Tarot or Runes – what to choose?

In this post I will examine some pros and cons for choosing either tarot or runes for a few different purposes. You can of course choose to learn both, but as they are quite different from each other it would also mean it would take twice as much effort. For the purpose of this post I just assume that a standard tarot deck based on RWS is being used.

Both tarot and runes can be used for both magic and divination. I should probably also mention that there have been some attempts to combine the two by making various Viking or Rune tarot decks. I am not a big fan of such attempts for several reasons, but mainly I find that it complicates things if you try to force one system into another system. Let’s just leave it at that and keep them separate. Having that said, I don’t mind as much to bring some tarot knowledge into a runic system and the reason for that is that there are quite a few gaps to fill with the runes. I touch a little upon that subject in this post. Assuming that you have no prior experience with either tarot or runes, learning the runes will therefore take much more effort, but there are some good books to get you started. For example this one I reviewed here. 

                        Divination

I have done tarot much longer than runes and personally I prefer tarot as it is a much more developed system. Runes are a lot less visual and they don’t give you many clues to their meaning just by looking at them. I also find that with runes you need to develop your own system and meanings a lot more. There is an abundance of information written on the tarot, but when it comes to the runes there is so little that we know that we have to close the gaps ourselves. It works too, but it requires a lot more effort.

In a standard tarot deck you have 78 cards in contrast to when you are working with the Elder Futhark runes you have 24 runes. My experience so far with experimenting with runes is that it feels less more like they function better on the bigger picture, while the tarot can be used on both the bigger picture and go a bit more into the details. If you only read tarot with the Major Arcana you would probably get a similar result.

I also don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to do big spreads with runes. When you do the big spreads in tarot, you generally include the Minor Arcana, which make a lot of difference.

So when doing a rune spread, I would probably do something similar to a three card spread in tarot. For example: 1) What influences to let go of 2) What can I expect the situation to look like if I successfully let go of these influences and 3) What new opportunities should I be looking out for. Note that when I use this spread I tend to switch around the positions depending on what phase the moon is in with the first rune or card representing the current moon phase (in the example waning, new moon and waxing moon).

If you are only planning on doing these smaller, more general “big picture” spreads, I find that the runes can be a good tool. If you are looking to do divination professionally, and give readings to customers, I also think that adding rune reading to your repertoire would make you stand out a little bit more in the vast competition. There is definitely something exotic and intriguing about the runes that a lot of people are attracted to.

 

                           Magic

I cannot really say that tarot or runes work better than the other for magic. There are nearly infinite possibilties of how you could use them in your magical practice, and probably, it is more important how they are being used rather than what is being used.

If you are interested in tarot magic I can recommend Donald Tyson’s “Portable Magic”. It also goes under the title Tarot Magic –  Ceremonial Magic: Using Golden Dawn Correspondances. There are a lot of interesting ideas in there.

Personally I find tarot a bit inconvenient if you are going to create talismans etc. As it may mean you need to remove cards from the deck and purchase new decks everytime you want to create a new talisman. It can be quite costly.

If you know the runes you can just carve them into something or paint them. I find that to be a great advantage.  In my opinion it’s a lot more flexible and a fun, creative way to work. You can create powerful rune sigils that just look awesome, inspiring and feel magical in themselves. So for me, this isn’t even a close race. Maybe it is just me, but it makes me feel much more involved in what I am doing and everything that brings a little bit of extra enthusiasm into the magical work is usually a good thing.

 

                      Conclusion

Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you have the time and patience for it learn both. If you are willing to put in the extra effort the runes can really be worth it, especially if feel drawn to norse mythology, vikings and paganism. If I had to pick one of the two, it would be the runes because I consider them to be more flexible, but I do find tarot better for divination.

Edit: This has been in my drafts for a while, but I just never published it.

 

-The Night Spirit

Runes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultural Appropriation

Some time ago I got involved in a discussion about cultural appropriation. And I would like to share my thoughts around this concept in the context of witchcraft. There are quite a few people out there who apparently see witchcraft as a progressive political movement with strong roots within feminism. I am not saying that it cannot be that, but that is not the only thing that witchcraft is about. A lot of currents within witchcraft are counter-cultural and opposed to the ideas of mainstream society, but that does not mean that it has to be political.

When I pointed that out to someone who apparently saw it like that, they got offended and could not understand that someone else could be of a different view.

Personally I have huge problems with the concept of “cultural appropriation”. In my opinion it encourages racism in the sense you cannot borrow from other cultures and therefore they will remain “pure” or separate from one another. It’s a political ideology based on the idea that you need to be careful about not offending someone else. The problem is that cultural appropriation does not have any good definition and it is extremely problematic to know where the limits are. For that reason alone, I do not think it is very fruitful to use it. If a boundary is overstepped and something is “culturally appropriated” and it is clear that the intent was to offend, it can easily be defined as racism, sexism etc. instead. We do not need a concept that is masking up other concepts and making them more unclear. It is not doing anyone any service.

Historically, things get mixed when different cultures meet. Just look at the syncretizing of deities in the ancient world. I don’t think we can point to just one reason for it happening, but one of the reasons was people in conquered territories would be allowed to keep their own customs. Over time it would evolve and maybe be merged with a similar local deity. This happened for example with the Roman deity Mars who essentially is the Greek God Ares mixed with a local agricultural deity.

Also it doesn’t only need to happen through conquest. When traders met, it is not unlikely that they also would gain knowledge of how to gain safe passage through meetings with other cultures. Asking for safe passage has been one of the main things that people asked deities for.

I think the important thing to understand here is that when a custom was adopted, that it does not necessarily take exactly the same form as it originally was. That is not something that is done out of disrespect of the original source rather it is something that happens and evolves over time. Take the goddess Hekate for example: the mother, maiden, crone aspects are a modern invention. Some people decide to use it, others don’t (I’m not).

Another example is how Tarot and Runes have been appropriated by the New Age Movement. I personally cringe when I hear some of the modern ideas about tarot. But it has to be that way.

The point is that the meeting of cultures happens all the time. It did not stop in the ancient world. And today with the internet and information so easily accessible. It’s a natural organic process that things get mixed up. Sometimes it happens that it won’t resonate with us. It could for example be argued that seeing witchraft as a progressive political movement is an appropriation of what witchcraft used to be, but that’s fine, even if I don’t agree with that version of witchcraft. There is just no way that we are going to have a world with a political consensus where we can agree about everything. And that is why there is no use for concepts such as cultural appropriation.

 

-Thus Spake the Night Spirit

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