Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Armanen runes in Historical Context

The Armanen Futharkh system of 18 runes, corresponding to Odin's original 18 runes as listed in the Hávamál, is both the clearest and the most misunderstood of the "Big Four" rune systems in existence today. The clearest, because it is the only one with a large body of lore composed in modern times (while still drawing on the ancient lore of the Hávamál) with unambiguous meanings and methods intended for use by the modern rune-master. But also the most misunderstood because of the proliferation of false and misleading claims by outsiders to the tradition, claiming that it is either "at best a modern fabrication" or "at worst a thin mystical veneer for fanatical far-right political groups and activities". Neither claim is, in reality, anything more than a shallow prejudice. The Armanen Futharkh and its intact body of recent lore is, at the very least, a powerful and comprehensive system of runic magick which is worthy of study for any aspiring runologist and student of the runes - for the true rune master who wishes to progress beyond mere guesswork, it is indispensable in this day and age. And here I shall make a humble attempt to set the record straight.

To understand the true origins of the Armanen Rune system, as encapsulated in Guido von List's groundbreaking book The Secret of the Runes, we really need to look at hard facts instead of cooked-up controversy.


The 18 Armanen Futharkh runes. Far from being a modern invention of Guido von List,
people familiar with the "Elder" and "Younger" Futhark systems will recognize nearly every rune in this table.
(This image is my own work. ASK before using.)
The Armanen Futharkh Runes are remarkable indeed. They comprise the only currently known runic system which conforms to the number of runes (18) mentioned in the Poetic Edda's most famous poem, the Hávamál - and yet they are all also found, in some shape or form, in other runic systems as well. In addition, they are the only system whose runes can all be manifested in the light refraction of a hexagonal crystal, which carries significant mathematical symbolism relating to the Eddic lore and the order of the runes themselves. It is equally unusual that since the dawn of recorded European history, it took until the twentieth century for someone to compile and publish a rune row that fit the description of these first "sacred runes of Odin". That person was Guido von List, an author, journalist, archaeologist, mountaineer, historian, poet, playwright, mystic, occultist, minor nobleman, and prominent founding father of modern Germanic heathenry. It is difficult to fathom the vast impact of List upon modern runic studies as well as Ásatrú. Many practices which the naïve attribute to the Vikings or their ancestors was actually reconstructed (necessarily with a great deal of educated invention) by List. It was also List, more than anyone else, who brought the Old Norse/Germanic culture back to life - who revived the association (which seems almost instinctual today) of the ancient heathen tribes of Europe with environmental consciousness and a love for nature, so that the Goth and the Saxon were seen, for the first time in centuries, in their proper place as noble stewards of the forest, not as mindless brutes bent on destroying everything in sight. Gerald Gardner attempted to pass himself off as a reviver of Europe's ancient occult traditions - Guido von List was the real thing.

List experienced the full force of the meanings of the Runes in a mystical vision he later described to his friend and patron, Friedrich Wannieck (the text of his letter is at the end of this article). It was this vision which resulted in the publication of the eighteen runes he later referred to as the Armanen Runes. The vision did not occur all at once, but gradually over an eleven-month period following an operation to remove cataracts from both his eyes in 1902. This eleven-month span of temporary blindness and recovery was a time of rest, meditation, and the opening of List's "third eye"in the absence of having the use of his two physical eyes. The vision was Odinic in nature, with the god Odin's wisdom, the Runes and their meanings, forming a large part of the experience. After years of working on the problem of deciphering the deeper, sub-surface meanings of the Runes and the many Runic spells left into carved stones by ancient Teutons and Vikings, the Odinic ordering hidden meanings of the runes were revealed to him. 

The original Odinic Runes had been 18 in number, the same number of runic spells mentioned in the Hávamál, the most ancient poem in the Elder Edda, believed to be the words of Odin himself. The runic meanings revealed in List's vision retraced the path laid out by Odin and his first earthly student, Loddfafnir, in this poem - and took the form of multiple levels of interpretation for each rune, and tied into the multi-layered (and often seemingly divergent) meanings of many Germanic words. As an initiatic language with different layers of meaning for farmer acolytes, warrior adepts, and priestly masters, the Runes directly contributed to the concealment of some word-meanings within others, as the "kernel-words" at the root of Germanic grammar and vocabulary, at least in a continental sense, were the anchors of a similar initiation. Thus for the ancient Teutons, Goths and Saxons, List discovered, it was almost as if the three classes in each tribe - farmers, warriors, and priests - were speaking entirely different languages, parts of which have survived, amalgamated together somewhat jumbled forms, in the respective regions that produced modern German and other Germanic languages - but if the key to connecting the origins of their tripartite meanings were inserted, the reasons for these concealed trivergences in meanings would become clear. The Runes, and the revelations List had in his eleven-month blindness, turned out to be that key. And the modern study of Runes would never be the same again.

With the enthusiastic support of Wannieck, List published the fruits of his studies and his vision in the groundbreaking work Das Geheimnis der Runen (The Secret of the Runes), which was later published in 1907. These 18 Runes, soon to become known as the Armanen runes (after the priest-class of ancient Germanic tribes, the Armanen or Irminons), were to prove integral to List's subsequent researches into the Eddas and Sagas, and ancient Runic culture - indeed, they were the foundation of the modern Runic Revival, to which even the Anglo-American enthusiasts of other, more "historically attested" rune rows owe a huge debt, for taking Runes out of the old and stale libraries of academia, and bringing them out into the public consciousness. Dr. Stephen E. Flowers notes that the Armanen runes also “became the cornerstone of List's ideology, which he later developed in more than ten volumes of occult studies.”

Yet in the century that has passed since List's death, many people have attempted to abuse, discredit, or undermine the Armanen runes and the works of the Master himself. Some have had political or personal motives; others would wish to keep the Runes trapped in the ivory towers of academia and squelch all thoughts of any mystical or occult significance for them. Yet others still, believe that only a rune-row based on historical inscriptions and artifacts is worth consideration; ignoring, perhaps, that historically attested rune-rows are still fraught with a lack of contemporary definitions and interpretations, and there is precious little to indicate their esoteric meanings and usage in the many preserved runic spells carved into stones; there are three later medieval rune poems, two for the "Younger" Futhark, one for the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, all three of which were written down centuries after the heydays of these rune rows, by which point Northern Europe was largely Christianized, and these runes, shorn of much of their "pagan" meaning, were largely reduced to orthographic or alphabetical use and little more. There is no lore at all for the "Elder" Futhark, whose modern meanings are a mix of reconstructed Proto-Germanic forms of the first 24 of the Anglo-Saxon poem's rune meanings, and a few Armanen insights along the way. 

On the other hand, List's Armanen runes and the system of modern Lore which accompanies them - much of it based not just on List's visions, but in fact on ancient Germanic folk practices in long-hidden forest clans, secret crypto-Heathen orders, wise men and women and the like, the complex structure of German vocabulary and language itself, and even the very symbolism of the heraldry and architecture of Germanic towns - answers most if not all of the questions that the far more speculative practices of "historical-only" purists leave unanswered. List contended that all other Rune-rows were later derived from the Armanen Futharkh, hence its similarity to many of the "Elder", "Younger" and Anglo-Saxon runes.

However, it is not my intent to prove List right or wrong. His work is, for those with a basic grounding in ancient Indo-European cosmology and sufficient patience to actually study his writings, pretty self-explanatory. I intend to simply shine a fair light on the Armanen runes' value as a magickal runic system for modern times, though still rooted in ancient traditions. I do not abuse or belittle any runic system. Where it may seem I am biased in favor of the Armanen system, I am simply laying out the facts of experience - it is better suited for most esoteric uses than the other rune rows are, and indeed even enriches their use. I take the view that each rune system is worthy of study and use so long as it works for you - whether it be Elder, Younger, Anglo-Saxon or Armanen, or even the "minor" systems such as the medieval occult healing runes of the post-conversion era - all are historic runes (indeed there is a lot of overlap of many of the same runes between the rune rows) and as the Nordic path is not dogmatic, neither should runic study nor practice be.

"The golden rule at all times should be: 
Try everything out without bias or preconceived ideas, and hold on to whatever works best." 
                                                                                                                      - Karl Spiesberger

Regardless of one’s personal prejudices, Guido von List was without doubt the pioneer of modern runic mysticism and rune-magick practice. Although academic runology predates List by a couple of centuries, he was the first major figure to actually attempt to reconstruct what runes meant symbolically to the ancient Indo-European mind - a cultural worldview rather different, to say the least, from our modern post-Christian materialism with its false dichotomies, literalism, and the obsessive dialectical habit of segregating every idea and concept into infinite hair-splitting boxes of "non-overlapping magisteria". 

One must remember that the ancient Germans and Norse did not have university chairs, academic departments, state-run factory schools, or peer review committees, and yet most runologists are stuck in the modernist trap of trying to use these exact same tools to evaluate and judge a non-doctrinal religion and culture which was rich with magickal, symbolic, non-academic aspects. List - though his approach was indeed grounded in the cultural and etymological connections of the runes to Germanic linguistics - moved beyond mere academia to pure esoteric wisdom - something that cannot be truly appreciated unless one reads and understands The Secret of the Runes

List must also be noted as the very first person in recorded history to have ever compiled a truly Lore-based runic series, and actually associating a specific individual rune of his eighteen-rune Armanen Futharkh, to each of the eighteen runes which were revealed to Odin in the Eddic poem Hávamál (Words of the High One) in the section known as 'Rúnatáls-tháttr-Odhins' (Odin's Rune Song). Dig deep enough, and if honest, you too will see that regardless of what you personally think of him, List was indeed a pioneer and a visionary.

List states in The Secret of the Runes that the meanings and indeed the very identities of the Armanen Futharkh Runes were encrypted in the 18 'rune spells' of the Hávamál, which is the oldest part of the Poetic or 'Elder' Edda. It is written in the Hávamál that the runes were revealed to Odin when he sacrificed himself to himself upon the sacred World Tree Yggdrasil, to evolve in understanding and gain wisdom. The runes are cryptically described in the stanzas 138 to 164 of the Hávamál (these verses form its final section, known as Rúnatáls-tháttr-Odhins or Odin's Rune Song) Verses 146 through to 163 are specifically the verses describing the 18 runes. 

Before revealing the 18 Runes verses to Loddfafnir (and thus to us, through his students and spiritual heirs transmitting the poem), Odin gives the following questions and warnings regarding Runes:

  Do you know how to carve them? Do you know how to read them?
Do you know how to stain them? Do you know how to prove them?
Do you know how to ask of them? Do you know how to offer to them?
Do you know how to send for them? Do you know how to spend for them?

Better to ask for too little, than to offer too much,
The offering must match the gift;
Better that it not be sent for,
Than be overspent for!

- The Hávamál, verses 144-145.

The Runes are among the most powerful of magickal systems, and like any magickal system, they should never be abused. Runes are a spiritual technology that self-protects, thus the technology can deliver stark consequences for those that try to exploit its power before trying to understand what they are getting into. Whoever does any sort of Rune-Magick, should be prepared to expect and handle the consequences of your actions. Noble actions have noble results. Ignoble actions, will result in destruction and downfall. The path of the runes is a spiritual journey in which the final end (if indeed there is one), is an ever-growing, upwards-spiraling enhancement of all the physical and spiritual sense in perfect tandem towards a nature approaching that of the Gods themselves, much as they seek to approach the yet higher and more sublime state of the 18 Runic energies behind the visual symbols. This goal is one which may take many lifetimes to attain, but it is the most worthy of all goals. Yet Runes should not be touched before one even understands what the goal is:

None should ever carve Runes, who knows not to read them; 
for it may befall many man, to stumble upon a Murk-Stave.”
- The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson, Chapter 75.

We are all bound by our own limits, so paradoxically it is only ourselves that can overcome them. The runes - indeed all of Heathenry - are not contingent on a savior bailing an ungrateful mankind out from its own ignorance. There is however a great teacher, whose words in the Hávamál will unfold the secrets to the truly dedicated apprentice. One should not rush rune-studies, and Runes should always be treated with concentration and focus, without distraction, to understand their exoteric and esoteric facets. For the Nordic magician, as with all esoteric masters of the Indo-European megafolk, there was no end to true wisdom, only an ever-ascending spiral of illumination.

Today the Armanen Futharkh is still widely used in Germanic Heathenry (also commonly known as Odinism and Ásatrú) all over the world, but the story of its compilation is a recent one, and this fact is often still abused by a few ignorant "special snowflakes" with a decidedly negative agenda. Some people reject the Armanen Futharkh as "fake" or not "old" or "traditional" enough for their narrowly defined academic orthodoxy, strangely ignoring the fact that all its Runes are present in one form or another in the "Elder" Futhark as well as the other historical systems, and thus are indeed historical runes dating back thousands of years. Despite this fact, such detractors often claim the Armanen system was nothing more than a dream or even an outright invention of List's, and thus not really worthy of study. I have even seen this baseless claim advanced by people who have never read any of List's work or even researched what more contemporary Armanists have written about the 18 runes. The more ignorant these backbiters are, it seems, the louder they bark.

Although some people still today have this unjust and ignoble attitude, their numbers are diminishing. The typical reaction to the Armanen runes now tends to be either "I've never heard of them" or a genuine curiosity as to how they are connected with Odin, and just who Guido von List was, that seemingly out of nowhere the greatest and largest Runic society in history formed around him. As more and more people (both heathens and non-heathens) become aware of the true story of List, Germanic mysticism, and the Odinic Runes - and how it has no connection at all to the eclectic "fluffbunny" nonsense being peddled by many new-age authors - the way is opened for an increased awareness of this, arguably most powerful, of Rune systems. Thus the absurdity of the dismissive mindset of anti-Armanen detractors is exposed - and it has no place in a non-dogmatic spiritual tradition.

However, this is not to say that anyone should simply take up the Armanen Runes without question. Your ultimate conclusions about Armanen Futharkh, or any rune row for that matter, will depend on how you see and feel it as an individual Rune-vitki, whether we are speaking of Rune-carving, ritual Rune-magick such as shamanic Rune-dances, Rune-meditation, or even the Rune-yoga of Siegfried Adolf Kummer and Friedrich Bernhard Marby, among others. There is a certain element of intuition involved in choosing one's preferred Rune-row, and in that regard the Rune-row will often speak to you when you are ready - but this can only be done with real certainty after looking into all of them and understanding how they work, so that your understanding of all of them is at least a bit well-rounded. My experience is that in all Runic disciplines, the Armanen Futharkh does provide more consistent and deeper results than any of the other Rune rows, particularly moreso than the "Elder" row, whose meanings are largely lost and often rather poorly reconstructed in modern times, with little of the linguistic, symbolic and cultural context and interconnection that the Armanen system includes. Even then, many of the reconstructed meanings of the "Elder" runes owe a lot to Edred Thorsson's adaptation of Armanen concepts to Migration-age runes for an Anglo-American audience; before the 1970s with Thorsson's work, the Armanen Runes were the only Futhark widely used for divination, meditation, or yoga - though they were hardly known outside of German-speaking groups. 

A runic system's true worth, for you, is ultimately in how well it works when  consistently applied. All the same, it does help to know a bit about the origins of the Armanen runes, in an Armanic sense (not just a purely cut-and-dry academic one), so that you can get a good grasp of their impact on nearly all modern runic studies, and what List was actually trying to achieve with them. 


The Armanen runes, positive and negative positions (after Karl Spiesberger, Runen-Magie, pp. 283-284)

The historical origin of the original 18 runes of Odin is shrouded in even more mystery than the meanings of the 24 "Elder" Futhark which they gradually evolved into, as runes became more of a practical writing system than a system of magickal powers taught to initiates. Yet this origin likely goes back deep into migration-period times and perhaps even further to nomadic proto-Aryan times, when the distinctions between Goths, Celts, Slavs, Iranian Aryans and Indo-Aryans were not so clear-cut by latitude, melanin, or hair density. It was a time when writing was indeed magick, when skald and shaman were one, when central and eastern Europe were still mostly Finno-Ugric, and the German and the Swede and the Armenian and the Persian and the Scythian were still barely a twinkle in their proto-Aryan forefather's eye, somewhere in the vicinity of Arkaim in southern Russia, some 13,000 years ago - the likely ancestral homeland of the historical Odin and the historical Aesir tribe, if there ever was an earthly one.

Runic systems proliferated all over Parthia, Scythia, and eastern Europe. The Dacians and Croats, stepsons of the invading Aryan tribes, then had their own golden ages of runic civilizations and their own derivative futhark-like systems. In Central Asia, the Scythian runes were copied and adapted centuries later by invading Göktürks and Uzbeks, and eventually influenced the vertical-stem tibetan and mongolian scripts - some of which even today resemble extravagant bind-runes, with a bit of curved Vedic-script influence mixed in for good measure. In Iran, particularly after the advent of State Zoroastrianism and its anti-occult ethos (not so much an artifact of Zarathustra as of the corrupt Turanized priesthood that succeeded him), magickal runic systems were dumped by commoner and king alike altogether, in favor of more utilitarian/materialist-oriented writing systems like Babylonian cuneiform, which was better suited to handling complex grammar, translations, and financial transactions (runic "numbers" as such did not exist) in the proximity of the already long-established multilingual merchant civilizations of the Near East. Shocking as it may be to the westerner, the Persian "magi" (or Magupatan/Mubadan) did not actually practice ritual magick, despite the word itself being derived from their title, although they did develop a more permitted symbolist form of astronomy that was often hard to distinguish from astrology. This more cosmopolitan approach to script was one of the factors that enabled the nearly superhuman rise of the Persian Empire, though on the negative side it also resulted in either the loss, or the necessary repackaging and transmutation, of much Aryan occult knowledge - the remnant of which eventually though Mithraism filtered its way to Rome and was there mixed with equally watered-down Egyptian and Hellenistic traditions to form "Hermeticism" and eventually medieval alchemy - ironically a system in which Germans made the greatest strides.

Ancient Norse runes similar to Armanen runes, carved on a wood plank. Notice the use of Rit, Thorn, Laf, Fa, and Sig.
However, in northern Europe there was no great urban civilization on the lines of Babylon - and so, the 18 sacred futhark of semi-mythical times survived, but eventually took on the form of an orthographic writing system, in their expanded form of 24 "Elder" Futhark runes. Whereas the Saxons, as they conquered new peoples and encountered new sounds and tongues, kept expanding their system to eventually 33 runes, making it a full-fledged modern alphabet for purely utilitarian purposes - the Scandinavians were apparently not so convinced that this was a good direction to go in. The Viking age, one must never forget, was also the age of great advances in art and science for the Nordic peoples - the builders of the Viking ship were not the dumb brutes portrayed in movies. They were ingenious engineers and military strategists, and not only that, many of the warriors were also highly literate and accomplished poets and skalds (poet-magi). The Elder Futhark had served them well as both a magickal system (allegedly) and as a written language. 

The Elder Futhark, an expansion of the original 18 Odinic runes into 24 quasi-alphabetical runes.
(This image is my own work. ASK before using.)
However, perhaps due to the Scandinavians' conflict with foreign and mostly Christian cultures (rather than integration with them, as was the case of the Saxons), there was a cultural preservationist tendency arising among many of the Norsemen of this time. The mysteries of the Poetic Edda held greater resonance for them as they explored the seas, colonized new lands, and dared to risk hitting the Midgard Serpent in the tail. As they encountered foreign people with foreign faiths, many quite formidable in their own right, they longed to rediscover their own ancient esoteric traditions and gain strength and inspiration from them - and core to this was the smaller, purer magickal rune set obtained by Odin's sacrifice as narrated in the Hávamál, and the supernatural powers it held that had since been lost. Eventually a faction prevailed among them that claimed it had discovered just that. This group, nameless today but widely recognized as the classic Norsk skalds who chronicled the sagas and virtually the entire early history of Iceland, decided (at the urging of the powerful kings of the Danes) on just 16 runes as being authentically "Odinic." The Danes decided against the last two of the 18 rune stanzas of the Hávamál, apparently claiming these to be Migration-Period interpolations, or simply too obscure to interpret (this view has been both upheld and refuted in more recent ages). Throughout Moots and Allthings all over the Norse world, the Danish views eventually won the greatest support. Yet the Norwegians (and their descendants, the Icelanders who wrote down the Eddas in their current form) still did preserve all 18 rune verses of the Hávamál , despite using a form of the 16-rune Younger Futhark for practical political purposes of unifying the Old Norse language. They did not burn any part of Odin's wisdom, but maintained it in hibernation, as if in anticipation of a new runic master who would one day restore the ancient rune wisdom to its full form.
The 16-rune Younger Futhark - the eventual Danish-Swedish long stave form with double-sided Os and Ar rune variants.
Every rune here is also  present in some shape or form in the Armanen Futharkh.
(This image is my own work. ASK before using.)
Thus despite the language growing more complex, as the Norse (like their Saxon contemporaries) expanded into new lands and encountered new cultures and sounds, the Norse decided not to increase, but reduce the complexity of their Futhark and purify it, to cut it down from 24 runes to just 16, to return back to the sacred knowledge of their early days, and thus preserve the original form and style of their language, and prevent it from being diluted and changed. Their efforts largely paid off - Icelandic is nearly identical to Old Norse, and the other Scandinavian languages are to a large part mutually intelligible to one another's native speakers - even more so than Italian is to Spanish, for example. By contrast, the Anglo-Saxons, who expanded their Futhorc and absorbed sounds and words of other languages, eventually witnessed their language in its original form become so diluted with Britonic and Gaelic influences, that the earliest Saxon writings were almost dead and incomprehensible to Saxons in England by the time of the Norman conquest. And thus Anglo-Saxon did not prove as resilient against foreign influences as old Norse, and is today essentially a dead language, whatever the script used.
The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc in its fully expanded Northumbrian form. Although you see 34 runes here, two of them, Calc and Kalc, are widely considered to be substitutes of the same rune, thus making the total count 33. Unfortunately for the rune-master, this system is a product of culturo-linguistic dilution, to the extent that hardly any Anglo-Saxon lore pertaining to the practical use of  these runes has survived. Open-source wiki file.
Indeed it may be argued that the Younger Futhark was the first known attempt by Germanic peoples to reconstruct the ancestral 18 sacred runes of Odin. It was in a sense, the first attempt at doing what Guido von List and the Armanen system actually did. Even several centuries before Viking Age, the original 18 Odinic runes had long been expanded into the 24 characters of the Elder Futhark, and even this altered and diluted system was already coming into contact with exotic foreign idioms, sounds, and grammatical concepts as Germanic peoples explored and traded with (and sometimes plundered) new lands. A number of different approaches emerged to deal with this challenge. The Anglo-Saxons chose a more pluralistic route, of expanding the Futhark to 29 and in some cases 33 runes as they came into contact with Celts and Britons - with some of the extra runes being more literal pictograph than symbolic letter. The northern Germanic peoples - Danes, Swedes, Goths and Norwegians - chose, counter-intuitively, to simplify the Futhark even as their language became more complex and their worldview more cosmopolitan.

Why? Because of a desire to return to their esoteric and ceremonial roots. Any expert in Germanic civilizations can tell you, the Saxons and other central and southern Germans were by the 5th century people of rather simple and utilitarian tastes - whereas the Swedes, Danes and their neighbors in the far north were far more fond of ceremony and tradition, both in experiencing ritual as initiation, and in discovering its mysterious ancient roots. Hence they chose to simplify the Futhark to its basic root form in the Hávamál . However they ran into a problem - just like a minority of modern scholars of Norse lore (i.e. Auden and Bellows) a number of influential chieftains had doubts about the authenticity of the last three rune stanzas of the Hávamál (161-163), in which the final two runes of the sacred 18 are mentioned. In the end the Norwegians maintained the full form of the poem with all its 18 rune spells, which were later recorded into the Poetic Edda by their descendants in Iceland - but the Danish chieftains and skalds ended up winning the day in Scandinavia when it came to runes. Only 16 (and in some cases just 15) of the runes were judged authentic and retained in the Younger Futhark that resulted from several generations of these debates at the Allthings.


Guido von List simply maintained that the conclusion of the Danes had been a bit off - that the Rune Poem of the Hávamál was indeed completely authentic and all 18 of its rune verses referenced genuine ancient runes - a conclusion that many runemasters today support, even if they don't use the Armanen or are unfamiliar with it. The Hávamál doesn't mention 24 runes, it mentions 18, in order, from start to finish. The Armanen Futharkh, like it or not, is the only runic system that fully honors this legacy in number and meaning.


The Armanen Runes in their "carved form" as envisaged by Guido von List.

Therefore, the "historical-only" fanatics who rashly dismiss Armanen as a "fake" system are completely missing the point. It doesn't contain any "fake" or made-up runes. List did not invent the Armanen Futharkh. He merely compiled them in accordance with the rune-stanzas of the Hávamál. The runes themselves had already existed in the "Elder" and "Younger" Futharks for centuries. The Danish skalds who compiled the "Younger" Futhark had attempted - just like List, centuries later - to refine the "Elder" Futhark runes to their primal neolithic Odinic form, free of later Migration Period additions (paradoxically today we label these additions "Elder"... but they are not Eldest). 

The precise reasoning of the Danes in rejecting part of the Hávamál  is not well-understood today, but in retrospect, with all the advancements in historiography that we now have, we now know it is something of a miracle that the Hávamál  and the rest of the Poetic Edda survived at all. So much of the old lore has been destroyed by Christianity and in other places simply never written down, such that, archaeology and Roman accounts not withstanding, there is almost as little known about the runic practices of the Old Norse as about any other ancient pagan people of Europe.

What little is supported by some tenuous link to history, is known among runers today largely thanks to the work of Guido von List and his students. For a long period, the Listians - or Armanists, as List himself called them - were the only people seriously attempting to revive the runic traditions as magickal practice, beyond the dry and often misguided stale "curiosities" theories of academia. It was List and his disciples who came up with the concept of positive and negative rune casting positions, and even the idea of the common "past, present, future" 3-rune cast which is universally used in modern rune magick. While the general concepts behind these methods are based in ancient Norse mythology, because of the huge gaps in the surviving runic history and lore, the exact practice is by necessity a Listian reconstruction. 

And there was no way for List or anyone else to avoid this. You cannot perfectly reconstruct the exact spiritual and runelore system of the ancient pre-Viking Norse no matter how hard you try. Too much is lost or destroyed. Too much will always have to be modern speculation, be it ever so well-meaning or well-guided. There is no surviving manuscript of runelore dating from the "Elder" Futhark age. There are no dictionaries or manuals. Even the very names of the "Elder" runes are speculative modern reconstructions, as are most of their alleged esoteric meanings in books and websites - and yet it still doesn't match Odin's original 18-rune row. Armanen's clarity as a comprehensive modern system solves all of these problems and thus from a practical view makes it superior to "Elder" systems - after all, their original pre-Viking esoteric meanings, corpus of literature, and even correct pronunciations are all but completely lost, whereas Armanen's are fresh and complete. 


The Gursten rune stone in Sumaland, Sweden, contains inscriptions very similar to List's Armanen Futharkh.
As for the historicity argument - while there isn't direct stone-hard evidence of the 18 Armanen runes being used exclusively as a stand-alone system in ancient proto-Norse times, they are all nevertheless part of the historical "Elder" and/or "Younger" Futharks in some shape or form, so they are in that sense as historic as any other runes - and with the added advantage of an undamaged modern body of lore suited to our times while still respecting and borrowing from the past. Fanatically adhering to an ancient "Elder" rune row whose original lore and interpretations have been lost for centuries does not make the magickal experience any more "authentic" or "historically accurate" - after all, modern meanings, methods and interpretations still have to be invented to make any of it usable or relevant to us today, and there's no guarantee that any of that would have been recognizable (much less acceptable) to an ancient pre-Viking Norseman who actually used the "Elder" Futhark. And then, it still wouldn't correspond to the Hávamál. Anyone who denies this is deluding themselves. Attempting 100% historical purism with any long-suppressed ancient magick, runes included, is an exercise in futility.

Those who shun the Armanen system wholesale as "fake" may assume they are healthy skeptics debunking a 20th-century hoax, but the truth is far more complex and nuanced than that - in reality they have grossly misjudged both List and the Armanen Runes, and have become prisoners of an ignorant dogmatic point of view - but it's not irreversible, and some of them can perhaps be freed. This is not a personal criticism - they often simply have no idea of the Armanen Futharkh's deep cultural and linguistic roots, its confirmation as valid by hereditary Rune-masters of the Continental tradition, and the fact that it is Odinic in nature, based in the Hávamál's 18 Rune-verses, and essentially a completion of the Viking skalds' attempt to resurrect the original Odinic Runes. Dismissing something out of hand based on hearsay or assumptive groupthink is never a good way to go about understanding any subject. Armanen runes are no different in this regard. 

That said, for those of you who are not looking for the full depths of Odinic wisdom, I understand if you decide (after firsthand study of course) that the Armanen runes are not for you. Clearly not everyone is looking for everything the Armanen system has to offer, and even if you are, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for learning about the other rune rows as well. Indeed even most Armanists are well-versed in the other other three major rune rows, and I cannot think of an Armanist who isn't (though non-Armanist "academic puritans" who have never researched the Armanen row, or read its literature, seem to be a dime a dozen!) 

But there are some reasons why some people would not want to work with the Armanen runes. Some people genuinely want to stick to the historic academia only, viewing runes purely as a dry textbook curiosity - this sort are far more likely to be Christians or atheists than any sort of Heathen, but of course there are exceptions. Some Ásatrúars genuinely prefer using 24 or even 33 runes for castings (even though some of their alleged meanings may overlap). Some wish to expand their knowledge of the evolution of rune-magick and runelore across both recorded and esoteric history, but prefer to stick to the (often vague) surviving Old Norse sources - these people I applaud for their sincere desires, though I do not envy the burden they have placed upon themselves. Others merely have misplaced doubts about List and the other Armanen masters, and prefer conservative caution in the absence of sufficient time or access to source material. And yet others are misled and prejudiced enough that they won't touch the Armanen Futharkh with a 50-foot pole. 

However in the experiences of Rune masters who have used them (as well as my own experience) the common theme is that the Armanen runes are easily the most powerful, clear-cut, and intuitive of all the four major rune systems. The meanings and interpretations are, unusually for any magickal system, manifested both clear AND deep after relatively little training - and versatile enough for both simple readings and very advanced ones. Any ambiguity or confusion faced when using other systems for meditation and divination, especially the "Elder" and Anglo-Saxon runes (be honest with yourself, we have all been there), vanishes after a few sincere attempts with the Armanen Futharkh. The rune Fa in the Armanen system is so much more developed in its Germanic cultural meanings, both esoteric and exoteric, than the 2-dimensional assumed meanings of its "Elder" Futhark form Fehu. Same with Ur, Thorn, Os, Rit and so on. 

Because its modern lore and metaphorical meanings are so well-developed by the founding modern Rune-masters, the Armanen Futharkh is by far the most consistently applicable system for both esoteric and exoteric rune-work, and I've found that Armanen Rune readings actually clarify the readings from the other systems. Less guesswork and confusion, more insight. As a mystical runic system for meditation and personal growth, its strength is also unmatched. List was a man who truly understood the Runes as very few people ever have, who took all the multi-layered wisdom of the Eddas and Sagas, a lifetime's worth of learning, and distilled it down into the concise esoteric meanings of all 18 runes - and yet, astonishingly for being so concise, the Armanen system is also deeper in meaning and nuance than the totality of lore that survives from all the other rune rows, so that something new can still always be learned with the Armanen Futharkh whether you are a student or a master, without any furious head-bashing against brick walls. Whether it's truly 100% Odin's original magickal rune row, down to the very last stave and branch, is in a sense irrelevant - it's the only one we know of that even comes close.

This does not, however, mean that the "Elder" Futhark are in any way a "bad" or wrong system. Nor are the "Younger" or Anglo-Saxon rune rows in any way "bad" systems. They still have their uses, as they clearly did to people of certain ages past. They are indeed ancient, based on archaeological findings, steeped in the mists of time and are historically accepted by many as being authentic - this is not in doubt, nor do I have any ill will to their adherents. However, other than their visual symbolical structure (which has also differed over time from past to present), there is no real record, Heathen or Christian, as to their true meanings, names, uses or interpretations by the mystics and shamans of the early Germanic peoples. This is a fact. It is also a fact that even the reconstructed meanings we know today have changed to some varying degree to suit modern day interpretations, with a bit of Armanen input here and there. The problem is with ignorant and fanatical "Elder" Futhark exclusivists, not with the "Elder" Futhark runes themselves. Remember that the 24 "Elder" runes include among their number, forms or counterparts of all 18 Armanen runes! The "Elder", "Younger", and Anglo-Saxon runes include quite a bit of overlap with Armanen Runes as well as with each other, and all have either a historical context or some lore (or both). They are all valid in their own way, even if not in all the same ways as the Armanen, and after all, the Hávamál never says that Odin's 18 runes are the only magickal symbols or spells in the Nine Worlds. Indeed it leaves the possibility for other symbols being extremely powerful in the Norse worldview:

"Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer [Bale-thorn] painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
carved by the Utterer of gods. "

Hávamál , verse 141

Hidden runes and interpreted signs! Thus it is entirely possible that Odin's 18 runes are not the only potent magickal system known in the Norse cosmology. They do appear to be, however, the most potent for humans to learn and use. After all, there are other magickal symbols like bind-runes, tree-staves and Galdrstafir (several"Elder" runes may in fact be seen as bind-runes made from basic Armanen runes!) and there also appears to be some very powerful talismanic or "sigil" magick used by the Jotuns (giants) in the Eddic texts, but none of it appears to be designed/intended for either the Aesir or humans to use; likewise, Runes are metaphysically off-limits to the giants and indeed harmful for them:

"Now the sayings of the High One are sounded in the hall
for the weal of men, for the woe of Jötuns..."
-Hávamál , verse 164

Thus the Norse Lore is not fanatically chained to one system. Odin taught the runes, Freyja taught Seidhr, and it may even be possible that in ancient times long before the Eddas were written down, the Norse had other magickal symbols and systems for gods other than Odin and Freyja, each with their own native wisdom tradition. However, Armanen practitioners tent to primarily focus on the 18 Armanen runes, because there were after all only 18 primary runes found by Odin, and these are spoken of with more reverence and power in the Poetic Edda than any other magickal practice. The rest of the runes present in the other systems, are not "runes" per se from the Armanic standpoint, though they may well be bind-runes (spells of 2 or more primary runes fused into a new symbol) or another form of symbolism entirely, similar to Icelandic Galdrstafir. Indeed, it is relatively simply to derive some of the more complex "Elder" runes by making Armanen Bind-Runes (Dagaz, for example, resembles two mirrored Thorn-runes with touching points, and shortened vertical staves, while Othala or Odal is obtained by overlapping two tilted and mirrored Os-runes). In the Armanic view of the Runes, with all the historical rune-rows being descended from the Armanen (i.e. Odinic) Runes, understanding the additional symbols among the "Elder" and Anglo-Saxon Runes as Bind-runes of basic Armanen forms, is not just logical but reality.

This derivative nature doesn't make the "Elder" Futhark wrong or "fake" from an Armanen point of view - it just means that they are not the original Odinic rune row, and that they serve a different purpose. Historically, they can be seen as a derivative of the Odinic Runes adapted for use by farmers, with the extra runes such as Ingwaz and Dagaz having a clear agricultural usage to their linguistically reconstructed meanings. Likewise, the expanded Anglo-Saxon Futhorc appears to be adapted for the warrior class, with further additions like Gar (the spear), Calc (the ritual chalice used in warrior initiations), and Stan (the stone or slab, as one might use for building forts and strong point defenses). The Armanen Runes are considered the Rune-row of the priest-class, the Armanen or Semanen, the mystics, shamans and skalds of ancient proto-Germanic cultures - the "highest" of the three classes of ancient Germanic society. There is even a current of thought among some Armanists, including both Guido von List and Siegfried Adolf Kummer, that these Runes are primal Aryan mysteries from an almost prehistoric era, long predating a Germanic identity or even the Indo-European migrations altogether; the fact that the words Arman and Seman also survive in Iranian languages, with symbolically similar meanings to the Germanic ones (along with some Rune-shaped symbols in the local art styles), may attest to this tantalizing possibility. 

Today no source material survives for the meanings of the "Elder" Futhark (though there are plenty of inscriptions on rune-stones in "Proto-Germanic", a dead language that has had to be reconstructed). Only tertiary (at best) sources still exist for the "Younger" and Anglo-Saxon systems. The only historical documents interpreting and detailing these other ‘traditional' rune rows are the rather terse couplets of the Icelandic, Norwegian and Anglo-Saxon rune poems - but these appear to be very late compositions due to their partially Christianized content, and are constructed more like mnemonic devices than actual explanations of meanings - and for any honest student of runes, some burning questions sooner or later have to be asked about the "Elder", "Younger" and Anglo-Saxon rune rows: 

Who was it that actually invented these Rune rows? Why did some Germanic cultures use Rune-rows with more Runes, others fewer? What earlier Runic system did they based them on?

Who actually wrote the Rune-poems that survive today? Were they professional Skalds preserving actual Rune-meanings, or merely ordinary people writing down a mnemonic device to teach their children the Runic script of the time? Did they have an older form without the Christian references?

Were the rune meanings given in these poems widely accepted in ancient times, or were they merely the interpretations of a few individuals across the expanse of Runic history? 

Were they the meanings understood by all people in the culture attached to each Rune row? Or were they only accepted among a specific class of people (i.e. farmers, warriors, etc.)?

How far were these poems influenced by Christianity, even if you leave out any of the obvious references to Christ? Or could parts of these rune poems even be missionary propaganda to confuse or mislead Germanic heathens they were trying to convert?

The only certain answer to all these questions is that we do not know. There is, in any case, a strong possibility that what these "traditional" rune rows mean today, may not be what they meant to the early Germanic rune-masters who regularly carved and used them.

It's possible that even the Armanen Runes may have had different meanings in the earliest days of Germanic Rune-magick, than they do today after their rediscovery by Guido von List. After all, the Armanen system contains many of the same runes found in the other three Rune-rows! However, the Armanen system doesn't solely rely on the watered-down literalist meanings ascribed to the more ‘traditional' runic rows - it has its own multi-layered esoteric meanings which expand upon the Eddas, the Sagas, and even a common pan-Aryan linguistic heritage stretching far beyond modern Europe, which is plain for all investigators of languages to see - whereas  the meanings and even the names associated with the more "traditional" rune rows are largely either reconstructed of interpreted by modern people without the benefit of the millennia of lore which has been lost or destroyed. Often the reconstructed "Elder" Rune meanings have been interpreted through a dry ivory-tower perspective completely devoid of the benefit of List's extensive knowledge of the runes' ethno-linguistic connections and the metaphysics of ancient Aryan cultures. The entire second half of The Secret of the Runes is devoted to digging up the Runic roots of many common German words and their seemingly contradictory triple layers of meaning. In List's way of using the Runic kernel-words and the ancient root words, the divergent meanings of even modern Germanic idioms finally make sense.


Without this deeply culturally entrenched understanding of Germanic folk-idioms and the "magickal language" of ancient kernel-words, interpreting the Runes in any system becomes cumbersome and futile. And that is precisely what many academic types have gotten mired in. Thus they only focus on a Rune's sound, the reconstructed language, and the outer literal meaning of the reconstructed word. But not the esoteric meanings; and doubt it not, the Germanic tribes were esoterically-minded peoples, to a degree even considered strange by most Greeks and Romans, who had their own specialized shamans and seers in spades. But today we do not have an actual Rune-poem for the "Elder" Futhark runes. We don't have an Eddic heritage for a 24-rune system, let alone an unbroken chain of masters leading up to a living clan tradition for them. We're left with very little to go on, far less than for the Armanen system.

For example, there is no surviving inscription to tell us that one "Elder" Futhark rune is called Fehu, another one called Uruz, another one called Thurisaz, another one called or Ansuz, and so on. These names are modern reconstructions, and while they may be close to the names used in ancient times, it's unlikely that modern academic runologists can reconstruct, without any esoteric input, the exact meanings for them which were recognized in the time when they were carved into stone. Therefore, it doesn't make much sense to embrace the "Elder" Futhark but dismiss the Armanen Runes, even if one doubts List's account and assumes that they are a modern reconstruction as well. And there is always the possibility that some of the ancient rune-carvers were not completely following their culture's accepted interpretation of the "Elder" runes in the first place. On the other hand, it's also possible that the names, meanings, interpretations and pronunciations used for "Elder" runes today are the exact same ones used by Germanic tribes all those centuries ago, but again, the real truth is that we do not know.

Guido von List and his followers, for their part, at least made a big effort to reconstruct what we do not know based on what is known about Germanic lore, both written Eddic material and oral Continental clan traditions, the magickal views of related cultures and the archetypes, symbolism and practices of other ancient Indo-European peoples. The Armanists of the last century, fallible human beings though they were, succeeded in finally freeing runes from the stale realm of mere academic curiosities, and instead allowed them to be what they had been for millennia - a living, breathing system of might and magick, heavily steeped in Indo-European culture, for  direct practical application rather than pointless eternal quibbling and prodding by literalist outsiders.

Indeed, until the German-Austrian Runic Revival in the 19th and early 20th century, there was no real systematic literature on any runic system's complete meanings - the far older books of scholars like Johannes Bureus mainly looked at runes as an alphabet, and for the most part only guessed at their mystical significance. It was the modern Armanen masters, such as Guido von List, Siegfried Adolf Kummer, Rudolf John Gorsleben, Peryt Shou (Albert Christian Georg Schultz), Tarnhari (Ernst Lauterer), Friedrich Bernhard Marby, Karl Spiesberger and many others who actually revealed some sense of what Runes actually meant to ancient Germanic people, or at least those literate in Runes, on a symbolic and spiritual level, beyond the dry surface-husk academic meanings like "Fehu = cattle" or "Hagalaz = hail". The disturbing reality for "Elder" Futhark-only purists is that many of the modern meanings ascribed to the "Elder" runes (at least those that are also present in the Armanen row) are based on a heavily watered-down version of the meanings reconstructed by these very same Armanist rune masters! If you use the full Armanen meanings for their "Elder" equivalent runes, suddenly even the obscure "Elder" Futhark begins to make sense as a cohesive spiritual system! This is no surprise as Armanen Rune meanings are deeply rooted in Germanic languages and their colorful symbolic idioms, which Grimm and many others had already documented and pondered over, long before the time of Guido von List and his Armanist colleagues.

Therefore it is the Armanen system and its modern founding authors to whom ALL contemporary rune magick owes the most debt. The lore of the "Elder" runes is lost - and probably was already lost long before the Viking age. The "Younger" rune lore of Viking times is bereft of most of its esoteric meaning, and partially diluted with Christianity. And the Anglo-Saxon system apparently never had much lore to begin with. 

Like it or not, if you use any form of the runes in divination, meditation or other magickal practices, even if you only use the "Elder" Futhark and not the Armanen, easily 90% of what you are doing was rediscovered or reconstructed (or in some cases simply had to be invented) by List and his students through their studies of ancient texts, after laying hidden and fragmented for nearly a thousand years. It is nearly impossible to overstate his contribution to modern runology and rune-magick, and extremely ignorant to dismiss it.


Modern French edition of The Secret of the Runes, translated from the German by Gerard LeRoy.
Few editions actually feature a cover portrait of List.
The story that List provided to his friend and patron, Austrian MP Friedrich Wannieck, has unfortunately been taken out of context so many times that understanding the truth is difficult even for those with no initial prejudice against List. He reported that in 1902, an eye operation to remove cataracts left him temporarily blind. Although he had already long studied and researched rune stones and ancient Germanic culture, he was still attempting to piece together the runes' original form and the greater secret of their occult meanings as the skalds of the past knew them: 

"Most honorable sir and friend, I notified you early in November 1902 that during the months that my eyes were bandaged due to the cataract operation, it would be impossible to begin to work mentally on my intended unravelling of the secret of the runes, but at that time -- previously unperceived laws of generation and evolution belonging to our Aryan people, of its emotion, intellect, speech, and writing, came to me. When I reported this to you, you were gracious enough to congratulate me by letter on these discoveries. It is from this letter that I permitted myself to extract an important sentence to serve as a word of dedication for this book and at the same time as an introduction for the entire series of works containing my further investigative discoveries. Above all, I have your encouraging interest to thank, honorable sir and friend, that I can give myself over to research and am able to dedicate myself to these almost unlimited areas of interest."

The idea that the Armanen runes were "revealed" to List in a dream is overly simplistic. He only speaks of "previously unperceived laws" of ancient Aryan culture and writing being revealed - by which, if you read his groundbreaking book The Secret of the Runes, he means the evolution of old Germanic grammar and idioms using the runes, not the runes themselves. List was already long familiar with the runes, indeed he was not the first post-Christian conversion writer to do original research on them. That honor goes to the Swedish scholar Johannes Bureus, who published the first printed book on runes back in 1611, the same year the King James Bible was first printed. Bureus, a librarian and tutor to king Gustavus Adolphus (of the 30 years' war fame), actually managed to persuade the king to pass a law requiring that no alphabet book in Sweden would be published unless it also taught the runes - a law which also gave Bureus a monopoly on printing all such books. Thus Swedish children were once again taught runes as an indigenous script, and Bureus intended to make it the official script of Sweden as it had been in pagan times. Ultimately he was not successful in this attempt, as people were already too familiar with Latin-based letters of modern Swedish - but in the 30 years' war, a new generation of Swedish army officers did use runes as a code to pass on secret messages to their far-outnumbered troops, which may have actually been the factor that turned the tide of the war in their favor! 

The rune-pronunciation chart of Johannes Bureus' original "Runa ABC", 1611.
The first fifteen of the runes of the Younger (and later Armanen) Futhark are listed here.
Thus the claim that List merely saw the runes "in a dream" or imagined up the Armanen system on a whim is pure bunk. The period of temporary blindness just heightened his other senses and allowed him to synthesize the decades of knowledge he had earned into a cohesive whole without external distractions - losing sight allows the visual cortex of the brain to be rewired towards other purposes and expand the strength of other mental abilities - something that is known to all modern neurologists today. Included in these abilities are spiritual, polymathic, and metaphysical gains which modern science still has struggled to explain. The period of temporary blindness List experienced was certainly not without its mystical visions, but it is completely wrong to claim that all his runic knowledge was the product of such visions. What they really revealed were "previously unperceived laws" tying all the disparate strands of his already extensive knowledge of Germanic lore together - meaning they were already self-evident, but hidden beneath the industrial grime of modernity, politics, fragmented academia, and materialism. This was the time when his facts all clicked together, not when they were first learned. List had been a journalist, author, historian, professor, man of letters, cultural anthropologist and archaeologist for decades before he underwent his eye operation. He would have likely arrived at the 18-rune Armanen system with or without it. Indeed, he had already completed his first thesis on the Armanen system in 1903. However it was the deeper Secret of the runes, the occult symbolism of them and its integral ties to Germanic culture and civilization, as well as their potential for the betterment of mankind (as Odin intended), that became clear to him during his visions. All of this wisdom has actually proven over the decades to be linguistically and culturally correct, for indeed List already knew the basic facts of it beforehand.

A clear distinction must therefore be made between the reality - a vision where all the facts of Germanic rune lore and the Eddas came together in a cohesive mysticism - and the twisted and intellectually bankrupt fiction of the detractors, of a charlatan imagining up an entire runic system separate from Germanic culture and lore. Lists's own detailed and scholarly words prove he was not the mad crackpot imagined by ignorant "Elder Futhark-only" purists that infest many modern Ásatrú and magickal circles. Those who seek to crucify or burn List have clearly not just failed to understand him, but also do not understand themselves, the runes, or the lore, and are wasting their time pretending to be followers of Odin and the Aesir, when in reality they are the Church and the Inquisition under a new name, having merely exchanged one form of "orthodox" oppression and two-faced morality for another.


"Now, because men of our contemporary age are caught up in the ascetic view of a life-denying religious system, but in spite of this cannot deny the primal laws of nature, a distorted morality had to be developed, which spreads hypocritical appearances over hidden actions. This has brought to a head all those outward forms of modern life, whose vacuousness and corruption are now beginning to disgust us."   - Guido von List


Guido von List in 1873, as journalist and historian.
Guido von List, in doctoral cap, around the time he published The Secret of the Runes.

One must also understand that one of the main reasons that the Armanen system is misunderstood - even hated - by both ivory-tower academics and self-proclaimed Ásatrúar runers - is that its inner mystic tradition (Armanism) is not an endpoint or a blue pill, but rather a journey or initiation. It does not stop at simple literalist or mundane answers. It does not assume that you have all the answers. It will neither bow down nor dictate to self-righteous hotheads who simply want to be spoon-fed. It looks at the runes the way Odin actually describes them in the Hávamál . As the raw, untrammeled divine mysteries of wisdom and power upon which endless progress and improvement of words and deeds is possible. Armanism, unlike exoteric (i.e. mainstream) heathenry, is not content with merely being a spectator and hailing the gods. Rather it reaches further, challenging students to put the Lore into action, to walk in Odin's footsteps, to see him as teacher rather than master, to eventually manifest the Odic rune energies and skills in one's own self:

Ere long I bore fruit, and thrived full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word building on word, I found me words,
deed building on deed, I wrought deeds.
 


Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer [Bale-thorn] painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
carved by the Utterer of gods. 

Hávamál , verses 140-141

To put it another way (with huge generalizations, of course), the average 
Ásatrúar merely worships Odin (in the Heathen sense) and makes blots to him. The experience may vary, but particularly in some of the more hierarchy-centric American sects, is not all that much different from most organized religions - it is repetition and low-brow "fellowship" in the Christian vein, just with a heathen veneer and vocabulary (clearly this satisfies some people). The Armanen rune master, however, actually seeks to become like Odin and take the same initiatic journey. The basic Ásatrúar or Odinist seeks religion and repetition. The Armanist pursues enlightenment, divine knowledge and self-actualization. The mainstream modern heathen distinguishes polytheists from monotheists. The Armanen practitioner distinguishes trailblazers from followers. For the garden-variety Odinist, runes and magick are optional, nice fringe benefits. For the Armanist they are essential. Both paths existed side-by-side in ancient Germanic society, without conflict - though only the "elite" Armanist path actually seeked the "Hidden Runes" and mysteries of Odin (whereas the so-called Odinist, or Wotanist, analog of today's mainstream Ásatrú movements for the masses, merely took what belief was handed to him from higher up). Indeed the "hidden runes" can already be found, in understanding the esoteric powers of the 18 Armanen runes as they are already known, and described in detail by List and others in their extensive works. Layers of meaning and powerful wisdom, tied in with the lessons of life experience no less intimately than the roots of Yggdrasil or the weave of wyrd being knitted by the Norns - as many such layers as a person can master.

Obviously this is not a journey for everyone. It is not for the blind conformist, the slavish order-taker, or the faint of heart. And contrary to some of the "politically correct" vigilante propaganda out there, it is also not for the blind fascist or totalitarian. It is for the courageous, the strong, the independent thinkers, and those who truly want to make a change in their lives, manifest nobility in actions, and be leading lights to people around them. The Ar-man or the Sun-man is indeed a rare find today (and sadly even more so the Ar-woman), but it was not always so, and it need not always be so. Now the rune master can no longer be legally persecuted or imprisoned for "heresy" and the way is open to all who can commit to learning the wisdom of Odin. Fortunately, now you will not have to hang yourself in a tree for nine days or give up an eye to learn it!