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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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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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The Fraternitas Saturni – Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: germanic, luciferian, magick, runes, thelema, Tags:

Fraternitas Saturni coverVerbosely subtitled History, Doctrine, and Rituals of the Magical Order of the Brotherhood of Saturn, Stephen E. Flowers’ The Fraternitas Saturni is the fourth edition of a work originally released by Llewellyn in 1990 as Fire and Ice, with the equally prolix subtitle of The History, Structure, and Rituals of Germany’s Most Influential Modern Magical Order – The Brotherhood of Saturn. Since that initial version, the work has been published again by Llewellyn in 1994, and then in a revised edition by Runa Raven Press in 2006. This 2018 incarnation is both revised and expanded, as evidenced by the already lengthy appendices lettered from ‘a’ to ‘i’ now extending to ‘l.’

At its release, as Flowers notes in his introduction, Fire and Ice was the first book to discuss the Fraternitas Saturni at length, and it would be hard to think of any title that has done much more since. In the English speaking world, it is Flowers who still seems to have the monopoly on this particular field of German occultism, with all the risks that having a single interlocutor entails. As Flower also acknowledges, the material contained in The Fraternitas Saturni dates from before 1969, so doesn’t necessarily reflect the beliefs and practices of the order after that date, or today.

One of the first additions to this new edition is found in the initial consideration of the occult milieu from which the Fraternitas Saturni emerged. Here, in addition to his previous discussion of quasi-Masonic lodges such as the Freemasonic Order of the Golden Centurium (FOGC) and obviously the Ordo Templi Orientis, Flowers now discusses the neglected but influential role of Adonism. He devotes several illustrated pages to this school of magical thought and its foremost proponents, Franz Sättler’s Adonistische Gesellschaft, as well as giving still further information as an appendix.

Other changes are largely subtle, with the one thing of obvious note being the amount of new images added to the text; something very much in evidence in the Adonism section. The pictorial elements in the original Fire and Ice were limited to a few diagrams, already well-worn photographs of Gregorius and the bust of GOTOS, and two hand drawn illustrations by James Allen Chisholm. All of these recur here, but in better quality (save for Chisholm’s pictures which look a little 8bit), and they’re joined by a swathe of supporting images, including examples of publications and portraits of key figures.

Fraternitas Saturni sigil

The Fraternitas Saturni begins with the aforementioned discussion of the occult subculture that birthed the order, with Flowers providing a thorough overview of German occultism of the period, noting in particular the way in which Thelema infused some of the major variants. While the OTO absorbed Thelema to become Crowley’s principle magickal order, the Fraternitas Saturni embraced the philosophy, but neither its cosmology, nor Uncle Al’s suzerainty. Instead, as Flowers details, the order promulgated a mythos that merged Gnosticism with Luciferianism, in which Saturnus is a demiurgic figure associated, not just with the typical saturnian characteristics of melancholic introspection and initiation, but with Lucifer (as the sphere’s highest octave) and Satan (as its lowest). For those with aphotic inclinations, there’s a certain appeal to this cosmology, with its combination of metaphysical speculation, plutonian-hued deity forms, and the handy appeal to authority that arises from its use by an order now almost a century old.

The other particularly striking aspect of the order’s belief system, and one which is fairly unique in its application, is the use of the egregor GOTOS, whose name was an acronym based on the name of the order’s 33° grade, Gradus Ordinis Templi Orientis Templi. Considered an embodiment of the order, but also as a pre-existing entity attached to Saturn, the GOTOS egregore took the place of the ascended masters and secret chiefs so typical of other occult organisations of the time, guiding initiates through their journey. The difference being that GOTOS was understood to be a thought-form manifested by the order’s members, rather than some dubious dudes in robes kicking it on a mountain somewhere in far off lands.

Subsequent chapters in The Fraternitas Saturni explore more of the order’s beliefs (but more from a philosophical rather than cosmological perspective), and the structure of the order (including a detailed listing of grades). An outline of their actual magical work and rituals follows and these, as one would expect, have a strong focus on masonic-style lodge work, but there is also a sacerdotal element, with an extensive list of liturgy-rich sacraments that includes the use of various type of elemental eucharist. Two other areas of ritual in which the Fraternitas Saturni are known are electrical magic (which Flowers touches on all-too briefly) and sexual magic (for which two rites are outlined).

Including index and bibliography, The Fraternitas Saturni runs to 207 pages, but just over half of that comprises the book proper, with the rest consisting of extensive appendices. These include several long Fraternitas Saturni rituals (three masses and the Gradus Pentalphae), various letters between Crowley and order founder Gregor A. Gregorius, and instead of his pragmatic suggestions regarding sex magic from 1990, Flowers includes an initiation rite from the Freemasonic Order of the Golden Centurium. The other appendices new to this edition include more details about Rosicrucianism and the Bavarian Illuminati, and the welcomed consideration of Adonism. There are also some lessons for neophytes from order member Master Pacitius (artist, architect and the producer and production designer for F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, Albin Grau), which are provided as one of the rare example of his written occult work.

The cover of the original Fire and Ice in 1990 featured an evocative painting by N. Taylor Blanchard, a darkly hued view of the sigil of Saturn suspended against a range of mountains, all lit from behind by an effulgent light. It was a mysterious image that, other than the Saturn sigil, didn’t seem to reflect too much that was specific to the Fraternitas Saturni, and was very much of its time; with many of the books by Flowers (as well as other Llewellyn authors) employing painted cover art, some better than others. The cover of this 2018 version is also of its time, with the oils of the 1980s and 1990s giving way to a strong graphic look that sets the title and sigils (highlighted with a subtle spot varnish) over a low opacity image of the bust of the GOTOS egregore. It’s nice, a simple but classy treatment, as is true of the covers of many books from Inner Traditions.

The Fraternitis Saturni spread

Inside, the copy is treated with an equally adept hand by the good folks at Inner Tradition. Whereas the original Fire and Ice had Llewellyn’s typical-for-the-time solid and functional layout with a slightly too large, almost slab serif face, and not a lot of space around it, The Fraternitas Saturni uses a classic serif at a respectable size for the body, with subtitles in a san serif, housed in roomy, but not too roomy, margins. The hierarchy makes it eminently more readable than its predecessor, and the reduced page count and larger page size, makes it more pleasant to hold.

This new edition of The Fraternitas Saturni makes for a worthwhile acquisition, whether you don’t have its previous incarnations, or simply want an excuse to reread it, now some 28 years after you may have read it the first time. As testified, the redesign from Inner Traditions will assist in this, making it feel not just eminently more readable, but just a little bit fresh and new. Throughout the book, Flowers writes with an unadorned, thoroughly competent style, with everything presented in a somewhat matter of fact manner.

Published by Inner Traditions


Review Soundtrack: Various Artists – Saturn Gnosis

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