A Beginner's Guide To Casting & Reading Runes

Photo: getty
How To Read Runes: Rune Casting Guide For Beginners

The Runes have come and go as far as being a fashionable and popular form of divination. We've all heard of them, along with Tarot cards and I Ching, yet we really don't know what they're about until we delve into the practice.

In order to practice, we need to know how to read Runes.

We also need to understand what the Runes actually are, how they are used, and how they can play a major role in gleaning helpful information and guidance for our lives, as well as for the lives of others.

What are Runes?

The Runes are an ancient alphabet. When you see those stark lines and glyphs, what you're actually looking at is an alphabet that is shared by the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon languages. The Scandinavian version of the Runes is called Futhark, and the Anglo-Saxon variation is called Futhorc. 

The best known runic alphabets are the Elder Futhark, the Anglo-Saxon Futhark, and the Younger Futhark. For each stone or tile, there is inscribed or written a single Futhark character, and the simplicity of the character itself is often times enough to inspire an entire explanation on what's going on.

The Runes have been used as a method of divination since 150 AD. The purpose of using the Runes for divination is to extract wisdom from the meanings laid out for us.

What is most important to know about the world of divination and esoterics is the concept of interpretation. A good reader of the Runes doesn't just hook on to the previously advised information — she or he interprets that information and makes it relevant in the seeker's world.

How To Read Runes

First, you buy a bag of Runes, or, if you're inclined, you can carve or craft a set of Runes on your own.

I have a bag of Runes made of deer antlers, as I was living in the Pacific Northwest at the time that I got into reading and interpreting Runes. I wanted something local and, well, there's a lot of deer and elk roaming around the grounds there.

By the way, antler tips and pieces break off naturally with these animals, so there's no animal abuse or cruelty involved. In other words, there's no bad karma attached to the material that makes up the Rune tile.

You can get Runes in many different natural materials, such as jade, amethyst, bone, onyx, and even wood.

You take your bag of Runes and you hold it in your hand. Think deeply on your question. Really transfer your feelings into that little bag. When you feel ready, reach into the bag and pull out 1, 2 or 3 stones.

I will use only one stone for things like quick insight. Say for instance, if I want to know what lessons are ahead of me that day, I'll draw a single Rune from the bag, and that will be my guide for the day. This is my personal favorite way; however, there is no inquiry involved with this kind of insight. 

When we have something specific in mind, we think intensely while holding our bag of Runes, draw out 1, 2 or 3 tiles, and lay them out before us, in order of their appearance. We can lay them out for past, present and future, or we can see them as the present, what challenge is coming soon, and what to do about it.

The Runes, like the Tarot cards, take on different meanings when displayed upside down, or in the language of the Runes: Merkstave.

Merkstave literally means upside down, and when we throw a Rune stone upside down, we must refer to our books, apps and manuals for the meaning, as those meanings are different than if the Rune was right side up.

What are some classic Runic draws for us to use?

The Three Rune Layout

The Three Rune Layout is always good for beginners as well as experts.

Rune 1 represents you, your question, your concerns, your story, how things affect you right now, and who you are right now.

Rune 2 speaks of the challenges you'll go through, what's in store, what could be, what to do and what to avoid.

Rune 3 presents an idea for you to use in reality; how to achieve the result you want, how to make it happen, what you should do, and what you should release.

Lay the three Runes out on a clean surface, so you can see them clearly.

The Five Rune Layout

With the five Rune layout, you are the stone in the middle.

You lay that stone down as a centerpiece. Rune 2 goes to its left, Rune 3 goes above the "you" stone, Rune 4 goes underneath the "you" stone on the bottom, and Rune 5 goes to the right of the "you" stone.

Much like a Tarot layout, the stones that surround the seeker's stone tell the story of past (left stone), recent past (bottom stone), the ideas for the future (top stone) and the future (stone to the far right.)

When you lay out the five Rune spread, you will see what looks like an equilateral cross.

The Nine Rune Layout

The magical number 9 is brought forth here in this layout.

Hold both your intention and your bag of Runes close to your heart. Pick out 9 Runes and toss them onto a clean space. Line them up next to each other.

The outer rim of Runes will present lesser meaning, and the Runes closer to the middle should be recognized as meaningful and more important. And such is life as well — some things are dire, and some simply "there."

The Runes mimic life in this layout. Get out your book of meanings, and work them together in a fluid interpretation.

The Single Rune Cast

If you want to dive into the world of Runes, you might want to start with one Rune at a time. This is how I learned my style, and how to read the Runes.

Setting your intention, or question, pluck one runic tile from your bag. Hold it in your hand and expose it to the light. What do you feel from this? Is it speaking to you?

Look to your books for the meaning. Sometimes that's all you need, just one little bit of advice to guide you through your day. I, personally, throw one Rune every day of my life, right after I've had my coffee and meditation.

How To Interpret Runes

This one's on you. You can take this seriously, or you can use it as a game. It's okay, but if you just happen to want more, then use this form of divination as a way to hone your own interpretative skills, because in real divination, it's all about skill.

Say for instance you draw a single Rune: Mannaz. This Rune can easily represent your own state of mind, your self, and your sense of self. But is that all there is? No. This is where you whip your Runes books out and get down and dirty with meanings.

You can't just do a reading and say the word "self" and be satisfied with that. Why? Because there's nothing to work with. Let's be real: if you want to interpret the Runes, you need something substantial to work with, and one single word isn't exact enough. 

So, we look up Mannaz and find that it's much more profound than our original discovery.

Mannaz also means this: The individual, or the human race. Your attitude towards others and their attitudes towards you. Friends and enemies, social order. Intelligence, forethought, creativity, skill, ability. Divine structure, awareness. Expect to receive some sort of aid or cooperation now.

Merkstave, or reversed: Depression, mortality, blindness, self-delusion. Expect no help now.

How do you make sense of that particular Rune?

When you interpret information that has been laid out so neatly for you, you need to read between the lines.

Perhaps the seeker who got the Rune "Mannaz" in their casting is someone who needs to bring order in their life. They need to recognize who has friendly intentions and who does not.

When Mannaz shows up, it's time to put aside the distractions of TV, drugs or alcohol, and games, and stay focused. If this person reaches out for help, they will get it, unless the Rune is Merkstave. And if it is, then the seeker, in this case, needs to confront something within themselves that is keeping them down.

Remember, the original meaning, the simplified meaning, is "the self." With that as a base, all interpretations must revolve around this original idea of "the self."

If you're doing one of the classic casts, look deeply into the meanings according to the place where the Rune is laid out. If it's in the past, then apply the meaning to the past, but let yourself build and build more meaning into it.

Elaborate — that is your job as a reader of the Runes. Let your mind open so that meaning can come in. If the Rune is in the position that represents the future, then build your interpretation around something that's yet to take place.

Note: Do not assume you'll get it all 100 percent right on the first time, or even on the 100th time. The Runes is a process of education; you will learn and you will share as you learn. Let the Runes make a better interpreter of you.

What does each Rune sigil mean?

For a short, to the point, quick guide to what each Rune means, study and refer to this assembled list. But don't get lazy! Learn the Runes on your own, study the books, seek for meaning as only a true seeker of truth and light can do.

I highly encourage you to explore the world of the Runes to find deeper, more intense meaning, subtlety and nuance.

  • Fehu: possessions
  • Uruz: strength
  • Thurisaz: gateway
  • Ansuz: signals
  • Raidho: journey
  • Kenaz: opening
  • Gebo: partnership
  • Wunjo: joy
  • Hagalaz: disruption
  • Naudhiz: constraint
  • Isa: standstill
  • Jera: harvest
  • Elhwaz: defense
  • Perthro: initiation
  • Elhaz: protection
  • Sowilo: wholeness
  • Tiwaz: warrior
  • Berkano: growth
  • Ehwaz: movement
  • Mannaz: the self
  • Laguz: flow
  • Ingwaz: fertility
  • Dagaz: breakthrough
  • Othala: separation
  • Blank (Odin's Stone): the unknowable

How do I get ahold of Runes?

I got mine in a shop in Portland, Oregon that specializes in occult and esoteric supplies, but you can find them online, most especially over at Etsy. You don't need to spend a bundle; you can pick up a bag for less than $20, but if you want some special kind of stone, that might cost extra. 

What you can expect are 25 inscribed stones, tiles or rocks with a single runic character on each. One stone, considered "Odin's stone," is blank, and allows the reader/interpreter to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. This stone wasn't always in the line up, and is more of a modern addition to an ancient form of divination. 

Your best bet nowadays, particularly during a pandemic, would be to stay home and order yourself a bag online, as there as thousands of choices and plenty of shops to choose from!

Where do I find information on Runes?

This is where you hit the books, because there is no knowledge of the Runes without a little old schoolwork involved. 

I always tell my students to go with what feels right to them, even down to the visual of a book cover or the way the book design is displayed. Some want a thrilling personal touch to their runes, so we have books on Goth Runes, Swedish Runes, Celtic Runes. 

Recommended books include the following: 

I have read all these books above and recommend them all very highly. Also feel free to explore further, as there might be a title that just grabs you and demands your attention.

Ruby Miranda is a New Yorker who learned astrology, I Ching and all types of cartomancy and numerology from her crazy, gypsy mother. She currently writes for a wide range of esoteric publications.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.