Monday, July 21, 2014

Recommended Reading

For those who want to get their hands on some physical rune books, here's a few that actually delve into real runes and rune magick.

How to judge a rune book:

1. Does the author stick to the traditional order of the runes and use historically attested symbols? (Anyone who insists that a "blank rune" or the "uthark" theory is valid, flunks this test.)

2. Does the author support his opinions with Germanic historical and mythical texts -- not relying on outside traditions or personal revelations too heavily? (People who put runes on Native American medicine wheels or the Kabbalah Tree of Life flunk this test. So does anyone who interprets the runes largely through invented eclectic magickal experiments, with no real cultural or historical support.)

3. Does the author use the same language for rune names throughout the book? (Calling one rune by its Norse name and the next by its Anglo-Saxon name is bad linguistics, and probably means that the other facts are just as poorly researched.)

4. Does the author avoid distorting the meanings of the runes to fit a personal agenda? (An ultra-feminist author trying to eliminate all male references from the runes would flunk this test. The same goes for a "new age" or wiccan author trying to eliminate all solar or warrior references).

Here are the books I recommend for beginners.

Peschel, Lisa A.: Practical Guide to The Runes, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, ISBN 0-87542-593-3. A cheap paperback, but relatively solid rune-lore except that it includes the notoriously fake blank rune. Ignore that part!
King, Bernard: New Perspectives: Runes, 2000, ISBN: 1862047626  
King, Bernard: The Way of the Runes, Thorsons, 2002, ISBN 00713603x. This is a reprise of his earlier book, The Elements of the Runes, 1997, Element Books, London and Rockport, ME. ISBN 1862040370. One of the more competent recent books on runes.
Aswynn, Freyja: Principles of Runes, Thorsons Publ, 2000, ISBN=0722538839.
Pennick, Nigel: The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Runes, 1999, Element; ISBN: 1862041008
Thorsson, Edred: Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic. Samuel Weiser Inc. York Beach Maine, 03910, 1984, ISBN 0-87728-548-9. This one is geared to a higher level than At the Well of Wyrd.
Thorsson, Edred: Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology. Samuel Weiser Inc. York Beach Maine, 03910, ISBN 0-87728-667-1. I believe that this is Thorsson's best book on runes and rune magick. It's the one I refer to most often.

If you dare to explore the more advanced realms of Rune-practices and their mystical side, you can check out the following classic books on the Armanen runes and their associated modern disciplines (like Stadhagaldr, i.e. "rune-yoga") by German rune-masters (translation quality can vary). Being a reconstructed magickal system, these books contain some clearly modern rituals and practices, but are nevertheless culturally grounded in Eddic Lore and old Germanic traditions and archetypes:

Guido von List. The Secret of the Runes. Translation by Stephan Flowers (aka Edred Thorsson). Inner Traditions. 1988. Originally published in Berlin in 1907, this is the little volume that started it all!

Siegfried Adolf Kummer. Rune-Magic. Translation by Edred Thorsson. Runa-Raven press. (this PDF version of the translation appears to be spammed with some random bits of Theosophical and other unrelated occult books but these bits are all in bordered boxes. For the un-tampered original German text, click here.)

Siegfried Adolf Kummer. Heilige Runenmacht (Holy Rune-Might). Original German text. Modern reprint.

Karl Spiesberger. Rune-Magic. Original German text, 1954 (cram it into Google Translate if you must, but the pictures are pretty self-explanatory. This is the go-to text for Stadhagaldr).

Karl Spiesberger. Rune-Praxis and Rune-exercises. Original German text. (REALLY in-depth explanation of Stadhagaldr rune-postures and meditations).

Steve Anthonijsz. Heathen Magic: an Irminic Perspective. (A detailed modern article on the Armanen-Irminen rune-tradition of Germany and Austria and its practical real-world applications)

Larry Camp. A Handbook of Armanen Runes. 2009. (Short booklet - salvaged from the remains of the original after a computer crash - which recaps most of the basic Armanen practices).

To see more books on runes, click here.

These should keep you busy for a while. I do not recommend Ralph Blum's Book of Runes, Healing Runes, or Serenity Runes, which are commonly available and come with ceramic rune sets of very poor quality. In my opinion, these books are pure new-age slop with ZERO cultural grounding in even the most revisionist runic tradition. They are not accurate, and are shallow and disappointing. 

Rune sets are available from other sources or you can make your own. The following sources I have actually bought from so I can personally recommend them.

If you want to buy natural wood rune sets, I suggest either Terrarus or Alaska Laser Maid. Their natural wood rune sets are great quality, at a reasonable price. Alaska Laser Maid makes boxed rune sets (laser-cut) so there's no need to buy a bag or risk damaging the rune tiles from jostling around.

Also if you're willing to wait a while for shipping, "olvocustoms" makes a very nice and affordable set of "Elder" Futhark runes. A good mix of modern tech and old-school artisanship, they are CNC engraved (not burned!) from Ash wood and come in an old-school handmade fiber bag with drawstring. You do get a few spare blank tiles (not for "blank runes" or other such nonsense, but just for pre-testing oils and such in case you want to oil your rune set to weatherproof it).

Lastly, if you want to gain a better understanding of Norse and Germanic cosmology and the unique mystical worldview of the ancient Skalds and Vitkar within which Runic rituals and practices developed, it is good to read the Eddas, especially the Poetic Edda, while understanding that it is heavy with metaphor and not every myth and legend was to be taken literally. There are several good translations out there. Olive Bray's and James Chisholm's are among the best of the popular ones. (I would avoid recommending Lee Hollander's translation because it is so word-for-word as to destroy most of the symbolic language, and so jam-packed with obscure academic footnotes as to make the story almost disappear in a literal beaver's lodge of annotation.)

A few of the stories, in particular Odin's Rune-Quest in the Hávamál, as well as the telling of Ragnarok and the Well of Wyrd, are heavily symbolic of the Runic journey and initiation from one state of awareness into another.


  1. What's your take on Jan Fries' Helrunar?

    1. I haven't read it personally but from what I've heard it's a mix of runes and "chaos magick" which I'm not all that particularly fond of. I have however heard of Fries. He seems to have gotten pretty positive reviews to Helrunar, but as to how reliable his insights are, I think he's probably as speculative as anyone else, maybe more so. If it's anything like his other books there's probably also a lot of arm-waving. Not to say his methods don't work - but you have to question *what* effect they are producing.

      I've also heard he borrows a lot from Hermeticism, Wicca, Kabbalah, Golden Dawn, "Neo-Egyptian" magick (whatever that is), Taoism, Feng Shui, etc... so if you want to truly get close to what the ancient Germanic rune masters were doing, Fries is definitely not the way to go. If he at least kept it limited to Indo-European solar farmer cultures, it might be more authentically "runic".

      So far as I know, Fries' method is not a hardcore historical approach along the lines of Edred Thorsson's first three books, nor even a "romantic" pan-Aryan approach as with Dumezil, Kummer or von List, but something much more "fast and loose" in its "mix and match" of unrelated cultures and techniques. Now if you are a wiccan or a UU and you believe the super-eclectic approach works for your goals, then best of luck.

      I lean towards the Armanen side of things so if I need some insight into something where Germanic lore has a gap, then I may look at other Aryan-derived solar cultures (Celtic, Slavic, Iranian, pre-Vedic Indian, etc) for some input. But again, at least these are related cosmologies and archetypes. Once someone goes SO far out of that realm as to throw in hermetica, kabbalah and Crowley, they have hit both the gas and the brakes at once, and are totally defeating the spiritual, cultural and metaphysical purposes of rune-magick.