Norse Runes

An Eclectic Perspective of Rune Divination for Novice Readers

Maisry McSeames

Divining from the Runes is a complex endeavor, equally as complex as reading Tarot, but harder as there are fewer clues in a Rune stave. They possess their individual meanings which are layered, steeped in prehistoric mythological importance, and somewhat obscure to our modern interpretation.

Before teaching oneself to read what is cast, it’s best to become familiar with, and assign at least simplistic basic meanings to each stave. We won’t go into those individual meanings here, as they are readily available in books and on the internet. Rather, this article will deal with the positional interpretation of casting Runes.

As with most other divination methods, position, relationships of the stones, and the question, are as important to a reading as the stones or sticks themselves. Each reader establishes those positional meanings in developing his or her own techniques.

The key is to determine what position and relationship will mean what, and then consistently maintain that determination. We can only approximately agree upon meanings for anything, as each person’s experiences color how they interpret a thing.

To start, there are rituals, chants, magickal rites, or prayers that most readers choose to perform prior to the use of their stones. Each develops his or her own spiritually satisfying rites that may resemble those of others, but here again, they are colored by the individuals experiences.

They need to work for that individual. The words of a chant or invocation are unimportant as compared to the concentration, intent, and belief behind them. There are those who treat the stones as if they are imbued by some power in their own right, as is traditionally said of Runes. There are others who believe the power is in the self, and the stones, only mirrors of that which the reader possesses within.

Either way, they’re treated as “omen-like” in nature. When a certain sign falls before the reader, it’s said to fall as an omen. Where it falls matters to the omen, whether in the order a stone is drawn from a cup or bag, or dropped upon a cloth. Most readers will use two or three different techniques depending on the purpose and depth of the reading they desire, or the complexity of the question.

Though some teachers will insist there is a set pattern, method, and technique to reading Runes, most will agree we can draw meaning from the stones in our own ways with equal efficacy. Again, the key is consistency within the individual reader.

Beginning with a method that is open to strengthening, deepening, and expanding, a novice reader affords him or herself flexibility. It’s wise to start small, with only three stones, drawing them from bag or cup, and considering what words one will associate with their order of being drawn. Some examples of “positional identity” taken from the writings of many teachers are as follows:

Three Rune Spread - Photo by Author

First Rune: “Past”...”Things as the are”...”Most inner core of self”...”Core of the matter”...”Present”...”Current self”...“Current situation”...combinations of these, or whatever the reader wants to assign to that drawing order.

Second Rune: “Having effect upon, or being effected by the stone in the first position”... “Challenges”... “Obstacles”... “Things coming into play”... “Warnings”... “Surprises”... “Things to consider that might change the progression of the matter indicated in the first Rune”... combinations of these or whatever the reader wants to assign to that drawing order.

Third Rune: “Best possible outcome”... “Outcome”... “Yes, go for it, or no, don’t go there”... “Future”... combinations of these or whatever the reader wants to assign to that drawing order.

It can’t be stressed enough that the reader needs to assign what meaning a position has, that the meaning should be something the reader can wrap his or her mind around, and that it be flexible enough to expand as the reader develops skill.

It does need to be in terms that are simple enough for the reader to maintain as the stones individual meaning is interpreted. Keeping track of positional meaning while delving into the layers of import the Rune omens can be difficult if the reader has over complicated.

The novice reader can set up a couple of different techniques with just reading three stones, by determining how to read the position based upon the type of question asked.

If the question deals with a choice of actions the querent is considering, the positions would be having to do more with whether it’s a wise choice or not.

If the question were more geared toward something the querent is worried about in their lives, the positions might be associated with parts of the person and their circumstances, i.e. “inner self- now”, “obstacles, challenges”, “where the querent’s heading”, or “what the querent needs to do.”

Keeping a journal to establish these early techniques is helpful. Another choice is to make a chart or map one can refer to, until the positional meanings are established well enough to maintain consistency. Some readers can assign a single word or phrase to a position and forever more be satisfied with that.

Those words or phrases are usually referred to as “Keys.” Some tangle their meanings up for awhile, and may despair. That’s when some written device for reference becomes helpful. If the thing gets too complex to be managed, the best choice is to simplify.

When three-Rune readings are easy enough to manage, the reader may choose to try drawing nine stones, and assigning meanings to each in their order. Most create groups of three and assign the groups a general meaning based upon those earlier individual position interpretations. The Runes in the groups are then considered factors within those general meanings. An example would be:

Nine Rune Spread - Photo by AuthorFirst Group of Three laid out as “Present” “Challenge” “Outcome”

Next Group of Three laid beneath the first row, equal “internal, or inner self, influences on the Rune group they are in (under.)

Last group of Three laid beneath the second row, equal “external, or other people’s influences on the Rune category they’re in.

Another example would be:

Nine Rune Triangle Spread - Photo by AuthorArrange triangles by dealing the stones out like cards into three categories. Read each triangle as a sort of idea. (In our minds, ideas tend to have related elements, but not necessarily linear progressions. They’re later put into those linear progressions when we express them.)

The next level of technique might be to “cast” the stones, or literally drop them on a surface. Many sets are made of materials that might break upon falling on a surface or each other. This should be taken into account when choosing method and surfaces to cast on. There can be a few runes chosen by drawing them blind, and then dropped, or all of the stones in the set can be dropped. The more Runes, the more tedious and complicated the reading is to perform.

Drop Rune Spread - Photo by AuthorRunes can be tossed onto a blank surface and read according to their relationships of position. Generally, with this method, lines, groups, and crossed lines are looked for. Many readers when encountering a line, will read it from their own position out or away, and consider it a progression, or a “journey”. When a line feeds into the primary line from the position of the reader it’s considered “adding” to or influencing the progress.

When it branches out away from the reader, it’s considered to be describing something else that the progress affects.

Crossing lines are usually considered obstacles or challenges. Groups are read in the fashion that those triangles above are read.

Drop Rune Spread - Photo by AuthorSome believe that stones overlaying other stones, are omens of blockage for the Rune they lay atop. Some read every stave that falls, first the face up ones, as obvious signs, while the face-down ones are hidden aspects.

Others consider the face-down ones as unreadable elements that will have effect on the over all reading, or unknowns, and they will leave them unread except for the number and positions of them.

Unknown Runes - Photo by AuthorIf there are a lot of face down staves, it would mean the querent is going into the situation uniformed or blind. It can also mean that there are deceptions going on.

It’s normal to have some things in any situation be unknown.

Complex Spread - Photo by AuthorThe complexity to which a reader is willing to go is the only limitation as to how many staves are read, or what positional meaning is derived from them. 

Some readers use target like drawings to cast on. They can be drawn on paper, fabric, wood, or even in the dirt as was an ancient tradition. Different meanings can be assigned to each ring, or quadrant. This adds a whole new level to the complexity of the reading, as there are more positional factors to consider.

Cloth Rune Target - Photo by Author

Wood Rune Target - Photo by Author

Starting out, it’s best to build technique slowly, upon a simple, sturdy foundation, adding levels or layers of interpretation only when the foundation has been well established.

The most common mistake that aspiring novices make is biting off too much at one time, which makes the task seem hopeless. Then they despair, and the bag of Runes, so precious at first, becomes another dusty failure on a shelf somewhere.

This isn’t good for one’s mind and spirit. Allowing for one’s tendencies, abilities, creativity, and tenaciousness is wise. If the novice knows him or herself to be a project starter, but not a finisher, it’s best to keep things simple and stick with what comes easily, making a success out of the endeavor. There will be other times, no doubt, to expand on that start.

Even for those who do pursue the full course, time and patience are needful. We grow in wisdom, and our techniques grow to fit. If we’ve gone off full tilt at the reading of Runes, building in too much structure or constriction to our meanings, they’ll lose their flexibility to meet the growing wisdom.

Runes are intricately layered, never fully giving up their whole being to anyone. They are limited to the mind that grasps for them.

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