Divination Practices – Runes – Introduction

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2002
Runes are ancient Teutonic and Norse alphabet signs that are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. The authors explain the magical and divinatory properties assigned to these signs.

Divination Practices—Runes


Runes are ancient Teutonic and Norse alphabet sigils (signs or images) placed upon tiles that are given magical and divinatory properties. The word “rune” derives from the Indo-European root “rw,” meaning “secret” or “mystery.”[1] Promoters of rune magic often lament that Americans and Europeans are neglecting this powerful form of divination, which has ancient ties with old Western roots. Why use the Chinese I Ching or the Middle Eastern tarot cards when Americans can tap their own unique spiritual heritage? As one rune worker states:

Runes are an alternative to I Ching, Tarot and even tea-leaves and, in many respects, offer significant advantages over their oriental, middle eastern and home-brewed counterparts.
Runes are basically a practical method of fortune-telling and reflect, to some degree, their northern European origins. They are easier to interpret than I Ching and compared with Tarot cards require less intuitive application by the reader.[2]

Rune magic, healing, and divination are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. In The Runic Workbook: Understanding and Using the Power of Runes, Tony Willis observes:

Runic wisdom is more easily available in the world today in the form of books, articles, lectures and study groups than it has been for the previous nine centuries. Read, study, practise [sic] runic divination and magic, and the next… piece ofinformation, the next step along the Path will be revealed to you at the right time and in the right way. The most important lesson you will ever learn is that the Universal Forces are to be trusted.[3]

A few of the titles now available include : R. W. Elliott, Runes; R. L. Page, An Introduction to English Runes; Ralph Blum, The Book of Runes; Michael Howard, The Wisdom of the Runes; Edred Thorson, Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic; and David and Julia Line,Fortune Telling by Runes.

Like the I Ching, tarot, Ouija board, and other forms of divination, the runes give access to power, but not a power explainable by natural law or conventional science.[4] It is a power that reflects our modern return to paganism.

Recent History

The remnants of ancient paganism can be seen in widely diverse ways in our culture. For example, the names of our days of the week are astrologically influenced (Sunday = sun day, Monday = moon day, Wednesday = Woden’s day, Thursday = Thor’s day, etc.), and some of our holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, were once pagan. Something as common as a deck of playing cards is apparently a derivation of an earlier form of the tarot pack.[5] Thus, it is not surprising to discover that pagan runes have also influenced our history. The British currency called pounds, shillings, and pence was derived in part from the Roman solidus (coin) which bore a runic inscription.[6] Some texts on runes mention that Hitler’s troops used the runic form of “S” as symbols on their collar badges.[7]

Like occult practices in general, runes were once suppressed by the church as a work of the devil, but rune revivals have occurred periodically. For example, in the late 1800s:

By going underground, the runic system survived as an unpublished and unpublicized magico-mystical tradition in all the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Scandinavian countries—and this includes the United States which took in immigrants in large numbers from all those areas. At the end of the nineteenth century, the teaching first began to be written down in a formulated and coherent fashion. The bulk of this work was done by German and Austrian occultists, sometimes using material that had been transmitted orally, but more usually working via the method of analeptic recall.[8]

The Germans in particular seem to have been fascinated by the runes, and Naziism not only made use of them but of much other occultism as well.[9] Practitioners David and Julia Line observe:

Although the Church actively tried to stamp out runic divination, it continued to be practised in secret and became inevitably linked with witches, warlocks and their arts.
Runes, both esoteric and practical, continued to be studied throughout history until this century and nowhere else were they held in such high esteem as Germany. Runes became a vital component of the Third Reich’s belief in Aryan superiority.[10]

In fact, the Nazis employed two runes extensively: the swastika (originally a Norse magical symbol known as Thor’s hammer) and the sigil [a stylized “s” or lightening bolt] used by the SS troops, originally a symbol of the Earth Mother and the sun.[11] The runic connection to German politics and pagan beliefs seems clear:

It was not until the late nineteenth century that runes once more appeared in public consciousness and this was the result of research by German occultists who were trying to revive Teutonic and Norse paganism.
Many of these occultists identified themselves with various extreme forms of German nationalism. One of these was Dr. Bernard Koerner,… a disciple of the famous German occultist Guido Von List whose book The Secrets of Runes was a best-seller in European occult circles. Another associate of Koerner was Baron von Sebbottendorf who edited a magazine called Runen or The Rune devoted to Aryan paganism, rune lore and anti-Jewish propaganda…. It is certain that Hitler and his cronies were fascinated by the runes and their secret occult powers. He even adopted the rune as the symbol of the feared SS elite troops who effectively ruled occupied Europe.
Today, the worship of the old Norse gods still continues. There are Odinist movements in Germany, Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia. Some advocate extreme right wing politics which suggest a link with the German nationalists and many still practise the ancient art of rune magic.[12]

Not surprisingly, the association with Hitlerism drove rune magic underground:

The appropriation of the Runes by the higher echelons of the Nazi party did the advancement of runic lore no good at all in the years following the Second World War…. [A]fter the collapse of the Nazi war machine the Allies very naturally wanted nothing at all to do with Runes: neither did the German nation itself, busily repudiating the Nazis and all their works and anxious to avoid guilt by association in any form. The Runes were consequently consigned to the occult wilderness. Only one article on Runes was published in the United Kingdom between the middle forties and the early seventies.[13]

In recent decades, runes have experienced another revival, perhaps, at least in part, from the great popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which deals with Teutonic and Norse mythology. In The Runic Workbook, Willis writes of the postwar era:

During this period, the Runes and runic philosophy were being impressed upon the consciousness of the post-war world, particularly among the English-speaking peoples, through the surprising agency of J.R.R. Tolkien. In The Lord of the Rings, the Dwarves are said to use the Runes for communications, and this runic alphabet is explained in that part of the Appendix to The Lord of the Rings which deals with writing in Middle Earth. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, and the whole work [The Hobbit and the three books of The Lord of the Rings] is shot through with glimpses of Teutonic Mythology.[14]

Willis argues that “the guardians of the runic traditions” (i.e., the spirit world, particularly the ancient pagan gods associated with runes) have now instituted a PR program on behalf of rune magic:

In occult circles, however, it was not until the early eighties, when interest in the Runes had reached a high pitch, that the guardians of the runic tradition gave the order for a further release of information—this time of a deeper and more esoteric nature. This is where we stand today, on the brink of a new dawn of runic instruction…. For those who prefer group workings, there are Odinic Lodges, as the runic Mystery Schools are called, operating all over Northern Europe, North America, and even Australia.[15]

In theory or practice, runes, like other divination, may be combined with additional forms of the occult—astrology, geomancy, numerology, alchemy, cabalism, the I Ching, tarot, etc.[16] Rune tiles can be drawn at random and meditated on, cast in lots like the I Ching, or laid out in wheels or crosses like the tarot. One author refers to the runes as “a later and more sophisticated version of the I Ching….”[17]


A survey of the literature will also reveal the connection between runes and ancient shamanism. Indeed, the modern rune caster is, in part, engaging in a practice that will enable him to develop shamanic skills. For example, Michael Howard’s text, The Magic of the Runes: Their Origins and Occult Power, is a preliminary introduction to shamanism. He discusses the relationship between the rune masters (priests) and shamans, their common employment of spiritism, and some of the similarities in philosophy and practice. For Howard, the rune master was a kind of shaman:[18]

The wizards who used the runes for magical purposes regarded themselves as blood kin to Odin, the Nordic god who was popularly accredited with inventing the runic alphabet. As we have seen, they were basically followers of the shamanistic tradition which is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, religious belief systems known to humanity…. Shamanistic spirit drums had occult symbols or demon faces painted on their surfaces and runic characters etched around the rim….[19]

Not surprisingly, Howard concludes by noting that through rune work and the related practice of dream work, “We can indeed become our own shamans.”[20]

Willis, whose text is a standard work on runes in occult circles, also observes the sha­manistic orientation of rune magic:

With the purchase of this book, you are on your way to becoming a runic shaman. Resolve to be worthy of this ancient and noble calling. … Runes are the sacred symbols of the Teutonic races, and in the far past, a complete system of philosophy and magic was erected upon them. This system was handed down from shaman to pupil with word of mouth using the Runes themselves as mnemonies…. The Germanic/Norse tradition is essentially shamanistic…. The clearest description we have of a runic practitioner is of a female shaman. It comes from the Saga of Erik the Red, and was written in the thirteenth century.[21]


  1. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991, p. 522.
  2. David and Julia Line, Fortune Telling by Runes, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1985, p. 9.
  3. Tony Willis, The Runic Workbook: Understanding and Using the Power of Runes, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1986, p. 180.
  4. David and Julia Line, Fortune Telling, p. 8.
  5. The major manufacturer of playing cards in the U.S., the United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, also sells the tarot; its standard order form offers three different varieties.
  6. Ibid., p. 21.
  7. Michael Howard, The Magic of the Runes: Their Origins and Occult Power, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: The Aquarian Press, 1986, p. 6 ff.
  8. Willis, The Runic Workbook, p. 19.
  9. J. M. Angebert, The Occult and the Third Reich, NY: McGraw Hill, 1975; Dusty Skylar, Gods and Beasts, NY: Thomas Crowell, 1977.
  10. David and Julia Line, Fortune Telling, pp. 18-19.
  11. Guiley, p. 523.
  12. Howard, Magic, pp. 86-67.
  13. Willis, The Runic Workbook, p. 20.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. David and Julia Line, Fortune Telling, pp. 17-18, 24, 29; Willis, The Runic Workbook, pp. 32, 125, 165, 188-92; Howard, Magic, p. 74.
  17. Howard, Magic, p. 74.
  18. Ibid., pp. 9-13, 29-35, 54-59.
  19. Ibid., pp. 29-31.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Willis, The Runic Workbook, pp. 13, 17-18.

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