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Rune Mysteries – Silver RavenWolf and Nigel Jackson

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Rune Mysteries coverIf the ancient maxim “By their inclusion of a blank rune shall ye know them” is true, then any misgivings that arise when encountering a book on the runes by Silver Ravenwolf, of all people, must surely be justified. But that’s not necessarily the case here, and instead what do arise are moments of deep introspection: Am I unfairly judging an author based on their teen Wicca oeuvre because I want to feel cool and occult leet? What does it mean if this book is not irredeemably awful? Am I part of the problem? Let’s find out.

By its very nature, and without even reading the preface, Rune Mysteries feels like a collaboration cooked up at a Llewellyn planning meeting as they looked to churn out another rune product because there hadn’t been one in a while (and we don’t want to have to ask that crotchety old Edred). They then threw together two unlikely and far-flung compatriots: Ravenwolf, who by then was probably a dab hand at writing in Llewellyn’s house style on any subject, and Nigel Jackson, creator of many an oracle set whose artwork is the foundation selling point here.

This book acts as the companion to a set of rune cards sold separately as the Witches Rune. ‘Witch’ is the operative word here, explaining the presence of both Jackson and RavenWolf, figures more associated with witchcraft in its respective traditional English and modern North American strains, rather than the runes. As a result, everything is shot through with a cursory focus that relates the book’s themes back to witchcraft; or at least to an almost entirely theoretical Germanic shamanism that can be cast as an analogue to what is frequently mentioned here, but only later defined, as Witan-Witchcraft.

Without the cards of the Witches Rune themselves, Rune Mysteries works as an approachable, mass-market standalone primer on the runes, providing a layperson’s interpretation of each rune that is not bogged down with, y’know, actual primary sources. Jackson’s designs are reproduced in black and white at a quarter the size of a page for each respective section; but included in colour for this review because, well, aesthetics and impact. As one would expect, things aren’t always entirely rigorous here and droplets of speculation or outright invention can be introduced as if ‘twere fact. The section on the rune Eoh, for example, claims that spiders are sacred to that particular rune, something that would appear to have no precedent elsewhere and even here is not then justified via etymology, analogue or anything. Also, yes, you’re trying to make a metaphysical point about cosmic balance but glibly saying that fire cannot exist without frost (and vice versa) might be, umm, you know, misunderstanding how fire works; or frost for that matter. “One sec, I’m just off to rub some frost together to start a nice fire.” “Oooh, it’s frosty this morning, must have been all that fire we had last night.” Oh, how we laughed.

Putting the mocking of physics-defying metaphysics to one side, there is a general failure within this book to ground the runes within any historical context beyond a casual mention of the entirely theoretical proposition of Bronze Age antecedents. There are zero references to the Elder, Younger or Anglo-Saxon futharks, and so the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark are simply and vaguely referred to as the “ancient Germanic runes.” Such temporally-untethered flowery phrasing is indicative of the language used throughout the book, something that is initiated in an introduction that features a description of a fanciful northern Europe that reads like a black metal checklist: snow-covered peaks, misty heaths, dark woods and storm-wracked seas; a scene lacking only in funeral moons and blazes in the northern sky.

For the record, the names used here for each of the runes are the Anglo-Saxon ones, sans diacritics, though once again, this is somewhat fraught, as the Anglo-Saxon name can be used for an Elder Futhark version of the rune, such as the Anglo-Saxon Cen, which is here rendered graphically as the Elder Futhark version instead of the Anglo-Saxon one. Meanwhile, the fourth rune, which is referred to here as Asa, of course takes the form of the Elder Futhark Ansuz (or the Anglo-Saxon Æsc) rather than the winged form of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc. The lack of references to the various futhark forms predicates that while the description of each rune is broadly based on established interpretations, there are no references to what are, other than etymology, the primary sources for this information: the Norwegian, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon rune poems. This might also explain why some of the rune sections go off on unexpected interpretative tangents, such as Feoh, which begins with a paragraph on standard cattle and wealth symbolism before spending considerably more time on the idea of Feoh as fire, and not just any fire but the primeval fires of Surtr and Múspellsheimr. Needless to say, it’s hard to see quite how you could get to that from the Anglo-Saxon “Wealth is a comfort to all; yet must everyone bestow it freely if they wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.”

Isa rune card design

Not to spend the entire review fact-checking but it is worth mentioning the strange interstitial realm in which this book exists, in which statements are always made categorically and yet little evidence is ever provided, or things are interpreted in a way that would be nice if ‘twere so but are proffered as gospel when the jury is still often out on the matter. Gyfu runes were carved onto heathen “marriage cakes” (no indication of where, when or by whom), crossing one fingers is “actually” an invocation of the same Gyfu rune, and in a lift from Marvel comics, Loki is the brother of Baldr. These wide ranging claims are then often credited, without evidence and context, to comfortably vague sources such as “the Northern folk,” “people of the Northern Way,” and “Indo-European shamanism,” an apparently monolithically unified people mercifully unfettered by the pesky specifics of geography and time.

The general ahistorical wooliness of the content here, and its lack of recourse to primary sources, allows for quite a few howlers to make their way into the copy. There’s the description of Heimdallr guarding a Bifrost bridge that leads not to Midgard but all the way down to Hel, then there’s Fenrir being bound at Ragnarök by Tyr (quite a feat for a newly one-handed god), rather than all the gods, who are in turn credited here with creating the chain that binds the wolf, rather than being made by the dvergar as lore has it. Then there’s the idea that “the Germanic tribes” (presumably all of them, whoever they are) believed that anyone passing under mistletoe was enchanted and blessed by Freyja. The latter is a variation of a bit of perpetually unchecked scuttlebutt and a fanciful retelling of the death of Baldr that has been cut and pasted into a hundred online articles trying to give an ancient lineage to the popular Victorian custom of kissing under the mistletoe. And then there’s dodgy etymology, such as the categorical claim that the name Vanir comes from an Old Norse verb (which unsurprisingly isn’t given) meaning “to be contented, to enjoy.” In reality, the origins of the Vanir name remain inconclusive and the most repeated interpretation suggests that it might derive from the Proto-Germanic *wana-, with a Proto Indo-European root in *wen- (‘to desire, strive for’), a meaning that couldn’t be further from the idyllic, Vanir-as-hippies definition of ‘to be contented, to enjoy.’

Rune Mysteries spread

Jackson has a history in tarot design, with at least three decks to his credit, and so naturally, Rune Mysteries follows a tarot-like approach in how it presents the runes. After a listing of correspondences (tree, colours, totem, stones, deity), each rune receives an introductory blurb of up to two pages with information of sometimes questionable factual value, loaded with spiritual interpretation, rather than being an etymological or historical exegesis. This is then followed by a section on the rune’s oracular meaning and related keywords, as well as an additional interpretation of the rune when reversed tarot-like. But that’s not all, and each entry concludes with ways in which the reader can work with the respective rune beyond mere divination, providing both weal and woe types of workings, and ending with a brief mention of the various rune-wights and spirit powers that Jackson and RavenWolf have associated, somewhat arbitrarily, with each rune. The latter does feel like they went through a big-list-of-spirits-fairies-and-god-forms™ and just picked out whatever seems vaguely appropriate, such as the Tiwar who are described as “divine Sky-Spirits, humanoid columns of light who descend from the celestial realms robed in luminosity.” As luck would have it “these spirits equate to angels of justice and the armies of the God/dess,” In actuality, and leaving the angelic world and its beings of light behind, dear ones, tívar is just a word used in Old Norse poetry to mean ‘the gods,’ being the indefinite nominative plural form of the singular týr (‘(a) god’) and not all that luminescent, nor incandescent, nor, indeed, angelic.

This factually freewheeling style makes for a fairly thorough system, custom built for the less than discerning and historically-unversed Llewellyn customer, where every rune has a raft of associations, divinatory meanings, correspondences and even entities associated with it, giving the impression of a dense working system. In the latter half of the book there is even more complexity, with a whole practical section that includes page upon page detailing the most propitious days and hours, along with lunar conjunctions, sextiles and trines, for working with each rune. But while all of this feels comprehensive, it’s just not all that authentic, though it is thoroughly in keeping with what one would expect from a Llewellyn title such as this: polished with a marketer’s standards in mind, not those of an academic or pedant.

Beyond the entries for these twenty-four “ancient Germanic runes,” RavenWolf and Jackson provide guidelines for working with the cards, including card care and several tarot-style spreads, including practice draw and reading scenarios. With four spreads, each including a visual representation, scenario and in depth card-by-card reading, this fills a lot of pages and once again is pretty comprehensive and a boon for those that like that sort.

It is this late in the piece that RavenWolf and Jackson define what they mean by a Rune-Witan and Witan-Witchcraft, describing the “Rune-Witan” as a practicing runic magician whose title literally translates as ‘rune-wise-one,’ or ‘one wise in mysteries.’ They claim, without citing chapter and verse, that the term is “quite traditional” since it is found in Beowulf, which somewhat undoes their argument as the witan of Beowulf, sans ‘rune,’ is an Anglo-Saxon council, a plurality rather than a singularity, and linked with governance, rather than esotericism. At a pinch they could have gone with the singular ‘wita,’ but even then, the usage denotes the wisdom and council of politics, not some worker of magic. One could conject that the plural form was chosen because of its similitude with the singular ‘wiccan’ but suffice to say, the etymology here, tracing it back to an unattested Indo-European root of ‘wid,’ is as wild and woolly as some of the other claims about these people of the Northern Way.

Haegl rune card design

RavenWolf and Jackson are on firmer ground in acknowledging the Germanic roots of much of witchcraft’s imagery, aligning the image of the continental witch goddess Holda with Cochrane/Traditional Witchcraft’s idea of a veiled underworld goddess, and positing Woden as her horned equivalent. It is hampered, though, by this persistent need to present such themes as evidence of a continuous and historically unlikely tradition, which inevitably leads to supposition being used to fill in any logical or temporal gaps. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that this section provides the most appealing aspect of the book, with the chthonic, Helish and witchy imagery striking a resonant note; though feeling thousands of miles away from the historical futhark that forms the book’s basis. This is particularly evident in the Rite of Runa in the final practical section of the book, which sends the practitioner down the Helvegr to “the Hidden land, Hel’s misty apple-wood.” Sure it’s syncretic and a grab bag of influences but the imagery is evocative.

Despite the airing of grievances flowing through this review, Rune Mysteries has something to commend it, perhaps just in its audacity. One wouldn’t want to take a single statement it makes as fact, and one’s salt supply might run dry with a surfeit of pinching, but it’s interesting to see what two people can make from what could have been a mere guide to a set of cards of the “ancient Germanic runes,” with the volume running to over 200 pages and featuring a wealth of practical application. There is an even stronger than usual vibe of everything being made up, particularly in the repeated insistence that this Witan-Witchcraft is an ancient, perpetual tradition, but given that made up stuff is par for the course in occultism, there’s obviously an audience for whom this doesn’t matter. To answer the questions with which this review opened, nope, any misgivings were justified, I’m not part of the problem.

Published by Llewellyn

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Tree of Salvation – G. Ronald Murphy, S.J.

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Tree of Salvation coverNearly twenty years in the making, G. Ronald Murphy’s Tree of Salvation is something of a labour of love, a meditation on the intersection between Germanic paganism and Christianity formed by the image of the World Tree Yggdrasil. It is this arboreal intersection that Murphy sees as the thematic building stone that facilitated the integration of Christian thought within the northern European worldview, thereby ensuring conversion. The delicateness of that language does betray Murphy’s approach here, and perhaps his status as a Jesuit priest, for he portrays this transition as largely idyllic, a meeting of the minds rather than a brutal theocratic conquest.

As is made clear by the subtitle Yggdrasil and the Cross of the North, Murphy argues for a happy syncretism of indigenous myth and the new myth of Christianity in which the World Tree was able to be seen as an analogue of the cross and for Woden to be recast as Christ. Murphy’s textual model for this is the recounting of the crucifixion found in The Heliand, in which the cross is described as a tree on a mountain, and Christ is both nailed to the tree and hanging from a rope. Assuming that this idea was something prevalent throughout northern Europe, Murphy turns to his idea of stave and round churches as a mythopoeic text, interpreting them as Christian buildings that were simultaneously representations of Yggdrasil, thereby welcoming in the faithful and reminding them of the World Tree’s sheltering role in myth. Murphy breaks down elements from the architecture that can be seen as analogues of Yggdrasil and its inhabitants: the serpentine gables on the Borgund stave church as the serpents found at the base of Yggdrasil, the tapered shape of the structure mirroring that of a tree, as well as its very materiality.

Tree of Salvation spread

A particularly rich area of imagery for Murphy are the portals and doors of churches, most notably the interwoven frame at Urnes church in Norway that is featured on the book’s cover, and the wrought iron decorations on the door of Roglösa church in Östergötland. The latter, which is usually assumed to show a hunting scene in its top panel and the Garden of Eden or the harrowing of Hell in its bottom, is instead appealingly interpreted as a depiction of Ragnarök, with Surtr appearing as a fiery figure with clawed feet, Þórr fighting the World Serpent, and Níðhöggr crawling towards a version of the World Tree.

There is something very appealing about this idea of pagan imagery being thoroughly suffused into Christian architecture, especially with the way in which Murphy presents it as being so complete and without question, rarely pausing to give caveats or alternative suggestions. His suppositions build one upon the other, sometimes feeling like evidence being made to fit a conclusion, rather than confirming a theory. This is particularly evident in the analysis of the Roglösa church door as a depiction of Ragnarök. While it’s an attractive proposition, Occam’s Razor would suggest that a Christian scene on a Christian door makes more sense, especially when the figure Murphy identifies as Þórr appears almost identical to depictions elsewhere of St. Michael battling the dragon, right down to the figure’s angelic wings. While acknowledging the similarity, Murphy shores up his interpretation by noting that the figure doesn’t carry a spear as St. Michael does in some depictions, seeing instead a small hammer; the tiny, questionable Mjölnir seemingly holding more weight than the wings and posture of an archangel.

Tree of Salvation spread

As something of a poetic approach to these themes, Murphy’s argument is an enthusiastic one, and one in which this passion may sometimes get the better of him, inserting intent where there may have been none. He presupposes, for example, that the idea of Yggdrasil and the interpretation he applies to it was universally held by all tiers of Germanic society, and that this degree of reverence made going to a Yggdrasil-shaped church a tick in the plus column for adopting Christianity. The apex of this is when he puts himself in twelfth century Danish round churches, imagining what a Christmas liturgy would have been like in Nykirke or how Mass would have been conducted in Østerlarskirke. These are fanciful recreations more akin to guided visualisations in which the architecture and the sermon intertwine, as does the imagery both pagan and Christian, with Murphy imagining Yggdrasil being at the forefront of everyone’s mind, acting as a portal that the faithful consciously pass through in order to receive the body and blood of Christ.

In the penultimate chapter Yggdrasil and the Sequence of the Runes in the Elder Fuhtark, Murphy changes direction somewhat and explores the idea that the runes themselves encode these Christo-Pagan themes of Yggdrasil, with the order of the futhark and the very names of the runes acting as an intentional cypher. To open, he discusses Walter W. Skeats unconvincing nineteenth century attempt to interpret the runes in such a manner, wherein he tried to squeeze the opening words of the Paternoster out of the runes fehu, uruz, thurisaz and ansuz (Father, ure, þhu in heofon). While acknowledging the limitations of Skeats’ approach (no equivalent of ‘h’ in the place it’s needed for heofon just for starters), Murphy has his own go at it, trying to do much the same in increasingly convoluted justifications that come across like the very worst of clutching-at-straws conspiracy literature or alternative archaeology cryptography. First he presents a problem where there isn’t necessarily one, asking why the futhark should follow a different order from the Greco-Roman alphabet. Having done so, he then attempts to answer it. In trying to establish a justification for the futhark’s order he turns to its first aett and manages to somehow get ‘and Christ are one,’ from the runes kaunaz, gyfu, wunjo, hagalaz and nauthiz. Where’s that Surprise Jesus™ in all this you ask? Well, gyfu and wunjo, which sit next to each other in the aett, kind of look like the chi ro symbol (that is, if you lay them one atop the other, move the wunjo up a bit and squint), and that’s obviously Christ, just sitting there clear as day, waving enthusiastically. However, the other runes in that aett aren’t also the separated components of any christogram, no, instead the hagalaz and nauthiz must combine to form the vowelless hn which could be, well of course, a Greek word, hen, the neuter form of eis meaning ‘one.’ Meanwhile, the solo ‘k’ of kaunaz “can only be,” as Murphy emphatically states it, an abbreviation for another Greek word, kai, meaning ‘and.’ Following on from these tortuous beginnings, Murphy somehow manages to convince himself that he can get ‘father’ too, though this isn’t by extrapolating abbreviations from a few individual runes or combining them into a monogram, no, the rules are once again different here, and now the first five runes of the futhark are run together to form fuþar, a word that doesn’t mean anything in any language but sure sounds kind of maybe like ‘father,’ if you squint. The whole segment now reads ‘The father and Christ are one.’ Neat, eh? Personally, I prefer to interpret the hn of hagalaz and nauthiz not as the Greek hen but as the Middle English hen (from the Old English henn, and then the Proto-Germanic *hanj?.), making the phrase now read ‘The father and Christ are chicken.

Tree of Salvation spread

Facetiousness aside, this is a remarkable exercise in intellectually dishonest apophenia, in which at least three different methods are used to try and wrangle a Greek phrase out of the letters of a Germanic script, where any method and its interpretation are accepted as long as it fits the pattern one is trying to establish. One tenuous connection is made, followed by another, cascading in a wave of cryptographic confirmation bias, all enthusiastically recounted by Murphy who details his giddy excitement following each ever more conclusive discovery. Small wonder that Murphy goes some way to redeeming Skeats at the end of this chapter, calling him “in a sense prescient.” Never once does Murphy countenance that it would be possible to take the letters of the futhark’s first aett and come up with a hundred different meanings if you could call upon any language, any collection of symbols and any non-existent homophones that kind of sound like the words you want them to sound like. Let’s see, ‘f’ and ‘u’ are used as an abbreviation of the profane directive “fuck you,” and þa sounds like ‘the,’ and well, ‘rk’ must be missing a vowel, shall we say ‘o,’ so that means fuþark actually means “Fuck you, the Rock.” Clearly the ancient runemaster was no fan of Dwayne Johnson.

As he does elsewhere, Murphy strays from methods scholarly and imagines what this specifically gendered creator of the order of the futhark might have intended to do with his tortuous ordering of the letters. Revealing the tangled web he has woven, Murphy makes his mythic futhark organiser someone with multiple motivations, being a pagan Swedish runemaster, a polyglot who was also handy with Greek, someone possessed of a favourable experience with and impression of Christianity who was trying to make the runes suitable to serve this new imported master instead of Woden. In so doing, he created a synthesis of the pagan god and Christ, making the latter the possessor of the runes with which his name was encoded. Yet, Murphy must find an excuse for the recherché and frankly indecipherable nature of this Christo-Pagan runemaster’s runic encoding, suggesting that he kept it secret for some reason, either for reasons magical, or as effectively an occult blind, or because perhaps not everyone, be they Christian or pagan, shared his views. Somehow, despite this caginess, this secret squirrel ordering of the futhark was still disseminated across Scandinavia, stretching credulity.

Tree of Salvation spread

Murphy’s final chapter explores the idea of the presence of Yggdrasil in the evergreen imagery of Christmas, trying to find a happy medium betwixt those who see the Christmas tree as a pagan symbol and those that see it as an entirely Christian invention. It’s not just the tree he deals with here, indeed there is considerably more time spent with other arboreal elements associated with Christmas, and he interprets the wreath, for example, as a solar wheel symbolling the cycle of the life that begins anew at Christmas. As elsewhere, what Murphy presents is often just speculation, poetically rendered so as the sound plausible, even convincing, but with little questioning of the mechanisms that would have allowed such themes to perpetuate down through the centuries. This is particularly evident when he addresses the comparatively late seventeenth century innovation of lights on the Christmas tree, interpreting them as stars and finding a tenuous precedent in Snorri’s thirteenth century description in Gylfaginning of the branches of Yggdrasil stretching far across the sky.

In sum, what Murphy presents here is an interesting series of intersecting ideas and themes, ones which if treated as unconscious simulacra add richness to interpretations of both Christian and pagan symbolism. Where it is less successful, though, is when it imagines intent and purpose, relying entirely on presuppositions and impressions in a tone that does come across more like a conspiracy theorist or alternative historian searching in Rosslyn Chapel for Templar traces or forgotten bloodlines.

Published by Oxford University Press

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Green Rûna – Edred Thorsson

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Green Rûna coverPublished in 1996 by Edred Thorsson’s own imprint Rûna Raven Press, Green Rûna is one of several variously-coloured titles that compile his previously published essays. This green incarnation, and the first in the series, draws from the 1970s to the early 1980 with material published in the Ásatrú Free Assembly’s The Runestone, the Odinic Rite’s Raven’s Banner, as well as the Rune-Gild’s own publication, Rûna, and its four volume successor, New Rûna.

In an introduction, James A. Chisholm explains that the book’s title indicates that the material presented here is a rather unripe yet still valuable fruit. Given that many of these articles have their origin in the formative days of contemporary runic mysticism, there’s a feeling of getting in at the ground floor, with Green Rûna acting as primer containing a fair bit of entry-level material. This is grouped together in the book’s first section, Runelore, and its feels, in total, like the kind of thing that could be, and probably was, filled out and expanded into a general book on runes. There’s a brief definition of the word rune itself, and then a very 101 discussion of the futhark (Elder, Younger, Anglo-Saxon and Armanen variations), followed by a further brief article about the relative merits of each futhark in esoteric application. There’s also an article from Rûna on Sigurd Agrell’s Uthark theory, showing an early interest for his work, with an interesting footnote mentioning that an exploration of Agrell’s theory of the Mithraic origins of the tarot was at that point forthcoming from Rûna Raven Press, at that point credited to the later abandoned nom de plume Arbaris.

Green Rûna spread

Articles on various holy signs and some brief interpretations of runestone inscriptions round out the Runelore section of Green Rûna, giving way to a section titled Germanic Studies. Considered here are more cultural and philosophical concepts, the idea of the sumble (in an article that Thorsson credits with introducing the rite to contemporary heathenism), of reincarnation in Germanic myth and legend, of definitions of the sacred, of the nature of the gods as ancestors and in a related article, the euhemerist interpretation of the gods. Two articles show Thorsson’s abiding interesting in the German runic revival with a concise survey from The Runestone of Germanic runic esotericism and from the previous issue of the same, an account of attending the reformed and refounded Armanenschaft’s Herbst Thing in 1981.

Despite the early pedigree of the material here, with Thorsson being in his sprightly twenties at the time, his editorial voice is well established and will be familiar to anyone who has read his works over the subsequent four decades. There’s that irascible, withering tone, spiced with a little hectoring outrage if something has been, he believes, misrepresented, and despite his traditionalist approach, there is also a tendency to project 20th century world views onto the past. This is particularly noticeable when the motivations of rune workers along with their belief in, and the mechanics of, the runes are attributed intent and a sophistication that almost approaches modern physics or philosophy. The runic system, for example, apparently provides a symbolic meta-language with which we can explore ourselves and the multiverse. In a similar vein is an idea that Thorsson has promoted over the years but which was already established by the time of these writings, as evidenced by an article from The Runestone called Ancient Foundations of the Rune-Cult in Europe; a title which gives a sense of what you’re in for. This describes an almost conspiratorial belief in a group of runic adepts, a rune gild that was, as he terms it, a “sacrificial Ásatrú association” which has persisted throughout centuries and continues into the modern era. Thorsson credits these runemasters with guiding the evolution of the Elder Futhark into its Younger incarnation and gives a significant amount of information about the structure of this rune gild ad perpetuum, despite there being no trace of such a frankly historically unfeasible group; effectively imagining what such a group would have been like if they had existed, but framing it like they explicitly did.

Green Rûna spread

Other than the individual articles, Green Rûna includes a handful of reviews written by Thorsson for Rûna and The Runestone, providing an interesting literary timestamp and an indication of what scant titles were available then. Naturally, none of these are really esoteric titles, no contemporaries to the books Thorrson would write in the following years, with the exception of the grandmother of them all, the previously reviewed Rune Games by Marijane Osborn and Stella Longland. Instead, Thorsson looks at a grab bag of titles related to the German runic renaissance, Indo-European studies and even the Nýall philosophy of Helgi Pjeturss.

In an appendix, Green Rûna concludes as it begins, with the words of Chisholm in what amounts to a hagiography of Thorsson. The nine pages of The Awakening of a Runemaster tells the story of Thorsson’s spiritual life in a narrative that will generates sparks of recognition for anyone that has read his History of the Rune-Gild: The Reawakening of the Gild 1980-2018, as Chisholm’s text provides the basis for the first chapter of that book, expanded and embellished, but retaining many of the original phrases. The other items in this appendices are a glossary and reproductions of two Rune Gild documents: introductory information about the Outer Hall of the Rune Gild and a guide to gaining entry to the gild as of Midsummer 1990 when membership was closed to unsponsored members; and to gain said sponsorship required following the guide to runic initiation published in Thorsson’s book The Nine Doors of Midgard.

Green Rûna spread

In the end, the reader can find themselves in concord with Chisholm’s assessment of the material here as unripe fruit, something that shows a clear direction of where Thorsson would go in the subsequent decades but in a nascent state. As such, it makes for an interesting historical collection, though by no means essential reading beyond this status as an archival curiosity.

Published by Rûna Raven Press

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The Secret King: The Myth and Reality of Nazi Occultism – Stephen E. Flowers and Michael Moynihan

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The Secret King coverInitially released jointly by Dominion and Runa-Raven presses in 2001 as The Secret King: Karl Maria Wiligut, Himmler’s Lord of the Runes, this 2007 Feral House incarnation of the book sees the original text revised and expanded. While Stephen Flowers and Michael Moynihan share author credits on the cover, the latter explains in his introduction that the two writers played to their strengths, with much of the translation by Flowers, whilst the editing was by Moynihan.

The Secret King brings together various translated works by Karl Willigut, the self-styled king of Germany of the title, prefaced by an essay on the fiction and reality of Nazi occultism, from which the new subtitle is taken. Said subtitle sits rather awkwardly with the majority of the content of the book, feeling disproportionate in its prominence and incongruous to the main title; with the original and Wiligut-specific subtitle being a more accurate option.

The opening discussion on the idea of Nazi occultism is written with a slightly terse and withering tone that does, however, tire easily. It rightly dismisses so much of the baseless speculation that has accrued over the years to the point of almost becoming, at least on a subconscious level, fact; see how easily the image of an Occult Reich seeps into pop culture, whether it be the first Indiana Jones movie, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy or the Wolfenstein video games. The authors place much of the initial blame for the idea of Nazi occultism on war-time propaganda, perhaps not as an all-pervasive theme but one which still had an impact in casting Nazi Germany as evil, godless Satanists; such as in Lewis Spence’s none-too-subtle 1940 screed The Occult Causes of the Present War, which sounds like a lot of fun. Such views, Flowers and Moynihan argue, were retooled to give the Allies the higher moral ground in their “crusade against evil,” when in reality, the authors again argue, this crusade was actually against the economic idea of National Socialism, due to its financial isolationism and opposition to usury; though presumably aggressive German expansionism and the invasion of Poland may have had something to do with it too, I guess not.

After detailing the misconceptions and embellishments concerning the role of the occult in Nazi Germany, and the perpetuation of some of these themes in the works of later sympathetic writers like Savitri Devi and Miguel Serrano, Flowers and Moynihan turn to the reality. In this telling, these are slim occult pickings and so it’s no The Morning of the Magicians, and you won’t find much in the way of speculation about Thule-Gesellschaft, the Vril Society, or even the slightly more pragmatic Ahnenerbe. Instead, the focus here is solely on Austrian occultist and SS-Brigadeführer, Karl Maria Wiligut. This is a relatively brief introduction to Wiligut, running to 26 heavily illustrated pages, but it does provide a fairly thorough introduction to his life, with some obvious gaps, such is the slip of myth he himself wove, along with a passing overview of the mythos and system he created. Said mythos and system were obviously indebted to the German ariosophists and runologists who preceded him, notably Guiodo von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, as well as Siegfried Kummer and Peryt Shou.

The Secret King spread

Like those predecessors, particularly Kummer and Shou, Wiligut straddled that strange divided between heathenism and Christianity, seeking to merge the two in an attempt, as had been done for centuries before, to forge a particularly Germanic version of Judaeo-Christianity. This leads to a notably pagan-free system, with Wotan effectively dismissed as at best a circumlocution of this more nebulous yet omniscient and all-embracing concept of Got; and with Wotanism as a later ouster of this ur-religion of Got. Indeed, there’s very little that feels obviously heathen in this monotheistic figure of Got, who acts more like a Hermetic or Qabbalistic pantokrator or demiurge, a triad of energy, spirit and matter, with Wiligut aligning them with a belief system, extant amongst the Germanic people since time immemorial, akin to perennial wisdom. Contrary to any evidence, Wiligut categorically states that this “noble knowledge of Gotos” was the treasure of the Germanics, and that they never had ‘Gods’ as they did in Rome.

Betraying the seemingly unavoidable influence of Theosophy, Wiligut’s oeuvre also embraces the idea of Atlantis and vast primordial epochs of human history, with a cosmology and account of creation that follows some of those familiar beats, but with a Germanic twist that incorporates names from mythology as well as the kind of semi-scientific speculation of Hanns Hörbiger or Viktor Schauberger. As one might expect, there’s no references to Blatvatsky and instead, credit for this metaphysical history of the world is attributed to a secret 10,000 year Wiligut family tradition. This Irminsaga, as Wiligut called it, was recorded in script and images on seven wooden tablets of oak, which, not surprisingly, and somewhat conveniently, are now lost, having perished in a fire in 1848. As a result, the junior Wiligut received the family tradition entirely orally from his similarly-named uncle, whose own statute of limitations had fortuitously ran well out as well, as he had died in 1883.

The Secret King spread

The various examples of Wiligut’s writings are drawn principally from Hag All All Hag/Hagal, the journal of the Edda Society, to which he contributed under the pseudonym Jarl Widar. In a style familiar for the time and in later occult speculation, these often provide short outlines of metaphysical concepts, aided by runes and other symbols that are meant to illustrate these principles. There’s much talk of energy and matter, consciousness and becoming, and naturally a lot of talk about Got, wisdom and the Germanic folk. These are for the most part presented without much in the way of commentary and analysis, standing alone as a verbatim recording of Wiligut’s work.

Wiligut’s more poetic contributions are translated by Moynihan in what is acknowledged as a literal rather than lyrical manner, meaning that, sheared of the rhyming couplets of the original German, there’s little sense of the poetic here and the words come across as often abrupt stentorian declarations. These are presented in a small Fraktur-style typeface for a bit of atmosphere and in keeping with how they originally appeared in print.

The Secret King spread

Perhaps the most familiar of Wiligut’s writing is his Gotos-Kalanda cycle of poems celebrating the twelve months of the year. Originally privately published in 1937 as a small booklet by Wiligut and distributed to friends, Gotos-Kalanda has only appeared once before in English, translated by Moynihan, Markus Wolff and Gerhard Petak and published by the latter’s Aorta imprint in 1992. Petak would also use Gotos-Kalanda in 1995 as the basis for the similarly-titled second album of his ritual-industrial project Allerseelen, with each of its twelve tracks named after one of the months and using the poems as inspiration. As its name suggests, and despite the use of pagan names for some of the months, Wiligut’s Gotos-Kalanda is a celebration of his cosmology of Got, with the poems marking out the year as a calendrical round, a waxing and waning of Got in his various seasonal aspects and areas of influence. As such, it provides a rather concise synopsis of Wiligut’s conception of Got and a comprehensive liturgy from which anyone so inclined could draw.

The Secret King spread

The Secret King concludes with a series of appendices, five in all. The longest of these is a substantial interview by Manfred Lenz of the industrial project Turbund Sturmwerk with Wiligut’s former secretary, Gabriele Dechend. Dechend is also the source of another of the appendices, a Wiligut-style description of the cosmos from a 1935 issue of Hagal, all energy-matter-spirit speculation with de rigueur metaphysical symbols and diagrams.

As with the works of earlier members of Germany’s runic revival, there’s an interesting quality to the work presented here, but one which feels unmoored from reality and relevance. There’s little that anyone with pagan inclinations can draw from it, though for those who are prepared to take the leap, there’s a feeling of a complete system and cosmology lurking here, glamorously shored up with Wiligut’s assertions of an ancient family tradition.

Published by Feral House


The soundtrack for this review is Gotos=Kalanda by Allerseelen.

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Rune Games – Marijane Osborn and Stella Longland

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Categories: germanic, runes

Rune Games coverRune Games by Marijane Osborn and Stella Longland occupies a strange place in the recent history of esoteric runology. First published in 1982, it predates some of the considerably more prominent works from the likes of Stephen Flowers, Freya Aswynn, Nigel Pennick and Michael Howard, with Flowers’ Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic arriving two years later, while Aswynn’s Leaves of Yggdrasil would be first self-published in 1988. Only Ralph Blum and his mass market  Book of Runes (with little rune tiles in a cloth pouch) can claim to be a contemporary, released in the same year as Rune Games, but let’s not tar the latter with the shameful brush of the former. This pedigree means that despite a metaphysical focus, there’s little in the way of references to Germanic magical groups here, and the slight bibliography naturally contains no related titles (as they didn’t exist yet, of course), with the only works directly relating to runes being academic ones: Dickins’ Runic and Heroic Poems, Elliott’s Runes: An Introduction, and Page’s An Introduction to English Runes.

Perhaps highlighting the hoary antiquity of this book, Rune Games is formatted in a monotype face that may have been come from a then-state-of-the-art word processor, but which carries with it a hint of a far older typewriter. There don’t appear to have been any special characters on this word processor, so the thorn and eth letters are both transliterated to ‘th’, with ‘eth’ differentiated in its appearances with a line above the ‘th.’ It’s almost cute but disorientating for those with the luxury of always reading the text with special characters baked in. As one would expect, there were also no runic characters on this ancient device, so when needed, these have been charmingly hand-drawn into the body copy. Double cute.

Rune Games spread

One of the most appealing aspects of Rune Games is an aesthetic one, with the peppering throughout of ink illustrations by Steven Longland. In contradistinction to the conventions of runic and Viking art that has come to dominate this field (as featured in the incessant sponsored posts on my Instagram feed), Longland has a calligrapher’s hand, drawing on the illuminated manuscript style of the Book of Kells to create something that looks more Celtic than obviously Germanic. Indeed, the Book of Kells plays a surprising and disproportionate role in this work, but more about that later.

Rune Games spread with image by Steven Longland

While later titles from the milieu of esoteric runology would tend to focus on the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark, Osborn and Longland explore the larger Ango-Saxon version; a natural choice since the accompanying Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem provides the most complete information on the meaning of each rune, cryptic though some of them be; with the poem’s Icelandic and Norwegian counterparts detailing only the sixteen runes of the shorter Younger Futhark. After a brief introduction to the runes in general, Osborn and Longland follow the familiar pattern of books such as these by detailing the meaning of each rune, beginning with a translation of the appropriate verse from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem before providing an investigation of symbolism that usually runs up to a page and a half for longer entries, and as little as half a page for others. The authors draw fairly purely and pragmatically from etymology and the information found in the rune poems, with little in the way of outlandish or metaphysical speculation.

There is a concerted effort to show patterns within the runes, creating a thematic image that emphasises, as the rune poem naturally does, Anglo-Saxon ideas of home, hall and hearth. This reaches its zenith in an additional section where Osborn and Longland return to some of the runes by grouping them via their shapes as well as their association with animals, trees and plants, and the stars. The latter provides one of the notable innovative thoughts within the book, not seen anywhere else that I recall, with an interpretation of the Tir rune (described in the poem as a special astral sign, ever on course at night) as an arrow-shaped constellation comprised of the stars Sirius, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse and Rigel. On paper, as illustrated by Steven Longland here, it certainly looks convincing.

Rune Games spread with Tir image by Steven Longland

Osborn and Longland place particular emphasis on the Ing rune, seeing it as a master rune of sorts, representing imagination and the ability to transform the universe, and identifying it as a symbol of the blind eye of Odin, as the World Tree Yggdrasil, and as a pattern for the stages of life. They highlight its symmetry by halving, quartering and vertical splitting, attaching metaphysical significance to each stage. By far the longest part of this consideration, though, is spent on detailing appearances of the shape of the rune in the images of the Book of Kells, where it can be discerned in not just the overall decorative geometry of illustrations but in objects held by some of the figures. After spending an inordinate amount of time dissecting these images, in particular one from the Gospel of St John, and attaching various runic interpretations to it, Osborn and Longland do abruptly make the belated caveat that it would be a mistake to think the appearance of the Ing shape is a deliberate reference to the rune by the book’s creators; something that should be pretty obvious considering divides temporal, geographical, not to mention cultural and most importantly, religious. While one could say that the appearance of the shape and its themes might be, as Osborn and Longland call it, a meaningful coincidence, this caution is sometimes thrown to the wind and far more categorical statements are made, such as within the very paragraph where they opine that it seems likely an apparent blind eye in a depiction of St. Matthew was intended to be a veiled reference to Odin – quite the allegation to make against Columban monks.

Yggdrasil image by Steven Longland

The unique selling point of Runes Games is said games, eight in all, though Osborn and Longland take their time getting to them, providing a firm grounding in the runes and the metaphysics of divination first, so that it isn’t until half way through the book that they are introduced. Beginning with the simplest, a casting of rune staves (with three of them being selected for a tri-part query), these games are various systems of divination that ramp up in complexity as they progress. Classic children’s’ games play an inspirational role here, with one game being based on a knucklebones while another is comparable to hopscotch, with runes arranged on various grid patterns and the hopping done in the player’s mind. Other games draw from mythology for their framework, with one based on the nine nights spent hanging from the World Tree by Odin, and another that incorporates the charms mentioned in the Ljóðatal section of Hávamál. Another of the games returns to the image of the World Tree but aligns it with the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, assigning various runes to the sephira and then creating five different divinatory trees, with characteristics specific to an assigned rune; for example, the Tree of Man for one’s current personality, the Tree of Aurochs for the will and the Tree of Ing for possible futures.

Rune Games spread with image by Steven Longland

As the Yggdrasil game shows, there are often incredible layers of complexity associated with some of these systems, with Osborn and Longland piling interpretations and correspondences one upon the other in a lattice of interlocking potentialities of interpretation. It can be, one must admit, a little intimidating and suited to only a particular mind-set, with the cascade of variables recalling the arcane rules of a tabletop game encountered for the first time by a mere civilian unversed in the ways of geekdom. As such, some of these games feel less like, well, a game, and more like a test of wills, challenging you to see how long you can last until your eyes glaze over as you try to understand the method. With that said, the idea is that obviously, given enough training and experience in these tools and methods, the process of divination should become a lot more fluid and instinctual, without a need to constantly consult the manual.

Published by Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Thank you to our supporters on Patreon especially Serifs tier patron Michael Craft.

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

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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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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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Rune=Magic – S.A Kummer

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Rune=Magic coverTranslated and edited by Edred Thorsson and published in 1993 by his Rûna Raven imprint, Siegfried Kummer’s Rune=Magic was originally released as Runen=Magie exactly 60 years prior. Rune=Magic is, in some ways, a condensed form of Kummer’s considerably larger Heilige Runenmacht from 1932, and was the fourth volume of Germanische Schriftenfolge; a series which also included Der Alfred Richter’s Heilgruß: seine Art und Bedeutung and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels’ Ariosophisches Wappenbuch.

While Heilige Runenmacht is a comprehensive guide to the 18-rune Armanen Futharkh of Guido von List, providing both a thorough exegesis and a complex system of exercises, Rune=Magic offers just a few gems, as Kummer terms it, of wisdom and rune-magic. Kummer eschews the lengthy explanation of each rune in favour of brief, single paragraph synopsises, with which he opens the book. Similarly, the systems of rune yoga and runentänze, which are given a great deal of space in Heilige Runenmacht, are here replaced with runic hand exercises, notes of yodelling as a magical technique, and a series of standalone exercises.

Rune=Magic page spread with rune circle

The first of these consists of three individual exercises that build upon each other, beginning with the casting of a somewhat atypical protective rune circle, within which the subsequent activities take place. With the circle cast, the practitioner performs an initial meditation based around the Man rune (which in the Armanen system and the Younger Futhark resembles the Elhaz rune, rather than the Elder Futhark’s m-like Mannaz). The final ritual in this sequence transforms the practitioner’s Man rune stance into a visualised light body, an energy form known as the Grail-Chalice that once completed, attracts higher, spiritual cosmic influences.

In place of the rune yoga and runentänze of Heilige Runenmacht, Kummer offers a literally scaled down system befitting the size of this volume. This takes the form of runic mudras (though Kummer does not use that term), a collection of hand gestures corresponding to each rune. Or rather, almost each rune, as Kummer leaves out a gesture for Yr, which as the Todesrune, may have been, as Thorsson suggests, considered too negative to be used. Karl Spiesberger, who subsequently elaborated on Kummer’s system, would later correct this omission and created a Yr mudra. Each of Kummer’s mudras works in the same way as the larger rune yoga forms do, being associated with particular vocalisations, meditations and astral colours, and producing aetheric and olfactory results.

Rune=Magic page spread with mudras

The rest of Rune=Magic feels a little like a collection of miscellanea, with nothing particularly substantial and instead consisting of various short, largely unconnected pieces. There’s a list, with an accompanying diagram, of 24 important glands and higher centres of the body, and some magical rune formulas that either effect change or represent concepts such as wisdom and primal love. Then, as a natural conclusion, there are morning and evening consecrations and a poetic rune banishing.

As one would expect, Kummer’s cosmology and general approach has much in common with that of his runological contemporaries such as Peryt Shou, Friedrich Marby, and of course, List. There’s a certain dated style of etymology that ultimately seems dependent on the type of deism or monotheism that seeks to have its Judaeo-Christian cake and eat it too, but with Wotan-flavoured icing. Thus, the kind of linguistics that wouldn’t stand up in morphological court are used to see the name of God in the word ‘yodel,’ with the affirmative German ‘ja’ apparently evolving into the divine names Ya-weh, Yeho-va, Yo, Ya, Ye, and Yuh. Similarly, and in a slightly problematic moment, Kummer says that the Jews stole the word ‘jude,’ (“to which they have no right” apparently), which he says is a purely German word meaning ‘the good,’ similar to ‘Goth’ which is taken to mean ‘good’ or ‘godly.’

The other area which Kummer has in common with other runologists and Shou in particular is the use of then current technological nomenclature, embracing the paradigm of radio waves and antenna when discussing energy that the adherent could channel or generate. With this comes a heady sense of the cosmic, as mentioned in a previous review of Shou’s work, creating an endearing retro-futurist technological quality.

Rune=Magic illustration showing the high holy Grove of Light

Rune=Magic is a slim volume, so much so that its 45 pages are saddle stitched and stapled. Inside, the body copy is set in a brittle-looking serif face that, by intent or not, is suggestive of the original publication’s period. This is offset with chapter headings in an obviously intentional condensed Fraktur-style blackletter, which is perfect for that archaic German feel. Images from Kummer’s original are scanned and reproduced well, with no pixilation or artefacts. Given its size, especially in comparison to Heilige Runenmacht, there’s inevitably a feeling that more could have been said in Rune=Magic. It’s not a primer as such, being too brief in some of the fundamentals even for that, but it does introduce some key and, at the time, unique techniques. Ultimately, though, the value of Rune=Magic is in its role as a historical document, and still one of the only, if not the only, works by Kummer translated into English.

Published by Rûna Raven Press

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