Tossing runes is a variation of Sortilege- a method of divination in which symbolic tokens are tossed and the interpretation is based on the position and relationship between the fallen tokens. “Tossing the bones” uses assorted items, each of which Many people who quite successfully read runes these days use rune tiles, or pieces of tumbled stone with runes painted or carved into them, or marked discs that are slices from trees or antler or bone. They have in common that they are flat, and marked on one side. While these work, I prefer my long “tines” because they can fall into and form runes, and I feel these tools and this technique give a nuanced reading that I really like. I know that not only can people read almost anything (or nothing) and get good information, so I don’t want to infer that this is a better system than what you may learn elsewhere, but it’s a really good one, and has advantages that make it worth learning.
I have a very strong preference for runes to be made of organic, renewable materials: woods, antler, walrus or mammoth ivory, horn, even leather. There are spirits in crystals, and they are what they are. I don’t think we are going to change the basic energy of a crystal through intent. We are too transient for the crystal people. While humans can put symbols on anything they’ve worked, from ceramic to metal to glass, (or stones) and do divination using those marks, I feel that the organic materials are more willing to accept the energies we put into them, and work with us more cooperatively. Your milage may vary.
When one discusses runes references to Tacitus’ remarks on divination in Germany:
“Auguries and Method of Divination. Augury and divination by lot no people practice more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes toward heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them.” from Medieval Sourcebook: Tacitus: Germania.
This is generally taken to refer to the casting of runes, although runes are not specified, only “certain marks”. Indeed, Mees and MacLeod, in Runic Amulets and Magic Objects say that the Futharc was not developed until the third century of the common era, whereas Tacitus was writing in the first. This rather makes it impossible for him to have been referring to runes, although they may have been using “Pre-runic symbols”, many of which are known through Scandinavian lithographs, and were incorporated into the futharc when it was developed. As you are making your own set of runes, it may also be of use to note that the Latin term he used could mean either a fruit bearing tree or a nut bearing tree (basically, a cultivated tree), so probably the important choice is whether this is a tree that is friendly to humans, and specifically to you. The nice thing about cultivated trees for rune tine making is that in order to be productive, they must be pruned, so naturally produce a suitable collection of “bits of wood” you can then mark to make your rune tines.
This image is of an amulet (available from Maya Heath’s Dragonscale Jewelry) which shows how sticks when crossing each other will form runes. This particular formation, referred to as Glorytwigs (Wuldortanas) contains the entire futharc. This artistic representation wouldn’t be possible with a set that didn’t have the three extra long pieces, but makes a great amulet. Sort of the runic version of “Alpha and Omega”. But you’re not going to get those formations with lumps, disks sliced from a branch (although I’ll admit it’s easier to carve or woodburn the runes onto a flat surface), or even this style of tine where they’ve cut a flat spot into the twig to create a surface on which they can inscribe clearly. These might fall into runes, but you wouldn’t get the ones where one line crosses another, and I like that.
There are two main ways you could get the wood for your tines- one is to simply select and trim 24 (or 16 or 33 depending on which futharc you are using) pieces from the pruned twigs. The twigs should be as straight as you can get them, so that they will be comfortable in your hands and make a compact bundle, and about as long as makes you comfortable. In diameter, aim for the thinnest that won’t easily break when you handle them- pencil size or so. You should be able to easily hold the full bundle in two hands, so they shouldn’t be shorter than a span (the width of one hand). For length, I think a “long span” (the distance between the tip of your thumb and the tip of your little finger) would be a good length, and making it relative you your own body will help tie your set to you.
I prefer to take a larger piece of wood- a small branch, perhaps the diameter of your wrist, and then split this into the required number of pieces. I use a froe or big “Rambo knife” helped through with a mallet or other piece of wood. (this picture shows the technique being used on firewood- rune tines would be about half as long as what this guy’s splitting. If you put a board under it, you can probably safely split your set sitting at the table.
Peel off the bark or not as you choose. This, as well as what kind of finish you want, is entirely up to you. Peel or don’t peel. Paint or don’t paint. (However, carving the runes through bark tends to start the bark peeling. How will you feel if they are partially barked and partially bare?) If you peel you may wish to stain the wood, or leave it white. Whether split or trimmed twigs, I finish with sandpaper in order to prevent splinters. A splinter can really break the mood of a reading!
Mark the runes on them by carving, wood burning, or painting them on. Put the runes on both sides of (flat) pieces, and both ends, so that no matter which side is up, or if there’s another stick on top of part of the tine, you’ll still be able to tell which rune tine is which without having to move them from where they fall. If they’re round (twigs), they’ll be able to roll, so write/paint the rune in several places, along the twig for the same reason.
Because you cast one aett at a time, it’s faster to sort them into aetts easily if you mark them with different colors. By the time you do readings, you’ll be able put the runes in order fairly easily, but when you’re in the middle of reading for someone else, a simple sort by color makes it easier to keep talking to the client while you sort. Arwen paints Fehu’s aett blue, Hagal’s aett green, and Tyr’s aett white (I think), with the runes painted on in contrasting paint. When I hand out Popsicle stick practice sets, I use different colored markers to put the runes on them. I keep thinking it would be fun to use colored stains on debarked tines, but haven’t gotten around to it.
Some people suggest that you write the runes on in red. This is because traditionally when using runes for magic, the practitioner would carve runes into wood, ivory, bone or whatever, then put some of his own blood into the carved runes to activate the spell. Doing divination does not require this. Frankly, and especially if you are going to be letting clients handle your rune sticks, you should probably avoid putting bodily fluids on the tines. Some clients will be grossed out, some made nervous about blood born pathogens, and it’s totally unnecessary. Save the blood for any time you are using the runes for magic. If you want them to have the energy of the “traditional” red, use dragon’s blood ink, or any red medium. But I have found nothing indicating that they “blooded” rune tines for divination.
Keep the tines in a bag, box, or wrapped in a cloth- if you like to toss them on a white surface such as Tacitus mentioned. You can also use the cloth to divide the field for reading, (but that would be over in reading runes.)