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Runes as a Divination Tool

Runes as a Divination Tool

Our ancestors have used runes as divination tools for centuries. Whether fashioned from bone, wood, stone, or something else, people relied on runes as a written means of communication, powerful talismans, and a means of learning about the future.  I’ll explore why in this piece.

Obtaining Immortality

Runes — and writing, for that matter — is the human attempt at establishing immortality in a very mortal world. Look at the runic inscriptions we have from our ancestors: they talk about deeds, imbue power into weapons, mark the existence of a person, keep track of goods, or give us a magical formula of some sort.

Even today, humans want to leave their indelible mark on the world. Whether it’s a person who wants to be a published author, an actor appearing on the silver screen, a recording artist, an Internet blogger, or a tagger spray-painting graffiti on a boxcar, all these people are looking to achieve some sort of immortality. The Internet and movies are just another form of media that came from the written word.  Before writing all people had were their memories and oral traditions. Sure, the person learned the story from their parents and grandparents, but over time the stories morphed into something less recognizable by the original teller.  Like an ancient form of the kid’s game “telephone,” original details were lost and new information was added. Only when the stories were written down did we have a record of what the story was at the time it was written. That’s assuming, of course, that the scribe wrote it down word-for-word without embellishment, which generally didn’t happen.

The Magic of Writing

If you’ve been one of my long-time readers, you know I eschew the word “magic.” But in this case, I’ll forego that avoidance. Writing, itself, is magical. Think about it.  We can convey our thoughts, stories, feelings, and beliefs to people we have never met.  To people whom we will never meet. This power is something we take for granted now, but writing has really only been around for a little over 5000 years.  The world’s oldest writing is cuneiform written in 3200 BCE. Scribes developed and used cuneiform to record transactions in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, which is in present-day Iraq.

Agrarian societies invented writing to keep track of goods, possessions, and taxes.  Writing is a by-product of commerce, which makes sense.  Even Scandinavian/Viking merchants used runes to keep track of their goods.  I would argue that until produce and trade developed, humans had little need of the written language. Sure, there were magic sigils and marks, but until people exchanged money, or at least goods and services, they didn’t have a pressing need for a written language.

How Does “Magic”Divination Work?

Warning!  Personal Unverified Gnosis Ahead!

I believe part of the runes’ sacredness comes from the “magic” of being able to learn from people long gone from the world. How magical it must feel to hear the voice of an ancestor from something written.  The ancestor most likely carved the runes into something more permanent like rock, bone, wood, or metal. This lasted far longer than his or her 40 to 50 years in this world.

Another magical part of the runes is the ability to tap into our subconscious selves.  That part of our mind pays more attention to the world around us. It’s where we often get our insights and hunches.  And it’s more likely what hears the gods when they speak to us. When we touch the runes, our subconscious knows what rune we touched.  The feel of the wood, bone, or stone, the rough cut of the rune, the shape of the rock: our subconscious mind knows what it is even if we can’t consciously identify it.  So, the runes help us find the answer within ourselves and our subconscious observations of the world around us.

(At this point, I can hear purists who believe in magic screaming that I’m full of shit.  Cool. You don’t like what I say?  Bitch somewhere else.  You got the warning above; deal with it.)

Whether you believe that Odin gave our ancestors the runes or not is immaterial.  The runes are here and they possess a quality that we can use to explore our mind and our collective unconscious.  It may serve as a way to understand what our conscious minds haven’t grasped.  And it may be a way to know what is happening in the future.

Block Heads and Block Universes

If you’ve read my piece about free will, I go into the block universe theory and why we may not have free will at all.  Briefly, the block universe theory in physics states that everything has already happened and it’s just our limited perception of time that keeps us thinking sequentially. The past, present, and future exist simultaneously.  Time doesn’t go forward, per se, we just experience it in our limited capacity as if a spotlight is being shown on that particular instant in our lives.

I wonder if people can and do access those other parts of space-time, just not consciously. As a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, the thoughts are intriguing, certainly.  If we can access the past and future subconsciously, it makes sense that the runes help us do it.

Rune Meanings and Interpretations

My sister gave me a rune set and Ralph Blum’s Book of Runes when I was a teenager. I actually have a first edition somewhere, assuming it didn’t get lost in moving. Whether or not you think Blum’s book is a bunch of crap, you have to admit that it was and still is quite popular. I did some pretty successful runecasts with it, despite its faults.

Even so, I subscribe to the more traditional interpretations, though.  I also don’t believe in using merkstave as a reading, because merkstave was added to make the runes more tarot-like. Plus, there are plenty of negative sides to the runes already–we don’t need more.  I also don’t believe in using the blank rune, because the runes already have perth, which is the equivalent as such.

That being said, because the runes are our gateway into reading into the future with our subconscious mind, my guess is you can have whatever interpretation you fancy and still get the reading right. (I can hear the purists screaming now.)  The main thing is to stay consistent in interpretation, otherwise it’s unlikely you’re going to have a good reading.  I prefer using traditional meanings over others, if , for no other reason than to have consistency.

I would say go with whatever works for you.  If merkstaves and blank runes work, then do it.  If going the completely traditional route works, then do that. Hel, if you find Ralph Blum’s interpretations work, then use those.  Let me know what works for you in the comments.

 

Where Did the Runes Come From?

Where Did the Runes Come From?

If you’re a Heathen, you probably know the story of how Odin hanged himself for nine days and nights on Yggdrasil and obtained the runes.  It’s a great story and one we love telling to explain the overall mystical qualities the runes possess. But, like anything, our stories don’t necessarily tell the whole story of how the runes came into being.  So, this piece looks at the runes and how they evolved.

The Havamal and Archetypes

The Havamal describes how Odin sought wisdom by hanging himself on Yggdrasil for nine days and nights.  He hanged with a spear stuck through him to earn the runes’ wisdom.  For those who follow Christianity, the image is oddly reminiscent of Jesus on the Cross.  Think about it: a god sacrifices himself to himself via crucifixion.  He is stabbed with a spear.  He dies and comes back to life, even before he created the world.

It just shows how the archetypes of ancient legends filter through to today’s most popular religion.  The idea of a crucified god isn’t new, nor is the concept of a god dying and being resurrected.  But that discussion is for another time.  We’re still talking about the runes, here.

Runes in the Havamal

137.
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.

138.
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.

139.
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.

140.
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.

141.
Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
graved by the Utterer of gods.

142.
For gods graved Odin, for elves graved Daïn,
Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,
All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,
graved some for the sons of men.

143.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?

144.
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
……..
Thus Odin graved ere the world began;
Then he rose from the deep, and came again.

Havamal, 137-144, translated by Olive Bray

Where Did the Runes Actually Come From?

If we look at the runic alphabet from archaeology, we can get a sense for where the runes came from.  Even so, it’s sort of a mystery how the runes came into being.  We know that the oldest runes, the Elder Futhark, were written as early as 150 AD or CE (Common Era).  But whence they came is as interesting as the story in the Havamal. Runes may have be derived from what are called the Old Italic Alphabets, which includes the Raetic and Venetic alphabets.  These alphabets may have come from a Proto-Indo-European language and made their appearance as far back as the 700 BC or BCE (Before Common Era). You can see the similarities in the Elder Futhark and the Raetic and Venetic alphabets, if you look closely.  Many of the same letters in the runic system are there.

We can assume that the runes and the modern alphabet came from a similar source. The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use today, was derived from the Etruscan alphabet which had most of the same letters. These letters came over from the Greek language from a Greek colony in Italy, around 600 BCE.  There’s a possibility that this alphabet influenced the runic alphabet as well.

There’s also a hypothesis that the runes may have Germanic origins because of the Vimose Inscriptions. These inscriptions are some of the earliest Elder Futhark inscriptions, and they’re written in Proto-Norse. They were found on an island off of Denmark, making a case for West Germanic origins.

Scholars just don’t know the exact origins of the runes, but they can guess given the similarity of the alphabets.

Why the Runes are so Powerful

Our ancestors ascribed magical powers to the runes, and it’s not hard to guess why.  If you’ve never had a way to keep knowledge available for generations to come other than oral tradition (which had problems with changes over time, and lost information due to untimely deaths), it would seem like magic.  Think how magical it would be to have a way for your ancestors to speak to you.  Those who could write the runes must have appeared to be very powerful shamans to less learned folk.  And those who could read the runes were certainly powerful in knowledge.

As the Rational Heathen, I’m not really into the woo-woo stuff. And yet, I do and have done runecastings. I suspect that the runecastings work through your subconscious–that your mind knows what is going on and you’re in touch with it.  Your fingers pick out the runes that your subconscious knows well.  Perhaps a person who does a runecasting for someone else gets cues that only our subconscious can understand and comes up with a reading that makes sense.

Or, maybe not.

Whether you believe that Odin brought us the runes, or whether you think they evolved from another written language, I hope you enjoyed this post.  Let me know what you think and whether I should write more rune posts.

Runecasting for Recons (not really)

Runecasting for Recons (not really)

Gods, I love alliteration.  So, I couldn’t help myself with the title.  But who knows?  Maybe the recons will learn something when they read this.

Or probably just talk smack on Reddit.  Just saying…

Anyway, I’ve decided to talk about how I do runecastings.  They’re not the only way.  In some heathen circles, they may not even be right.  But it works for me, and if it works for me, I go with it.  So, let’s go through the basic rune cast.

Equipment for Runecasters 101

I’m pretty simple when it comes to runecasting.  So, when it comes to your runecasting stuff, you need the following:

  • Runes (duh!) — I use Elder Futhark runes.  You can use whatever runes suit you, but I know the Elder Futhark best and I know the meanings (mostly).
  • A rune pouch to keep the runes in.  —  It can be something special or not.  Most people will probably go with special.  Most rune sets come with pouches anyway.  If you make your own, you’re going to want to sew your own rune pouch. Or have someone who sews make it for you.
  • A cloth to do your runecasting on. — It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Hel, I don’t think you need it.  But it is nice to have.  I use a wolf bandana that is a custom design by a woman in this area.  

That’s it, essentially.  You can have candles, incense, offerings, whatever, if you feel it is appropriate.  I don’t worry about such things.

Basic Runecasting

I don’t have a particular casting method, though others may.  Other people may shake runes out of the bag, or even dump the bag and pull out the runes that are face up, or select from those that are face down.  I’ve heard of gythias and godhis using sticks and tossing them down.  The rune patterns that they saw in the crossed sticks were the ones they read.

I don’t do that. I pull each rune from the pouch and place it in its spot where the cast will go. Other runecasters do that too.  If I accidentally pull out extra stones or some other stones come out, I read them as well.  I figure if the stone wants to be read, who am I to put it back?  It might be an extra message.  Or it might be garbage.  Whatever.

I’ve had my cat suddenly take an interest in my reading occasionally and move the pieces.  Apparently I had the runes in the wrong spots, or so she thought.  I don’t argue. When you have a cat name Freyja, you listen to her.

I read my runes right to left, not left to right. I’ve heard that others do it that way, but I’ve seen it done left to right too.  I don’t use blank runes, nor do I read reverse or merkstave.  Those are obvious later inventions, one by Ralph Blum (or someone he knew) and one is too close to tarot.  Runes are not tarot.  Thank you.

The Patterns

There are plenty of patterns to cast and read your stones. I tend to stick with the simpler casts.  The reason is straightforward.  I don’t have to worry or pay attention to complex readings.

The pattern I tend to rely on is the three stone pattern.  It’s a good pattern and on and you can decide which one works for you.

  • Single Rune — This is the easiest cast of all.  Basically it’s the response to the matter under consideration.  Good or bad. It just is.
  • Three Rune Spread — This is a cast that is flexible enough to gain insight while still simple enough to not have a lot of convoluted mumbo-jumbo.  You can cast it the way I do as 1. matter under consideration 2. Problems or situations that may arise 3. Possible outcome. Or you can do the 1. Past 2. Present 3. Future
  •  Five Rune Layout, Seven Rune Layout, etc.  This webpage seems to have the basics of these larger layouts.
  • Tiwaz Shoat — There’s a pattern called the Tiwaz shoat that is in the form of an arrow.  For the life of me, I can’t remember the reading directly and I need to dig out my books on it.  Let’s just say it’s out there and if I find my books, I’ll try to tell you about it.
  • Extra Runestones — Occasionally you’ll have some runes spill out.  If this happens, look at the stones and see if they have some bearing on the situation at hand.  You may find that they do.

Sample Runecast 

Okay, you have your runes, your bag, your rune casting cloth, and whatever else you feel is necessary to get yourself in the right frame of mind to do a cast. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re doing a Three Rune Spread.  In this case, start by pulling the first runestone out of the bag and look at it.

I pulled: ᚠ ᛒ  ᚱ

Now, don’t forget I read right to left (I pulled the ᚱ first).  So I start with ᚱ which is Raidho, which generally means travel, but can mean movement, journey, or a change. The matter under consideration is travel, for the sake of argument.  Okay. 

The problem or situation that may arise: Berkana or ᛒ.  This is the rune of growth, nurturing, fertility, etc.  Not necessarily a problem, unless it is growth due to pain or loss.  I’m not seeing that in the runes just yet, because

Fehu or ᚠ means wealth or cattle. This rune is associated with fortune and positive outcomes. Usually requires work to achieve them, but what doesn’t?

What the Runecast Might Mean

Here comes the million dollar question: What does the runecast mean?  I wasn’t really asking any questions, I just did a general cast.  What it suggests is that the travel I take in the future gives me an opportunity for growth and a chance at achieving good fortune or wealth, if I choose to take advantage of it.  Overall, it’s a positive spread and I’d be glad to have such outcomes.

I hope this gives you some ideas as to how you can do runecasting for yourself.  Let me know about your own castings.  I’d be curious to hear about them.

    Runecasting and the M- Word

    Runecasting and the M- Word

    I really hate the M- word.  It suddenly puts Heathenry into the realm of Wiccan and other m(agic) based beliefs. It suggests that there isn’t a good reason why something happened.  And for the Rational Heathen, that drives me batty.

    I’ve been accused in the past of being atheistic because I waffle on certain elements of our beliefs.  And yet, there are plenty of nonbelievers in the ranks of heathens, who don’t necessarily believe in the gods as people, but still wish to preserve the old ways.  And yet, I have had more encounters with our gods, and even the wights, than some of the staunch believers have.

    Go figure.

    About Runecasting

    So, when I talk about runecasting, understand that this is my interpretation of it.  It isn’t necessarily the only way to do it.  It’s not even the right way.  But it is my way and if you can learn some things from my methods, then terrific.

    Before I get started on this, I don’t consider myself an expert in the runes. I know the Elder Futhark and I cast those runes. There are other runes that are equally valuable such as the Younger Futhark, the Anglo Saxon runes, and others.  None of them are inferior.  But unless you make yourself a set, or find someone who makes these runes, chances are the runes you’ll pick up are Elder Futhark.  Which is okay.  There’s a lot more written about them than the other runes, anyway.

    How I Got into Runecasting

    My sister (who, weirdly enough is a devout Christian), gave me Ralph Blum’s Book on runes when it first came out when I was in junior high or high school (yeah, it was that long ago).  I dinked around with them throughout high school and college, not knowing what the Hel I was doing.  Even so, the runes had a tendency to give me consistent, true readings. As I started reading other rune material, I outlined the rules in my own mind, what the runes meant, and how to runecast.  Even now, I follow these rules when I do a runecast.

    It works for me.  It may not work for you.

    My Rules to Runecasting

    These are my rules when it comes to runecasting.  Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV), and you probably have a method that suits you.

    Choose Runes that Speak to You

    I’m not talking about actual speech here.  I’m talking about what feels right in your hands.  I have probably around 10 rune sets, some which I do not like or connect with.  There’s one runeset, a runeset made from hematite, that feels right in my hands. I have one runeset I totally despise that is a card runeset (similar to Tarot) that I picked up because I thought it would be different.  (Boy howdy, it was.)  I’ve been ambivalent on some wooden runes I bought. I don’t know the wood and they don’t seem to have a connection to me.  So, I don’t use them.  YMMV.  Again.

    Abandon Conventional Tarot Wisdom

    Don’t treat the runes as though they were Tarot cards (they’re not).  That means there is no merkstave (upside down) readings.  We have enough negative implications with some of the runes, depending on how you read them. The rune, whether you pull it out upside down or sideways, or whatever, is the rune.  However, can you read a different interpretation with an upside down rune?  You can do what you like.  I think it’s incorrect, but hey, that’s my interpretation.  Again, YMMV.

    Abandon the Blank Rune

    This is clearly a Ralph Blum invention, although someone might call me on this and tell me somewhere in yada…yada… lore someone used one.  Pertho is more the unknown rune, so we use that.  Someone always says to use it as a spare.  For the life of me, I don’t know how I would cut into the hematite to replace a lost stone.  I’d probably just rob a stone from another set.

    Read Right to Left

    Okay, I’m sure there’s no real cause for this other than learning it this way.  You can read anyway you want, as long as you have the rules settled in your mind and with the runes.

    Read as Much as You can on Interpretations

    This seems a no-brainer, but I would argue that you need to read as much as you can on the various interpretations of a particular rune. Even when I think I’m settled on an interpretation, I’ll get an odd reading that causes me to go back to the books.

    How I Believe the Runes Work

    I’m avoiding the M-word when it comes to runes, because I sincerely don’t believe in magic.  I suspect how they work is that they tap into our subconscious which pays far more attention to the world than our conscious selves. I remember having the runes come up with a positive outcome to a particularly difficult time in my life and later discussing them with a physicist friend of mine. He thought they worked because they offered only general interpretation that could fit any circumstance, and yet, I’ve hit the nail on the head more times with runes than not. So, if there’s something else going on, I suspect it’s largely subconscious.  But occasionally I’ve seen the gods intervene in the runes, which suggest maybe they have a hand in tipping the scales, subconsciously, or through quantum means.

    Remember what I’ve quoted Arthur C. Clarke so many times about technology being indistinguishable from magic?

    Next week, I’ll do a sample rune reading…