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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bind-Rune Basics

Bind-Runes are a subject that's been covered in a few rune-books, but most have not covered it well. It seems that somewhere in the process of creating interesting activities for people to replicate, most rune authors seem to lose the aim and intent of Bind-Runes somewhere along the wooded path.

A Bind-Rune is simply a combination of Runes that are stuck together or overlapped in some way - the term binding referring actually to weaving, as in the old Nordic term Nalbinding, or needle-knitting.

A bind-rune, itself bound onto a woven wool hat, woven in Norse Nalbinding method.
Now how's that for a double (or triple) bind!

The use of Bind-Runes, however, was probably more common in carving (or "risting") the Runes rather than literally binding, or weaving them. The purpose of carving Bind-Runes could in theory be almost anything, but in historical examples is nearly always for some form of enhancement of one's luck (hamingja) or for protection (ward). The Runes would be chosen based on the sort of energies one wished to invoke onto the carved or painted object. However their arrangement was entirely up to the practitioner, and could take many forms even when using the same few Runes.

There are primarily three types of bind-rune structures.

1. Linear Bind-Runes
2. Radial Bind-Runes
3. Multi-axial Bind-Runes

These can be understood as different ways of arranging the same message, however it is important to know what they do differently.

1. Linear, or single-stave Bind-Rune. These are made from several Runes with a vertical element, with all the vertical lines merged into one long stave. This type of Bind-Rune is most common on weapons, tools, and commemorative Runestones, implying that they were usually meant as spells of protection or remembrance of a great warrior. They tend to be Runes of a strongly directed singular purpose, usually of attacking either a foe or a problem, or to honor a victory.

A linear bind-rune turned on its side. When turned vertical, it reads downward "Runar" or Runes. The "R" is represented as a small hash mark above the Ur-rune, as is common in Norwegian Younger Futhark inscriptions.

2. Radial, or Galdr-stave Bind-Runes. These are often temporary rune-spells, intended for a specific time and place, and often carved or painted onto temporary substances. Most notable are modified Galdrastafir like the Ægishjálmur and Vegvísir, but there are are others known only from Icelandic medieval grimoires or oral folk traditions, many of which were meant to be carved on food and then eaten, or painted in blood on soil, and in some cases were carved on an object which was then burned to send forth the spell.  The radial arrangement is primarily for defense, as to symbolically deflect energies from various directions.

Although they do not appear to be for everyday use in ancient contexts, it is possible that some far more powerful symbols were concealed as Bind-Runes. The Sonnenrad, the Fylfot (swastika) and the Thor's Cross can all be interpreted as radial Bind-Runes, and in those rare-cases where they were made into objects, it was always in a permanent material like stone or metal (such as in rune-stones, medallions, or ceremonial armor and weapons). These are symbols of eternal power, far more sacred than a simple spell for protection of cattle. As a result, it was unusual for those who were not warriors, magicians, or leaders to have such objects made. One can construct custom radial Bind-Runes with their ends connecting in the center, or crossing over each other at the center. Typically radial Bind-Runes have four, six or eight spokes, though other arrangements are possible. In Armanen Rune-work, it is also common to create a Bind-Rune using one of the main Hedge-Runes as the central point itself, so that the center is not without its own power (Hagal being the most obvious such Rune).

3. Multi-axial Bind-Runes. This is the most seemingly random arrangement, with possibilities for arranging Runes with multiple vertical axes, with runes all upright or with some of them being rotated and bound onto diagonal lines of other Runes. One very basic type is the "G-A" or "Gibu Auja" (give luck) Bind-Rune, common in Migration Age (Elder Futhark) artifacts, which consists of a Gebo Rune with the upper right arm being merged with a smaller Ansuz rune. More complex Bind-Rune may have multiple overlapped vertical and diagonal elements. Generally Bind-Rune, like simple letter-runes, do NOT have horizontal lines (though a few rare exceptions are found in late medieval offshoots of the Younger Futhark).

Probably the simplest multi-axial bind-rune: Gibu Auja. 

The ordering of the runes in the visual structure of these Bind-Rune generally follows their sequence in the spell, but it may also depend on the central syllable or concept in the Rune working. Multi-axial Bind-Rune generally are not for attack or defense, but for subtle influence of surroundings and manifesting a desire into reality. There are all sorts of these Bind-Rune, from Bind-Rune for love spells to peaceful sleep spells to bind-runes for the removal of a specific hex or illness, and even to mitigate the intoxicating effects of ale and make it function as a medicine. This is where the complexity can start to get out of hand, as blending the Rune meanings for some of these purposes may require more than just a couple of Runes.

Elder Futhark bind-rune for sleep by Bjorke Heska.
Note the various rotations and axes, and the unusual arrangement with the square rune Ingwaz at the center.
With Armanen runes this would be far simpler, as there are short runic formulas known for sleep, some quite ancient.
As it stands though, apart from some well-established formulas found in old texts and some of the better-quality rune stones and metal artifacts, there are many possible ways to construct a Bind-Rune that has no preserved precedent. Also there is the possibility that some of the bind-rune inscriptions on ancient stones, bone combs, and everyday objects, were not necessarily carved by skilled masters, so there may be some mistakes (as in, what the carver intended is not what he ended up carving). So while looking at historical Rune-decorated objects is a good place to start, not necessarily everything that survives is equally reliable. Egil's saga recounts that there were bad Rune-risters as well as good ones, and perhaps the bad ones were all too common.


As for how to arrange and construct your Bind-Runes, there are different theories on the subject, but the one I generally go with is simplicity. And at the end of the day this comes down to the concept of the "perfect" being the enemy of the good. Endless detail and "perfection" of making each element stick out is often counterproductive, especially when a far simpler Bind-Rune was used in ancient times for the exact same effect. Since there are many ways that elements of runes can be merged or overlapped, sometimes there may be some ambiguity in what a Bind-Rune really means. While overly academic types may complain that this makes interpretation difficult or even meaningless, the reality is that now as in ancient times, there is always an element of mystery to all but the most standard Bind-Runes, with their ultimate purpose being known only to the practitioner, the Gods (if the rune-spell invokes any) and the universe they send them out into.

As with carving or painting of regular runes, intoning or chanting the runes used in a Bind-Rune is common if not more or less required during the carving or painting process. As with rune-inlaid swords, where the swordsmith would often invoke Tyr while creating the Tyr-Rune twice (usually stacked) on the hilt, as the Volsunga Saga recommends to do. 

In the 6th verse of the Sigrdrífumál, which tells the same story as the Volsunga Saga, the Valkyrie Sigdrifa (Brynhild) instructs the warrior Sigurd:

Winning-Runes shall you learn,
if you wish to have victory,
And rist [Runes] upon hilt of sword;
Some on the grip,
and some on the guard,
And twice name Tyr. 

Galdr is a big part of bind-rune work. This all involves practice, so too often a beginner will get frustrated their first attempts aren't producing results, and will give up. Often results will come once the basic bind-runes have been tried many times in the right situations. So do not give up. Nobody is a master all at once. Each time, meditate upon the runes you choose, with less distraction. Eradicating all distraction at once is not the goal, but to slowly make it moot.

First– Determine your intent

The first step you should take it sit down and think, really think, about what it is you want to accomplish. Think of it not just in terms of end results, but how you get there, and what you need to do, or need help with to accomplish. To carve and invoke runic energies in a bind-rune, your intent must be clear. You cannot make the effect of a bind-rune any clearer than its intent, but it is possible to do things that will muddy the effect far beneath what you intended! Take your time in choosing your intent. This will help you not only in focusing your energy, but also in picking your runes. Then, visualize and feel the energy of taking that action, of getting there. You want to not just be a thinking runer, but a feeling one as well - feel the energy that success will bring you, and you will find the energy that will bring you success.  If you need to, think a thousand times before taking a decision, but the intent you reach should be so clear that after taking that decision, you never turn back even if you run into a thousand difficulties. 

Second– Choose your rune set and your runes

Decide which rune system you prefer to work with - Elder, Younger, Anglo-Saxon, or Armanen. In terms of actual literature about their meanings, the Armanen and Younger rune rows are the strongest choice, but it's important to be familiar with all four systems and their somewhat different cultural contexts. Once you have a preferred rune system, examine each rune in it, and its meanings, both esoteric and exoteric, and think about whether that rune fits with your goals. Some runes will be obvious "yes" or "no" choices. However there are often ambiguities in the pertinence of other runes, and it helps to meditate on each relevant rune individually, and explore the possibilities.

Third– Decide on your arrangement

After you’ve gone through your runes, look at what you’ve got. Do you have too many? (generally more than 4-5 is too many for a clear goal), or too few? If you have too many, your thoughts and follow-through may be unfocused. If you have too few, its possible you aren’t considering all the possibilities in terms of achieving your goal. Then, combine them in the arrangement that best fits your goal (linear for attacking a problem, radial for protection, or a multi-axial or overlapping bind-rune for manifesting a reality). At this point you also have to choose your material (wood, metal, stone, paper?), your tools (knife, gouge, brush?) and your method of invocation after Galdr and risting (i.e. staining carved wood or stone bind-runes with ochre, or burning wood or paper ones as an offering).

Finally - DO IT. Carve, chant, paint, and send. If the sending is not by burning, it can be by placing the bind-rune object in a sacred place - be it a forest, a river, a Ve (enclosed grove), a Horgr (outdoor stone altar) or a home altar. Call on the runes for power and guidance. If the runes you use include the name or attribute of a God, that is one more possible invocation you can add, though it's usually not required in rune magick. Then conclude the ritual with a closing line, to declare that it is done. There are various ones you can use (denn so ist gemacht in German), (og svo er thadh in Icelandic) though my preferred one is the Armanen closing "Iey Sar, Iey Sey, Iey Fyor, Peyrow Kvan Ike Iser" (I see, I say, I know, for Now It Is) - which references ancient pan-Aryan root words of both the east and west branches, and is far better than the sappy "so mote it be" used by... well... unwitting new-age sheep blindly imitating certain people.


Usually with bind-runes it is considered best to follow the templates used by ancient Tuners. Like it or not, they had reached these particular formulas over thousands of years, and as Karl Spiesberger said, it's best to use what works. Some bind-runes (such as Gibu-Auja if you're using Elder Futhark) are repeated so often in artifacts or Lore from multiple periods in Heathen history, that the inevitable answer is that they worked, for people to be using them so often over so many centuries. So it's a good idea to find pictures of such artifacts and look for common patterns in bind-runes.

That said, we know that the runic path is not a dogma, and is very possible for the practitioner to test out new bind-runes and find new ways of manifesting runic power - but one must be experienced in the old established rune formulas, in whatever system, to do this safely - as both Master Egil and Siegfried Kummer warn us, it's best to avoid using runes or rune combinations you do not understand:

"Runes none should carve, who knows not how to read them,
for it befalls many a man, to stumble [into disaster] upon a murk-stave"

- The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson, chapter 75

"[these are] rune-formulas passed down from ancient times, but I advise every Runer who may perhaps utilize them to approach such work most carefully; everyone is personally responsible for his own actions. The conscious and noble Runer will never reject laws or utilize powers whose effect he docs not understand and has not sufficiently tested. Let no one misuse unknown magical formulas on his blood-brothers and sisters—he could not escape the avenging might of the Runes. Whosoever carves Runes, let him carve them in wood; whoever writes them, let him write them on paper, so they can be burned at any time. Spiritual meditation is always important for the carving and writing of Runes."

 -Siegfried Adolf Kummer, Runen-Magie

When constructing basic bind-runes (those with three or fewer runic elements), the simplest combination using the fewest lines is usually the best. With more complex rune-work there is no one fixed roadmap, however you can get inspiration from some of the Sagas including Egil's saga, which mentions several times this famous rune-master used Bind-Rune magick to survive murder attempts, heal the sick, and defeat his enemies. Again here it is best to consult what has worked before, as Egil warns that carving and invoking runes without understanding them well can lead to disaster. However you do it, the meanings and powers of each rune should be understood, which in my view requires knowledge of all four major systems, especially the Armanen system for esoteric work.

The best bind-runes, in my view, are the most concise, even if this apparently causes ambiguity in terms of how many runes (and which) are in a bind-rune. Generally they should have the minimum amount of detail needed to tell the presence of the different runes used. For example, the simple monogram for Harald Bluetooth, which is also the modern symbol of "bluetooth" wireless technology in cellphones and other devices. It is simply "HB" or Hagal and Bjarkan from the Younger Futhark, overlapped along their vertical lines. Hagal's diagonals overlap with the two central diagonals of Bjarkan perfectly. Yet you can still tell this is Hagal and Bjarkan without having to turn them into a vertical linear bind-rune with Hagal completely above Bjarkan with all the diagonals exposed. 

Even though the overlapped bind-rune could also theoretically contain the Runes Rit/Rad, Laf/Logr, and Not/Nodh, it doesn't, and there's no point in worrying over it. If it did, they could be arranged so as to be more visible, at least halfway visible rather than totally merged and overlapped with Hagal and Bjarkan - perhaps merged onto a side diagonal rather than the main vertical axis. Thus, simple without being confusing. Alternately, they could be stacked as linear Bind-Rune (for focus) or as spokes on a radial Bind-Rune (for defense) or linear stacks inside of radial spokes.That said, if you are trying to make a Bind-Rune out of more than three runes, the choice of runes and the intent of combining their energies must be clear, and not just done "because they look good". Arguably one of the esoteric reasons why Icelandic Rune-Magick declined from a powerful and often deadly rite of warrior-skalds in the days of Egil, to a quaint system of charms to keep the cows calm or to keep mice away from the grain barn in latter years, is that it became far too crowded and complicated, used non-Runic elements like curved lines, circles and various Hermetic symbols, and thus diluted the potency of Rune-Magick by taking it outside its context. 

It's true that Christianity also played a role in the suppression and eventual weakening of transmission of Runic practices and methods, but this on its own does not explain the extreme change in Bind-Rune from things like this...

Bind-Rune by Graham Butcher, Stav master things like this:

The Veldismagn, a late Medieval Icelandic Galdr-stave

And yes, before anyone starts nitpicking, Galdrstafir are Bind-Rune, at least they originally started out that way. Runes were arranged radially for defense in various situations in early Galdrastafir, and the Ægishjálmur is essentially a Runic shield for protection in battle, composed of eight Algiz runes, which are a Migration-Age rune of protection. But by the Medieval era, Icelandic Bind-Rune were using so many curved lines, right angles, horizontals and circles that many of the more complex ones had ceased to be recognizably Runic. And most oddly of all, they had become maddeningly complicated, with so many elements merged that the overall meaning became indecipherable, and so one had to say "well, this is for protection" (very generic), or "this is for happiness" (again, very generic and undirected). They had become far too much like Hermetic or Kabbalistic symbols, which were also suppressed by the Church, though they had evolved for centuries among court mystics, astrologers, and royal "wizards" as well as common village mystics, with its tacit approval. 

Bizarre as it may sound today, in the early Middle ages the Roman Church had actually only considered believing in "witches" or "sorcery" as real to be a heresy, as opposed to the practice of magick itself being heresy - thereby leaving occult groups and folk magicians more or less free to carry on their rituals in private, and discouraging all potential informers and spies from reporting them - in fact, even as late as 1258 CE, Pope Alexander IV declared that church officials should ignore diviners, soothsayers, witches and the like as nothing more than madmen or petty charlatans, and instead focus their time and efforts on "manifest" heretics who openly criticized Catholic doctrine, as well as the possibly wavering loyalties of the Papal chivalric orders amid the ever-present threat of invasion by the Mongols. This strangely secular "look the other way" attitude persisted in Rome for centuries, at least up until Pope John XXII made a dramatic about-face in 1320, declaring all forms of magick to be not only real, but also a potent threat to the Church, and ordered the Inquisition to specifically persecute "witchcraft and sorcery" in 1320 CE, though repeat famines and plague outbreaks delayed the order's implementation by local bishops and secular authorities. In Germanic lands, it was not until 1484, when Pope Innocent VIII commissioned the Malleus Malificarum ("Hammer against Curse-workers") and hired the first professional witch-hunters, that this effort to sweep away "sorcery" actually got off the ground (pardon the pun). The Malleus, a manual for witch-hunters, reversed the Church's old position and claimed (with Pope Innocent's blessing) that not believing witches and sorcery to be real was now heresy.

His crime was theological dissent, not sorcery.

In all that time, all over Europe, the proliferation of newly available Hermetic, Arabic, and quasi-Judaic occult systems spread to every corner, from Spain to Iceland. And in Iceland, there seemed to be a marked transition from the height of Runic mastery, to a sort of "witches' brew" of various Mediterranean systems whose spread into the North was made possible by the Church's conquest of Europe and its general apathy to all forms of occult practices until 1484. Indeed, the Church did not compile the Index of Prohibited books until 1559, by which time a plethora of Hermetic, Kabbalistic and proto-Rosicrucian books had spread all over the continent, most of which made use of symbols involving curved lines, astrological circles and "daemonic" dot markers. One may wonder why bind-runes seemingly melded with these hermetic sigils in Iceland, or why simplicity was abandoned for complexity and excess. The fact is simply that these traditions were part of the "dark underbelly" of a cosmopolitan Christian society. Though the Church condemned all "pagan" traditions as bad, there was a sense that those which drew on some sort of Greco-Roman or Levantine background were "less bad" because they were a known quantity to the upper echelons of Christian society, and quasi-Judaic systems were even less persecuted than that due to their alleged Solomonic/Biblical connection. It may, in the end, be a question of will - was the will of Iceland's intellectuals to be part of this new Europe greater than their will to preserve their culture intact? Or were they simply preserving what they could of their ancient magick system by disguising it in a more "acceptable" Mediterranean garb, hoping to avoid its near-total loss as in mainland Scandinavia?

The irony is that, from a magickal standpoint, too many Runes (not to mention other, extraneous symbols) stuck into a Bind-Rune can cause energetic ambiguity even when they are distinct enough as to all be clearly visible. This isn't Kabbalism where huge complex nets of inexplicable lines and dots are required to reach some effect. And it also is not a parliament or senate legislative process, where various pet projects and earmark bills for special lobbies are simply tacked onto totally unrelated laws as a condition for majority approval by an assembly composed of far too many professional litigators, and far too little common sense. Simplicity is the key to Bind-Rune magick, not excess noise and logjams. Too much complexity chokes a Bind-Rune, often with too many elements and energies canceling each other out. I shall elaborate more on this simplicity ethic in a later article.

More reading on Bind-Rune aesthetics and construction:

The Esoteric Praxis of Bind-Runes (part 1)
The Esoteric Praxis of Bind Runes (part 2)