Rites 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

Rites of Runecasting
Reading The Runes

The use of ritual in every operation of runecasting is important for two reasons: to avoid the “parlor game” attitude that sometimes envelopes such sacred activity, and to help the runer reach a state of concentrated consciousness that will improve the quality of the casting and reading. Ritual work will put the runer in an altered state of mind that will direct his or her concentration to the question at hand, or to the general life situation of greatest importance at that time—thus opening the doors of communication between the runecaster and the realm of the Norns. After some time has been spent working with runecasting, the vitki will begin to feel that in certain operations he or she was more “in sync” than in others. To ensure this state on a regular basis is the function of inner ritual work.

Although the runer is free to create such ritual formulas as he or she sees fit, I urge everyone to carry out faithfully the example formulas a few times to see if the traditional methods are right for you. It is a great misfortune that the old Germanic tradition has been so neglected—especially since we have descriptions of the exact methods used for many centuries. After consulting all the traditional sources, the following complex ritual formula appears to have existed from the most ancient times:

1) Cutting and scoring of staves

2) Calling on the Norns (or other gods and entities)

3) Casting the staves (onto the white cloth)

4) Calling on the gods (or other entities)

5) Choosing staves (in threes or multiples of three)

6) Sitting on the theal's stool

7) Reading of the staves

8) Confirmation by omens, etc.

This would represent a complex and elaborate kind of runecasting, but elements from this great formula should be kept in mind as bases for experimentation.


The season and the time of day the runer chooses to undertake runecastings, especially important castings, deserve some thought. Traditionally the runer takes into account (1) season (position of the sun in the yearly cycle), (2) moon phase, and (3) time of day (position of the sun in the daily cycle). Of course, the time chosen should conform to the kind of reading being undertaken, or the nature of the question. Inquiries involving new beginnings perhaps would be carried out most effectively at times associated with beginnings, during the yuletide for example (about December 21—January 2), at (Easter1 or Ostara—the springtime festival at or around the spring equinox), nights just after the new moon, or just before the full moon at sunrise. The first three nights after the new moon, the fifth, seventh, eighth, ninth, twelfth, nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-third, and twenty-sixth nights of the moon are well suited to divinatory work, too. To find the correct night (or “day”),2 count from the first night of the new moon. There are, of course, twenty-eight nights in the lunar cycle. Also, for consulting the runes on inner or esoteric matters, nighttime is preferred, while on exoteric or other mundane affairs the daylight hours are best.

It should be remembered also that these times are merely optimal ritual aids; from a fully Odian viewpoint they can be dispensed with.


For practical reasons, most runecasting will probably be carried out indoors, in your living quarters. For ritual effectiveness other runework should be done in the same area. One advantage to runecasting is that the vitki can carry the basic “holy stead” around in the form of the white cloth. However, for especially important castings other holy steads might also be considered. Most beneficial are sites under holy trees—oaks, beeches, yews, ashes—or near (south of if possible) a natural spring or an artificial well. Hilltops are also good places to do runework. Outdoors, the runecaster can follow the rede of the ancient tradition more effectively and look into the sky when picking the staves for the reading. The force can be especially powerful at night if you look directly to the Northern Star—into the eye of Odin—while choosing the lots.

Talismanic Creation of Lots

The physical objects or media upon which the runic characters are executed are referred to by various terms: staves (ON stafir), tines (ON teinar), or lots (ON hlautar), but all are taufar, talismans. Ideally, each runestave should be shaped and loaded according to the principles of talismanic creation. These are outlined in detail in chapter 21.


Not every runecasting or laying needs to be carried out with great solemnity; however, the more important the question, the more ritual the true runer will want to use. In a way, the ritual can be seen as a kind of “magical overkill”; the more ways in which communicative links between the inner and outer realms are forged, the more chance there is of gaining that special sense of “rightness,” of being “in sync.” From the traditional standpoint, such workings are seen as no less fundamental than the cast itself; it is a whole operation.

For a full ritual runecasting the white cloth should be laid out before the harrow (if one is used) with one flat side to the north. Depending on the type of cast or layout being done, the theal's stool (if one is used) should either be to the south of the cloth, or to the north of it in front of the altar or harrow as shown in figure 18.1. on page 206.

Opening: Perform a Hammer Rite of the kind described in chapter 21.

Call to the Norns: Facing north, in the elhaz-rune position, call out to the power of the Norns to help you cast and read the runes:

Out of homes all-hidden

out of the ways all-wide,

need be I name the Norns,

and deem the dises draw neigh.



With this verse the runer concentrates on engaging the “nornic forces” on two levels: (1) the personal Norns (with whose “help” the runic streams can be engaged) and (2) the Great Norns—as the impersonal dynamic matrix of constant change.

Question: Now concentrate for a period in silence on the question at hand. While doing this, shuffle the staves in your hands or shake them in the box or cup. Once it is felt that a firm link between the nornic forces and the question has been forged, repeat the formula silently or aloud.

Runár rádh rétt rádh!


Runes rown right rede!


Figure 18.1. Configuration of elements of runecasting ritual.

Casting: Now, while gazing upward (to the Northern Star if you are outdoors) cast the runelots upon the white cloth spread out before you. As the lots are in the air, call out:


NOTE: If a rune-laying [and not a runecasting] method is being used, questioning and casting are combined in such a way that while the lots or cards are shuffled or otherwise randomized, the question is being posed mentally. The process is then concluded with the “Runes rown right rede” and “Urdhr-Verdhandi-Skuld” formulas.

Call to Odin: After the lots have landed, and while still gazing aloft, the runer strikes the elhaz-posture and says:

Odin open my eye

that I may see the staves

and read the runes aright.



With this verse you engage your abilities to choose the staves with inner vision. (Note: Some may wish to substitute a verse to Frigga here.)

Choosing: (Skip this step if you are using a pure casting method in which the lots are read as they lie on the white cloth.) Now, with your eyes still directed upward, kneel down and blindly pick the right number of lots for the method being employed. It is, of course, very important to be sure to keep the lots in the proper order as chosen from the cloth. Lay them aside carefully—one at a time as you choose them. (Note: If a laying method is being used, the lots or cards should be laid out in their proper configuration at this time.)

Reading: If a theal's stool or chair is being used, the runecaster should sit down upon it now—still facing north—and lay the lots out in their right order according to the method being used, either on the harrow or on the edge of the white cloth. If a reading is to be made directly from the lay of the lots on the cloth, position the theal's stool to the south of the cloth and examine the configurations. Settle your mind at this stage, and before beginning the reading (especially when reading for others), intone this verse based on “Hávamál,” st. 111:

Time is come to sing

upon the stool of the theal

at the well of wyrd:

I saw but said naught

I saw and thought and thought

I listened to the High One's lore.

Of runes I heard it rowned

rowning them within—

in the hall of Hár,

thus I heard them say,

thus I read them aright.

Closing: After the reading is complete, close with the traditional words:

Now the saws of Hár are said,

in the hall of Hár!

You will, of course, always want to keep a record of your rune readings, so before returning the lots to their abode, make your records. Then place the staves in their container in silence.

Taking of Omens

If confirmation of the results of the reading are needed, omens should be taken. This is a traditional part of old Germanic (and Indo-European) divination—the necessity for “corroborating evidence” from another medium. The science of omens (ON heilar) is too complex to enter into in any great detail here. The simplest method is to sit in an open area out-of-doors; visualize an enclosed space in front of you (no smaller than ten feet square, but it can be much larger). Then wait for a bird or other animal to enter into, or fly over, that space. For a yes/no confirmation or denial of the validity of any given cast, dark-colored animals or birds (especially black, red, dark blue, or dark brown) mean “yes,” and light-colored ones (especially white, light brown, light blue) mean “no.”