Most Witches these days have a preferred method of divination. When we start exploring the art it’s tempting to go out and gather all the tools available to us out there and learn how to use all of them. Ultimately we find we have boxes full of tarot, pendulums and such yet never really gain proficiency in any one divinatory form. Far better, in my humble opinion, to find a couple of methods which resonate and work well and focus our studies and practise around these (even if these methods aren’t traditional or something we can purchase). Now I will admit I possess a few tarot decks, divinatory tools and assorted oracles, and in truth when I started I too was guilty of trying to be a ‘jack of all trades’. It’s taken a few years for me to realise (and accept) that I’m never going to be proficient or have that deep understanding of every single oracle or divinatory device out there… it’s just too much for one lifetime and not every method plays to my strengths! I must stress however this has for the most part been a natural progression, I’ve given many methods a good go, tarot, scrying and so on but they just don’t suit me as well as others such as regular playing cards or looking for natural omens and portents in nature. It is up to each individual to find the right tool for them and the right method for the job in hand, not all methods will suit all scenarios. Books can teach so much but there is no substitute for experience, practise and intuition. I have read very few books on divination and honestly, I don’t believe you can learn the meanings of a tarot cards, for example, from a book and expect to instantly be proficient in tarot…each card, rune or whatever is like a single chapter in a novel…read singularly in isolation will mean little. The context and the rest of the story come from the unique situation and most importantly our intuition and own ability to understand what the spirits are trying to show us, again this takes years to perfect…divination is an art just like the practise of magic.
For me, 9 times out of 10 I will always gravitate towards the runes. Unlike may of today’s Tarot decks, which whilst beautiful are someone else’s vision, the runes are far older and speak to the subconscious and ancestral memories. I want to share my experience with them…how I made them, how I use them and so on. There are others out there who know a great deal more about the runes and how they are used in ways other than just the divinatory sense, Rune lore is a vast area…people who practise Galdr and other magical paths spend their entire lives learning about the runes. I use the runes purely as a divinatory tool and occasionally in Sigil magic / Bindrunes etc. so please bare this in mind, I do not wish to do any disservice to these people or understate the vastness of the subject!
Making the Runes
“Know how to cut them,
know how to read them,
Know how to stain them,
know how to prove them,
Know how to evoke them,
know how to score them,
Know how to send them”
The Poetic Edda
I was very fortunate, when I decided to make a Rune set I happened to be rather close to a man who practised Galdr and knew the Runes intimately, this was about 10 years ago mind, so forgive my potentially poor powers of recall (I wasn’t as good as note keeping then!)
There are several well documented runic alphabets I suggest doing some research into these…don’t make life more complicated than it needs to be however! I decided to go with the popular Elder Futhark so named because of the first seven runes (same reason we have the QWERTY keyboard). These runes are the runes most commonly found in book relating to rune divination. Beware however, many books on Rune Divinations pecifically include a ‘Blank Rune’…there is no such thing! Once I had decided on the alphabet, I then had to choose the physical medium. I actually made two sets at the time, one from small disks of Yew with the runes being burnt on, and the other from slate and the runes were engraved. I ended up giving the wooden set away…just didn’t feel right and working with stone felt better (plus more durable!)
The first task was finding 24 stones of suitable size and shape. This is important to consider, your set needs to be manageable, readable, transportable and cohesive…after all, it’s a rune set. For me the process of making Runes began as soon as I started looking for the stones… I asked the spirits to help, and made offerings when the stones were collected. Fortunately I was spending a bit of time down in the West Country where slate is very common and I found plenty of smooth slate of a good size on the beaches. It’s actually worth gathering about 30 so you have a few extras to compensate for any mishaps.
The stones were washed in the sea, again asking for the spirits to bless the stones and make them ready to receive the marks and wrapped in black cloth until I got them home. Each stone was studied closely…some stones seemed to naturally lend themselves to the shape of certain runes, again this was an important part of building the relationship with the finished rune set, the spirit of the stones and the place they were collected all form part of the finished rune set and the more you put into thm, the better they will serve!
I engraved each rune onto the stones freehand using a ‘dremmel’ with a special engraving attachment; slate is actually quite soft and very forgiving so engraving wasn’t hard work and mistakes were surprisingly minimal. Definitely practise on a spare stone first! Whilst engraving I focused on the rune I was carving and chanted the name of the rune softly, breathing it into the stone as I carved. Once each stone was carved to my satisfaction it was then time to “stain them” the traditional red colour. I used simple red acrylic mixed with my own blood to empower and link the runes to myself and of course my ancestors. The act of making the runes is a ritual in itself, when blood was shed and mixed with paint, I allowed a single drop to fall first upon the earth as an offering…mimicking the sacrifice of Odin as he hung bleeding from the world tree “a sacrifice of myself to myself”. Each engraving was then stained with the paint blood mix. I didn’t read any of this in any book…this was my own means of empowering the runes ready for use…intuition and guidance from the spirits is so important…these would become my rune set, not anyone else’s after all!
I made a leather pouch for the runes from a scrap of brown leather. I didn’t realise at the time but over the years this pouch has become an important part of the rune set, as important as the stones themselves, being the vessel in which the stones are not only carried, but mixed and drawn from. I decorated my pouch with a red Valknut…I don’t know why I chose this symbol at the time, I guess the three triangles (3×3) has links with the three sisters of Wyrd and Fate…it was purely intuition which made me choose and whilst has close associations with Odin, doesn’t have any specific links to the runes themselves. Regardless, I highly recommend fashioning something similar to house your runes in, even a box would work well, and it may become a powerful tool in its own right!
When I need to consult the runes, I always start with lighting a candle and a little incense to the Spirits and ask the unseen hands of the Old Ones to guide the runes and answer my heart’s desire and innermost thoughts. For something fairly specific, like a specific problem or situation I tend to shake the rune bag, get in with my hands and stir them up whilst thinking on the situation. I find that runes will ‘stick’ to my fingers and these are the runes I draw…sometimes three, sometimes five, sometimes more depending on what feels right at the time.
Other times, especially for more general long terms glimpses I mark or create a circle on the ground, again asking for the aid of the spirits as I tip all the runes into my hands and shake them whilst turning my thoughts to the workings of wyrd. I then cast the whole set towards the circle (this wouldn’t be possible with fragile / glass runes of course). The runes tumble down, bounce and roll. Once they settle I may remove any that have landed face down, or any that have landed outside of the circle on the ground. In this sense the circle represents my universe with me (or the querent!) in the centre. The runes closest to the centre are those acting in my nearest vicinity in terms of both time and space…those furthest towards the circles edge are further away in time and space. Again…intuition and your own inner sight is all you need here. With these sort of castings, the important thing (for me anyway) is to read the runes in groups and patterns like chapters in a novel, a rune read in isolation or just in terms of the ‘book’ definition will mean nothing. How are the runes positioned in relation to the others? Are any obscuring other Runes? I have found at times those which land face down or really far away can still have a great deal of significance. The runes represent spiritual forces and powers and if constructed and read correctly will occasionally behave in ways we do not expect…it’s for this reason I had to learn to relax with the Runes, let them show me and teach me. Once we start attempting to control and confine the runes with book definitions and pre-determined spreads (and I’m sure this applies to other oracular devices also) we deprive ourselves of one of the greatest gifts we have as Witches… regardless of the tools we use!
Make notes….thank the Spirits…Thank the Runes!