that they are not easy journeys to traverse. You have to be the one to get things going. You have to put effort into your practice. It’s only through effort and diligence that you will be rewarded.
Are you interested in working with Runes? Tell us about your experience reading runes or getting the runes read to you in the comments!