According to legend, the Norse God Odin created the runes as a divine gift to mankind. These sacred symbols have been immortalised in carvings for centuries - on burial markers and amulets, scrolls and divinatory stones.
The runes were actually an alphabet system for the ancient Norse cultures, with each symbol having a communicative meaning. Runic artefacts can still be found in part of Scandinavia, in sites of important significance such as places of gathering, old roads, churches, water routes, and burial sites. They were essentially signs, used to convey important meaning, whether that be a warning or a celebration.
You might have come across the runes in modern life without even realising it. The little Bluetooth logo on your phone is actually a bind rune that merges the runic symbols for ‘H’ and ‘B’ together. ‘HB’ are the initials of Harald Bluetooth, a Scandinavian king famous for uniting the Danish tribes into one kingdom. As Bluetooth technology aims to ‘unite’ communication, its creators chose Bluetooth and his runic initials to represent their brand. The runes live on!
J.R.R. Tolkien was also heavily influenced by the runes when he constructed his own fantasy languages of Middle-earth, particularly Khuzdul, the language of the dwarves. Other fantasy worlds feature runes in their language and decor.
But perhaps the greatest intrigue of the runes is their use in divination and magic. For many, runes and runestones are more than a communicative language. Some believed that the runes have mystical significance and can be a powerful tool in your magical arsenal.
Runes and Magic
It’s long been believed that the runes engraved on historical artefacts had magical significance. Runic symbols found on swords and amulets were said to provide protection and strength in battle. Stories of Norse legend suggest that runes might have the ability to raise the dead. They can be used in magical ritual and spell-casting in much the same way as other ancient language systems - such as Latin and Greek - can be used to convey a higher meaning. And perhaps most significantly, runestones are used as a tool of divination.
Runes and Divination
Rune casting is the practice of using runestones for divination purposes, quite similar to the art of tarot reading. Like tarot reading, rune casting isn’t exactly “fortune-telling”. Rather, it links powerful symbols with the revelations of the subconscious mind. The aim is to help the querent better understand the past and present in order to inform the future.
While tarot uses a combination of archetypal symbols - like the High Priestess and the Hanged Man, Pentacles and Wands - to tell a divinatory story, rune casting uses runic symbols. The historical and spiritual significance of these symbols, as well as the intuitive abilities of the caster, come together to paint a picture of future possibilities.
The Elder Futhark is the name given to the runic system used in divinatory rune casting. It’s comprised of 24 runes, which are each inscribed on individual runestones. These ‘stones’ can be made of stone, gemstone, wood or glass, and they form the basis for the runecasting practice.
How to Cast Runestones
The first step is to familiarise yourself with the 24 runestones and their meanings (which we’ve outlined below). Once you have a holistic understanding of these meanings, you’ll be ready to start your casting or reading.
The second step is to understand the desired result of rune casting. As explained, it’s not about ‘telling the future’. The most effective way to read the runes is to focus on a specific life situation or important decision to be made - whether it’s related to work, money, love, family or otherwise - and let the runes guide you into the future, based on a deeper understanding of the past and the present.
The third step is to find the right environment for casting the runes - a quiet private place where you won’t be disturbed. Place a cloth in front of you to protect the runestones from scratches or dirt, and sit facing North if possible, as North was the direction that the Gods lived in North mythology. You’ll normally keep your runestones in a bag or pouch, and you’ll likely stir them around first with your hands in order to transfer your energy into the collection and connect with them. For most castings, you’ll draw the runestones intuitively from the bag.
Finally, choose a casting or spread that feels right to you. Like with the tarot, there are number of different ‘casts’ you can choose from.
A popular cast is the three-stone cast, where you draw three stone from your pouch and lay them in a row. The left-hand stone represents the past, the middle stone the present, and the right-hand stone the possible future. Another method of interpreting this cast is that the left-hand stone represents the problem or challenge, the middle stone the recommended course of action, and the right-hand stone the possible outcome.
Another cast is the five-stone or ‘cross’ cast, where you draw five stones and place three across - like the above - and two extra stones above and below the middle stone, creating a cross. The meanings of the horizontal three stones stays the same (past, present, future). The additional top stone represents help or guidance that might be available. While the additional bottom stone represents unchangeable forces that you need to accept in order to move forward.
Perhaps the most simple way of casting runes when you’re starting out is to simply do a single-stone casting, and select one runestone from your collection. This single stone sums up the key factor affecting your chosen situation.
There are also less structured, more intuitive ways of casting the runes. Some people select a handful of runestones and toss them onto the cloth, divining meaning from the runes that land face-up, or upside-down, or next to each other. This is a method you can explore when you’re more familiar with the runes and their meanings.
Like all ancient symbols and divinatory systems, runic meanings can have different interpretations, depending on whether you look at the strictly historical evidence, or incorporate esoteric or even personal symbolism. Below is a brief overview of the 24 runes of the Elder Futhhark, their corresponding alphabetic sound, and their symbolic meaning.
Fehu - F. Meaning: “cattle", wealth, material possession.
Uruz - U. Meaning: "a wild ox", strength, health.
Thurisaz - Th. Meaning: "giant", "thorn", danger, defence from attack.
Ansuz - A. Meaning: "a God", “mouth", communication, language, advice.
Raidho - R. Meaning: “journey", "wheel", movement, travel.
Kaunan - K. Meaning: “flame", "beacon", enlightenment, highest possibilities.
Gebo - G. Meaning: “gift", generosity, sacrifice, unity.
Wunjo - W. Meaning: “joy", happiness, pleasure.
Hagalaz - H. Meaning: “hail", destruction, chaos.
Naudhiz - N. Meaning: "needs", unfulfilled desire, survival.
Isaz - I. Meaning: "ice", pause, frozen or delayed action.
Jera - J. Meaning: “year", "harvest", rewards, results.
Eihwaz - I. Meaning: “yew", protection, stability.
Pertho - P. Meaning: unexplained/unknown, mystery.
Elhaz/Algiz - Z. Meaning: "elk", protection, defense.
Sowilo - S. Meaning: “sun", life, success.
Tiwaz - T. Meaning: "tyr", victory, war.
Berkanan - B. Meaning: "birch tree", new beginnings, fertility, growth.
Ehwaz - E. Meaning: "horse", travel, companionship.
Mannaz - M. Meaning: "mankind", support, humanity.
Laguz - L. Meaning: "water", formlessness, flexibility.
Ingwaz - Ng. Meaning: new beginnings, fertility
Othalan - O. Meaning: "inheritance", possession.
Dagaz - D. Meaning: "day", hope, happiness.
Rune casting is mysterious and intriguing practice, steeped in centuries of fascinating history. If you're interested in learning more about this, take a look at some of the books we currently have in stock on the subject. Or if you're ready to purchase a set of runestones for casting, choose from our beautiful gemstone rune collection below!
BOOKS ON RUNES