Runes are a method of divination similar to the Tarot or the I Ching. The difference is that Runes are a set of 24 (or 25) stones instead of 78 cards or a set of sticks with patterns. As with the Tarot, most of the Runes may be right side up, or up side down, the meaning differing with the case. There are also some Runes that can not appear up side down. (This text courtesy of sacred-texts.com
The earliest runic inscriptions were certainly not coherent texts of any length, but simple markings on artifacts (e.g. coins, combs, etc.), giving the name of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or, sometimes, remaining a linguistic mystery. Because of this, it is possible that the early runes were not so much used as a simple writing system, but rather as magical signs to be used for charms, or for divination. The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite.