So were runes ever divinatory?
So where does the idea of small wooden rune-tiles or portable “rune-stones” come from? And where do we get the idea of using them as tools for divination? The answer may surprise you – modern authors.
Did they base their methods on historical works? Unfortunately, no. Could they have done so in the first place? Again, sadly, no. There just isn't any ancient text offering a detailed explanation of portable rune sets being used for divination. When Tacitus talks about the Germanic tribes cutting branches into lots inscribed with symbols, or when Herodotus mentions the Scythians (whom we can tie in with the origins of proto-Celtic, Cossack, Gothic, and some Indo-Iranian groups) using “linden tree branches” as lots for divination – we do not have any proof, in a literal sense, that these were “rune sets” as we understand them today. The symbols are never described in these accounts, nor are their meanings. Nor is there any indication that these people ever carried a personal set of divination staves or stones with them, or any explanation of what was done with those "crafted-on-the-spot" divination branches once the divination ritual was finished. Were they kept to be used again? Thrown away? Burned? We simply don't know.
Is Runic divination a modern practice?
Sure runic divination is a modern practice, but so what? The Armanists who invented it in the early 1900s were still using the wisdom of the Eddas and Sagas to design their methods - which is far more than I can say for many more recent "rune authors".
|Now these were some genuine Runic authors who actually got Germanic culture.|
Maybe because it was their own ancestors' culture and they were taught to honor it?
You would be far better off reading these books, than the "mainstream" eclectic authors one finds on most bookstore shelves. Though it isn't a guarantee that you're 100% accurate to how the ancient Teutons used runes, and even though one could perhaps arrive at other divination methods by looking at runes from a Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, or Frisian cultural context, one can still argue that the Armanists of the Guido von List society at least had that cultural awareness, and in some cases secret family connections with the old ways - which many of the eclectic “rune experts” of today (predominantly British and American) lack entirely, and worse yet, make no effort to research and respect.
|We're Heathens - wait, we're also Druids - wait, we're also... well you get the idea.|
Increasingly I see the big internet booksellers overrun with the “every rune does everything” books of even lower-quality "neopagan" authors. These people make even The Troth look consistent. You know the type - the sort of authors who abandon Ásatrú and Germanic Heathenry altogether and openly claim “Wiccan” or “Druid” leanings, yet still use rune-divination and try to claim it's a "Druid" or Celtic practice. They also often make nonsensical claims about the runes themselves - such as the claim that any rune can be used for any ritual purpose (i.e. that any rune can be used as a love-rune, or a healing-rune, etc.) even when this openly contradicts the distinct meanings of many of the runes given in the Old Norse, Icelandic, and Anglo-Saxon rune poems (or for that matter the Hávamál when applied to Armanen runes). For example anyone who recommends using the Thurisaz/Thorn rune as a "love rune" is clearly either a liar or an idiot - are you trying to attract a potential mate, or utterly destroy them like a troll struck by Mjolnir? Same goes for using Nauthiz/Not in a love-ritual, do you really want to cast a spell of neediness and potential misery on your prospective lover? Plus treating all runes as basically interchangeable catch-all symbols pretty much defeats the purpose of using a full set of runes in the first place. Why not just use a single symbol for all your rituals, if that's your attitude? Why runes? Why not a sun-wheel, or a swastika, or even a Celtic Triquetra (since most of these people claim to be following Celtic/Druid spirituality, wouldn't that make more sense for their "catch-all" ritual uses than a Germanic Futhark of multiple runes whose distinct meanings they don't even take seriously anyway?)
By the way, if they believe that all runes are interchangeable and every rune can stand for anything, how do these authors even do runic divination? How do they decide what a particular rune-cast reveals? Well, mostly they just fall back on the modern hypothetical "meanings" commonly attributed to the "Elder" Futhark, which are basically a crude mix of a few of List's Armanen meanings, some bits from the medieval rune poems, and a lot of pure speculation. But in so doing, they totally contradict their own claim that "every rune means/does everything".
I have seen so many of these self-proclaimed “experts” make statements that are so far off-base regarding the history and meanings of the runes, with such assertiveness, that I could have easily puked every time I saw one of them in a video “lecturing” on their totally false suppositions about runes. I can't even count how many self-proclaimed “Druid shamans” or “wolf spirit shamans” I have seen, claiming to know the true uses of runes, inventing all sorts of New Age nonsense about “Celtic runes” or Druids having used runes (different culture, different symbols, no runes - how hard is that to understand?). Not that there's anything wrong with following a Celtic or "Druid" path if that's what calls to you, but if you want any sort of historical credibility you won't be using any system of Germanic runes for divination - and to claim (as Wiccans often do) that the ancient Celts or their Druid priests traditionally used runes at all, let alone for divination, is simply a historical falsehood.
Indeed the biggest challenge for Druidism today is that it's nearly all a modern invention - there is far less written history to go on than for Ásatrú. We know almost nothing about the original Druids - the Romans exterminated them in Gaul so thoroughly that no record of their actual practices is left, and nothing has been passed down even in isolated villages. In Ireland precious little was written about them by the invading Christians beyond the usual propaganda, and nearly all we have left is the Ogham stave letters - which may have been used for divination, but are unrelated to Germanic runes.
Indeed the only time any sort of "runes" or rune-derived symbols appear in Celtic regions is when they were conquered by the Saxons or the Vikings! In this regard the presence of rune inscriptions in Ireland or Scotland is not all that shocking, but modern Wiccan and "Druid" authors completely miss the real story. It was Saxons and Vikings who carved these runes and brought them to the British Isles, not the earlier Celtic population. If the native Celts there ever used runes, it would only have been after being influenced by the Saxons and/or the Vikings. The so-called "Coelbren Runes" of Wales are actually a fraud, invented by the infamous 18th century forger Edward Williams (a.k.a. Iolo Morganwg), and are not found on any genuine ancient Celtic artifacts.
Older Celtic cultures, such as the Gauls or Galicians, appear to have used a number of different modified alphabets, depending on whether they were living near Greeks, Etruscans, or Romans. The Celtic, or more correctly, Gallic peoples, were at one point extremely widespread across Europe, hence why there are regions named Galicia in both Spain and the Ukraine, the Gaelic Isles in Scotland, and of course Gaul in France. None of these alphabets are runes - they don't correspond to any Germanic rune row. And there is no proof that any of them were used for divination or even magick in general, or for anything beyond merely writing down information.
But of course since runes are ancient and European, many ignorant pop-spirituality authors just assume they must somehow be Celtic, and in any case they tend to have a "who needs rules" mentality, and see fit to mix and match almost anything they like from any culture and call it "Celtic", "Nordic", "ancient", etc. and pretend that it is all historically proven pagan practices. Many of these pop-pagan “experts” even try to mix in Native American and Siberian concepts and motifs into their rune-casting techniques, and then claim this is “authentic rune magick”!
Mein arsch it is. It's about as authentic as claiming Taco Bell is real Mexican food. Or claiming that real Italians make pizza just like Domino's. Not that there's anything “wrong” or “bad” about Native American spirituality per se (again, if that's what speaks to you) – what's bad is when people copy bits and pieces of it and call it something else entirely, usually for profit. What's bad is when people claim it's for “everyone” and then try to market it in over 200 countries by mixing it with whatever unrelated cultures they think will sell in those countries. It's not “cultural appropriation” when you sincerely practice a culture in its context and respect the customs and interpretations of its native people, even if it's not your ancestors' culture. It is cultural appropriation when you recklessly rip off parts of it for a quick buck – when you steal Native American myths and claim they are Germanic, or when you stick runes on a Navajo medicine wheel or an Aztec calendar and claim that this is a “Nordic wheel of fate” or some other such syncretistic psycho-babble. And that's precisely what many of these “neopagan” cranks dumping worthless misleading “rune books” on the market are up to.
Many popular "rune books" seem to imitate every cheesy, worthless new-age psychobabble book ever written about everything from addiction recovery to healing from trauma and fixing broken relationships, and repackaged it in a very thin veneer of "runes" (which of course means an author's personal distortion of the runes, not necessarily any culturally authentic Germanic rune meanings or Lore).
|Seriously? It's as if John Gray and Margaret Murray had a love child...|
Arrrrrgh, the sheer pop-foppish cheesiness of it all, IT BURNS!!!!!!!!
Other pop-spirituality writers have reinterpreted the runes as a “Nordic Tarot” and mostly copied off the work of Blum and modern Hermetic and quasi-Masonic orders. Many of these books simply rip off the arrangements of modern Tarot card "spreads" and apply them verbatim to rune readings, conveniently changing their names to "Odin's Cross", "Thor's Cross" or "Freyja's Love Cup" to fool the naive into thinking that these are actual Norse/Germanic divination layouts invented by the Gods themselves! They are betting that their customers only have a casual interest in runes and are unfamiliar with Tarot or other occult systems - but anyone who is familiar with Tarot can tell that many "runic Tarot" books are poor imitations of Renaissance Tarot methodology that have nothing to do with Viking-Age (or earlier) runes. Indeed there are very few runic divination methods that have even a slight hint of a connection to ancient Germanic culture or Lore (such as the three-rune "Norns" and "Germania" methods, and the scatter-cast method which uses the entire Futhark (whichever Futhark you prefer to use).
Of course since Futharkic rune divination specifically is a modern practice with no definitive proof of historical usage, you could argue that even making up your own rune-reading layouts is just as valid as using the "Norns" and "Germania" methods, since Tacitus didn't specify that the "past, present, and future" lots used by the Germans were any sort of Futhark runes, nor is there any evidence that the Germanic tribes didn't also have other divination methods for whatever sort of lots or staves they were using. Of course the "Norns" and "Germania" methods do draw on Germanic culture, so they are potentially more valid than other methods. They draw on the primal Germanic understanding of Wyrd, and on the Germanic concept of tripartite time cycles and levels of reality (Urðr, Verðandi, Skuld = Past, Present, Future = That which was, That which is becoming, That which may become = Arising, Being, Passing Away toward new Arising, etc.) Nonetheless, you could potentially invent your own more expansive layouts with many more runes drawn, and still attempt to "ground" them in the culture, though that would be needlessly complex as the "Norns" and "Germania" methods are literally usable with any sort of binomial decision or dilemma (i.e. should I go to war today, or not go to war today? - to use a very basic ancient example). One could expand the Skuld rune position into two or more runes if the decision in question has multiple simultaneous sub-options, but in real life this scenario is very rare.
But here's the strange part - even if you argue that making up your own complex rune casting layouts is just as "valid" as the classic three-rune methods, that is still very different from the typical eclectic rune-author's tendency to simply copy off of Tarot cart "spreads", whose arrangements have absolutely no relevance or basis in Germanic culture. Interestingly, Armanen divination (which many of these Tarot-plagiarizers either hypocritically dismiss as "fake" or ignore altogether) is a lot more conservative and traditional when it comes to the simplicity of its casts - it predominantly uses only the three-rune "Norns" and "Germania" methods.
But Tarot-plagiarism is far from the only source of eclectic "borrowing" for pop-spiritualist hucksters in the post-1990s era. Some of these writers even throw, Voudou, Santeria, Kabbalah, UFOs, “ancient astronaut theory” and Nostradamus into their "rune books", and at the end you are left scratching your head and wondering what any of this has to do with runes, Odinism, Ásatrú or Germanic spirituality! Thus what you get with most modern self-proclaimed “rune-experts” is pure fantasy and frivolous window-shopping from all sorts of non-runic and non-Indo-European sources. But of course they claim it's all legit since they all use the “Elder” Futhark (as if any one runic system is some sort of catch-all gospel – ironically a very Christian and un-runic perspective).
But "Modern" does not have to mean "Fake"!
Now just to make things clear, despite all the BS that is written about runic divination, I do not believe that runic divination per se is invalid. Not at all! I don't claim that the runes cannot be used for divination or that they never have been – indeed it's always possible that Tacitus was referring to some sort of carved Futhark runes in his account of wooden divination lots – the key word being possible. It's just that the idea of using runes for divination may also be a purely modern one, no older than Guido von List, and not, as some authors would have you believe, a well-established ancient tradition. And to truly be an honest practitioner of runic divination, you have to be comfortable with this fact.
Divination and augury is, at its very heart, a personal experience. So long as there is a sufficient cultural basis to relate to, some sort of context that on a mystical level helps you tap into the experiences, archetypes, and ideals of an ancient path, so that at least it does not feel totally made-up and contrived, there does not need to be a 100% historical background for it to work for you. But I wonder if this realization is too painful for some people to wake up to. Or if people using “mainstream” modern “Elder” Futhark divination practices are aware that at best they are copied from methods developed only about a century ago by the Armanen masters – and often times they are not even that old or culturally informed.
It always annoys me when people refuse to do divination with the Armanen Runes or call them “less real” simply because they are (allegedly) a modern reconstruction with a largely esoteric source, yet continue to fanatically claim that “Elder” Futhark divination is somehow an established historical practice dating to the dawn of history! (Meanwhile they are usually getting their so-called "ancient" meanings and divination methods for the "Elder" Futhark from those same debunked new-age "Druid", "Rune-Tarot" and "wiccatru" books whose "venerable heritage" goes all the way back to the oh-so-ancient 1970s - shocking, I know).
There is no actual proof of the "Elder" Futhark ever having been used for divination, or indeed for anything except carving inscriptions on huge boulders, and we don't even have any proof of their meanings at the time of those inscriptions - everything we "know" about their meanings has had to be reconstructed based on much later sources pertaining to the "Younger" and Anglo-Saxon rune rows, and ironically enough, on some of List's esoteric insights. And most of the pop-spirituality authors inventing "divination meanings" for the "Elder" Futhark today don't even follow those!
In my mind there's nothing wrong with doing runic divination (or rune-yoga, or any other modern runic practice) so long as you keep it culturally relevant, follow culturally informed and Lore-based meanings (both exoteric and esoteric) and you don't fool yourself that "this is the same exact way the ancestors did it". In this sense, the Armanen system is right on the money.
Essentially the whole issue of ancient vs. modern runic practices is like comparing the foundation of a building to the actual building - if you have a solid cultural foundation, your building will be far stronger and more beautiful, even if it has been destroyed and rebuilt differently every few hundred years. If you don't have a solid cultural foundation, your building will only be a flimsy piece of trash. And this is the real issue with comparing modern runic practices to ancient runic practices - there is no "one" type of ancient runic practices - indeed "ancient" Germanic culture encompasses several millennia of markedly different societies and practices. Inevitably the culture and even the magickal practices which were favored, evolved to suit the needs of the age, and thus Germanic Heathenry retained vitality and relevance because it was able to remake itself and evolve its rituals while staying true to its spiritual roots - something that orthodoxy-bound herder religions have had far more difficulty doing. Indeed, contrary to "mainstream" textbooks, Heathenry was never "peacefully abandoned" by Germanic peoples - it was only stamped out by force through centuries of torture, kidnapping, economic sanctions, genocide, and bribery by the Church and its mercenaries. And even then, Heathen culture survived under the surface, still remaking itself.
Every era of Germanic (and indeed all forms of Indo-European) magick and Heathenry, and even crypto-Heathenry, had their own unique qualities, different from what went before, and different from what was to come. There were the ancient sorcerers, the solar mystics, the megalithic architects, the Bronze Age bog-buriers, the Halstatter smith-magi, the Migration-age warrior-priests, the Teutonic stave-casters, the Vendel crop-sacrificers, the Viking-age butchers, the corrupt Kings, the ocean-crossing Explorers, the covert Icelandic folk-witches, the Vehmic Jarl-judges, the Huldar of the Schwarzwald, the Adalrunar of Bureus, and finally the Armanen Order.
And during all the time of their development, the mystics and explorers who eventually founded the Armanen Order and the Guido von List society were mastering not just the magickal abilities and methods of their medieval and ancient predecessors, but their own - distilling it down into one solid, devastating line of revived Runic practice which covered every area of modern life - physical, emotional, spiritual, mental. And Guido von List? List was merely the culmination of generations of secret Germanic rune-masters, mystics and orders before him. In many was, he was Runecraft itself!
And all the serious Runenmeisteren who came after him, whether they like to admit it or not, modeled their practices and deeds in several ways after his.
(Beware though, there is a vast difference between evolution of rituals and blatant bastardization of them - I am certainly not treating all the new-age "wiccatru" hucksters or their Tarot-plagiarized methods as an authentic "evolution" of Runic culture).
By the way, the statement that the Armanen runes are (according to non-Armanists anyway) a "recent reconstruction" isn't all that unusual in a Heathen context. Even if the detractors are right, then the Armanen Runes are at worst a modern reconstruction of the 18 Odinic runes, intended for a modern reconstructed Heathenry, which is exactly what we have today. And runic divination as we know it today, is itself a modern practice (even if it uses ancient symbols) which at best can only claim to be a reconstruction anyway (i.e. the few culturally grounded methods such as "3 Norns" and "Germania". And given that the Armanen meanings are still based on Germanic culture, word-roots, cosmology and Lore, debating over whether divination with any other rune row is any more "historically valid" is a moot point. This is why the Armanen runes essentially are traditional now in Germany, Austria, and German-influenced kindreds around the world: they are deeply rooted in the culture, and suit the needs of the time. And they exist, in some form, in the other rune rows anyway.
If you decide to use another rune row besides Armanen for divination, that's perfectly fine too. Just don't fool yourself that it's any more "historical" since runic divination itself is a modern practice, regardless of the rune row used. So long as you at least use culturally valid symbolism and meanings based on what little does survive (the non-Christianized segments of the medieval rune poems, the Hávamál, the Sagas, and the runic root-words of the Germanic tongues themselves) then it's really a matter of which rune system works best for you. Whether you prefer the Armanen system's complete "ready-to-go" set of exoteric, esoteric and reversed meanings, Listian mantras and corresponding Hávamál verses, or some other (equally reconstructed) meanings for the more "traditional" rune rows, any runic divination based in Germanic culture is an equally valid Germanic magickal practice for our present age - just don't forget that it was the Armanen masters who actually started the whole thing (for our era, at least).
And it's a heck of a lot better than following the misleading and confused “every rune means everything” BS that pop-spirituality charlatans try to pass off as “ancient and authentic” by hiding behind the “Elder” Futhark and using it as a cover to justify nearly anything their whims can cook up.