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Monday, July 21, 2014

Recommended Reading on Runes

Due to a number of requests regarding what books are a good source of information on Runes, I've decided to put together a basic reading list. For those who want to get their hands on some physical rune books, here are a few that actually delve into real runes and rune magick. Keep in mind that since truly reliable books on Runes and Rune Magick are RARE (it's very hard to find an author that doesn't have a hidden personal or political agenda), I don't find all of these books to be totally in agreement with a culturally based Magickal understanding of Runes, but if you really want to get some physical paperbacks on your shelf, that are NOT some cheesy new-age fluff, these are good for some background on Runes and different perspectives on 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.

General Rune-Books: these books don't necessarily agree on everything, but provide a basic general background on Runes.



Mountfort, Paul Rhys. Nordic Runes: Understanding, Casting, and Interpreting the Ancient Viking Oracle. Destiny Books, 2003. A good intro to the Elder Futhark; even though the Elder Futhark is not a "Viking" Rune row as the title indicates, the actual contents of the book are not too far off base.

King, Bernard: New Perspectives: Runes. 2000. Element Books Ltd. A good intro to Elder Futhark Runes and their ancient and modern uses.

King, Bernard: The Way of the Runes. Thorsons Publishers. 2002. This is a reprise of his earlier book, The Elements of the Runes (1997). One of the more competent recent books on Elder Futhark Runes.



Runes: The Icelandic Book of Futhark. The Icelandic Magic Company. A new and rather high-end book produced indigenously in Iceland; covers the local Icelandic variant of the Younger Futhark, and its uses in Bind-Runes and Icelandic Rune-Magick.

Sheffield, Ann Groa. Long Branches:Runes of the Younger Futhark., 2013. (a detailed esoteric book on Younger Futhark; goes deep into Lore metaphor and archetypes).

Barnes, Michael. Runes, a Handbook. Boydell Press, 2013.
(this is mainly an academic book).

Spurkland, Terje. Norwegian Runes andRunic Inscriptions. 2009. Translated by Betsy van der Hoek.
(A detailed source book of historical Elder and Younger Futhark inscriptions and their meanings).



Kemble, John M. Anglo-Saxon Runes. Anglo-Saxon Books; 2nd Revised edition edition, 2009. (a brief book on the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, with translations).

Page, R.I. An Introduction to EnglishRunes, 2nd Edition. BOYE6; 2 edition, 2006. (this is a purely academic work on the AS Futhorc. There is very little mention of magickal content and the author was a secular academic purist who was highly critical of esoteric/magickal runology; that said, I still include this book because it is the most detailed resource on the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc source material you can find, and by all appearances its usage was indeed far more common as an alphabet than as a magickal system.)



von List, Guido. The Secret of theRunes. Translated by Stephen Flowers. Inner Traditions, 1988. The original German book was published in 1907 by Paul Zillman Verlag, later reprinted by Guido von List Verlag. (I am now very reluctant to recommend any translation by Stephen Flowers, but until I get my own translation of this classic Armanen book finished, his will have to do. Luckily there's a free PDF copy of the translation out there in case you have ethical issues about supporting him.)

Mercer, A.D. Runen: The Wisdom of theRunes. Aeon Sophia Press, 2016. (this is BY FAR the easiest English book on the Armanen Futharkh Runes... unfortunately it has very limited print runs. You can watch the website here and order it when it's back in stock)

Anthonijsz, Steven. Heathen Magic, an Irminic Perspective. 2012. Click HERE for the free PDF. This essay is HEAVILY PACKED with information from the Eddas, Sagas, and other ancient sources to round out the basic practices of Germanic Magick as practiced by the Continental traditions of Armanenschaft and Irminenschaft. It's a bit short, covers a lot of stuff besides the Armanen Runes, and while I don't agree with all of the author's conclusions, it's still a VERY good intro with a no-nonsense approach to both Armanen Runes and the other systems, in a continental German context.


Aswynn, Freyja: Principles of Runes. Thorsons Publishers. 2000. (Aswynn has her own system and methods of Rune-practices, and not all of it is culturally rooted, but this book is a pretty basic one and doesn't veer off in too many odd directions). Focuses mainly on Elder Futhark magick, for which hardly any lore survives, so by necessity this book has a fair bit of speculation and reconstruction.

And if you ABSOLUTELY want a more "general" book that does an overview of all 4 major futharks without focusing on any one of them too heavily... you can read:

Thorsson, Edred: Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic. Samuel Weiser Inc. York Beach Maine. 1984. 

As with his translations, I'm very reluctant to recommend anything written by Flowers now, due to a lot of his business/recruitment practices and ideology, but there are few alternatives to this book as a general overview of Rune knowledge, and it's still far less slanted towards inverse-Abrahamic paths (i.e. satanism) than his later stuff, and gives a decent basic intro to the 4 Futharks. Luckily there's a free PDF copy of the first edition out there in case you have ethical issues about supporting him.


Specialty Rune-Books: for the Rune student interested in more advanced methods

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). These books contain some modern rituals and practices, but these are nevertheless still culturally grounded in Germanic Lore and Indo-European traditions and archetypes:

Thorsson, Edred: Rune Might (History and Practices of the Early 20th Century German Magicians, Revised and Expanded) Runa-Raven Press, 2nd edition, 2004.  Covers most of the bases for English-speakers to Armanism and continental (German/Austrian) Rune-Magick. Less ideologically and personally slanted than most of Thorsson's (Stephen Flowers') books, but the intro pages heavily promote his own organization, the Rune-Gild, which has been the subject of controversy. Luckily there's a free PDF copy out there in case you have ethical issues about supporting him.

Siegfried Adolf Kummer. Rune-Magic. Translation by Edred Thorsson. Runa-Raven press. (Warning: 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).

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).

These should keep you busy for a while. 

Books to Avoid:

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. 

Also I have decided against recommending anything by some popular authors, like Diana Paxson, Nigel Pennick, or Kvedulf Gundarsson (real name Stephan Grundy). Their books contain a ton of bad information and outright falsehoods; basically they are wishy-washy "Wicca-tru" not Asatru, and not a good source for rune-readings and rituals (they basically invent their own meanings instead of going by Lore-based ones from the Hávamál and the traditional Rune-Poems). These people began as New-Age fantasy authors (and not very good ones), and are still largely stuck in a teenage fantasy "Harry Potter/Twilight" mindset when it comes to their Rune-related writings. They are also notorious for grossly misrepresenting Indo-European culture and ethics and injecting post-modernist and neo-Marxist socio-babble into nearly all of their books. Also stay far away from anything by Galina Krasskova or Raven Kaldera, for most of the same reasons, plus their obsession with paraphilias, self-torture, and quasi-Talmudic slave morality. 


Don't buy those cheap ugly clay or plastic "rune sets" that come with bad-quality Rune books in most bookstores. 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).

The best Rune sets money can buy, (save up!) are those created by Fehu Crafts in Poland. They aren't cheap, and the shipping takes some time, but they are worth every penny. Crafted of solid oak, with custom boxed sets available, stained in natural Bismarck Brown and sealed with beeswax, these big, hefty Rune sets are truly heirloom quality and built to last lifetimes. Currently, Elder and Armanen Rune sets are available in a few different versions, both with or without their custom wood boxes.


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 translations out there. Olive Bray's and James Chisholm's are among the best free ones, though they still have some inaccuracies. (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.)

For a short and no-nonsense translation of the Hávamál, the easiest option to read and understand is my own, translated line-for-line, uncensored, from the Old Norse original, with parallel Old Norse text, an Old Norse Glossary, and cultural notes, with a Foreword by A.D. Mercer (Author of RUNEN: The Wisdom of the Runes). My Hávamál translation is available in both Hardcover and Paperback, here

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.

Some of the sagas, such as Volsunga Saga, or its alternate form Sigdrífumal, also contain large passages about Runes and Runic rites. I recommend finding a good translation of these too.


  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.

  2. March 1953, Paris, Cafe Procope, Pauwels Louis meets with an unknown alchemist who explains to him, among other things, why he rejects Gurdjieff:
    "Whoever feels an urge to teach is not living his own doctrine completely and has not attained the heights of initiation."
    "Nevertheless, there is an obligation on first-degree searchers to help one another."

    Pauwels & Bergier: "The Morning of the Magicians", pages 74-75 (Destiny Books, Vermont, 2009).

  3. How is knowledge supposed to be transmitted then? We don't all have the brains of a Schauberger who "observed nature."

    1. That comment on Gurdjieff is one man's opinion. Obviously people need teachers. And "doctrines" are not part of the Runic path. Odin does not preach a doctrine in the Havamal, he merely shows us the noble way. There are even times when Odin compromises and twists around the path, as needed. Thus a Rune-Master can also be a teacher, he can be in some other profession, he can even be working in the bowels of hostile institutions, keeping his skill a secret.

      There are many ways to affect change in Yggdrasil towards the Odinic ideal, people who get creative are better than those who invent a "doctrine" that has no exceptions. As for initiation, it cannot take place unless there is a teacher! Therefore Pauwels Louis isn't making sense there. Yes there are rare cases of "self-initiation" but aside from books and clues left by others, this isn't in the realm of reality for most spiritual types, and it's certainly not useful for folk-building, given that everyone would have their own "personal gnosis" of initiation which nobody else accepts as valid. If you're not a reincarnation of some great hero or master of ages part, I would question how one can "self-initiate" without any written guides or live teachers.

      This is why the Church persecuted the Armanen - so they could eliminate the teachers.

  4. I agree entirely, it is just that (some) alchemists like to confuse people, or so it would seem, with their odd statements - and enjoy doing it.
    Meanwhile, no one really knows what Alchemy even is, although there were cases when the Great Work was allegedly accomplished, i.e. eternal life was lived, a cure for all ills concocted - and the secret of infinite wealth won.
    Pauwels says that alchemists these days mostly read various "treatises on nuclear physics."
    And Fulcanelli is still alive, of course. In vain did Rosenberg's men look for him all over Paris.
    In a word, a big mess.
    But I thought I should mention this case anyway, since you yourself wrote that Alchemy is within the province of the Armanen runes opera, unlike other Futharkhs.
    Alaf Sal Fena!

    1. Well the issue with words like "alchemy" is that they are words of concealment. "Alchemy" can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean, which was very useful for magicians whose practices may have been branded heresy at some points by the Church. Thus while their beliefs and practices were technically illegal in Medieval times, they were able to carry them on under the cover of physical sciences, i.e. an early form of chemistry where they tried to figure out the nature of elements and how to make gold. However, this was not the REAL 'alchemy' they were concealing.

      In an esoteric sense, alchemy is a spiritual refinement. Even then, it is confusing to pinpoint. It comes from the Arabic word "Al-shimi" which means transmutation. But there is also speculation that it was once written "Al-Kemet" referring to Egypt where it allegedly had a golden age.

      I use "alchemy" for Armanen runes in the sense of a spiritual transmutation towards the Solar Ideal. This is the ideal of the God-Man that many Armanists talked about, the alchemy is to evolve man away from "beast-man" and into "god-man". Well how do you do this? Through manifesting the runes to augment your own power and controlling the Will. Masters of the Will in Armanism have literally bent the world around them to their will, this was said about many early priest-kings of the proto-Aryan "Hoch-Zeit" such as Jamshid (Yima-Khsayeta) of Greater Iran, and Marbod of the Teutons. However with the slow decline of mankind towards "beast man" state, this control of the will was lost, and most humans became impulsive and reactive, like Loki in his worst moments.

      Runic "alchemy" if you want to use that word (actually a better word would be Arya-Verwandlung, or noble transmutation) is the molding of one's very nature to the optimal natures of the Runes. Even the Aesir, are striving every day to become more like the Runes. For the esoteric Runer, the Runes (the actual creative powers, not merely their symbols) are "the Gods of the Gods". This area of Runic studies is still not well-tread (or at least in our era; in the past, there were people like Jamshid and Marbod). Today it's an experimental realm; I can say there is both a physical and a psycho-spiritual component to this sort of improvement - they begin with the Rune-yoga practices but go beyond them. A Thor aspect and an Odin aspect, if you will.

  5. What is the best Edda you'd say that's out there, free or otherwise?

    1. For Havamal translations, the best one you can get is mine. Uncensored and unabridged, translated line-for-line from a Heathen perspective without any Christian or modernist influence:

      When it comes to translations of the complete Poetic Edda, probably the most easily accessible one that doesn't add too much fluff is Olive Bray's. The most accurate one right now is hard to say, however I'd venture that Terry's or Chisholm's translations beat out Jackson Crawford's by a mile; his translation is very loose and has been criticized as such by his fellow academics.

      For Prose Edda there are not as many choices, I'd say Larrington's translation is probably the best existing one to start with.