Modern day rune reading, in the form of casting or layouts, is used for divination purposes much in the way Tarot cards are used. It isn’t strictly speaking a fortune-telling tool allowing you to see the future. Rather, through exploring cause and effect, it shows you possible answers to life’s obstacles or issues, suggests paths for moving forward and the outcomes that might result from that. Runes are also used by Wicca practitioners for spell casting and charms.

In the Beginning

copper rune set
Runes are, simply put, an ancient alphabet used by certain Europeans before the Latin alphabet was adopted. There are several runic alphabets but the most commonly used today is known as the Elder Futhark’ form which has 24 letters. The earliest surviving examples of runic inscription, which have been found in Denmark and Germany, date back to 150 AD. Slightly later 6th century inscriptions have also been found in Sweden – a country which has a concentration of Mediaeval dated inscriptions too. Scholars are somewhat divided on whether the original users of runes employed them for divination purposes but all the evidence suggests that runes were considered to be mystical and invested with certain magical powers. Inscriptions have been found on everything from grave artifacts such as jewellery and weapons (spear mounts and shields) to standing stones erected over burial sites. Some of these inscriptions spell out protection curses while others make reference to the fact that within the rune lies the power to bring the dead back to life.

Modern Day Runes

The modern day usage of runes and how they are used are almost universally attributed to an Austrian/German occultist called Guido von List. Sometimes dubbed the father of runic revivalism and widely regarded as the foremost pioneer responsible for modern runology, von List was the author of a 1908 published book – ‘Das Geheimnis der Runen’ (The Secret of the Runes). However, had it not been for the work of Karl Spiesberger after World War II, runes may have sunk once again into some obscurity. German mysticism had suffered the most violent of set-backs during the repressive Hitler years; a time when it was neither prudent nor safe to voice any type of mystic or occult beliefs. Spiesberger opened the doors again and is generally afforded recognition as the single most significant individual to revive German mysticism through his pioneering work.

Last, but not least, came American runologist Ralph Blum. For many, much of the modern understanding and popularity of runes is attributed to the publication of his book in 1982 entitled ‘The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle’.

How Do Runes Work?

It would appear that many rune users have no belief in mysticism but instead use the scientific basis of psychology to explain their success. The principal here is the use of concentrated focus and intent which allows us to delve into the subconscious mind which has all the answers we need to life’s dilemmas. The runes allow us a gateway into this otherwise shrouded or completely hidden world.Others believe that the runes do indeed hold certain mystical and magical powers or open up channels with our higher self or other realms which can guide us. There are others yet who believe that a mixture of the two forces mentioned here come into play.

What are rune readings good for?

The whole idea of rune casting is to enable us to find answers to difficult questions or overcome certain issues that we feel are holding us back in life. They are intended to empower us by creating insights and offering choices – each allowing us to take full control of our life. Rune casting and reading is not about predicting the future – it is about understanding the past and the present in such a way that we can affect our future and then understanding how it can influence our future; cause and effect quite simply. With rune casting the future is always considered to be changeable.

Getting Down to Business – Reading the Runes

clay runes
There are many different ways of going about casting and reading runes. The first step is to concentrate on the question you want to ask. Some people prefer to have this written down physically on a piece of paper in front of them for extra intent. Most rune readers will use a rune casting cloth designed as an area to contain the tiles and a bag in which all the tiles are held but what happens from there is somewhat down to personal choice and preference.

Rune sets – each letter of a rune set has a different meaning but the type of material on which the runes are written or carved can also have an effect. The most commonly found rune set materials are wood, stone or ceramic but there are other types too which are typically used under certain circumstances.

Gold runes – for all readings related to the areas of business, career or property
Jade runes – for all readings related to the area of relationships – including love and friendship
Ice runes – for all readings which involve questions regarding struggle, conflict or achievement
Spirit runes – for all readings related to matters mystical, religious or spiritual
Stone runes – for all readings looking for insights into the natural world or events beyond the realms of human control

In addition to the materials used there are also different runic alphabets used to make up sets although by far and away the most commonly found is the Elder Futhark mentioned earlier. It is important that different alphabets are not mixed

Selecting tiles

There are various ways of doing this. Sometimes the tiles are selected one at a time from the bag and then placed in specific places according to a predetermined layout. Sometimes a handful of tiles are grabbed randomly from the bag and then ‘cast’ onto the cloth with special attention paid to tiles which land face up. There are several more. As with Tarot and certain other divination methods, whether a rune is face up or face down and whether it is right way up or standing on its head can alter the overall meaning.


There are an almost infinite number of special layouts which can be used, some intended for certain situations or have particular reference to the questions and issues you are looking for help with. Many of the layouts take their form directly from Tarot while others are specific to rune reading but all have a strict adherence to which tile drawn must be placed where. The most basic layout features just 3 tiles representing present, action and outcome and work upwards from there to very elaborate and complicated forms.

While many layouts cover quite general divining there are others which are intended for addressing very specific areas such as the ‘3 lifetimes’ cast which explores your past, present and future lives.


The same rune can have many different meanings just as with Tarot and, additionally, meanings can sometimes be obscure. Learning to interpret the runes accurately can take a lot of time and practice and you will initially need to consult rune interpretation guides. The Ralph Blum book mentioned earlier is still considered as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago and could make an excellent starting point; the Internet is also a great resource.

My Take on it

As with most subjects which stray into the realms of the magical, the mystical and esoteric, expert rune readers don’t always agree with each other with regard to certain elements of the craft. You may hear many different things – sometimes things which directly contradict each other. This is where your own intuition must come into play and a little trial and error to see what methods work best for you. What is universally agreed on among rune readers is that rune casting is a powerful and insightful tool which can be utilised to help you learn, overcome and move forward and in doing so help you get the most you can from your time on earth.

Want to learn about tea leaf readings, palmistry and crystal gazing ?

Pictures used and modified
#1: Knarley_Oak
#2: Nathaniel_U

Both CC-By 2.0


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