Elder FUTHARK language says that a Rune can be many things, some of them being “a letter from the old Viking language that you see all over Mjolnir”, “Thor’s hammer in the Marvel movies”, as well as “artifacts from that era.”
Runes have many uses and their history is equally varied.
The answer to “What exactly is a rune” will actually depend on the school of thought you look at it. If you are looking at it through the lens of linguistics, then it’s just the name for a letter in old Germanic alphabets.
But if you are looking at it through its divination, then a rune could be the letter on a tile, or a piece of bone, or a particularly pretty stone, that’s used in casting.
Similarly, when it’s looked at through magic or spells, then it’s just a mark of significance to the person casting the magic.
Further, the Runes discussed here are specifically from the Elder FUTHARK language and fit all those definitions.
Historically, Elder FUTHARK is a pictographic language, so each rune originally represented something specific. Owing to the nature of the language, there wasn’t much difference between cases, like with most languages today. The name is made up of the first six runes of their alphabet: fehu ( ), uruz ( ), thurisaz ( ), ansuz ( ), raidho ( ), and kenaz ( ).
It being originally a pictographic language, each Rune originally was a beorc. ( b ) is the Rune for birth and family, represented by a profile of a pregnant woman. The Rune has since come to represent, unsurprisingly, the Great Mother. It’s also used as protection, specifically for homes in the 2nd century BCE by the Nords. It was later used as an alphabetic language from the 2nd to 8th century BCE.
Today, Runes are used primarily for three things: divination, talismans, and charms. Rune castings are much like Tarot readings, with the placement and order of the Runes changing how they’re interpreted. This interpretation can be used to your advantage when putting together your talisman.
Casting runes is the main method of using them for divination. A “cast” refers to the pattern the runes are laid out in, to answer questions. For example, laying three runes in a line is the most common, and easiest, to the divine. Just like Tarot cards, the rune to the left represents the past; the one in the middle represents the present, and the one to the right predicting the future. Castings can be done as many times as there are questions. Depending on your beliefs, this can be a fun exercise or can help in making that life-altering decision. Like Tarot cards, runes can be used to ask very specific or rather vague questions. For example; Are you going to find a job in the relatively near future? Will you get that promotion tomorrow? Where exactly are your keys? Based on your question, and how you decide to cast your runes, you can glean a little insight into these questions.