The Tools of Runecasting - Reading The Runes

The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic: How to Interpret Runes, Rune Lore, and the Art of Runecasting - Edred Thorsson 2018

The Tools of Runecasting
Reading The Runes

As a method of divination, runecasting is remarkably flexible in the ways it can be used. Theoretically, all you need are twenty-four slips of paper on which the stave shapes could be written, for the magic is in the self of the runer, not in the objects. However, for most runers a permanent set of runestaves and a set of special runecasting tools are essential for maintaining the all-important sense of connection, dedication, and intensity.

The physical objects upon which the staves are carved may be left up to the runer. The “staves” can be made of wood, bone, stone, earthenware, or another material you like, and in whatever size and shape you prefer. The only thing I strongly urge is that you make your own runestaves. I suggested this for two reasons: (1) the runestaves are so simple anyone can easily make them (so take advantage of what is traditional), and (2) from a magical and talismanic viewpoint even slips of paper marked with a ballpoint pen are superior to mass-produced “rune cookies” since you put your own energy into the runestaves as you make them. This being said, it is still better to start working with quality manufactured staves than to put off too long the beginnings of actual work.

What kind of staves (or even “cards”) the runer eventually will want to work with is largely a matter of taste or personal preference. I suggest a period of experimentation; see in practice which kind you prefer. In actual use, this may be different than what you preferred in theory. In ancient times, for readings of extreme importance, staves were prepared for the reading and then destroyed afterward, or the staves were then “sacrificed” by being burned or buried beneath the earth to decompose.

There are several types of runestaves: (A) small and round (of pottery, wood, or bone), (B) small rectangular slips of wood, (C) short, or (D) long rune tines, and even (E) cards. Examples of each of these types are illustrated in figure 17.1, shown in their approximately actual sizes.

Although different kinds of runestaves may be more suitable for certain types of castings or layouts, really any kind of stave can be used effectively for almost any method.


Figure 17.1. Various types of runestaves. Here we see examples of A) small round runestave—this one is of wood; B) runestave made of a small rectangular piece of wood; C) short and D) long runestave; and E) a “card” runestave.

The small round stave may be made from tree branches (or even dowels) about one-half to three-fourths of an inch in diameter cut at intervals of about one-fourth of an inch. The result is a set of small disks on which you can carve the runestaves. This general type also can be fashioned from wooden beads—but spherical shapes can roll and thus prove unsuitable for some methods of runecasting.

Small rectangular wooden slips can be made from carefully shaven and trimmed strips of wood, about one-sixteenth of an inch thick. This is probably the type Tacitus was describing. But they also can be fashioned from thin sheets of wood veneer. (These veneer sheets can be obtained in most hardware or hobby shops.)

Shorter runelots or runetines may be fashioned from short lengths (two to three inches) of twigs or from square strips of hardwood (about one-quarter inch wide). This kind and the rectangular wooden slips are most convenient for carrying in your pocket or purse.

The longer runestaves are perhaps the most traditional forms. Although no such examples have ever been found, ancient written descriptions seem to point in this direction. This type of runestave can be made easily from tapering twigs five to six inches long and one-quarter to one-half an inch wide at the top. They can be left rough, the bark still on them, with only a small surface smoothed at the large end on which the runestave can be carved.

Finally, for methods of divination that require laying out runic patterns, cards also can be fashioned. To these you might want to add information, such as the rune name or its numerical value, that could be helpful in your rune readings. These can be made easily from posterboard or blank paper cards of a size and shape that is pleasing to you.

The actual materials used in the creation of the runestaves can be of some importance. For the lots or staves themselves, organic substances, such as wood or bone, are preferred. Wood is, of course, the most traditional and the most widely used material for this purpose, but bone and even precious metals perhaps were also used for divination. The symbolism of the use of wood is clear in the Germanic cultural context. It reminds us of the World-Tree, Yggdrasill, at the roots of which lies the Well of Wyrd, and in whose roots and branches the runestaves shimmer as a mighty webwork. Use your intuition to decide what species of wood is best suited for your runestaves. Tacitus reports that fruit- or nut-bearing trees were used, but it is perhaps more important that you choose a wood that has special value or meaning to you. It is also possible to make the staves out of various kinds of wood, each one corresponding to the runestave carved upon it. The runer is urged to make use of intuition, but you also may want to consult Appendix III on page 294 for guidance.

The runestaves also will be colored. The traditional paint or dye used for this can be made easily from red ochre. (Other natural red pigments are also good.) Of course, the substance originally used was blood, but even in prehistoric times red ochre was being used as a substitute for blood. However, different colors—as determined by intuition—are also possible. White, however, as a color for the staves themselves, should be avoided since the cloth on which they will be cast is white.

One of the wonderful things about runecasting is that you can be as traditional or as innovative as you wish. It is relatively simple to include traditional elements with innovative techniques. For the ritual elements of the traditional shaping of runelots, see chapter 18.

The cloth upon which the lots are cast should be made of white material. Not only does Tacitus indicate this in his report, but this practice is borne out by the symbolism of white as a sign of the undifferentiated sum of magical light. It is upon this white field that the runes play out their interweavings of force. The cloth itself should be made of linen or some other natural material and should be between three and four feet square.

Some runers decorate their cloths in meaningful ways. Chapter 19 presents methods of runecasting that call for the runer to read certain significances into various fields on the cloth (see figure 19.9). This pattern could be stitched onto the cloth, or it simply could be envisioned with the hugauga—the magical eye. If the runer uses such lines on the cloth, they should be of dark blue or black and be as thin as possible. This latter point is merely a practical one for ease in making readings.

When not in use, the runestaves or runelots should be stored in a suitable container. A cloth or leather bag or a wooden box is ideal for this. Such a container is of the greatest importance if you have shaped and loaded your runelots as “talismanic creatures” with their own ørlög. Some runers like to cast their runelots from a lot cup (the wooden box can also serve this purpose). The lot cup can be made of horn, leather, or wood and can be any shape the runer determines. The only important factor is that it is large enough to hold all twenty-four lots easily and loosely. This cup, should it be treated as a taufr (talisman) itself, should be loaded with the perthro rune.

In very formal rites of runecasting, especially those of cosmic significance carried out by true Erulians, a three-legged stool painted gold is also needed. The runer sits upon this stool, called “theal's stool,” before beginning to formulate a reading. (This, however, is not necessary for most runecasters' purposes.)

Other tools and equipment as needed in general runework are described more fully in chapter 21.