Getting Started on Your Rune Journey
In this post we will take a look at brief aspects of beginning your rune journey. W In other posts we will explore the ways that runes interact with our wyrd and how we experience them in our everyday lives. The series to follow will be a way to level-set and gain different perspective on your relationship with the runes and how to engage them in other ways.
First, some basics. There are basically two way of looking at runes: the historical, linguistic study and the magical, divination (often labeled “esoteric”) use of them. There is overlap as there are evidence and references for the concurrent use of historical Futhark/Futhorc runes in magical use, but the way we use runes today for that purpose is definitely a modern creation inspired by texts preserved in the 13th century with evidence from artefacts from centuries earlier.
For some, that may be quite a shock to think that the runes are not an “ancient divination system of the Norse” as they are often described. We know that the Germanic writing system we call the Futhark (most used today is the Elder Futhark for the system encompassing Fehu through Othala/Dagaz) existed and came into being in the way we understand it about the first to second century. There are items with the futhark written on them and showing the form of a writing system. There are also examples of words used in a magical setting written in runes. With the onset of the Viking Age in the 9th and 10th centuries, the rune poems were created and the stories we call the Lore began to be told and were preserved in the 13th century.
The three main extant rune poems used as the foundation for the connection to the mystical energy of the runes are the Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse (Norwegian), and the Icelandic poems. There are other poems that have been found since and certainly many more poems were written over the centuries, but these three are the main “points of contact” for now. But it is mainly from these three texts that we derive the magical and divination use of the runes today.
Runes are described in sections 139 and 140 of the Hávamál as being a secret or mystery that was gained through a shamanic-type journey taken by Odin in a highly intense experience over nine nights.
I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run.
No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered;
I took up the runes,
screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.
– Rúnatal, Benjamin Thorpe translation
We find ourselves on a magical mystery tour with the runes that began so long ago but did not end just because of the shift in religious practice. The runes went down, occasionally resurfacing from time to time for brief periods, until they were found again and “taken up” about 40 years ago. The poems add layers of meanings to the runes as we integrate them with our modern perspective which then open portals to traveling on the planes of Wyrd to experience special gifts.
The runes are indeed taken up and ready to share with those who will take the journey to peer down and find them. You can conduct your own meditative journey to meet and find the runes just as Odin did. See what When you have made that connection to the runes and they have presented themselves for you to take up, celebrate that victory with an offering to Odin and the beings who accompanied you, protected you, and guided you on that special quest.
After this success, seek the guidance of the gods who know the runes best to guide and teach you. As the purveyors of magic and sorcery among the gods, the Vanir are our go-to teachers and guides along with Odin. I acknowledge Odin for the example of gaining that work through a deep meditative journey and wisdom. I work mostly with Heimdall to teach me the many layers and nuances of the runes and Freya to properly work with their magical power.
There are many books on runes available today and many people simply use just the key words in an attempt to apply runic power to their practices. But the relationship will not have the real power until the runes make themselves visible to you to take them up. Tread well and carefully as you begin your learning and seek the close relationship with the Vanir (including Freyr as the priest of magic himself) to spiritually guide the magical journey.
As with all spiritual skill building, it is wise to study and understand well the tools and energies with which you are working. Connect with others who have experience and insights as well as reading other resources. Welcome to this wyrdly fantastic journey.
Once you take them up, “You’ve been Runed.”
This article was first published in the eZine: Taufr,A Talisman of the Heidhr Craft – Spring 2020 (March 2020) published by Iaconoagraphy Press. It has been slightly edited to fit this format.