Runes have always been seen as possessing of mystical properties. Once in a while a fantasy computer game comes by with puzzles written in runes, and many modern wiccans use Runes in ceremonies or rituals. As runes dated from before the time Northern Europe became Christianized, it became associated with the "pagan" or non-Christian past and thus a mystique about them was born. Even the supposed etymology of the word rune, the German word raunen which means "to whisper", helped in adding a secretive bend to Runes.
The Runic alphabet is also known as Futhark...a name composed from the first six letters of the alphabet, namely f, u, th, a, r, and k. In this way, "Futhark" is synonymous to the word "alphabet" which is from alpha and beta... the first two letters of the Greek alphabet. And why were the letters ordered in such a way...nobody knows the answer but it might been some form of mneumonic function that was not preserved.
The first Runic inscriptions that have survived to the modern day dated from around 200 CE. The alphabet consists of 24 letters, 18 consonants and 6 vowels.
The Elder Futhark is the set of Runes most commonly used today but there are also Anglo Saxon Runes and a later Germanic set known as the Younger Futhark. The Elder Futhark is the oldest of the Runic alphabets, used between 100 B.C.E. to 1600 C.E. Traditionally, those who follow a religious path that is based on the Germanic tribal beliefs, often known modernly as Asatru or Norse Tradition, believe that these symbols were divined by the father god Odin after he hung on the world tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights.
Casting methods vary, as there is little to no historical documentation of the runes being used as a divination method. Most Norse Reconstructionists that use the runes in this way prefer to cast them. They focus on their question or the issue they are consulting the runes about. A white cloth or piece of leather is put down to hold the runes. The caster mixes the runes in their bag, and either pulls out a handful and lets them fall onto the cloth, or shakes the bag over the cloth until the chosen number of runes has fallen.
The runes are then read. Those that are face down showing no symbol, are ignored and the runes that are showing are read by their proximity to each other. Pulling runes from the bag one at a time is also a common method, but does not allow for the same amount of chance as the tossed method does.