As I explain in the article “Intuition, Divination and Pre-cognition for the rest of us, at some level all Divination is based on giving your subconscious tools to point out patterns. The runes are no different.
Simple Reading (1 Rune)
While the runes have verifiable power (try using an Isa to hold a yellow light sometime), their greatest power in divination are how each rune's meaning is broad enough to allow for interpretation. Take Sowilo for example. It essentially means the Sun. However, this can be interpreted in completely different ways in a reading. If you are dealing with a situation of stress you may feel that Sowilo is the Sun coming out and making things better. You might also feel that it is the Hot Desert Sun beating down on you. So while a rune has a specific meaning, it is up to the reader to interpret how the meaning of the rune applies in the specific situation.
Most persons start out by keeping it simple and they WILL get good readings. If you are just starting out, feel free to take the meanings quite literally, you will still get good information. While a more experienced reader may end up noticing subtleties that literal readings don't get, sometimes we get caught in the depths and end up missing what's right in front of our nose! When you're starting out you don't have that problem. :-)
Just as there is an argument as to whether or not Tarot cards have different meanings when upside down, there is an argument as to whether or not Runes can be reversed. In the end, each boils down to personal preference. Some people like the ability to add more potential meanings and some people prefer to keep it more simple. Give each a shot. Read with Merkstave off as well as on and decide which you prefer! In a couple days I will be posting a rune reading app to this website, (click here for the android version), the paid version includes common Merkstave interpretations, however if you read the common interpretations and either assume Merkstave means “Blocked”, “Reversed” or “Harmful implementation” you'll probably be in the right range of ideas. ;-)
Runes are special. Not only might you get the rune turned upside down, but there is also a chance that it will be facedown as well. The most common interpretation of facedown is that the rune is a “hidden” force. The force is at work, but it may not be getting recognition or awareness. Other people might interpret facedown to mean “lesser” aka the force is there, but isn't very strong.
Just as you can define that there are meanings to different Tarot layouts, you can define the meanings in a rune layout. By pulling one rune at a time and deciding that this rune relates to “the past” and this rune relates to “the future” Rune formations allow you to take the simplicity of a single rune at a time and apply it to a whole situation. You end up with a balance of keeping everything simple while also getting details.
Part of reading is a tendency to chase an understanding deeper and deeper. In the course of doing this readers might get so focused on the details of the fact that the subject is about to end their relationship with their mate that we completely ignore a rune pointing out that the subject REALLY needs to go see the doctor about that mole on their back. Layouts have the benefit of ensuring the reader looks at multiple different details and points of view. In other words Rune Layouts pull us back and ensure a bit of balance to our readings.
Rune Casting is pretty advanced. Not only does each rune have a meaning, but how the different runes sit in relation to each other influence their interpretations. Essentially the reader will grab a handful trusting intuition to decide how large-ish. Then they will trust intuition to determine how hard to throw the runes. (In the app we recognize this with two sliders.)
Once a reader casts the runes they will often play a few games of connect-the-dots with what's sitting in front of them to see if there are runes that show up like constellations. If some do they are generally considered the greater theme/understanding of the entire reading.
Typically one reads runes from “the middle” outward. The middle can actually be a center point or it can be whatever point the reader feels is the center of the reading. Then they will take the character of each rune and weave them into tapestries of situations and answers based on relation to each other. If I have three runes Ansuz(Communication), Raidho(Right Order) and Fehu(Money) that point in a line and the subject is asking about a job, I may end up deciding that the runes are forming the structure of a job where the person will be working in the field of communication and ensuring proper structure about money. From this I might decide that it is saying that this person should start a blog where they teach people how to manage their money.
There you go. You now have WAY too much information. Be careful to apply it in small stages as you feel ready. More complex doesn't necessarily mean better. Start where you are and move from there!
Power Before Wisdom