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Bracteate G 205 (ca. 5th to 7th century), bearing the inscription alu.

There is some evidence that runes historically served purposes of magic in addition to being a writing system. This is the case from earliest epigraphic evidence of the Roman to Germanic Iron Age, with non-linguistic inscriptions and the alu word. An erilaz appears to have been a person versed in runes, including their magic applications. In medieval sources, notably the Poetic Edda. The Sigrdrífumál mentions "victory runes" to be carved on a sword, "some on the grasp and some on the inlay, and name Tyr twice."

In early modern and modern times, related folklore and superstition is recorded in the form of the Icelandic magical staves. In the early 20th century, Germanic mysticism coins new forms of "runic magic", some of which were continued or developed further by contemporary adherents of Germanic Neopaganism. Modern systems of runic divination are based on Hermeticism, classical Occultism, and the I Ching.


Historical evidence

The inscription on the Kylver stone ends with a stacked bind rune combining six Tiwaz runes used to invoke the god Tyr and four Ansuz runes to invoke the Æsir.[1]

Besides the "victory runes" mentioned in the Sigrdrífumál, the Poetic Edda also seems to corroborate the magical significance of the runes the Hávamál where Odin mentions runes in contexts of divination, of healing and of necromancy (trans. Bellows):

"Certain is that which is sought from runes / That the gods so great have made / And the Master-Poet painted" (79)
"Of runes heard I words, nor were counsels wanting / At the hall of Hor" (111)
"Grass cures the scab / and runes the sword-cut" (137)
"Runes shalt thou find / and fateful signs" (143)
" if high on a tree / I see a hanged man swing / So do I write and color the runes / That forth he fares / And to me talks." (158)

The Ansuz and Tiwaz runes in particular seem to have had magical significance in the early (Elder Futhark) period. The Sigrdrífumál instruction of "name Tyr twice" is reminiscent of the double or triple "stacked Tyr" bindrunes found e.g. on Seeland-II-C or the Lindholm amulet in the aaaaaaaazzznnn-b- muttt, sequence, which besides stacked Tyr involves multiple repetition of Ansuz, but also triple occurrence of Algiz and Naudiz. Many inscriptions also have meaningless utterances interpreted as magical chants, such as tuwatuwa (Vadstena bracteate), aaduaaaliia (DR BR42) or g͡æg͡og͡æ (Undley bracteate), g͡ag͡ag͡a (Kragehul I).

A few Viking Age rings with runic inscriptions of apparently magical nature were found, among them the Kingmoor Ring.

Historically it is known that the Germanic peoples used numerous forms of divination and means of reading omens. Tacitus (Germania 10) gives a detailed second-hand account:

Augury and divination by lot no people practise more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes towards heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them. If they prove unfavourable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augury is still required.[1]

Tacitus' reference is not likely to refer to runes, however, as the runes do not seem to have been in use at the time of Tacitus' writings.

Other oft cited sources for the practice of runic divination are chapter 38 of Snorri Sturluson's Ynglinga Saga, where Granmar, the king of Södermanland, travels to the Temple at Uppsala for the seasonal blót. "There, the chips fell in a way that said that he would not live long" (Féll honum þá svo spánn sem hann mundi eigi lengi lifa).[2] Another source is in the Vita Ansgari, the biography of Ansgar the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, which was written by a monk named Rimbert. Rimbert details the custom of casting lots by the pagan Norse (chapters 26-30).[3] The chips and the lots, however, can be explained respectively as a blótspánn (sacrificial chip) and a hlautlein (lot-twig), which according to Foote and Wilson [2] would be "marked, possibly with sacrificial blood, shaken and thrown down like dice, and their positive or negative significance then decided."

Modern systems

Runic divination using ceramic tiles

The Armanen runes "revealed" to Guido von List in 1902 were employed for magical purposes in Germanic mysticism by authors such as Friedrich Bernhard Marby and Siegfried Adolf Kummer, and after World War II in a reformed "pansophical" system by Karl Spiesberger. More recently, Stephen Flowers, Adolf Schleipfer, Larry E. Camp and others also build on List's system.

Several modern systems of runic magic and runic divination were published from the 1980s onward. The first book on runic divination, written by Ralph Blum in 1982, led to the development of sets of runes designed for use in several such systems of fortune telling, in which the runes are typically incised in clay, stone tiles, crystals, resin, glass, or polished stones, then either selected one-by-one from a closed bag or thown down at random for reading.

Later such as Diana L. Paxson and Freya Aswynn follow Blum (1989) in drawing a direct correlation between runic divination and tarot cards. They may discuss runes in the context of "spreads" and advocate the usage of "rune cards".

Modern authors like Ralph Blum sometimes include an ahistorical "blank rune" in their sets. Blank runes are most commonly used to replace any runes that are lost and are not to be included in a reading.


Ralph Blum

In 1982, the modern usage of the runes for answering life's questions was apparently originated by Ralph Blum in his divination book The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle, which was marketed with a small bag of round tiles with runes stamped on them. This book has remained in print since its first publication. The sources for Blum's divinatory interpretations, as he explained in The Book of Runes itself, drew heavily on then-current books describing the ancient I Ching divination system of China.

Each of Blum's seven books on runic divination deals with a specialized area of life or a varied technique for reading runes:

  • The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle: The Viking Runes (1982); revised 10th Anniversary Edition (1992); revised 25th Anniversary Edition (2007).
  • The Rune Cards: Sacred Play for Self Discovery (1989); reissued as The Rune Cards: Ancient Wisdom For the New Millennium (1997). Rather than rune stones, this book uses images of the runes printed on card stock, much like a set of trading cards or tarot cards.
  • The Healing Runes with co-author Susan Loughan (1995) teaches methods for using runic divination in the context of health and personal integration.
  • Rune Play: A Method of Self Counseling and a Year-Round Rune Casting Recordbook (1996)
  • The Serenity Runes: Five Keys to the Serenity Prayer with co-author Susan Loughan (1998); reissued as The Serenity Runes: Five Keys to Spiritual Recovery (2005) utilizes runic divination as a method for assisting self-help and recovery from addictions; the title is a reference to the well-known serenity prayer widely used in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Ralph H. Blum's Little Book of Runic Wisdom (2002).
  • The Relationship Runes: A Compass for the Heart with co-author Bronwyn Jones (2003) shows how to use runic divination in matters of love and friendship.

Blum has also written books on the Tao Te Ching, Zen Buddhism, and UFOs.

Stephen Flowers

In the wake of a 1984 dissertation on "Runes and Magic", Stephen Flowers published a series of books under the pen-name "Edred Thorsson" which detailed his own original method of runic divination and magic,'odianism'[3], which he said was loosely based on historical sources and modern European hermeticism. These books were:

  • Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic (1984)
  • Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology (1987)
  • At The Well of Wyrd (1988) which was later reprinted under the title Runecaster’s Handbook: The Well of Wyrd.
  • Northern Magic: Rune Mysteries and Shamanism (2002).

Runic divination is a component of Flowers' "esoteric runology" course offered to members of his Rune Gild, as detailed in The Nine Doors of Midgard: A Curriculum of Rune-Work.

Stephan Grundy

In 1990, Stephan Grundy, a.k.a. Kveldulf Gundarsson, described runic magic as the active principle as opposed to passive interpretations based on runic divination. He held that runic magic is more active than the allegedly shamanic practice of seid practiced by the Seiðkona. Runic magic, he states, uses the runes to affect the world outside based on the archetypes they represent.[4]

Most of Gundarsson's runic magic entails being in possession of a physical entity that is engraved with any or all of the individual runes or "staves", so as to practically work with their so called energies. The individual runes are reddened with either blood, dyes, or paints. The act of possessing the stave in its final form serves the purpose of affecting the world of form with "the rune might" of that particular stave. After use, the staves are discarded or destroyed.[5]

Gundarsson holds that each rune has a certain sound to it, to be chanted or sung; the sound has in common the phonetic value by which it is represented.[6] This act of singing or chanting is supposed to have more or less the same effect of using the staves in their physical form.[7]


  • Adam Byrn Tritt, in Runic Divination in the Welsh Tradition (2001)[8] presents a system based on a ten stone set, including nine symbols which are unrelated to the historical runes, plus a blank stone, which represents the querent.
  • Diana L. Paxson deals with the subject of runic divination and the use of the runes in magical spell-casting in her book Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide To Using Runes In Spells, Rituals, Divination, And Magic (2005).[9]
  • Wendy Christine Duke in Spiral of Life (2008)[10] presents a divination system is based on organizing a set of forty-one "revealed images" based on the runic letters.

See also


  1. ^ Spurkland, Terje (2005). Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions. Boydell Press. pp. 16. ISBN 1-84383-186-4. 
  2. ^ Foote, P.G., and Wilson, D.M. (1970), page 401. The Viking Achievement, Sidgwick & Jackson: London, UK, ISBN 0-283-97926-7
  3. ^ Runelore;A handbook of Esoteric Runology:Edred Thorsson
  4. ^ Gundarsson (1990), 27; 211; 211-212.
  5. ^ Gundarsson (1990), 33; 34; 27.
  6. ^ Gundarsson (1990), 37-156.
  7. ^ Gundarsson (1990), 31-32.
  8. ^ ISBN 9781890109325.
  9. ^ ISBN 9781578633258
  10. ^ Spiral of Life - A Guidebook For Your Journey (2008) Cloud Haven Studio Incorporated, ISBN 978-0-9818693-0-8.


  • Ralph Blum, The Book of Runes : A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle: The Viking Runes with Stones, St. Martin's Press; 10th anniversary ed edition (1993), ISBN 0-312-09758-1.
  • Edred Thorsson, A Handbook of Rune Magic, Weiser Books (1983), ISBN 0-87728-548-9
  • Edred Thorsson, A Handbook of Esoteric Runology, Weiser Books (1987), ISBN 0-87728-667-1
  • Fries, Jan, Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick, Second Edition, Mandrake of Oxford (2002), ISBN 978-1869928384
  • Gundarsson, Kveldulf (1990). Teutonic Magic. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, Inc.. ISBN 0-87542-291-8. 
  • Sweyn Plowright, The Rune Primer, Lulu Press (2006), ISBN 1-84728-246-6
  • Meadows, Kenneth (1996). Rune Power: The Secret Knowledge of the Wise Ones. Milton, Brisbane: Element Books Limited. ISBN 1-85230-706-4
  • Foote, P.G., and Wilson, D.M. (1970), page 401. The Viking Achievement, Sidgwick & Jackson: London, UK, ISBN 0-283-97926-7
  • Tritt, Adam Byrn, Tellstones: Runic Divination in the Welsh Tradition, Crossquarter Press, (2001), ISBN 1-89010-932-0

External links


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