Unlike the Tarot, whose exact history cannot be traced back to a specific culture, the Runes comes to us directly from the Norse/Germanic people. It has been expressed by some authors that only those whose direct lineage includes Norse, Germanic, of Scandinavian can work with the Runes, however, this is a misnomer, and there is no reason why anyone cannot learn to use the Runes.
The exact age of the Runes cannot be accurately gauged. It is a common concession among scholars that the Elder Futhark is the oldest Northern European magickal system for which we have definitive evidence. This form of the Runes dates back to circa 150 Before Common Era, and it shows a fully developed and stable system, which leads us to believe that it had been around for a few centuries before that time.
However, what we know as the Runic Alphabet seems to have developed from two distinct sources. Evidence indicated that the Runes had a magickal purpose as well as a practical one. The Runes were used as an alphabet, a written form of communication, and as a form of short hand. Nonetheless the Runes were also used as a tool for divination (most commonly in the form of casting lots) and self-empowerment, as well as a focus for spells, and carried as talismans.
Few practitioners actually study the system in depth. Most people see the Runes as a simple divination system that has no history, cultural context, or deeper magical/religious meaning. The mythology of the culture which gave us the Runes tells us that Odin, a powerful figure in Nordic Mythology, found the Runes while hanging from the Tree of Yggdrasil. The Runes are certainly not the innocent fun often implied by popular runic manuals. To see the ambivalence, fear, and respect felt toward Odin and the Rune Masters, we need only to read the ancient mythological stories of the Nordic people. To study the Runes is to journey into self in order to face your darkest fears, to question everything that you previously believed in, to step off the cliff of ignorance into the abyss of knowledge.
The classical, and oldest, Rune alphabet, the Futhark consist of 24 letters and begun with the letters ‘f’, ‘u’, ‘th’, ‘a’, ‘r’, ‘k’., much like ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ in the American English alphabet. The Futhark is divided into three groups or eight, called families, with each family being named after the first Rune in that family. They are Feoh, Haegl, and Tyr.
Additionally, Runes are divided into pair, which are positioned side by side within each family, called Pair Runes. Pair Runes relate to one another either by contrast or contradiction.
As we have seen in part, the Runes are a tool of divination, but which also has other uses, similar to the Tarot. The difference between the Tarot and the Runes is that Runes are a set of 24, although some say 25, stones or wooden tiles, instead of 78 cards. A relatively new trend on the market is the production of Rune Cards, which are drawn in the same style as Tarot Cards. The reason for the difference in the number of Runes (24 verses 25) is that some practitioners make use of a 25th blank Rune, which represents the unknowable, or that the outcome has yet to be decided by the powers that be. The student must decide for himself if he wants to utilize the extra Rune of not, it is a personal choice.
There are several ways in which to utilize the Runes for the purpose of divination, and each person will over time develop his or her own style. Following are a few more popular ways in which to use the Runes for the purposes of divination. Rune cards can be used in the same manner as Tarot Cards (see Tarot) Rune stones and tiles can be kept in a bag and drawn out, using Tarot spreads as models for interpretation, or you may only draw one to three Runes for a quick answer.
How I Conduct a Rune Reading
STEP ONE: Some individuals prefer to “throw” them only a special cloth. To do this, the Runes are laid out on a cloth face up to give each Rune an equal opportunity to be land upright or upside down.
STEP TWO: Next, I gather the four corners of my cloth and shake it up very good while concentrating on my question or the matter at hand. I then place the cloth back on my table and lay it out flat to see how the Runes have fallen.
STEP THREE: The runes which fall face down are moved off to the side and the remaining runes are all turned to their upright positions as I do not ascribe any meaning to the Runes in a "reversed" position.
STEP FOUR: I then mentally divide the Runes into three sections. The Runes closest to me represent the Past; those in the middle are the Present, and finally, those runes farthest away from me represent the Future.
STEP FIVE: The runes are physically moved into these three groupings (Past, Present, Future) and guided by my own intuition I pay special attention to how close they fell to one another. The Runes are read according to 1) Their position in the "timeline" and 2) Whether they stand alone or a part of another group.
Each Rune carries with it associations which have been assigned to them by those who have gone before. The exact meaning of the Runes can only be found through meditation on each Rune. The meanings provided here are not absolute, there are other valid meanings. Meditating carefully on each Rune will help you achieve a true understanding of what that Rune means to you.