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 Beginning To Understand Runes

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Posts : 220
Join date : 2009-08-21

PostSubject: Beginning To Understand Runes   Mon Sep 28, 2009 9:10 am

* What are the Runes?

* Where do they come from?

* What can they be used for?

* What is a "set" of runes?

* Why use a set of runes?

* Can anyone use them?

* How can the meanings of the runes be discovered?

* What are the meanings of the runes?

* How can these meanings be interpreted?

* How can I find out more?

What are the Runes?

The Runes are often thought to be an ancient writing system - rather like our
modern alphabet. In fact they have always been far more than that, and may
indeed have started as sounds and ideas rather than the means for spelling

Just as the alphabet is named from the first two characters in it, so the rune
row is known as the "Futhark" from the first six runes. The runes are all made
up of straight lines, making them of course easy to carve, though the reason may
come from a deeper symbolism.

Where do they come from?

The oldest runes that have been reliably researched by conventional
archaeological methods date from more than 2,200 years ago. This is therefore
known as the Elder Futhark, although because it is part of the ethnic culture of
the peoples of Northern Europe, it is sometimes called the Common Germanic
Futhark. There is evidence to suggest that the runes existed in some form long
before then as they embody the values of a whole culture and the roots of that
culture can be traced back further for some considerable time.

More recently the Futhark became modified, and 1500 years ago the 24 runes of
the Elder Futhark became as many as 33 when they arrived in Northumbria. Across
the North Sea their needs were different, and the Viking Futhark instead shrank
to a meager 16 staves.

What can they be used for?

As the runes each represent sounds, not surprisingly they can be used for
writing. And although very many thousands of runic artifacts have been
discovered across Northern Europe, few people nowadays use them much for this,
apart from inscriptions of some special meaning.

More common today are the uses that take advantage of the meanings of the runes.
Each rune has at least one meaning. Most have many linked by a common thread.
These meanings exist because the runes are more than just graphical symbols.
They are also symbols in the same sense that dreams may contain symbols or a
poem may contain symbols. They stand for things, objects and actions, but they
can also stand for the values of the Folk that lived with them. Indeed they can
and do stand for the primal powers of the Cosmos!

The runes can therefore be used to help understand the values and heritage of
Northern Europe as a whole. They can be used in meditation and in healing. They
can be used in magic and in divination. A whole lifetime could be spent in
learning about them and using them, and still there would be more! The most
popular use at present is divination - "Casting the Runes" - although this
represents but a part of their power.

What is a "set" of runes?

A set of runes is a collection of 24 objects upon each of which is inscribed a
single rune. Many beautiful sets exist, and most people who are at all intent on
furthering their studies of the runes sooner or later make a set of their own,
together with a special pouch to put them in. However, many people will begin
with a "bought" set, and there is nothing wrong with this to start with.

Traditionally a set is made of wood, each small stave having a rune carved into
it. The wood should be of an indigenous tree. Fruit bearing trees like apple are
favored, but others, especially oak, ash and yew are common too. These sets will
often be works of art, but it is still possible to make sets from other
materials. Metal and even plastic will do, with the runes painted on. Even a set
of Smarties painted with cochineal has been tried successfully!

Why use a set of runes?

A set of runes is helpful when studying individual runes or for meditation
purposes. It is also helpful for "consultation" when one or more runes can be
picked blind and "at random" from a bag. The runes picked then have some bearing
on the situation or question at hand. This form of divination is quite common
found and relies on the effect that Carl Jung called "synchronicity" and that
the original users of the runes would have called Wyrd.

Those tempted to use runes for fortune-telling may well be disappointed, as
although they can help show developing future patterns, the effect of personal
will needs also to be considered. They can best be used in those situations for
insights, advice or perhaps a fresh view of things.

Can anyone use them?

Some will find it easier than others. There is no doubt that we each have
talents that allow us do effortlessly that which would take someone else a lot
of time and hard work even to come close. Interwoven with the runes is the
heritage of a people. This heritage is built around certain ways of seeing
things. It is built around the ethnic heathen religion of the North, and it is
difficult to use the runes successfully without having an affinity with these

In the same way as it takes someone of European descent far more energy to
approach the wisdom of the I Ching than the natural awareness that a Chinese
has, so it seems a feeling for the runes is "in the blood" of the European. It
is not just a question of the craftsman using the right tool for the job - it is
also the need to find the right tool for the craftsman!
How can the meanings of the runes be discovered?

The Elder Futhark is the one that embodies the most ancient symbolism and is the
one that is studied the most. It will be dealt with here as space allows. It
should be remembered, however, that there would be no virtue in its being an old
system unless it was also an enduring system. What it embodies is as valuable
today as it was 2,000 years ago. Yet like the people of Northern Europe, the
runes are not static. Like the their ethnic religion which still grows with
them, the runes too are organic. Just because we now live in a time of high
technology and consumerism, it does not mean we cannot recall our past or use
tried and trusted techniques to help us.

To start to understand the meanings of the runes, picture yourself in the world
of that people years ago. People are far fewer in number and more widely
scattered, clustering in family or tribal groups. They live as a part of Nature,
understanding its balances, rather than assuming dominion over it. But they are
not primitive. They live well in a land of contrasts, a hospitable and
industrious folk who take pride in their self-reliance. They do not lack courage
or high endeavor. They are fiercely proud of who they are and know that this is
the right of all that lives. They are deep thinking and creative, but when need
arises they can be warriors. Their Gods and Goddesses are those of fruitfulness
and plenty, inspiration and poetry, might and magic, justice and war. We still
remember the names of these Gods in the days of our week!

The mythology of the North credits the God Odin as discoverer of the runes and
the watchman of the Gods Heimdall as teacher of runic knowledge to mankind.
Those who use the runes know they are fortunate, but they take care not be
didactic. For although they share in knowledge given to one people, there will
be other peoples in the world with other Gods steering their progress and they
too may have knowledge of their own! And even within the children of the North,
the idea is not to mold their thoughts but to encourage them to think for
themselves. To become free spirits but to take advantage of what has gone
before. What follows is therefore not "holy writ", but simply food for thought.

What are the meanings of the runes?

These are some ideas about the meanings of the runes, the literal meanings and
just some of the deeper meanings. None of this is meant to be an exhaustive
list. It should instead be used as a starting point for personal research.
The 24 runes of the Elder Futhark are considered in turn in their normal order.
This never changes except for the last two runes which are listed by some users
in reverse order. The ancient name is given first, then the literal meaning and
then other ideas.

The names of the runes are the Common Germanic names. There are some slight
variations of these heard which are mentioned where appropriate.

FEHU means cattle. To the people of the North, cattle meant wealth, but wealth
that must move to be effective, else it become a sore. They thought of true
wealth as being a good reputation. Fehu can also be a rune of beginnings and new

URUZ means aurochs. This was a fierce wild ox - the "yore-ox" - which was
eventually hunted to extinction. It represents raw primal strength.

THURISAZ means a giant, but this rune is more often associated with the God Thor
and his famous Hammer. It is a powerful penetrating force that can be used for
attack or defense, for it represents both the force of will and the thorn that

ANSUZ means a God. This rune is often associated with Allfather Odin and
represents communicating, both with speech and with sensitivity, and potentially
with inspiration. It can also represent the wind, for like Thor, Odin is a God
of the storm.

RAIDHO means a chariot and the act of riding. It can therefore mean travel, but
more subtlety it means being in control. To be in control one needs order, and
while this can mean acts of ritual, on a deeper level it means cosmic order.

KENAZ means fire, perhaps a torch or a pitch-brand. Illumination can also bring
knowledge - to ken something - and knowledge about others is most rewarding when
about one's kin. Fidelity to one's spouse or to one's leader or king.

GEBO means giving. Unasked for gifts were a source of suspicion in olden days
for "a gift demands a gift"! Give and take is an exchange of forces.

WUNJO means joy. It also means wonder and as "wunsch" the act of wishing - not
a vague act but one of willing into being. The Anglo-Saxon name for this -
"wynn" - suggests true winning is not a haphazard act.
HAGALAZ means hail. Hail is a destructive natural force, it is true. But it is
one of Nature's essential checks and balances, clearing away dross and weak
growth. As a result the world is stronger. And after the hail has melted, it
helps sustain that which remains.

NAUTHIZ means need. A time of need is often the spur that ends complacency.
Without a time of need, perhaps we would not appreciate the times of plenty so

ISA means ice. Cold and still, yet indicating the poise that can be achieved in
meditation. Freezing of circumstances means maintaining the status quo, but can
mean stagnation. Defense by freezing the attack by an act of will.

JERA simply means harvest and the idea of growth through the cycle of the year's
seasons. Whether the harvest is good or bad can depend on what you have sown and
how you have tended it!

EEWAZ means a yew tree. Coming after cycles of Jera, it reminds us of the cycle
of life and death. For the yew is intensely poisonous, yet of all North European
trees it lives the longest. It represents endurance and its branches the
diversity of life.

PERTHRO is a dice-cup. Although to some it can mean fatalism and trusting to
random happenings, it is a potentially a positive evolutionary force. If this is
a rune of luck, remember "fortune favors the brave".

ELHAZ means protection and is often associated with Heimdall, watchman of the
Gods. Often known as "Algiz", this rune shows the warding hand, or defensive
horns or spines.

SOWILO means sun. The sun represents success. It brings joy to the people of the
North. Hence the use of another form - Sig - in many a traditional Northern
greeting or farewell, e.g. Sig and Wunjo!

TIWAZ means justice and is associated with the God Tyr. Justice is a state of
balance. Vengeance is an act redressing the balance, and may actually foreshadow
peace, for peace without justice cannot last.

BERKANA means a birch tree and is associated with Ostara, Goddess of the Dawn.
It symbolizes the rebirth found at spring time (Ostara/Easter time) and at dawn
every morning. It is a rune of awakening.

EHWAZ means a horse. It symbolizes trust, such as that required between horse
and rider or two people in close relationship. It is associated with Odin's
eight-legged horse Sleipnir who could ride between worlds.

MANNAZ means mankind. Associated with Heimdall who first brought learning to
the peoples of the North and the Rainbow bridge linking the worlds of Gods and

LAUGUZ means water. Water cleanses and refreshes. It contains the teeming flow
of life. It reflects the sky and the wind above it.

INGWAZ (or Inguz) is associated with the God Ing or Yngvi-Frey. It is an
"earthy" rune representing fertility and the life contained in the seed.

DAGAZ means day and the point of balance in the day-night cycle.

ODILA means inheritance. Odal land stayed in the family and was tilled for the
benefit of that family.

How can these meanings be interpreted?

The meanings of the runes cannot always be approached too logically. Intuition
is usually required to find the right interpretation. The meanings above are
only a fraction of the lore discovered on runes, so answers may not be
immediately obvious. Using the runes for divination or consulting about a
problem requires you to mentally phrase your questions first. The more precise
the question, the more precise the answer.

Let your intuition tell you how many runes to take. Be aware of how the images
of runes interact and modify each other. For example, Nauthiz and Ansuz might
indicate a need for greater sensitivity or communication; Kenaz and Lauguz might
potentially indicate a clash of opposites. Yet in different circumstances the
same runes might show lack of inspiration in one case and great empathy in the

If you are unsure, check your insight with a further rune. Many are
superficially positive or negative - this is a simple confirmation or rejection,
yes or no. An ambiguous answer might indicate you are on the wrong track - you
are getting the right answer but to the wrong question!

Bear in mind, however, that sometimes a precise answer is exactly what is not
required. The runes can free you from such black and white reflexes by giving
you things to think about. Therefore, if you don't understand the runes you have
drawn, never put them back and try again! Try instead to meditate on them,
perhaps over many hours, and gradually the meaning will seep through - perhaps
in a trickle, perhaps in a flash.

It is not possible in a short publication like this to give anything except the
bare beginnings of an education in runes. The important thing will be to try
them and to find out how you react to them. Be patient with yourself. Remember,
the runes are not on trial. They have been of the greatest value to the folk of
Northern Europe for a very long time and are in ever-growing use today. But
neither are you on trial. They are symbols of great power and mastery will not
come overnight.

How can I find out more?

There are now very many books dealing with runes, the people that lived with
them as a way of life and their religion and mythology. But all books have not
been created equal and many cannot be recommended. A personal teacher is always
an advantage but the same problem arises. How then to proceed?

It is useful to know what to avoid. Avoid all books that insist that runes are a
universal answer for everyone - this plainly is not the case as is discussed
above. Avoid books that somehow try to harmonize the runes with other systems
such as tarot, numerology, astrology etc. - the runes are a self-consistent
system and such exercises are doomed to failure (even if they are sincere) and
at best merely pad out the pages. Avoid the professional authors for their
interests may not be your own - they have contracts to fulfill, tending to cover
in breadth rather than in depth, and will not have the single-mindedness
necessary to do the subject justice. Avoid the seekers of self- aggrandizement
who suggest you should enroll in this or that organization (of which they are,
of course, the grand leader). Avoid all books that do not see the runes in
context of the North European heritage - its people, its values and its

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