A rune can be a lot of things. In this case it’s a letter from the old viking language that you see all over Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer in the Marvel movies, as well as artefacts from that era. There’s an extensive list of uses for runes, and their history is just as varied.
What exactly is a rune?
That actually depends on what you want to do. Are you looking at this through the lens of linguistics? Then it’s just the name for a letter in old Germanic alphabets. How about divination? A rune could be the letter on a tile, or a piece of bone, or a particularly pretty stone, that’s used in a casting. What about magic or spells? Then it’s just a mark of significance to the person casting the magic.
The runes discussed here are specifically from the Elder FUTHARK language and fit all those definitions.
Elder FUTHARK is a pictographic language, so each rune originally represented something specific. Because of the nature of the language, there wasn’t a difference between cases, like most languages have today. The name is made up of the first six runes of their alphabet: fehu ( ), uruz ( ), thurisaz ( ), ansuz ( ), raidho ( ), and kenaz ( ). Since this originally was a pictographic language, each rune originally was a direct reference to a thing in the real world. For example, the rune beorc ( b ) is the rune for birth and family, appearing to be a profile of a pregnant woman. The rune has since come to represent, unsurprisingly, the Great Mother and is also used as protection, specifically for homes. Runes have been in use since its creation in the 2nd century BCE by the Nords. It was later used as an alphabetic language from the 2nd to 8th century CE.
Today, runes are used primarily for divination, talismans and charms. Rune castings are much like Tarot readings, with the placement and order of the runes changing how they’re interpreted. This interpretation can be used to your advantage when putting together your talisman.
Casting runes is the main method of using them for divination. A “cast” refers to the pattern the runes are laid out in to answer queries. For example, laying three runes in a line is the most common, and easiest, to divine. Just like Tarot cards, the left most rune is the past, the middle the present, and the right most rune predicting the future. There are as many castings as there are questions.
Depending on your beliefs, this can be a fun exercise or can help in making that life altering decision. Like Tarot cards, runes can be used to ask very specific or rather vague questions. Are you going to find a job in the relatively near future? Will you get that promotion tomorrow? Where exactly are your keys? Based on your question, and how you decide to cast your runes, you can glean a little insight into these questions.