What Is a Rune Reading? Understanding This Divination Tool 

Updated March 14, 2022
Handmade runes for fortunetelling

For well over 2,000 years, people have found rune readings uncannily accurate under challenging situations. Runes are a divination tool--an oracle. In Latin, ōrāculum is defined as "a divine announcement." What is a rune reading? Some say a rune reading is "God's e-mail."

What to Expect From a Rune Reading

Much like reading the tarot, a rune reading offers guidance. A rune casting --or reading--is a way to activate intuition and gather information about the past, present, and future. A rune casting will help you focus on the present so you can do what's right in a situation that's bothering you. Melissa Alvarez, a world-renowned clairvoyant advisor, says, "I advise a rune reading when the person has an issue that relates to uncovering how they should act or behave within a situation that's timely in the person's life." She also says: "A rune reading tends to go deeper into the reasons why something is or isn't working for a person. It allows the person's situation to manifest through the symbols."

Methods of Casting the Runes

The runes can be cast in a couple of ways. All 25 runes can be scattered from the bag onto a piece of fabric as you look to the heavens. In this method, only the runes that land upright are read. Additionally, much like tarot, you can use different layouts for a rune reading. With this method, you decide on your layout. Then hold the pouch in your non-dominated hand and think about the question you want to be answered as you pull out runes from the bag with your dominant hand. One -by-one, each rune is placed in its given position in the chosen layout.

Rune Layouts

Handmade runes for fortunetelling

Traditionally, runes were cast in multiples of 3s or in odd numbers. However, much like Tarot spreads, there are many layout options when casting runes.

How Runes Are Interpreted

How the runes are interpreted depends significantly on the person casting the reading. However, Melissa Alvarez says she listens to her guides when doing a rune reading. She goes on to say, "If two runes together mean something to me on a clairvoyant level or I'm told to tell the person receiving the reading something from her guide because of those two runes being together, that's what I'll do. I'll do it even if it's not indicated in the meanings for the specific runes. Runes are a tool that aids a reading, not the be-all, end-all of the reading."

The Runic Alphabet

The word rune or ru'na means whisper, secret, or mystery in an old Germanic language used from about 200 BCE to the 13th century by the Nordic and Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. Several different runic alphabets evolved over the years, but the most commonly used for divination is the Elder Futhark. The Elder Futhark runic alphabet consists of 24 rune letter symbols--with the addition of one blank rune that allows space for the unknown. Each letter symbol has a phoneme, a meaning, and a mystical significance used for divination. These symbols are typically engraved on seashells, stones, crystals, or pieces of wood and then kept safe in a special drawstring pouch.

Rune Alphabet Symbols Chart

Understanding the Runes

Rune is a form of writing used across Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages. It's a magical system of hieroglyphic pictographs that represents the forces and objects in nature. Until the end of the 1960s, few individuals outside Scandinavia had heard of runes. Of course, Tolkien, who was a philologist, used his own form of runes called Elvish in The Hobbit as a phonetic alphabet, but few readers know its connection to Norse runes. Today, many people around the world use runes as an oracle.

Runes Origin Myth

It's believed that runes originate from the period of the Vikings. This was the time of Odin, the greatest god among the Scandinavians. There are many stories about the origins of the runes, but the most well-known relates to Odin. According to Viking myths, the gods lived very close to a colossal tree named Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil was considered the "axis of the world" and carried all the existing knowledge. It seems that one day Odin was hurt by his own sword and was hung upside down for nine days and nine nights from Yggdrasil. He was utterly alone, in pain, hungry, and thirsty. However, at the end of those nine days and nights, Odin understood the mystery of wisdom. In his moment of despair, Odin saw the runes and grabbed them before falling to the ground.

Viking Runestones

The Jelling stones

Viking Age runestones are scattered across Scandinavia and appear in various places. They can be seen around Norway, northeast Jutland in Denmark, and Sweden. About 50 runestones (including fragments) can be found outside of Scandinavia. It's thought that Scandinavia's tradition of carving inscriptions into raised stones as a memorial began as early as the 4th century. Michael Barnes says in his 2012 book, Runes: A Handbook: "…we have no idea how many Viking-Age Scandinavians were literate in runes, but there must have been a critical mass that made it meaningful to have commemorative inscriptions carved in stone and set up in public places." Yet, because the runic symbols were carved in stone, they survived as a means of communication or, as the Vikings thought, a means of getting in touch with the gods.

The Runes Connection to Christianity

Though it may seem strange that a mystical pagan written language attributed to the Viking god, Odin, would be carved in Christian artifacts. Still, there are some famous examples. The runes on the Franks casket c. 700 AD form a border around a carving of the Coming of the Magi. Another example is the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross which used runes to tell part of the story of The Dream of the Rood, which is said to be "the first great example of the Christian dream poetry genre." This inclusion of pagan symbols on Christian artifacts is believed to have marked the transition from pagan Norse beliefs to Christianity.

The Mysterious Runes

The runic alphabet is said by many to carry a magical quality. The lack of historical knowledge about their beginning and the folklore surrounding the runes is indeed mysterious. One thing seems sure, runes are not toys and should be taken seriously. Runes are an ancient, powerful, and mysterious means of communication and divination, but they shouldn't be feared. Runes are fun, but they're also magical, so use them well and use them wisely!

What Is a Rune Reading? Understanding This Divination Tool