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Rún Galdrabok – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire

Rún coverStrandagaldur, the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, is not just a museum and home to the necropants, but also runs a small publishing house releasing works relevant to the museum’s theme. This grimoire facsimile is of the type mentioned frequently in Icelandic trials for magic and sorcery, of which a few survive. Though such trials date as far back as the seventh century, Rún is a considerably more recent grimoire, written in the early 20th century, but with material based on earlier antecedents.

Rún was one of two books commissioned in 1928 by Magnús Steingrímsson, a farmer at Hóla in Steingrímsfjörður’s Staðardalur valley. In addition to his farming, Magnús was an active community member as a district officer, a member of the county council and one of the founders of the local library. Revealing a persistent interest in matters magical, the second book he had copied that year was a collection of healing recipes, both herbal and verse-based, the original of which was borrowed from one Sighvatur Grímsson Borgfirðingur and then transcribed by Magnús’ seventeen year old daughter Petrina. It is not Petrina’s hand that is seen in the pages of Rún, though, and editor Magnús Rafnsson suggests the task may have been passed on to her fourteen year old sister Borghildur, who both wrote the text and replicated the accompanying images. Although they don’t share the title, the material in Rún also appears with some slight variations in at least two other manuscripts from the same period: one written by a fisherman, Finnbogi Bernódusson, and helpfully called Magical Signs Copied from a Manuscript from 1676, and another one, a “very old manuscript, yellowed and torn,” documented by the scholar Þorsteinn Konraðsson.

Rún spread

Strandagaldur presents Rún as a full facsimile, with the plates followed by an English translation of the grimoire’s text, along with a brief essay outlining the history of the manuscript, written in Icelandic and translated into a slightly abridged English version. The pages of Rún are presented as high quality, full colour scans on the same glossy stock used throughout the rest of the book, each with full bleed so that they run to the edge of the page, with the necessary evil of modern page number overlaid somewhat obtrusively at the bottom of each page. Unfortunately as the images aren’t replicated within the text of the English translation, this can make for something of a lifeless reading, with the content of multiple pages listed as purely utilitarian entries down the pages (with formatting of titles undifferentiated from body copy), and often requiring a lot of flicking back and forth to understand what the transcription, rendered cryptic from lack of context, even refers to.  Rún spread

Rún itself runs to 97 pages and begins with a listing of various magical scripts, a staggering 36 in all. This exhaustive collection ranges from some that are obviously based on runes (though with some deviations from the standards and with the characters ordered in a Latin manner, rather than that of a futhark), to entirely unique ones that look more like cyphers, such as the Chest script with its rectangles surrounded by dashes, or the mysterious titled Ramvilla comprised of iterations of the same triangle differentiated with variously placed dots and dashes. These scripts are presented without comment and provenance, with only their names to hint intriguingly at function, such as the evocatively named demons’ script, völur runes, mound-dweller’s script, and various malrunar or speech runes. As a collection of scripts that can be used in magic for a little bit of variety from the usual runes or other magical alphabets, this alone makes the purchase of Rún worthwhile.

The scripts collection is followed naturally by a series of staves and sigils with instructions for their use. These are for a variety of common folk and farming concerns that are familiar from other galdrbok, as well as the magical books from further afield, with staves for fishing, catching thieves, dealing with various agricultural concerns and the typically morally problematic controlling of unwilling objects of affection. In addition, there are some spells and staves that are distinctly darker in hue, with dreamstaves, a stave to wake the dead, invocations against ghosts, and spells for using shadow sight, going witch riding or wearing a concealing helm. As one would expect, many of these spells make supplication to the godforms of Christianity, with Jesus figuring prominently as well as mentions being made of a variety of figures from Hebrew mythology. However, there are some pagan references too, mainly in the names given to various staves, such as an illusionary stave named Óðinn (for which no properties or instruction are given), or another called a Þórshamar, made using copper stolen from a church bell, and which, like a similarly-named but different looking stave in Geir Vigfússon’s earlier Huld manuscript, is used for catching thieves.

Rún spread

A series of spells follows the collection of staves, covering similar thematic ground but without the visual component, as well as a few riddles. Then, if the exhaustive collection of scripts at the start wasn’t enough, Rún ends with even more, twenty in all. These are presented differently from those at the beginning of the book, with each preceded by a large title, rendered beautifully in various blackletter and kurrentschrift faces. The letters of the scripts themselves also stand out, being executed with considerably more care than their earlier counterparts, with the Klapprúnir stóru being particularly lovely in its heavily weighted strokes and delicately rendered serifs.

Rún spread

It is the visual component of Rún that makes it stand out as the whole, not just in the exquisitely rendered scripts at the end but with some of the staves as well. Often these appear as full page illustrations, a little scrappy in their execution but with an undeniable charm and with the added bonus that they don’t seem to be documented elsewhere. In all, this makes this edition of Rún a valuable addition to any magician or magical scholar’s library, offering something more than the familiar Stephen Flowers-published Galdrabók or the Huld manuscript.

Published by Strandagaldur

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The Black Books of Elverum – Edited and translated by Mary S. Rustad

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Categories: folk, germanic, witchcraft

The Black Books of Elverum coverNothing quite beats the occult trope of a mysterious tome being rediscovered after years hidden away and that is the appealing provenance that is used to frame what is presented here in The Black Books of Elverum. In a suitably dusty old attic in a farm in Elverum, central Norway, American-born Mary Rustad discovered two centuries-old notebooks, svartebøka or black books, both featuring hand-written spells and charms. This discovery is retold in an off-putting present tense by Rustad’s husband (whose ancestral home it was) as part of an extensive introduction, with his being but one of many voices, along with a foreword by Kathleen Stokker, a preface by Ronald Grambo, an editor’s note from Rustad herself, and an introduction to the black books by Ottar Evensen.

Evensen’s essay provides more in the way of details to Rustad’s discovery, and of black books in general, beginning first with a history of the farm which was in the Rustad family since 1837, and owned before that by the Kilde family. One of the svartebøka uncovered at Elverum was a simple pamphlet-like writing book of the type used in school, while the second was a thick, bound book, apparently blank except for the well-thumbed pages towards the middle. There are 32 unnumbered spells in one book and 78 in the other, all presented in a delightful variations of a florid, Sütterlinschrift-style hand. Following their discovery, the books were transcribed by Per Sande (an assistant professor at the public archives in Hamar), translated into modern Norwegian by Professor Per Holck of the University of Oslo, and then into English by Rustad herself.

The Black Books of Elverum spread

The pages of The Black Books of Elverum are presented as a full facsimile with black and white photographs of each page on the verso side of the spread and an English translation on the recto. The text in what is identified as book one fills the page, running from margin to margin with its script hand relatively restrained and the leading between lines tight, creating dense blocks of typographic colour. Often several spells appear on a page, divided by ruled lines, each prefaced with the spell’s title, little separated from the body. In the smaller book, the hand (or hands, as there is some variance) is much looser and larger with a sense of freedom and a lot more blotting of ink and changes in weight and pressure. Titles appear larger and right aligned, and the restrained care of book one is replaced by a manic freestyle, as typified by the ragged hand-drawn lines separating each spell. Both books are almost entirely devoid of sigils, with the exception being a device used for catching a thief in book one and a device to be drawn on a table in book two for putting out the eye of a thief.

The Black Books of Elverum spread

There is a lot of concern with thieves within both books, along with, as one would expect from this genre, other sundry matters relevant to rural people, with various simple charms and recipes for dealing with illness, predatory animals and winning at love and law. Some are more ridiculous than others, of course, such as options for putting out a fire, not with boring old water, but rather, in one case, throwing three eggs laid on a Maundy Thursday (these never go off, apparently, so you’re expected to have a few around, I suppose) into the fire in the name of the Trinity, or if that doesn’t seem complicated enough, write the words ‘Anoeam, Emanean, Natan’ on a piece of lead you conveniently have to hand and throw that on the fire. Alternatively, the second book suggests writing a little faux Latin and a sigil (inaccurately recreated in the translation) on the door of the house that is burning, break it down, and then, problem solved. The extinguishing properties of water not so popular on Norwegian farms it would seem.

It’s not all simple folk charms and non-aquatic fun with fire, though, and what strikes one immediately upon reading the first book is how diabolical it is, with the author placing themselves firmly against heaven with their first spell in which they release the angels from hell, renounce God and the Holy Spirit and pledge allegiance to Lucifer. This continues into some of the initial spells where, in something of an infernal overkill, all the demons of the world, heaven and hell are conjured to compel a thief to return what they have stolen. But then, the next spell marks a change of heart as the callous conjurer switches their allegiance and sends the dark forces packing. The use of the denizen of hell for spells specific to thieves occurs again in the second of the Elverum books, with Lucifer himself entreated to harass the thief until the items are returned, with the spell concluding “in the Devil’s dreaded name that lives in Hell’s abyss” along with the names of Hell’s ten princes for good measure. Similarly, if you wanted to put a thief’s eye out, go straight to the top and call on “Satan, Beelsebub, Bellial, Ashtarath and all the devils that are in Hell” while striking a nail into various parts of a sigil.

The Black Books of Elverum spread

It’s worth noting that the first of the two books, while affirming these darker hues and crediting its content to both ‘heathendom’ and ‘Catholic times,’ seems unsure of its own provenance. It describes itself on the title page as a summary of a Cyprianus written by Bishop Johannes Sell of Oxford in 1682, but then two pages later claims to have been written at the University of Wittenberg in 1529 and later found, glamorously so, in a white marble chest at Copenhagen Castle in 1591.

The Black Books of Elverum concludes with an account of the 1625 witchcraft trial of Ingeborg Økset, an ancestor of the Rustad family who lived on a neighbouring farm on the other side of the Gloma River. Written by Magne Stener, it provides, without much in specific reference to svartebøka, an idea of the context in which such books were written and used.

Lucifer by E. T. Rustad

In all The Black Books of Elverum is an interesting documentation of two examples of svartebøka, neither of which are particularly revelatory as their content does reflect typical Germanic folk magic, and offers nothing for those unreasonably expecting hints of Norse paganism simply by virtue of the books’ location. The images of pages are clear and well reproduced, type is set in a little too large serif face, and there are slightly incongruous pencil sketches of Jesus and Lucifer by E. T. Rustad prefacing books one and two respectively.

Published by Galde Press, Inc.

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Day Star and Whirling Wheel – Edited by Galina Krasskova

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Categories: devotional, germanic, Tags:

Day Star and Whirling Wheel coverSubtitled A Devotional to Sunna, Goddess of the Sun, and Mani, God of the Moon, this book does what it says on the tin. In her introduction, editor Galina Krasskova addresses straight out of the blocks the inevitable celestial-body-sized object in the room: how do you create a devotional for two deities for whom there is but a few lines concerning them in lore, these beings who are little more than names, albeit momentous ones? Krasskova takes this more as a blessing than a curse, seeing it as opening up a world of devotional practice, unhindered by preconceptions. As expected, then, this is a book that is, for the most part, low on essays and analysis and heavy, instead, on the poetry and prayers, with a few rituals and recipes for good measure.

Now ten years since it was published, Day Star and Whirling Wheel emerged during Asphodel Press’ boom period, a time which saw a surge of various devotionals in the wake of Raven Kaldera’s Jotunbok and subsequent titles in the Northern Shamanism series. As such, this book mirrors others from that time, bringing together the fruits of a call for submissions that saw contributions coming from around the world, featuring some familiar names, some less familiar ones, and some anonymous ones. As is de rigueur in situations like this, I should also mention as a caveat some personal involvement in this volume, having a designer credit for the oh so striking cover image; though no involvement in any of the internal matter. Can I resist the alluring appeal of nepotism? Let’s find out.

Day Star and Whirling Wheel spread

Fittingly, given the way in which the Germanic world viewed the day as beginning at twilight rather than dawn (nox ducere diem videtur, as Tacitus noted), Day Star and Whirling Wheel opens with its devotions to Máni, the moon. Contributions in this section come from Sophie Oberländer, Fuensanta Arismendi, Andrew Gyll, Moonsinger, Heather Fortuna, Ayla Wolffe, Mordant Carnival, Rebecca Buchanan, Snaw Lafor, Seawalker Larisa Pole, Jessica Orlando, Will Oliver, Elizabeth Vongvisith, Jon Norman and several from Krasskova herself. The highlight is provided by Andrew Gyll, whose poetry collection Shadow Gods and Black Fire has been favourably reviewed before. Here, Gyll presents, as its title helpfully informs us, nine songs for Máni, combining his ability to create evocative scenes with his skill in crafting engaging and convincing dialogue as a narrative device. Within these verses, cast in crepuscular landscapes of black pools, jagged cliffs and a velvety gloom, Loki acts as interlocutor and guide, responding in a recognisably characteristic tone to the narrator’s questions regarding Mani and the passage of time: The Moon is even madder than I; I don’t think the wolf will ever catch him. Gyll follows his suite of verses with a brief essay explaining in more straight forward terms his encounters with and understanding of Máni.

Day Star and Whirling Wheel spread

Despite the diversity of contributors here, something of a consistent image of Mani emerges within the various verses. He appears as a gentle figure, as one would perhaps expect of someone associated with the moon and its commonly assigned characteristics, but he is also frequently addressed in amorous terms, being cast as a lover to the various narrators. Interestingly, this is in keeping with imagery used in Hákonardrápa by the 10th century skald Guthormr sindri which shows Máni as being capable of love or desire with the poet referring to a giantess with the kenning “desired woman of Máni.”

Day Star and Whirling Wheel spread

Before continuing on to the moon’s sister, Day Star and Whirling Wheel makes a slight diversion into other matters cosmological and astronomical with Open to the Sky. This section brings together considerations of various figures affiliated with the sun and the moon, most notably Sunna’s little known sister Sinthgunt. Although she is only mentioned in a singular verse in the Merseburg Charm, Sophie Oberländer makes much hay of this appearance, first with a prayer to Sinthgunt and then an extensive ritual for her, incorporating elements from the Merseburg Charm as well as an original liturgy. Joining Sinthgunt amongst this diversionary company are considerations of her and Sunna and Máni’s father, Mundilfœri, along with the night goddess Nott, the god of the dawn Daeg, and even an anonymous ode to the wolves who pursue the sun and moon, Hati and Skoll.

The Sunna section of Day Star and Whirling Wheel feels a little lighter than that of its nocturnal twin, but many of the same contributor names feature here too. The stellar (yes, what I did there, I saw it) piece that is every bit the equal to Gyll’s Nine Songs for Máni comes care of Michaela Macha and her Sunna-Rise. How can you resist something in which “mound-wights rise to roam among hillocks” after the shadows of night have long languidly laid, as Macha depicts Sunna’s inexorable rise above a waking world?

Day Star and Whirling Wheel spread

Day Star and Whirling Wheel is expertly formatted in the typical functional style of Asphodel Press, with a basic sense of hierarchy: serif face for body, contributor names in italics, and titles in an ever so slightly ornamented display serif. There are no standalone illustrations and instead every space is filled with a variety of presumably public domain solar and lunar images of varying quality, style and relevance; resulting in a slightly cluttered appearance where the white space could have been left well enough alone. The writing is diverse, providing a little bit of something for everyone and plenty of options for ritual work, whether it be in the complete procedures included here or just the trove of poetry’s potential as liturgy.

Published by Asphodel Press

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Nightside of the Runes: Uthark, Adulruna, and the Gothic Cabbala – Thomas Karlsson

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Categories: germanic, nightside, qabalah, runes, Tags:

Nightside of the Runes coverOriginally released by Ouroboros Produktion in 2002 as Uthark: Nightside of the Runes, this book has had its title flipped, and its page count inflated, by Inner Traditions; a publishing house that is home to a surprising amount of runic content alongside more conventional metaphysical fare. To do this, Nightside of the Runes takes the original content of Uthark, and adds a second part based around the Adulruna, and Gothic Cabbala of the subtitle. The latter is Thomas Karlsson’s Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan, a work previously available only in Swedish, German and Italian. And fun fact, the cover here more resembles that of the original edition of Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan than it does Uthark: Nightside of the Runes.

The concept of the Uthark has its origins in the work of Swedish poet and runologist Sigurd Agrell, who argued that the runes should be ordered, not with Fehu at the start, but at the end, thus beginning with Uruz to make an uthark not a futhark. While there are a few examples of a sequential listing of runes in which they could begin with Uruz instead of Fehu, these may simply be errors or erosion, such as, most famously, the Kylver stone from Gotland, where a vertical line before the Uruz could be the remains of Fehu. Karlsson himself doesn’t labour much for the validity of the theory, saying that irrespective of how it is held, the Uthark is a magically potent version of the rune row that corresponds well with Old Norse language and myth.

Perhaps the most interesting application for the Uthark is in how it changes things numerologically, with the value of each rune moving one along when using a letter-to-number cipher, with, for example, Hagalaz becoming a more pleasing 8 and Nauthiz a fitting 9. On the other hand, confirmation bias, pareidolia and apophenia being what they are, you could probably work out some esoteric significance betwixt a rune and a certain value no matter what number it was assigned.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Uthark interpretations

Despite the title of this half of the book (and of the previous standalone edition), the Uthark doesn’t always play a huge role here, save for the occasional esoteric nugget that can be assigned to runes and the reshuffled aetts. Instead, this is a general rune magic primer, with everything you would expect in it: a section on the meaning and symbolism of each rune (and another variation of this same listing later on with meanings simplified for the purpose of divination), a brief guide to runic yoga in the style of Friedrich Marby, an exploration of the cosmology of the nine worlds, and a guide to ritual, including brief considerations of galdr and seiðr. The most notable innovation here is Karlsson’s presentation of the Uthark order of runes as a journey to Hel along the Helvegr, with each rune marking a stage on the journey, beginning with Uruz as a fitting gate to the underworld and ending with the less satisfying interpretation of Fehu as the magician in their state of completion.

The original body copy of Uthark has been edited for this release, tidying up and finessing the words here and there, but not going all out and altering Karlsson’s voice as it appears in the original, translated by Tommie Eriksson (whose name doesn’t seem to be credited in this new edition). As a result, the writing still comes across as the work of someone with English as a second language, though not horribly or unforgivably so. Phrasing can be a little awkward at times, and sentences are often short, abrupt eruptions, where another writer would have combined two or more of them together for greater flow.

Nightside of the Runes spread with labyrinths and ship grave meditations

Having previously read Uthark, but not Adulrunan och den Götiska Kabbalan, it is the latter that proves the most exciting part of the book to get to. Karlsson gives something of a prelude to this in the Uthark section with a brief chapter on runosophy and cabbala, which does introduce some redundancies when you get to Adulrunan proper. While the book’s first half is indebted to Sigurd Agrell, in the second half that role is performed by the Swedish antiquarian and polymath Johannes Bureus. Agrell and Bureus share certain similarities, despite the gulf of centuries, being figures possessed of a singular vision and unique interpretations of the northern mysteries. Both created innovations of the existing futharks, with Agrell’s one-place-along shuffling of the runes of the Elder Futhark having a parallel in the work of Bureus, who grouped the runes of the Younger Futhark into sets of five, and removed the inconvenient final sixteenth rune, Yr, to make a symmetrical three rows of five Adulrunes, as he called them.

Stephen Flowers provides prologues to both the Uthark and Adulrunan sections of this book, and also acts as the translator for the latter. His introduction to Adulruna is quite substantial, running to ten pages and providing what follows with a thorough context, highlighting the cultural and hermetic milieu from which Bureus, and the broader field of esoteric Gothicism (as Karlsson calls it), emerged. With Flowers providing the translation, The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala does feature a significant change in Karlsson’s voice from that of Uthark, lacking the staccato quality, with sentences now flowing longer and smoother.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Adulrunes chapter

The other noticeable difference is a considerably more academic approach, with the content here forming the basis of Karlsson’s 2010 doctoral thesis Götisk kabbala och runisk alkemi: Johannes Bureus och den götiska esoterismen. This is particularly evident in the first chapters of  The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala which consists of an academic literature review of Bureus and Gothicism in general, and is then followed by a citing-heavy chapter defining Western Esotericism and name-checking all the usual suspects (Dame Frances Yates, Antoine Faivre, Henrik Bogdan, Wouter Hanegraaff, Mercia Eliade etc.). This makes for two very different halves of a book, with the academic grounding of the second half contrasting strongly with the practical, hands-on enthusiasm of the first.

It is the hermetic influences that played a large role in what Bureus created, with esoteric Gothicism drawing on elements of alchemy, cabbala, astrology and ceremonial magic; including clear nods to figures who loom large within this pantheon such as Paracelsus and Dr John Dee. As such, Bureus makes a fitting role model for Karlsson, whose Dragon Rouge organisation has a similar eclectic approach, employing elements of cabbala, including the nightside, and goetia, but with a strong focus on indigenous Scandinavian traditions.

Nightside of the Runes spread with Bureus rune cross

Bureus’ system involves a dense, interwoven cosmology and a very specific nomenclature that is, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic; and Karlsson does an admirable job of documenting it thoroughly and as clearly as can be done with something as ornamented as it is. For example, Bureus posited a rather unique take on the Germanic pantheon in which, based on the runic formula of TOF, Thor was the preeminent god (an androgynous combination of feminine and masculine worshipped since “primeval times” as the “great invoker”), while Odin and Fröja were his children and messengers. This, as was the style of the time, then incorporated elements of mystical Christianity, with Fröja as the Holy Spirit and Odin as a version of Christ, the son of God, who descended into flesh and then returned, ascending to heaven, providing, as mediator, a process for others to follow. Bureus argued that this reflected a version of the philosophia perennis which had remained pristine in the north far longer than in the lands to the south. This incarnation was eventually corrupted when a wandering master of witchcraft and his wife assumed the names of Odin and Fröja. They received worship and turned this pure proto-Christianity into heathenry with its dreaded worship of wooden idols (and worst of all, changing the order of the formula to FTO, with Fröja now worshipped at the beginning of life, Thor during life itself, and Odin at old age and death).

Suffice to say, there’s not a lot of value to Bureus’ system if you’re purely pagan in orientation, or if you adhere to the archaeological record, with his conception of Germanic belief being, to put it diplomatically, highly speculative. But it is, if nothing else, fun. And that’s what makes Nightside of the Runes a worthy purchase, as it provides perhaps the most accessible and in depth information in English on Bureus’ convoluted cosmology and interpretation of the runes; as well, of course, as Agrell’s slightly less esoteric Uthark.

Adulruna sigil

Illustrations in Nightside of the Runes consist of the original line drawings from the original edition of Uthark in the first half, and an exhaustive collection of images from Bureus’ publications in the second. These are rendered in black and white with the contrast turned well up to remove any colour or texture of the original print material, thereby giving them a consistent weathered and arcane look.

Nightside of the Runes is available in Kindle and hardback versions, with the latter wrapped in a dustjacket over its black boards and the title foiled in silver on the spine. Layout is by Inner Traditions’ Debbie Glogover with the body in a dependable Garamond, and headings in a distressed Appareo that contrasts with the san-serif Gill Sans of the subheadings. Appareo is a nice touch with its almost-slab serifs and worn edges approximating the face used on the original edition of Adulrunan, and conveying less of the runic side of this book and more of a sense of the later gothic manuscript or grimoire. Continuing this style, each chapter heading incorporates a crop of the sun image from the book’s cover (originally from the title page of Bureus’ Svenska ABC boken medh runor), sitting above the title as a pleasing archway.

Published by Inner Traditions


Review Soundtrack: Therion – Gothic Kabbalah  (as with many Therion albums, Thomas Karlsson provided the lyrics to this album based on the work of Johannes Bureus)

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History of the Rune-Gild: The Reawakening of the Gild 1980-2018 – Edred Thorsson

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Categories: germanic, runes

History of the Rune-Gild coverThis title from Stephen Flowers, aka Edred Thorsson, has the peculiar status of being the third, and yet first, volume in an as yet to be completed trilogy that will discuss the history of the Rune Gild. While this entry documents the most immediate and therefore accessible incarnation of the gild, the others will consider its historical antecedents. Thorsson is of the belief that the Rune-Gild, an initiatory organisation with a scholarly focus formed in 1979, is the continuation of a group that existed in ancient times, a unified, coherent and organised Gild of Runemasters, as he describes them. This incarnation will be the subject of the eventual first volume, while attempts to revive runic lore from medieval times to the modern era will be the focus of the trilogy’s intermediate entry. This third volume represents an expanded edition of a work originally released in 2007, and includes previously unpublished photographs and an exhaustive bibliography of Thorsson’s published works.

The modern history of the Rune-Gild is intimately connected with Thorsson’s own, and so this volume inevitably tends towards the autobiographical, with the gild as an adjunct to his personal journey. This is clear from the start, where the first chapter is a biography of Thorsson from a precocious youngster, to his joining of the Ásatrú Free Assembly in 1978.

Thorsson writes with a gruff, pugnacious manner that perfectly fits his appearance and prominent moustache, making him come across like a Runic Ron Swanson, whether he’s railing against political correctness gone mad™ in academia, or WWE’s ‘sports entertainment’ brand of wrestling. Indeed, to use the parlance of the latter, Thorsson often seems to be cutting a promo on his foes and bugbears, channelling Classy Freddie Blassie or Bobby Heenan when he somewhat cringingly refers to lesser participants in this here magical milieu as “occultizoid nincompoops.” To continue this use of wrestling’s nomenclature, History of the Rune-Gild sees Thorsson constantly turning heel on former colleagues and associates (though perhaps he views himself as the babyface betrayed by cowardly foes), and this allows the book to be the definitive airing of grievances as no one is spared his indelicate wrath. The result is something of a scurrilous read, which may or may not work for some readers, depending on the degree of glee they take in snark, scuttlebutt and out-right invective.

History of the Rune-Gild photographs

This is particularly evident in a section devoted to publishing, where Thorsson eviscerates (there really is no other word for it) his past fellow writers at Llewellyn. Almost everyone gets a chairshot or is thrown onto a bed of thumbtacks strewn across the mat, including DJ Conway (her Thorsson-edited Norse Magic was “another Llewellyn travesty”), Donald Tyson (a Germanic bandwagon-jumper possessed of a “dull wit” with a “wilful misunderstanding” of the gods), and of course, the unfortunate Ed Fitch (who foolishly admitted that he had actually tried a few of the rituals in his laughable Rites of Odin and they seemed to “work pretty well”). Then there is David Godwin who is mocked for apparently not knowing about the Greek Magical Papyri despite having written a book, Light in Extension, about Greek magic ancient and modern, while Donald Michael Kraig’s assessment of Thorsson’s Hermetic Magic manuscript is extensively relitigated in return here. Even Freya Aswynn and Kveldulf Gundarsson, two authors who largely survive unscathed in this section, still receive a bit of a jab when Thorsson laments, with a touch of endearing ennui, that we can expect no gratitude in the world, as even those two individuals eventually formed an alliance and worked against him and his interests.

While the book does largely follow a chronological narrative, Thorsson sometimes takes a breaks of an entire chapter to focus on a particular subject area, be it the discussion of his involvement with publishing (beginning with Llewellyn and Weiser and culminating in the founding of his own Rûna Raven Press), his experiences in the Temple of Set, or musing on his time spent in academia. While they broadly fit within the surrounding narrative, some of these feel almost disconnected, repeating details as if they haven’t been mentioned before, and giving the sense that maybe, though there is no other evidence of this, they were based on standalone essays. Thorsson seems, for example, to be repeatedly heading off to Europe for a year of study and leaving the Rune-Gild in the capable hands of Edwin Wade, when it’s actually the same moment retold anew in different contexts.

History of the Rune-Gild Chapter V: The Dark Side

Perhaps the most interesting of these focused chapters is a detailed discussion of Thorsson’s relationship with the Temple of Set, something that over the years has proved variously intriguing, problematic, disconcerting or simply incongruous, depending on one’s perspective. Thorsson’s role with the Temple has been a long one, rising through the ranks to gain the grade of V° Magus, and becoming grand master of its Order of the Trapezoid. He makes a strong case when explaining his reasons for such intense involvement, clearly aware of the eyebrows it has raised over the years. One of the key points here is the value of engaging fully with a system and its structure as a learner, of submitting to the process, and of the lessons that can always be learnt from a mentor. For Thorsson, that mentor was the temple’s founder, Dr Michael Aquino, who he lauds for performing the same role in matters magickal that Dr Edgar Polomé, his lecturer and mentor at the University of Texas, did in matters academic.

Other than the Temple of Set and the Rune Gild itself, the organisation that receives the most attention here is The Troth/Ring of Troth, formed in 1987 by Thorsson and James Chisholm after the disestablishment of the Ásatrú Free Assembly. Thorsson’s relationship with the Troth is portrayed as one of some distance, like a disappointed father, and the account here is more often than not a resigned, melancholy testament to the perils of being involved with an occult organisation, all internal struggles, power plays, gossip and more time practicing malice than magic.

History of the Rune-Gild photographs

In contrast, the penultimate and final chapters document the growth of the Rune Gild and the light cast here is considerably more favourable. As the 1990s headed towards the 2000s a physical space called Woodharrow was developed on 30 acres of land in Lost Pines, east of Austin, with the Yrmin-Hall raised in 1994. New cast members are added to the history, with Ian Read of Fire + Ice being increasingly involved and acquiring the rank of Rune-Master (the album Rûna being his qualifying masterwork), while long-time associate Alice Karlsdóttir ascended to Gild-Master (her book Magic of the Northern Goddesses being her masterwork). Compared to the earlier chapters, this period is treated positively and less curmudgeonly, though Thorsson still inevitably laments the failings of the occasional member. In a slightly more compact view of the Rune-Gild’s more recent history, Thorsson then summarises various moots held through the year before the gild was destroyed and re-constituted on 11/11/11 (apparently necessitated by the forces of Níðhöggr) with Thorsson stepping aside as leader.

History of the Rune-Gild is well illustrated with two sections of photographs of Thorsson, his influences and contemporaries. The first documents Thorsson’s early life and that of the nascent gild, whereas the latter shows various gild associates (masters, fellows and drightens), including famous faces like Michael Moynihan, Ian Read, and honorary member Nigel Pennick. In addition to these supplementary images, the book concludes with an extensive appendix, 26 entries in all, providing a wealth of original documents. These range from a 1959 news clipping documenting a conjunction of the Moon and Venus observed by a young Stevie Flowers, to various Rune-Gild and Troth documents, excerpts from Temple of Set newsletters, and a range of Thorsson’s pugilistic missives on gild letterhead from over the years. The most interesting of these appendices is a facsimile of the Odinic Rite’s breathless expose and condemnation of Thorsson’s association with the Temple of Set, full of righteous indignation and paranoia, as they try to get their heads around the apparent incompatibility of the two organisations, and attributing Thorsson with all manner of nefarious intent.

History of the Rune-Gild appendices

History of the Rune-Gild was edited by Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan, with cover design by both (using a photograph by P.D. Brown), and typesetting confidently executed by Buckley. It is available as a trade paperback.

Published by Gilded Books, an imprint of Arcana Europa Media


Review Soundtrack: Fire + Ice – Rûna

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The Language of the Corpse – Cody Dickerson

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Categories: folk, germanic, Tags:

Language of the Corpse coverBearing the subtitle The Power of the Cadaver in Germanic and Icelandic Sorcery, Cody Dickerson’s The Language of the Corpse is a short little treatise from Three Hands Press. Running to just 76 pages, undivided by chapters and with type set at a fairly large point size, it is an enjoyable one-sitting read that feels more like an extended essay or brisk thesis than a full book. This puts it in the company of another recent title from Three Hands Press, Richard Gavin’s The Moribund Portal, with which it shares a certain focus on matters of quietus.

As the title and subtitle make obvious, the subject in hand here is a corporeal one, concerning itself with both symbolic and actual use of human remains for metaphysical purposes. Dickerson frames this consideration with Óðinn, who as Valföðr and Hangadróttinn, makes a fitting embodiment of the themes of death and vital remains that follows. While he doesn’t feature prominently throughout the rest of the book, it’s clear with this introduction, and his return at the conclusion, that from Dickerson’s perspective, he oversees it all.

The Language of the Corpse spread

The book’s remit allow Dickerson to amble through a variety of related objects, predominantly associated with Western Europe and more specifically with Scandinavia, where reanimated corpses loom large as symbols of eldritch alterity. Indeed, if there’s one theme here it’s how the remains of the dead, be it an entire body or the singular hand of glory, provided a method of congress between this world and others. For example, those Iron Age people whose bodies have been found in peat bogs may have been victims not of just sacrifice (in itself a form of connecting with the divine) but of augury, with their intestines read for import and wisdom. As Dickerson eloquently puts it, the corpse then acts as an agent by which the living gain access to the wisdom of the gods, becoming “a symbol of the highest degree of exchange between man and the divine,” and thereby the greatest possible offering.

It is this sense of communication, of touching the divine, which can then be seen in the other examples that Dickerson draws on from across a substantial span of time and distance. Whether it’s figures sitting on burial mounds in saga literature, the necromancy of sixteenth and seventeenth century Icelandic sorcerers, or the belief in the apotropaic and sanative power of an executioner’s touch, there is a sense of death acting as a transmitter of power and knowledge, and for good as much as for ill.

The Language of the Corpse spread

There’s a certain familiarity that occurs in The Language of the Corpse, with little areas being covered that anyone immersed in this here milieu will, or should, have at least a passing awareness of due to their ubiquity. The intersection of mandrakes with this topology is the most obvious one, hitting all the usual talking points when discussing their connection with death and the gallows. Similarly, a brief foray into the idea of mumia, a protoplasmic cure-all made from human remains, echoes a similar survey of the subject from Daniel Schulke’s recently reviewed Veneficium.

Dickerson writes in a style that fits rather well with Three Hands Press. While not as ornate or antique as some of his companions, he nevertheless deftly employs a well-furnished lexicon and is able to dip into a conversational, but not too informal, turn of phrase when required to address the layreader. This is all, in turn, competently and thoroughly proofed, with no significant complaints from your humble reviewer.

The Language of the Corpse front design

The Language of the Corpse has been made available in three editions: a trade paperback, a hardcover edition of 1,000 copies with a dust jacket, and a deluxe edition with special endpapers and quarter leather binding. The dust jacket and paperback version features a collage designed by Bob Eames, based on The Physician from Hans Holbein’s The Dance of Death, while the front and back of the hardcover edition is debossed with a lovely floral skull motif, cruelly hidden by said dust jacket.

Published by Three Hands Press

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Trolls: An Unnatural History – John Lindow

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Categories: folk, germanic

Trolls coverJohn Lindow, Professor Emeritus of Old Norse/Folklore at Berkeley, has a few significant academic contributions here on the Scriptus Recensera shelves, most notably his substantial Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Published by Reaktion Books, Trolls: An Unnatural History feels a little more public-facing, sitting alongside similar popular cultural history titles on the likes of dragons and other fantastic beasts. This is something suggested by the John Bauer painting from Bland tomtar och troll used on the cover, with its archetypal imagining of what a Swedish troll looks like, all immense hunched frame, large nose and shaggy hair. But there is more to trolls than this popular folk image, and as a result, there’s more to Trolls: An Unnatural History too.

While there is noticeably more consideration within these pages of the Bauer-like troll of folklore, and that figure, fittingly, looms large throughout, Lindow provides a thorough consideration of the first trolls, those of the earlier Old Norse sagas. In these sources, beginning with a poem by ninth century court poet Bragi Boddason, trolls are defined by their indefinability, being creatures that are described in a variety of sometimes contrary ways, with the only consistency being their designation as Other. These trolls, rather than being the bogeyish figures of later folklore, are closer to gods, being forces of nature and the alterior, often synonymous with giants and other broadly defined eldritch beings of death, the wild and the cosmological landscape.

Lindow shows that these characteristics, this liminal insolubility, is not something incongruous with later folklore depictions of trolls (just as the various uses of the name in modern parlance can be read as relating, in various ways and degrees, to its original inscrutable descriptions; perhaps with the exception of the Trolls of World of Warcraft, you come get da voodoo). Indeed, the inability to control by definition made the term a catch-all one that could be as easily applied to a range of supernatural creatures as it had been in the Viking Age.

Spread featuring images by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg and Peter Nikolai Arbo

Perhaps the most enjoyable section of Trolls: An Unnatural History is the somewhat awkwardly titled fourth chapter Fairy-tale Trolls and Trolls Illustrated, which begins, as indicated, with a discussion of the evolution of trolls stories from folklore into the more codified realm of fairy tales. This is then followed by a thorough survey of how these literary illustrations were complimented by actual illustrations, in the works of such artists as Johan Fredrik Eckersberg, Peter Nikolai Arbo, Otto Sinding, Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen. While we are dealing with single artists with singular visions, these images are interesting because they presumably do represent the multiplicity of ways in which trolls were visualised in the mind of nineteenth century Scandinavians. Lindow tracks this evolution of thinking, showing how the unresolved imagery of Eckersberg (in which trolls are largely just wild men) and other illustrators was gradually distilled into a very particular visual language, as seen in the work of Werenskiold and Kittelsen, with the troll’s corporeal monstrosity writ large.

Lindow notes that Werenskiold’s work contains a style of illustration (which would come to dominate in that of Kittelsen and others), which sees trolls emerging from and merging with the environment, a “blending of trolls with the materiality of the landscape.” Werenskiold uses the same cross hatching for wood as he does for the trolls that appear in front of it, while Kittelsen’s trolls are often show in symbiosis with the forests from which they issue, with relatively tiny trees and grasses growing on their mossy heads and backs.

After a discussion of trolls in literature (Ibsen’s Peer Gynt being perhaps the most notable example), Lindow gives a survey of trolls from a broader cultural viewpoint, in particular as they are marketed to children. This allows for brief mentions of works by the likes of Tolkien, Rowling, as well as a discussion of the familiar diminutive troll dolls and their then nascent feature film. He then concludes with an epilogue for the digital age, focusing on the use of ‘troll’ as a designation in digital discourse, where the characteristics of the Viking Age troll as an unwelcome and disruptive force from the outside have been renewed with vigour.

Spread featuring an image by Theodor Kittelsen

Sources are not cited within the body of Trolls: An Unnatural History and instead, Lindow uses an area following the epilogue in which, in sections for each chapter, he discusses the various sources, providing them with either broad context or as specific recommendations. This is an interesting way to do it, giving the reader the opportunity to look thoroughly at the source material, but without distracting the flow of the body with footnote, endnotes, or goddess forbid, in text citations. This reflects Lindow’s writing style throughout, which is popular rather than academic and theoretical, engaging the reader with an erudite manner that is still approachable.

Trolls: An Unnatural History binds its 160 pages and dark grey endpapers in a red cloth, with the title and author foiled in gold on the spine. This is then wrapped in a glossy dust jacket with the aforementioned image by Bauer on the front. Images are featured throughout, particularly in the fourth chapter with its focus on visual depictions of trolls.

Published by Reaktion Books

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The Moribund Portal – Richard Gavin

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Categories: folk, germanic, tantra, witchcraft, Tags:

The Moribund Portal coverBearing the impressively arcane subtitle “Spectral Resonance and the Numen of the Gallows,” Richard Gavin’s The Moribund Portal is a meditation on the symbolism of the gallows, and its place in folklore, spiritism and occult philosophy. From the opening paragraph, The Moribund Portal reads like what you would expect from a Three Hands Press title, and certainly moreso than another recent release. This involves, if we dare coin the phrase, a Schulkian type of sentence structure, gloriously beginning the proceedings with “Sites of archaic tragedy, iniquity, or turmoil can server the living as stations of unique spirit function.” Yes, indeed.

Running to just 90 or so pages and undivided by chapters, save for a clearly defined epilogue, or even subheadings, The Moribund Portal feels more like an extended essay than a true book. It is, indeed, what the title says, a portal that is formed by the image of the gallows, but which uses this morbid focus as a means of moribund egress to explore a variety of related themes. Untethered by the structure and clear signposts provided by subheadings, there’s a feeling of the thematic focus swinging, like a gibbet hanging from a gallows tree, as topics move from one to the other. Thus, the occupant of the gallows proves an apt leaping off point, if you’ll pardon the allusion, leading to discussions of the hand of glory, mandrake, dreams, while touching variously on Cain, Germanic mysticism, tantra, and perhaps most intriguingly, given its uniqueness, Canadian folklore. Gavin uses two examples from the latter as rather significant talking points: a tale of an enigmatic hanging from York (now Toronto) and the Québécois folk legend of la Corriveau.

Despite its length, The Moribund Portal is not necessarily a brisk read, due to Gavin’s style of writing. He writes with a considered, grandiloquent and formal delivery, but does so expertly, without falling into the traps that lesser authors do when ambition outstrips ability. Instead, Gavin’s presents a masterclass in how to write 21st century occult style, combining academic phrasing, sophisticated occult terminology (your ‘numens’ and ‘sodalities’ but alas, no ‘praxis’) and just the right sprinklings of archaism. Never overdoing any of these elements, and thereby disappearing into black holes of meaningless, it’s all tied together with perfect punctuation. Writing in such a deliberate way is often, I find, its own form of proofing, as the careful concatenation of words requires constant revision. For this reason, or not, there’s little to complain about here with spelling and punctuation, especially compared to other recently reviewed titles; with only one noticeable spelling mistake really jumping out. The result is a read that feels sophisticated and knowledgeable, rather than someone trying their damnedest to sound erudite or attempting to use a lexicon not naturally their own (you know, most occult authors).

The Moribund Portal spread

The Moribund Portal features a stunning image by Benjamin A. Vierling as the cover, while the typesetting is by Joseph Uccello, both Three Hands Press stalwarts. Like the portal of the title which is reflected in the framing design on the cover, The Moribund Portal is an atypical 9.5 x 6 x 1.5 inches, with its narrow dimensions making it fit easily in one hand when closed. This smaller width does make the binding a little tight, especially given its sub-100 page length, so it’s one of those volume where a little more effort than usual is needed to turn the pages and hold them open, leading to fatigue and the occasional shaking of hands to dissipate the ache.

Three Hands Press have released The Moribund Portal in three editions: as a softcover trade paperback limited to 1,700 copies; a limited hardcover bound in gilt tyrian purple, of 500 hand-numbered copies; and as a deluxe hardcover edition of 22 hand-numbered copies in full purple Nigerian goat with marbled endpapers and slipcase

Published by Three Hands Press.

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Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria – Nigel Pennick

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

Runic Lore & Legend: Wyrdstaves of Old Northumbria coverOriginally released in 2010 as the broadly titled Wyrdstaves of the North, this book from Nigel Pennick has now been rereleased in 2019 by the Inner Traditions imprint Destiny Books, with a new title that is even broader, but with a subtitle that is more specific. As this subtitle indicates, the focus here is on a version of the 29 runes Anglo-Saxon Futhark (itself an expansion of the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark) that around 800CE had four more runes added to it, thereby completing a fourth aett/airt with Calc, Cweorth and Stan, and one standalone final rune, Gar.

It’s impossible to overstate Pennick’s role and influence in contemporary runic magic, being something of the English counterpart to the American Stephen Flowers, with books by both authors sitting alongside each other in the shelves of Scriptus Recensera and surely many other occult libraries. While Pennick has dealt broadly with all manner of runes and other elements of paganism and folk traditions over the last forty years, the Anglo-Saxon Futhark and its Northumbrian variant is not something he has shied away from, and many of his books include its additional runes as a matter of course. With Runic Lore & Legend, this inclusion becomes a focus and Pennick contextualises the futhark within its Northumbrian locus, a site where various cultures and traditions intermingled.

Illuminated runes by Nigel Pennick

This context is substantial and consists of several preparatory chapters, rather than diving headfirst into the runes themselves. After a brief but comprehensive survey of Northumbria’s history of invasions and colonisations, Pennick turns to a considerable meditation on the place and space, discussing what he titles the spirit landscape of Northumbria. Here, he discusses various features of the land and how they would have been perceived and used as part of a metaphysical framework, and how this use evolved over time with the successive waves of colonisers. It’s an effective way to preface what follows, building a solid and palpable sense of place. This purlieu is contextualised still further in a spatial and horological sense with a chapter on Northumbrian geomancy, in which Pennick talks of the division of the landscape and the year into quarters and then eights. This isn’t something necessarily unique to Northumbria, or to Pennick’s writing for that matter, and reflects practices found throughout Germanic Europe, from which he draws examples by way of comparison.

The sections on the runes themselves, divided into chapters for each airt, uses a familiar pattern, with each rune (along with its name and core meaning) acting as a heading, followed by usually up to a page of explanation. These explanations give a synopsis drawing from rune poems, usually The Old English Rune Poem, naturally, along with examples from a concept’s mundane equivalent, suggestions of magical usage, and closing with tree and herb correspondents.

Runic Lore & Legend spread

Pennick concludes Runic Lore & Legend with several chapters investigating examples of the runes and their import in Northumbria and its legends. This effectively allows for a greater exploration of themes associated with a select few runes, as not all are covered. Up for a greater focus are Haegl and the symbolism of the number nine, along with the magical use of knots and knotwork patterns; Ing and various ideas associated with kingship, including divine kings and the Christian perpetuation of this concept of apotheosis with canonisation of saints; and Yr and a raft of associations with archery. The most significant one, in size as well as relevance to this reviewer, is a deep dive into serpent legends as a manifestation of the Ior rune and Iormungand.

Given the amount that Pennick has written on these subjects over the years, anyone familiar with his work will find certain areas that are, well, familiar. The explanation of each rune is particularly notable for this, with the symbolism consistent, as one would expect, and while the entries are not simply cut and pasted from Pennick’s previous publications, it’s clear that they provided the template for what is here, albeit with significant editing and rewriting that moves it beyond lazy regurgitation. The same is true with images, where there’s a return of some illustrations used in other Pennick books, such as his illuminated runes (which someone needs to digitise and turn into a font) and a rune circle with bird in flight, as seen on the cover of the classic Runic Astrology from 1990.

Runes and airts by Nigel Pennick

Runic Lore & Legend is laid out to the usual high standard of Inner Traditions/Destiny Books, with text design by Virginia Scott Bowman and layout by Debbie Glogover. The body is set in Garamond, all classic and eminently readable, contrasting nicely with the sans serif Avenir used for subheadings. Chapter headings use Mehmet Reha Tugcu’s dynamic Njord face, which also features prominently on the cover, providing a perfect modern type choice that suggests the angular nature of the runes without in any way feeling obvious. The chapter headings sit atop a gradient-feathered photograph of a contemporary runic bracteate, which if we were to be picky (what, moi?), features the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark and not the full and more appropriate Northumbrian compliment of 33. It should also be meanly mentioned that the designers don’t seem to have had access to a runic typeface with all of these 33 characters, as the rune faces used to head up each rune’s section are inconsistent, some crisp and angular, some distressed and some looking bespoke and hand drawn, all with a distractingly obvious variety of weights.

Photographs feature throughout as illustrations, often acting to document Northumbrian features of notes, such as runes in situ, and in one intriguing instance, a lupine doorknocker at a church in York, which Pennick suggests is a representation of Fenrir swallowing Odin. Twinned with these photographs are a selection of reproduced drawings and etching, drawn from a variety of sources and predominantly used to illustrate apropos scenes from folklore and legend.

Published by Destiny Books.

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The Secret of the Runes – Guido von List

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Categories: germanic, runes, Tags:

The Secret of the Runes coverHere at Scriptus Recensera we have reviewed a number of books from the early 20th century Germanic runic revival, all translated by Stephen E. Flowers/Edred Thorsson. Now we turn to a work from arguably the granddaddy of them all, Austria’s Guido von List. List is pivotal to the runic revival because it was his system of Armanen runes (revealed to him during an eleven month period of temporary blindness), rather than the conventional Elder or Younger futharks, that came to dominate German runology. In addition to being adopted by most subsequent runologists of the period, the Armanen futhark became, according to Flowers, almost ‘traditional’ in the circles of German-speaking runic magic.

Das Geheimnis der Runen was originally published, as a periodical article in 1906, and then as a standalone publication in 1908. Exactly eighty years after that initial publication, this English translation by Flowers was released as The Secret of the Runes. Flowers opens the book with a substantial introduction, 40 pages in all, providing a comprehensive biography of List, as well as summaries of his system, his influences and his influence. This is a brisk, engaging read that documents List’s life in an amiable way, with Flowers conveying a fair bit of affection for Der Meister, as he calls him. Compared to the biography, the consideration of List’s influence and influencers is briefer, with the former quickly touching on key figures, including other runologists and members of the National Socialist leadership, but not delving too deeply into these. Amusingly, Flowers lists himself as a more recent example of a wearer of Listian influence, but does it by referring, with some third-person distance, to Edred Thorsson, as if he was a completely different person.

After a little introduction, Das Geheimnis der Runen proper begins with perhaps the book’s most accessible section and a now-typical listing of the runes, along with their attributes, a corresponding rune poem drawn from the Ljóðatal section of Hávamál, and a paragraph or so of explanation. While List follows convention in most cases, there are some idiosyncratic interpretations here, with Fehu, for example, being given associations with fire-generation and destruction, in addition to the usual wealth and cattle. Similarly, for Kaunaz he makes a primary interpretation of the rune as signifying the World Tree, seemingly placing greater emphasis on the somewhat incongruous sixth charm from the Ljóðatal rather than the etymology of the rune’s name.

Futhark spread

List follows his exploration of the Armanen Futharkh with an explication of his core theory in which the wisdom he was a conduit of had both a metaphysical and mundane expression. This employed a tripartite system that allowed three layers of meaning (based on the eternal cosmic law of entstehen-sein-vergehen zum neuen Entstehen/arising-being-passing away to arise anew) to be applied to almost anything, producing exoteric, esoteric and even more esoteric levels of meaning. This meant that certain Armanen principles ascended to influence Christianity, rather than be obliterated by the process of conversion, while a corresponding downward drift saw similar ideas encoded, in some manner, into folk customs. List’s particularly striking example of these is the way in which runic elements were incorporated into heraldry, not just with obvious images of runes and related symbols such as the fylfot, but even with simple geometric designs that he, at least, can discern as runeforms. In an illustration placed at the start of the book, List collects together a range of heraldic devices and shows how the simple division of the field on a shield could generate runic shapes, with, for example, a thurs rune being created with either (to use the nomenclature) a per bend with counter pile, or with a counter pile bend, or the inverted counter wedge bend. To this relatively simple device List can’t help extract (or assign) an additional symbolism perhaps never intended for four lines on a shield, seeing the first two designs as a phallic “uprising of life,” while the last in its inversion is a sunken thorn, “the death thorn.”

Runic symbols and title page spread

This section betrays the original status of Das Geheimnis der Runen as an essay because, despite its length and discursive nature, there are no chapters to break up what begins to read like a ramble. In List’s original publication, headers encapsulating the themes covered beneath them were featured on each page, but these are not included here, and without them, the length, despite the relative brevity, can feel interminable and the writing aimless. It’s why at the start List is talking about heraldry and then by the end he’s onto pastries, having passed hands, hair and breasts along the import-laden way.

Das Geheimnis der Runen is very much a book of its time. As a guide to List’s Armanen interpretation of the runes it does fine, and mileage may vary for the rest and its focuses on theory and his interpretation of folk custom and etymology. While the later provides evidence of his belief in a tripartite system that provided three layers of meaning, the linguistics don’t often ring true and seem naïve or fanciful; understandable given his dilettantish rather than rigorous involvement in the nascent field, and the way in which many of ideas were guided by his occult insights, for whatever they are worth. As always, though, given the lack of other works by List available in English, it remains an essential addition to the early 20th century runic revival section of anyone’s library.

Published by Destiny Books

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