Divining With Runes: An Ancient System with Modern Significance

Authors Note:  This article describes the origins and uses of Runes as a tool for divination, or uncovering hidden information.  It makes reference to the Living Magick Runes Learning Card deck, a self study tool for learning to use the Runes. I am the co-creator of the deck, and it is described in detail toward the end of the article.

Origins of the Runes

The origin of the word “rune” actually means “secret” or “mystery”. [Old English rūn, from Old Norse rūn secret; related to Old Saxon, Old High German, Gothic runa]  Discovering their meanings and learning to interpret them begins with understanding their ancient and mythological origins. Dating back nearly 2000 years, this system of symbols or glyphs, was an early form of alphabet from northern Europe.  The shapes are formed only of short straight lines or “staves” which could be easily inscribed upon stones, clay or other materials. Many of the runes are pictograms of physical objects or forces of nature.

In addition to their use as a form of writing, the runes also carry a strong association with Norse mythology, and its archetypes. It is this history that makes them such a strong tool for divination, or unlocking “secret” information.

The name FUTHARK is an acronym based on the names of the first six runes.  The full set contains twenty-four runes in all, divided into three groupings of eight, called “aett” individually, or “aettir”, plural.

Each of the runes pertains to certain aspects of nature and life. While their original imagery uses a frame of reference from a time long ago, in a world very foreign to us, the interpretation of the runes have continued to evolve over time. This evolution makes it possible for us to discover valuable insight into modern day life and situations based upon the concepts and archetypes that the runes represent. For example, consider Fehu, the first rune. The theme of the glyph is “cattle” which corresponds to “wealth”. In the days of the rune’s creation, one’s material wealth was often measured in quantities of livestock rather than bank accounts. Since Fehu relates to earned property, abundance and the meaning of wealth & possessions in our life, we make the jump from “cattle” to more modern examples of liquid assets and worldly goods.

One example of the runes’ evolution is the addition of the much debated “Blank” rune, or “Wyrd” as it is often called. This was not part of the original set, and many traditional rune readers choose not to use it.   Others however, find it to have a valid place in Rune Casting due to the concepts it represents.  (Because so many people want to know its meaning, it is included in the Runes Learning Cards set and you may choose for yourself whether to use it or not.)

Divining with Runes

Nearly all systems of divination operate on the principle of using known or familiar concepts to trigger associations with information that is present, but for the moment, unclear or hidden from us.  The same is true of runes. At a deep level, each of us “knows” what is true for us about every aspect of our life. For a variety of reasons, that truth may have yet to be discovered or we may be hiding from it.

Rune Casting seeks to draw the truth out into the open by presenting us with symbols that relate to the situation at hand. Each rune has specific correspondences, which one will become familiar with as they work with the system. Depending on which runes turn up for a given question, they help to focus our intuition and awareness on specific aspects of the situation.  Through careful consideration of those aspects, and with a clear intent to arrive at the truth, we discover the information that had previously been hidden or unclear.

In addition to learning the meanings associated with each rune, a key step in gaining this sort of insight is to trust your intuition. It will guide you in knowing what questions to ask when casting, and assist you in interpreting what comes up.

There are various ways to cast runes, ranging from simple one rune readings to castings using ten runes or more, depending on the purpose and complexity of the issue. When you first begin casting, you will most likely rely on the associations and interpretations given to the runes by the books and other materials you have available. As you begin to learn the associations through the use of a tool such as the Runes Learning Cards, you will likely find that you begin to develop an intuitive “feeling” about the runes that goes beyond what you have read in books. This deeper understanding of the runes is your goal. The more comfortable you become with the names, themes and basic concepts for each rune, the more freely your intuition can begin to work at calling forth details and information that are specific to you and your own experience.

When casting for another person, this same process of knowledge of the associations of the runes, coupled with your intuition about what else they may be indicating, will assist you in offering helpful insights.

Rune Casting is not “fortune telling”. The runes can not show us anything that is not already there. They can help us to see aspects of what is present in a situation or questions that we may not have fully considered, or call to mind things we are trying to overlook. What we then do with that information will have a cause and effect relation to the outcome.


Jay DeForest ~ 2011

Additional Reference Material

There are several good resources on the history and practice of Rune Casting. Some that I particularly recommend are:

Living Magick Runes Learning Cards

Runes for Transformation by Kaedrich Olsen

FUTHARK: A Handbook of Rune Magic by Edred Thorsson

Both of these books, as well as Runes Learning Cards are available online through: www.TheGuidingTree.com

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