Divining in the Dark: The Runes as a Guide through Disruption

“It is my firm conviction that the Runes, as adapted here for the contemporary Rune caster, are not meant to be used for divination or fortune telling,” writes Ralph H. Blum. “The disposition of the future is in God’s hands, not ours. Rather, the Runes are a tool for assisting us to guide our lives in the present.

The synchronistic wallops I’ve been receiving by pulling runes from day one has been impressive. They are in a rhythm with my daily trials in a way that goes beyond explanation. It began at the start of this year as an added component of a set of daily rituals I dedicated myself too.

I have to say the deep power of my own experience has everything to do with working not just with the runes themselves but with a little, and often-criticized, book called The Book of Runes by Ralph H. Blum. Reading the associated insight provided on each rune in tandem with the daily pull has become a synch-charged ordeal.

The runes began preparing me for a big upheaval of change and transformation right from the start. I could feel the impending shake up at hand going back into the previous year. The guidance from Blum’s prose only confirmed my own intuitions about what was going on inside me and specifically my work life environment. My job had become a source of existential dread and uncertainty over the last two years that was turning me inside out. While I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing, I was comfortable in a way. I could slip out to the library at lunch, write articles and work on interviews on my down time and not have to interface with management all that much. Even with the advantages, I clearly knew I wasn’t going anywhere and felt stuck, moving in place.

Threats of company revenue losses leading to downsizing came down in November. By the end of January, after dodging several bullets, my card was finally pulled. The wild thing is that for the previous weeks leading up to the fateful lay off, The Book of Runes was preparing me a little each day. In a really extraordinary way, each day the runes and associated passages acted as a wise sage, laying explicitly personal guidance on me. The impact couldn’t have been any greater had there been an actual person with my personal story there to provide commentary. The impact is pure magic.

And it hasn’t stopped even a week after the break-up. The tough pill wisdom keeps showing up. Today for instance came up Laguz. Rune 18 stands for flow, water and that which conducts. Except I pulled it in reverse which indicates a warning against overreach or excessive striving. Laguz in reverse instructs me to go within and draw from the wisdom of my instincts. I need to find my intuitive way through this trial.

Obviously, this sort of generalized commentary can apply to anyone going through anything. The point is it meant what it meant to me, and I could make those connections. Meaning is always shaped by us, in response to external experience or information. The book advises me to use it not as a future diviner but as an interactive oracle that requires my input.

To place some more meat on the bone, I’ll share some of the other pulls I received this past month. Early in January rune 21, Thurisaz was presented. The associations here are the Gateway, Place of Non-Action and the God Thor. For my situation, the job loss itself doesn’t represent the gateway entirely, although it is an integral pillar. As I type, I’m still looking towards the gate that I have not yet completely crossed over. From my reading, I learned that the “the gateway is not to be approached and passed through without contemplation.”

The finality of the job loss has triggered a hell of a lot of contemplation about my future. The non-action aspect of the rune was more relevant to that final month of employment. At that time I was committed to waiting out the company decisions of who would stay or go. Like the rune suggested, I waited and put off making a decision. Then the decision came and while I am moving forward with much action in the meantime, the ultimate gate of change is still very much in front of me.

I’m facing a situation now in which a short-term decision must be made and yet, another much bigger long-term decision must be reckoned with as well. A source of income must be acquired in an immediate sense, but a true life vocation of passion and purpose is to be acquired after a deeper investigation and potential training is undertaken. Most likely I will have to strike a balance of letting go of the past while still relying on it until such a time when a true changing of roles can take place. A cycle of initiation is at hand.

In Blum’s explanation of the runes, there are 13 that when grouped together represent a Cycle of Initiation. These runes focus on self-change and personal transformation. The final rune in the cycle is the 22nd, named Dagaz. And right on cue, this very rune that symbolizes breakthrough, showed up early on my usage. Other concepts associated with Dagaz are transformation and day.

This is a pretty heavy rune that calls for a radical trust that the transformation under way is necessary for growth. Stepping into the unknown can be fraught with fears and a sense of insecurity. I can’t say I’m living in complete trust or without fear as I face down financial and career uncertainty. With two young kids to feed, and debts to service, there’s no way not to have many concerns. All at the same time rooted in my belief in the mystical forces of the unseen, I try to stand in a faith that I’m being moved to better things.

I’ve been a scrapper for work since my teen years and know that I’ve never taken defeat lying down. The warrior nature that Blum so often made reference to in his book is a force I’m lucky to have some familiarity with. Growing up lower middle-class and having no connections to rely on, I went my own way, determined to make it.

The warrior is a central archetype to any heroes’ journey and is represented by rune 15, Teiwaz. This is not the warrior of brute force, but spiritual power. In my experience, the most pivotal battles are staged within. My current situation is no different. Although there are external forces that are working upon me, what will determine my future has more to do with the state of my mind and spirit as I manage these obstacles. Struggle, set-back and defeat are all teachers.

I must act, calling upon the masculine solar energy of Teiwaz, but also be ready to wait for results and even be free from attachment to particular outcomes. Having received this console from the runes at this time has dramatically impacted how I’ve responded over the past several weeks. My mind might be in a much darker place without it.

The necessity for a big change and a shedding of the old continued to be reinforced to me in the days leading up to my job loss. When I pulled rune four, Othila reversed, I learned the time to be bound by old conditioning and old authority was coming to an end. Sitting at my altar in the pre-dawn darkness, reading that I was being “called upon to undertake a radical departure from old ways,” felt like a direct hit. If not handled with willingness and care, I could bring down harm upon myself and family. The separation or retreat symbolized by Othila both scares and inspires me.

Disruption is not always a positive experience. It can go either way. The issue is you don’t really know while you’re in the middle of it. Getting hit with the idea of having the fabric of my reality, security and understanding of myself being ripped away is admittedly unsettling. Pulling these runes only clearly conveyed what was already rolling around in my gut for a very long time.

Hagalaz, rune 19, is that elemental power of disruption. Looking back its synchronistic message from a post-disturbance event, leaves me bewildered at how the universe can communicate to us when we pick up divinatory tools. The dust of Hagalaz is far from settled and yet there’s a sense of purpose inside this storm all the while.

I’m not feeling lost as to how or why this has all transpired. My soul has been restless ever since I really took on an intensive mystical practice over two years ago. Almost immediately, I was shown something was very off about my work life. In that sense, my disturbance got under way long before I was let go. As my awareness about myself and what was important to me grew, so too did my internal discomfort.

Spiritual awakening and transformation is not at all like what people imagine it to be. It’s not about getting zapped with a god-ray from the sky and suddenly realizing all is love. In the alchemical tradition, the first stage of nigredo is a process of purification and burning away the blackness off our soul. Coming face-to-face with the darkness of the world in all its seemingly irrational violence and injustice was and is incredibly painful. Turning inward to see my own flaws of character, self-defeating beliefs and guilt tied to the past shook me up.

Having overcome many obstacles and personal demons at earlier stages in life promoted a false sense of completion. Having achieved what I thought was success by our culture’s standards, it was destabilizing to move into another realm of awareness. I had the impression by taking on a new journey of spiritual practices and study would only “plus” what I thought was a solid position.

This new cycle of initiation brought to bare unresolved past hurts, a discontent with what I was doing with the creative gifts I was given and a greater connection to the suffering of others. All at once, a new vulnerability allowed me to feel what I had not allowed in for so long.

Perth, rune number six, when drawn in reverse signals secrets, hidden meanings and the dark side of initiation. From Blum this lesson tells me I simply cannot repeat the old and not suffer and I could no longer be bound to past achievements. Most valuable of all was the passage that directs me to look upon failures or unwanted challenges as deeply significant obstacles within the larger process of initiation. This simple reframing of painful emotions and circumstances as tests of character leading to the discovery of my Grail provides necessary meaning and value to the struggle.

All kinds of mundane and frustrating things take place in our lives. It’s how we choose to assign meaning to them that dictates how I experience them. The runes assist me in making that effort.

One rune I’ve pulled several times over the last month, both right side up and reversed, has been Mannaz, the rune of the Self is the starting point. Beginnings can happen as often as we choose, or in some cases they can be chosen for us. That beginning for me starts with my relationship with myself, others and spirit. A time of major growth and rectification, Blum says, must come before progress. He uses the metaphor of the planted seed in the tilled field as a way of describing a period preceding the blooming flower. Mannaz is about going within and cultivating introspection that can produce corrections and redirections of energy and intent.

Rather than become a famous artist or whatever, striving to “live an ordinary life in a nonordinary way” is one of the most liberating pieces of advice I’ve ever received. All I had to do was pick up a little book off the shelf to reveal it to myself.

In Blum’s system, the last “rune” is blank. While it has no structure or shape, the symbolism of this imageless “rune” is profound. It can be seen as the Unknowable, the Divine or even the All-Father Odin himself. It directs me to the most difficult task – to trust unconditionally. Staring into the unknown with no knowledge of where next months funds for survival are coming from is tense and invigorating at the same time. While I have this opportunity to call upon my inner warrior, I also can sit back and watch the magic of that which has not yet come into form, come into form.

The Book of Runes came into my life just at the right time to strengthen and prepare me for this moment. I think everyone has different spiritual tools and practices that support and speak to them. Although I have many others, having this direct and intimate communication with the runes propels me into a deep desire to work more with them. The drawing out and reading on a rune a day has brought new dimensions to my rituals. Chanting the rune names and visualizing the sigil forms makes for a powerful warm up in preparation for chakra or other meditations.

We can’t escape the cliché about change being the only certainty. My own mental health has been known to change from day to day, let alone the external forces that bring turbulence to all of us at one time or another. The constancy of my spiritual quest and practice is generally the one thing I can control and influence.

Life must be faced, regardless of the season of our prosperity. The ease of availability of inspired texts, rituals and prayers has to be appreciated as one of the benefits of modern life. These tools act as an anchor that brings firm conviction and structure to my life, even when the other structures have fallen apart. The way of the spiritual warrior consists of belief in living life with purpose and that if strived for, the fire of Prometheus can be grasped, lighting a path towards illumination.

Another true cliché is that the only way out is through. Mercifully, we have some ancient tech to help navigate the way.

Jeff Wolfe is a practitioner of Okinawan Shidokan Shorin Ryu Karate and the artist/writer of the blog, Secret Transmissions.

3 thoughts on “Divining in the Dark: The Runes as a Guide through Disruption

  1. Wonderful article and an engaging introduction into Runes. I’ve never personally used Runes, but from the way you described, they seem akin to Tarot, in that they pull out deeper processes from within you which might otherwise be out of reach or take longer meditation to discover. I might just pick some up and give them some time. Any recommendations for how to acquire some good quality Runes? I imagine the best are made of natural stone? Cheers.

    1. Traditionally, for rune readings, runes were carved into wood. If you ant to buy a set, I would just do a search for “runes” on Etsy. You will find plenty of very nicely created sets.

      1. Thank you! Even from a cursory search I’ve just found a few on etsy. I imagine the tactile experience is an enjoyable element of using runes.

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