There are numerous divination tools. One of the most popular and, on the surface at least, easy to use are runes.
The runes you will most commonly see are those of the Elder Futhark. Put simply, they are letters from the ancient Norse alphabet. Images of runes are carved in stone all over Europe, from the Carpathian Mountains to Scandinavia. As we all know, the Vikings got around, and took their knowledge with them.
What do the runes mean?
The runes are not just letters. Each symbol stands for a word with its own meaning and implications. Each is an individual concept. The chart above gives the most commonly used names for the individual runes you will find in rune sets as they are most often sold. Modern sets often include a blank rune stone, sometimes called the rune of fate. The blank rune is not a traditional part of the alphabet, so I'm going to just plain ignore that little bugger. Most rune sets come with a brief guide like the one above for easy learning. If the runes call to you in more than the standard "Hmm, that's kind of cool, and look! Pretty stones!" way, I strongly suggest picking up a more thorough guide.
As with any divination tool, the runes are best learned by getting to know each one thoroughly and individually. Pick a rune and carry it with you for a day, thinking of all the things it connects to in your everyday life.
For instance, fehu (in some translations feoh) represents wealth and abundance. Literally, fehu means "cattle." Think about it. Back when paper money wasn't a thing, when even gold coins were not going to feed you, how did you measure wealth? You measured it by how much you had to eat, how comfortable your life was. Cattle are as good a way to measure that as anything.
Living in the country as I do, carrying fehu around for a day will certainly remind me of the cows in the pasture nearby. But it will also bring to mind the other ways I measure prosperity. Income, sure. The comforts I can afford. The pets that I have enough money to take care of and therefore can responsibly own and love. (Unless we're talking about the cat of course, it's more like he allows me the privilege of feeding him.) My point is that all of these things are signs of abundance and prosperity in my life.
Getting to know each rune on an individual level will help you learn them and use them effectively in divination.
Using runes for divination
Most rune sets come in handy little bag. If yours didn't, get one. I recommend black, since it negates random energy that may affect your rune set and thus your readings.
The simplest way to use the runes, and a good way to get to know them further, is by asking a simple question and literally feeling around for a simple answer.
Take a moment to clear your mind and ask Spirit for guidance. With the rune stones in their bag, mix them up a bit as you think of a straight-forward question. For instance, "What should I focus on today if I want to do well at work?"
Reach into the bag with your receptive hand (for most that's your left hand; lefties: do the right thing), and feel around for the answer. Let your fingers do their own wandering. Don't try to braille the runes, just touch the stones and see which one your fingers want to grab.
The rune you choose will give you an idea of what to concentrate on. Perhaps you pick out fehu, simply telling you that if you want your damn paycheck, you better get to work. Perhaps raidho (radu) will come to hand, indicating that speed is important today.
As with any divination tool, you are in essence asking your own subconscious to direct you. Divination tools often serve to get your overworking, logical mind to step aside, allowing your heart and soul to guide you. Focusing on the chosen rune in this little exercise will force your mind to look at the problem or question from a different perspective, or simply reinforce what you already know.
As you get to know your runes, you can use them for more complex insight into situations to receive guidance. As an example, I often pick 3 runes (feeling for them, as above), and simply lay them in a row as you see here.
When reaching for the individual runes, I will focus on the question or situation I need guidance with, then pull them and place them as follows.
The first drawn rune represents the present situation. Usually it will fit nicely with what you are feeling, but sometimes the rune's message comes as a bit of a surprise, cluing you in to an aspect or influence that you weren't really paying attention to.
In this example, I have drawn isa (is). All I can say right now is, "Uhuh. Yeah, I feel frozen in place, stuck. Thanks for reminding me." But isa is also a gentle reminder that these blocks are often psychological, so some spanking of the inner moppet may be called for.
The center run is for the path I need to take to make my way through the problem at hand. Here I have drawn ehwaz (eah). It symbolizes, literally, a horse. It implies that I need a little help here, in the teamwork sense. Hmm . . . might be time to share my problem with someone else and see if that person can help me out.
Kenaz (ken) is literally a lamp or light. It shines into the dimmer reaches to help with understanding and knowledge. In this instance, I find ken as the "outcome" indicator to be a little frustrating. Overall, the runes seem to be telling me this:
"Okay, you feel stuck. You might want to look at how you contributed to the situation, this might just be a mental block. Enlist some help! You're not going to find this problem easy to deal with on your own. Once you do that, you're going to have a new understanding of the situation."
So the news obviously isn't all joy, but I have a little guidance on how to deal with the minor jam I'm in, and when I'm done writing this article I'm going to tap my husband on the shoulder and ask for his help. Maybe his insight will help me see the problem in a new light and reveal the way to solve it.
Advanced rune use
Once you are comfortable with the most basic uses of runes, you can start applying them in other ways and for more complex insights. Different layouts for different types of readings are in many books as well as online.
In magical practice, runes are sometimes used in spellwork to help focus intent. They can be used individually or combined. Many of these combinations are beautiful and some are even fashioned into jewelry that can be worn when you need the runes' energy.
Lightly tracing a rune on your skin (with your finger, imagining it as written in light, or with a bit of blessed oil) can lend you the energy of that rune as well. For instance, to gain insight into a situation, try tracing kenaz on your "third eye," the spot just above and between your eyebrows. To encourage a situation that seems stagnant to move into completion, trace jera (ger) on your directive hand before you tackle the situation.
Not all runes are the Norse runes of the Elder Futhark. Runes come from many cultures and traditions. Some of them are very useful, some are both useful and beautiful. I have referred a few times to other translations or names for the Viking runes. Those are the names I learned and I still think of them that way.
As always, I strongly encourage you to do your research. Learn on your own and ask others for help and guidance. Runes may become an important part of your magickal practice, or they may not, but you should at least have a basic understanding of them if you're going to be moving about in the witchy world.
Blessings now and always,