How to Read Runes

This is my website, so I get to indulge in my opinions.

In my opinion, Runes are not Tarot Cards. That said, I do accept that any system of divination that works – works. You can make up systems from scratch. You can incorporate bits of different systems together, and they will work. There is an amazing story (sorry, I don’t remember the source) about a cliff face in Scandinavia where it looks like there’s a long strip of runes cut into the rock, and when I say long, I mean a half mile. Someone copied them and translated them from Old Norse which resulted in a lovely poem in an ancient style. Except that later, it turned out that the “runes” were just the natural, random fragmentation of the rock. I’d say this is sort of a “if a hundred monkeys bank on a hundred typewriters for enough years…” situation. Something in the soul of the transcriber saw poetry in the marks, and the poem was there, even though no one wrote it, and no one else had seen it. Divination sometimes works like that. A rock that has an

pierced stone with natural othala in it

pierced stone with natural othala in it

as opposed to a stone with a Hagal painted on

inclusion shaped like a Hagal that you trip over has been there for millions of years, maybe dozens of people have even tripped over it. But if YOU see it, and see the hagel, and it feels like that’s a message for you that day, there probably is. You might not trip on it tomorrow, or might not see the hagal even if you do on another day. That’s how omens work. The runes are just the symbol set- the vocabulary your subconscious is using to talk to your exterior consciousness.  Another person might see kanji or an astrological symbol. We see what we need to see.


Even so, I don’t like reading runes as if they were tarot cards. I think this “Myrkrune”  (reading any rune that’s “upside down” as the darker, or more negative aspects of the symbolism) as being borrowed straight from Tarot cards, and inappropriately. I love the 73656-Rune-stone-0Tarot. I think reading reversals is a great way for a more nuanced reading (and should do a page on that- feel free to remind me), but that’s tarot. The lesser arcana are symbols using numbers and elemental qualities, and the major arcana draw on assorted archetypal symbolism from Western Ceremonial Magic which has evolved over the past few centuries. But Runes just don’t have reversals. They were written backwards, frontwards, upside down, and around the freaking dragon! It’s historically inappropriate, and besides which, there are other ways to get a nuanced reading!

I learned to read runes from Arwen ferch Rhys in the SCA Soothsayer’s Guild, and her technique uses Rune sticks. There are two ways of making rune sticks- one is to take a branch (I used pieces from our orchard about the size of my wrist) and split them with a froe or a Rambo knife tapped through with a mallet. The other is to use twigs. Either way the runes are marked on each stick or “tine”. You can also make a starter set with simple popcycle sticks or coffee stirrers.

How to do a Reading

A full rune reading can take a half to a whole hour, but does give a lot of detail.

First sort your runes into the three aetts (or families). Take each of these  in turn, and you can use a tine that you aren’t reading at the moment as a pointer, so you won’t accidentally disarrange the fallen tines. You will first read the Frey’s aett: the celestial influences, then you read Hagal’s aett: the influences in the natural world, then Tyr’s aett: the Human influences. Finally you read all of them together to get an overview of the combined influences.

For each, start by holding the bundle of rune-tines in your two hands, think about your question, (or your client can do this) then let the sticks fall. If you give a little upwards jerk as you open your hands, it will help them scatter better. In most cases, the tines will fall haphazardly and you will be able to spot runes in them. To practice this you can take your sticks and simply lay then out into runes: F, U, Thorn, A, R, K… etc. They aren’t going to be perfect as if written, but you will begin to see them. Another practice technique (which can lead to reading omens) is to look for runes occurring naturally in tree branches, or roots, or other things in the world around you. Toss your sticks and look for runes in how they fall.

These will be the major influences in the reading for that aett. Then you look at the runes you’ve carved or marked on the tines. These are the influences that make up the larger meaning. Thus if you have a Rad that’s made up from a Tyr, a Dag, an Othal and a Beorc, this will probably have something to do with movement or travel, and the Tyr indicates a judgement or fairness issue, the Dag indicates matters are at a tipping point, the Othal would suggest that it has to do with the home, and Beorc is loving or nurturing. I would interpret this that the person is at the point of deciding whether to move, and is probably concerned with whether this decision will be fair to his loved ones. Do you see how they work together?

While each rune will be only made up of runes from one aett, they can fall into a rune from any of the other aetts, which allows the other influences to be expressed, even within the closer focus of whether you are looking at the influence of the gods, nature or people.

This will take some practice, but I think you’ll find that you start getting accurate readings almost immediately. Feel free to invite the client to look for runes (or letters, if he doesn’t know the runes) or symbols while you look. Those that jump out to him or her are the ones about which he most needs to hear the messages. If you “see” an image, mention it, and trust it. In a reading I once did the tines once fell into a very clear house- and it turned out they were in the middle of selling their house, which I didn’t know.

On the other hand occasionally they all seem to fall in a parallel pile. When that happens I usually pick them up and try again, concentrating harder. But if they don’t fall into runes or symbols, this is when you look and see if any are farther away from each other, if any (and which) are touching. If you know what direction they are pointing in, and that means something to you, you can interpret the runes using those. Your inner voice will tell you when the reading needs to be done differently than usual, or whether it’s just one of those times when the universe is not talking to you. In the Blum Rune Tiles, the blank rune indicates the end of the reading. (Occasionally it is a signal to the reader that the question the client is asking is none of his or her business.) It’s the sign of secrecy. As lovely as it is to be a soothsayer and have ways of finding out things that normal sources won’t tell us,  sometimes we just need to accept that we aren’t getting a reading. At least not today. Not with these runes. (Perhaps it IS time to go to the tarot cards!)

Feel free to

with any questions, and to point out things I should have covered in this explanation.


1 thought on “How to Read Runes

  1. Pingback: New school year, and thoughts on class handouts, and passing on germs | Tchipakkan

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