The right tool for the job, part 1: introduction

My knife block holds a variety of kitchen knives. I rely on a 6″ chef’s knife, suitable for chopping vegetables, although I also have an 8″ chef’s knife for when I tackle butternut squash. I have a couple of paring knives, a bread knife, and a rarely-used knife for slicing meat. If I needed to reduce the number, I’d hang onto the smaller chef’s knife, one of the paring knives, and the bread knife. If I absolutely had to, I could make do with just the chef’s knife. That said, I’m a happier and more efficient cook when I can match the knife to the task at hand. Similarly, while any form of divination can be used to look at any question, I think that each form has its strengths and weaknesses, and is better suited to some kinds of questions than to others.

I haven’t seen much about this during my studies. It’s not that authors aren’t trying to compare and contrast systems of divination. Many of my tarot books talk about the Golden Dawn’s astrological correspondences for the cards. Most of the books I’ve read on runic divination have compared it to a tarot reading. Every now and then, someone discusses correspondences between the 64 I Ching hexagrams and the 78 cards of the tarot. But most of the time, these comparisons have been limited to the structures of the systems themselves; they rarely include a comparison of the uses you might put them to. When they do, it’s usually between astrology and tarot. In a tarot class years ago, the teacher told us that tarot was great for telling you what was going on, but iffy for telling you when it was going to happen, and vice versa for astrology. (Not that this stops tarot authors from passing along timing systems.) She advocated learning both systems and using them together. Well, yes, I can do both, but I almost never want to work with them together. It takes energy and concentration to do a reading of any sort, and for me, combining astrology and tarot isn’t doing half one and half the other to make one full reading, but doing two different readings back to back and being doubly exhausted as a result. Bleah.

An alternative? Try to figure out what the strengths of the various divination methods are so that I can choose the one best suited to the question. I haven’t gotten very deeply into this yet, although I find the whole idea fascinating. It takes time and effort to learn a system well enough to use it at all, and you have be using it a while before you can step back a bit and see if it works better with some questions than with others. Then you have to repeat all that for any other system you tackle. So, admitting that these are “preliminary findings,” I’ll talk what works well and not so well in my next post.

Remembering the runes

Once upon a time, I used runes often—even daily—for divination. The faux velvet bag of my most-frequently used set grew threadbare from use. Yet over the years, they gradually slipped into the back of my mind and literally into the back of my apartment. Inspired by this week’s suggestion at Pagan Blog Prompts (on runes, of course), I went to retrieve mine and found the poor things hidden under a box on a shelf in my closet.

Oops. [winces]

Blum runes

My history with runes began in as about a mundane way as can be imagined: seeing Ralph Blum’s The Book of Runes in the New Age section at the bookstore and finally buying it out of curiosity. For those of you who have not encountered The Book of Runes, it’s a boxed set which includes Blum’s book, a mass-produced set of ceramic (?) Elder Futhark runes and a blank rune (Blum’s invention?), and a drawstring bag to keep them in. Since I’ve never been satisfied having just one book on any topic that I’m interested in, it wasn’t long before I started acquiring other books on runes. The experience was, ah, enlightening. It’s been far too long since I’ve read Blum’s book to offer any specific comments on it. Suffice it to say that he put his own modern spin on what turned out to be an ancient system not only of divination, but of writing and magic as well. (Who knew?) But the runes that came with the set were usable enough. I ditched the book, kept the runes, and went off to practice runic divination. I even occasionally branched out and used the runes for magic, for instance, embroidering Laguz and Ansuz as a bindrune on a bag for my most-used deck of Tarot cards.

glass runes

I don’t know when exactly I got distracted from using the runes. Coming from a Tarot background, I have always found them easier to use. After all, as many people have pointed out, Tarot cards give you pictures to work with. Runes just give you, well, runes.  Since I use Tarot cards and runes for the same sorts of questions, I suspect I ended up grabbing a Tarot deck more and more often, and eventually my rune sets drifted out of sight altogether. Returning to them at this late date, I see that even long-term memorization can fail. At this point, if I wanted to a runic divination, I’d have to have a book close at hand to remind me what the meanings are, whereas if I began to forget Tarot meanings, the pictures would give me visual cues and I might be able to piece meanings together from the number and suit keywords.

quartz runes

Like Tarot cards, it can be difficult to resist all the pretty rune sets out there, although at least as a mercy to my budget, there aren’t nearly as many of them to tempt me. Sure, I still have my original Blum set. It’s a workhorse set; not lovely, but functional. I also have a beautiful set made of blue-green glass and a set carved into quartz. This last set isn’t as easy to work with, since the quartz pieces are more spherical than flat. The classic, of course, would be to get a set of wooden runes although in theory these should be something I can make for myself. As you may have guessed, however, living in a moderately-sized apartment with no good workspace, I don’t keep a saw on hand to cut branches into appropriately-sized runestaves. I assure you I won’t be burning runes into wood any time soon either.

As with many writing projects, this post did not come racing out of my fingertips into the computer. I came up with a few blocks of writing and rearranged them in all sorts of unsatisfactory ways. And then, as I said at the beginning, I thought I’d just go look at my rune sets and remind myself what they look like. As I write this, they’re sitting on the table next to my computer. And the words are (sort of) flowing. Hmm…