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 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. This statement (and the authenticity of the 18 Armanen Runes, with nearly identical appearance) was independently confirmed by the Armanen Sippa (clan) Lauterer in 1908, after they took note of List's just-published groundbreaking book, The Secret of the Runes. It was the Lauterers who recognized the natural esoteric abilities of Guido von List and trained him in the deeper wisdom of Armanenschaft, and initiated him as an Armanen Master; before 1907-08, they had had no known contact with him.
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.
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.
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.
for it may befall many man, to stumble upon a Murk-Stave.”
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.
Rune-like 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 sorcery (what most modern westerners understand as "magick", though it is too narrow a definition), despite the word "magic" itself being derived from their title, although they did work with symbols, tree-charms, and develop a 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.|
|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.)
|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.)
|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.|
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 an Armanen teaching.
And there was no way for List or anyone else to avoid relying on this Armanen oral tradition, through Clan Lauterer and others. You cannot perfectly reconstruct the exact spiritual and rune-lore 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 rune-lore 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 rune-system with clear permutations of meaning, 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.|
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 or developed these Rune rows? Did they evolve rapidly, or over a long time? Why did some Germanic cultures use Rune-rows or variants with more Runes, others fewer? What earlier Runic system did they based them on?
Who actually wrote the Norwegian, Icelandic, and Anglo-Saxon 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 personal or local interpretations of a few individuals across the late shallow end of the vast ocean 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, rewriting Runic Lore to confuse or mislead the Germanic heathens they were trying to convert? After all, missionaries still use such underhanded tricks in many countries and among many cultures today.
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.
Then there is always the possibility that some of the ancient Rune-carvers were not completely following their culture's accepted interpretation of the "Elder" Futhark in the first place. On the other hand, it's also theoretically possible that the meanings used for "Elder" Runes today are the exact same ones used by the people who carved them among the Germanic tribes over 2000 years ago, but it's just as possible that they are nothing of the sort! We simply don't know their esoteric meanings. We can make educated guesses based on the Rune-Poems for similar Runes in the Younger and Anglo-Saxon systems, or from the Hávamál (and published modern Lore) meanings for similar Runes in the Armanen system... but that's the most that can be done for the "Elder" Futhark. The majority of "Elder" Futhark inscriptions that still survive (aside from those which simply copy down the Futhark sequence) are written-out spells on large stones, using the Runes in a standard phonetic way - not a symbolic one. They generally pertain to marking the boundaries of farmland and cursing trespassers, and their reconstructed meanings indicate this was a rune-row used by the farmer class. Is it not likely that this represented only the common man's understanding of Rune-magick, and that the warrior class and the priest class of ancient Germanic societies, as described by Dumézil, would have had different interpretations and levels of symbolism to their own Runes?
There is so much we do not know about the "Elder" Futhark and yet nearly every effort to trash-talk the Armanen Futharkh relies on promoting the "Elder" Runes as some sort of perfectly documented and canonized gospel. Perhaps the "Elder" Runes really did evolve out of a simpler, 18-Rune Odinic Futhark like that mentioned in the Hávamál, and evolved to suit the needs of farmers, not the Priests of Wotan. The existing "Elder" inscriptions do show some variation in certain Runes, hinting that Migration-Age farmers were experimenting with different Rune-forms, so it is unlikely that the "Elder" Rune system was in fact the eldest.
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.
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.
"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.
Subsequently, the Rune-Masters of the hitherto secretive Clan Lauterer, a hereditary lineage of Rune-Masters with whom Guido von List had no previous contact, emerged publicly and endorsed List's book as a noble work, and proclaimed the 18 Runes he described in it, as the rediscovery of the most ancient and Odinic ones. They themselves had a nearly identical Rune-row of 18 Runes, passed down over the generations, with the only difference being the proportions and geometry of the Runes - those of Clan Lauterer had regular, 60-degree angles in their forks, following a hexagonal radial pattern, which was eventually publicized by another Armanen master, Rudolf J. Gorsleben. The Runes used by clan Lauterer were known as the Armanen Futharkh, and they also extended the honor of this title to the versions published by List. Other Armanen clans followed suit, and endorsed List's findings.
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.
|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.|
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 church-like American sects, is not all that much different from pastoral 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. Even leaving out the modern church-like distortions in some groups, the average Ásatrúar or Odinist seeks a certain level of comfort and repetition. The Armanist by contrast pursues enlightenment, divine knowledge and self-actualization, even though this is often not easy or comfortable. 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!