Runes are the characters of ancient alphabets: Teutonic (24 letters), Anglo-Saxon (32 letters), and Scandinavian (16 letters). Runic characters are similar to Latin letters, except that they tend to have few curves and consist mostly of straight lines, suitable for carving with knives. Runic letters were used for over one thousand years. For most people, the runic alphabet died out sometime between the 13th and 16th centuries. But for those special New Age people with one foot in the world of secrets and the other in the world of mysteries, runes are used as a form of divination.*
The Norse used Runic characters mostly for practical purposes, such as marking graves, identifying property, or for defacing other's graves and property with graffiti, such as at Maes Howe in Orkney. New Agers ignore these uses and prefer to side with superstitious 12th century Norsemen and women who thought they could see the future in alphabetic characters on wood or stone. Somehow, the image of Viking warriors, worshippers of Thor and Odin, kneeling down to cast runes to decide whether or not to invade Ireland, seems incongruous.
The word 'rune' derives from the Old Norse and Old English run which means "mystery." The real mystery is why anyone would think that writing the letters of an alphabet on little pieces of wood or stone, putting them in a bag, and then drawing them out and throwing them or laying them down in certain ways, would answer their questions, give them direction for the present, guide them to see the future or help them make good decisions. Runes may have gotten their reputation for being tools of divination when Christian Church leaders claimed they were used to cast magic spells or communicate with the devil. Many New Agers seem to like Tolkein, so the fact that his Hobbits used a kind of runes in their writing may have enhanced the association of runic letters with magic and mystery.