An Introduction to Runes

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Runes are enjoying a major comeback but are often viewed as a ‘new age’ phenomenon.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Here’s our guide to Runes.

What are Runes?

runesThe word Rune means ‘mystery’ or ‘secret knowledge’.  Runes are small, flat-pebble shaped stones or pieces of wood, crystal or glass.  A rune set contains 24 or 25 runes.  This is because some sets contain a blank stone (the Wyrd) and some don’t.  24 runes will each have a different inscription – from the runic alphabet, which is where the set gets its’ name.  The alphabet is further divided into three groups called ‘aetts’.

The Runic Alphabet

This is called the ‘futhark’.  It has 24 letters, begins with ‘F’ and ends with ‘O’.  This alphabet was used by Scandinavians and the people of Northern Germany from around 100 BC and was still being used in the Middle Ages.  For these reasons, the most commonly used type of runic set is called the Elder or Germanic Futhark.  There are also Younger and Anglo Saxon runes but these are used less often.

The futhark died out in the Middle Ages because it was overtaken by the Roman alphabet.

What are they Used For?

Runes are used for divination.  You ask the runes a question and then, without seeing what you are choosing, select the runes from a bag, one at a time.  The reader then lays them out and passes on to you what the runes are advising.  Each runic inscription, or letter of the futhark alphabet, has a meaning.  It is thought that tarot cards were derived from runes.

Like Tarot, the runic readings are general and outline a path that you may or may not choose to follow.  Both Tarot and Rune readings work on the premise that they can show you what may happen if you continue on your current path.  However, we all have freedom of choice and it is up to you whether you stay on that path or choose another route.  The future is not set in stone and we are continually faced with a number of ‘crossroads’ at which we have to pause and choose our direction. 

Brief History of Runes

Legend has it that one of the Norse Gods, Odin, hung himself upside down from the tree of the world (called Yggdrasil – pronounced Idrasill) for 40 days and nights as a ritual of self-sacrifice.  It is thought that the image of The Hanged Man on a tarot card is based on this legend.  Odin then died and passed to the afterlife where he was given knowledge and then reborn.  His new-found knowledge was given to the people as runes.

Runic symbols have been found in Swedish Bronze Age rock carvings.  Runic inscriptions have been found on swords and bronze pendants, listing the whole futhark in the correct order.  One of the best examples of this is called the Kylver stone.  It was found in 1903 in Gotland in Sweden and dates back to 400 AD.

For centuries, even commoners knew how to use runes.  They were frequently used, to ask for help with anything from family issues to larger public events.  However, as Christianity grew in popularity, the use of runes was highly frowned upon with the result that in 1639 their use was forbidden by the Church because they viewed it as a satanic practice.  Rune masters were killed and it drove users underground.  To prevent this continued practice, a law was passed in Iceland declaring that anyone found to have runes in their possession would be burned at the stake.  Despite all of this, the runic alphabet and its’ meanings were saved in ancient manuscripts and inscriptions.

Why Runes Fell From Favor

Runes began to be used openly again around the early 1900’s.  German scholars became interested but sadly, these people were working for the Nazis in the 1920’s and 30’s.  This made people associate the unfortunate runes with Nazi ideas and racism and their use was shunned.

This ‘blacklisting’ of runes continued up until the 1950’s and 60’s and even then, very little was written about them.  However, in the mid 1980’s, the ‘New Age’ movement took hold and many pagan religions were taken up again.  It was at this point that the runes became popular once again both as a divinatory tool and a system to use to increase self awareness.

How can I get some?

Runes are now easily available.  You can get them online or from any ‘new age’ shop in your area.  Or you can make your own.  There are many websites and books that will show you how.

Take your time choosing your set.  There are now so many different ones available, in wood, stone, ceramic, crystal, glass and many others.  You will find yourself drawn to one more than others.  In addition, some believe that the material the runes are made from enhances the reading.

For example,

Gold Runes are used for queries regarding business, career, and property

Jade Runes are popular if you want to know about love, friendship, and relationships

Ice Runes are best for questions about struggle, conflict, and achievement

Spirit Runes will help with questions regarding mysticism, spirituality, and religion

Stone Runes are for spreads about the natural world and things beyond human control

If you are new to runes, make sure that your set includes a copy of the futhark and its’ meanings, or buy a simple ‘Runes for beginners’ book that will help you to start using your set.  It’s best to start with a simple reading or ‘spread’ such as The Three Norns, in which the first rune is the past, the second is the present and the third, the future.

Enjoy the beauty and wisdom of your runes but don’t forget that you have free will.  Choices have consequences and so no divinatory path is ever set in stone.


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