The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Runes of the Elder Futhark
Every rune contains three elements or aspects:
An audible, phonetic sound (this aspect of a rune is similar to a letter of an alphabet; runes are used to compose words). In some traditions each rune is also a song.
A geometric shape or form (sometimes called a “stave”).
A mystical meaning, radiant energy or “mystery”: each rune may be interpreted and has literal, magical and spiritual meanings. Each rune is affiliated with at least one spirit and expresses their power and energy.
The word “alphabet” derives from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta), in turn derived from the ancient Semitic alphabet (aleph, bet). Likewise “futhark” derives by spelling out the first six rune characters.
Runes are used for divination, spell-casting, meditation, and to contact and communicate with spirits. Runes are particularly associated with Odin: according to his myth, Odin hung himself on the World Tree for nine nights in order to acquire knowledge of the runes. Legend also has it that he acquired knowledge of the runes or of the shamanic techniques required to use them from Freya. (See DIVINE WITCH: Freya, Odin.)
“Rune” is also closely associated with words indicating witches and witchcraft. The Old German runa indicates a “whisperer” and is believed to refer to wise women or witches. The word alruna or alraune is also cognate with rune. (See BOTANICALS: Mandrake; DICTIONARY: Alraune.)
In addition to its other meanings rune literally means “lot” and they are used for divination. Runes are placed in a bag and either individually drawn or randomly cast and then interpreted.
The Roman historian Tacitus, writing about the Germani living in what is now modern Copenhagen in the last decade of the first-century CE, describes their system of divination using what are recognizably runes. Sigils were carved onto strips of wood cut from nut-bearing trees. These sigils were randomly distributed over a white cloth and then interpreted.
Runes are almost exclusively identified with Nordic tradition today. However, they may once have been more widespread. Historic events were, for example, recorded by Pagan Hungarian priests in what are described as “runic writings.” During the eleventh century these texts were completely destroyed by the Church.
Runes are also incorporated into magic spells. Each rune is identified with one or more Nordic deities. Each radiates a specific power and may be used for various magical purposes. Runes are considered especially beneficial for protective magic. Runes are often used to empower ritual tools and objects. They are easily incorporated into candle magic spells.
The Elder Futhark is the most popular runic alphabet, however there are also others including the Younger Futhark and Gothic and medieval interpretations. Modern rune systems are sometimes sold with a blank rune, however this does not correspond to traditional systems and remains a controversial practice subject to disapproval by traditional rune scholars.
Bind-runes are two or more runes combined to form a sigil. The last rune drawn is the binding agent.
Wend-runes are runes written from right to left with magical intentions.
Svartrunir (literally black runes) are runes that may be used to communicate with the dead.
Beautiful runes are sold crafted from minerals, glass, and other fine materials, however many believe that one should always handcraft runes. They are traditionally made from strips of bark although small pieces of leather are also used.