Runes – the Good the Bad and the Ugly

The runes present a major problem in heathenry and paganism in general that most people are not even aware of. Let me put it like this, the runes suffer from the same issue as any part of religious ideology in that once you have formed your opinions on them they are very difficult to adjust no matter how false they may actually be. Those thoughts for many of us have become set and now here I come in the 11th hour trying to upend your thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, the runes like heathenry in general do have a racism issue. I am bound to ruffle some feathers, but all I am truly trying to achieve is to get you to think about some of these things so just stick with me and keep an open mind. You are likely to find your thoughts and feelings and opinions challenged, that is the point. I am also intending this to be a brief introduction to the Runes. So new or old, this is for you.

The Bad and the Ugly:

First, there are some glaring inconsistencies to examine. The vast majority of heathens are Norse heathens that are focused on the Viking age right before the era of conversion. There is not really a good reason for this except for prevalence of the imagery in popular literature, culture, and mythology. Yet despite the majority of heathens being Norse heathens, the vast majority of heathens who use the runes utilize the Elder Futhark, a set of twenty four runes used and discarded hundreds of years before the Vikings. The Vikings utilized instead the Younger Futhark, a set of sixteen runes that actually fit their language. So we have to ask ourselves why. Why are these Norse Heathens using the Elder Futhark that was not used by the culture they are patterning their religion on and that doesn’t fit the language or the culture when they have access to the system of runes that they actually did use? The answer is not actually very simple and is hard to swallow in some cases.

The prevalence of the Elder Futhark system is primarily grounded in the work of the earliest, and indeed racist, heathens who were trying to sell people on the concept. Partly this tendency is due to the area of Germanic studies becoming highly taboo due to the post-WWII period associating it with Nazism and it is also partly due to a lack of reliable scholarship when the pagan community needed it so the pagan community turned to earlier work from the racist past.[1] It is also however due to racists steering people incorrectly for their own motivations. For example, one of the biggest names in runes is Edred Thorsson otherwise known as Stephen Flowers. Thorsson/Flowers is one of those early influential personalities that had his hands in a lot of pies. He was deep in the Troth, he was writing books, he was “academic”, he was steering a lot of things on the esoteric side of studies for decades. But he is also a racist and a white nationalist and has an unhealthy obsession with the Nazis; this flavored a lot of his work. Furthermore, he may have been an academic but his esoteric works are anything but academic. He put a polish onto the system of runes he was trying to popularize that was built up through falsification of information or hiding his methodology. If you were to crack open his book Futhark, you would find a “polished” system with all kinds of information telling you how to use the runes, how to interpret the runes, how to do runic standing stances like yoga, and even how to mumble out some runic “galdr” which amounted to noise making. (By the way, that Galdr nonsense of just making rune noises that sounds like mooing is complete hogwash and I will debunk it on another occasion because it has obscured the reality of what Galdr actually is, essentially any vocalized incantation.) The issue with this is that none of it had any basis in history; it was entirely falsified and made up. As polished as it seems, it is gilded on the outside but rotten at the core. To make it worse, he did not point people toward the sources that would have actually allowed people to check where he was getting this information. He delivered the Elder Futhark and a complete system for its use that is entirely poppycock but is presenting itself falsely as historical or academic.

If people had been able at the time to see his sources they would have found out that all the parts of it that were remotely of worth were derived not from the Elder Futhark but from the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. There are no Elder Futhark sources that would give us any way to use them or interpret them. Not a single one. But the Futhorc contains every Futhark rune inside of it, they must be interchangeable right? Not at all. There is no way for us to remotely know how those people might have conceived of several of the runes because the ᚨ for instance split into three different Futhorc runes each with its own meaning. So which one of the three do you take? You lose two in the process. That is only the issue with one rune and that is assuming that the meanings would have been remotely comparable hundreds of years prior. There are also runes which vary considerably in meaning between the Futhorc and the Younger Futhark showing that the meanings may not have stayed as constant as we would like.[2] To just strip out the meanings from the thirty three Futhorc runes to apply to the twenty four Elder Futhark runes also means that you will be losing several runes from what would have been considered a full set already and if they were used for cleromancy then it is likely that the meanings of the lost ones would have been important for the overall effectiveness of the set. So in a nutshell, everyone using the Elder Futhark is using an incomplete Futhorc set every time they use their runes. The meanings were stripped out of their context and slapped onto the Futhark in ways we have no ability to say would be remotely within the context of their meanings for the original Futhark and they are missing eleven runes to boot which would have originally been part of the set of symbols used alongside the others.

Here is a rule of thumb going forward, if they are not giving you access to the ancient rune poems from which we derive runic meanings then they have an agenda in hiding them from you. If they are not giving you access to a complete set of complimentary poems for the set they are pulling from then they have an agenda too.

So why did these early people push the Elder Futhark instead of the Futhorc when they were so obviously using the Futhorc to derive the meanings for the runes they were using? I cannot say for certain. There was a very early bias on older being better and that probably had a lot to do with things. It is also likely that once the earliest people had begun pushing the Elder Futhark that the commercialization of the rune sets gave supply to meet demand and once that was set it was set. There were also some racist reasons because the idea at its core in some of the earlier racist heathens seems to be that the closer to the Germanic origins was the most “pure” in this way. This is the same bent as the Nazis pushing the imagined concept of Aryan purity. Coupled with the early racist texts on the runes these paint a bad picture. They are one in the same; these two thoughts are derived from the same thinking. So the next time you go to pull one of your Elder Futhark sets remember that some Racists are one of the main reasons you’re pulling out of 24 runes because they generally and erroneously equated earlier with more pure. They’re also the reason your runes are the shape that they are too.

It should also be noted that the runes do not have a single form as most popular modern books seem to try and steer people into thinking. This standardization was not an ancient thing; the runes were written any number of different ways already. For instance, the runestones can give us a clue to this as the runes on many occasions were written boustrophedon, basically in a snaking pattern that paid no attention to orientation of the runes as one would letters in the modern way of writing. [3] This alone blows a huge hole in the concept of “merkstave” because there is no such thing as a backwards or upside down rune, they carried the same phonetic meaning in any and every orientation and they give every indication of being very flexible in form. If they carried the same meaning in writing, there is literally nothing to point to saying they would have any meaning other than the meaning they ever had in any orientation. The static, unyieldingly straight runes that descended to us are descending to us through Nazism yet again and uniformity of shape was one of their aesthetic additions they laid onto the runes (like the S.S. symbol”. The runes are meant to be crooked, to alternate in height, to be jankety and wibbly wobbly, and to be in all manner of orientations. Rigid, unyielding runes are anachronistic and a sign of fascist meddling.

1937_runenkunde_1115_32364606352564486566.jpg

This image, showing the stark, dark and straight and rigid lines we are used to for the runes is from a Nazi publication in 1937, Runenkunde. The Nazi form of the runes is bold, rigid, and unyielding. If you think the runes must be one way, one direction, and must be straight, bold, and rigid then you’re right in line with the Nazis in the S.S. because that is where this style of runic imagery is originating.

So let’s dispense with this whole loaded history for the moment and instead of gobbling up what those early racists wanted you to buy into, let us go back an examine the runes and let us build together through looking at the primary sources a reconstruction of how one can utilize the runes for cleromancy. The casting of lots for divination is called cleromancy by the way.

The Good:

I know this has been difficult to face but now we’re through it and we can begin to look at how we can reconstruct the idea of runic divination as a system to fill our need for heathen religious cleromancy in the modern world. Do not let people tell you that the runes as magic and potentially as divination have no basis in history because it does. While that flimflam peddled by Blum and Thorsson/Flowers has no basis in history; let me instead build you a case for a more historically friendly runic divination.

First let’s begin with Tacitus. Tacitus in his Germania gives this very interesting look into the divinatory practices of the early Germanic peoples.

“For divination and the casting of lots they have the highest possible regard. Their procedure in casting lots is uniform. They break off a branch of a fruit tree and slice it into strips; they mark these by certain signs and throw them, as random chance will have it, onto a white cloth. Then a state priest, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family, if it is private, prays to the gods and, gazing to the heavens, picks up three separate strips and reads their meanings from the marks scored on them.”[4]

  • Tacitus Germania

This excerpt lets us gather several important thoughts. First we see that cleromancy and divination were incredibly important and prevalent in the Germanic society of the 1st century CE. It also lets us see that if not only the priests but also the heads of households were able to conduct this divination by lots then the symbol set must have been universally understood and carried the same meanings no matter who looked at them. This symbol set would then be universally understood and had fixed meanings. That is a major thought because even if they weren’t using precisely the same runes we are they were using something similar; the entire concept of divination was indeed very important in their world view.

kam-med-runer-fra-vimose_do-4148_20006435375669561541813.jpg

Jump forward and we find some very early runic inscriptions. The Vimose comb for instance is from about 160 CE which makes it only about 70 years after Tacitus wrote his Germania. This means we get the runes as symbols very early, they would have been known earlier because they wouldn’t just spontaneously come into existence in 160 CE in what would more modernly become Denmark. Especially not since the system of writing was based on Etruscan and Latin back to Phoenician. This would have had to have spread over hundreds of years to get to that point in both area and development. Page, the most unimaginative of runologists, even says that the runes had to have been in use for a minimum of a hundred years to have the complexity of system and form that they achieve by the time we have any apparent inscriptions.[5]

Now we skip forward to our next piece of evidence, the Old English Rune poem. This poem was written in the 700s or so CE in England.

ᚠ Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum;

sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan

gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan.

Feoh

Wealth is a comfort to all men;

yet must every man bestow it freely,

if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

ᚢ Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned,

felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum

mære morstapa; þæt is modig wuht.

Ur

The aurochs is proud and has great horns;

it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;

a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

ᚦ Ðorn byþ ðearle scearp; ðegna gehwylcum

anfeng ys yfyl, ungemetum reþe

manna gehwelcum, ðe him mid resteð.

Thorn

The thorn is exceedingly sharp,

an evil thing for any knight to touch,

uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

ᚩ Os byþ ordfruma ælere spræce,

wisdomes wraþu ond witena frofur

and eorla gehwam eadnys ond tohiht.

Os

The mouth is the source of all language,

a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,

a blessing and a joy to every knight.

ᚱ Rad byþ on recyde rinca gehwylcum

sefte ond swiþhwæt, ðamðe sitteþ on ufan

meare mægenheardum ofer milpaþas.

Rad

Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors

and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads

on the back of a stout horse.

ᚳ Cen byþ cwicera gehwam, cuþ on fyre

blac ond beorhtlic, byrneþ oftust

ðær hi æþelingas inne restaþ.

Cen

The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame;

it always burns where princes sit within.

ᚷ Gyfu gumena byþ gleng and herenys,

wraþu and wyrþscype and wræcna gehwam

ar and ætwist, ðe byþ oþra leas.

Gyfu

Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity;

it furnishes help and subsistence

to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

ᚹ Wenne bruceþ, ðe can weana lyt

sares and sorge and him sylfa hæfþ

blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht.

Wynn

Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety,

and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.

ᚻ Hægl byþ hwitust corna; hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte,

wealcaþ hit windes scura; weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.

Haegl

Hail is the whitest of grain;

it is whirled from the vault of heaven

and is tossed about by gusts of wind

and then it melts into water.

ᚾ Nyd byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum

to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.

Nyd

Trouble is oppressive to the heart;

yet often it proves a source of help and salvation

to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.

ᛁ Is byþ ofereald, ungemetum slidor,

glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust,

flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne.

Is

Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;

it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;

it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

ᛄ Ger byþ gumena hiht, ðonne God læteþ,

halig heofones cyning, hrusan syllan

beorhte bleda beornum ond ðearfum.

Ger

Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven,

suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits

for rich and poor alike.

ᛇ Eoh byþ utan unsmeþe treow,

heard hrusan fæst, hyrde fyres,

wyrtrumun underwreþyd, wyn on eþle.

Eoh

The yew is a tree with rough bark,

hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots,

a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.

ᛈ Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter

wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ

on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.

Peordh

Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great,

where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.

ᛉ Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fenne

wexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme,

blode breneð beorna gehwylcne

ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ.

Eolh

The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh;

it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,

covering with blood every warrior who touches it.

ᛋ Sigel semannum symble biþ on hihte,

ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,

oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.

Sigel

The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers

when they journey away over the fishes’ bath,

until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

ᛏ Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel

wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde

ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ.

Tir

Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes;

it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.

ᛒ Beorc byþ bleda leas, bereþ efne swa ðeah

tanas butan tudder, biþ on telgum wlitig,

heah on helme hrysted fægere,

geloden leafum, lyfte getenge.

Beorc

The poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers,

for it is generated from its leaves.

Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned

its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.

ᛖ Eh byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn,

hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymb[e]

welege on wicgum wrixlaþ spræce

and biþ unstyllum æfre frofur.

Eh

The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors.

A steed in the pride of its hoofs,

when rich men on horseback bandy words about it;

and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless.

ᛗ Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:

sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican,

forðum drihten wyle dome sine

þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.

Mann

The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen;

yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,

since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

ᛚ Lagu byþ leodum langsum geþuht,

gif hi sculun neþan on nacan tealtum

and hi sæyþa swyþe bregaþ

and se brimhengest bridles ne gym[eð].

Lagu

The ocean seems interminable to men,

if they venture on the rolling bark

and the waves of the sea terrify them

and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.

ᛝ Ing wæs ærest mid East-Denum

gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est

ofer wæg gewat; wæn æfter ran;

ðus Heardingas ðone hæle nemdun.

Ing

Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes,

till, followed by his chariot,

he departed eastwards over the waves.

So the Heardingas named the hero.

ᛟ Eþel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men,

gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on

brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.

Ethel

An estate is very dear to every man,

if he can enjoy there in his house

whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

ᛞ Dæg byþ drihtnes sond, deore mannum,

mære metodes leoht, myrgþ and tohiht

eadgum and earmum, eallum brice.

Dæg

Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord;

it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor,

and of service to all.

ᚪ Ac byþ on eorþan elda bearnum

flæsces fodor, fereþ gelome

ofer ganotes bæþ; garsecg fandaþ

hwæþer ac hæbbe æþele treowe.

Ac

The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men.

Often it traverses the gannet’s bath,

and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith

in honourable fashion.

ᚫ Æsc biþ oferheah, eldum dyre

stiþ on staþule, stede rihte hylt,

ðeah him feohtan on firas monige.

Æsc

The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men.

With its sturdy trunk it offers a stubborn resistance,

though attacked by many a man.

ᚣ Yr byþ æþelinga and eorla gehwæs

wyn and wyrþmynd, byþ on wicge fæger,

fæstlic on færelde, fyrdgeatewa sum.

Yr

Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight;

it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey.

ᛡ Iar byþ eafix and ðeah a bruceþ

fodres on foldan, hafaþ fægerne eard

wætre beworpen, ðær he wynnum leofaþ.

Ior

Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land;

it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.

ᛠ Ear byþ egle eorla gehwylcun,

ðonn[e] fæstlice flæsc onginneþ,

hraw colian, hrusan ceosan

blac to gebeddan; bleda gedreosaþ,

wynna gewitaþ, wera geswicaþ.

Ear

The grave is horrible to every knight,

when the corpse quickly begins to cool

and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth.

Prosperity declines, happiness passes away

and covenants are broken.

The Bruce Dickins 1915 translation is not my favorite translation I have read. It is however free to use online due to its age and it is an accurate enough translation such that it will not misinform. [6]

This poem is our oldest understanding of the runes. It is also our longest and most detailed rune poem. It is generally believed that the rune poem was intended to be read without the title of the rune but that the title was added later.[7] This is well in line with the understanding of the word rune as mystery.[8] The runes were therefore mysteries that were intended originally to be puzzled out, poetic riddles that needed solving but that were solved by the transcribers. It is also notable that several runes lack riddles and there is no real reasoning for that given; we have their name but no riddle. Either they were missing or unavailable or forgotten or they never had a riddle. Of these possibilities I personally tend to think it is most likely that they have been lost to history at some point along the line. It is a minor miracle that the poem survived in the form it did at all and its survival is due to it being copied in 1705 before a 1731 fire destroyed the original document.[9] So now we have the 1705 copy which gave to us the completed riddles. I have often heard the criticism of the Old English Rune Poem as if it were some kind of “A is for Apple B is for Barn” kind of alphabet book. However, the existence of the poem as riddles more or less precludes its usefulness in that regard and far more lends itself to some kind of esoteric meaning. So if we take these as some kind of meanings for the runic symbols we should examine more sources.

The Poetic Edda provides ample sources for the understanding of runes as magical.

Havamal

  1. Certain is that | which is sought from runes,

That the gods so great have made,

And the Master-Poet painted;

. . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . of the race of gods:

Silence is safest and best.

  1. Runes shalt thou find, | and fateful signs,

That the king of singers colored,

And the mighty gods have made;

Full strong the signs, | full mighty the signs

That the ruler of gods doth write.

  1. Othin for the gods, | Dain for the elves,

And Dvalin for the dwarfs,

Alsvith for giants | and all mankind,

And some myself I wrote.

  1. The songs I know | that king’s wives know not,

Nor men that are sons of men;

The first is called help, | and help it can bring thee

In sorrow and pain and sickness.

  1. A twelfth I know, | if high on a tree

I see a hanged man swing;

So do I write | and color the runes

That forth he fares,

And to me talks.

Sigrdrífumál

Sigrdrifa said:

  1. “Beer I bring thee, | tree of battle,

Mingled of strength | and mighty fame;

Charms it holds | and healing signs,

Spells full good, | and gladness-runes.”

  1. Winning-runes learn, | if thou longest to win,

And the runes on thy sword-hilt write;

Some on the furrow, | and some on the flat,

And twice shalt thou call on Tyr.

  1. Ale-runes learn, | that with lies the wife

Of another betray not thy trust;

On the horn thou shalt write, | and the backs of thy hands,

And Need shalt mark on thy nails.

Thou shalt bless the draught, | and danger escape,

And cast a leek in the cup;

(For so I know | thou never shalt see

Thy mead with evil mixed.)

  1. Birth-runes learn, | if help thou wilt lend,

The babe from the mother to bring;

On thy palms shalt write them, | and round thy joints,

And ask the fates to aid.

  1. Wave-runes learn, | if well thou wouldst shelter

The sail-steeds out on the sea;

On the stem shalt thou write, | and the steering blade,

And burn them into the oars;

Though high be the breakers, | and black the waves,

Thou shalt safe the harbor seek.

  1. Branch-runes learn, | if a healer wouldst be,

And cure for wounds wouldst work;

On the bark shalt thou write, | and on trees that be

With boughs to the eastward bent.

  1. Speech-runes learn, | that none may seek

To answer harm with hate;

Well he winds | and weaves them all,

And sets them side by side,

At the judgment-place, | when justice there

The folk shall fairly win.

  1. Thought-runes learn, | if all shall think

Thou art keenest minded of men.[10]

Henry Adams Bellows Translation 1936

Of course this is not a comprehensive look at all references to runes in the Poetic Edda because I have omitted the creation of the runes and other verses. I am here focusing on one idea; if I were to boil both of these down it would give you the basic understanding of the runes are magical. Not even for divination or cleromancy but for magic in general. It further gives us the understanding that runes have particular magic meanings that they do not share with other runes. For instance there are runes for different purposes and there is not just one catchall magical sigil that is being put onto things. So the runes are magical. This is later than my other sources but it shows a continuity of magical thinking and that thinking being applied to the runes. I suggest you look more fully into runes referenced in the Poetic Edda on your own because it is really fascinating, I am just trying to be more brief here than it would allow to go deeper in depth on the Eddas beyond what I already have here.

The next piece of information to build on comes from a saga, in this case the Vita Ansgari by Rimbert.

“In reply to Anskar’s request that he might be allowed to preach the Christian faith to his people, the king decided that lots should be cast in the open air in order to discover whether it would be right to accede to his requests.” Introduction

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“When the father saw that he had become bereft of all that he had possessed with the exception of one little son, he began, in his misery, to fear the anger of the gods and to imagine that he was suffering all these calamities because he had offended some god. Thereupon, following the local custom, he consulted a soothsayer and asked him to find out by, the casting of lots which god lie had offended and to explain how lie might appease him. After performing all the customary ceremonies, the soothsayer said that all their gods were well disposed towards him, but that the God of the Christians was much incensed against him.” Chapter XVIII

————————————————–

“Meanwhile the king proposed to the Danes that they should enquire by casting lots whether it was the will of the gods that this place should be ravaged by them. ‘There are there,’ he said, ‘many great and powerful gods, and in former time a church was built there, and there are many Christians there who worship Christ, who is the strongest of the gods and can aid those who hope in Him, in any way that He chooses. We must seek to ascertain therefore whether it is by the will of the gods that we are urged to make this attempt.’ As his words were in accord with their custom they could not refuse to adopt the suggestion. Accordingly they sought to discover the will of the gods by casting lots and they ascertained that it would be impossible to accomplish their purpose without endangering their own welfare and that God would not permit this place to be ravaged by them.”[11] Chapter XIX

Translation by Charles H. Robinson (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/anskar.asp)

This particular piece shows us that cleromancy is alive and well in the 800’s and still carried the vital importance that could be seen hundreds of years earlier in the time of Tacitus.

Now here is a word of caution. Tacitus does not describe the symbols in depth enough to know which ones were being used. Similarly Rimbert doesn’t describe the symbols being used. However, one of the important things to note is that as a reconstructionist we do not have to stop when we have a hole we simply try to note the best available solution and be willing to show how you reach your conclusions. In this case we have what appears to be a continuous thread in Germanic society in which importance is placed on the casting of lots for divination (cleromancy). We know that the set of symbols in the society should be almost universally recognizable and share common meanings. We also see the runes as magical symbols and mysteries. We also are provided with esoteric rune riddles which detail the meanings of each rune in the Old English Rune Poem. It does not take a genius to make that logical leap that in today’s world if we want to fulfill the important aspect of Germanic world view that was divination by lots with a universally understood symbol set then we should use this symbol set with prescribed meanings that we have available in the rune poems.

Now it is here that things went awry with the 80’s. They did not tell you any of this. They just plopped down a “perfect” and polished system and said have at it. They did not even give you the rune poems, probably to obfuscate the fact that they are then missing a bunch of runes from the poem that they used as their core meanings and that their probable desire for Germanic purity by turning to the relatively unknown but older Elder Futhark was misguided and founded in racism. They sold you on bold, stark lines with a stylistic look straight out of Nazi Germany with rigid form and function that could lose their meanings if altered or reversed. They lied.

Now the case for turning away from the Elder Futhark should now be pretty obvious. We do not truly know the Elder Futhark meanings. We can hazard a guess obviously but the variability of the runes between sets makes that a difficult issue. Those who were pushing the Elder Futhark were hiding the Futhorc from people and not sharing their sources. Those who were in early days pushing the Elder Futhark like Edred Thorsson / Stephen Flowers are known racists and were likely pushing the system because of antiquated and racist ideas about Germanic purity. There is no good reason to use a system we that have to break apart another system to glean information on when we can use the other source we are gleaning from.

The case for the Futhorc is this: you can turn directly to the original source material and see it and interact with it. You can puzzle through the riddles like they were meant to be puzzled through. Books do exist that can help you through the process; most notably Alaric Albertsson’s A Handbook of Saxon Sorcery and Magic, much of which is devoted to the runes and includes the original Old English and the English translations of the poems. You don’t have that same level of racist taint on the runes because you can return to the beginning and follow the primary sources rather than rely on racist secondary sources as a foundation or as the case today is tertiary sources founded on racist secondary sources. The Futhorc also actually fits the English language because it was linguistically made to be for English. And finally, you get thirty three runes, most of which have meanings that have survived, to work with that were intended to go with one another instead of losing several to please the purity sentiments of some racists decades ago.

There is a case to be made for the Younger Futhark as well because it too has rune poems and these are the runes that the Vikings would actually have used. The downside is that it only has sixteen symbols which does hinder the usefulness of the Younger Futhark runes for divination. Also the poems are shorter and less detailed which makes it far more difficult to utilize and puzzle over.

I use the runes, I use a set of Futhorc runes and I have opted, like Albertsson, to fill in the missing rune poems through personal pondering on the names themselves. I differ somewhat on one of the poem-less runes in my interpretation than the ones Albertsson provides, but I am mostly in line with his interpretations.

I hope you have gotten this far and that this has been thought provoking. I also hope this may have given you a slightly better understanding of the Runes.

[1] Stephen Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore (Cambridgeshire, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011), 80 and R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 12.

[2] R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 15-16

[3] Stephen Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore (Cambridgeshire, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011), 15.

[4] Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, trans. Harold Mattingly (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2009), 39.

[5] R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 9.

[6] Bruce Dickins, trans. Runic and Heroic Poems of the Old Teutonic Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915), 12-23. https://archive.org/details/runicandheroicpo00dickuoft and https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Rune_poems

[7] Frederick George Jones Jr., The Old English Rune Poem, An Edition (University of Florida, 1967),

[8] R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 11, and Stephen Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore (Cambridgeshire, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011), 10.

[9] Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, editor The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), XLVI.

[10] Henry Adams Bellows, trans. The Poetic Edda: Translated from the Icelandic with an Introduction and Notes (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1936), available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe01.htm .

[11] Rimbert, Life of Anskar, the Apostle of the North, 801-865, trans. Charles. H. Robinson (London: 1921), available at: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/anskar.asp

3 thoughts on “Runes – the Good the Bad and the Ugly

  1. I’m in an ADF grove, and our diviner works in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, so she uses the Futhorc. However, as a grove we went through the runes of the Elder Futhark whenever we had a meeting with nothing else we had to do. We did two for each meeting, and it took us a year or two to do it. We worked just with the rune poems, tussling with the riddles to see if we could figure out the common meanings. It was fun, and we learned a lot. For instance, if you read a lot of modern treatments, the meaning of the “f” rune is that you’re supposed to be getting some wealth. But, as is very clear in the English rune poem, the idea is that if you have wealth you better share it. This links in nicely with the impression I get of ancient divination that it wasn’t so much to tell the future as to give advice.

    Anyway, I’ve been rummaging through your site, and am quite impressed. I’ve learned a lot, and plan on reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

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