Our difficult relationship with runes

Photos by Magenta

Very occasionally we get questions from other practitioners about using runes, what are runes, how to read runes and all that jazz. We have a complicated relationship with runes (we prefer cartomancy) though we do understand what runes are. So whilst we can share what we know, and not that we want to piss on anyone’s runic journey, but we also want to share why we don’t read runes. 

What are runes?

Back in the day before Latin was the GOAT in alphabet terms, runes were the letters that were used in a whole bunch of different alphabets known as runic alphabets

There were a whole bunch of runes and runic alphabets spanning Europe, but runes have been found all over the world wherever people have lived. Being Anglo-Saxon we can only talk about Anglo-Saxon runes, and we’ll be perfectly frank. We do not use runes for magick, and we hope that you’ll understand why by the time we’re finished. However, we’re not judging anyone else who wants to use runes. Like we said, there’s other alphabets. We just invite you to please, please, please research the history, only use open practices and to be comfortable.

Anglo-Saxon runes

We’ve outlined above that runes were created as a sort of alphabet. The ones shown below are some of the Anglo-Saxon runes used across England before the Romans came and decided Latin was the future. As you can see from the list below, the runes don’t seem all that magickal…their meanings are about pretty mundane stuff that focused more on the weather and agriculture than anything woo. 

ImageName meaning
Rune-Feoh.pngWealth (back in the day this was usually measured in terms of cattle)
Rune-Ur.pngAurochs , these are an extinct type of cattle 
Runic letter os.svgGod, usually refers to an Anglo-Saxon or Norse God. 
Rune-Rad.pngRiding or travelling
Rune-Cen.pngTorch or light 
Rune-Wynn.pngAmusement, fun, laughter
Rune-Ior.pngRunic letter ger.svgYear
Rune-Peorð.pngPear, pear-wood (commonly used to make instruments)
Rune-Sigel.pngThe Sun 
Rune-Tir.pngTiw, a God of Warriors (and by extension the God Mars and the planet Mars) 
Rune-Beorc.pngBirch Tree
Rune-Lagu.pngBody of water (such as a lake)
Rune-Ing.pngIng, a fertility Goddess associated with peace and a good harvest
Rune-Eðel.pngHeritage, inheritance 
Runic letter ac.svgOak Tree
Runic letter ansuz.svgAsh Tree
Rune-Ear.pngBloodlust, death
Rune-Yr.pngBull worship 

Runes for divination or magickal use

We know from inscriptions found on artefacts, that these runes give the name of the person who made it or the person who owned it. But sometimes the runes inscribed on these artefacts were just a mystery. Of course, it is possible early runes could have been used to charm objects magickally, for example, just as it’s suggested in the Norse poem Sigrdrífumál. Although this is a Norse poem, rather than Old English, it could be extrapolated to include other runes, given some of the Anglo-Saxon runes share common symbols, and common names. It’s not clear if these old runes were used for divination though, so we can only assume that idea came much much later!

OK, so far so good. Runes were the alphabet of the day, and could have been used for spells easily enough. Then it all gets a bit darker, and it’s at this point we have to say ‘no thanks’ to runes. 

Around the turn of the 20th Century, an Austrian called Guido von List used a lot of the old Anglo-Saxon runes for something that, eventually, spiralled into its own thing called Armanism and the Wisdom of the Aryans. Yes. Those guys. Some bits of this Armanist thinking were taken, moulded and reshaped to become a significant part of Nazi idealogy, where it suited them. Ya know, cause that’s what they do. They take a nice symbol and ruin it with their stink. Other bits from von List were employed for magical purposes in other books, by authors who made things awful in their own ways.

Eventually after the war, this whole system was reformed by Karl Spiesberger. He did his best to get rid of the racism and the awfulness but, for us…it just wasn’t enough, sadly. For example, the Anglo-Saxon rune for ‘Sun’ was worn by the SS, and when you see it…you can’t unsee it. Runes continue to be used by neo-nazi groups across Europe to this day, so no matter how much the revivial of the 1980s (long after Spiesberger’s efforts) tries to reclaim this kind of magick, we’re always cautious about using runes for magick because, certainly for our runes…the Anglo-Saxon ones….there’s a good chance it was just an alphabet. And when it was thought to be magickal, the most horrid regime ever, if not created, certainly ruined the magickal thinking. 

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Published by Magenta School of Magick

We are a magick school for spiritually minded people who want advice and resources about, plus training on, using our ‘philosophy and art of affecting intended change through unseen causes’ (known as humanistic magick) in order to make changes that improve their work and lifestyle.