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Picking a Rune Set

If you plan to buy a set of runes at some bookstore, like Barnes & Noble, you’ll most likely be buying a set of the Elder Futhark runes unless it says otherwise on the box/set. The reason for this is that the Elder Futhark is a good starter set as well as being a good set for all around castings. If you buy a set from some new age shop (online or at a store near you) you should have a choice of different sets. If you do it this way then it is important that you get the rune set that is right for you and the type of casting that you will be doing.

The first question you may have is “How do I know which rune set is right for me?” Well, take a look at a few things. Do you plan to have more than one set in case you want to do different readings? Is this just a simple interest or do you plan to further your study on the runes? Are you going to be making your runes?

If you plan on making your runes, I strongly suggest that you start by making the Elder Futhark runes. The reason is that this set if good for any cast that you will do. There are 24 runes in this set so you can ask simple, general questions as well as specific, in-depth questions and still get a good reading. If you plan to be asking a lot of more vague questions then you can get by with a smaller set of runes like the Younger Futhork. If the questions you have are going to be more specific then you may want to use a set that contains more runes, like the Northumbrian runes, which contain a total of 33 runes.

The next question to look at is “Will I be using ‘reversed’ runes in my readings?” Like some uses of the tarot cards, the runes can be reversed if you choose to use them in such a way. However, be aware that some runes are always ‘upright’ no matter which way they land. This is because of the shape of the rune. One such rune is Gebo, which looks like a large “x”. Any way this rune lands it will appear that it is ‘upright’. I have not included reversed rune meanings in the rune meanings section because I personally do not use them. If you’d like more information on the reversed meanings of the runes, you’ll have to find a book that contains that information.

You should also look the rune set itself. Do you like the way the runes look and feel to you? Does the material your set is made from matter to you? Do you prefer to have a small set or a large set? Do you care for the history behind the set? Also take a look at the uses of the runes, a set like the Medieval Runes of Healing and Magick Set were not used for casting so you obviously won’t choose to make or buy a set of that type to cast with.

The last and most important thing when picking a set is to make sure that you’re comfortable with it. Make sure you pick a set that you’re interested in and that you know really well (or want to learn really well). The more you use your runes, the more you’ll start to understand what they are trying to tell you. Even experienced rune casters need time to get familiar with a new set. Each set has a different “personality” and it’s up to the caster to figure it out.

Medieval Runes of Healing and Magick Set

For almost all other rune sets you should be able to find some divinatory meanings for each rune in its set. This is where the Medieval runes differ from the rest. They were never used for divination purposes and are actually not a rune row in their own right. What they are is individual runic symbols that hold magickal properties of protection and healing. They are probably the least known of the rune sets and probably one set that we may never fully understand how and what they were used for. They are said to originate in the Middle Ages and are largely thought to be Germanic or Dutch in origin.

The images and shapes of this set (shown here) are not that different than the other runes that we’ve seen before. But why is that? If these runes were used for magickal protection and healing, why not just use the protection runes or healing runes from an already developed set? The answer to that is not clear and may never be. It could be that the images for the runes were chosen because each rune was said to relate to a god or goddess. If that’s true then setting them apart from the other runes may be the reason why the shape was changed only a little. If you wanted the power of a god to help protect you or your home then it may be wise to use a protection rune from an established rune set. However, if you wanted to make sure that the rune held a little more power and possibly some magick to it, then it may have been the intent of the user to modify the rune just slightly enough so that the image was not identical, but still showed the original rune, therefore adding the element of magick to the rune. This is of course a lot of speculation and guesswork since there is no solid evidence of why these runes were only used for magickal purposes and not in casting.

Medieval Runes of Healing and Magick – Rune Meanings

The Medieval runes of healing and magick are special as they were not used in rune casting but for protection and healing. In fact they were mainly associated with gods and goddesses that were worshiped secretly in Christian times.



Sound: “sz” as the sound in “ease”
Stands for: Wolf-hook (Ancient Iron Weapon)
Magick/Healing use: Used to bind and eliminate harmful influences.



Sound: “oe” as the sound in “er”
Stands for: Our Planet (Mother Earth)
Magick/Healing use: Helps to reincorporate human actions with the world.



Sound: “ue” as the sound in “ee” or “ö”
Stands for: Turning point
Magick/Healing use: Revives former powers and helps assist in crises of healing.



Sound: “zz” as in “buzz”
Stands for: Thunderbolt of the God Ziu
Magick/Healing use: Concentrates and channels cosmic energies to maintain correct order.



Sound: “ss” as in “kiss”
Stands for: Disk of the sun
Magick/Healing use: Brings the healing power and warmth of the sun.



Sound: “mm” as in “humming”
Stands for: Phases of the moon
Magick/Healing use: Reminds us that we must experience good and bad alike.



Sound: no sound
Stands for: Bellows
Magick/Healing use: Contains the power of motivation.



Sound: no sound
Stands for: Emptiness
Magick/Healing use: Represents the power of the place where all existence began.

Egil’s Saga

In Egil’s Saga we come across quite a few references to the runes and even some references that could possibly be the use of the runes for casting lots. While it’s not positive that the casting of lots was done with runes I have chosen to include such passages so that those viewing this site can find these references in the work and decide for themselves. In all actuality the casting of lots was probably done with sticks or other materials notched with lines or numbers but you can decide that for yourselves when you read the passages.

When reading Egil’s Saga we come to find that Egil Skallagrimsson was not only a powerful warrior, poet and farmer but also very accomplished in the use of runes. At one point he was told about a young woman who had been confined to bed due to a serious sickness. When Egil is brought to this woman he comes to find a whalebone with runes carved on them in her bed. The runes on this whalebone were carved as healing runes by someone not trained properly in rune carving and thus was the reason that the young woman was not getting well but becoming more sick day-by-day. Egil steps in and cuts new runes that help the woman start on her road to recovery. There are other great encounters of the runes in this story so let’s take a look at them so we can better understand the uses and usefulness of the runes.

Chapter 44

Egil took out his knife and stabbed the palm of his hand with it, then took the drinking-horn, carved runes on it and smeared them with blood. He spoke a verse:

I carve runes on this horn,
redden words with my blood,
I choose words for the trees1
of the wild beast’s ear-roots;2
drink as we wish this mead
brought by merry servants,
let us find out how we fare
from the ale that Bard blessed.

We cannot say for sure which runes were carved on Egil’s drinking-horn because we do not know which set of runes Egil was familiar with. If it were the elder futhark we might assume that “trees” might mean Elhaz which refers to the elk and whose runic shape appears to look like the elk’s horns. Or we might even assume that it could be the rune Uruz, which stands for the auroch (wild ox) whose large horn may even have been the source for such a drinking horn. However the spread and shape of the elk’s horns would look more like a tree than the horns of an auroch. Also the line that contains “the wild beast’s ear-roots” is more likely to refer to Uruz and we would probably not see a double reference to the same rune in two lines of Egil’s verse. So assuming that the elder futhark runes were used by Egil, it would be safe to say that both Elhaz and Uruz would have been carved on the drinking horn to protect Egil from any sort of poison.

The reason we see Egil cut his own hand and cover the runes he had just carved with blood was a way thought to invoke the power of the runes. Because of this we also see why many runes are colored or associated with red. Red paint, ink or other material would represent blood and help release the power and magick of the runes that we are using.

Chapter 58

Then he thrust the pole into a cleft in the rock and left it to stand there. He turned the head towards the land and carved the whole invocation in runes on the pole.

The head on the pole in this case is the head of a horse. Egil had an encounter with Prince Rognvald, son of King Erik and Queen Gunnhild, as he and his men were approaching Herdla. Prince Rognvald and his crew went to spy on Egil, but when Egil spotted the warship that Prince Rognvald and his twelve crew members were in he steered his ship and rammed the warship. Jumping on board Egil told his crew not to let anyone escape alive and Prince Rognvald and his twelve crew members were killed. After the battle Egil and his companions raided Herdla plundering all the valuables they could find. They then prepared to set sail to make their escape, but before they could Egil ran back inland took a hazel pole and a horse head and cursed King Erik and Queen Gunnhild.

The idea here is that Egil was going to use the power and magick of the runes to make sure that his curse on the king and queen would work. An oral curse is one thing but to add the intensity of the runes would make this curse visible and known to all that did not hear him when he said it.

Chapter 73

‘We had some runes carved,’ said Thorfinn. ‘The son of a farmer who lives close by did it, and since she’s been much worse. Do you know any remedy, Egil?’
Egil said, ‘It might not do any harm if I try something.’

When Egil had eaten his fill he went to where the woman was lying and spoke to her. He ordered them to lift her out of bed and place clean sheets underneath her, and this was done. Then he examined the bed she had been lying in, and found a whalebone with runes carved on it. After reading the runes, Egil shaved them off and scraped them into the fire. He burned the whalebone and had her bedclothes aired. Then Egil spoke a verse:

No man should carve runes
unless he can read them well;
many a man go astray
around those dark letters.
On the whalebone I saw
ten secret letters carved,
from them the linden tree3
took her long harm.

Egil cut some runes and placed them under the pillow of the bed where she was lying. She felt as if she were waking from a deep sleep, and she said she was well again, but still very weak.

Here we see a situation of misused runes. Thorfinn’s daughter, Helga, had been sick and some farmer’s son had carved, what he thought, were healing runes on a whalebone to help her get well. However when Egil inspected the runes carved on the bone he noticed that they were causing her more harm than good. To get rid of the old runes Egil scrapes them off into the fire and burns the rest of the bone. He then cuts the proper new runes and places them under Helga’s pillow in her bed.

Scraping off the runes on the whalebone was a necessary start to help Helga get better. The reason that Egil burns them was to make sure that the power of the runes was no longer there. If he had simply scraped the runes off the chips of the bone would still be in the room. Burning the bone converts the bone into another material – from a solid to a gas if you will. This releases the power of the bad healing runes allowing Egil to cut the proper healing runes. Egil also speaks about how no man should carve runes unless he can read (understand) them well. This is a general warning that if the correct runes are not used in a certain situation that they can have a different result than what we intended.

Chapter 77

The man who had carved the runes for Helga lived close by. It transpired that he had asked for her hand in marriage, but Thorfinn had refused him. Then the farmer’s son had tried to seduce her, but she did not want him. After that he pretended to carve love runes to her, but did not know how to, and what he carved had caused sickness instead.

This is the chapter where we find out why Helga, Thorfinn’s daughter, became sick in the first place. The farmer’s son was in love with Helga and when all other ways had failed him he resorted to carving runes in order to make her fall in love with him. However since he was not skilled in the runes he ended up carving runes that made her ill.

Chapter 79

Then Thorgerd said, ‘What will we do now? Our plan has failed. Now I want us to stay alive, father, long enough for you to compose a poem in Bodvar’s memory and I will carve it on a rune-stick. Then we can die if we want to.

In this chapter we see Egil’s daughter, Thorgerd, trying to get Egil’s spirits up. Egil’s son, Bovar, had died and Egil had retreated to his bedchambers in hopes that his life would not continue much longer. However, Thorgerd comes to his room and tells him that she hopes that Egil will make a verse in Bodvar’s memory so that she can carve it into a rune-stick. The thought of doing such a thing was enough to pull Egil out of bed and get him back on his feet. He proceeds to write twenty-five stanza verse in memory of his son.

In this saga this is the one time we see the use of the runes simply as a writing system. The runes in all the other chapters are used as powerful symbols for magick or curses. The reference to the runes in chapter 58 might possibly have been used in the same manner, but it’s not clear. The reason I say that is because the curse that Egil sets on King Erik and Queen Gunnhild is rather long and if Egil and his crew were trying to escape odds are that he would not take the time to carve the whole curse on the pole. More likely he would have carved a few runes that would set such a curse making sure that there are enough runes carved to make it clear, to anyone who saw the pole, just what the curse was intended to do.

Casting Lots

I had mentioned that Egil’s Saga had also contained the act of casting lots. The following chapters and quotes are where this is mentioned. Feel free to have a look at them and decide for yourselves if these “lots” might have been runic symbols or not. I will not explain the situations in which the quotes take place in the story since that has no bearing on whether or not the “lots” could be runic symbols or not.

Chapter 7 – According to custom they cast lots every evening to decide which pairs would sit together and share the drinking horns.

Chapter 48 – Before the time came to put away the tables, the earl said that they should cast lots to pair off the men and women who would drink together, as far as numbers allowed, and the remainder would drink by themselves. They all cast their lots into a cloth and the earl picked them out.

As you can see the casting of the lots could or could not be rune symbols. On the one hand they could simply be dice as they would not be too uncommon at such a time. However in chapter 48 we see that they cast these lots onto a cloth, a practice that would not make sense for throwing dice, but would make sense for casting the runes. There is a third possibility that the lots were neither dice nor runes but some other form that would allow you to pair a lager group of people up.

Rune Sets

There are many different versions or sets of runes that you will encounter as you read more about the runes. This is largely due to the history, travel and adaptation of the runes by different societies and cultures as they traveled around Europe. History tells us that the runes moved from society to society by the means of traders, travelers and warriors. A person may encounter and learn the runes from one society and then carry that knowledge to a new society through their travels. Since each society may have different phonetic sounds in their vocabulary the runes would take on new sounds, forms and meanings. For the most part you’ll see that the meanings and sounds didn’t change all that much. Similarities can be found between many sets. Of course there are times when you see that one rune set may be expanded or shortened to fit the needs of a specific society.

But what makes one set different from another set? Is it simply their shapes, meanings and sounds? Or can it be something deeper than that? From here on we’ll examine a few of the different rune sets and see what makes one different from the other. Click on the links to learn more about them.

Anglo-Saxon and Frisian Rune Sets – Expanded versions of the Elder Futhark rune set totaling 28 runes staves for the Frisian runes and 29 staves for the Anglo-Saxon set.

Armanen Rune Set – An 18 rune stave set created by Guido List. List claimed that this set was the “original rune set.”

Elder Futhark Rune Set – Also known as the German or Viking rune set, the Elder futhark set contains 24 rune staves.

Gothic Rune Set – This rune set of 25 staves was adapted from the Elder Futhark by a 4th century bishop for the use of writing Christian material.

Medieval Runes of Healing and Magick Set – These 8 runes were never really used for writing but were mainly associated with gods and goddesses that were worshiped in secret during Christian times.

Northumbrian Rune Set – This 33 rune stave collection was an extension of the Anglo-Saxon rune set adding 4 more runes to the already 29 rune set.

Younger Futhork Rune Set – Around the 7th or 8th century the Elder futhark rune set was shortened to 16 runes to form two new sets collectively known as the Younger futhork.

Rune Meanings

If you’ve had time to look at the different type of rune sets then you may be curious about is just what those runes stand for. As the runes were developed and as they transformed over time they came to stand for more than just sounds. They held magickal properties to people who used the runes for casting. They were still being used for writing so they held a phonetic sound as well. The name of each rune held a certain meaning and could stand for an item or an idea. For each different set below you will get to see an image of each rune, the phonetic value, what the rune stood for and also it’s meaning for casting purposes.

Anglo-Saxon and Frisian Runes – consists of the Elder Futhark Runes plus 5 more runes

Armanen Runes – similar to other runes in Scandinavia but were created by Guido List (1848-1919)

Elder Futhark Runes – sometimes called the German or Viking Futhark

Gothic Runes – the type of runes that are found on the Kylver Stone

Medieval Runes of Healing and Magick – 8 runes that were not used for writing but for magickal and healing purposes during the Middle Ages

Northumbrian Runes – consists of the Anglo-Saxon Runes plus 4 more runes

Younger Futhork Runes – includes the Danish and Swedish-Norse Futhark

It’s important to note that the names of the runes that you will find on other sites and in books may be different than the ones that you see on the pages for this site. For example the Elder Futhark rune “Kenaz” has at least five different names (or spellings) that I can think of off the top of my head. What I have done here is to use the names which I have used in my runic journal since I started it. You may also find that the images in a few books or other sites may be a little different as well. I took the most common images that I found in all of my rune books and used those in hopes that if you further your study on the runes that you may encounter the images I have used.

Sets in bold will be covered here when I get the time.