fom the Introduction:
The Origin of Runes and How to Use this Book
This book is a complete guide for those who wish to draw on the well of practical and esoteric wisdom embodied in the ancient Runes. It provides the necessary tools for interpreting ‘the runes of good help’ and the teachings from the Norse wisdom tradition on which they are founded. Having come into prominence some two-thousand years ago, the twenty-four runestaves of the ancient Elder Futhark alphabet are more relevant to us today, at the dawn of a new millennium, than ever before. Like the images of the Tarot deck and hexagrams of the I Ching, Runes are profound keys to personal empowerment, self-development and spiritual awareness.
The Runes are native to traditional Northern European cultures. They have deep resonances within the pagan Norse world of high gods and goddesses, elemental forces, giants, dwarves, warriors and wizards that inspired, among others, J. R. R Tolkien in the writing of his fantasy fictions. Ancient tales tell of their discovery by the magician-god Odin, their use in magic, and divination. This last, predictive use of Runes continues with us today. However, the twenty-four runes of the Elder Futhark are more than mere fortune-telling tokens: they are a potent key to the rich mythological heritage of the Norse world. Each ‘stave’ (individual rune) evokes a set of tales and correspondences in ancient Norse myth; they encode a set of profound teachings, an entire wisdom tradition. These teachings, moreover, have a universality and a timelessness to their insights, messages to impart that transcends their Northern European origins.
Divination systems like the Runes are based on sets of meaningful signs, omens which we ‘randomly’ choose and interpret for their personal message to us. But how could such a procedure possibly work? The traditional Norse answer would be that, in the Web of Wyrd (Destiny), all things and events resonate in a profound and luminous way and that Runes faithfully record the signature of the energy movements underlying our own unique fate-path at the moment of consultation. The scientific rationalism of the West generally does not admit that events which are not causally related can have an underlying connection, but the idea is no longer disreputable even in scientific terms, for the notion of randomness itself has increasingly been subject to scrutiny in modern times. . . . For all its chaos, we are now entering an exciting time, when modern science and ancient magic can at last meet and come into dialogue.
In the ancient world divination was, of course, put down to the activity of gods and spirits. . . .In Northern Europe, the highest of all the gods, Odin was himself the discoverer and lord of the Runes. Odin in fact provides the model for mastery of the runic system. In Norse myth, he descends the World Tree and undergoes a sacrifice to haul up the Runes from Mímir’s Well. The Well of Mímir can be understood in several ways: as the psyche of the runecaster, the collective unconscious, and the world of energy forms underlying physical matter, for the story of Odin’s quest is really a code for the process of looking within and attaining therein knowledge of all the worlds. The Runes are the physical tokens of his hard-won wisdom, offered to those ‘to whom they may avail.’
How exactly do the Runes embody the wisdom of Odin? First, the runic signs carry many meanings. Each rune has a field of associations, partially preserved for us in three ancient ‘Rune poems’, which appear to be based on far older, oral traditions. In Norse myth, Odin was the god and patron of the oral tradition, so the wisdom of the Runes and the accumulated folk-wisdom they represent can be seen as flowing from him, and from various guises of the Goddess, from whose springs of knowledge Odin himself drew. For example, the image of the first rune, f, (fehu), is cattle. The primary correspondences are assets, wealth and gain, for in ancient Norse culture you were worth as much as your herd of cattle. In a Rune reading, each rune is interpreted as an omen of personal significance--thus fehu is titled as ‘Abundance’ in this book. Obviously, we would be cheered by the appearance of fehu in a reading for the present or near future! Yet, as will be seen, fehu’s association with wealth, good fortune and greed evoke far deeper mythical and legendary themes in traditional runelore.
Runes can teach us self-mastery and gift us its fruits. In the original sources, they are praised as a guide to action, a remedy for misfortune and a magical tool for promoting empowerment, fulfillment, prosperity and peace. This is the spirit in which the Runes function for us today.
Nordic Runes is divided into three parts, much like the structure of a tree. The first part, "Runelore," follows the runic tradition back to its roots in pagan antiquity, introducing the reader to the history of the alphabet. Here you will encounter the world of runic mysteries, encoded in old scripts and inscriptions, transmitted by the Rune guilds, and echoed in the Rune poems. You will also learn the story of the Runes as told in the medieval Icelandic Eddas, those remarkable remnants of pagan Norse myth and literature. . .
The second part of this book, "Runestaves," is the ‘trunk’ of the tree, the store of vital sap wherein is distilled the waters of inspiration. Here you will find the twenty-four runestaves of the Elder Futhark presented along with their associations, meanings and unique wisdom.
The third part of Nordic Runes, "Runecasting," is like the branches of the tree, extending into the infinite possibilities of the future. . . . It is the ‘casting’ or laying-out of runestaves that sets the Runes in motion, as it were. Far from being a morbid, fate-bound exercise, runic divination is an empowering art that opens us to the myriad possibilities presented by life’s branching paths.