Ancient or classical references to runes for divination, writing are virtually non existent. So it has been argued in scholarly circles that modern reconstructed theories as to what our ancestors did with them are inherently based more on personal interpretation rather than actual facts. Derisively so there is little evidence to back up reliably what our continental Germanic or peninsular Scandinavian tribe folks may or may not have used as regards runes within their communities. We have instead footprints for writing systems and vague references for actual divinatory practices. These off course could be something entirely different from their current interpretations or indeed usage in the modern sense. It could further be argued that many New Age eclectic authors have added to this cocktail by fanciful theories based on their own personal gnosis and devoid of Ockham’s razor methodology and application. The most used quote to back up rune divination theories has to be that of the works of Tacitus in his Germania. Rune poems, the "Runattal thattr Othins", and the "Ljothatal" form the primary basis of modern magical usage of runes. Scholars would argue strongly that there is no conclusive proof from historical sources that the runes were used for divination and they would be correct!
Here is my opinion on the matter. No one knows for certain that rune divination did not exist? I disagree to a point when all we keep hearing about from the scholastic worldview is where is the evidence?
Point 1: Lack of evidence is not absolute proof that something did not exist
From the earliest stages of civilisation people have used various means of divination to communicate with the supernatural especially when seeking help in their public and private lives. Divination is most often practiced as a means of foretelling the future, and sometimes the past. It is one of the primary practices used by witches, wizards, medicine men, sorcerers, and shamans or whatever name one goes under these days. Diviners have always been with us, some belonged to special classes of priests and priestesses in past and present civilizations, and are specially trained in the practice and interpretation of their divinatory skills. The Greeks had their oracle which spoke for the gods. During the Middle Ages grain, sand or peas were tossed onto a field in order to read the patterns after the substances fell. As far back as 1000 BCE. the Chinese had "I Ching," an oracle which involved the tossing and reading of long short yarrow sticks. And the scholars argue over physical evidence for rune divination?
Point 2: Rune evidence for use of runes to heal
There is historical evidence that runes were used for healing and that a serest was the way our Norse ancestors sort advise on the future?
Demon of the fever of wounds,
Lord of the demons,
Now you must flee,
You have been discovered.
Three kinds of pain on you, wolf.
Three times the misery, wolf.
Isa Isa Isa, the rune of Ice.
These ice runes will be your only joy, wolf.
Enjoy the seiðr well.
Ref: 11 cen11 century Rune Poem find on copper plate, Sigtuna
There was a woman in the settlement who was called Thorbjorg; she was a prophetess, and was known as the Little Sibyl. She had had nine sisters, but she was the only one left alive. It was her custom in winter to attend feasts; she was always invited, in particular, by those who were most curious about their own fortunes or the season's prospects. Since Thorkel of Herjolfsness was the chief farmer in the district, it was thought to be his responsibility to find out when the current hardships would come to an end. Thorkel invited the prophetess to his house and prepared a good reception for her, as was the custom when such women were being received. A high-seat was made ready for her with a cushion on it, which had to be stuffed with hen's feathers.
She arrived in the evening with the man who had been sent to escort her. She was dressed like this: she wore a blue mantle fastened with straps and adorned with stones all the way down to the hem. She had a necklace of glass beads. On her head she wore a black lambskin hood lined with cat's-fur. She carried a staff with a brass-bound knob studded with stones. She wore a belt made of touchwood, from which hung a large pouch, and in this she kept the charms she needed for her witchcraft. On her feet were hairy calfskin shoes with long thick laces which had large tin buttons on the ends. She wore catskin gloves, with the fur inside.
When she entered the room everyone felt obliged to offer her respectful greetings, to which she responded according to her opinion of each person. Thorkel took her by the hand and led her to the seat which had been prepared for her. He asked her to cast her eyes over his home and household and herds; she had little to say about anything. Later that evening the tables were set up; and this is what the prophetess had for her meal: she was given a gruel made from goat's milk, and a main dish of hearts from the various kinds of animals that were available there. She used a brass spoon, and a knife with a walrus-tusk handle bound with two rings of copper; the blade had a broken point.
When the tables had been removed, Thorkel went over to Thorbjorg and asked her how she liked his home and people's behaviour there, and how soon she would know the answer to his question which everyone wanted to learn. She replied that she would not give any answer until the following morning, when she had slept there overnight first. Late next day she was supplied with the preparations she required for performing the witchcraft. She asked for the assistance of women who knew the spells needed for performing the witchcraft, known as Warlock-songs; but there were no such women available. So inquiries were then made amongst all the people on the farm, to see if anyone knew the songs.
Then Gudrid said, 'I am neither a sorceress nor a witch, but when I was in Iceland my foster-mother Halldis taught me spells which she called Warlock-songs.'
Thorbjorg said, 'Then your knowledge is timely.' 'This is the sort of knowledge and ceremony that I want nothing to do with,' said Gudrid, 'for I am a Christian.' 'It may well be,' said Thorbjorg, 'that you could be of help to others over this, and not be any the worse a woman for that. But I shall leave it to Thorkel to provide whatever is required.' So Thorkel now brought pressure on Gudrid, and she consented to do as he wished. The women formed a circle round the ritual platform on which Thorbjorg seated herself. Then Gudrid sang the songs so well and beautifully that those present were sure they had never heard lovelier singing. The prophetess thanked her for the song.
'Many spirits are now present,' she said, 'which were charmed to hear the singing, and which previously had tried to shun us and would grant us no obedience. And now many things stand revealed to me which before were hidden both from me and from others.
'I can now say that this famine will not last much longer, and that conditions will improve with the spring; and the epidemic which has persisted for so long will abate sooner than expected.
Ref: Eric The Red Saga Chapter 4 based on a 13th C account of the happening in late 10th C Greenland. This is taken from pages 81-84 of THE VINLAND SAGAS, trans. Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1978 (1965)
Folks are the scholars telling us on the one hand that rune magic and seering may have existed in Viking times but rune divination does not? I do not believe it is a far fetched concept that the Norseman motioned the idea of divination with his natural tool on hand, the runes. It is most likely that divinatory systems are not uniform in practice from one region to the next or over any given amount of time. This is true even of systems using the same tools -- tarot, geomancy, coins, dice, crystal balls, water and so forth.
One final thought, The word rune (Old English run) is not merely a form or writing but stirs the imagination and conjures up many possible attributes to it, such senses as 'whisper'; 'mystery'; and 'secret', suggesting that the symbols were originally used for magical or mystical rituals. Anyone who actually understands historical linguistics will realise that it is fundamentally unshaken and that it has cultural implications, even if the age has long since gone when we could envisage Indo European warriors sweeping away earlier populations by force of arms. This is very much the case where history is determined by the victorious in battle? The real knowledge of runes it seems lies logically with the warrior classes or at least by those who are capable of surviving conflict?
The most Powerful runes
There is no single rune any more powerful or dangerous than the next. Runes represent ideas, are possible doorways to unlock certain thoughts or perhaps even a catalyst in aiding a set of circumstances coming into being. Their ability to serve as an oracle is entirely dependant on the reader's interpretation and ability as well as the system used to divine with. No singular rune is any more potent then the next rune nor does the modern idea of "power" factually represent them. This most powerful rune urban legend is pure personal gnosis spread by seriously misinformed new age rune authors who should know better! Consider that no two people are the same, think the same way or indeed can harness, understand runes or even interpret the same way. This is without involving any magic. Outside personal gnosis, I would like to know how any particular rune is any more effective or powerful then the next rune. .