“The Runes” refer to a number of scripts used in Scandinavian countries before the introduction of the Latin alphabet. They were used to write in various different Scandinavian languages.

The Scandinavian-specifc variants are called FUTHARK, getting the name from the first letters of their alphabet (F, U, Þ, A, R, K). The three best-known alphabets are the Elder Futhark (150-800 CE), the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (400-1100 CE) and the Younger Futhark (800-1100 CE).

The runes hold great spiritual significance in Norse Paganism. It is said that Odin learned the secrets of runic writing after he hung himself from the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, impaled with a spear, for 9 days and nights—a sacrifice of himself to himself. They often find their way in Norse Pagan practice for this reason.

The runes were historically used for both practical and magical purposes. The Norse people didn’t use their writing for long texts like books, but instead for commemorative messages on objects such as tools and runestones. Charms were also written on objects to enchant them. But how these charms were created remains a mystery. There’s no manual to be found on how to make them, nor can we tell how they were made just by looking at them.

After the Christianization of Scandinavia, which ended around 1100 CE, the runes were used all the way into the 20th century for Runic Calendars. These calendars associated Futhark characters with numbers, marking out special days of the year, such as solstices, equinoxes, and feast days.

Runes have since been revived in modern practices with new developments.

The Elder Futhark

ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚨ ᚱ ᚲ ᚷ ᚹ ᚺ ᚾ ᛁ ᛃ ᛈ ᛇ ᛉ ᛊ ᛏ ᛒ ᛖ ᛗ ᛚ ᛜ ᛞ ᛟ

The Anglo Saxon Futhorc

ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚩ ᚱ ᚳ ᚷ ᚹ ᚻ ᚾ ᛁ ᛄ ᛇ ᛈ ᛉ ᛋ/ᚴ ᛏ ᛒ ᛖ ᛗ ᛚ ᛝ ᛟ ᛞ ᚪ ᚫ ᚣ ᛡ ᛠ

The Younger Futhark

ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚬ ᚱ ᚴ ᚼ ᚾ ᛁ ᛅ ᛋ ᛏ ᛒ ᛘ ᛚ ᛦ

ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚭ ᚱ ᚴ ᚽ ᚿ ᛁ ᛆ ᛌ ᛐ ᛓ ᛙ ᛚ ᛧ

Contemporary Developments

Modern-day rune use bears faint resemblance to pre-Christian use, magic-wise. The magical runic practices we have today grew out of Victorian Occultism and other modern revivalist practices.

Guido Von List

Around 1902, the white nationalist occultist Guido Von List devised a runic futhark known as the Armanen Runes for his occult system of Ariosophy, which he touted as the “Wisdom of the Aryans.” List’s Armanen Runes correspond with stanzas 138 to 165 of the Hávamál. This is an early instance of occultists applying modern esoteric practice to historic Norse concepts.

The Armanen Runes were later used for various Nazi insignia, including the SS symbol and the Black Sun.

Futhark runes themselves have since been reformed. They don’t have any Nazi connection to them unless the context they’re used in suggests as much.

Ralph Blum’s Runic Divination

Using runes for fortune-telling came about in 1982 with Ralph Blum’s The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle. Despite the title, the book’s divination practice was invented by Ralph Blum himself, based heavily on the Chinese I-Ching.

Each rune’s divinatory meaning, however, comes from rune poems, with manuscripts dating as early as the 8th or 9th century. These poems are thought to originally be mnemonic devices intended to help people remember the Futhark letter names and their order (similar to “A is for apple, B is for bear”).

Though runic divination is a very common component in modern Heathen practice, there’s no record of them being used for fortune-telling within Old Norse civilization. Instead, divination was done through the casting of lots, which is described in Tacitus’ Germania, Snorri Sturluson’s Ynglinga Saga, and the 9th century Vita Ansgari.

How to practice runic divination, and the meanings of the runes, can be found on plenty of websites and in a number of guidebooks.

Bindrunes

Bindrunes are ligatures made up of two or more runes. Their historical use is largely ornamental, similar to how ligatures are used today to make certain letters look nicer sitting next to each other.

In modern practice, “bindrunes” refer to a magical system of sigilization. Creating a bindrune involves building a monogram out of runes that have meanings complementing the bindrune’s intended use. This form of magic is relatively new and is very similar to Austin Osman Spare’s sigilization method he developed for Chaos Magic.

Modern bindrunes look visually similar to the older practice of Galdrastafir—Icelandic Magical Staves. However, the process of crafting Galdrastafir is very different from bindrunes. Because of its overlap with Judeo-Christian mysticism, Galdrastafir is a lineaged practice that requires initiation to learn.

Example of a modern bindrune.

Latest Articles

  • Did ‘One True Heathenry’ Exist?

    August 24, 2021
  • The LGBTQ+ Reclamation of “Ergi” in Norse Heathenry

    June 10, 2021