An 11th century runestone from Lingsberg, Sweden, featuring an inscription in the Younger Futhark.
In Roderick’s Wicca: A Year and A Day, the runes are mostly treated as a divinatory tool that’s sort of halfway between scrying and the Tarot. Like the Tarot, the runes are a more mechanical, structured tool, but they are not anywhere as detailed and symbol-wrought as the Tarot, so reading them requires a similar nonstructured intuitive method like scrying.
The runes, however, are more than just a divinatory tool. They are the letters in sets of related alphabets (known as the runic alphabets) that were used to write in Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet. Therefore, their most obvious use is as a communication tool. However, the runes also acquired a sacred significance, especially after the Latin alphabet’s adoption, when they were primarily used for special purposes. In this respect, the runes are akin to the Hebrew alphabet in that each letter has a meaning which goes beyond its use as a symbol for a sound. Like the Hebrew letters, each rune serves as a focus for a whole set of connected meanings, symbols, and associations.
In magic, divination is only one of the uses for runes. The Eddas, for example, reference their use in constructing spells, where they can be used singly, combined into bindrunes, or as a series of inscriptions. How we choose to use them in spell work today is, however, largely a work of unverified personal gnosis.
In fact, given how much intuition the runes require, UPG plays a great role in gaining mastery with the runes. In the pursuit of this knowledge, rune students have been known to try the runic yoga system, the stadhagaldr, in which one of the practices is moving your whole body into rune shapes. They scratch the runes into their body with fingernails or pins, or anoint themselves with oil in the rune shapes. The envision the runes and intone their sounds. They write the runes in juice onto paper, then wash it off into a beverage and drink it or scratch them (or frost them!) onto cookies or cakes and eat them. No matter what, the runes are definitely something that rune students spend a great deal of time meditating upon (which is why Roderick offers a visualization alignment as the exercise for each rune).
Part of the massive amount of meditation involved in rune studies is in keeping with the myth of how the runes came to man: through Odin’s self-sacrifice. He hung himself upside down from the world tree Yggdrasil, and hung there until he saw a vision of the runes. Below is a poem from the Prose Edda that describes the experience. Reciting the poem can become a ritual, as shown below.
Practice: Invoking Odin
Cast a circle or go to a secret place in nature. Face the west and read this magical poem aloud. After you read it, sit and meditate on its meaning and its symbolism. What stands out for you in these magical words/ How does the portion that stands out in the poem relate to your own life, your current circumstances, or your growth and magical development?
I know I hung on that windswept tree,
Swung there for nine long nights,
Wounded by my own blade,
Bloodied for Odin,
Myself an offering to myself:
Bound to the tree
That no man knows
Whither the roots of it run.
None gave me bread,
None gave me drink.
Down to the deepest depths I peered
Until I spied the runes.
With a roaring cry I seized them up,
Then dizzy and fainting, I fell.
Well-being I won
And wisdom, too.
I grew and took joy in my growth:
From a word to a word
I was led to a word,
From a deed to another deed.