It seemed inevitable that I would put up a post here on doing rune readings. It’s such a stock piece of Heathen subject matter, but I feel that my approach is sufficiently odd to be worth documenting.
The way I do rune readings is significantly influenced by the work of a good friend and professional reader, Kerstin Fehn – even though our styles are actually very different.
Incidentally, Kerstin does “remote” readings as well as in-person, so wherever in the world you are you can take advantage of her services and I strongly recommend that you do.
I can heartily say that she is the absolute master of this stuff, and certainly is far beyond anything I can do as a reader. Her vision and insight is deeply inspiring – and deeply scary at times because she gets right to the heart of things.
Ok, having said that, what is so particular about my approach to rune readings? Well the answer is simple: unlike Kerstin, I am about as psychic as a brick. That makes doing rune readings rather tricky and I’ve had to evolve my own method of doing them because insights and intuitions seem to love avoiding me.
As such my approach might be useful for those of you who, like me, don’t get any message at all from staring at a few arcane characters scratched onto bone or wood.
There are two basic elements to my approach as a rune reader: 1) I work in a client-centred way; and 2) I rely heavily on the rune poems and other lore.
What do I mean by client-centred? In psychotherapy the client-centred approach assumes that human beings are filled with potential and creativity; therefore the therapist’s job is to assist them in accessing their own powers to solve their problems.
This philosophy stands in contrast to the unfortunately still-prevalent model of being the “all-knowing expert” telling the client what to do (and in the process stripping them of their own creativity, initiative and agency, as well not efficiently drawing on the resources the client already has at their disposal).
In my work as a psychotherapist I have learned again and again that this philosophy is true, although sometimes it takes a bit of proactivity on the therapist’s part to help create a fertile environment for the client’s resources to manifest themselves.
Therefore when I do a reading I am trying to use the runes to help my client access their own channel to wisdom. I keep my ideas and interpretations in check and try very hard to fit in with the client’s own ways of understanding things. I want to keep out of the way so that they can have as direct an experience of the runes as possible.
When I do a reading I first give the client my runes in the bag. I invite them to let their thoughts and feelings flow into the runes while we discuss the topic of the reading. I will spend up to 15 minutes just talking about the topic, teasing out important themes and trying to get a sense of what the client’s concerns are.
Some readers can just psychically pick all that up, but I can’t, so I have to talk it out. Luckily talking it out can really help the client refine their question(s), and help them clarify what they think they know, what they need to know, and what they actually need to find out.
My approach to this discussion is to ask many questions, be as curious as possible, and occasionally pause to reflect or sum up what has been said so that we can keep a clear sense of the themes at stake.
I make no bones that my training as a therapist influences this part of the reading, although I was doing this sort of thing before I became a therapist, so there you go!
The other reason behind starting things this way is that it emphasises the collaborative nature of the reading. I want my client to take an active role in the reading, rather than be passive and disempowered as I, the runic pundit, tell them how it is.
By starting with a conversation like this I can establish for the client an experience of how they can get the most from their reading. Hopefully the experience will also help them become more confident with magic and runes (if they aren’t already) so that they can develop their own magical and spiritual practices further.
Once we have established very strongly what the reading is to be about, I invite the client to throw the runes – all of them. I don’t use preset lay outs or other such innovations, I prefer to let total chaos (or wyrd) reign. So down go the runes, scattered wildly on the table or ground.
Some of the runes will land face up and some face down. Sometimes I only read the ones face up; sometimes I read the face up ones first, then flip the face down runes and flesh out the story; sometimes I flip them all face up and go from there.
I’ve never tried this, but you could also flip the face up ones down and vice versa and do the reading that way!
For me there are two main considerations in reading the whole lot of runes at once. Firstly, you need to look at how they are positioned relative to one another because that gives you an idea of how the themes intersect. I don’t really bother with the whole bright/murk rune dichotomy, I find it gets in the way, and the historical basis for it is pretty sketchy anyway.
Secondly you need to look for nodal points – or the lack thereof. Sometimes the runes will fall in one or more clumps and you can pick out a “key note” rune, with your knowledge of the question informing that judgment too. Or else it might be there is no focal point, everything is scattered, and this is useful information too.
I pay careful attention to my client’s initial comments at this point because where they feel drawn is probably where the reading needs to go. They might be especially curious about one or other stave, or if they are conversant with the runes then they might be drawn to a rune that they already have an affinity for.
I also try to draw in a sense of the whole pattern, the shape of how the runes have fallen. It’s hard to explain how I do this – it’s as close to “psychic” as I get, although there’s no secret or magic to it.
In a way it is just assigning arbitrary significance to the way the runes fall – keeping in mind that I might have to revise my initial impression as more information, and the client’s feedback, comes to light. You just have to be willing to get it wrong and take a punt – often I find that it works out anyway.
We are also both guided by a sense of the themes that emerged from our initial conversation about the reading. Sometimes a rune will jump out straight away as obvious.
If a person’s central concern were creative expression or performance, for example, then I might find myself naturally attending to a conspicuously placed Ansuz rune as “the chieftain of all speech”.
Once we have a sense of where in the shape of the runes to start, I will usually draw on my knowledge of the rune poems. Those little poems are very ambiguous. They touch lots of psychological connection points with their symbolism, and the metaphor can be opened up in any number of different ways.
So once I have a sense of where to start I will usually tell a short story about the rune in question, often inspired by a relevant rune poem; and I will tell it with a slant or emphasis that hopefully binds it to the subject of the reading in some way. I won’t necessarily even say “this rune means X”. Indirect methods are just fine.
Then I shut the hell up.
By this point most clients are gagging at the bit to start talking. This is partly because metaphor is a great tool. The reason is that metaphor is ambiguous, so people find whatever it was they needed to find within it.
Sometimes I might tell a story or anecdote not directly related to the rune poem but thematically linked. It might even be abridged from or inspired by myth, or it might be some other proverb or helpful saying I’ve picked up along the way.
I can’t know what this person before me needs to hear, but their unconscious does and it can find it in the metaphor the runes inspire. You don’t even have to believe there is anything more than random chance in how the runes fall for this to work – my method of rune reading works equally well in materialist and mystical worldviews.
Once we are off and running I don’t need to say much. The client will usually draw their own connections and significances – and because we’ve already discussed the question at the start of the reading the field has already been turned, as it were, and is ready for seeds.
I am free to toss in additional reflections about how other runes in the spread relate to the issue, particularly if we hit an impasse or if the initial metaphor misses the mark. There might be a bit of experimentation to find the right starting point, and sometimes several rune stories are needed in combination to get the right starting place.
People often make all kinds of connections as we work through the reading. It can have that feeling of seeing things suddenly as though they were obvious, even though before the reading they might have been very opaque or obscured.
I try to let the client’s unconscious and conscious minds lead the way and play the role of support crew rather than mystic authority figure. I will give my opinion if asked or if it seems very relevant of course – but generally I find that with runic inspiration most clients come up with better ideas than I would have anyway.
An incidental bonus of this way of doing rune readings is that it builds the rune poems into the practice. This is important because it binds a historical root to the practice. I believe that this way of working serves to demonstrate the power of grounding oneself in the historical lore – when set to work, those poems really open up new horizons.
We therefore don’t have to be stuck in worlds of academic abstraction in order to incorporate the lore into our work. Nor do we need to be locked in a “you can’t do that” mentality as some “lore hogs” are.
I don’t know how the rune poems were originally used (I don’t think anyone does), but the way I use them works very nicely, and serves well as a fusion of ancient and modern.
This way of drawing on the rune poems also serves to undermine the ‘anything-goes’ mentality of rune authors like Blum and his ilk, who just make it up as they go.
I believe that my method, which builds respect for historical lore into its foundation, produces deeper and more helpful readings than the wild speculation that Blum’s approach (and others like him) seems to encourage.
Coming out of the reading I work hard to ensure that the client has a feel for what sorts of future action might be called for. Often readings of whatever persuasion don’t do this – if anything they can sap our sense of personal agency and initiative because we start to look at the patterns as inevitable and out of our hands.
But I prefer to use them as tools for empowering the client – if, of course, that is appropriate to the topic of the reading and their own agenda of what counts as helpful.
My readings don’t elucidate much about the future, but they do help elucidate new connections and understandings about the past and present, and to me that is possibly even more valuable. They can also help give ideas for what future action or concerns might be in the wings of wyrd’s stage.
So there you have it! Minimal psychic ability is required to do competent readings if you 1) respect the powers of your client; 2) know your runic and historical lore.