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Runes of the Elements
created by Frank J. Perricone hawthorn@starband.net
based in part on a similar but smaller set of Qabbal from ICE's Rolemaster Companion
copyright © 2001, all rights reserved; used by permission

(Note: throughout, out-of-character "editorial" notes will be denoted in this typeface.  The first paragraph below refers to the runes of the elements as used in the world of Melanor if they're used as a world element; a different mysterious origin may be posited for using them in other worlds or roles, but it really doesn't affect much about the rest of the page.)

The origin of the Runes of the Elements are lost in time.  Scholars suggest that some similarity of style exists between the lettering style of the older Lawani languages and the shapes of many of the runes, and propose that the runes were originally based on an alternative Lawani dialect, but most scholars reject this theory.  What is known is that the shapes of the runes have existed since at least the First Age, and probably since before the creation of Man.

As the numbers four and thirteen (as well as eleven) are magic, the runes come in four groups of thirteen.  (This allows you to use normal playing cards to represent them if necessary; a corresponding playing card will be listed for each rune below.)  The four groups correspond to the four elements: fire, air, earth, and water.  As in other magic studies, these elements are themselves symbols, not just of the states of existence (energy, gas, solid, and liquid), but also of the four forces that shape the world.  Arrayed in a circle or "wheel" these four elements show their relationships to one another and their meanings:

      desire, anger, drive, violence, strength, autumn, son      
  youth, change, body masculine, active, yin  
FIRE
emotion, passion, change, summer, daughter W
A
T
E
R
A
I
R
intellect, reason, stability, winter, father
  feminine, passive, yang EARTH age, wisdom, mind  
healing, energy, balance, peace, endurance, spring, mother
   

The thirteen runes associated with each element further elaborate a number of the concepts and symbols associated with that element.  Within each element, the runes are arrayed in order, and the last and most potent rune in each element is the same as the rune for the element itself.  (Though runes appear in order, they're not actually numbered; however, for the convenience of using playing cards, they're presented below with numbers from 2-10 plus J, Q, K, and A.  While everyone would know, for instance, that Joy comes after Erosion and before Journey, no one would call Joy "The Eight Of Water" or associate it with the number 8.)

Runes are often carved into objects of value or significance.  This declares, to anyone with knowledge to read the runes, the inner nature of the object: its purpose, its history, its significance, its maker and how it was made, and what role it is to play in fate.  It is more than a declaration, however; the rune actually reinforces the essence it declares, making it stronger and more lasting; it imbues the object with the power and meaning of the symbols themselves.  (Thus, there is no purpose in placing the wrong rune on an item in an attempt to deceive observers about the item's true essence, for the rune would, in time, change the item, making the lie true.)  Runes are carved, painted, embroidered, and drawn onto jewelry, weapons, armor, houses, books, coins, and even (by way of tattoos or ritual scars) people.

It takes more skill to use runes to divine the hidden essence of an object or person about which little or nothing is known, but there is more to be gained from such application of skill, for learning the true nature of a thing is a talent of great value.  To effect this end, one usually uses a set of tiles or stones, each of which has one of the runes carved on it.  While in the presence of the person or object, and with suitable concentration, one draws several of the runes, allowing the object itself to guide one's hand to choose the right runes.  The skill lies in the interpretation; each rune has but one meaning or symbolic value, but that can have many different significances depending on the context (the type of object being examined, the nature of the person interpreting, and the other runes drawn).  Determining the true meaning is an art that admits many opportunities for shades of error, and sometimes the truth is only approximated, even by the skilled.

While runes, and especially their divinatory capacity, resemble Tarot in many ways, one key distinction is implicit in the preceding paragraph.  Tarot is often used to foretell the future, but runes do not speak of the future.  They are rooted in the present because they speak only about the essence of a thing, as it exists now.  It's true that sometimes, knowing the true essence of something will allow you to infer what that thing will do in the future; for instance, if one knows that a sword was made specifically to slay orcs, one can infer that it will, in the future, slay orcs; but the runes did not tell the future, only the present, and the reader inferred a future.  While some have tried to use runes to tell fortunes, it is generally not what they're used for, and that application is derided by serious runists.

Fire
Name Meanings Number/Suit
Goblin Goblin Dispersed Evil 2 F
Wolf Wolf Common Beasts, Survival 3 F
Werewolf Werewolf Monster, Vicious Evil 4 F
Manacle Manacle Submission, Helplessness 5 F
Disease Disease Insidious Evil, Purging 6 F
Staff Of Power Staff of Power Device of Power 7 F
Pit Pit Traps, Danger 8 F
Strength Strength Ox, Sacrifice 9 F
Dragon Dragon Mighty Evil, Fear 10 F
Betrayer Betrayer Infiltrator J F
Runesword Runesword Weapon of Power Q F
Warrior Warrior Victory, Star K F
Son Son Ambition, Dominance A F
Air
Name Meanings Number/Suit
Partnership Partnership A Gift From Above 2 A
Retreat Retreat Separation, Wealth 3 A
Communication Communication Signals, Oracle, Holy 4 A
Constraint Constraint Necessity, Sorrow, Lesson 5 A
Time Time Age, Delay, Inexorable Motion 6 A
Destiny Destiny The Unknowable 7 A
Wheels Wheels Complexity, Machinery, Solution 8 A
Griffin Griffin Legendary Beasts, Sidhe 9 A
Opening Opening Torch, Skiff, Map, Ulcer 10 A
Standstill Standstill Ice, Wall J A
Breakthrough Breakthrough Day, God's Light Q A
Wizard Wizard Energy, Mana, Adept K A
Father Father Idea, Wisdom A A
Earth
Name Meanings Number/Suit
Fertility Fertility Legendary Hero 2 E
Tower Tower Residence, Home 3 E
Growth Growth New Birth, Birch, Wood 4 E
Defense Defense Yew, Bow, Armor, Debate 5 E
Harvest Harvest A Fruitful Year, Earth 6 E
Disruption Disruption Damaging Natural Forces 7 E
Protection Protection Resistance 8 E
Healing Healing Old Made New 9 E
Wholeness Wholeness The Sun, Health, Purity, Being 10 E
Possessions Possessions Vital Community Wealth J E
Crown Crown Nobility, Royalty, Leadership Q E
Cleric Cleric Diety Through Man K E
Mother Mother Peace, Family A E
Water
Name Meanings Number/Suit
Initiation Initiation Uncertain Meaning, Secret 2 W
Vortex Vortex Chaos, Entity, Destroyer, Nothingness 3 W
Movement Movement Curse of the Sea, Horse 4 W
Distortion Distortion Twisting, Undead, Distort 5 W
Flow Flow Sea, Source, Water 6 W
Erosion Erosion Decline, Collapse 7 W
Joy Joy Absence of Sorrow 8 W
Journey Journey Travel, Quest, Desire 9 W
Rainbow Rainbow Color, Beauty, Crystal 10 W
Deceit Deceit Deception, Illusion J W
Gate Gate Giant, Demon, Thorn Q W
Man/Self Man/Self Man=Self, Mankind K W
Daughter Daughter Freedom, Passion A W