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Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide To Using Runes In Spells, Rituals, Divination, And Magic

Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide To Using Runes In Spells, Rituals, Divination, And Magic

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by Diana L. Paxson

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Although many of us first encountered runes in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, this sacred alphabet is by no means a fabrication for books or movies. Similar to Hebrew letters in the sense that each symbol contains a meaning that transcends its original function as a letter, the runes are practical, flexible, and effective symbols with a variety of uses.


Although many of us first encountered runes in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, this sacred alphabet is by no means a fabrication for books or movies. Similar to Hebrew letters in the sense that each symbol contains a meaning that transcends its original function as a letter, the runes are practical, flexible, and effective symbols with a variety of uses.

From the introduction: Effective use of the runes requires both the old wisdom and the new. The student must not only consciously study the meanings ascribed to the runes by earlier scholars, but must internalize them.

Today, the best-known application of rune lore is divination: chips or stones marked with the runes are drawn, cast, or laid out in patterns like tarot cards. In Taking Up the Runes, Paxson delves into the ancient historical meaning of each rune and explains their contemporary uses and meanings. We discover that the real power of runes comes from inside ourselves when we find the wisdom and power within each symbol and internalize them.

Taking Up the Runes is the ultimate workbook for using the runes on a psychic, spiritual, and magical level. Learn how to make your own rune set and how to use the runes in guided meditations and song.

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A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2005 Diana L. Paxson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-507-7


TAKING UP THE RUNES: As an Individual or Group

THE FIRST MEETING OF A RUNE STUDY GROUP, or the first time you set apart to formally begin your study of the runes, should be used for organization and orientation.

A possible first meeting outline is as follows:

1. Introductions, in which each person summarizes his/her background and reasons for wanting to study the runes.

2. Identify what resources are available and decide how to acquire additional materials.

3. Decide on how your study will be organized.

4. Summarize the history of the runes.

5. Discuss ways of working with the runes between meetings.

6. Ritual: Meditation, "Taking Up the Runes."

7. Celebration and grounding.


If you are working alone, use this time to write down your understanding of what the runes are and your goals in studying them. You will find it very interesting to compare this description with your perceptions at the end of the course of study. In a group, everyone should be given the opportunity to (briefly) state what they are hoping to get out of the class.


The group needs to find out what resources it has already and which books or other materials it should acquire. Clearly, everyone will need a copy of Taking Up the Runes and some of the other rune books. A bibliography that includes recommended materials on the runes appears at the end of this book. Some people may already own useful items that are not in the bibliography. If you are working with a group, the resource problem can be eased if each member buys some of the books and reports on relevant content at each meeting. I would, however, recommend that anyone seriously studying Germanic culture acquire copies of Ellis-Davidson's Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (reissued as Gods and Myths of the Viking Age) and the Elder and Younger Eddas. Everyone should also have a notebook in which to take notes on discussions, collect handouts, record the results of individual work, and so on.


Decide the following questions now:

1. In what order will you work through the futhark?

2. When will you have your meetings or study times?

3. What will you do during meetings or study sessions? (Discussion, ritual, both, etc.)

4. Will one person lead the group, or should a different member take responsibility each time?

5. Do you want to encourage people to wear any kind of distinctive clothing?


Our rune study groups have found it most convenient to start at the beginning of the futhark and address two runes each at a monthly meeting, thus covering all twenty-four, with introduction and graduation, in fourteen months. This section is organized into "meetings" on that assumption, with suggestions for discussion and texts for group rituals, as well as activities and rites for a student working alone.

There is something to be said for both approaches. The solo student can set his or her own pace; however, working with a group, even a small one, helps keep you focused and motivated. Working alone, you are free to concentrate on the aspects of the runes you find most interesting. On the other hand, having to accommodate everyone's interests may result in a more balanced coverage of the subjects, and the insights of other group members can be illuminating.

Obviously this is not the only way to go about it. The information can be used by an individual as a guide to meditation and reflection, and with some adaptations, the group rituals, as well as the solo rites, can be worked alone. Certainly, anyone intending to lead a rune study group should work through the book ahead of time. If you are studying alone, you may find it possible to go through the course more quickly—at the rate of one rune a week, for instance. You will also derive some benefit from simply reading the book.

Some may prefer to have a separate meeting to discuss each rune and develop a ritual for each one, or do the rituals presented here every other meeting. Others may decide to use Thorsson's concentric diagram of the runes (on p. 74 of Futhark) as a guide and work from the inside of the circle out, or from the outside of the circle in. Any two runes drawn at random will illuminate each other. You may decide to work through the futhark from FEHU to OTHALA the first time, and choose some other arrangement for a second round. If you do choose another approach, the rituals included in this section can be used for inspiration.

Obviously the most appropriate day for such meetings or for rune work in general is Wednesday (Wodan's Day), but weekend meetings will allow you more time.


Whether you are working alone or with a group, you may find that dressing appropriately helps you to shift into a Norse mode of consciousness. The psychology of costume is well known. We dress up for an evening out, or put on running shoes to go hiking, and find ourselves already getting into the mood of the thing simply by getting ready. The association of a given action with a certain mode of dress or even a piece of jewelry can help condition the mind and speed up the process of shifting gears to begin your task. You will find that if you always put on, for instance, a copper disk engraved around the edge with the futhark when you are about to work with the runes, simply slipping the necklace over your head will help you to concentrate. Some groups go a bit farther and create Norse-style tunics to wear at rituals, while others favor a pendant or necklace with an appropriate T-shirt.

If you would like to do some sewing, my book Germanic Costume includes history, illustration, and patterns. It is available from The Troth, Box 472, Berkeley, CA 94701 for $10.


The group leader should summarize the history and development of the runes found in the "Origins" section on page 4 of the Introduction to this book. Add material from any other sources you may have, especially Runes, by Page, and Thorsson's Runelore. Read them yourself if you are working alone.

At the end of the discussion, or during the potluck that follows the ritual, remind everyone that the runes to be studied next month are FEHU and URUZ. Each person will need to bring a bank deposit slip to class for the ritual. They should prepare by reading the discussions of these runes in their rune books and following up as many of the suggestions for further reading and experience as they can. If you are working alone, you may begin reading the study section for FEHU/URUZ as soon as you have finished the ritual in this chapter.


Rune-related activities to be done between meetings include reading, setting up an altar, meditation, making and consecrating your own rune staves, and seeking experiences that relate to the runes. Keep a file or notebook in which you record your experiences after each exercise.


A rune altar can be as simple as a section of dresser or shelf covered with a plain cloth on which you set a candle or votive light, cards on which you have drawn the runes you are working with, the disks or staves of those runes, and any appropriate pictures or other items, such as a head of grain or statuette of a cow for FEHU, a picture of an aurochs for URUZ, and so on. Norse god images are becoming available from companies such as Mythic Images and JBL, and pictures can be photocopied from books of mythology or from the libretto of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs, illustrated by Arthur Rackham (These are now in the public domain. Copies can be downloaded from the Troth Web site, www.thetroth.org).


The runes must not only be studied, but internalized. Before beginning meditation with the runes, you need to learn to relax and focus your attention. To relax, sit in a balanced position which can be maintained without muscular tension or any effort of will. A good choice is a comfortable straight chair in which you can sit with your palms resting upon your knees. Those who are flexible or have experience in Eastern forms of meditation may find that sitting cross-legged works as well. Before sitting down, stretch to loosen your muscles.

Deepen your focus by counting your breaths. With practice, you can condition yourself to enter a focused state through a specific breathing pattern. I have found that breathing in to a slow count of four, holding for two beats, letting the breath out to the count of four and pausing for two more beats works well.

Another method is to use the runic yoga system called stadhagaldr, developed by Thorsson and based on the theories of Kummer and Marby, in which the runester forms the rune shapes with his or her body. This system is fully described in Thorsson's first book, Futhark.


One way to internalize the runes is to physically inscribe them on your body. This is a good way to begin a runic meditation. You can scratch the rune on your skin with a fingernail or inscribe runes with consecrated oil (something like oil of wintergreen or cinnamon that leaves a tingle on the skin), with water, or with saliva. When working with the runes one at a time, you can draw them on your forehead over the "third eye," at the base of the throat, over the solar plexus, or on the palms of your hands. Take a moment to feel the shape of the rune upon your skin. As the sensation fades, draw it inward and absorb the rune shape into your own essence.


As you study each rune, draw or paint it (usually in red on a white background) large enough to be seen clearly from a few feet away, and set it up where you can contemplate it. This rune card can be used as the starting point for a number of visual exercises.

1. Stare at the rune card intently; then cover it with a blank piece of paper and wait for its complementary image to appear there.

2. Stare at the rune card for a few moments; then shut your eyes and visualize it against a blank background.

3. Once you can maintain the image internally, imagine it pulsing with light and then changing color. Practice transforming it from one color to another until you can do this at will.

4. Hold the image of the rune in your mind. Visualize it first pulsing, then expanding, until it becomes a doorway. At first you may do no more than look through the door and note what you see, then shrink the rune to close it again. As you look through this door, quiet your mind and allow images to appear. Do not try to force the vision, or worry about whether you are seeing the "right" things.

With more practice, you can step through the doorway and explore the world to which the rune is the portal. But remember to pay attention to where you are going and memorize the landmarks. You will be more comfortable if you can retrace your steps precisely in reverse order. If you become disturbed or frightened by anything you see, visualize the rune again and snap back through it into your body. An additional protection is to visualize or draw the rune ELHAZ ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) between you and anything disturbing.


Runes are both sounds and symbols. Intoning the runes is the first step in spellwork—galdr, or incantation. To internalize the sound of the rune, sing it. The early 20th-century Armanen tradition of runic study developed a technique known as runic yodeling, which conjures up bizarre images of wizard s in lederhosen perching on mountaintops as they warble runes. Nonetheless, the idea is a good one, although I prefer a sonorous and sustained intonation in the style of Hindu mantra singing rather than a shout. Your chanting does not need to be loud, and unless you are working outdoors or alone in the house, it is best to aim for intensity rather than volume. Hindu tradition identifies several levels of chanting, ranging from chanting aloud to the prayer of the heart, in which the mental vibration of the mantra unites the worshipper with the god. The runes can be intoned in all of these ways. For an impressive demonstration of the potential in runic galdr, listen to the CDs produced by Aswynn.

To chant a rune, visualize it, take a deep belly-breath, and let the outflow of the air carry the sound. Choose a note that falls comfortably within the middle range of your voice. Usually the vowel sounds will be held longest, but save enough breath to finish up the final consonants.

You may find that different runes demand different notes, up and down the scale. You will certainly discover that various sounds vibrate in different places in your body. You can also learn to direct this vibration to different areas. Some runes relate naturally to certain parts of the body—ANSUZ to the mouth and throat, for instance. This principle also has applications in healing. A rune sound can become the first part of a meditation. Continue intoning the rune, visualizing it pulsing in time to the vibrations of your voice, until the rune is all that you can see and hear. Bring the chanting to a climax and then let it fade.


A method which works well as the end of a meditation sequence and can also be used in group ritual is to inscribe the rune on something that you eat or drink. In the sagas, the usual method is to write the runes on a piece of wood or bone and scrape them off into a drink. Other delivery systems include writing the rune on a piece of paper in a water-soluble, nontoxic substance such as juice, and washing it off into a beverage. Writing a rune on a piece of crystallized sugar is a possibility, as is scratching it into a cake of hard chocolate and scraping it off. Runes can be drawn in liquid, sprinkled into it, or inscribed in the air and projected into it with the energy from the palm of the hand.

Runes can be eaten as well as drunk. Aswynn reports getting good results when she first studied the runes by eating cakes with the runes inscribed on them. They can be scratched into a cookie or cracker, set into it with raisins, drawn on it with frosting, juice, honey, etc., or the dough can be molded into the shape of the rune.

Whether you are eating or drinking, it is important to do so with intention and attention. As you consume the rune-inscribed food or drink, visualize the rune and feel its energy expanding through your system.

Crafting Runes

Rune sets made from stones, chips, or cards are now widely available. However, while you are studying the runes you will find it useful to make or at least to consecrate your own. The advantage of the runes over other divinatory systems is that this is relatively easy. In fact, if you are caught somewhere without your set and you need to do a reading, you can easily make some from pieces of cardboard When you make your own runes, your energy goes into them and they will respond to your need.

According to the Roman writer Tacitus, the ancient Germans cast lots made of fruitwood for divination (Germania, trans. 1942). Norwegian folk tradition as reported by Jane Sibley (1989) includes divination with a set of rune sticks about four inches long. Osborn and Longland (1964) recommend making a practice set from wooden tongue depressors. However, today the most common form for runes is that of small pieces which can be drawn, laid out, or mixed up easily, and are of a convenient size to carry in a pouch.

The most common materials for rune sets are wood and stone. They can also be made out of metal, clay, or bone. My first set was made from plasticine baked in my oven, which preserved my fingerprints in the surface. If you have a good saw, you can cut round cross-sections from a branch to make rune disks. Oak, ash, rowan, yew, beech, and birch are all sacred trees. Fruitwood can be used as well. Cross-sections of antler are another possibility. If you cut the wood from a living tree, remember to explain to the tree what you are doing and ask its permission; thank the tree and offer some of your blood or saliva to the stump after you have cut your branch. Ideally, wood for magical purposes should be cut during a waxing moon.

A section about an inch and a half in diameter and a quarter-inch thick is a convenient size. The bark can be left on or removed. Another option is to buy a bag of wood "buttons" from a woodworking or fine lumber store. These are the round disks of wood inset in furniture to cover countersunk screws, about the size and shape of checkers, made of natural hardwood such as beech, birch, or oak. Stones are heavier to carry, but have a good feel. Some people have made runestones by engraving the polished rocks sold for games of Go. Another source is water-smoothed "skipping" stones found on the beach or in streambeds.

Excerpted from TAKING UP THE RUNES by DIANA L. PAXSON. Copyright © 2005 Diana L. Paxson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide To Using Runes In Spells, Rituals, Divination, And Magic 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Filled with ancient interpretations and modern scholarly (in plain English) understandings of the Elder Futhark, Paxson brings the novice runester through as many steps as they might need to in order for them to, in effect, take up the runes. The rituals in the second half of the book are mainly for groups, but one can perform most if not all the other rituals (found at the ends of each chapter) on one's own. Simple techniques for absorbing, not just memorizing, the various runes are listed at the beginning of Paxson's book, and I personally feel the spiritualside of the runes when using said techniques. I strongly reccomend this book to anyone serious in their studies of the Futharks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've met one of the researchers sited in this work. Much passion and dedication has gone into this/ this set of works. The effort is for there to be something of value for both the searcher/student. The acedemic can mine the notes and bibliography. I'm buying it again for my e-reader. It does not dissapoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This goes far beyond memorizing what someone else tells you about the meaning of the runes, it becomes a personal journey about finding and understanding the runes, with interpretaions given from varied sources for each rune. Many suggestions for study and ritual use are included, as are lessons on mythology that are more related to a better understanding of the culture behind the runes than the runes themselves.
Tichondria More than 1 year ago
This book gives out great information and history about reading and the purpose of runes. It gives many different meanings to the runes from different religions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Taking up the Runes is the most expansive book available on runelore. Truly, it is a significant work and thoroughly worth your while. Paxson is brilliant and a true sister in the plight to unveil Asatru to the folk.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The definition process of the runes is overly lengthy and not a great reference material for runic casting this book is better for a person who plans to study the runes in depth with meditation etc.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book on runes. Great for beginners through experts!
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