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Can Runes Be Used for Divination?

This article was written by Donald Tyson on February 03, 2004
posted under Rune

The earliest allusions to runes concern divination. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing in 98 A.D., describes how the German priests would cut a bough from a tree and divide it into pieces, then distinguish them by carving into their bark "certain marks." The twigs were cast over a white cloth at random, and after the priest invoked the gods, with eyes raised to heaven he would select three of the twigs and read their meanings. It is very likely these divinatory marks were runes.

In modern occultism rune divination has become most closely associated with something called rune stones, which are not stones at all but small squares of ceramic impressed with runes. There is nothing wrong with putting runes on ceramic, which has an earthy, natural feel, but there is no ancient precedent for it, either. Many people are under the mistaken notion that this is the original medium of runes. In pagan times runes were carved into wood for divination, specifically segments of a fresh bough lopped off a fruit-bearing tree such as the apple.

For less formal occasions, should an individual wish to divine for family or friends, or a professional wish to use the runes in paid readings, one can create or purchase rune cards and rune dice.

Rune cards are similar in some ways to the Tarot. Each card shows a rune and two illustrations that convey its active meaning and its symbolic emblem, as well as its number, name, meaning, and its place in its rune family, or aett. Avoid using a rune card deck that minimizes the runes in favor of the images chosen to represent them. This is a major error. Divinations are done through the runes themselves, which have many possible interpretations, not just the one image selected by the artist who illustrated the cards. In this respect rune cards are unlike the Tarot, which consists only of its images. It is a vital distinction that is apt to be overlooked by those who rely on a colorful representation of the runes.

There is no ancient precedent for putting runes onto cards, because cards did not exist in Europe at the time the runes were being used for magic. However, early playing cards from China are very long and slender, shaped more like wands than modern cards. Also, there is a type of Korean card which consists of thin flat sticks with Korean characters painted on them (see A History of Playing Cards, C. P. Hargrave, pp. 6-12). The early Chinese cards were invented in the period of active rune magic. It is probable that all playing cards have their origin in divination sticks similar to rune wands.

Rune dice are four cubes, each bearing three pairs of runes. The pairs are oriented to the three dimensions of space, and they create interlocking rings of occult energy about the dice through their revolutions when the dice are cast. Each cube stands for one of the four occult elements - Fire, Water, Air and Earth. By casting the dice and reading the four runes that fall uppermost, as well as the pattern of the dice and the relationships between the elements, very detailed, lucid readings into general and specific questions are possible.

It may seem at first that putting the runes on dice trivializes them, but this is not so. Dice have been used from time immemorial for divination. They were employed for this purpose by the Greeks and Romans, and significantly, by the ancient Germans, who were avid gamblers as well as diviners. Roman historians report that the Germans divined by means of "lots." such lots for the Romans meant small blocks of inscribed wood, as were used for divination in their own temple of the goddess Fortuna. It cannot be proven, but it is at least possible that something very similar to the rune dice existed in ancient times.

Runes are unsurpassed for divination because they represent a set of manifest qualities that are archetypal in significance. They define the essential building blocks of the human conception of the world. They convey meaning on all levels, and can be interpreted literally as trees, cattle, water, and so on; personally as human virtues and experiences such as dreams, desires, courage, eloquence, and service; or spiritually as good, evil, truth, justice, honor, and wisdom. On all levels the message of the runes is explicit, because the rune symbols arise out of the world of Nature. They possess the clarity and definition of the stones in a field and the trees on a hilltop. This makes them easier to interpret than the I Ching, the Tarot, or the symbols of geomancy. I have used all major types of divination, and find that runes speak in a more straightforward manner than any of them.

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