Lesson 3) History and Making of Runes
A woman is joined by Professor Cattercorn today in the dimly-lit Divination lounge. Professor Cattercorn is busy fiddling with horns of carved bone and wooden charms bearing strange symbols. Meanwhile, a blonde woman with a short bob and pressed robes has her feet up on the Divination professor’s desk, eying the incoming students with a veiled, weighing look that makes some -- particularly those that have never seen her before -- feel uneasy. As the clock tolls eleven, the blonde woman makes no move to stand, though her eyes turn to Professor Cattercorn who stops shuffling around the room and takes a seat on the edge of the desk, smiling, before starting the lecture.
Welcome, welcome students. My, do I have an exciting lesson prepared for you today! This lesson, with some help, we will begin to delve into the practical aspects of runic divination, particularly with the starting point of it all: creating your own rune set. In addition, we will also be filling in some context about this practice and its numerous uses. So, without further ado, let’s begin!
Days of Old
Runes have been used for magical purposes since roughly 200 C.E. These strange symbols that make up the alphabet of the Elder Futhark were used for many purposes, not only as a way to communicate and write messages, but also to enchant talismans, amulets, and other objects such as stones, fibula, or rings. Additionally, somewhere along the line, they were used to tell the future, or answer questions about the present or past that could not be answered via other means.
The Elder Futhark was first used by various Germanic tribes, then the Norse, -- also the Vikings --and the peoples and civilizations that they conquered after its development into new scripts. This alphabet was at its peak of use between 200 and 800 C.E. but continued to be used for magic -- both in general and for divination -- well past these dates and continues to this day, as you can plainly see. The people who created the Elder Futhark were largely hunter gatherers and had a primitive society, at least compared to our standards today. Their general magical practices were very typical of ancient magic, in that they consisted of very ritualized actions and words, were often very long, and were very superstitious.
Over time, as languages and forms of writing normally do, the Elder Futhark changed and adapted to new situations, becoming both the Anglo-Saxon Futhork (or Anglo-Saxon Futhorc), which was used in Frisia, as well as the Younger Futhark, which was used in Scandinavia among the Vikings and their captured territories. However, neither of these “children” of the Elder Futhark ever came to be used in divination, likely due to the fact that they are believed to have no magical properties whatsoever.
Interestingly enough, the Elder Futhark has enjoyed a place of prominence among the magical community for a variety of reasons to this day, and here to tell you more about it is our very own specialist in various kinds of ancient runes, Professor Wessex! I have invited her here today to speak to you about how to create your own rune sets and reinforce some of the concepts you have learned about runic magical theory. As you were informed last week, this is the method that promises the most effective rune readings by far, though it is possible to either purchase them or receive them as a gift (the former being the least desirable option). With that I turn you over to Professor Wessex and put your education in her capable hands.
Thank you, Aurelia. While it may come as no surprise that I find runes fascinating, it may be unexpected for you to discover that I harbor an interest in and knowledge of various forms of divination. I am familiar with most traditional forms of divination, though runecasting is the only one which I actually practice. For those of you that have taken my class, the magic behind runes differs slightly when applied to divination, but you will certainly see some overlapping information and themes with my course. The reason for these differences is due to the fact that in general runic magic, runes are meant to cause magic on their own, whereas when used in divination, they are merely vessels to collect our magical energy and tools that our Inner Eye uses to express secret truths.
When creating your own rune set, you must keep certain factors in mind in order to assure their effectiveness. As you might have guessed due to the topic for this year’s Divination class, the most crucial component is that your materials should be natural. I will go over each considerations seers must make when creating their rune sets and explain some of the theory behind it all.
The most important thing is the material with which you start. The material onto which you inscribe your runes must be natural. Ignoring this stipulation will result in rune readings that are no more accurate than a Muggle’s. Now, the definition of natural as applied to runes is slightly contested so I will take a moment to explain here. The ancient Germanic tribes saw the Earth and all its bounty as natural. This meant stones (plain or precious), twigs, bones, hides, clay, and much more. Anything man-made was not, including metals, though as my students will note, runes were frequently inscribed upon metals, particularly weapons. More die-hard purists reject some of these materials for rune sets, insisting that stones do not conduct the magic as well as wood or bone, for various reasons, despite the fact that magical stones with the Elder Futhark still survive today.
Once you have picked your material, you still need to somehow represent the shape of each rune on the material. The most common ways are with paints, scratching, cutting, or burning. Some prefer a combination of these techniques to ensure the rune design stands out. A note for those that prefer to use paints is that they should not be synthetic, which requires a good deal of extra work.
Additionally, some ornamentation can be applied to the runes but, as you might imagine, this is contentious. There are some -- the purists I mentioned in the earlier section -- that maintain you must not do anything additional to the base material other than what is necessary to inscribe the rune. This includes ornamentation, removing the bark (if applicable), as well as sanding, waxing, or the like. However, most people do not ascribe to this practice, as the runes need to feel uniform and therefore must almost always have some modifications made to them to make that possible.
Lastly, we need to discuss blood. In our discussion of base materials, I touched on the fact that despite metal being man-made, it was used in many runic weapons. In order for these runic weapons to effectively function, the rune needed to be sealed in blood. While this is a general magical practice and swords have little to nothing to do with divination, the idea is the same. If, for some reason, you are using a non-natural material, sealing with blood is a generally agreed-upon method to ensure the rune set’s effectiveness. Therefore, blood sealing is quite popular with stones. Truthfully, it can be used on any material for runes, not just to compensate, but to lend a little extra power to the mix.
The general practice of sealing swords with blood required someone, usually the smith, to open the palm of his hand along the edges of the sword and apply the drops spilled to whichever part bore the runes (most often in the hilt or occasionally, along the blade itself). However, runes are slightly different. I will not be giving you a step-by-step guide, but there are no required specifics on how the blood is applied, other than a general recommendation that it should be yours. Some insist that it works just as well with the blood of a close friend or family member, but all agree that the blood of strangers or creatures is not quite as effective. The blood can either be applied to the entirety of the rune’s surface, or used to make a paint. In either case, it must be allowed to dry in its entirety, and can be sealed if you are concerned about the dried blood coming off at a later time. Merlin forbid you use blood forcibly taken; we will not go into any more detail on that subject other than to strictly forbid it.
More, I emphasize that you should not spill your blood lightly and reaffirm that I do not promote Third Years running around bleeding themselves dry or taking someone else’s blood without protection. Not only is the transmission of disease possible, but magic and blood are not something to go around mixing willy-nilly, as the brighter of you will undoubtedly know.
The most common method of rune storage, as has been mentioned, is in a small bag made of natural fibers. Traditional cloth is not the only option, as leather or hide pouches are quite common. I have also seen some boxes, but if you do purchase a box, ensure that it is solely made of wood, and not the cheap compressed sawdust that is popular these days. Rune boxes are not nearly as common, however, as many believe either a) the runes need “air”, or b) that, particularly for wooden runes, the box’s wood could interfere with the magical energies of the runes, or even that the magic we transmit through the runes could leech into the box itself.
Imbuing With Magic
The reason it is so important to craft your runes by hand is the fact that it is through this process that they become effective channels for your magic and Inner Eye. That is not to say that they won’t receive your magic through handling and reading, but certainly not to the same degree. This process is meant to be a meditative experience during which time the runes should absorb your magical essence. Spellcasting during this process is extremely ill-advised as it may overload them and causing them to “short out” and be no more magical than a lump of plastic. Your own, natural, inherent magical ability is more than enough provided you maintain your focus on the creation process.
That is all the time I have for today. Should you wish to learn more of the mysteries of runes, you know where to find me. At Professor Cattercorn’s request, I will leave my rune set out on one of the displays for you to look at, should you desire.
Thank you again for coming, Venita!
Now, I know that was a fair bit of information to absorb in one go, but we can clearly see an overarching theme: natural, natural, natural. Your own natural magic to kick-start the process, natural materials for the runes themselves, and natural storage. You will also find that many of the meanings are linked to weather, animals, plants, or common activities in which hunter-gatherers would participate. I’m sure it’s beginning to come clear why we are covering runes this year.
I would also like to second Professor Wessex’s warning about the use of blood, both in general and as applied to runes. Blood magic is an incredibly risky practice not to be attempted without consulting an expert, and certainly not something for children to participate in! If you must, think of your first set of runes as your “starter” set, and wait until maturity until you have gained more experience with divination (particularly runecasting), magic, and the world in general before attempting this.
Before you leave for the day, I would like to direct your attention to the two stands over by the entrance to the Divination lounge. I have placed them there to hold both my set and that of Professor Wessex. Should you find yourselves curious, you may feel free to go over and take a peek. The assignments this week consist of a quiz and an assignment in which you must use the knowledge from this class to decide for yourself on how you would make your own runes.
Upon two different podiums sit two separate rune sets. The one on the right bears a leather pouch next to darkly gleaming stones. They have tiny specks of grey in them, but are generally a very dark green color. They are all vaguely rounded ovals and rather uniform in shape. The runic symbols seem to be made from gold-hued paint that has been applied over etching with some sharp implement.
On the left, an empty silk bag sits next to a handful of thin, circular runes. This set is made of a light-colored wood, and bears delicate knotwork around the edges. You notice the the runic symbols have been painted on with some sort of reddish-brown stain that looks suspiciously like blood. Upon further inspection, you see nameplates under the podiums. The one on the left bears the words “Professor Wessex” and the one on the right “Professor Cattercorn.”