Like tarot cards, runes are a divination tool used by many different Pagan traditions. They are small pieces of wood, stone, or crystal engraved with letters from the Elder Futhark alphabet. The Elder Futhark is an ancient alphabet and is the oldest runic alphabet ever written. During the Migration Period (AD 375 to AD 568), Germanic peoples used the Elder Futhark alphabet as a writing system for Northwest Germanic dialects. It consisted of 24 runes and was named for the sound values of the first six runes in the alphabet, F, U, , A, R, and K.
In the late 8th century, the Elder Futhark alphabet was adopted in Scandinavia, where they simplified it, breaking it down to a mere 16 runes. They renamed this simplified alphabet the Younger Futhark.
Later, the Anglo-Saxons expanded the Elder Futhark to include an extra nine runes, for a total of 33. This alphabet would become known as the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc.
The History of Runecasting
The oldest runic alphabet was said to have come from Odin himself during one of his trials when he hung upside down from Yggdrasill. The story of Odin finding the wisdom of the runes can be found in the poem Hvaml in the Poetic Edda. One day, he sat upon his throne in Asgard with his wife by his side. He stared out upon the world and desired to know all the secrets and wisdom it held. And so, he sought out the knowledge of the runes.
I trow I hung on that windy Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence.
Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
son of Bale-thorn, Bestla’s sire;
I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
with the Soulstirrer’s drops I was showered.
Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word following word, I found me words,
deed following deed, I wrought deeds.
From this poem, we can see that runes are more than just an alphabet. They are pre-existent, eternal forces that represent the universe and the Gods themselves. This is why they hold the power of divination.
One of the earliest written records of runes being used as divination tools comes from the Roman historian, Tacitus, in his book Germania, where he tells of watching Germanic peoples performing divination rituals with runic staves (sticks carved with runes). They cut off a branch from a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips they mark with different signs and throw them at random onto a white cloth. Then the state’s priest, if it is an official consultation, or the father of the family, in a private one, offers prayer to the gods and looking up towards heaven picks up three strips, one at a time, and, according to which sign they have previously been marked with, makes his interpretation.
Though there are those who still cast runs with staves, most modern Pagans and diviners use rune stones. They can be homemade or bought, whatever you feel most connected to.
How To Cast Runes
First and foremost, you need a set of runes, obviously. Whether youve chosen to buy them or create them yourself is up to you, but whatever the case, they should be kept in either a box or a drawstring bag from which to cast, and also to keep them safe when not in use.
There are many different ways in which to cast your runes. Some people prefer to cast them onto a white cloth, which can make them easier to read with the cloth in the background, but also to act as a magickal barrier between the runes and the surface on which they are being cast. Others prefer to cast them right onto the ground, believing that the power of Mother Nature helps to infuse the runes with her magick.
Before you cast your runes, place your hand in the bag or box and mix them around. Repeat the question you are seeking an answer for either in your head or aloud while you are mixing the runes. Keep in mind that like tarot cards, the runes arent going to tell you who youre going to marry, or whether youre going to win the lottery. They are not fortune-tellers themselves but are the conduit through which you will interpret your own answers.
The best pattern for beginners is the three-rune cast. Rune casting, like tarot and other forms of divination, often addresses a specific topic and considers both your past and present as influences to address the question at hand. After youve mixed the runes thoroughly and repeated your question, pull three runes from the bag, one at a time, and set them one beside the other in front of you. The first rune you pulled provides a comprehensive overview of your problem. The second rune identifies issues and hurdles related to that problem, and the third one suggests the potential steps you can take to overcome your obstacles or get to the outcome you want.
Once youve mastered the three-rune cast, you can move on to other spreads and different castings. As with any form of divination, mastery of runecasting takes time and dedication, but this quick introduction should set you up on a good path to get there.
Happy casting, Witches.