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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Runic Practice: Introduction to Basic Methods

Before delving into the finer points of rune magick or any particular school of methods, it is important to map out exactly what areas most of it covers.


Essentially runes have been painted, carved, scratched, or implied through observation of nature, for a few different purposes.

1. Casting, or divination (note: this is a dead-serious operative oracular art - not mere fortune-telling)
2. Creating spells for various results (either as written-out formulas, or as bind-runes)
3. As protective pendants or charms ("passive rune magick")
4. As incantations, spoken or sung out loud, for initiations, power, or connection with supernatural energies
5. As meditations, for connecting with higher realms of creation, solving problems, and strengthening the will.
6. As an alphabet, for mundane, everyday writing purposes. This was very rare until medieval times.

(7.) I will also add a controversial seventh category, the so-called Stodhr/Stadhagaldr or "rune-yoga". This is a practice pioneered by Siegfried Adolf Kummer, Friedrich Bernhard Marby, and Karl Spiesberger, based on the Armanen Futharkh and the work of Guido von List. However many people using runes today will employ similar techniques using the "Elder" Futhark, sometimes not knowing who actually developed these techniques and why they were originally intended for the Armanen system.


1. Casting

Rune casting has a few different purposes, but essentially they all boil down to oracular divination. This is not mere "read your horoscope" fortune telling, but a much more practical and serious art used for specific situations in which a hard choice must be made and simple answers in the material world are not available or forthcoming. Rune casting essentially allows the practitioner to understand part of the flow of his or her wyrd in relation to a specific set of events, weaving through the current situation or problem in question, and into future tendencies - and thus it helps the person know how to act accordingly for the best possible outcome. Wyrd can be defined similarly to the Vedic concept of karma, that is, the consequences of past actions coming back to affect the current situation. This is an essential part of all Indo-European cosmology, though with the Nordic worldview it also emphasizes how your wyrd can also interact with the wyrds of other people, and thus twist or alter potential outcomes in your future because of that interaction.

There are essentially two types of rune casting, which can have many different variations. The first type (draw-casting) involves drawing runes at random out of a bag or simply a pile of rune tiles/stones. There are several ways of doing this (single rune cast, "3 Norns cast", "Germania cast", "Runic Cross", "Thor's Hammer cast", "Giver's cast" and so forth). The more complicated forms which use more than three runes are almost entirely modern inventions. This doesn't make them any less valid, but there is no proof of a connection to ancient Germanic rune practices, not even a wisp. Typically the "3 Norns" cast is the most common and the most powerful for most decisions.

NOTE: If you use the Spiesberger method (meant for Armanen runes but also adaptable for other systems with positive/negative meanings) then ideally you want to have rune tiles that are perfectly square, draw them with eyes closed, position them with one side (NOT a corner) of the square facing you, then open your eyes and flip over all the face-down ones (flip horizontally) to get the complete reading. With the tiles being perfectly square (equal length on all sides), you won't unintentionally discriminate with your hands against drawing merkstave or alternate-positive runes before you open your eyes and flip over the face-down ones - so this way you don't bias the reading against any rune positions. For obvious reasons, it is easier to get square rune tiles made in wood than in stone.

The second type of casting (free casting) involves using a large flat surface, usually with a cloth on top (white was the color traditionally used). Tacitus, in Germania, explains how the Teutonic tribes would randomly cast "symbols" carved on slices of a tree branch onto a large flat surface (usually a tree stump with a cloth covering) to determine the will of the Fates (i.e. the Norns) and thus the best course of action. Tacitus and other Roman authors are unclear on how precisely this was done, but we know that it was basically a method of grabbing several rune staves/tiles and throwing them all over the cloth-covered table/stump and interpreting the result based on how they landed. Based on a number of folk traditions that have survived in Norway and Iceland, a few modern methods of this so-called "free-casting" have been reconstructed. The runes tiles that land face down are typically not considered in the interpretation of the cast. Those which land face up, are interpreted in conjunction with each other, which can make this method much more complex and ambiguous than the first. Where they land in relation to the centerpoint of the cloth, as well as in relation to other runes, combined with the meanings of each individual rune, can affect the whole outcome of the casting. Also, as most runes (in whatever futhark you use) can have multiple layers of meaning, the meanings may differ based on what runes they fall close to.

Many modern rune masters have actually developed their own personal free-cast methods based on experience. We shall go into this subject more deeply in the future.

2. Rune-spells and Bind-runes

Basically there are three forms of rune spell methods known: written out formulas, bind-runes, and Galdrastafir. Let us remind ourselves here that "spells" does not refer to the silly modern curiosities detailed in popular novels, nor to the "new-age" formulas invented for "witchcraft", Wicca and the like, but primal elemental forces invoked in runes which themselves are symbols of higher energies and raw power. A rune-spell should never be undertaken unless one understands the meanings of the runes as well as their natures (or even, one might say, character) and also how and for what purposes they were obtained. Every rune spell must be taken in solemn understanding of Odin's sacrifice to gain the runes as related in the Hávamál. These are not games or amusements to be taken lightly.

Written-out spells (such as those mentioned in Egil's Saga) can be either painted, carved, or both. They were typically carved into wood staves/planks or into large rune-stones erected at important sites. There were written-out spells for many different purposes - everything from spells for healing and protection in childbirth to ruinous curses directed at an enemy or traitor.

Bind-runes are combinations of runes superimposed on top of each other. There are a few different styles of bind-runes, some of which try to superimpose/layer as many lines as possible from all the runes used (but which run the risk of also incorporating some runes that were not intended to be a part of the bind-rune), and some of which are more conservative with superimposing, preferring to superimpose on only the vertical lines between the component runes. Of course the more complex the runes used, the more complex the bind-spell. Generally the simplified hexagonal Armanen runes are the easiest to use in making bind runes, as they all build upon the radii and facets of the same "mother shape" - an equilateral hexagon. The stave forms, and more variable rows like the "Elder" and "Younger" rows, are a bit more complicated and have a bit more chance of accidental incorporation of an unintended rune. The most complex and difficult bind-runes are those done with Anglo-Saxon runes, especially those with similar forms such as Ac, Asc, and so forth.

Galdrastafir (or incantation-staves) are a system of graphic spells, developed in Iceland over many centuries, often (but not always) radial in form. They may incorporate runes or parts of runes, though in many cases the symbols used are not technically part of any runic system, but simply native symbolic nature-lore. The most famous Galdrastafir are the Ægishjálmur (the Helm of Awe, for invincibility in battle) and the Vegvísir (the "Runic Compass" for spiritual navigation even in lost situations). There are many others, with their own methods for use, often drawn in temporary materials such as food or ice, ranging from love spells to protection for one's livestock and crops.

3. Protective Pendants

Like with galdrastafir and bind-runes, wearing pendants with engraved runes can itself act as a source or a refiner of energy to the practitioner. Of course the best pendants are those one makes oneself. Cheap mass-produced ones are rarely effective for the same purposes, though they can still serve as important reminders of runic energies and one's path towards greater deeds and arising to higher levels of might and consciousness.

Pendants can be of runes, bind-runes, or galdrastafir. Typically they are either engraved or shaped. Shaped pendants are the actual shape of the rune itself, not engraved onto a flat surface.

Making your own rune pendants has many aspects, including the energy one wishes to infuse them with, and how this was done in ancient times; whether to use certain herbs and minerals for their symbolic energies; whether or not to use blood; when to make such pendants, to benefit from seasonal energies; and what sort of incantations to use when carving or forging them. These are to be addressed in future updates.

4. Incantations

Incantations and spoken/sung spells (or galdr) are a major part of rune magick just as carved and written spells are. Once again, understand that these are important matters that require a thorough knowledge of the energies and contexts of individual runes and their combinations, and not to be taken lightly.

Galdr was the traditional preserve of male magicians as seidr was for female. However the lines were often blurred even in ancient times and more so today. Galdr involves chanting or singing the runes with a subconscious attunement to their energies - which works more effectively than every exoteric, conscious attempt. Will works beneath the surface in galdr, because one is tapping into the very realms of creation, an invocation even more hidden and internal than invoking the gods. Therefore simply visualizing or thinking about the energy of a particular rune (say, primal fire for Fa/Fehu) often isn't enough by itself - a more appropriate action would be to mentally anchor the state of feeling the rune and its raw energy, as one chants it out loud in various forms.

Galdr, of course, can take the form of spoken rune spells as counterparts to actually carving a formula of runes. As one carves or paints, spiritually attuned galdr magick adds to the potency of the formula set down. It can never be done the same way again, as the energy of the runes in any given spell rushes in differently each time, in accordance with one's wyrd at that particular moment in their life.

This of course is the reason behind Odin's warning in the Hávamál:

Dost thou know how to write, dost know how to read?
dost thou know how to paint, dost know how to prove?
dost thou know how to ask, dost know how to offer?
dost thou know how to send, dost know how to spend? 
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.

And Egil Skallagrimsson, the famed Viking warrior and rune-master, gives us this warning:

Runes none should ever carve,
who knows not how to read them,
As it may befall many a man,
To stumble upon a Murk-Stave.

      - Egil's Saga, Chapter 75

Thus if the meanings are not understood, or if the spell incorrectly written, a different (and sometimes disastrous) outcome than what was intended may take place. This applies to carving runes, but could just as easily apply to galdr if the formulas used are complex enough.

When doing galdr of individual runes to gain experience of their energies for oneself, the risk is of course far less. In this instance it is easiest to stick with the Armanen runes since all have a positive meaning when in their standard position.

5. Meditations

This is an extremely personal part of runic practice, which can vary greatly along with the experience and the learning of the practitioner. There are many styles of runic meditations, both traditional and modern, some making extensive use of ritual objects and others having nearly none. However the meditations are always done with the rune energies as the main focus, they always involve both an outer and inner rune realm, and possibly a further "creative" realm, and they never involve the use of any sort of mind-altering substances. The point being that one must access the energies and wisdom of the runes naturally by the innate power of one's own will and subconscious track, and not attempt to force some sort of out-of-body state through external crutches that can actually cloud the mind's eye and even worse, lead to dependency.

Runic meditations can take many forms, and there is precious little ancient lore on the subject. It is believed that at least some more wisdom-conscious members of ancient Nordic society practiced them. However the actual methods and practice have had to be totally reconstructed, using thematic and mystical clues from the Lore and the Indo-European worldview whenever possible.

One of the more basic methods (and one that is available for free) is that of modern rune magician Karl Hans Welz. Although his website reads like a garish over-cluttered mid-90s Geocities infomercial spamsite with cheesy tag lines and blinding neon colors, and may not be the easiest to navigate, the free rune courses available as PDFs or web pages are a nevertheless a good starting point, and based on the work of Marby, Kummer and Spiesberger (though not any sort of strict blueprint). Of course fanatical purists may argue that the rituals advocated by Welz are a purely modern invention and have nothing to do with ancient Norse rune masters - technically they may be right, but other existing rune meditation methods (such as those used by Freya Aswynn and other "mainstream" Ásatrú  rune teachers) are hardly any less speculative. They just happen to use more "traditional" visual packaging. At the end of the day you are free to use what makes sense for you. If you feel that elemental crystals, ceremonial daggers and the like are not your thing, you can always choose alternative ritual objects that speak to you more personally and authentically in the spirit of the old Germanic rune masters.

6. Alphabetical or Orthographic use

There's not much that needs to be said here, except that using runes for mundane writing purposes is done without galdr, and without the intention of constructing any sort of spell or power-action. In medieval times many different rune-based systems were constructed, some based on expanded and more rounded forms of the Younger Futhark. Of course using them for non-Germanic languages is a purely entertainment exercise. There have also been attempts to use runic scripts for writing modern languages, as was the case with Johannes Bureus' Adalruna system for writing Swedish during the 30 Years' War.

Of course depending on which rune row you use, the spelling of one's name can turn out rather differently. The most popular system for orthographic use is the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, because of its large supply of runes to choose from. J.R.R. Tolkien used a modified form of the Anglo-Saxon runes to write scripts for languages he had invented - the Cirth (runes for Sindarin Elvish) and Angerthas (runes for Dwarvish) scripts, seen and mentioned in The Lord of The Rings. However in Tolkien's runes, the phonetic sounds attached to the runes are completely different than those used in the original Anglo-Saxon system. Hence the Feoh/Fehu rune actually becomes "G" in Tolkien's system, not "F". These are purely symbols for entertainment purposes at this point, although Tolkien insinuates in The Lay of Durin (related by Gimli in The Fellowship of the Ring) that some Dwarf-runes did apparently have magickal uses:

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.

Runes of power, though not detailed specifically in Tolkien's legendarium, could potentially be written spells in Dwarvish (a "hidden" language that Tolkien never really created much vocabulary for) or even adaptations of Anglo-Saxon bind-runes. Those of you more dangerous, and more role-playing inclined, who wish to actually construct a brand new magickal system based on Tolkien's runes, may find your own way of constructing Sindarin or Dwarvish runes of power or spells. However for serious students of authentic rune systems like myself, this is a pursuit not worth getting into, especially because there is no real-world tradition to the "Feoh as G" system Tolkien invented, and no knowledge base of willing and dedicated modern-day skalds on which to even build a new lore. Best of luck to you with that.

More recently of course we have seen evidence of unknown persons using modified versions of Armanen runes to write secret (though not so secret) mystical messages on the walls of New York shops.

7. Stodhr/Stadhagaldr, or "Rune Yoga"

Okay, let's get a couple of things straight here. First, what Rune-yoga isn't. It's not the miraculous answer to all of life's questions. It's not going to give you super-powers like levitation and mentally moving objects through the air. It works on a much more subtle level to unlock and maximize the powers and abilities that mankind does naturally have capability for in the current ground state.

To quote Edred Thorsson:

"...Stádhagaldr is an active system of magic that consists of the assumption of runic postures or gestures for magical effect... Gestures and postures form some part of almost every metaphysical or magical school. The can be seen from the simple folding of hands in prayer to the extremely complex system of asanas in the Indian hatha yoga school. Stádhagaldr is balanced in this respect. The number and intricacy of the postures are varied enough to be expressive of the wide variety of forces present, but none require extensive training or straining of the body.
"The overall aims of the stádhagaldr are:
1. control of the body through posture (stadha)
2. Control of thought through song (galdr)
3. Control of breath
4. Control of emotion
5. Becoming aware of the rune realms of the self and the world(s)
6. Control and direction of the will.
"...Stadhagaldr is used as a mode of psychological integration and personal transmutation, and it is also employed in all other types of magical operations."
The early 20th century German runemasters (F.B. Marby, S.A. Krummer, and Karl Spiesberger) developed runic yoga as a means of harnessing the streams of power present in the earth and atmosphere. These may be thought of as either metaphysical energies, or even crossing over into dark matter, quantum physics, and the electromagnetic wave vibrations and resonances of the ionosphere and the Schumann cavity as researched by Nikola Tesla.

"According to Marby there are five cosmic zones to be reckoned with: (1) inner-earth space, (2) material earth space, (3) wave space, (4) cosmic space, and (5) super cosmic space.

"The inner space of earth... is a vast but contained zone of tranquil space that radiates energy. This is compared to the outermost zone of cosmic space, which is also tranquil and radiant. Cosmic space, zone 4, is charged with radiations from the zone of cosmic space and is influenced by the physical bodies (stars, planets, etc.) that occupy it. Material earth space is the physical matter of the planet, which is heavily loaded with ancient forms of energy coursing through it in various patterns. Wave space is that zone just above the surface of the earth that our bodies inhabit. This is the region where energy patterns received from above and below are most freely exchanged.

"The rune magician makes him/herself capable of receiving and sending patterns of energy to and from all five of these zones. (...the rune magician becomes an antenna for the reception and broadcast of runic radio waves.) By using the proper runic postures, combined with the intonation of the right runic sound, the magician can draw in certain forces or combination of forces and then reshape and redirect them.

"...The interplay of forces within these various energy zones constitutes the phenomena of the universe. By becoming aware of them, engaging them, and guiding them consciously, the rune magician actively participates in the evolution and restructuring of the cosmos.

"The runes are the keys to the reception, absorption and projection of these forces. Their first effect is on the transformation and healing of the individual..."

The above paragraphs are the merest introduction to the art of stadhagaldr. Before attempting any of the runic yoga postures, you are encouraged to learn more. The would-be rune magician is cautioned because wrongly prepared magickal formulae and sigils can have a deleterious effect. Heed the words of Odin, the High One, as recorded in the Hávamál.
Dost thou know how to write, dost know how to read?
dost thou know how to paint, dost know how to prove?
dost thou know how to ask, dost know how to offer?
dost thou know how to send, dost know how to spend? 
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
With that said, and an admonishment to study further before attempting stadhagaldr (or any other form of rune magick), here are the Rune-yoga postures of the "Elder" Futhark:

And here are the original postures for the Armanen:


Note that the Yr-rune shows a head-stand. Tucking your legs together and bending your lower arms out at the elbow at a drooping angle (with the upper arms tucked against your body) is an alternate and more practical form of Yr. Of course one must learn first the rune postures in sequence, starting with Fa (at the top of the diagram above) and going clockwise around the circle, with Ur, Thorn, and so on.

The other systems follow most of the same postures. Younger Futhark Stodhr is basically the Armanen postures without the Eh and Gibor runes. Anglo-Saxon postures are the same as the "Elder" ones except with a few modified forms of the standard postures for the extra runes.