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NORSE RUNES: BEAUTIFUL AND MYSTERIOUS

July 3, 2020

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If you are a fan of mythology, likely you have come across more than a handful of legends and tales of curious beasts, furious battles, and of course myths and magics that the world has long forgotten. The old world is full of such things. Magic (magick) filled the world, sometimes lighting the way to greatness, but more often than not, hiding – concealed in the darkest depths of mystery – waiting to be discovered and used for good or for ill.


It was only the wisest who could read or write, and only a select few among them who truly understood the truths which wove together the very fabric of the world itself. Sages who could see through time and watch it unravel, these were the mages, the magicians… the Rune Masters!


While words and letters were used to capture the sounds of the human voice, runes were designed to capture the intentions of reality itself. Runes were a way of marking the nature of existence, recording and imbuing secret powers that previously, had belonged solely to the gods themselves.

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ANCIENT MAGIC AND RUNIC LORE!

It is no secret that the secret of runes is one of great power. After all, it was Odin himself who brought the runes to man, through is great act of sacrificing himself to himself “on the tree of which no man knows from where its roots run” (a reference to Yggdrasil, the tree of life).


It was Odin who, through the act of human sacrifice, sacrificing himself to himself, proved himself worthy of gaining both the knowledge and the power of the runes. After this, he was able to use runes to grant power, bless or curse, and even raise the dead (referenced in stanza 157 of Hávamál). As far as mysticism and lore are concerned, runes bring with them the power of the gods themselves.


Much like any power though, the power given to man through the runes was not something to be taken lightly, nor was it to be given to just anyone. Knowledge of the intimate nature of each individual rune was restricted to masters, nobles, kings, and magicians. They were the ones who understood the hidden meanings, the pairings of symbols, and the power of words! Rune Masters could inscribe a simple bracelet with runes, or even abbreviate incantations and carve them onto a tiny medallion and imbue it with powers and charms.


In the archaeological record we find dozens of examples of charmed items, with simple and extravagant engravings in Elder Futhark. Through these artifacts, we have learned that groupings of 3 runes at a time seemed particularly meaningful, as did simple groupings of rhyming symbols. And, though we cannot be 100% certain of their intended meaning, we have also found several common abbreviations for longer runic inscriptions on certain trinkets. Some of the most common include charm words, such as auja, laþu, laukaʀ, and alu.

Leif Erikson

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WHAT DOES “RUNE” MEAN?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, words have meanings. And, many believe that words themselves have power; the power over what has been named by those words. This is the principle idea behind such practices as divination, spell casting, chanting, mantras, etc.

Runes each have a meaning, but where we should start is in the meaning of the word “rune” itself. “Rune,” or run-, runi, runa, as the root-word appears in several ancient dialects, has a unique sense about it. Each one of the terms used over the centuries has hinged on the idea of both speaking and of mystery. Runa, from the Gothic, translates more closely to “secret whisper” than anything else, while rhin in Old English translates to “secret writing.” In the Baltics, run- means “speech” and in Lithuanian, runoti means both to speak and to cut with a knife (possibly an early way to address the carving of words into stone or wood).

WHAT ARE RUNES?

To answer this question, runes are a writing system. Well, in truth, runes are the characters for a system of writing, but I digress. There are many runes that have been discovered. Many from the Scandinavian sailors we call Vikings and even a few unique ones discovered in the sacred sites of the Knights Templar (for real). Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many variations of Runic systems which have evolved over time, since the 2nd century all the way to roughly the 1,800’s. But as for typical modern day divination, there are only 24 which are commonly used.

THE ELDER FUTHARK:

The Elder Futhark is a system of 24 widely accepted runes, derived from Proto-Norse (proto-Norse was the language that eventually evolved into the Norse language), which dates roughly to the 2nd century AD.

The oldest full arrangement of Elder Futhark was found in found in Sweden, and was likely carved around the year 400AD. Known as the “Kylver Stone,” it confirms the full ‘alphabet’ of runes and their order. Runes are typically ordered in 3 rows of 8 characters, and it is the 1st 6 runes in the 1st line that give Futhark its name – much like how we have named our “QWERTY” keyboards today, by looking at the first 6 letters on the 1st row.

CURSING RUNES!

Runes were certainly used to protect: runes were inscribed on ships and shields, no doubt for safety, but they were also used to curse!

A famous runic inscription on the Björketorp Runestone states:

"Haidzruno runu, falahak haidera, ginnarunaz. Arageu haeramalausz uti az. Weladaude, sa'z þat barutz. Uþarba spa."

"I, master of the runes conceal here runes of power. Plagued by maleficence, doomed to insidious death is he who breaks this monument. I prophesy destruction."

As the rune master states, there are secret runes and secrets among runes that conceal power. Odin proudly states that he knows runes that are hidden, runes which control life and death, and ad as we have heard in ballads and epics, the inscription of secret runes puts into play ancient and ineffable powers, whether for good or for evil.

HOW TO READ NORSE RUNES:

Runes themselves can bee seen as a simple 24-character alphabet, though this of course does little to capture the deeper meanings of the characters themselves. Each rune does have its own unique sound, and words can be created by arranging them together.

However, each rune also has several different meanings. If you’re a fan of Egyptology, then you can relate ancient runes to something like a hieroglyph, or a “picture word.” Though runes don’t appear as beautifully gilded images like we see on the walls of the great tombs, each rune is highly symbolic. Each rune may have 3, 4, or even 5 symbolic meanings that will be determined by the context of the situation and the other runes they appear around or between.

Looking back at the lore of runes, it is likely these symbolic senses of each rune that the rune masters used to create incantations and magical inscriptions and charms. While the causally literate would use runes to read and write, the mages and magicians would use runes to determine and prescribe the movements of the very fabric of the world. It’s certainly a poetic image.

RUNES IN DIVINATION:

However, staying on the lighter path, in modern divination, each rune is carved harmlessly on an individual stone, piece of wood, or fragment of bone. These are cast and left to the gods to determine their pattern as they come to rest.

Oddly enough though, looking back at the history of runes and runic magic, while there is ample evidence to support the use of runes for demonstrations of mystical power, there is little to no evidence that runes were used in divination. The only records we have to talk of casting lots (chips) to determine favorable or ill fates, the drawing of straws to determine the best targets for attack, etc.

But! One source, Tacitus's Germania does describe the use of runes as being chosen in groups of 3 and cut from a nut-bearing tree. Whether this was written to encourage the rhyme of three and tree, we can’t be sure, but the use of runes in triplicate does seem to align with what we see on runic artifacts, so there may be some evidence

FORTUNE-TELLING WITH RUNES:

Despite the lack of evidence in historical record, fortune-telling and divination through the reading of runes is possible (if you believe in it), but like Tarot, it is highly interpretive. And despite having endless possibilities for how and in what order to read and interpret runes, we will be sticking to the methods that at have the most historical evidence to support their use: 1, 2, & 3 rune reading.

What you will need:
    1) a set of Rune Stones
    2) an Open Mind
    3) a bit of Practice

The first method is likely the easiest, but will still require either a chart of meanings, or a good bit of memorization.

SINGLE-RUNE DIVINATION:

Concentrate on a question. Focus on finding the answer. You may imagine yourself walking down a path or looking through a field of clover, trying to find one with four leaves. Whichever visual helps you focus your attention is up to you.

Once you feel clam and receptive, reach into your set of runes and choose one that feels right. Sometimes you may want to imagine you are feeling for a certain color or trying to find the one that is warmer or cooler than the others. Anything you can do to focus on picking the “right” rune will help you.

Inspect the rune in your hand and reflect on all the possible meanings this single rune has. Ask yourself:
   1) Did I draw the rune right-side-up, or up-side-down?
   2) Are more of the symbolic meanings positive or negative?
   3) Is there one of those meanings that applies directly to my question?
   4) Does the sound of the rune fit in my answer?

READING RUNES:

Reading a single rune is fairly difficult and will rely on how you interpret it for yourself. Try to think of the entire scope of the rune and all of its meanings to guide you to your answer.

DUAL-RUNE DIVINATION:

Concentrate on a question. Focus on finding the answer. Any imagery or concentration tactics like the ones mentioned in the Single-Rune Divination section would be fine.

Once you feel clam and receptive, either reach into your bag and draw 2 random runes, or pour two runes out onto a soft surface. In this situation, you have let the gods choose for you, and all you will need to do is read them.

Like the above section, ask yourself:
   1) Did I draw the runes right-side-up, or up-side-down?
   2) Are more of the symbolic meanings positive or negative?
   3) Is there one of those meanings that applies directly to my question?
   4) Do the sounds of the rune fit in my answer?

But you will also want to look at the runes as a pair. Are the runes aligned to one another? Do they contradict one another? Are they both positive or both negative?

READING RUNES:

If both are positive and oriented right-side-up, it is an obvious sign to the positive, even without Interpretation.

If both are negative runes and oriented up-side-down, it is likely a negative sign.

If runes seem to contradict one another (one positive, one negative), you may choose to re-draw, but I would not advise it. Look deeper into the symbolic meanings of each rune. A negative rune up-side-down is likely a positive sign, and vis-versa. Dig deep. Consider the whole. These runes fell to you for a reason.

TRI-RUNE DIVINATION:

Ready your mind. Consider your question, but think more of the situation you are involved in. Reading 3 runes deals with your past, present, and future, not just a “yes” or “no” answers. Calm yourself and try to see yourself and your situation from an objective perspective. If it helps, try to picture yourself from an external perspective. Close your eyes and watch yourself breath.

When you are ready, pour 3 stones from your bag. If you don’t mind writing on a piece of leather or cloth, sometimes it helps to draw a small circle on a soft surface, and to simply pour all the runes out at one time. You would of course only be reading the stones that landed within or are touching the circle.

The Three-Rune reading is like a combination of the 1 and 2-rune readings, in that you will want to consider each rune individually, as each rune represents or describes a certain portion of your past/present/future, but you will also want to read them together, because these three aspects reflect the totality of your life in this particular situation. 

Ask yourself:
   1) Did the runes fall right-side-up, or up-side-down, or even sideways?
   2) Are more runes right-side-up and up-side-down?
   3) Are most of the symbolic meanings positive or negative?
   4) Are there any of those meanings that apply directly to my situation?
   5) Do the sounds of the rune fit in my answer? (do they combine?)

But you will also want to look at the runes as a whole image. Are the runes aligned to one another? Do they contradict one another? Do they all share a common theme?

READING RUNES:

The most ancient views of time are reversed to what we know them as today. The ancient Greeks said that the future was behind them, and that the past was ahead. This isn’t because they believed things moved backward, but that they understood the lack of control they had over time and the progression of the future.

The Greeks saw the present is if it were their periphery vision. The present was at the same place in time as they were, and accordingly, they were unable to see all of it, but as time passed, the present turned to the past and rested ever before their eyes. We cannot see the future, or at least, we can’t see it without some assistance.

In many forms of divination, you will find that past is on the left, and the future on the right, with the present tucked squarely in the middle. But, this is a modern interpretation of time, and is not suitable for the ancient language of the gods who are older than time. With runes, the order should be reversed.

IF THE RUNES ARE ALIGNED HORIZONTALLY:

Future – Present – Past

IF THE RUNES ARE ALIGNED VERTICALLY:

Past
Present
Future

Again, I feel that I need to stress the point that a 3-rune reading is not about a simple “yes or no”. It is about showing you an objective picture of yourself, how you got to where you are, and where you may be headed. A Tri-Rune reading is as much a simple answer to as question as the Mona Lisa is a simple Polaroid.

A FINAL NOTE:

In divination and the reading of runes, you must consider all the details and make the connections in a way that suits your own context. If you are doing a divination for someone else, then of course, you will need to consider the context they find themselves in. It takes intuition, confidence, and practice. If you are consulting runes because you are unsure, you will likely get ambiguous answers. You need to be confident. The gods do not interfere with the world of man, they merely spectate. They will give you no help that you do not get for yourself.

However, above all else… remember that runes and arcane magick is not a religion and it is not a science. It is the occult: it is pagan, and the only certainty in it is that which you bring with you.

Live long and live strong, my modern Vikings!

          Cody Dees
          “Resident Viking” 
          Norse Tradesman
          The guess of the wise is truth. -Grettir Saga, c.31

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