Tools of the Telling Trade: Runes

Nordic Runes

This week, I wanted to touch on three methods of fortune telling that are used in reality and fiction.  The fictional versions are always more magical and mysterious than the real ones, so there are preconceived notions people have when they try to interact with these things themselves.  Will these posts help clear things up?  Maybe, but I can’t call myself an expert on this.  It’s all opinion and what I’ve learned over the years while dabbling in such things myself.  Speaking of dabbling, this post is on runes.

First, here is a site that can tell you a lot and it’s similar to a book I have that helps me use my rune set.  At least once I figure out where I put it.  CLICK HERE

Now, I should explain the dabbling since I never really put any runes in my stories.  This is because I haven’t found the right character to use them.  Stephanie Talon comes close, but being a blood worker makes more sense for a vampire.  Anyway, I was in college when I was first introduced to runes.  This was by accident too.  I made friends with a lot of the Pagan Student Association members and went with them to an Earth Day festival that a bunch of clubs put on.  I helped set things up and was dubbed the Pack Jew.  Lacking a car (or license), I spent the rest of the day sitting behind the table while the members used their tarot decks.  I’d found a bag of Nordic runes and a book about them in the boxes, so I was reading about them.

Around lunchtime, the club leaders went to get food for the group and the rest wandered off.  Why?  Because I wasn’t paying attention and said okay to watching their stuff.  Next thing I know, members from the Latin Student Union and Black Student Union came over to see what we were doing since the entire festival had a lull.  They wanted fortunes and me being Jewish didn’t make a difference.  I wasn’t allowed to touch the tarot decks (explain on Friday), but I had the runes.  Everyone was understanding that I hadn’t done it before and we looked at it as a learning experience.  By the time the PSA came back, I was getting into it.  Here I learned that nobody had figured out how the runes worked since they were new and so I had to explain what I learned.  Later on, my wife (a Wiccan) got me my own set of runes and a book.  I played around for fun and tried to create a few stories that revolved around them.  Still considering one where the main character has to find scattered rune stones to save a kingdom.  Might still be a short story collection, but it’s in the pile with my attempt to make a Pokemon-like thing.

Anyway, using runes in fiction tends to be a seer throwing marked bones or stones around then staring at them.  They foretell the future in an ominous voice with a surprising amount of accuracy.  This is where the magic comes into play, which is why they don’t work that way in reality.  If one could focus on the stones and use them to perfectly tell the future then all of us would be doing that in the morning.  Betting most people would stay inside afterwards too:

“The runic bones say there is traffic and work will be boring.”
“Eh, I have enough sick days stocked up take an early weekend.”

Although, you’d probably have your boss doing his or her own runic reading to discover if you’re lying or not.  My point here is that the fictional clarity that gets used a lot even with giving directions isn’t how it works.  Much of real fortune telling involves giving an answer that is clear enough to connect to the question, but vague enough to help the person figure out what it means.  This is why runes have specific meanings aside from doubling as the Nordic alphabet.  I can’t even give a real example because every person can have their own interpretation depending on their question, mental state, life experience, and current life situation.  You can get Uruz, which involves self-healing, but one person will see it as they are on the right path to improvement while another sees it as a sign that they need to change their path.

Runes definitely have a different feel that other fortune telling systems.  Instead of a person looking into the stars or working out of a tent in a caravan or marketplace, there’s a more primal feel to these.  I might be talking for myself here, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  Part of it might be what they are made on.  Bone and stone are more natural than paper to me.  There aren’t any pretty pictures on runes, so it’s visually simplistic and almost blunter in its display.  You can see a person making their own runes a lot easier than a tarot deck or reading the stars.  Yet, it seems to be a less common and more difficult system to learn.  That might be due to there being fewer practitioners since I remember tarot was the main fortune telling system.  Seriously, the only one using it in college was a fantasy-obsessed Jew, which might color my view.

Personally, I suggest that people look into runes if they want to add a fortune telling aspect to their story.  It doesn’t have to be fantasy and can even work in science fiction since each one is a solitary symbol.  They’re incredibly versatile and have a fun history.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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40 Responses to Tools of the Telling Trade: Runes

  1. I have a set of amethyst runes somewhere. I never did much with them, but have dabbled with them a bit in the past. I won’t pretend to have any real skill with them, and would have to look up the names and meanings of each one in order to tell you what I’d cast. But I still have them and have used them a bit.

    My view on real fortune telling is that it shows one possibility for the future, but whether that future will come to pass depends on so many factors that you won’t know if it’s your true destiny/fate/future until it either happens or doesn’t, if that makes sense. In books you can make it be the true destiny/fate/future of the character(s). In real life you can’t.

    My hubby is Wiccan. I’m an Eclectic Pagan who takes what feels right to me from Wicca, Buddhism, Celtic traditions, and Native American beliefs, to forge my own path.

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    • I never managed to memorize the runes and what they meant. People were always more interested in Tarot, so I spent more time playing around by myself. There were a few times I goofed off by doing readings for my characters. It didn’t work very well.

      I’m Jewish, so this doesn’t really fall into my upbringing. Stems more from my love of fantasy. The thing about fortune telling is that you can alter the future simply being having it done. It can become either a self-fulfilling destiny or you consciously avoid something. That makes one wonder if you jumped from one future possibility to another.

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      • That’s sort of my point. Fortune telling provides you a potential future, but simply by having the knowledge that it might be possible for something to happen could potentially change your path. The thing is though, you never really know for certain if it will or won’t until afterwards, because sometimes actively avoiding something will stop something from coming to pass, other times it will only delay it, and other times it will be your attempt to avoid a certain situation that will cause the thing to happen, if that makes sense. Plus, things can have more than one meaning, so sometimes what a reading means depends on context and perception.

        I have tarot cards too, but didn’t mention those since you’ll be talking about that another day.

        I wasn’t raised Pagan. It’s something I chose for myself when I was old enough to do so.

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      • This is why I sometimes think there are multiple timelines out there. Each one is made by a different decision, so the act of fortune telling can act as a bridge in some fashion. That or it’s just the catalyst to create another timeline.

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      • I like your way of thinking.

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  2. Oloriel says:

    I really love the way you put it, especially the little sketch with person vs boss work fortune telling mini battle. I think the biggest conundrum for me when using Runes in my stories is whether to use them as a classic divination method, or repurpose them into something that might prove to be way to creative for the reader. I’d love to give you an example from one of my stories and see what you think of it, but the matter is a bit “touchy” so to say.

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    • Thanks. Not sure how touchy the subject is, but I’ll leave that up to you. I think you can go either way with any divination use. Going with the classic means you have an established, stable foundation to work off of and you can focus on other world-building pieces. If you make something new then the trick comes down to having it work within the context of the story. Most people don’t know how runes work, so they won’t know if it’s classic or creative. Those who do know might give leeway since it would clearly be a fictional reimagining.

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  3. Fascinating, Charles. Loved the Pack Jew label and story of telling fortunes with the runes.

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  4. Fun story. My brother bought a set of runes decades ago. Now I wonder if he still has them. I think for spec fiction you have to ramp them up to a degree. I’d almost be disappointed if an author failed to do that with any of the methods. Interested in the Tarot post. Just don’t start reading entrails.

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    • Entrails are far too expensive these days. Easier to use cutouts from an anatomy book. Higher paper cut rate though. It’s hard to really tell if one needs to ramp up the runes or not. I can see how it’s necessary in most stories, especially if it’s a major plot event. If it’s just a hobby for a character then sticking to the more realistic one would work. I’m going with all genres though. Fantasy and spec fiction definitely require more oomph.

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  5. mike2all says:

    I used to write rune poetry for teh names of teh kids in my classes. Then they would do the same. Great writing workshop.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. L. Marie says:

    You have such great stories!
    I thought about making my own runes, but have yet to get around to it. I admire anyone who goes for it!

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  7. Very interesting post. I don’t know if I’ve read many stories that actually used something to tell a prophecy except for an old book or a trance. I really enjoyed the story of your introduction to runes.

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  8. In the vagueness aspect of things and the multitude of interpretations, they remind me of the I Ching ideograms. Some things never change, I guess.

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