Common Questions

What Are Runes and How Are They Used?

  • Avatar photo
  • By Cindy Simpson
  • Published: 08/07/20 1:55 AM EDT
  • Updated: 08/07/20 1:55 AM EDT

What are Runes? and How are they used?

Runes are the letters in a collection of runic alphabets that were utilized in several Germanic languages before the emergence of the Latin alphabet. There are several variants of runic alphabets, including Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon runes, Marcomannic runes, Younger Futhark, Medieval runes, and Dalecarlian runes. Along with being a writing system, some evidence leads scientists and esoteric people to believe that runes were also used as magical elements. For instance, some medieval sources mention that “victory runes” were carved on swords and “wave runes” were engraved for protection purposes.

In the early 20th century, a whole new form of runic magic was formed by Germanic Mysticism practitioners. The types of runic magic that continued to develop were based on Germanic Neopaganism, the I-Ching, Occultism, and Hermeticism.

If you want to learn more about runes, keep reading! The article will discuss the definition and origin of runes, different types of runic alphabets, and the purpose of a runestone. Finally, additional information about magical and divinatory uses of runes will be provided.


The Definition and Origin of Runes

Originally, runes were letters in several runic alphabets used in Germanic languages. These letters were used for writing before the appearance of the Latin alphabet. Although there is no significant evidence of the origin of runic alphabets, it is assumed that the alphabet originated in northern Europe, Scandinavia, Iceland, and Britain from the 3rd to the 17th century AD.

It is believed that Old Italic scripts gave rise to the runic alphabet. The exact branch of the Old Italic scripts that promoted the emergence of the runic alphabet is unknown. Still, professionals suggest that it might be one of the following: Old Latin, Venetic, Etruscan, or Raetic. The fact is that letters in these four scripts had angular shapes similar to those found in runic alphabets. That is why the theories mention the possible derivation of the runic alphabet from one of the branches of the Old Italic scripts.


What Are Different Types of Runic Alphabets?

Although the origin of the runic alphabet is uncertain, it has been proved that Germanic peoples used the ancient writing system. There are several main varieties of runic alphabets, including Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon runes, Marcomannic runes, Younger Futhark, Medieval runes, and Dalecarlian runes.

  • Elder Futhark – 2nd – 8th Centuries AD

Elder Futhark is the oldest version of the runic alphabet that is known today. Dating back to the 2nd century AD, Elder Futhark comprises 24 runes that can be arranged in three sets of eight. Each rune in the alphabet has its unique Proto-Germanic name and meaning. The following is the list of 24 runes from the Elder Futhark alphabet.

– /fehu/ – “Wealth” or “Cattle”

– /Ūruz/ – “Aurochs” or “Storm”

– /Þurisaz/ – “Giant”

– /ansuz/ – “God”

– / raiðō/ – “Ride”

– /kauna/ – “Torch” or “Blister”

– /gebō/ – “Gift”

– /wunjō/ – “Joy”

– /hagalaz/ – “Hail”

– /naudiz/ – “Need”

– /Īsaz/ – “Ice”

– /jēra/ – “Year” or “Harvest”

– /perðō/ – “Pear-Tree” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /ēhaz/ – “Yew-Tree” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /algiz/ – “Elk” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /sowilō/ – “Sun”

– /tîwaz/ – “The God Tiwaz”

– /berkanan/ – “Birch-Tree”

– /ehwaz/ – “Horse”

– /mannaz/ – “Man”

– /laguz/ – “Lake” or “Leek”

– /ingwaz/ – “The God Ingwaz”

– /dagaz/ – “Day”

– /Ōþala/ – “Inherited”

In about 700 AD, Elder Futhark was replaced with a 16-rune alphabet, called Younger Futhark.

  • Anglo-Saxon Runes – 5th – 11th Centuries AD

Anglo-Saxon runes were probably used from the 5th century to the 11th century AD. Initially, the alphabet consisted of 29 runes, and later, another 4 runes were added. The collection of Anglo-Saxon alphabet runes is known as the “futhorc,” which was derived from the 24-rune Elder Futhark. This set of runes is often called “Anglo-Frisian runes” since the runes are believed to have been used in Frisia before Anglo-Saxon settlements adopted the alphabet.

The following is the list of runes from the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

– /feoh/ – “Wealth” or “Cattle”

– /ūr/ – “Aurochs”

– /þorn/ – “Thorn”

– /ōs/ – “God” or “Mouth”

– /rād/ – “Ride”

– /cēn/ – “Torch”

– /gyfu/ – “Gift”

– /ƿynn/ – “Mirth”

– /hægl/ – “Hail”

– /nȳd/ – “Need”

– /īs/ – “Ice”

– /gēr/ – “Year” or “Harvest”

– /ēoh/ – “Yew-Tree” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /peorð/ – “Pear-Tree” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /eolhx/ – “Elk” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /sigel/ – “Sun” or “Sail”

– /tîwaz/ – “The God Tiwaz”

– /beorc/ – “Birch-Tree”

– /eh/ – “Steed”

– /mann/ – “Man”

– /lagu/ – “Lake”

– /ing/ – “The God Ingwaz”

– /ēðel/ – “Ethel”

– /dæg/ – “Day”

– /āc/ – “Oak-Tree”

– /æsc/ – “Ash-Tree”

– /ȳr/ – (The meaning is uncertain)

– /īor/ – “Beaver” or “Eel” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

– /ēar/ – “Grave Soil” (The Proto-Germanic name and the meaning are uncertain)

As you can see, some of the runes from Anglo-Saxon alphabet are similar to those found in Elder Futhark. Although, the Proto-Germanic names of the runes are slightly differing.


  • Marcomannic Runes – 8th – 9th Centuries AD

Marcomannic runes were probably adopted in the 8th century by mixing the runes from the Elder Futhark and Anglo-Saxon futhorc alphabets. The runes were supposedly used around Bavaria until the 9th century.

  • Younger Futhark – 9th – 11th Centuries AD

The Younger Futhark alphabet was adopted in the late 8th or late 9th. The Younger Futhark runic alphabet consists of 16 characters resulting from the reduction of the runes in the Elder Futhark alphabet.

There are two versions of the Younger Futhark alphabet: the Norwegian-Swedish runes. The Danish runes are also known as the “Long Branch runes,” and they were used for documentation on various stones and rocks. On the other hand, the Norwegian-Swedish runes are commonly referred to as the “Short-Twig runes,” which were designated for daily use and documentation on wood.

  • Medieval Runes – 12th – 15th Centuries AD

Scandinavians extended the Younger Futhark and used the runic alphabet with 27 letters. Although the Latin alphabet was adopted in the late 11th century, medieval runes were still used along with Latin letters until the 15th century. It is believed that medieval runes promoted the formation of “Runology” in the late 16th century. The study was initiated by Johannes Bureus and continued by Olof Rudbeck Sr, Anders Celsius, and Jon Olafsson of Grunnavik.

  • Dalecarlian Runes – 16th – 19th Centuries AD

In the 16th century AD, the mixture of already existing runes and Latin letters appeared in Sweden. There is no evidence of whether the use of Dalecarlian runes was a part of the tradition, or people just learned the alphabet through various books.


What Is a Runestone?

A runestone is a stone with a runic engraving, which was used for marking territories and telling important stories. In some regions, runestones were also used to differentiate social and economic classes. Although the tradition of engraving stones with runic symbols takes its origins in the 4th century, the majority of known runestones date back to the late Viking Age. A typical runestone consisted of two sides with inscribed images and another side with an animal engraving.

In the case of religious countries and regions, crosses and Christian prayers were inscribed on the stones. Some theories suggest that the presence of spiritual elements was not always rooted in religious motifs. Rather, social fashion and the tendency to emulate neighboring societies led to the runestones with religious engravings.


Magical and Divinatory Uses of Runes

The use of runic alphabets continues even after the Viking revival of the 18th century. Some of the modern applications of runic systems include Romantic Nationalism in Scandinavian countries (19th century), Germanic Occultism (19th century), and Germanic Neopaganism (20th century). Historical evidence proves the fact that runes were not only used as a writing system but also linked with various magical practices.

Several symbols from the runic alphabet have been associated with divination, omen reading, and magic. This can be proven by historical evidence that will be discussed below.

  • Runes in Divination and Omen Reading

Historically, Germanic societies used runes for divinatory purposes and omen reading. They made strips from a nut-bearing tree and marked them with different letters from the runic alphabet. After picking three pieces marked with runes, they would use omen reading techniques to associate the symbols with even the smallest events and interpret them accordingly.

  • Runes and Magical Practices

Proto-Germanic names of several runes, including Ansuz and Tiwaz, suggest that the runes probably have had magical significance. The meanings of both runes are associated with gods, meaning that they might have been used as magical inscriptions. This can be proven by runestones and accessories with runic engravements.

According to medieval sources, some of the runes were also used in magical practices for the enhancement of different abilities. Some of the magical rune examples include:

  • Victory runes engraved on swords
  • Birth runes used to facilitate birth
  • Branch runes inscribed on trees for healing purposes
  • Thought runes used to advance the level of intelligence
  • Speech runes used to enhance rhetorical abilities
  • Wave runes used to protect ships
  • Ale runes used to protect an individual from bewitchment
  • The Modern Art of Reading Runes

Evidently, runes were used as divinatory and magical tools in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nowadays, lots of psychics use runes engraved on different gemstones to provide psychic readings and even foresee future occurrences. The divination techniques that are used today are rooted in the process of runic divination developed by Ralph Blum in the late 20th century.

Similarly to any type of psychic reading, rune reading can also be performed in many different ways. It all depends on the context of the question you are willing to divine.

Below are some of the essential steps you should follow for a successful rune reading.

  • Step 1 – Prepare your mind and soul for the reading

Before even tossing the runes and interpreting the meanings, you should prepare yourself for the reading. What this means is that you should take a deep breath and concentrate on the specific issue or question you are willing to find answers for. Be open-minded throughout the process to ensure that the results of the reading are accurate and reliable.

  • Step 2 – Choose the method of rune reading

There are several techniques of rune reading one can choose from. For instance, you may think of a specific issue with your runes in the bag and pick a rune from the pouch as the answer to your question.

You can also toss the runes onto a board and consider the runes that project from the surface as the answer.

Another method for rune reading is to grid runes on a surface and use your hand to pass over them (use your left hand if you are right-handed and vice versa). You will feel the energy of the rune that carries the answer to your question.

Finally, you can close your eyes, take several runes from the pouch, and line them up on a surface. Depending on the number of runes, you can interpret the reading. You can learn more about this technique in the next step.

  • Step 3 – Carefully observe the alignment of runes

After aligning the runes (if you decided to do so), you will need to consider their position on the board. You should observe the relative position of each rune while interpreting the reading. For instance, if you see two like-meaning runes, they will strengthen the answer.

To learn how to read different rune spreads, check out the article by Instructables.

  • Step 4 – Refer to a textbook providing meanings of different runes

Finally, you will need to use a textbook explaining the meanings of different runes. You can also use a manual that usually comes with a set of runes. Another way to interpret the reading is to use online resources, providing the definitions of runes. The article by Refinery29 lists 25 Viking runes along with their meanings that you can use for your reading.

Leave a Reply