I bought my first rune set and it served me well while I learnt the meanings of the runes and prepared to make my own set. In order to connect with and empower my runes I performed a number of rituals and meditations with them; they were buried, passed through fire, incense and water and then regularly left under the light of the sun and moon. While these actions served to purify and empower, the most important aspect of the work was building my own personal connection with them.
Passing the runes through my hands and tracing their shapes with my fingertips brought familiarity and a strong sense of connection with my set. I also carefully noted which runes I felt the strongest affinity with, which ones were dropped or otherwise jumped out as I worked with them (i.e. during my fire working a small number were stained with red wax) and which ones tended to appear first or last. In this way I began to understand where my own strengths and weaknesses lay.
Breathing their names gently over them was also very powerful and reminded me that the act of ‘naming’ was extremely important to the Northern peoples (as it is in much magickal practice). If you have read The Hobbit you will remember Bilbo’s blade which he names ‘Sting’; the naming act informed the blade of its purpose but also seemed to give Bilbo a sense of confidence wielding it - Sting was definitely his blade. As you work with your runes they will begin to speak to you and to take on a quality unique to that individual set and to you. The Voluspo in the Poetic Edda tells how three Gods (or some say three aspects of the god Odin) ‘breathed’ life into an Ash tree and an Elm tree to create the first man and woman – until they were given the gifts of soul, sense, heat and hue they were empty of ‘rune might’. As you breath upon your runes you pass on rune might, but you also open the way for your own rune might to be enhanced as your runes will in turn gift you wisdom and prophecy.
Stones and semi-precious stones
While historical sources inform us that rune sets were traditionally made from wood, sets made of stone are very durable and increasingly popular. A rune set made from earthy materials might be thought of as having stronger connections with dwarves, giants and ’earthier’ deities such as Freyja. There are also pewter rune sets now available which look very interesting; like clay sets these are said to be very good at storing the energy you place in them (but watch who you read for and whether you let them handle your runes as clay retains negative as well as positive energy and is not as easy to cleanse as crystal).
There are any number of rune sets available on Amazon and e-bay ranging from £5.00-50.00 . These are pre-dominantly made of semi-precious stones which are very beautiful, but low prices decrease the likelihood that they were sourced ethically (e.g. they could have been strip-mined or mined by workers for little pay). Some will have the runes etched into them before painting and others will simply be painted (the advantage of etching is that you can trace the rune shapes with your fingers as well as seeing them). You will also find that a number of smaller vendours (who it will be easier to contact directly to find out about the source of their materials), provide a wide variety of crysal runes. Some vendours in the UK include:
- New Moon (note that New Moon operate a Fair Trade policy for the sets they buy)
- Witchcraft Limited
- Shamans Crystal
- Earthly Gems
You will find that modern practitioners have attributed particular stones and gems to particular runes but as many of these would be prohibitivley expensive to make, stone rune sets tend to be made from a single stone or a random mixture.
Runes are also available in soap stone, clay and pewter.
Wooden rune sets
The Roman traveller Tacitus described a practice of divination used by Northern tribes where staves or ‘notae’, made of fruit bearing trees and inscribed with symbols, would be thrown upon the ground and read by a priest or the male head of household. The rune poem Havamal talks about cutting, carving, scratching and staining the runes which could refer to either stone or wood – but wood would be more convenient.
Sadly, Oswald the Runemaker is no longer making runes, however, his website still contains pages on making runes which are helpful if you want to see the sort of work a rune maker might put in to creating your set. As you might imagine, carving and colouring 24 runes is a slow business and wooden rune sets are therefore fairly expensive; I am an advocate for making your own wooden rune set but if you are really all fingers and thumbs, a well made wooden rune set is well worth it. Some of the most interesting sites I have seen for wooden rune sets are:
- Spirit of Old
- Witchcraft Limited (also check out their amber and antler sets, the amber looks awesome and is very appropriate for runes)
- Tara Hill Designs (note that Elder, Younger and Anglo-Saxon rune sets are available here)
A final note of caution when buying a rune set is to make sure that you are getting the set you expect. Most crystal rune sets will be the Elder Futhark as this is the most commonly used, but wooden rune sets may be one of the less well-known Futharks or an odd mixture of Futharks – they might also be ‘runes’ in the loosest possible sense (a mystery or secret symbol). Many sets come with books, some of which may not contain very reliable information – for good quality introductory texts on the runes see my Rune Library.
The next post will be on making your own rune set.