by Garry Leak AOR
One of the ways of becoming acquainted with the Runes is to make a set for yourself, and there are a variety of materials that can be used for this purpose.
Wood is the most common material for this purpose, and within that category wood from a fruit bearing tree is the best. It is relatively easy to cut the shape of a Rune into wood if one cuts across the grain with either a very sharp knife or a high speed Dremel type tool, or a soldering iron.
Stones or pebbles can be used. Pebbles chosen and picked up by the sea or lakeshore or riverside can be significant as to shape and colour, and the spirituality of the place where you found them. Stone is not easy to cut, and you may end up simply painting the Rune onto the stone or pebble.
Bone can be used, and again this is not easy to cut. The circumstances of the animal’s death may not be known, and I wouldn’t use a bone that came from a slaughter house. Such a bone would have some terrified on-lays. Leather and antler horn comes with the same caution if you don’t know how its original owner died.
Paper can be used, but it won’t stand up to a lot of use. It can be used for short term or a one time purpose. Clay can be used, but then you’re faced with the problem of baking it. Your oven at home is not hot enough, even at the self clean temperature. Man made epoxy type materials are not living natural materials.
A Plain Flour and water mixture inscribed with a Rune, baked, and then eaten as part of a ritual is often done. This can be a very intense experience. You might consider this as part of the ritual when you colour the Runes.
The only important criteria is that your Runes be made from something that was once alive and is not a manufactured material like plastic. I strongly recommend that you make your own set. Such a set will mean more to you than a baked clay set purchased from the local New Age store, which will probably include the utterly ridiculous “blank Rune”, and who knows the state of mind of the person who manufactured a store bought set.
Let’s assume that you’re going to make your set of Runes from a living tree. This is a good choice quite apart from being very traditional. Find a tree that means something to you. Some will choose an Oak tree, some a Yew tree, or an Apple tree. Choose whatever tree you feel that you relate to. You don’t even have to know what kind of a tree it is. You may just feel it’s the right tree. You might choose a tree that is on a sacred site. I chose a Rowan tree in my garden, and that has worked well for me.
Go to the tree of your choice on a quiet day when you will not be disturbed and talk to it. Tell it what you want from it, and tell it what you’re going to do with it. Ask it for permission to take some of its wood for this purpose. Tell it that you’re not going to lop off a whole branch, but that you would like a piece that is about two inches thick and about twenty four inches long. The tree might say no, in which case you’ll have to ask other trees until you find one that agrees.
One is supposed to cut off this small branch with one quick cut. I’ve never managed to do this, and have always had to use a saw. When you’ve cut what is necessary make sure that it doesn’t fall to or touch the ground. Thank the tree for its gift, and leave it a small gift in exchange. American-Indians will leave a handful of corn meal or some tobacco. I don’t think that a tree needs either of these, so I always leave a handful of some fertilizer and a cup of water spread around its roots.
Take the wood home and place it somewhere safe until it dries out. Apple tends to crack and split if it dries out too quickly. Yew and Oak are fairly stable and don’t split, crack or warp. If you cut your piece of wood from a tree in the Spring it will contain more sap and water than in the winter, and will take longer to dry out. When you think that the wood has dried and stabilized is the time to cut it up into disks.
I cut my Rune disks at a forty five degree angle across the grain, less than a ½” and more than a ¼” thick. This produces an oval shape that I find is much easier to cut Rune shapes into. These pieces are sanded to a nice smooth finish on both sides. I have a friend who prefers to make his Runes out of thin sticks of wood. He flats out about an inch on one side and paints the Rune in red on that side. Works for him.
Leave these disks somewhere safe until you’re ready to cut the Rune shapes into them. This cutting is an important part of the whole exercise. The time, the place, your state of mind, and the ceremony surrounding this act are all important. Remember, you are creating the physical image of a Runic energy. If cutting is a problem, then some Folk will burn in the outline of the Rune. This is quite acceptable, though I don’t do it.
Cut and finish one Rune at a time. As you are cutting its shape sing its name. You are introducing the Rune to the piece of wood where some of its energy is going to live. Consider the shape of the Rune. How do you think its energy flows around this shape? If you can, try to cut it in the direction of this energy flow. This is not vitally important, but it’s a good thing to do if you can do it. Each little piece of wood will have a Runic identity when you’ve finished cutting its outline. It is therefor a good thing to place each Rune in a small bag when you’re satisfied that you’ve cut its outline to the very best of your ability, rather than just leave it lying around. Treat these pieces with the respect that you would show to a living entity.
Next comes what I think is the most important part, the colouring of the Rune. I’m very traditional and use my own blood for this. Again I try to follow the flow of energy as I visualise it, and I sing the name of the Rune as I colour it. A good alternative to using your blood is Red Ochre (from any art supply shop) This is a red powder that has been used for spiritual/religious purposes for thousands of years all over the world. Mix this powder with the yellow part of an egg, (Your wife will know how to separate the yellow from the white, if you don’t) and you’ve got a paint media that is easy to apply and will stay put for a long time. If you want to add something of yourself to this mixture, a small amount of saliva, very well mixed in, would be ok. Some will varnish or wax the Runes at this stage. I don’t, and my Runes have acquired a patina from the oils in my fingers. I think that they look more natural because of this. That said, I always perform a simple cleansing hand washing ritual before I handle them.
Now you have a choice. You can either use the Runes right away or you can do what I do, and that is to place them into a black bag for nine months. At the end of nine months I ceremonially “Birth” them, and introduce them to my world. I attempt to introduce them to as many aspects of my daily life as possible. I used to carry them to work with me in my brief case, when I attend a Blot they are there with me, and when I go on a journey I have them in my car.
There are those who say that at this point you should never let anyone else touch your Runes because they will loose their power if you do. Several people have reached into my bag of Runes to pick out three for a simple reading. I don’t think that my Rune set has lost anything as a result of this, but I suspect that this is another personal choice that you’ll make.
There are those who create Runes or Bind-Runes for a particular purpose. Once that purpose has been achieved these Runes or Bind-Runes (a combination of two or more Runes) are ritually returned to their energy sources and the wood or whatever is buried in Mother Earth. I don’t do this, and that is my choice because I think that the more I work with my Rune set the better we relate to each other. You may do otherwise, and that is your choice.
As you spend time with your Runes and ask for their help with projects that need some of their energies you will gain a greater understanding of these energies. A good thing to do is to pull a Rune out of the bag first thing every day. Watch how the day unfolds, does it relate in any way to the Rune you pulled first thing?
An interesting aspect of the Runes is that if you ask them a question and get an answer that you don’t like, and then you ask the same question again and again, maybe hoping to get a better answer, you’ll eventually get an impatient “get lost” type answer. This is a bit stunning the first time one experiences it. Wisdom dictates that there is usually not a second time, and I think that this may be an origin of the phrase “One can go to the well once too often”
When I need some guidance I call on the three Norns to be with me. Then I blow into my bag of Runes and pull out three. The first is the source or background of my question or problem. The second is where the problem is now, and the third is where the question or problem will go (if I don’t do something about it). This third Rune describes the way of the third Norn, Skuld. ‘That which should become as a result of the other two Norns’ There is no ‘cast in stone’ inevitability to this third Rune. More often than not I can change the forecast outcome if I do something about it.
I have never found that tipping my bag of Runes onto a white cloth, and then trying to figure out what the message means, works for me. Too complicated ! This works for some, but not for me. I have never found that the energy of an upside down Rune to be any different from the energy of a Rune that is right way up, but then I don’t see the energy of left hand rotating Swastikas to be any different to right hand rotating Swastikas. Some see negative and positive aspects to this, but I can’t. To me, a Rune is complex enough without giving it “bright” or “murk” attributes.
I hope that you enjoy your exploration of the energies that surround us, and that you will give thanks to Odin for discovering them, and sharing them with us.
One last piece of very important advice: ALWAYS keep both hands behind the cutting edge of the knife or tool. Otherwise you might produce more blood than is necessary for colouring your Runes, and you might even end up with a complex piece of embroidery on your hand courtesy of the local hospital.
I made myself a small wooden frame on a piece of plywood in which the Rune sits while I cut it. Also a ¼” chisel is easier to use than a knife for making the straight cuts that make up the Rune’s shape, though I must be honest and say that I use a special “Sax” knife that is only used for this purpose and nothing else.