Category Archives: runes

Runes In Sweden * Sven B.F. Jansson (1963/1987/1997)

I bought this little book (185 p.) at the Gamla Uppsala museum. Honestly, I expected to be able to buy better books on runestones and runic inscriptions in Sweden, especially in the museums. Apparently this is as good as it gets… This book was published in Swedish in 1963, translated to English in 1987 and has had one reprint so far. At first glance I thought it describes many runestone and tells the reader where to find them. The latter is not the case. What is further strange is that the Swedish version (so also the translation) appears to be part of the Runverket project, a project in which all runestones are inventarised and catalogued. When you find a runestone, there is usually a little plate giving the Runverket U-number with a rendering of the text and a translation (some stones have different catalogue numbers). These U-numbers are not used in this book of Jansson! The Runverket has been publishing books about runic inscriptions since 1900, each time dealing with a part of the country. Around the time Jansson wrote his book, the project was almost finished. I have not seen any of these volumes anywhere! Taking that they are catalogued, I suppose that the stones have been photographed and the location is described. That would be helpfull information! In any case, Jansson takes the reader through history describing how the erection of runestones started early in our era, almost entirely stopped during the transition to the Viking period and relived at the end of the Viking period, which was also the transition period to the new faith. Jansson describes many stones. Many are ‘just’ memorial stones saying something in the vein of: “NN erected this stone in memory of his son NN”. Others refer to travels that the deceased had made. A Viking expedition, but also travels to the Baltic and even Greece. Many stones are obviously Christian, some are not. Jansson chose a nice variety of stones, many of which are displayed with a colour photo, all of which the text is given, translated and explained, so you will learn a bit about reading runes. Also the typical runestone has a cross on it and around that a two-headed snake with the text in it, Jansson also chose variations to that theme. Funny too is that since the book is of 1963, the photos are (nicely) outdated sometimes. The cover shows one of the four stones at the “Jarlabanke bridge”, but nowadays two of the stones are moved and the boy would have looked towards the playground instead of the stone and his parents could have parked their car at the parking lot and read the information on the signs behind this stone. I must add though, that this Jarlabanke Bridge is one of the few places where the visitor can actually get information. A nice little book, but not the book that I hoped to get.
1963/1997 royal academy of letters, history and antiquities, isbn 917844067X

De Vikingen Achterna * Johan Nowé (2009)

I saw the author speaking a while ago and decided to get another book about the runes. “Following the Vikings” is not a book giving all kinds of interpretations of rune-signs, but more a purely historical book like that of R.I. Page that I recently reviewed. Nowé uses runestones to get firsthand information about the history of the writers of runes. He gives a history of the runes and their authors and when there is a stone available of shedding light on a part of that history, it is portrayed and translated. Nowé even explains how to translate the texts, giving a word-list, explaining grammar, etc. This way you will get a history of mostly the Vikings (but the runes are both older and more recent than the Vikings) that may be known for the larger part, but since runestones were raised mostly for personal reasons, such as commemorating a dead, telling people whose land the stone is on, etc. you will get quite intimate stories and not so much the larger information. In doing this, Nowé manages to give an overview of the development of the runes and the way the stones look (art historical). The approach is both original and refeshing, besides, I do not think I ever saw a book that actually explains the language of the runes itself. However Nowé shows and explains a large number of stones, also less easy ones such as the Rök stones (including an explanation of the cipher runes), I do have the feeling that the author picked only the stones that contribute to his story. I have not really looked into this, but this probably means that stones without historical information (which might (or might not) be more interesting) are not spoken about. Overall a very nice book about the runes. Currently only available in Dutch. I do not know if there are plans for a translation.
2009 Davidsfonds, isbn 9058265919

An Introduction To English Runes * Raymond Ian Page (1973/1999)

Raymond Page is a famous rune-scholar from the UK. He wrote several books on the subject and lectured at Cambridge University. This book was first published in 1973, but heavily updated in 1999. The second edition had a reprint in 2006. I bought this book for two reasons. First I want to read more about non-Scandinavian heathenry and second I need to read more about runes. In about 250 pages Page speaks about each and every item with runes on it, found in the UK. He divides runes on stones, coins, in manuscripts and elsewhere. The entire book Page keeps stressing that almost any finding is hard to impossible to interpret. The reasons for this is that the findings have runes in many different futharks, either or not mixed and either or not mixed with other, usually Roman, letters. It seems that many rune-carvers either carved symbols that they did not know, or they were very sloppy in their execution. Then of course there is the problem of the state of the findings. Often the runes are (largely) extremely hard to read. Last but not least, there is the point that even when the runes are readable, they appear to mean nothing. With all that in mind, countless of rune-combinations are mentioned and either or not interpreted. During the course of the book you will read a lot about both English and non-English runes. Page shows himself as a very critical, but realistic and not too closely-minded scholar. Still, the book is quite dry and if it were not for the many image and examples too dry. But indeed, if you want to read something serious about the runes, without all kind of come-up-with information, mystical interpretations, etc., this is one that you have to get.
1973/1999 Boydell Press, isbn 0851157688

The Rune Primer * Sweyn Plowright (2007 lulu.com * isbn 0958043515)

This book is subtitled “a down-to-earth guide to the runes”. Yet is claims “academic facts in plain English”, “source material with translations”, “how esoteric knowledge can be found in the old sources” and “common myths and misconceptions found in popular rune books”. Indeed, the first part of the book really is a common-sense book about the runes, not unlike the Dutch Runenlore (no connection to Stephen Flowers Runelore which I reviewed before. Rune poems in the original language and in translation, some information about what we know about the history of the runes. I had preferred if the rune poems where just printed entirely instead of one verse of each each time. What I didn’t have yet is the Anglo-Saxon rune-like alphabet which is a nice novelty. Somewhere halfway the writer starts to give lengthy information about the Rune Gild, neo-satanic / Sethian / left hand path / etc. systems so I thought I had again ran into a Rune Gild member. Plowright says to be an ex-member and he is nicely (but balanced) critical about the Rune Gild. The same goes for the other esoteric rune systems that he writes about, so in the course of the book you get nice information about nowadays (esoteric) rune systems (not shying for example the Armanan system). The writer never ‘takes sides’ which is of course nice for the searching reader, but at the end I had the idea that I have only been given facts without having been forced to consider where I stand. Maybe I find it just nice to agree or disagree with a writer, in this case there is no need to. In general The Rune Primer is an objective book about runes and modern rune systems, available in a variety of versions, paperback, pocket, Ebook, etc. See here.

The Book Of Runes * Francis Melville (Barron’s 1993 * isbn 0764155512)

I think the runes are a terrible subject to buy books about. These books tend to be either overly scholarly, saying that the runes were nothing more than easy-to-make symbols to write simple texts such as shopping lists; or in the other case “fluffy bunny” newage books turning an ancient practise into modern witchy oracle things. I know Melville from his very reasonable Book Of High Magic which is about Medieval and Renaissance magic. Also he wrote a cheap, but fine book about alchemy which comes in the same series as this Book Of Runes. Melville opens with the scholarly approach, telling about the history of the runes and the different ‘alphabets’. After this you will get a very brief lesson in Norse mythology and then Melville starts to write about the runes themselves. However he warns for this a few times in the first pages, this is where the book comes into the difficult practises of explaining the runes. There is hardly any traditional information, but the Eddas and other classical texts mention more than once that the runes were used for magical purposes. The names of the runes differ in different books and languages (also traditional) and the different alphabets even sometimes have different symbols for the same letters. Melville gives associations for the runes and this is what makes this kinds of books so hard to compare: these associations are personal and by no means traditional. Melville sometimes says how he comes to his connections with gods, trees, plants, animals, astrological sign or planet, colour and element. He might have added Tarot or I-Ching hexagrams like some other books do, but especially in the case of the Norse gods and astrology the opinions differ. A few examples of how this works:

The rune Ansuz is connected to Odin, because the root ́ss means “god” and Odin is the highest of them. In fact, originally Tyr was the highest God, but later he was surpassed by Odin. Other Germanic/Teutonic tribes had other main gods, so this is at least questionable. The bird associated with this rune is a raven; of course because the ravens are Odins animals, but so are his dog, or the Midgardsnake that he kills, or… Well then, the raven is a bird bringing messages from the world to Odin, so the planet becomes Mercury who is in Greek mythology the messenger of the gods (Hermes). For the same reason the plant is the mushroom which in Dutch is called “fly-fungus”, because it is hallucinative and this allows the shaman to travel between the world of the gods and our world below.

Another one. The name of the rune Hagal means “hail”, so Melville had to think of the primal giant Ymir “who was born from the melting ice”. In fact, Ymir came forth from interaction between the fires of Niflheim and the ice from Muspelheim. If you want to name a character that really came from ice, then I would say this is Bure who is licked out of a salt stone by the primal cow Audhumla.

In a way these connections are logical, but you can imagine that other writers come to other conclusions, so how should we find out what is credible and what is not? Probably not of it all is, which makes the runes even more difficult. Probably a personal interpretation could only make them fit to use them as some kind of Tarot or I-Ching. That Melville supports this idea is proven by the fact that for every rune he gives a “worldly” or “predicting” and an “esoteric” meaning.

Then the book continues by telling how you can make your own runestones and how to use them in “rune magic” and towards the end you will read about talismans, blessings and the like.

As I said, I have more of such runes-books which all more or less are the same. This one by Melville and a little one by Bernard King seem to at least try to be a bit serious, but I am still not sure about all the practical things that are dragged towards the subject with no obvious reason.

At The Well Of Wyrd * Edred Thorsson (1988 samuel weisser isbn 0877286787 / 1999 samuel weisser isbn 157863136X)

This is the third part of a ‘runic divination’ trilogy with the titles Runelore: a handbook of esoteric runology and Futhark: a handbook of rune magic. I just happened to be able to buy this book cheap, second hand and in my own country. My first printing is called At the well of wyrd: a handbook of runic divination, so the title was changed for the reprint it seems. Stephen Edred Thorsson/Flowers is the founder of the Rune Gild, “a school of esoteric knowledge based on the Odian system of the Runes”. He is a sholar (PhD) and esotericist, making him an authority in the eyes of some. Of course I haven’t read a whole lot of Rune Gild literature, but their website has some (nice) writings, the Finland header has a blog (PYHÄ) and I am currently reading Thorsson’s 1986 dissertation Runes and Magic. However it is all interesting in a way, I am still not convinced of the historical justification of some of the systems and ideas of Thorsson. In At The Well Of Wyrd Thorsson says several times that there are only hints about the historical systems of runic divination, yet he builds a complete system and sometimes even refers to Tacitus’ Gemania as source, while Tacitus only gives a very loose remark of “lots” and “signs”. In all my ignorance, I cannot see in this booklet much difference from all too wanting, modern interpretations of possible functions of the runes in the past. Nice is that Thorsson names every rune in the elder Futhark with quotes from the famous rune-poems, but when it comes to casting systems and the like, I am off. No worries of course, I will just stack this booklet with my other runebooks, continue to read the disseration and probably come to the conclusion that these texts of Thorsson are not meant for me.

Runenlore * Maurice Bos * 2005

Ingwaz.nl is a new Dutch Asatru website that made a flying start. Immediately after it was launched there were plenty articles, translations of ancient texts and a section about the runes. The man behind the site thought that it was a good idea to make the rune-section available in a booklet as well because that is easier to read and easier to access. Before I wrote this, there was a messages-section saying that you can order this booklet for E 7,-. For a reason I don’t know this message-board is now gone and there is no mention about this booklet anymore. But I suppose you can still contact the writer to inform about it.

The booklet is written in Dutch, printed with colour plates on the inside and inspite of the 50 pages highly informative. I have a few runebooks, but I like this one best so far. Bos opens with an introduction telling that most of the runebooks on the market are too free in explanations, combining the runes with whatever has nothing to do with them (Tarot, astrology, etc.). After the introduction you get a nice history of the runes. Very nice is the table with different futharks next to eachother. After this I would have preferred to get the last section, but in the booklet now follow the individual runes with their sounds, associations and a little bit of explanation. I am particularly happy about the last part which contains an introduction, reproductions and translation of the different ‘rune poems’. These are famous ancient texts explaining the runes. You get three versions of the Abecedarium Normandicum and then the Anglosaxon rune-poem, the Icelandic rune-poem, the Oldnorse rune-poem and the Swedish rune-poem. These rune-poems not only give us the name of the runes in the different futharks, but also the explanation. So why do the modern runebooks leave out the poems and come up with their own interpretations?

“Hagal/hail is a cold rain and a shower of wet snow and the illness of snakes. hagal – leader of the battle.”

A very nice booklet and definately a suggestion for those of you who can read Dutch. Contact the writer to see if you can get a copy too.