Late Saturday night I was sitting alone, drinking the last of my homemade booze (which I should have taste-tested sooner) and idly wandering the internet when I stumbled over this site about runes and felt inspired to dig out my bag of runes and cast them. When I was a kid I used to have an interest in divination, and the runes were always my favorite method, but I don’t think I’d done this in any form since I was a teenager. Even before I became a skeptic I had learned from the story of Croesus and stopped trusting oracles.
But that night I was in a mood, so without really thinking about it I drew five runes and placed them face down in an order that seemed right. I’m assuming I used the same method as I did when I was a kid, since it felt familiar, but I didn’t really think about it. One by one I turned the stones over, and promptly received a very clear message about my life and my situation. If you don’t want to be bored to tears with the details of this reading, just skip the next five paragraphs.
The runes told me that right now I’m preparing for the future, planting seeds that will, with care and time, yield great results. But I must be patient and attentive, and understand that this will not happen quickly.
My greatest obstacle is communication… probably. The rune could also be read as the god Loki, but my life isn’t nearly surreal enough to have a trickster god messing with it. Ordinarily I’d also reject this interpretation on the basis of gods not existing, but frankly Loki isn’t the type to let a minor thing like nonexistence stop Him. So yeah, let’s go with communication.
The way I’m most likely to fail is being unaware in my actions, falling into old habits. I have to be willing to depart from my old ways, perhaps radically, which requires introspection and total honesty.
I should keep in mind during this time that things are changing. I have to be strong enough to change with them myself, to “die” and be reborn. Combining this with the first rune tells me that this process will not be quick or easy.
The final rune tells me that if I can face the challenges presented to me and overcome them, then my outcome will be… well I’ll just quote from the little book I inherited, “This is a Rune of fulfillment: ambition satisfied, rewards received, love fulfilled.” In this context it’s hard to read that as anything but “happily ever after”, isn’t it?
This reading doesn’t just feel relevant to my life right now, it’s such an accurate description I feel uncomfortable posting it here, like it’s too personal for public blogging! It’s easy to understand how people can believe there’s magic in these symbols, strange forces communicating through them, when I can get all that from five glyphs pressed into clay.
Or can I?
Take a moment to consider how this works. I didn’t glance at the runes and have divine wisdom beamed into my brain, I had to look up meanings in a book and consider the context of each rune. Then I gained further meaning from combining multiple runes. Not only is each of the 25 runes in my little bag subject to multiple interpretations, but each position they can be placed in is only vaguely defined, easily nudged one way or another to better fit into an overall message.
So let’s try an experiment and replace them one by one with a fresh rune from the bag. I’ll try this run in each position and see how it changes the reading each way.
I drew Perth, the rune of “Initiation, Something Hidden, A Secret Matter.” Here’s what Ralph Blum has to say about Perth in his Book of Runes. (The edition I have is long out of print, but you can buy the 25th anniversary edition from Barnes and Noble here.)
A hieratic or mystery Rune pointing to that which is beyond our frail manipulative powers. This Rune is on the side of Heaven, the Unknowable, and has associations with the phoenix, that mystical bird that consumes itself in the fire and then rises from its own ashes. Its ways are secret and hidden.
Deep inner transformational forces are at work here. Yet what is achieved is not easily or readily shared. An integrity is involved that may be masked, disguised or secret. After all, becoming whole, the means of it, is a profound secret.
On the side of the earthly or mundane, there may well be surprises; unexpected gains are not unlikely. On the side of human nature, this Rune is symbolized by the flight of the eagle. Soaring flight, free from entanglement, lifting yourself above the endless ebb and flow of ordinary life to acquire broader vision- all this is indicated here. This is the Rune of question.
Another of the Cycle Runes, Perth signifies an intense aspect of initiation. Nothing external matters here, except as it shows you its inner reflection. This Rune is concerned with the deepest stratum of being, with the bedrock on which your fate is founded. For some, Perth means experiencing a psychic death. If need be, let go of everything, no exceptions, no exclusions. Nothing less than renewal of the Spirit is at stake.
So if we put Perth in the first position, representing where I am now, we find that not much of substance has changed from the first reading, there’s still a sense of change with potential for growth and good outcomes. In fact the only significant difference is that there’s no longer any mention of time, while it now specifies that this is a spiritual process. It still applies to my life at the moment, and doesn’t seem to impact the other runes in my reading much, if at all.
If we put it in the second position, representing the primary obstacle, we find a significant change. Rather than communication being the problem, now it’s mysterious, unknown, perhaps even unknowable. Granted, the relation to heaven kind of supports the Loki theory… and yet there’s still an aspect of communication here, because the greatest danger of a secret is often defused by making the secret known. Another way to interpret this is that the obstacle is being willing to let go of things, or being able to rise above.
The third position, which I tend to think of as your relevant weakness or the way you’re mostly likely to screw things up, but might be better said as things to avoid or pitfalls to watch out for, seems to be saying that I’m at risk of putting material things above more important matters and strongly implies that keeping secrets would be bad. Again, some details change, but the overall shape is much the same, and this does not in any way contradict the earlier version which cautioned against acting without thinking.
The fourth position, things to reach for or things to keep in mind, is almost identical to the first reading. This is a time of change and one must be able to make sacrifices.
Finally, the fifth position foretelling the outcome if the challenges can be met. Very mysterious, but there’s a clear message of rising above the ordinary, though the details are unclear. Unexpected gains are likely, but not certain, and we can expect to rise like the phoenix to live again.
Changing one rune makes little difference, clearly, no matter where in our reading it is. But look at how I was interpreting it, each time I shaped it to fit in the only way that made sense to me given the context. Was I cheating? Deliberately trying to make it as close to the first reading to prove my point? Well, not consciously. It’s entirely possible that I was doing this on some unconscious level, of course, but that’s equally true for any reading of any divination by any person. I tried very hard to be fair and choose the interpretations that best fit the situation as I understand it. And that’s why it works.
That’s why it works, even for someone who doesn’t believe in it, and why we should expect it to work even if there’s no power or agency involved outside of our own heads. Think about it this way, for each symbol there are many interpretations and we will discard those that make no sense without even thinking about it. Every category is vague and open enough that we can find a way to make it fit. It’s not just choosing the hits and ignoring the misses, it’s designed so that we will find hits no matter what!
The human brain is very, very good at finding patterns and correlations but not so great at establishing cause & effect. It’s easy to imagine significance when you find a pattern in random noise, and that’s effectively what’s happening here, and also in every other form of divination I’ve tried. We look at something wide open to interpretation, consider our question or situation, and then slot interpretations to fit.
And the funny thing is, it not only feels deeply significant and mysterious, but it makes us feel better, too. I truly feel more at ease after considering the messages I read in the runes, even though there was nothing I didn’t already know. Perhaps there’s an aspect of wishful thinking in that, hearing that we can have a happy ending if we work for it. Perhaps it forces us to look at things in perspective and really consider them, rather than just ride on emotions. Or perhaps we just like to feel special enough that mystical forces are willing to communicate, however cryptically, about our problems.
Whatever the case, clearly we can find strength and solace in the strangest of places. We are such odd yet marvelous creatures.