Introduction to the Runes
Runes originate in the Viking period, in the time of Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology, a time
when longboats sailed from the fjords of Scandinavia on military missions. It is part of Viking legend
that Odin’s horse, Sleipnir, had runic symbols engraved upon its teeth. Maybe for this reason, the 19th
rune is called Ehwaz, the horse.
Fortunately runes and runic symbols did not die with the Vikings. Thanks to television and film, many
people who would otherwise know nothing of the Vikings are aware of them, their gods and their
lifestyle, but relatively few also know that the lore of the Vikings continues well into our modern-day
lives through the use of the runes.
Every rune symbolises not only an alphabetical letter, but a deeper meaning, an energy. It is our aim
to show the relevance of the wisdom of the runes even in this day and age in our everyday lives as we
progress through this book. At the end of the day, wisdom is ageless and its source never dries up.
What Is The Futhark?
Runes are often called the Futhark, Futhorc or Elder Futhark after the first six letters of the runic
alphabet in traditional order. The runic alphabet has undergone various changes over the years, and
runic characters are not only the alphabet of their time but also have their own meanings. They are not
mere letters with sounds, and in many ways are similar in character to ancient Egyptian or Hebrew.
Those who are interested in language foundation may already know that runic was originally the
language of the northern Germanic races, and that there are remarkable similarities between runic and
other early languages, such as early Celtic. Stemming from an unwritten language, the runic symbols
were often regarded as magical.
All the characters of the runic alphabet are in straight lines, as with the Ogham alphabet, of which we
will learn a little more at a later stage. This is probably because it made them easier to carve on stone.
As we progress with our studies of the runes, we will link the runic symbol with its modern English
What Are Runes?
Runes are both strangely marked standing stones found in Scandinavia (more correctly known as
runestones rather than runes) and also smaller stones or wooden pieces used as a tool towards self-knowledge
and self-help. There are some fine examples of runestones in Stockholm Museum.
Many runic carvings can still be found throughout Europe, but unfortunately some of the original
carvings, many made in wood, have now perished, and only the stone carvings remain.
Until relatively recently, runes were seldom heard of and seldom used outside Scandinavia. Readers
of Tolkien may have heard of runes, but few people understood their significance. However, their
very accessible symbolism began to attract more attention towards the end of the 1960s, and today
many people around the world are using them.
Unfortunately the traditional meanings of the runes and their uses have been lost in time, and modern
interpretations have had to be formulated. However, as with the Tarot, the runes lend themselves to
the use of intuition, and most modern runemasters rely heavily on this faculty.
The Meaning of Runes
The word rune (sometimes also seen as run, runa or runar) actually means ‘secret’, ‘whisper’ or
‘mystery’, and it is therefore probably no surprise that the original meanings were never written down,
just as the Kabbala in Hebrew/Chaldean times was never written down, but passed on by word of
The fact, however, that the runic symbols were at least carved in rocks meant that they survived, both
as a means of communication and as a means of self-enquiry, or as the Vikings thought, a means of
getting in touch with the gods.
Thinking In Terms Of Symbolism
Runes have links with many other forms, and are very much in tune with I Ching (the Chinese Book
of Changes). It is fair to say that in a sense they were the I Ching of the Viking race. Just as I Ching is
concerned with polarities, so are runes, but whereas in I Ching the polarities are termed yin and yang,
in runic lore they are fire and ice – images easily understood by the Vikings.
As with Tarot symbolism, which does not end with the picture, runic symbolism does not stop with
the outline of the character. The hope is that the drawing or casting of the runes will produce
information enabling us to access our own unconscious, thus expanding our awareness and shedding
light on our options.
Runes can help with what modern-day psychologists call ‘the learning process’. They carry inner
meanings which go far beyond their initial appearance and shape. They will give honest answers, but
sometimes these answers may not be what we want or expect.
The trick is, at such times, to learn from that answer and to broaden our horizons and experiences.
Maybe our destiny lies in a different direction to that which we would wish.
Symbolism can suggest many meanings; the aim in using the runes is to allow the symbolism to
permeate the very heart of our being and contact the essence of man.
Runes can help to form a bridge between our logical thinking mind, and that part of ourselves which
few understand, but so many wish to find.
Whatever you seek an answer on, you can consult the runes for their wisdom. The question need not
have great worldly significance, and may even be fairly trivial – though never frivolous. The main
emphasis should be on the need for an answer. Whilst purists would say that one should not ask the
runes questions pertaining to the future (such as whether something is likely to turn out well or not),
questions can range from ‘Should I think of moving house now?’ to something more profound that
involves spiritual or emotional needs.
The only time you are unlikely to get a straightforward answer is if the blank rune appears, in which
case the situation is likely to be in a state of flux, or it is too early to judge the issue effectively. We
will look at the blank rune later.