Q: What are Runes?
A: First I’d have to say that the Runes are a gift from the ancients that have given me my life’s work and enabled me to be of service to millions of people who I will never meet. I am heartened by the knowledge that this oracular system, this “compass for conduct,” has served so many in such profound and useful ways.
So what are the Runes? 24 letters of a two thousand year old Western alphabet, carved on a set of clay stones, with the 25th stone left blank to represent the Unknowable, the Divine. These 25 Runes represent most of life’s major themes: Joy, Partnership, Disruption, Standstill, Movement, Defense, Journey, Fertility, Growth, Harvest, the Divine . . . “This is the only alphabet I know,” Margaret Mead once said, “that goes A-B-C-D . . . X-Y-God…”
Q: How did you discover the Runes?
A: It’s more like they discovered me. I was first introduced to the Runes by a remarkable woman in Redhill, Surrey, while doing research in England. I took a set home with me to Connecticut and promptly forgot about them. Then one memorable night after my wife had just left me, I was dusting books in the library when the bag fell off the shelf into my hand. I actually remember saying, out loud, “Okay, I need to know what order you come in.” So not only was I broke, depressed, out of a job—I was now talking to stones in the middle of the night. And that’s just the beginning of the story.
Q: You’ve described the Runes as an Oracle. What is an Oracle?
A: My favorite definition came from an eccentric old codger who called the Runes “God’s e-mails!” which is not as silly as it appears, if you go to the Latin and find “oraculum” defined as “a divine announcement.”
Oracles come in a wild variety of forms, all of which are meant to provide useful information. Oracle readers have been known to interpret the cracks that appear on tortoise shells or bricks heated in a fire; patterns on water, shapes of clouds, the formation of birds in flight. The oracular text known as the I Ching, or Book of Changes, was so precious to Confucius that he once said, “If I had 50 more years to live, I would spend them studying the I Ching.” The Oracle of Delphi sat in a temple, breathing fumes that rose from a hole in the ground, and gave advice to Generals and Emperors. The voice that spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush was the Voice of the Divine Oracle.
Today Christians open the Bible at random and read what they believe to be God’s advice to them in their time of need. Others use the dictionary in the same way, calling it “Noah Webster’s Oracle.” In contemporary terms, an Oracle is “any person of great knowledge or wisdom.” I suggest that each of us is an Oracle, and when you consult the Runes you are consulting your own deep knowing.
Q: Do the Runes tell you the future?
A: No. The future is God’s business, not ours. The Runes focus on the present, helping us to get our bearings and determine what is “right action” in any given situation. Which, it might be argued, leads to a good future.
Q: How do you use the Runes?
A: I usually find that drawing a single Rune about a particular issue is enough to help me “reorient” myself. Using the Runes is simple and direct. You never ask a “Yes/No” question. Nor do you ask for information about the future. Instead, you address an issue that is happening in present time. Such as, “How can I improve my relationship with So-and-So?” Or “What is the best way to ask So-and-So for a loan?” Anything that is concerned with right action in the present is Runes Territory.
Once you have decided on an issue, with your issue in mind, reach into your bag and draw out a stone. Next, find its picture on the inside front cover of The Book of Runes, turn to the page listed for that Rune and read the interpretation. Invariably, one or two lines will speak directly to your issue.
Q: When is a good time to consult the Runes?
A: Whenever you feel “stuck.” Any time you lack sufficient information to make a good decision and yet circumstances demand that you do something now. Sometimes the Oracle will suggest that best action to take is to do nothing at all.
Q: What kind of issues do they help you with?
A: All issues—no exceptions, no exclusions. I tend to be pretty single-minded about the function of the Runes Oracle. My habit is to draw a Rune when I feel I don’t have enough information to make a good decision. I am committed to the premise that the Oracle will show me what constitutes right action in literally any situation.
Q: How can I use them in my daily life?
A: I’ve always found the Runes valuable in helping me to find clarity when issues come up in relationships of all kinds—whether they be at work, at home, or with friends. And while it may seem strange until you have tested it out, the Runes can be useful in helping you to heal the past from where you find yourself in the present moment. They are useful in communicating with absent friends and loved ones, and that includes the permanently departed. Using the Oracle as an “interpreter,” I have held several conversations with my Dad that I was never able to have since he died just before my 18th birthday. You may wonder: How much of this is accurate? How much do we imagine? You’ll be able to judge for yourself.
Q. Is there a scientific basis for their use?
A: If statistical probability has merit in answering such a question, then, yes, without a doubt, there is. I have consulted the Runes thousands of times over the last 27 years, for myself and for others, and have found the degree of usefulness (and accuracy) of the readings to be quite remarkable. Expressed as a batting average, I’d say the Runes bat somewhere between 890 and 980.
Sometimes the Rune you choose may appear beside the point or inappropriate. Years ago, during a television interview, I drew a Rune for a woman who, when I quoted to her from the Interpretation, laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous!” A week or so later she sent me a letter apologizing, “The Runes commented on a question I didn’t have the courage to ask. I just couldn’t see it at the time.” The Oracle seems to possess an editing and prioritizing function.
Q: Do the Runes conflict with peoples’ religious beliefs?
A: You bet they do. Start with those strict literalists who, if Scripture does not sanctify it, simply don’t want to know. Then come those who, without any hesitation, mark the Runes down as “a tool of the Devil’” or the poisonous delusions of pagans. And there are those who lump the Runes with “New Age” nonsense. People who denigrate the Oracle rarely take the time to read The Book of Runes or touch a Rune stone.
As a Christian, I would never recommend using the Runes if they conflicted with my faith. What I know from studying history is that there was a time during the Middle Ages known as “the period of the dual faith,” when everyone got along. In fact I was once in a church in Norway that had Runes carved over the door. “Oh yah,” said the caretaker, “It was Christians on Sunday and Pagans on Friday. We got on just fine!”
Another answer to the question is found in Romans 8:28: All things work together for good to them who love God.” I believe that they do, and that the Runes are no exception.
Q: Do all the Runes concern growth and change?
A: Yes. And above all, right action—in thought, word and deed.
Q: Why do people continue to use the Runes after 2,000 years?
A: They find them useful, fun to play with as a game, and uncannily accurate in difficult situations.
Q. Are the meanings of the Runes the same today as they were in Viking times?
A: There are similarities and differences. But the point is this: An Oracle always responds to the requirements of the time in which it is consulted, and to the needs of those consulting and interpreting it. My job has been to find a way to translate the essence of their meanings in language we can all understand.
Q: You’ve worked with Margaret Mead, the celebrated anthropologist. What was her reaction to the Runes?
A: When I brought them to her in the early days, she said, “It’s high time someone treated the Runes as part of living western shamanism—we need our shamans after all, and you don’t need to make an appointment to see your Runes.”
Q: Would you do a Rune reading for the host or someone in our audience?
A: Gladly. And here’s a terrific bonus. What has always intrigued me about the Oracle is this: When I ‘m on the radio and someone calls in with an issue, I’ll pick a Rune for the caller—but not until I have explained that, for some reason quite beyond me, the Rune I draw from the bag will speak to everyone who happens to be listening. Including myself! So I suggest that each listener think of a situation where they could use some sound advice. And then I will pick a Rune for us all.
Q: What if I don’t have a particular issue in mind at the moment?
A: If you have difficulty deciding on a specific issue to address, the Oracle will choose for you and address that issue. Simply ask: What do I need to know for my life right now?
Q: You seem to speak of the Oracle almost as if it were a person.
A: If I do, it’s because I really do think of the Runes as “a true and valued friend.” In fact, when I have no one to speak with about matters of concern, I often choose to dialogue with the Runes about a particular problem. The Oracle always has time for me, and invariably has something to say that is worth hearing.
Ralph H. Blum is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Viking Runes. Encountering the Runes while doing research in England, he subsequently explored their origins and reinterpreted their meanings in terms appropriate for our time. He has been working with the Runes Oracle as a tool for self-counseling since 1977.
Blum received his degree in Russian studies at Harvard University. Following a period in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar, he returned to Harvard, where he did graduate work in anthropology with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He has since authored numerous books on Runes and is widely acknowledged as a leading modern day authority on the oracular tradition.
About Tony Cecala
Tony is a business strategist. He publishes the Holistic Networker and produces the Wellness Expo. In his spare time he reads about technology and the mind.