Runes are written symbols that represent sounds or ideas. Basically, they are letters that are named for objects. Specifically, they are letters in the ancient Germanic alphabets. The word rune comes from the Old Norse rúna which described the letters of Germanic alphabets used before Rome imposed its alphabet on Europe.
In modern usage, the word rune is often used to describe a letter in any alphabet used for divination or other magical purposes.
Types of Runes
Many different alphabets have been called runes. The runes most commonly associated with the word are The Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark of the ancient Norse tribes and the Anglo-Saxon Futharc system. The Elder Futhark is the oldest and we know the least about it; what we do know we have largely extrapolated from the newer systems, yet when people reference “runes” today, they are usually talking about the Elder Futhark.
In addition to these, there are the elvish runes of “Lord of the Rings” fame; witches runes, also known as Theban runes; Ogham runes; letters from the Enochian alphabet and so on.
Using Runes for Magick
A rune is a multilevel device used for various purposes.
Using Runes for Divination
Runes are often used for divination among members of the magickal community. They are most notably used by Heathens but are also quite popular with Druids and Witches and many other groups. When used as a divination tool, runes are usually inscribed into small stones or pieces of wood that are uniformly shaped and sized. These are sometimes referred to as rune stones or tiles, but often simply called runes. Runes may also be drawn onto sticks, these are called rune tines. Sometimes the runes are written on cards.
Runestones are usually kept in a small bag or pouch and the caster reaches into the bag while meditating upon a specific question. She may then draw a specified number of runes and lay them out in a specified pattern, or she may gather several runes at random and scatter them in front of her, letting the pattern that they form inform part of the reading. Once the runes are laid out, she examines them and gives a reading based on the meaning of the individual runes, their relationship to each other and their position in the layout. If using cards, they may be drawn at random from a deck in a similar fashion.