The Elder Futhark are the most common set of runes. They’re widely recognized for being used as tools for divination and heathen sorcery/spells. But are they symbols with some inherent mystical power attached to them?
The answer is simply, no. Runes are an early writing style that allowed people to send basic communications and were also inscribed on objects to identify ownership. Runes are a type of alphabet used by the Germanic people prior to the introduction of the Latin alphabet.
That being said, runes can be used for divination and other magickal purposes in the same manner as any alphabet or set of symbols. Meanings can be applied to each rune just like meanings can be applied to a tarot card. In this manner, runes are a tool to focus the intent of the person working with them.
Divination tools allow a person to look at a situation without personal bias. Personal bias is a distraction, a noise that can interfere with perception. Divination is a process of perceiving something that is often “unseen”. Many people have experienced it at one or more times in their lives. These glimpses may come across as an unsettled feeling that something bad is going to happen, or even a very specific look at an event that has not yet occured.
Runic magick is using runes as the tool to shape energies for a specific purpose, such as protection. Runes are sometimes combined to make a sigil, called a bind rune, and then inscribed upon a surface such as paper, wood, bone or stone. The influence of bind runes comes from the one who makes it, not from the runes themselves.
The modern use of runes for occult knowledge or direction is nothing more than a personal choice of the practitioner. Runes have no intrinsic “power” or mystic properties. Their meanings are entirely assigned by those who use them. Some people feel more “attuned” to one set of symbols in their spiritual practices. An archaic alphabet, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs or Germanic runes are useful because they aren’t part of the modern alphabet. We use the modern alphabet for everyday communication and thus these letters, and the many combinations of them, already have common meanings. Using arcane symbols is often more effective in providing a separate focus to a practitioner.
When studying runes, I suggest first understanding their original purposes. Do not consider them as having any special properties or power. First read historical research. Understand how they were used by the Germanic people. Runes were often inscribed into bark and bone not for magickal use, but for short messages. These were more like early tweets describing ideas and memories rather than spells.
Once you understand the original purpose of runes, you will be better prepared to see them as a specialized tool if your goal is to incorporate them into a personal esoteric practice.