The word “Rune” translates to ‘mystery’ or ‘secret’. Initially the Runes were sounds rather than letters – an oral language that was not written.
In the Viking Age, people believed that the God Odin, All-Father, sacrificed himself by hanging from the Yggdrasil tree for nine days and nine nights, pierced with his own spear, in order to gain the wisdom of the Runes. He hung above the Well of Urd, a pool whose depths held the most powerful forces and beings in the cosmos, including the three Norns. These powerful maidens influenced the course of destiny more than any other. They carved the Runes into the trunk of Yggdrasil, creating a magical tree which carried the Runes’ intentions into the nine worlds, thus affecting everything.
During the Viking Age, consulting the Runes (or casting lots) was a highly respected craft used for gaining insight and guidance as well as for creating spells for love, crops and harvests, healing, battle and all aspects of life. The Runes were usually cast by the wise women – the Seeress (Seiðkona or Völva), honoured members of the community who played an important role in their spirituality. A woman who carried the staff of a Völva was able to live and travel alone and was always welcomed into a home.
There are many forms of Runes however the three that are most known are the Elder Futhark (150-800 AD) – consisting of 24 Runes, the Anglo Saxon Futhorc (400-1100 AD) – consisting of 33 Runes and the Younger Futhark (800-1100 AD) – consisting of 16 Runes.
Today we have no written evidence about how the Runes were cast. There are some references made to them in the Sagas but there are many different opinions and interpretations. With this in mind, I don’t think that anyone can truly say, “This is the way they should be used”.
Meanings for each Rune also vary from book to book. While there are general meanings for each, I believe that the magic of the Runes can often be likened to shapeshifting – adapting to the ‘story’ as it is told. I have found that a particular Rune can give one meaning in one reading and something else in another. This is where the Seer ‘sees’ beyond the written symbol and ‘listens’ to what the Runes have to say. They never cease to amaze me.