Runic Magic – History and Practice

Modern society, with all its technological and scientific progress, still doesn’t want to lose its soul and turns its gaze towards the ancient times, full of deep mystical knowledge, old gods and myths. Runes – the secret symbols of the ancient north European culture have a greater return to their ancient glory every day that passes. Runic magic, divinations, tattoo culture and even just fonts are filling the social media’s feeds, libraries and even cinema. 

Let’s take a look in the past, then travel towards nowadays, to understand and practice Runic magic at its best.

What are Runes and when does Runic magic start?

Even the word “Rune” itself is intrinsic with magic. Rune comes from the Germanic root run, gothic – runa – a “secret” or a “whisper”, in old Gaelic run means “mystery”, and I personally like to interpret it as a…  “secret to whisper”.

Runes are ancient magical symbols and an alphabet, many have wondered if they appeared first as a means of communication simply between people or between people and gods? 

The history of the Runes is so ancient that certainties about their origin are as fragile as crystal.
The archaeological excavations of the most remote findings overtime gave us 26 bronze helmets with a Germanic inscription in northern Etruscan letters, which commemorated the god of war. And in Tyrol, in the Alps, chopsticks with inscriptions were found, that had no writing purpose and, as a consequence, could only be used as magical tools.

Runic Magic

As for the runic alphabet that we can see even today, studies show that it was an individual creation. Some can still be seen in Austria and other Alpine places and were used for divination purposes even before becoming an alphabet.
Therefore, the origin of Runes remains arcane, hidden, a secret to whisper, the complex archetype behind an easy to engrave symbol. 

Now, in modern practices one can always choose the way to follow, because Runes can be considered and used as an associative instrument in the work of a psychologist, a divination tool in the hands of a forecaster and a magic seal for a witch or a mage. 

In this article, we are mostly interested in the understanding of Runic magic, though, so let us dip in this arcane and ancient world.

The purposes of Runes in Magic

In ancient times, Runic magic was mostly practiced by the so-called Vǫlur (singular Vǫlva), literally “bearer of the wand”. They were seeresses skilled in magic and divination, so respected and powerful that gods themselves were visiting them for advice. The Vǫlur were not only making divinations, though, but also practicing Seiðr (or Seidhr) – the ancient shamanic magic of the North European tradition. 

Little of this tradition survived until now and the most knowledge came to us through a Christian prism of view, which deformed lots of information, depicting this practice only as one that brings death, illnesses and misfortunes. And yes, I can’t deny that Runic magic was used for these purposes, too.

Our ancestors had enemies, had egos, desires and some of them were ready to pay to satisfy them. We can read stories about Seiðkona (the woman who practices Seiðr) asked to drown boats, evoke storms, make people sick, etc. Nevertheless, this was not sure all about magic. Villagers were also inviting Vǫlur to find lost cattle, find the best places for the hunt, make fertility rituals and other requests of everyday life. 

Northern runes

Obviously, the purposes of modern Runic magic are a little different, but an everyday request would not change much. The best place for the hunt became a request to find a better job. Fertility rituals are mostly about money or creativity now and Runes know our nature very well so they are able to satisfy these requests as well. 

Modern Vǫlur or Seiðkonas are studying ancient Runes, mythology and rituals, to help themselves and people around them to deal with an always-growing request of “something more” that, contemporary, life wipes away from us. People ask for love, money, self-growth, equilibrium, protection and Runic magic always has an answer. 

Runic magic can be a complex ritual in a specific day that requires days of preparation but it can also be everyday magic, sewed into life easily and as naturally as breathing. One can seriously study and become a Vǫlva to help people around with magic and advice of the gods. Alternatively, one can simply use Runes in life as advisors and little “vitamins” of energy, as I used to say.

Types of Runic Magic

Each Rune consists of three elements: 

  • The form: which is the sign itself.
  • The sound: which is the phonetic value of the rune.
  • The archetype: or hidden meaning of the rune. 

All aspects are inseparably linked – the inscribed image and the vibration of the sound, the Rune itself – is the law that allows magic to be activated. 

Runes in magick

The form of the Rune

“Do you know how to carve them…?” – is written in Hávamál. Indeed, the form is important, as it represents the body of the Rune. However, unfortunately, the discussions about how to carve or draw Runes sometimes are contradictory.

There are canonical rules: no rounded lines, no horizontal lines, only clean lines. These rules have been created thousands of years ago, when Runes were engraved on stone or wood, or hard surfaces that, for convenience and speed of engraving. With the tools of the time, one simply could not have rounded shapes, and the chisel produced a clean line.

The absence of horizontal lines is because the incision did not have to coincide with the veins of the trunk, since in the first writing period, Runic signs were engraved on wood. In this way, possible misunderstandings in reading and breaking the piece were avoided.

Engraved Runes, however, are still a human interpretation of the primordial forces of nature. They are in the horns of an elk, in a broken branch, in the veins of leaves, in the precise geometry of ice and the ever-changing tongues of fire.

So when you draw runes for your formulas remember the rules, but do not limit yourself by the tools of the time. Follow the breath of nature.

The sound of the Rune (its name)

Every God, every person and even object has its name. The sound of a name is a powerful thing because sound puts an intention into the material world, it is a key to start an action, an evocation. During the practice of Runic Magic, in fact, Galdr (or Galdor) exists, it stands for “spell”, “incantation”, but also “sing”.

It is a magical technique, by which a magician changes the inner or outer world according to his will. A kind of song, in this case, the name of the Rune sang loud. Galdr can be performed alone, evocating a single Rune for meditation purposes. Or in combination with rites, like drawing the runes in the air or on a person/object. 

rune magic symbols

For example, you can evoke Ansuz using Galdr while drawing it on yourself, when you need to pass exams or have an interview, or a business meeting. The Rune will help you talk better, to be calmer and more brilliant during discussions. 

The meaning of the Rune

This is probably the most important and ephemeral part of the Runes. It stands for its soul and personality, the Rune itself. You can draw it, you can sing it, but without knowing whom you are applying to, nothing will work. It is very important to study the Runes, their mythological, psychological and energetical part, to be able to manage them for their use in magic. It is not enough to simply know the meaning of a Rune to cast magic.

Runic magic requires attention, requires a solid relation with each Rune, the full control over all the three described aspects. 

And so, even if it may sound boring to some, before being able to achieve visible results with Runic magic, one should spend a lot of time on books and practices of acquaintance with the Runes.

A practical part

Searching for an easy way out, one can search for formulas and bindrunes over the internet. The web is full of “working formulas” for whatever problem one could have in life. However, many could notice that drawing it on the required place, nothing actually happening. 

There can be two reasons for such failure:

The first is that the formula, or the bindrune, has been wrongly composed. One could simply have read the meaning of the Runes and put them together not taking into account how they interact with each other. 

In the ancient Edda, there is a story about a Runic shaman summoned to understand the reason for the illness of a dying girl. He has found, under her bed, a Runic formula. It turned out that the girl’s lover tried to reach her sincere affection with the help of Runes, but having written the formula in an incorrect way, it caused her to have a severe heart disease. 

This warning should not stop you to practice Runic magic, it just serves to give you a better understanding of the seriousness of this matter.

The second reason, the most common one, is that Runes simply haven’t been activated. As we have mentioned, Runes are also an alphabet, used to write even a simple shopping list! No jokes! Archaeologists have really found these testimonials of everyday life. 

reading runes

So you can imagine that if just writing a Rune would make it “work”, that brought great chaos! That is why Runes are protected and need to be activated.

At the base of the Runes, there is a so-called energy potential, something that exists originally but not yet operational. Like a powerful chemical reagent that can be activated by an able scientist creating a favorable environment and adding just a drop of the right ingredient. 

This is it, Runic magic is also a science, that becomes powerful in the hands of wise practitioners, it can become a disaster used by an impatient novice, or simply give no results if one is treating it superficially. And as with every science, it can be used in the name of the good or in the name of the evil.

Practice for practice

Always keeping in mind the three energetical aspects of the Runes, we can start our practice, preparing for the casting of Runic magic. 

The first practice of all is studying

The more books you read, the better you understand Runes and their context, their character, strengths and weaknesses. Runes are very complex, and one should have a full understanding of their triple nature, as well:

  • Direct position.
  • Inverted position.
  • Mirrored Runes.

The direct position is the simplest one, if we can say so. When I explain this state of the Runes, I usually compare a rune with a person. So, a direct position is like a person in its comfort zone; this person would act according to his values and beliefs regarding the surrounding situations. 

The inverted position is not the opposite of the meaning of a Rune, as many could think, but like a person subjected to stress, maybe feeling ill, irritated and so acts consequently. For example, the reversed Laguz Rune does not stop to be a river, but becomes a river that suffers from a blockage. Do not forget that the majority of Runes show themselves equally in direct and reversed positions, like a very determined person that does not break in front of anything. 

Mirrored Runes, the most mysterious state. Historically, like the alphabet, mirrored Runes were used for decoration purposes and to encrypt messages. However, in Runic magic, mirrored Runes are often used in bindrunes and Runic formulas. The mirrored Rune strengthens itself but suffers a little alteration. That is why it is very important to know Runes very well, to not fall in a trap inside the mirror.

Runes meanings

Note that some Runes, like Isa or Dagaz for example, do not have a mirrored image. They don’t suffer from the so-called “false ego” while watching themselves in the mirror. But also there are Runes formed by other Runes and their reflection. See Mannaz, for example. It is formed by the Wunjo Rune and its reflection. Ehwaz is Laguz watching itself, and Inguz is Kenaz and its mirrored image. 

All these should be calculated while creating bindrunes, formulas, seals, etc. to secure your Runic magic and make it really work for the good of you and the people around you.

Practical lessons to reinforce visualization

Visualization is a base, not only in Runic magic but also in magic in general. It is the capacity to not just watch but also see things. The stronger is your capacity to visualize, the stronger is the Rune that you are evoking for your spell. 

Visualizing or imagining is the first step. It is a thought that takes shape to then become a word (a sound) which is followed by the action that brings to the accomplishment of a spell.  

For the first exercise, you need to print or draw a Rune of a simple shape, just black on white. Put it to the wall in front of your eyes, while you are sitting comfortably and watch it for about 30 seconds. Then close your eyes and try to imagine the Rune in your mind, as faithfully as possible. Don’t worry if in the beginning you see colors and shapes moving chaotically. Repeat the exercise several times, but do not make it for more than 10 minutes at a time.

You can repeat it several times a day, and when you notice that the image you evoke is stable and clear, you can move to a colored Rune’s print. The procedure is the same, watch for 30 seconds a colorful Rune in front of you, then close your eyes and visualize the Rune in its right color. 

When you start to be good with this exercise too, proceed with textured images. You can print Kenaz in a burning form, or Isa in an icy form, or Algiz made of tree branches and so on. 

This exercise could take more time, because you would have to evoke the details of a texture, like burning fire or sparkling ice. But this is where your visualizations start to be really powerful. 

Do not cheat yourself; do not jump over exercises, starting with the last one. You’d better sacrifice some time but make a strong base for your Runic magic practice. Have you seen the Doctor Strange film? Remember how he formed those seals with his hands. You can do it too, but it requires years of practice. And yes, it will not be so spectacular seen from outside, unfortunately… However, you could really make powerful spells.

Galdr: singing Runes practice

As said before, you can sing Runes also just for meditation. And it is better to start with just singing, practicing with your voice. Some scientists have assumed that Galdr was sung in falsetto, but there is no real proof of this. So I personally do it like it is done with mantras. You start to sing, and then also according to the energy of the Rune, the sound starts to get out of the heart, neck, or like singers do the mask singing and you feel it on the third eye, or even from the top of the head. 

Candles and runes

Sometimes when you are calm and concentrated you can hear/feel like two voices are coming out from you, like in an overtone singing, like Tibetan and Tuvan chanting, among others. It is a complex technique to learn, but I assure you that singing calmly, especially with the heart, you will hear it naturally. So, just sing. 

Then, when you are good in both techniques and keen with Runes significations, unite them, sing the Rune and evoke it in your mind placing it where you need, commanding your will. And you will see how this will work!

Will in Runic magic

Talking about will, I can’t help mentioning that the path of Runic magic is not simple. To make someone’s will stronger, a Volva, seidrkona, witch or mage should practice a sort of asceticism. To have a strong word, that can move the energy of the world all over the place, one should always speak the truth. It is not the banal thing that it may seem, if you start to practice it, you will see how hard it is to not lie, especially to ourselves.

Sometimes the vow of silence should be practiced, it strengthens speech in an incredible way. Your spells will really have power. This vow can be made on a specially chosen day, or on Wednesdays, because it is connected to Mercury, this planet implies sharpness of speech.

Conclusion

I hope this article will inspire you to take Runic magic seriously, but also to see how much joy it can bring to your life. Runes are not something apart, Runes are intertwined in our lives by the three weaving Norns goddesses and, for those who want to see them, they can open a world full of magic and self-realization, as well. 

Runes can protect our home, our family and beloved ones. They can help us cure our wounds, physical and psychological ones. Runes can help us grow, develop or strengthen our good traits of character and get rid of the bad ones. 

Runic magic is not a destination; it is a path. And you can walk it as you prefer, being completely inside of it or just hold its hand sometimes. In any case, it will make your life richer, it will amplify your interests and circle of friends. 

So be curious and never stop studying. Because those who are learning are always discovering something new, those who say they already know everything, remain with their closed minds and have no possibility to grow.

Sources

  • Aswynn Freya: “Leaves of Yggdrasil”
  • Bates Brian: “The Way of Wyrd”
  • Pennick Nigel: “The Secret Lore of Runes and Other Ancient Alphabets”
  • Powel Tag, Judith: “The Silva Method Of Mind Mastery”
  • Thorsson Edrred: “Runelore”