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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.

Rune Casting

Rune Casting

I’m a rune caster.  I’ve given some pretty amazing castings that were spot on, which is why I’m going to talk to you about them.  Everything within my scientific brain says they shouldn’t work.  And yet, everything I’ve experienced seems to point in the direction that the runes do work.  I once asked a friend who was getting his degree in Physics why it seemed to work.  He shrugged and told me that it was probably just the ambiguity of the runes.


He might be right.  What’s more, it’s likely that subconsciously my brain keeps track of the rune stones and how they feel.  So, when I do a reading, I’m actually tapping into my subconsciousness.

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