If you have a passing familiarity with modern paganism, you will most likely have encountered runes. Now, the term runes is used for more than just the alphabet that they are associated with historically. One meaning of the term rune is mystery. It also means a poem or song, as per the ancient rūn (this is an Old Norse word). Finally, the term rune is used for any of the characters used in the alphabets of the Germanic peoples.There are two known variants used anymore. The Anglo-Saxons had their variant that is found predominantly in the British Isles artifacts and regions where this group lived. The Nordic peoples had their own variant which is found elsewhere, including places as far from Europe as North America. The Anglo-Saxon runes are retained to a limited extent within English (þ is an example of a modernized rune). Modernized variants of the Nordic runes can be found within the languages of the Nordic peoples, but, like the modernized Anglo-Saxon runes, they occur infrequently.
In comparatively modern times, the term rune has come to be associated with magical scripts. As such, there are many magical scripts that are known as runes, though they are not derived from any of the ancient Germanic alphabet systems known. These scripts, however, fall outside of the focus of this post. I am focusing upon the modern practice of using the Norse runic alphabet for divination purposes. The practice is argued by some to be the same as what Tacitus observed when he was in Gaul but, honestly, the observation leaves more questions than answers. The use of runes as a divination system was something of a fringe practice compared to more well known techniques such as cartomancy and crystal ball scrying.
The practice really came to the fore as a mainstream divination system in the early 1990s with Ralph Blum’s text The Book of Runes and its companion rune set. Prior to this point in time, runes were predominantly were used as a divination system by people involved with Asatru and related belief systems*. Blum’s text was an elaboration off of what had become the ‘standard’ meanings of the runes as per popular folk knowledge and adapted with some consultation of the I Ching. (Blum makes an argument for the I Ching to be used as a support tool for clarifying the meanings of the runes. I personally don’t apply this. In my experience, the two systems are only compatible on the grossest of levels. When one starts looking into the practices, it becomes evident that they are entirely different fairly quickly.) Blum also introduced the blank rune. While it was a part of the rune sets that you could locate at this time, it was not formally discussed until Blum. I haven’t been able to establish when the blank rune was added to the set but I have reason to believe this was something that arose in the 1960s, when a larger population began exploring divination.
There is a laundry list of sites where you can look up the commonly accepted meanings of the runes. The most basic level of rune meanings is derived from the ancient rune poems from the Norse peoples. These meanings are generally very abstract. People have then attempted to devise more detailed meanings for each character. Some have shown signs of truly being inspired (perhaps even directly stated, if I may be so bold) by Odin (from whom the runes were given to humanity). Others are clearly of a more human interpretation.
My reading of the runes is not heavily influenced by the more detailed interpretations that you can find easily on the Internet. Indeed, the major influence upon my reading of the runes are the translations of the rune poems and the most basic associations of the runes. My interpretation of the runes is based off of intuitive knowledge and what I am told from the spiritual realm. While not everyone has the connection to the spiritual realm that allows them to ‘hear’ information, they do have access to the spiritual realm through their intuition.
When doing intuitive readings, it is good to keep notes so that you can recognize themes that come up. It is also good to record the reading because, if you’re like me, as soon as you’re done with the reading the understanding that guided you will vanish like a puff of smoke. Also, when doing intuitive readings, allow yourself to be as direct as tacit will allow. What may seem to you as weird gibberish results for the reading may prove to be more accurate than you realize. I’ve had it happen where I’ve done full readings with the terrible feeling that everything I was relating was just whimsy. Only to learn that those readings are some of my most accurate. The trick to expressing this stuff is to be honest and mention everything that comes up with the intuitive associations. If you find yourself having to think hard about it or you’re beginning to repeat yourself, you have essentially hit the end of what information you are going to draw from the rune (or tarot card or pretty much any other divination tool you use this method with).
* I use the term belief systems because there are systems that do not define themselves as religions out there that use these kinds of things.