The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet, and for specialized purposes thereafter. The earliest runic inscriptions found on artifacts give the name of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or, sometimes, remain a linguistic mystery. Due to this, it is possible that the early runes were not so much used as a simple writing system, but rather as magical signs to be used for charms.
Although some say the runes were used for divination, there is no direct evidence to suggest they were ever used in this way. The name rune itself, taken to mean “secret, something hidden”, seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite.
There is some evidence that in addition to being a writing system runes historically served purposes of magic . This is the case from earliest epigraphic evidence of the Roman to Germanic Iron Age, with non-linguistic inscriptions and thealu word. An erilaz appears to have been a person versed in runes, including their magic applications.
In medieval sources, notably the Poetic Edda, the Sigrdrífumál mentions “victory runes” to be carved on a sword, “some on the grasp and some on the inlay, and name Tyr twice.”
In early modern and modern times, related folklore and superstition is recorded in the form of the Icelandic magical staves. In the early 20th century, Germanic mysticism coins new forms of “runic magic”, some of which were continued or developed further by contemporary adherents of Germanic Neopaganism. Modern systems of runic divination are based on Hermeticism, classical Occultism, and the I Ching.
In the 17th Century, Hermeticist and Rosicrucian Johannes Bureus, having been inspired by visions, developed a Runic system based on the Kaballah and the Futhark which he called the Adulruna.
The Armanen runes “revealed” to Guido von List in 1902 were employed for magical purposes in Germanic mysticism by authors such as Friedrich Bernhard Marby and Siegfried Adolf Kummer, and after World War II in a reformed “pansophical” system by Karl Spiesberger. More recently, Stephen Flowers, Adolf Schleipfer, Larry E. Camp and others also build on List’s system.
Several modern systems of runic magic and runic divination were published from the 1980s onward. The first book on runic divination, written by Ralph Blum in 1982, led to the development of sets of runes designed for use in several such systems of fortune telling, in which the runes are typically incised in clay, stone tiles, crystals, resin, glass, or polished stones, then either selected one-by-one from a closed bag or thrown down at random for reading.
Later authors such as Diana L. Paxson and Freya Aswynn follow Blum (1989) in drawing a direct correlation between runic divination and tarot divination. They may discuss runes in the context of “spreads” and advocate the usage of “rune cards”.
Modern authors like Ralph Blum sometimes include an ahistorical “blank rune” in their sets. Blank runes are most commonly used to replace any runes that are lost and are not to be included in a reading.