One subject that has fascinated me for as long as I have studied magick and the occult is Runes. These strange, magickal symbols have been included in the mainstream of new age practices now and many people attribute mystical origins and magickal powers to this Northern European script. In fact the runic alphabet is the most modern script in Europe and more is known about its origins than other alphabets that sprung up around the ancient world.
The O.E.D. defines a rune as: “A letter or character of the earliest Teutonic alphabet, which was most extensively used (in various forms) by the Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons. Also, a similar character or mark having mysterious or magical powers attributed to it; applied to a letter or character of a non-Germanic alphabet (esp. in fictional writings) having a resemblance to the Germanic runes.” and it can also be a verb which means to compose poetry, especially of a mystical, magickal or cryptic nature and a rune can also mean a riddle. The origins of the runic script only go back to about the 2nd Century A.D. when the first inscriptions in this alphabet began to appear in the far north of Europe and Scandinavia. The letters are derived from the alphabets of the Latins and the Greeks as well as being hieroglyphs of many common things like animals as well as the symbols for the Germanic gods.
There are several runic alphabets but the one that has been almost universally absorbed into new age spiritual practices is the set of 24 that are called the Elder Futhark Runes. The name Futhark is drawn from the first six letters in the series and they are referred to as Elder because there was a later development that is referred to as younger which is less commonly known. Because the ancient Germanic people would commonly write their spells and incantations in this script, often engraved into stones, they became known as a magickal alphabet very early in their history. There are many examples of runic writings and even the epic poem Beowulf has been found written in this alphabet.
The Nordic myth about the origins of the Runes is that while Odin was hanging from the Yggdrasil Tree he spotted them scattered amongst its roots and, upon reaching them, was able to use their magickal power to free himself from his bondage and return to ruling Asgard. Odin is the Nordic Mercury because of this connection with writing and adds another dimension to the magickal properties of these symbols. Even the Nazis employed the Sigel rune as a part of their Schutzstaffel or SS emblem because of the mystical connection that Hitler felt that it gave him with his Germanic roots. Even the custom of using X to signify a kiss is derived from the runes with the X rune, Gyfu, meaning a gift.
The modern use of runes as a divinatory tool probably owes most of its origins to Ralph Blum, whose books on runes have made them a common part of many spiritual repertoires in the modern day. While this was never their original intention, the broad and identifiable nature of the symbols, although very rural in intent, makes them useful to some for making simple prognostications. It is also common to include runes in all manner of talismata and using the runic alphabet for writing the names of gods or spirits can be a means of making the inscription not a part of the everyday experience of the magician in much the same way as the traditional use of Hebrew script by Hermetic magicians is intended to do.
While the runes are not necessarily more magickal than any other alphabet in order to use them for magickal purposes requires only that you remain consistent in the applications for them. If you divine with them then stick to the ritual method and interpretations to be consistent in the way that you read them. While transliterating words into runic script may be a good stopgap it is probably best to stick to those words and names that you know have Teutonic roots to be sure that the phonetic values remain true to the alphabet that you are using. That is to say that it is better to write Odin in runes and Hermes in Greek.
Tools of magick like the runes may not be suitable for everyone but, if like myself, you feel a strong connection or a deep interest in them then they can be a very useful part of a magickal practice. Personally, I find that they are too limited to be of much value as a tool for divination and oracles of far greater depth can be achieved using Tarot and other methods, but as magickal symbols in their own right the runes are often very useable and effective.