On Reading Runes

photo 2Those of you who follow me on YouTube or elsewhere on the Interwebs probably know that I also read runes. This site has focused on tarot exclusively, and lately I’ve been thinking I should take the time to introduce this part of my magical repertoire to Tarot Skeptic readers who may be curious.

My approach to runes is quite a bit different from my approach to tarot. The lines aren’t always clear, but I have some very distinct tendencies that are worth noting.

Tarot to me is very much an intellectual exercise rather than a religious one. I don’t practice any sort of purification ritual, before or after readings. I don’t think gods or spirits are speaking to me through the cards. Tarot is not directly connected to my practice of witchcraft. I even tend to avoid religious language, insofar as that’s ever really possible. My tarot study is rooted very strongly in a particular understanding of history (and a belief in the relevance of that history) and within the context of particular esoteric traditions (e.g. the Golden Dawn, BOTA, etc). There’s a level of objectivity (again, if that’s ever a thing at all) present in my understanding of tarot that I find is often missing in other approaches to the cards. When I want to understand the meaning of a particular card, I turn to a scholarly text on either the card itself or the tradition from which it arises, as opposed to meditating on it, consulting some kind of spirit guide, or engaging in a flow-of-consciousness type intuitive exploration. That’s all fine for other people, but it’s just not how I like to roll when I can help it. It feels too nebulous to me, and I’ve never been the sort of person who likes to openly emote.

With runes, all that goes out the window. Reading runes is absolutely a religious activity for me. The runes belong to the gods (a particular group of gods, and, still further, specific gods within that framework) and I’m turning to Them (at least in part) when I use them, whether it’s to perform a reading or if I’m using runes in magical work. I get emotional, I get woo-woo, and I’m quicker to discount all of my usual empiricism. Dana Scully checks out and my Mulder-brain—wantonly, gleefully—takes over.

I’m constantly wrestling with the question of whether or not a commitment to the gods is required in order to work effectively with the runes. For me, this is a constant back and forth, and increasingly I lean toward yes (at least, for myself). When I first was learning about the runes, it was casual and from the place of a non-practitioner. I was simply a witch curiously exploring systems outside of my own. But since I began using them seriously, I’ve built unanticipated religious and social connections within Heathen spaces. I talk to gods that I previously didn’t have relationships with. My attitudes about divination are different now. Runes exist in a completely different headspace from tarot. They’re magical and sacred in and of themselves, unlike tarot, whose power is consciously constructed.

I realize that’s magical thinking all on its own, but there it is.

It’s challenging moving between the two over the course of a day’s work, like stepping back and forth into different social roles. I love both, but differently.  Tarot stimulates my intellect and fuels my love for history.  Runes are about my connection to the gods.

For those of you who practice other forms of divination, do you find that your approaches are markedly different?

2 thoughts on “On Reading Runes

  1. This is interesting to me because my approach is similar, but also different, in that I try to access both frames of mind in my readings. With either cards or runes, I try to split the difference between the checklist of words/associations I have, and the leaps of intuition/subjective nature of interpretations that I make. Whether I’m attempting to explain The Chariot’s connection to Cancer or the impressions of Dagaz as the coming of the dawn, the things I say now are probably different than the things I’d say yesterday/tomorrow, so I have to account for “set & setting” as much as my capacity to understand/interpret the symbols. I can only pray (both figuratively & literally) that what I do & say during the reading imparts something both influential & empowering to the querant.

  2. Chris Mann

    There are a couple of things I don’t get. First the easy one. How do you use those wooden runes? They look cool, but won’t you be able to feel which one you’re drawing?

    The other thing I don’t get is, why runes? Of all the alphabets out there, why the futhark? One could use the Cyrilic alphabet, Golgolitic alphabet, Greek alphabet, etc or even in the English alphabet. Other than runes, the only other alphabets I hear of being used is the Ogham alphabet and the Hebrew alephbet, and the latter I only see used in connection with the major arcana within Tarot. I haven’t heard of it being used on its own (though I admit that I haven’t read all that much on the subject). Do you use the Hebrew alephbet as part of your Tarot readings, by the way?

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