The history of English runes transverses several countries. The ancient characters were used in Scandinavia and Teutonic countries before they made themselves known in Anglo Saxon territories. The first users were the East Goths who probably derived the lettering from ancient Hellenic-Italic glyphs. The Goths began carving them on wood and stone around 300 A.D. The word rune comes from an early Anglo-Saxon word that means “secret” or “mystery.”
These English Runes looked like small tablets and were carved on wood, stone or gemstones. The markings themselves consisted of a few curved and straight lines. There were two types of alphabets used. One called the Futhark consisted of 24 runes and one called the Futharks contained 16 runes. In the history of the English Runes the Futhark runes are also sometimes called the “town” runes.
The town runes were used by many cultures throughout North Europe, Iceland, England, Scotland and Ireland. As their origins were Hellenic, Germanic and Nordic they were seen as pagan so the form of writing and divining was not considered to be very Christian. The arrival of Christianity in England did not make their use obsolete but their use was more hidden. Many ancient churches in England have rune writing on their walls or hidden in the constructions as many people were erring on the safe side when they were built. By concealing pagan symbols in the church they were betting on both God and the old ways to protect them. Until most major religious manuscripts and histories of the kingdom were written in the language of the old English Runes.
The Runic alphabet was always distinguished by other alphabets is because each rune is like a letter that has its own meaning as well. The runes also have religious or magical significance as well. Each time anything was written with a rune it was thought to also be performing magic. By naming something in words you were in essence using the rune language to make it happen. The interesting thing about the runes is that they could simultaneously spell words or sentences depending on how you arrange them.
Old English Runes were also routinely used for story telling and fortune telling. Telling a positive story with the runes was thought to trigger fortunate events in your life. You could also curse your neighbors by putting together an unfortunate story about crops being ruined. In some systems of Runic interpretation the runes also corresponded to Celtic or Nordic gods or goddesses.
Ordinary people for fortune telling also commonly used old English Runes. They are still used today, as they always have been to tell fortunes. Runes are shaken, scattered or pulled from a bag and the tiles inscribed with symbols are read. This is an inexpensive and traditional form of divination that can be enjoyed by everyone.