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Revival of the Runes
The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention
of the Germanic Runes

The scientific and esoteric history of runic studies from

the Renaissance to the modern era
• Explores the five periods of runic revival: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romantic
period, the early 20th century, and the late 20th century
• Examines the use of runes by the foremost magicians and scholars of each era, including mystic
and scholar Johannes Bureus, who developed his own integrated system of runology known as
• Reveals how the Nazi misguided use of the runes showed a lack of comprehension of what was
being discovered by scientific rune scholars of the day

In this exploration of the history of the runes from 1500 CE to the present day, Stephen Edred
Flowers examines the five periods of runic revival: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the
Romantic period, the early 20th century, and the late 20th century. For each period, he discusses
both the scholarly studies and those focused on the esoteric mysteries of the runes—and how these
two branches of study were at first intertwined yet diverged in later revivals. Focusing in particular
on the first runic revival, Flowers examines the use of runes during the Renaissance by the foremost
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magicians and scholars of the era, including mystic and scholar Johannes Bureus, the “grandfather
of integral runology,” who developed his own system known as Adalruna.
In his examination of the runic reawakenings of the early and late 20th century, Flowers looks at
how the runes were employed as part of a reassessment of Germanic identity, one school of which
led to Nazi Germany. He explains how the Nazi use and abuse of the runes was misguided and
revealed a lack of comprehension of what earlier rune scholars had discovered through their exten-
sive studies of the past. He also offers a fresh look at the work of Guido von List and clears him of
his guilt by association with the Nazis.
Detailing the multilayered history of the runes, the author reveals the integrated way the prede-
cessors of today’s rune workers thought and conceived of the runes, highlighting how their discov-
eries helped shape modern magical practices and scholarly studies. He calls for a return of integral
runology as was practiced during the Renaissance and before. By reuniting the two branches of
runic study, blending the scientific with the magical, we make way for new discoveries in runology
and a chance for a full-scale reawakening of integrated runic knowledge.
Stephen Edred Flowers, Ph.D., received his doctorate in Germanic languages and medieval stud-
ies from the University of Texas at Austin and studied the history of occultism at the University of
Göttingen, Germany. The author of more than 25 books, including Lords of the Left-Hand Path and
Original Magic, he lives near Smithville, Texas.

Inner Traditions • ISBN 978-1-64411-178-9 • $19.99 (CAN $24.99) Paper

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March 2021
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of the

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Re iv l
of the
The Modern Rediscovery
and Reinvention of the
Germanic Runes

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Stephen Edred Flowers, Ph.D.

Inner Traditions
Rochester, Vermont

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Inner Traditions
One Park Street
Rochester, Vermont 05767

Copyright © 2021 by Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D.

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Pages xx–xx of chapter 3 were originally published in 1998 by Rûna-Raven Press
under the title Johannes Bureus and Adalruna by Stephen E. Flowers

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
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Cataloging-in-Publication Data for this title is available from the Library of Congress



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To send correspondence to the author of this book, mail a first-class letter to the
author c/o Inner Traditions • Bear & Company, One Park Street, Rochester, VT
05767, and we will forward the communication, or contact the author directly at

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This book is dedicated to all those who have struggled to

understand the mysteries of the Germanic past

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Acknowledgments 00

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Preface 00

Introduction Binding Together the Ideas of Science and 00


One For Review Only

The Runic Tradition—An Overview 00

Decline of the Tradition

Two 00

From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Three 00

The Enlightenment
Four 00

Romanticism 00

The Beginnings of Scientific Runology and

Six 00

The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic

Seven 00

Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Eight 00

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The Runic Renewal
Nine 00

The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

Ten 00
and the Re-Emergence of the Rune-Gild

An Integral Runology for the Future

Eleven 00

Appendix I Chronology of the Runic Revival 00

Appendix II The Runic Origin of the “Peace Sign” 00

Bibliography 00

Index 00

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Thanks go to Jan Reimer who supplied me with some of the mate-

rials that made this work possible and to Peter Andersson for his
corrections to some Swedish material. For various kinds of help in
the process of writing the present book, a note of gratitude also
goes to Mikael W. Gejel, Alice Karlsdottir, Thomas Karlsson,

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Michael Moynihan, Ralph Tegtmeier, and Don Webb.


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BCE Before the Common Era (= B.C.)
CE Common Era (= A.D.)
Gk. Ancient Greek
Ger. German
OE Old English
OHG Old High German
ON Old Norse
pl. plural
pron. pronounced

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sg. singular
Sw. Swedish
IK Hauck, Karl, et al. Die Goldbrakteaten der
Note: Words that are directly preceded by an asterisk—for exam-
ple, the noun *rūnō or the name *Wōðanaz—represent forms that
have been reconstructed based on the principles of historical linguis-
tics, but which are unattested in the literary or epigraphical record.

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Standing on the Shoulders

of Giants

This book has roots that go back to a certain summer day in 1974 when
I was suddenly inspired to seek the mysteries of the runes. At the time, I
was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin with

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little motivation or direction, but I was interested in all things esoteric.
This day changed everything and set me on a lifelong path. I was lucky
enough to be enrolled at a university with the resources, teachers, and
reference materials to make the scientific element of my journey pos-
sible, and ten years later I received a Ph.D. degree with a dissertation
entitled Runes and Magic.
From its very beginnings, the study of the runes has been entwined
with both the scientific and esoteric adventures of our culture, and this
is all the more evident today. But academics do not like to be saddled
with the baggage of modern-day would-be “rune magicians,” and the
average current “rune mystic” chafes under the rigor and historical accu-
racy demanded by the academic. To my thinking, however, these two
impulses are not necessarily antagonistic. Indeed, my own experience
was born of a synthesis of these two runological trends. This synthe-
sis is also reflected in the contents of this book, which is an investiga-
tion of how the two trends have manifested historically and interacted
­culturally over the last half century.


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xii  ª  Preface

The Revival of the Runes constitutes the second book in a series of

three thematically related works that I have been researching and writ-
ing over many years. The overarching goal of this project is to chronicle
the most historically significant rune-using groups and individuals over
the past two millennia. The first book in the series is a forthcoming
study of the intertribal network—perhaps better described as gild—of
runemasters that arose in ancient Germania (the latter term, which was
originally used by ancient Roman writers such as Julius Caesar and
Tacitus, refers to the areas of Europe traditionally and predominantly
inhabited by Germanic-speaking peoples at the beginning of the first
millennium of the Common Era). The second book in the series is
the present volume, The Revival of the Runes, which traces the general
demise of ancient runic traditions during the latter Middle Ages in the
wake of Christianization, but also documents the resurgence of interest
in the runes, and the revival of their usage, in the early modern and
modern periods. The third and final book, written under my pen name
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Edred Thorsson, is History of the Rune-Gild: The Reawakening of the
Gild 1980–2018 (Gilded Books, 2019), which documents the develop-
ment of the modern Rune-Gild, an international confraternity dedi-
cated to seeking out and prying into the runic mysteries—as expressed
both esoterically and exoterically—for personal and cultural develop-
ment, using the most rigorous intellectual and practical tools.
The Revival of the Runes looks at the long struggle that took place
on many levels to reawaken this particular aspect of ancient Germanic
culture, myth, and intellectual life over five hundred years, from the
outset of the sixteenth century through to the end of the twentieth
century. Those who today engage in inner or outer work with these
mysterious signs from our collective past will benefit greatly from a
deeper understanding of the scope and heroic dimension of our prede-
cessors’ efforts at reawakening the study of the runes. One will learn
that indeed we do stand on the shoulders of giants—poets, magicians,
warriors, scholars, mystics, and the occasional scoundrel—who were the
rune-users of the past.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants  ª  xiii

Although the present book begins its in-depth coverage around

1500, I will first provide a brief consideration of the earlier period
before 1500. The further back one goes in this study, the sparser the
evidence becomes. But the runic inscriptions themselves stand as stark
proof of the existence of such a gild of runemasters in various parts of
Germania for approximately fifteen hundred years. Since those carving
runes during this span of time were otherwise illiterate, and informa-
tion about how to write in runes, and the lore of the system itself, was
categorically a matter of oral tradition passed from master to pupil—
they thus constituted the “gild.”
For many reasons a book of this sort should be read and stud-
ied in conjunction with another multi-volume project of mine called
The Northern Dawn, which explores the general process of reawaken-
ing Germanic cultural values. For the reader who seeks to most fully
understand the content of The Revival of the Runes, it would also be
of great benefit to absorb some general works on the histories of the
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various cultures we discuss—the Scandinavian, Icelandic, English, and
German. Runes should always be seen as exponents of a much larger
cultural base, of which they are weird and strange outcroppings of light
and insight. For without a general grasp of the cultural matrix out of
which these signs of light emerge, the information they can convey may
become an instrument of delusion and unbridled mania.
Stephen E. Flowers

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Binding Together
the Ideas of
Science and Magic

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This book is mainly about the process of the revival, renewal, and
reawakening of runic writing, ideology, and mythology from early
modern times to the present day. When the earliest speakers of the
Germanic dialects—which includes English—first wrote, they wrote in
runes. The runic tradition lasted for about twelve hundred years before
it began to fall into general decline in most regions where it had been
practiced for all those centuries.
Over the past several decades the topic of “runes” has increasingly
become a part of popular culture in the English-speaking world, but it
has not always been that way. The runes constitute the original writ-
ing system used by a small elite population who lived at one time or
another among all of the ancient Germanic tribes, from Scandinavia
to Germany and from the eastern steppes to England. In these ancient
times, during the first centuries of the Common Era (ca. 100–800 CE),
only about one percent of the population could ever be said to be liter-
ate in runes. Yet, to our imaginations at least, the runes seem to have
embodied the essence of the soul of ancient Germanic culture. The use

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2  ª  Introduction

of runes more or less died out completely, except in very isolated pock-
ets of the remotest parts of Sweden, by the dawn of the Modern Age
around 1500.
The story of how and why this forgotten and rejected knowledge
was revived and eventually popularized throughout the world shaped
by the originators of this system is the subject of this study. This
knowledge was largely suppressed due to a new cultural myth—that
of Christianity—imported from southern Europe and Ireland, which
was naturally threatened by the continuation of the pre-Christian myth
and its structures. Our purpose or aim in telling this story is to clarify
the process by which forgotten and hidden knowledge is revived and
received. By examining the whole breadth of this process, it is hoped
that greater clarity and insight can be gained by those who endeavor to
awaken these slumbering mysteries in the future.
In order to understand any complex cultural phenomenon or move-
ment, it is necessary to place it in its context within the history of ideas.
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One of the greatest causes of historical misunderstanding is the projec-
tion of contemporary values and mindsets on other cultures, past or
present. And indeed, in the study of the runic revival, we often find
writers who have projected their own prejudices onto the runic data.
This has been done as much from the so-called scientific side as it has
from esoteric one. Often the modern scientist will have no idea of how
the ancients actually thought, and how that thought was different from
their own modern ways of thinking. By the same token, the esotericist
will often project entirely inappropriate models of esoteric thinking—
models that are very unlikely to have been known to the original rune-
users—onto the ancients. One of the ways to help avoid these problems
of interpretation is by developing a more complete understanding of the
various periods of intellectual history in which the revivals took place.
In this study, I will discuss the runic revival in the context of five
periods: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the era of Romanticism,
the early twentieth century, and the late twentieth century. Each of
these periods has been marked by its own myths and metanarratives

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Binding Together the Ideas of Science and Magic  ª  3

that have, in turn, conditioned the attitudes of the writers who endeav-
ored to revive the runic tradition in their day. And occasionally some
of these writers and thinkers—Johan Bure or Guido von List, for exam-
ple—have been the source of insights that serve to shape events in their
own and subsequent epochs.
Each chapter of this book will also take into account two differ-
ent approaches, that of the scientific and that of the esoteric, which
are often very independent but are sometimes related or overlap. The
interests of scientific runology are properly limited to those things that
are logically provable, or that belong to a comparative model capable
of shedding light on the runic tradition. Esoteric runology, by contrast,
assumes that the runes have some sort of mysterious meanings or pow-
ers in and of themselves, and seeks to unravel the methods of discov-
ering and/or utilizing these features. Academic or scientific runology
can exist apart from esoteric runology, but the best of esoteric runol-
ogy, in imitation of a sort of Platonic model, is founded on factual and
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academic runological findings. However, it must also be admitted that
much of actual extant esoteric runology exists in a world quite separate
from the academic realities.
Over the past few decades academic runology has become more and
more narrow in its scope and now tends to be focused mainly on lin-
guistic concerns. In part, this situation has come about as a reaction
against the earlier and excessive use of “magical” interpretations among
academic runologists of the early twentieth century. The more recent
academic abhorrence of such interpretations may also be a response
to the growing popularity of runic esotericism or “runic occultism” in
our own time. The excesses of the New Age approach can rightly be
seen as a disappointing turn of events for more level-headed academ-
ics. However, as this study will show, the serious esoteric dimension of
runic studies is something that has always been a part of runology. It is
not likely to go away, so it is perhaps better to improve and refine the
esoteric approach than to reject it entirely.
On the other hand, it is also the case that in recent years the study

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4  ª  Introduction

of the history of esotericism in general, and “Western Esotericism” in

particular, has entered the world of academia as an interdisciplinary
program. Unfortunately, the some of the initial products of this nascent
discipline have been shallow or have lacked a fundamental grounding
in linguistic and general historical and cultural knowledge. There are,
however, several shining examples of erudition. One of these is Antoine
Faivre, who has provided a widely accepted general theoretical model of
approaching the subject of esotericism (see Faivre 1994, 10–35).
Faivre identifies six major components that are present in esoteric
thought and practice. The first four are considered primary, while the
latter two are seen as secondary or “relative.” The six major compo-
nents are:

1. Correspondences. There exists a mysterious system of corre-

spondences between a higher and lower world, and between and
among the contents of these worlds.
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2. Living Nature. The natural world of physical phenomena is seen
as “essentially alive in all its parts, often inhabited and traversed
by a light or hidden fire circulating through it” (Faivre 1994, 11).
3. Imagination and Mediations. These complementary concepts
indicate the presence of a faculty of the soul for the discovery
of the hidden reality (imaginatio) and the further possibility
of employing this knowledge through mediations between the
worlds, for example by using symbols and rituals.
4. Experience of Transmutation. The overall effect of esoteric
endeavors is nothing less than a practical and fundamental
change in the nature of the subject (the esotericist himself or
herself) and/or an object in the world itself. The esoteric is not
merely content with idle intellectual speculation.
5. The Praxis of the Concordance. This is the tendency to try to
establish common denominators between and among various (or
all) cultural traditions is the expectation of “obtaining an illumi-
nation, a gnosis, of superior quality” (Faivre 1994, 14). By these

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Binding Together the Ideas of Science and Magic  ª  5

methods a perennial philosophy is discovered that is alleged to be

at the root of many traditions. There are generally two attitudes
toward this process: the genetic and the transgenetic. The former
seeks links only among linguistically, culturally, and historically
related traditions, for example, within the Indo-European sys-
tem. The latter believes in a common core shared by all tradi-
tions, be they Chinese, Hebrew, Egyptian, Celtic, or from some
other source.
6. Transmission. Here we have the idea that esoteric knowledge
must be passed from master to disciple, bound in a relationship
that is more or less understood to exist within a certain school of

Taken together, these components describe and define what is meant

by the term “esoteric” in a scientific or academic understanding. In the
course of this study when the word “esoteric” is used, it is to be con-
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ceived of in these terms.
The exoteric perspective, by contrast, is not categorically opposed
to the esoteric, although many individuals in the exoteric field are
philosophically opposed to the intrusion of esoteric concerns into
their discipline. Rather, the exoteric is a necessary corollary to the
esoteric. The exoteric should be intelligible to the logical mind and
explicable in terms of logic alone. It is the literal meaning of a text,
while the esoteric attempts to penetrate beyond this to the spirit of
the text. Paradoxically, esoteric texts can be read from an exoteric per-
spective, and exoteric texts can be interpreted from an esoteric angle.
As we will see, this “debate” has been an ongoing theme in the his-
tory of runology: the distinction between the so-called skeptical and
imaginative runologists.
There are several other key concepts in Faivre’s delineation of what
constitutes esotericism (Faivre 1994, 19–35). These concepts help to
clarify and focus the six components above.
The first such concept is gnosis, knowledge. This is an

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6  ª  Introduction

e­ xtraordinary form of experiential knowledge that is turned inward

and in which both intelligence and memory participate (Faivre 1994,
23). Second, there is theosophy—not to be confused with the teach-
ings of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy—which is a cosmosophic view
of the universe that endows the cosmos with mythic meaning. The
theosopher begins with a “revealed given”—one of his myths. This
could be, for example, the Norse myth of Ragnarök. To this he applies
active imagination and thus evokes symbolic resonances (Faivre 1994,
26). Then there is the concept of secrecy or mystery. This is not con-
ventional secrecy; these mysteries are not consciously withheld from
the public. Rather, they can only be revealed individually and accord-
ing to an initiatory process. These are “the mysteries of religion, the
ultimate nature of reality, hidden forces in the cosmic order, hiero-
glyphs of the visible world—none of which lends itself to literal under-
standing” (Faivre 1994, 32). Finally, there is the concept or claim that
occult practices constitute a valid tool for increasing human empower-
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ment, wisdom, and other benefits. The secret knowledge of the cosmic
order is both to be gained by, and demonstrated through, occultism,
that is, through practices rooted in the theory of correspondences,
such as magic and divination.
All of these factors have to be understood when we invoke the idea
of the esoteric. Academic or exoteric runology is not always excluded
by esoteric runology, but historically it most often has been. By the
same token, academic or scientific runology does not have to exclude
or reject the dimension of esoteric runology, although it most recently
has tended to do so. In fact, in the history of ideas, these two schools
are related models, yet they are distinct and separate in their aims and
methods. I hope that the message of this book will help bring about a
runological synthesis by which these two often antagonistic views of
the runes can be brought together in a cooperative model. One of the
first steps in this process is to gain a firm understanding of the history
of this problem.

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Binding Together the Ideas of Science and Magic  ª  7


In order to understand the revival of the runes that has occurred in
more recent centuries, one must have a basic understanding of the runic
tradition as it was during its period of establishment. Our book there-
fore begins with an outline of runic history from its emergence in antiq-
uity to the time of its decline between 1300 and 1500. The history of
the runic revival as such begins after about 1500. The first phase of the
revival, which lasted to about 1700, is dealt with both in terms of exo-
teric study and usage, and esoteric or mystical work. Generally, this pat-
tern will be followed in all subsequent chapters. The runes can be seen
as a purely utilitarian, practical script used for various kinds of interhu-
man communication. This being said, their use was always tinged with
ideas of secrecy and certainly with a marked expression of identity—as
a feature of Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, or generally Germanic culture.
The second phase of the revival, 1700–1900, will also follow the fasci-
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nating story of the rediscovery of the runes from an increasingly aca-
demic, scientific perspective. From the turn of the twentieth century
to the fateful year of 1933, the runic revival enjoyed one of its most
lively periods with esoteric interest on the rise and with academic atten-
tion also becoming quite intense. Between 1933 and 1945 in Germany
the runes were incorporated to some extent into the program of the
National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). After the war
that ended the regime of that party, the runes began a new phase of
renewal, but the shadow of the Nazis would continually be something
that runic revivalists would have to deal with. The years between the
end of the Second World War and the mid-1970s were fairly bleak in
the world of the runic revival, although in the academic world, progress
continued to be made. From the mid-1970s onward the first stirrings of
a more widespread, global revival of the runes started to be felt. This
latest stage of the revival has been a phenomenon of mixed results.
The conclusion of our present volume is an essay wherein I pres-
ent a way forward for the runic revival, in both its exoteric and

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8  ª  Introduction

e­ soteric ­dimensions. Here I reassess the distinction between these two

approaches and discuss the most harrowing challenges we face in the
As I have mentioned in my preface, this volume also officially con-
stitutes the second part of a larger trans-epochal project on the “History
of the Rune-Gild” in the broadest sense. From the esoteric and internal
standpoint of the modern-day Rune-Gild, the latter organization actu-
ally represents a continuation of the ancient Gild. The modern Rune-
Gild makes no claim that there was a continuous “apostolic succession”
from ancient times, but rather that the spirit and “Odian mandate”
present in the original Gild is likewise present in the current orga-
nization.* To explore this avenue of thought, the present project was
conceived. It is therefore essential to trace the original Gild back to its
origins and that involves the centuries-long transition from the ancient
and medieval network of rune-users to the present day.
In The Revival of the Runes, we will concentrate on the various
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phases of the revival, or reawakening, of the spirit of the ancient Gild.
This revival was not always accomplished with a consistent level of qual-
ity, as will be seen. But it has very often been done with great power
and conviction, carried forth by passionate people moved by the Odian
spirit—the spirit of seeking the mysteries that the runes represent. As we
see it, integral runology is an expression of a mosaic of interests—art,
accurate use of language, poetry, literature, craftsmanship, and magic—
bound together under the inner exhortation of Reyn til Rúna! (“Seek
the Mysteries!”). Keeping this unifying factor in mind, this is not
merely a volume about mystics and magicians using runes, but is just
as much a history of the academic and intellectual pursuit of runology
in the halls of academia. Since the beginning of the runic revival in the

*The term “Odian” refers to someone who strives to emulate the mythic actions—
for example, the quest for runic knowledge—of the god Óðinn (Odin), as opposed
to simply worshiping the deity in a religious sense. For a more detailed explanation
of the implications of the term, see Thorsson, The Nine Doors of Midgard, ix–xi.

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Binding Together the Ideas of Science and Magic  ª  9

days of the grandfather of runology, Johannes Bureus (Johan Bure), the

ideas of magic and science have been inexorably bound together in the
pursuit of runic knowledge. So it was, and so it continues to be—often
much to the chagrin of both wild-eyed mystics and narrow-minded aca-
demic pedants. Although this particular subtext is present in this book,
it is not something I will continually harp on or emphasize.
My aim here is to present an objective, informed, and empathetic
exploration of a movement that took place over several centuries to
reawaken knowledge of an ancient writing system and an ancient ide-
ology. This movement and its representatives constitute a fascinating
historical phenomenon in the annals of European and American intel-
lectual life. It is a heroic and often quixotic tale with the occasional
touches of Till Eulenspiegel. But we can learn to expect the unexpected
when we begin to engage with the mysteries that the runes were appar-
ently originally designed to convey from person to person, and from
men to gods and ghosts. So now, let us leave this lofty peak of Hnitbjorg
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and descend into the world of human history once more.

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The Runic Tradition-

An Overview

In order to study the revival of the runic tradition, we have to outline

what that tradition was in ancient times before it died out. Most seri-

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ous esoteric runologists today agree with the exoteric ones regarding
the basic facts about what that tradition was in its external form. This
was originally a system of twenty-four signs, each of which stood for a
sound value in the contemporary Germanic language. Over time this
system underwent a number of elaborations and modifications, which
can be described and interpreted. It took scientific runology centuries
to figure out this system and its history in all its details, as we will see.
Esoteric runologists, on the other hand, historically often create
runic systems that are at odds with exoteric runological facts. This runs
the gamut from Johan Bure’s Adulruna to Guido von List’s Armanen
Runen (Armanic runes). It appears that some current would-be eso-
teric runologists also cannot help themselves from somehow altering
the best-known facts about the tradition, for example by changing the
order or names of the runes to suit idiosyncratic interpretations. It is
such whimsical alteration that often causes would-be esoteric runolo-
gists to lose any shred of respect they might have otherwise gained from
the academic world.


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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  11


In this chapter I propose to discuss the nature of the futhark system
and its historical manifestations. The word “futhark” (or “fuþark”*)
would appear to be the invention of nineteenth-century scholars, and it
is an acronym formed from the phonetic values of the first six staves of
the rune-row, f–u–þ–a–r–k (see below). However, the principle of hav-
ing the first few staves stand for the entire row was one used in ancient
times as well. Part of the inscription on the sixth-century bow brooch
of Aquincum reads:

For Review Only

Under no circumstances should it be forgotten that the term “rune”
is a complex one. It has the primary definition of “mysterium, arcanum,
secret lore” and is only secondarily defined as the sign or symbol rep-
resenting an individual sound of the contemporary spoken Germanic
The runic system is a complex of factors, all of which interrelate to
form an organic structure. The basic ingredients in this structure are:

1. Name (indicating a phonetic value and an idea)

2. Shape
3. Order (number)
4. Tripartite Division

*The letter known as “thorn,” þ, which ultimately derives from the Germanic runestave
ᚦ, corresponds to the phoneme now represented in English by the digraph th.

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12  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

Thus, each runestave has a distinctive name that conveys a kernel

concept in the runic ideology, while the first phoneme in the name
indicates the phonetic value of the stave in writing practice. It must be
borne in mind that the staves were also often used as ideograms, for
example ᛃ could stand for the concept “good harvest,” as well as for the
sound [j] (pronounced as in English /y/). The shape of the stave can
also be considered ideographically and could suggest or denote mythic
content to the poetic minds of the ancient runemasters. The ordering of
the staves (and the resulting numerical values) constitutes the first ele-
ment of the inter-runic network of meaning. Through number, connec-
tions between different runes are revealed and bonds can be made. The
next level of the inter-runic connectivity is expressed by the division of
the futhark system into three sets later called in Old Norse ættir (sg.
ætt), meaning “families, kindreds.” This too communicates a new set
of connections and makes a new level of bond-shaping possible. These
interconnective factors are features that should also be familiar to the
For Review Only
poetic mindset; they allow for connections to be made between and
among things that would otherwise seem unrelated.
As can be seen from the various futhark systems outlined below,
there is a remarkable level of consistency in these factors. It can scarcely
be doubted that a great tradition underlies the systematic consistency of
these factors over at least a thousand years of runelore. There are essen-
tially two great historical periods for the runic tradition: the “older” and
the “younger.” The period of the Older Futhark of twenty-four staves
probably spans from the beginning of the Common Era to around
750  CE. The second period begins around 750 when the system was
transformed into the Younger Futhark of sixteen runes. This second
system was in use throughout Scandinavia during the period generally
referred to as the Viking Age (ca. 800–1100 CE). This younger system
gradually fell into disuse after it was subsumed by an alphabetic runic
system. Although alphabetic runestaves continued to be used in inscrip-
tions well into the nineteenth century in certain specific areas (the
Swedish province of Dalarna, on the island of Gotland, and in Iceland),

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  13

knowledge of the runic script had generally died out in Scandinavia by

about 1500.
Tables 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 in this chapter provide the various futharks
with indications of their divisions into ætt-systems, numerical and pho-
netic values, along with their names and the English meanings of those
names. It is unclear as to when these names were originally applied to
the runic characters, but it is likely that they were part of the archaic sys-
tem since these names could have given the continuity and context that
allowed the system to thrive for centuries across many tribal boundaries.
How do we know about the existence of the runic tradition? Upon
what evidence can we base a history of this kind? To begin with, and
what we must constantly come back to, it is the corpus of runic inscrip-
tions themselves that provides the most compelling evidence for the
existence of an ancient network of runecarvers. In all there are over five
thousand of these artifacts. The greatest number of these runic artifacts
were carved in Scandinavia (especially in Sweden) between about 980
and 1130.
For Review Only
During the earliest period, from the beginning of the tradition to
about 750 CE, runic inscriptions were carved in the twenty-four runes
of the Older Futhark. It has been remarked that the runic system of
sounds formed a “perfect fit” for the Germanic language used by the
carvers at the time of the invention of the script. For every sound in
the language, there was a sign. In all there are only about five hundred
inscriptions known to us from this early period, half of which are found
on bracteates (stamped gold medallions) made between about 450 and
550 CE in Scandinavia, especially in Denmark.
The runic tradition may have begun as early as around 150 BCE
or as late as about 50 CE. The runic system of writing was ultimately
based on one or more of Mediterranean scripts such as the Greek,
the North Italic, but most especially the Latin alphabet used by the
Romans. It was probably the invention of a single individual who was
either well placed in an existing network of workers in language—poets,
magicians, and storytellers—or who was indeed the creator of a new

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14  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

network that arose based on his invention of the writing system to be

used by runemasters among all Germanic tribes.
Historians who study the development of writings systems have
determined that the origin of a particular script usually lies somewhere
between one and two hundred years prior to the first surviving attesta-
tion of that script. For many years it was thought that an ornamented
spearhead found in Øvre-Stabu, Norway, and dated to around 150 CE
featured the oldest extant runic inscription. In 1979 an inscription on
a brooch from Meldorf in present-day Germany came to light, which
has been conclusively dated to somewhere around 50 CE. The only
question in this regard is whether the Meldorf inscription is actually
runic or not. Using these dates and the general criteria for the origin
of scripts, the time of the invention of the runes would again be some-
where between 150 BCE and 50 CE, with the median falling approxi-
mately around 50 BCE. This would roughly correspond to the time of
increased Roman-Germanic interaction that began in the era of Julius
For Review Only
Caesar. By the advent of the Roman Empire under Augustus (reigned
27 BCE–14 CE), this cultural exchange had become more intense on
economic, military, and perhaps other levels.
Various theories exist as to the manner in which the runic system
came into being. These theories fall into two main camps: the autoch-
thonous and the exotic. The autocthonous view contends that the runes
were invented totally within the Germanic world and were formed from
preexisting “holy signs.” Adherents of such a theory hold that the runes
are of extreme antiquity; they may even claim them to be the origin
of the other scripts of the world. Autocthonous theories were believed
in by various runologists from Johan Bure to Herman Wirth. As it
turns out, there is really no good evidence for an autocthonous origin
of the runes. Most scholars recognize that the Mediterranean alphabets
such as the Greek, North Italic, or Latin/Roman script are older than
the runes, and that the runes are based on one—or possibly a combi-
nation—of these Mediterranean scripts. A reasonable middle ground,
perhaps, between these two theories would acknowledge that the major-

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  15

ity of the runes were based on Mediterranean letters, but that some of
them are of indigenous origin and may have even been based on preex-
isting signs used by the Germanic peoples before they actually wrote in
runes proper. A review of all of these theories is contained in my book
Runes and Runology (Runestar, 2020).
In any event, most runologists agree that by the early years of the
Common Era the older futhark of twenty-four runes was established
and in use among the many Germanic tribes that were spread over
three million square miles of Europe. Runes were probably not found
in every tribal group, but they were known to many of them in all parts
of Europe and all along the pathways of tribal movements during the
great Migration Age (300–550).
The original runic system appeared as it does in Table 1.1 (see
below), which shows the Older Futhark and indicates the sequence of
the rune-signs, their basic phonetic values or sounds, and their par-
ticular names along with a translation of each name. There are many
For Review Only
problems in determining the exact qualities of these rune-names, as no
direct record exists of them from the earliest time period. However,
because the Old English runes and the Scandinavian Younger Futhark
runes had well-established and copiously documented names that
indicate a high level of agreement between these systems, most schol-
ars agree that the earlier Proto-Germanic forms of the rune-names
can be reconstructed with relative accuracy, and that these names—or
similar ones—were attached to the signs from the beginning.
The shapes of the individual runestaves were remarkably consistent.
A few of them also showed a high degree of variation. This is especially
true, for example, of the u-run (ᚢ ), the k-rune (ᚲ ), the j-rune
(ᛃ ), the s-rune ( ) and the ng-rune (ᛜ ). Some of the
most important things to realize about the system are that there were
twenty-four runes in it, no more and no less; the runes were arranged in
a certain order; and that each rune-shape was characterized by certain
visual characteristics that distinguished it from the others. A summary
of the system is presented in Table 1.1.

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16  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview


No. Sound Shape Name Translation of Name
1 f ᚠ *fehu livestock®money
2 u ᚢ *ūruz aurochs (wild bison)
3 th ᚦ *þurisaz thurs (a giant)
4 a ᚨ *ansuz a god (*Wōðanaz)
5 r ᚱ *raidō wagon/chariot
6 k ᚲ *kēnaz torch
7 g ᚷ *gebō gift (sacrifice)
8 w ᚹ *wunjō joy/pleasure

9 h ᚺ *hagalaz hail(-stone)
10 n ᚾ *naudiz need (distress)
11 i ᛁ *īsa ice
12 For Review Only
j ᛃ *jēra year (harvest)
13 ei ᛇ *eihwaz yew tree
14 p ᛈ *perþrō fruit-tree
15 -z, -R ᛉ *elhaz elk
16 s ᛋ *sowilō sun

17 t ᛏ *teiwaz the god *Teiwaz
18 b ᛒ *berkanō birch(-goddess)
19 e ᛖ *ehwaz horse
20 m ᛗ *mannaz man, human being
21 l ᛚ *laguz water
22 ng ᛜ *ingwaz the god/hero Ing
23 d ᛞ *dagaz day
24 o ᛟ *ōþila ancestral inherited property

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  17

The data presented in this table can be considered the bedrock of

runic tradition. This is a tradition often fraught with certain problems
of detail that have been endlessly argued over by scholars, but most of
it is fairly well established as far as most runologists are concerned. A
review of the problems associated with the names of the runes is con-
tained in my book Runes and Runology. The next level of solid tradi-
tion is formed by the texts of the medieval rune poems, which explain
the various runestaves in mythic and cultural contexts. These poems
are presented, translated, and discussed in my book The Rune-Poems
(Runestar, 2019).


Sometime during the fifth century runemasters practicing along the
shore of the North Sea in the tribal territories of the Ingvaeones—the
Saxons, Angles, and Frisians—began to add supplemental runes to the
For Review Only
existing futhark to account for linguistic changes that were occurring in
their dialects of the language. To some extent this addition of new signs
to the system seems also to have been motivated by how the dialectal-
phonological changes were causing the sounds contained in the distinc-
tive names of the runes to be altered. For example, the Proto-Germanic
word for a “god,” *ansuz, became ōs in Old English, so the name of the
fourth rune now began with an “o-” rather than an “a-.” These changes
did not cause a fundamental revolution in runic ideology—that is, in
the way runes were thought to function and the purposes for which
they were used—as would be case with the transformation of the Older
Futhark into the Younger one in Scandinavia. Rather, the Anglo-
Frisian model was a highly conventional response to language change:
new signs were added to the old system to extend it in a practical way.
This spirit of innovation, the willingness to add and invent new runes,
would be a continuing hallmark of the Anglo-Frisian runic tradition.
The Anglo-Frisian system went through two major phases: a sort of
pre–Old English phase in which the supplemental runes appear to have

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18  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

been just that, and not seen as a fundamental reform of the system;
and then a later phase that was a more formally understood as a tra-
dition of its own. But Anglo-Frisian system does not appear to have
ever been understood in an entirely fixed form, such as the Older or
Younger Futharks were. The Frisian runes were in use in Frisia (present-
day Holland and adjacent regions in northern Germany) from around
425 to perhaps as late as 900 CE. While the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc is
well attested, we have no independently recorded Frisian Futhorc either
in epigraphical or manuscript form, but the evidence clearly shows that
both of these futhorcs were part of a common North Sea runic tradi-
tion, having evolved from the same source or set of practices.
Despite the fact that the runic tradition began within a pagan, or
pre-Christian, context, it survived the Christianization process and
even thrived in a Christian context, cultivated by men in ecclesiastical
roles in English culture for centuries. As a result, runelore was widely
recorded in a lively manuscript tradition mainly produced by Anglo-
For Review Only
Saxon monks, often working in Continental monasteries. However, the
culture shock brought on by the Norman Conquest in 1066 proved to
be the death knell for the runic tradition in England.
The best general survey of the Anglo-Saxon runic tradition remains
An Introduction to English Runes by R. I. Page (Boydell, 1999), while
my little book Anglo-Frisian Runes: A Concise Edition of Old English
and Frisian Runic Inscriptions (Runestar, 2019) provides an overview of
the whole corpus of epigraphical evidence. New English inscriptions are
constantly being discovered by metal detectorists in Britain.
A summary of the Anglo-Frisian system appears in Table 1.2.


No. Sound Shape Name Exoteric Meaning
1 f ᚠ feoh cattle, wealth
2 u ᚢ ūr wild ox
3 þ/ð ᚦ þorn thorn

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  19

No. Sound Shape Name Exoteric Meaning

4 o ᚩ ōs a god (or mouth)
5 r ᚱ rād (a) ride, riding
6 c [k] ᚳ cēn torch
7 g [y] ᚷ gyfu gift
8 w ᚹ wynn joy
9 h ᚻ hægl hail
10 n ᚾ nyˉ d need
11 i ᛁ īs ice
12 y ᛄ gēr year
13 ï ᛇ ēoh yew
14 p ᛈ peorð dice-box / “pear”
15 x ᛉ eolhx elks/sedge-reed
16 s ᛋ sigel sun
17 t ᛏ tīr Tīw/ sign or glory
For Review Only

birch / poplar
20 m ᛗ mann man (human being)
21 1 ᛚ lagu sea
22 ng ᛝ ing the god Ing
23 d ᛞ dæg day
24 œ [ay] ᛟ œthel ancestral property
25 a ᚪ āc oak
26 æ ᚫ æsc ash
27 y ᚣ yˉr bow
28 io/eo ᛡ īor serpent
29 ea ᛠ ēar earth-grave
30 q ᛢ cweorð fire-twirl (?)
31 k ᛣ calic cup, chalice
32 st ᛥ stān stone
33 g ᚸ gār spear

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20  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview


The system of twenty-four runes, as seen in Table 1.1, was used in
ancient times from the dim beginnings of the runic tradition to around
750 CE in both Scandinavia and Germany. At that time, there was a
smooth and regular transition to the sixteen-rune system of the Younger
Futhark in Scandinavia. In this table, as in those for all the other sys-
tems, the numerical value, name, phonetic value, shape, the exoteric
meaning (the literal translation of the name), and the esoteric mean-
ing (the underlying significance of that name in the runic context) are
The sixteen-rune system of the Younger Futhark was historically in
use throughout the Viking Age, which lasted from about 800 to 1100
CE. Some knowledge of this system was preserved in secret through-
out the Christianized medieval period, even though cultural forces
attempted to destroy the runic tradition in its true form. The Younger
For Review Only
Futhark is an unusual and conscious reformation of the Older Futhark
system. It is highly unusual that at a time when the Scandinavian dia-
lects were becoming linguistically more complex and developing more
sounds, the writing system used to represent this language was simpli-
fied by reducing the number of signs available to represent those sounds.
This is almost unheard of in the history of alphabets. What made this
possible was the fact that the runes were not being reformed by or for
those who were interested in maintaining a utilitarian script. The rune
row was reformed by men who were more akin to priests (the runemas-
ters) than to scribes or grammarians. The signs were reduced in number,
according to an orderly method in which the symbolic and phonologi-
cal values of the runes that were eliminated, and were absorbed by the
remaining ones. Thus, a streamlined system was created.
The ætt-system of internal divisions in the futhark became even
more vigorously represented in the Viking Age. For example, the use
of rune-codes based on the ættir was widespread during this period. It
should be noted, however, that each Younger Futhark ætt begins with

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  21

the same stave as in the older period. This is evidence for the impor-
tance of the system to the runemasters. It was imperative to maintain
the tripartite division of the futhark, and that each of the ættir began
with the same rune as they had in the older period.


No. Sound Shape Name Meaning
1 f ᚠ fé cattle, money, gold
2 u/o/v ᚢ úr drizzling rain, aurochs
3 þ/ð ᚦ þurs thurs (giant)
4 a ᚨ áss the god (= Óðinn)
5 r ᚱ reið a ride, thunderclap
6 k/g/ng ᚴ kaun a sore

For Review Only
7 h hagall hail
8 n ᚾ nauð need, bondage, fetters
9 i/e/ ᛁ íss ice
10 a ᛅ ár good year, harvest
11 s ᛋ sól sun

12 t/d/nt/nd ᛏ týr the god Týr
13 b/p/mb ᛒ bjarkan birch(-goddess)
14 m ᛉ maðr man, human
15 1 ᛚ lögr sea, waterfall
16 -R ᛣ ýr yew, bow of yew wood

The motives behind the systematic and sweeping reform of the

runic system remain a matter of scholarly controversy. Some believe
it was done to shield runic literacy from unqualified readers—that is
the inscriptions were becoming too legible to the uninitiated, so a new

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22  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

system was devised that would further obfuscate the inscriptions. This
reformed futhark of runestaves would have then functioned as a kind
of code unto itself, serving to preserve and promote the profession of
runecarving. If this was the motive, it seems to have been effective in
the sense that runic inscriptions became more prevalent in Scandinavia
than they ever had been before—at least on large and permanent mon-
uments. Any theory involving linguistic factors appears to be wishful
thinking, since the reform runs entirely counter to linguistic utility.
The Norse dialects were becoming more phonetically complex at the
time, so the reduction of signs would have been counterproductive if
there had been a goal to better represent these sounds.

Runes and Magic

For Review Only

Now we must consider the uses of runes in ancient and medieval times
(pre-1500) that indicate they were employed in magical or divinatory
practices. The chief distinction between the modern-day speculative (or
imaginative) runologist and the skeptical runologist hinges on the ques-
tion of whether the runes were ever considered by the ancient Germanic
peoples to have been imbued with some sort of magical power, force,
or special symbolic essence that made them something sacred and set
apart for an extraordinary kind of communication, or whether they
were just a writing system like any other that was occasionally used in
what might be called “magical” spells.
Perhaps the best answer to this question is provided by an anony-
mous runemaster who lived sometime in the late sixth century and who
carved on a stone the words:

ᚱᚢᚾᛟᚠᚨᚺᛁᚱᚨᚷᛁᚾᛟᚲᚢᛞᛟ [. . .]
runofahiraginakudo [. . .]
runō fahi raginakundo . . .
“(A) rune I color, one stemming from the gods, . . .”

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  23

I would say that this runemaster knew better than any modern-day
runologist as to what the nature of the runic tradition was, at least in
his day. This is clear and direct evidence that the runes were believed
to be derived from a divine source. Later Old Norse literary evidence
also continues to point us in this direction. Virtually every time runes
are mentioned in saga literature, for example, they are ascribed to some
magical or mystical meaning. Some skeptics have tried to suggest that
this attitude was imported to the North by Christianity, which seems
highly unlikely as Christianity was largely opposed to the sentiments
expressed in this runic material. Also, the spiritual and magical power
ascribed to the runes in pagan sources was actually a continuing chal-
lenge to the aspect of Christian prestige that was tied to the use of the
Latin language and the Roman script.
It can be conceded that the runes may have had a profane origin
and served as a practical script for the first few centuries of their use,
and only somewhat later were they imbued with magical and mythical
For Review Only
associations. This can be said only because there are no overtly magical
runic inscriptions before the fifth century. The earliest inscriptions are
often one-word formulas and these are too brief to provide direct evi-
dence that would prove beyond any doubt whether the motivation of
the carver was operative or magical. However, it must also be said that
few inscriptions dating from before the Middle Ages give any outward
sign that they are, in fact, a purely profane and ordinary form of com-
munication between two humans.
Runes may have been in use as early as 150 BCE, but whenever they
were invented, they were most likely the work of a single individual. We
may reasonably posit that the originator of the runic system was an aris-
tocratic man at home in what is now Scandinavia, probably a warrior by
profession (a member of a warband), and also a poet or storyteller. He
may have served in some capacity in the Roman army for a time, as the
runic system appears to have been loosely based on the Roman alpha-
bet. He became familiar with Roman writing and then returned home
to the North and innovated his own system. The rune-using culture

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24  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

that developed over time was thus connected to a high prestige popula-
tion; it was the instrument of an elite group of men with some signifi-
cant ties to the Roman world (whether as a result of military service, or
through trade, and so forth). The spread of the runic system would have
occurred through some sort of intertribal network, and may have been
closely attached to a central mythological patron, to be identified with
the high god *Wōðanaz (the Germanic deity whose name later evolves
into Óðinn in Old Norse, Wōden in Old English, etc.).
The ancient Germanic peoples at the dawn of the first millennium
lived in a prehistoric time. This means that there are no significant
written records produced by them other than the brief inscriptions
they made. Our knowledge about these early Germanic societies largely
derives from Greco-Roman descriptions of them. The rune-using cul-
ture within these Germanic groups must have formed a continuous
and dynamic lineage. We know it was continuous because the lack of
written records precludes the tradition being revived based on written
For Review Only
sources after a period of decay. The orality of their culture insured the
necessity for a continuous oral chain of master-pupil relationships being
at the core of their society. Their situation can be contrasted to that of
the Hebrews and Egyptians, who had written records that allowed for
periods of decay in which teachings were “lost” and then later revived
based on preserved written texts. The old Germanic rune-using culture
was also dynamic in that the nature of the data seems to have changed
over time, reforms occurred, and so on.
The history of the runic tradition can be compared with that of
Greek writing. The Greek alphabet was adapted from the Semitic
Phoenician alphabet, with the significant innovation that all sounds of
the language, including the vowels, were assigned phonetic characters.
The Greek alphabet was first used by the merchant class, and only later
did the letters take on any philosophical or mystical meanings. This eso-
teric aspect is evident in the writings of philosophers such as Pythagoras
and Plato. The Greek system is characterized by borrowed letter names
(alpha, beta, gamma, etc., based on Semitic alef, bet, gimel, etc.) and the

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  25

fact that the earliest attestations of writing are in the milieu of mer-
chants and government.
One of the stone-cold facts about all runic inscriptions that must be
taken into account in each and every effort to interpret an individual
inscription, is that every inscription is an effort at an act of commu-
nication. The following sequence of three questions then arises: Who
is the performer of the communicative act? Who or what is the object
or intended recipient of the communication? And what, if anything, is
expected as a response to that initial message?
Regardless of their origins and original purpose, after about
400  CE we see a proliferation of overtly magical uses of the runes. A
few examples of this will show what an unquestionably magical (opera-
tive) inscription looks like.

For Review Only

A: ekerilaRsawilagaRhateka:

B: aaaaaaaaRRRnnnxbmuttt:alu:

Our first example is the fifth-century so-called amulet of Lindholm.

Line A is perhaps best read as ek erilaR sa wīlagaR ha(i)teka, “I, the
Erulian, am called the crafty one” (Krause and Jankuhn 1966, 70). Line
B consists of a series of twenty-one runes, which are not intended to be
natural language, concluding with the familiar formulaic word alu.
In the Lindhom inscription the runemaster identifies himself by a
title that empowers him to perform the operative act, characterizes the
nature of his performative act (being “crafty” or “tricky,” i.e., dangerous),
and then unleashes a runic formula, the purpose of which we can fairly
well guess at based upon the examples of later formulas that bear a close
resemblance to this one, such as the curse formula known from a section
of the seventeenth-century Galdrabók (see Flowers 2005, 55–56). The
whole sequence, which really constitutes a self-contained ritual formula,

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26  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

concludes with the sanctifying word alu. This inscription is analyzed

in some more detail by Flowers (2006, 72–79). It appears that the over-
all formula, probably a preexisting one that was used repeatedly, is here
imperfectly executed, as it was obviously intended to consist of twenty-
four runes on each side, but the runemaster left out one an i-rune in line
A. Therefore, it might be said that the formula in its entirety originally
had some intended numerical symbolism. Both lines were probably sup-
posed to have twenty-four runes. We can only speculate that the meaning
of the number twenty-four would have been as a signature of completeness
and totality, and hence the number itself is a sign of some intrinsic power.
One of the most well-known magical formulas in the older tradi-
tion is found on the Stentoften stone in southern Sweden. Another
stone from the same region, the Björketorp stone, has some of the same
formulas. The Stentoften inscription is dated to about 650 CE and its
runes can be seen here:

For Review Only

These can be read as follows:

I. niuhAborumR
II. niuhagestumR
III. hAþuwolAfRgAfj
IV. hAriwolAfRmAgiusnuhle
V. hideRrunonofelAhekAhederAginoronoR
VI. herAmAlAsARArAgeuwelAdudsAþAtbAriutiþ

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  27

The text is normalized to the following:

I. niuha-būrumR II. niuha-gestumR III. Haþuwolf R gaf j(āra)

IV. HariwolfR magius nū hlē V. h(a)idR rūnō [ronu] felheka hedra
gino-r(ū)noR VI. hermala(u)sR argeu wēlad(a)ud sā þat briutiþ.

This may be translated as something like: “To the new farmers,

(and) to the new foreigners, Haþuwolf gave good harvest. Hariwolf
is now protection for his (son retainer?). A row of bright runes I hide
here, magically charged runes—restlessly because of ‘perversity’ a
deceitful death (has) the one (who) breaks this (monument or stone
arrangement).” One of the main functions of this inscription is clearly
stated as a curse on anyone who would disturb the arrangement of
rocks of which the stone was a part.
Bracteates were made from thin sheets of gold that were embossed
with images stamped from a wooden dye. The round gold disk was
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then fitted with a beaded rim and a loop so that it could be worn
as an amulet. They were apparently worn mainly by women, as they
are typically found in gravesites belonging to women. But more com-
monly they are found as hoards—a collection of gold objects that
were intentionally buried, perhaps in hopes of sending the gold to
the otherworld where the one who buried it will be enriched. The
Germanic gold bracteates were all manufactured between about 450
and 550 CE.
These bracteates, inscriptions on which account for half of the older
runic record, are categorically magical objects. The vast majority of extant
bracteates do not have runic content, but there are about two hundred
and fifty that have been found with runic texts. Their particular form of
magic works on three levels: (1) the object as such, that is, a gold medal-
lion obtained as a cult site; (2) the iconography on the object; and (3) the
inscription, which often appears in conjunction with the image.
A typical example of a runic bracteate is offered by Tjurkö I-C (IK
184), which is shown in the image on page 28.

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28  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

The runic text on this bracteate reads:

wurterunoRanwalhakurne . . heldaRkunimudiu . . .

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wurte rūnōR / an walha-kurne . . HeldaR Kunimu(n)diu . . .
“Held worked the runes on Welsh grain for Kunimund”

The phrase an walha-kurnē, “on the grain of the ‘Welsh,’” is per-

haps a kenning for “gold” (= the bracteate). “Welsh” is here a general
Germanic term for “foreign” or “southern” as opposed to northern (cf.
ON valskr, “foreign, esp. French”; OHG wal(a)hisc, OE wealhisc, “for-
eign, esp. British or ‘Welsh’”). This usage shows that Germanic speak-
ers probably also referred to Romans with this word. The Tjurkö I-C
bracteate is clearly an amulet with a runic inscription that specifically
dedicates its intended effect: to bring prosperity to Kunimund.
The iconography of this style of gold bracteate (called type C by
the specialists) was inspired by Roman coins depicting the emperor
on horseback. The Germanic person seeing the latter sort of depiction
would have naturally reinterpreted it as representing the mounted god
*Wōðanaz. The image was then radically restylized according to indig-
enous aesthetics to create a new and uniquely Germanic form of sacred
art with these objects.

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  29

The Poetic (or Elder) Edda provides many examples of the runes in
a magico-mythic context. These references have been cataloged and stud-
ied by several scholars over the years, for example by Wolfgang Schöttler
(1948) and Francois-Xavier Dillmann (1976). The most conspicuous and
meaningful of these passages is the section concerning the mythic origin
of the runes themselves. In stanzas 138–39 of the Hávamál poem, we
read about how the god Óðinn (<*Wōðanaz) hung himself on a tree (i.e.,
the World-Tree, Yggdrasill) in a ritual of self-sacrifice, and through this
ordeal discovered the runes (i.e., the cosmic secrets):

Veit ek, at ek hekk   vindgameiði á

nætr allar níu,
geiri undaðr   ok gefinn Óðni,
sjálfr sjálfum mér,
á þeim meiði   er mangi veit,
hvers hann af rótum renn.

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Við hleifi mik sældu   né við hornigi,
nýsta ek niðr;   nam ek upp rúnar,
œpandi nam,
fell ek aptr þaðan.

Throughout Old Norse and Old English literature, references to

runic use and the meaning of the etymon rūn- (which underlies ON
rún, pl. rúnar; OE rūn, pl. rūna~rūne; with corresponding cognates
in all the older Germanic languages) consistently point in an esoteric
and magical direction, and we can only conclude that those living in
the Middle Ages during the era when these documents were produced
had a more complete idea of what this concept meant than most mod-
ern scholars can imagine. It is also interesting to note that while the
original sense of a rune as mystery has its origins in the indigenous
Germanic (and Celtic) tradition predating the coming of Christianity,
this term was, for an initial period at least, gladly folded into Christian

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30  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

terminology. Insofar as it could be understood to correspond to a uni-

versal concept, the term seems to have transcended religious differences.
From the beginning, perhaps, the Proto-Germanic word *rūnō may
have indicated both a mystery and the individual signs or symbols with
the capacity to communicate mystery. In this we are reminded of the
terminology surrounding the Greek letters, which are called στοιχεῖα
(stoikheîa). The latter term not only denoted written signs used in rep-
resenting language, but also the elements of the cosmos. Terminology of
this sort is a reflection of the sense of awe that some cultures showed
toward the process of writing. This sense of awe may be lost to the mod-
ern mindset, but that means little in our attempts to understand the
ways those living two thousand years ago might have thought.
With regard to the corpus of early runic inscriptions, a chrono-
logical arrangement of the data appears to show various phases for the
magical use of runes. For the first two hundred years or so of the tradi-
tion, only very short texts are known. These provide identity between
For Review Only
the carver and the object, or with the act of writing itself. After about
100 CE the possibilities of practical influence on the already established
tradition of runic writing may have been felt from the Greco-Roman
world through the conduit of the Mithraic cult, practiced by Roman
soldiers on the northern borders or limes of the empire, among whom
were many Germanic recruits. Then, after about 300 CE, these and/
or other influences from the south and east increasingly led to more
complex and more overtly magical inscriptions. All of this speaks to the
intrinsically dynamic nature of the runic tradition. It was not created
and then perpetuated in a stagnant way; rather, its generally consistent
core was a structure capable of absorbing and adapting influences on
a continuous basis. At least this seems to be the best model of under-
standing the historical dimension of the runic data.
Questions concerning the early magical use of runes are dealt with
in great detail in my book Runes and Magic (Lodestar, 2014). I would
refer the reader to that book for a thorough discussion of the ideas of
magic in connection with the runes in the earliest period of their his-

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  31

tory. Runes and Magic is not a book of esoteric runology; it is a scien-

tific observation of early runic data using the lens of an interdisciplinary
academic approach.
The whole runic tradition gradually decayed and became more and
more geographically limited over the years. Learned men used Latin
with its Roman letters, and even made some inscriptions in Latin using
runes. At the same time, rudimentary use of runic writing became
restricted to pockets of traditionalists living in the Dalarna and Gotland
regions of Sweden and in Iceland.
Two obscure sources demonstrate that runic knowledge was par-
tially kept alive in learned circles and even exported in some way from
Scandinavia. The first of these sources is the fourteenth-century manu-
script Sloane 3854, now housed in the British Library. The manuscript
is a jumble of pages, poorly bound and with many parts missing. It is
actually a Latin translation of the kitāb al-Istamātīs, a hermetic trea-
tise that is the source for the Ghayat al-Hakīm, generally known by
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its Latin title, Picatrix. Originally, this was an Arab-language manual
of magic. The runic features in this translation appear to be innova-
tions unknown in the original. Scandinavian runes are used to desig-
nate halves of the signs of the zodiac and each rune is ascribed to one
of the four classical “elements.” All of this is presented as a prepara-
tion instructing the magician how to use these signs to communicate
in a secret way with the universe, but unfortunately the practical sec-
tion of the manuscript is missing! These cryptic signs are designated as
runae. The runes in question are derived from the pointed or “pricked”
form of runes that were used in the “runic alphabet” in Scandinavia
after about 1100. The second such source is found in the Prague manu-
script XXIII F 129 from the second half of the fifteenth century (ca.
1475). It stems from the Alemannic linguistic territory (southwestern
Germany and Switzerland). This is generally a manual of human medi-
cine. Throughout the text, sections appear in which certain key words
are written in runes. Again, these are the Scandinavian “pointed” runes.
Both of these sources generally indicate that runes were still thought to

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32  ª  The Runic Tradition—An Overview

be heavily tinged with a magical aura, even in areas far from where the
runes would have been at all familiar.
When we look back on the earliest manifestations of the runic craft,
it is very plausible to suggest the idea that these practitioners of an expert
skill—the writing of specialized texts in a particular script, probably
often in exchange for money or position—should have formed a whole
cosmology based upon the particulars of their craft. Such a process is
normal and expected. The most conspicuous and well-known example
of this phenomenon is that of the medieval stone masons (whose work
originally may have developed out of earlier institutions involved in the
construction of wooden structures in the North). The masons, builders
of buildings, developed a whole mythic worldview in which the tech-
nology of their craft was symbolically interpreted and re-valorized. A
similar course of development may have taken place in many other such
guilds that cultivated specialized knowledge in areas ranging from war-
craft to handicrafts, to the arts of language and poetry.
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Systematic runic knowledge of all sorts had generally died out in all
but a few areas by around 1500. It is only after such a demise that we
can begin to speak of a rebirth or revival of such knowledge. Almost
as soon as the traditions of runic usage were lost, men began to try
to recover them. This is a clear indication of the original importance
of runic knowledge to the cultures in various Germanic lands from
England to Germany, and especially in Scandinavia. But whether exo-
teric or esoteric, this renewed knowledge would be hard-won and diffi-
cult to recover. Precisely because this knowledge was now disestablished
and rejected, it was ripe for “occult” speculations and practices. And
this would have been doubly true in light of the copious indications
that the runes had been used for magical purposes in antiquity. The
following chapters of this book contain the story of the endeavor—as
often misguided as not—to revive runic knowledge in all its facets and
As we will see over the course of our survey, the field of academic
runology has undergone many phases of development and it is still sub-

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The Runic Tradition—An Overview  ª  33

ject to varying influences and ideological positions today. The twenti-

eth century, for example, was especially lively with its pendular swings
between what R. I. Page called skeptical runologists and imaginative
runologists. Because of profound changes in the world of Western aca-
demia, namely its recent domination (especially at the administrative
levels) by materialists, advocates of Marxist critical theories, and politi-
cally driven activists, the possibilities for the work of the “imaginative”
runologists in academic establishments have become extremely limited.
As a necessary analytical tool in this book I will discuss the ideas
of exoteric and esoteric runology in separate ways. However, when we
look at the older, traditional period of runology—that belonging to the
premodern use of runes—we should realize that these two parts were
actually part of one phenomenon. My general theoretical stance is as
follows: although a certain quality of understanding can be gained by
observing runic data through these two separate lenses (exoteric and
esoteric), ultimately it is only by viewing the tradition from a holistic,
For Review Only
or integral, perspective that the data can be fully understood. The inte-
gral runologist of the future will be one who can enter into the mind-
set of the traditional runemasters in an experiential way. Much like the
experimental archeologists of today, who learn the physical crafts of the
ancients and thereby achieve a greater understanding of the ancient
objects they study, the integral runologist will learn to think like an
ancient runemaster and thus be better able to understand the process
by which the runic inscriptions were created, and the messages they
convey. However, this being said, I do see the value in both ends of
the polar extremes, between the entirely esoteric and the purely ratio-
nal approach. Each has something of value to convey to our process of
understanding. No whole or complete history of runology can dispense
with any aspect of the role that the runes have played in the story of our
cultural lives.

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The Decline
of the Tradition
(900–1500 CE.)

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To understand the life and characteristics of a cultural feature that later
undergoes a reawakening or revival, it is generally useful to know how
it declined and became moribund. As we have seen the runic tradition
never fully died out everywhere. But in many of the cultures where it
had once thrived, it did completely disappear, only to be rediscovered
centuries later. Despite its spotty survival in certain areas of Sweden
and in Iceland, it must also be acknowledged that the runic tradition
had probably once been an important feature of the symbolic culture of
the social elite of Germania in the early centuries of its tradition (from
about 150 BCE to 400 CE).
The transition from the Older to the Younger Futhark should not
really be seen as a sign of the decline of the tradition as such. Instead
it was a reorganization of that tradition signifying a rebirth or refor-
mation, which provided new vigor to the tradition. Although the use
of the Younger Futhark was more limited in terms of its geographical
coverage, the intensity of that use seems to have far exceeded what took
place in the older period.


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The Decline of the Tradition  ª  35

As we noted in the previous chapter, the rune rows that evolved

from the Older Futhark developed quite differently in Scandinavia as
compared to what took place in the North Sea region with the Anglo-
Frisian runes. In Scandinavia, the reduction of the inventory of avail-
able graphemes to represent a language that was actually producing
more phonological variation runs counter to the natural and expected
process found in the history of other writing systems. In the Anglo-
Frisian system of runes, by contrast, we see the normal and expected
progression with new runes being invented and added to the inventory
to account for sound variations. Moreover, in the Anglo-Saxon sphere
it is also evident that a number of these new runes were treated in the
spirit of the ancient tradition—endowed with names and four of them
were even given runic stanzas (see the Old English Rune Poem).
The Scandinavian reformation of the runic tradition began as
a piecemeal alteration of older runes in what is called the transition
period between the older and younger systems. This transition period
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was historically brief, and then, rather suddenly and thoroughly, a new
system was codified and established in a manner that strongly suggests
there was some sort of organized effort behind it. The reformation
brought with it a heightened level of activity among runecarvers, which
seems to have culminated in a gild-like organization behind the indus-
trious production of memorial stones in Sweden from the tenth to the
twelfth centuries.
The newly reformed system also made runic texts more difficult to
read, with single runes being made to stand for a variety of sounds. One
might logically ask: Why was this obfuscation deemed necessary? Since
the phenomenon did occur, and because it runs contrary to the normal
and expected development of a writing system, we must assume that it
was the result of a conscious plan. Here the simplest answer is probably
the right one: The system was made more difficult so that it could not
be casually learned by those outside the gild of runecarvers. Thus, the
meaning of the runes was effectively hidden from those who might be
attempting to learn to write outside the professional class of carvers.

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36  ª  The Decline of the Tradition

The latter group was probably adjunct to the school of court poets of
Viking Age Scandinavia and this reform would have helped preserve
their exclusive status.
This picture is a familiar one in the history of writing. Most of the
great writing systems of antiquity, from the cuneiform of the Sumerians
to the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians, were invented by and for a profes-
sional organization of scribes. The scribes had nearly exclusive control
over those systems, which outsiders could not learn without years of
study. (Today we see the same trend among the “IT guys” who keep
things complex and ever-changing in order to ensure future employ-
ment.) It was the Greeks who departed from this model for the first
time, creating a writing system that could be easily learned by any
clever fellow. Now certainly, we cannot believe that the ancient scribes
of Mesopotamia or Egypt were too stupid to invent a simple system;
rather, they developed the complexity of their systems as a safeguard
on their institutional power. All that is being suggested here is that the
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reform from the Older Futhark to the Younger, and the reduction of
signs to make the system more difficult to read, was most likely moti-
vated by needs akin to those we see elsewhere in the history of writing.
We might now ask: What had been the characteristics of the rune-
using culture in the times when it was flourishing? The answer to this
question is multi-leveled:

1. It was a male-only profession or activity. We know this because

self-references to the runecarvers in early times are exclusively
in the masculine gender. This was probably because runes were
used in conjunction with other male-only activities such as trad-
ing, poetic performance, and membership in warbands. We can
also see that when women do begin to be referred to as runecarv-
ers—for example, in a German inscription from Neudingen/
Baar from around 600 CE—this occurs in a place that was being
Christianized and thus in a time when the old traditional insti-
tutions must have been in flux and/or demise.

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The Decline of the Tradition  ª  37

2. The culture seems to have been one patronized or “sponsored” by

the god *Wōðanaz (whose name becomes Óðinn in Old Norse).
This god was seen as the discoverer of the runes, the originator
of the runic system, and the agent by which the runes and their
usage were transmitted to human practitioners.
3. The runes and runic inscriptions served the interests of what we
would today call practical religious functions: they memorial-
ized the dead (thus perpetuating their spiritual existences in the
memory of men), manipulated the essences of named persons or
things as to their location or activity, and acted as signs for com-
munication between the realm of the living and dead, between
gods and men, and between men and their environment.
4. The runes maintained their traditional order (f, u, þ, a, r, k, etc.),
which is indicative of an indigenous organizational principle
inherent within, and particular to, a special cultural group.

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Each of these factors broke down as the tradition began to go into
decline. Women began to carve in runes, which only indicates that
the knowledge had lost its special “trade-secret” status. Certainly, as
the Germanic world was slowly Christianized, the sponsorship of the
high god of the Germans had to be called seriously into question. In
the transition from the traditional indigenous religion of the ancient
Germanic peoples to that of Christianity, there is no direct and incon-
trovertible evidence for the idea that Christ became a new sponsor for
runic knowledge, but there is some circumstantial evidence for this syn-
cretic process. Runes and runic use appear at first to have been not only
undiminished by the coming of Christianity, but actually increased in
its intensity. The runes appear to have lost some of their special status
as signs for practical religious communication as the Latin alphabet was
being introduced and literacy spread in a more general way in Germanic-
speaking areas. Finally, the special indigenous organizing principles of
the runic tradition gave way to that of the Latin alphabet, which is
indicative of the loss of some of the special identity of the system.

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38  ª  The Decline of the Tradition

The traditional transmission of runic knowledge fell into decline in

different regions of the Germanic world at different times. In Germany,
this occurred around 700 CE, after which time no more inscrip-
tions were being made in the region we now know as Germany itself.
However, runic knowledge was kept alive there in clerical settings, that
is, in learned works being produced in monasteries, often due to Anglo-
Saxon influence. This influence from England was the result of monks
coming to monasteries in Germany in the eighth century. In England
itself the demise of runic usage came in the wake of the Norman
Conquest (1066), such that after 1100 runic inscriptions were no lon-
ger being made there. The greatest early native German exponent of
runic knowledge is thought to have been the Frankish monk Hrabanus
Maurus (780–856), to whom the treatise De inventione litterarum (On
the Invention of Letters) has been traditionally ascribed.
Runic use in Scandinavia persisted for a very long time. In more
remote areas, such as the island of Iceland, the province of Dalarna in
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Sweden, and the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, runes
continued to be used in a fairly lively way into modern times. Runes
were found in agricultural contexts among farmers, and so on, as well as
among the learned and literate writers of manuscripts. In Iceland, these
manuscripts were often concerned with magic.
During the Middle Ages a system was developed whereby the
Younger Futhark runes were expanded into an alphabetic system. Here
a runic character was assigned to each of the Latin letters as they were
used to write the Scandinavian languages (and Latin) at the time. This
was accomplished in part by adding points or dots to the existing runes
or by inventing new characters. At first this was done in an unsystem-
atic way during the eleventh century, as certain runes were “pointed” to
indicate more precise phonetic information, for example, ᚴ, ᛁ, ᛏ, and ᛒ
were pointed as ᚵ, ᛂ, ᛛ, and ᛔ, respectively, to indicate the sounds g, e, d,
and p. By time of the reign of Valdemar the Conqueror (1202–1241) the
system was finally codified as a fully developed runic alphabet, which
generally replaced the Younger Futhark for most actual runic inscrip-

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The Decline of the Tradition  ª  39

tions. The runic alphabet was altogether easier to read, but neverthe-
less the lore surrounding the sixteen runes of the Younger Futhark also
continued to be cultivated and preserved for another two centuries.
Eventually this knowledge too fell into disuse. (See table 2.1, p. 40.)
As the culture that supported and promoted the runic craft under-
went profound changes, the use of runes changed and then fell into
decline. The aristocratic warrior class was transformed by religious and
political developments. These changes were especially profound during
the fifteenth century in Scandinavia, the last bastion of runic culture. As
evidenced by inscriptions as early as the sixth century in Germany and in
Old Norse literature written in the thirteenth century and after, women
began to carve runes. This practice had previously been traditionally
reserved to an all-male domain. With the official conversion of the popu-
lace to Christianity, the long-time patronage of the runic craft by the god
Óðinn as largely lost, although awareness of his role in the runic endeavor
was retained in poetic circles. It must be recognized that in Germania, as
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elsewhere in the world, religions did not change suddenly. Instead, there
was a syncretic period of “mixed faith,” if you will, that lasted for several
centuries. Knowledge of the old gods and their power died only slowly
and at different rates in various regions throughout the Middle Ages. But
by 1500 the old gods and goddesses were in a deep slumber.
The Christianization process did not at first interfere with the use
of runes, nor did the medieval introduction of Latin as a “sacred lan-
guage” do so. There are even medieval Latin inscriptions written in
runes, mostly of a religious or magical nature. This body of evidence
bears witness to the fact that the runes continued to be considered
somehow powerful as a medium for the conveyance of messages of a
magical character, despite the fact that the culture in which they origi-
nated had been overcome by the Latinate world of the Church. The
fact that Roman letters never seemed to be considered as anything but
a practical tool, in contrast to the reputation of the runes, can also be
taken as evidence for the attitude of the Scandinavians in particular
toward the original nature of the runic script.

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40  ª  The Decline of the Tradition


Rune Letter Commentary on Form

ᛆ a Younger Futhark a

ᛒ b Younger Futhark b

ᛍ c Variant of ᛎ
ᛑ d Dotted Younger Futhark t

ᛂ e Dotted Younger Futhark i

ᚠ f Younger Futhark f

ᚵ g Dotted Younger Futhark k

ᚼ h Younger Futhark h

ᛁ i/j Younger Futhark i

ᚴ k Younger Futhark k

ᛚ l Younger Futhark l

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m Younger Futhark m

ᚿ n Younger Futhark n

ᚮ o Based on Younger Futhark a

ᛔ p Dotted Younger Futhark b

ᚴ q Younger Futhark k

ᚱ r Younger Futhark r

ᛋ s Younger Futhark s

ᛐ t Younger Futhark t

ᚦ þ Younger Futhark x

ᚢ u Younger Futhark u

ᛦ R/y Younger Futhark -R (ýr)

ᚤ y Dotted Younger Futhark u

ᛎ z Variant of ᛍ
ᛅ æ Younger Futhark a (variant of ᛆ)
ᚯ ø Based on Younger Futhark ᚫ

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The Decline of the Tradition  ª  41

The general loss of the order of the runic system in the indigenous
futhark sequence and its rearrangement in the alphabetic order was
one of the most significant aspects of the runic decline. Nevertheless,
it is clear that awareness of the old order remained in some circles, as
evidenced by the survival of the rune poems into the fourteenth cen-
tury. These retained the order and number of runes inherited from the
Younger Futhark.
The runes themselves can be seen as a sign of authentic, integral,
traditional culture. As factors developed—or were introduced—that
compromised the traditional culture in general, the runes naturally fell
into decline as they increasingly lost their mythic support. It is interest-
ing to note that although the runes were replaced by the Latin alpha-
bet as a consequence of a new religion being introduced, the new letters
themselves do not seem to have been interpreted as having any special
or awesome powers. Yet—as the use of runes to write Latin prayers or
Mediterranean magical formulas indicates—the runes held on to their
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status as a sacred script even into the Christian period.
We can see how all sorts of archaic Germanic cultural features,
including the runes, were reconfigured to conform to new outer forms,
which then entered into the historical record as “folklore.” Symbolic
motifs were reduced to mere decorative or ornamental features, with
their original significance becoming lost. The German Romantics
would later refer to this type of material as versunkenes Kulturgut, “sub-
merged cultural features.” In the first half of the twentieth century
especially, much folkloric research would be pursued regarding allegedly
ancient motifs that had found their way into common objects through
various expressions of folk art including pastry shapes, architectural fea-
tures, house marks, and masons’ signs. It must be remembered, however,
that any possible “runic” connection to such features could have only
come about if the specific crafts and customs themselves were rooted
in times so archaic that they were shaped when the runes were in more
widespread use. Runic speculations regarding folk arts and customs may
therefore be entirely modern interpretations or projections onto forms

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42  ª  The Decline of the Tradition

that only coincidentally resemble runes. In these cases, then, what we

are dealing with is a fanciful or wishful reinterpretation, whereby the
unconscious mind has projected runic significance onto shapes that
were never consciously intended to be related to runes. We will have
more to say about this phenomenon in chapters seven and eight.
Another dimension of demise runic lies in their displacement from
the most elite ranks of society and the centers of cultural and economic
power to fringe areas—both socially and geographically. But evidence
shows that this transition was in no way sudden, nor was it violent or
Finally, it can be said that by the year 1500 runic knowledge had
become almost entirely isolated and repressed by the unrelenting effects
of the transformation of society and culture from a traditional basis to
one shaped and reshaped according to the values and cultural norms of
the Roman Catholic Church and its ideas about politics and religion.
For all intents and purposes, the runes were now a moribund cultural
For Review Only
feature. It is only after this point that we can begin to speak of a true
runic revival.

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From the Renaissance

to the Baroque
The Revival Phase I: 1500–1700

For Review Only

The Western world underwent tremendous cultural changes around the
year 1500. Historians identify this approximate date as the beginning
of the Modern Age. The Middle Ages, which were marked by popular
faith and the prevailing influence of the Church over many areas of life,
thought, and politics, were passing away and a new world, more rooted
in reason and science, was rising up. The Western Hemisphere was “dis-
covered” by Europeans (1492), Copernicus demonstrated the heliocen-
tric model of the immediate cosmic order (1543), and Martin Luther
successfully challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church
(1521). These and other developments sent the world into a flurry of
changes and brought many centuries-old assumptions into question.
In northern Europe these changes were most profoundly felt
because it was there that the existing Church authority was first bro-
ken and a new spiritual model established in the form of Protestantism.
There was a new emphasis on nations, as each Protestant country was to
have its own church organization with the monarch as its highest offi-
cer. Protestantism also promoted widespread education and literacy: the


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44  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Bible was being translated into the vernacular languages and the people
were expected to be able to read it. Furthermore, because of the ear-
lier invention of the printing press by the German Johannes Gutenberg
(1436), literature of various kinds also began to flourish.
In the northern Italian city-states such as Florence, a Renaissance
had already begun a few decades earlier. This was a rebirth and a
renewal of interest in classical antiquities as a source for new human
values. A handful of elite Italian thinkers, such as Marsilio Ficino
(1433–1499) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), and art-
ists, such as Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510), turned to ancient Greece
and Rome for a renewed identity and direction that set them apart from
the orthodox Christian mores traditionally promulgated by the Roman
Catholic Church. This movement was fueled by the rediscovery and
study of ancient texts, such as the dialogues of Plato and the recently
acquired Corpus Hermeticum. The latter is a body of texts in the Greek
language that reflects Neoplatonic, Gnostic, and Hermetic ideas from
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pagan late antiquity. This zeal for the past was imported into north-
ern Europe where it was expressed as humanism, that is, an interest in
perennial human values, scientific knowledge, and the cultivation of
classical studies.
The perfect storm of influences in northern Europe led to the
Protestant Reformation, interest in national traditions, and a new ded-
ication to intellectual pursuits. In the North, Renaissance ideas were
more widely disseminated throughout society and tied to a more liberal
and practical application of emerging science and technology. There was
a pronounced sense of turning inward—to individuality and hence to
nationalism—as interest grew in one’s own natural culture and to the
values of the more “common man.”
In Italy the old gods of Rome could be revived quickly and easily,
a process which has been studied in works such as Jean Seznec’s The
Survival of the Pagan Gods (1961). The source material for this revival
was readily available in the form of pagan Latin literature and all edu-
cated men could read the texts. In the North the situation would be

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  45

very different. First of all, the source material that would be needed had
mostly been destroyed by the Church, or was never recorded. The trea-
sure trove of Icelandic texts that did exist had not yet been discovered
in any comprehensive way by European humanists. That development
would have to wait until the seventeenth century. Secondly, the lan-
guages in which the old material was recorded would have to be learned
and decoded by a new generation of scholars. Methods of understand-
ing them would require significant philological work that would take
centuries to develop. Finally, there had developed a certain prejudice
against all things Northern, which even the Northerners themselves
had often adopted in favor of Greco-Roman learning. This latter bias is
generally a byproduct of Christianization.
One of the greatest intellectual heroes of the Northern Renaissance
was Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as
Paracelsus (1493–1541). He pioneered methods of scientific inquiry as
applied to medicine and pharmacology, two disciplines of which he is
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considered the modern “father.” He was also a magician, alchemist, and
astrologer. Paracelsus would greatly influence the general thought of
men such as Johannes Bureus a few years later. This topic was the sub-
ject of Sten Lindroth’s 1943 book Paraceslismen i Sverige, till 1600-talets
mitt (Paracelsism in Sweden to the Mid-Seventeenth Century).
The rediscovery of the runes by the learned elite of northern
Europe, and the subsequent publication and teaching of these discov-
eries to a wider public begins at this time, but it would be a long and
winding pathway over several centuries. Once forgotten by the cultural
elite that first dealt with them, the deeper secrets of the runes would
not reveal themselves again without a significant and prolonged intel-
lectual and cultural ordeal.


A pair of brothers, Johannes and Olaus Magnus, who were two of the
last Catholic archbishops of Sweden, found themselves in exile in Rome

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46  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

due to the growing Protestant Reformation in their homeland. Their

work was essential in the process of the runic revival. Although they
were largely driven by a desire to save the prestige and reputation of
their country in the eyes of Catholic Europe, their historical volumes
they were among the first to bring the ancient runes to the attention
of a learned public. As a result, they were among the earliest writers to
publish in printed form a reference tool for the renewal of runic writing
beyond the limited areas where it had survived in Iceland, Dalarna, and
Gotland. In 1554 Johannes Magnus (Johan Store, 1458–1544) published
a compendium of Gothic and Swedish royal biographies from biblical
times to his present day, Historia de Omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque
Regibus (History of All Kings of the Goths and Swedes). A Swedish
translation did not appear in print until 1620. Olaus Magnus (Olof
Store, 1490–1557) published another history of the Nordic peoples
entitled Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (A Description of the
Northern Peoples) in 1555. There he presented his “Gothic Alphabet”
For Review Only
along with its corresponding sound-values. The Brothers Magnus con-
sidered the many runestones that dotted the Swedish countryside as
proof of the extreme antiquity of Swedish civilization, maintaining
that the Swedes were literate before the Romans knew how to read or
write. They also claimed that the ancient Northmen used birch bark as
paper. The runestones, they thought, must have been erected by giants
in some antediluvian age. Olaus Magnus had the Carta Marina, one of
the earliest accurate illustrations of the Scandinavian peninsula, printed
in 1539. On this map was the image of the saga-age hero Starkaðr hold-
ing two runic tablets. The runes depicted are of the same style as would
appear in the later woodcut of the “Gothic alphabet” from 1555. This
is a runic alphabet (in ABC-order) with Latin transcriptions over each
of the runes. According to the Brothers Magnus, runes were used as a
cryptic mode of communication in times of war, but no special men-
tion is made concerning their esoteric value or connection to the pre-
Christian religion (although such is implied by the fact that they were
considered to have existed before the time of Noah).

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  47

The Brothers Magnus were among the earliest contributors to a

new Gothic mythology that would come to be known to historians
as Storgöticism (Meglo-Gothicism). Although these brothers laid some
of the foundation for Storgöticism, this would historically become a
movement connected to the Protestant wave of thought interested in
demonstrating the cultural and intellectual achievements of the North
and separating it from the Roman and Latinate world. For the Brothers
Magnus, however, these general concepts were conceived of as a way of
showing that the North had a venerable culture worthy of respect in
the family of nations. I will return to the topic of Storgöticism later in
this chapter.

For Review Only

Fig. 3.1. The “Gothic alphabet” published by Olaus Magnus in 1555


Like their predecessors the Brothers Magnus, two other brothers,
Laurentius Petri (1499–1573) and Olaus Petri (1493–1552), who suc-
ceeded the Magnuses in their ecclesiastical offices, also wrote on runes.
The Brothers Petri were both essential contributors to the process of
turning Sweden into a Protestant, and then specifically Lutheran,

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48  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

realm. Their real (non-Latinized) names were Lars and Olof Petersson,
and their interests included the promotion of Swedish national iden-
tity and the use of the Swedish language in all areas of life. They were
instrumental in producing a Swedish translation of the Bible. One
important aspect in the task of shaping a national church, with the king
as its head, involved rehabilitating the view of the national—and hence
pagan—past. Olaus began to study the pre-Christian monuments in the
Swedish countryside and wrote about the pagan names of the weekdays.
Both brothers wrote manuscripts that remained unpublished, but which
were archived and used by subsequent generations of Swedish scholars.
They noted that runes had continued to be used in a fashion parallel to
the Latin script and Laurentius wrote a manuscript later referred to as
Mäster Larses Runekänsla (Master Lars’s Runology). All in all, however,
rudimentary studies and texts such as those produced by the Brothers
Magnus and Petri mainly served to point out how the general runic
tradition had fallen into relative obscurity and disuse, even in the areas
For Review Only
of the North where they had best survived.


Since the runes had largely fallen into obscurity over almost all of the
Germanic world, and only remained a limited part of life in certain more
remote areas of Scandinavia, the stage was now set for a true revival of
runic knowledge as we will see in the work of the Swedish Storgöticist
and Rosicrucian Johannes Bureus. But the mystical aspect of Bureus’s
efforts was only one part of his contribution. His role as what can right-
fully be called the first modern runologist is perhaps more important,
as he planted the seeds for the growing interest in the runes that would
take hold in the halls of academia throughout Europe. The story of the
scholarly runic revival is every bit as fascinating as the revival connected
with magic and mysticism—and eventually, as we shall see, these two
worlds will begin to reconnect with one another.
In the two centuries between 1500 and 1700, the initial ground-

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  49

work for the scientific study of runes was laid. During this period, aca-
demic study was still significantly clouded by superstition and medieval
prejudices. These hindrances would only be able to be overcome with
the development of better scientific tools and the moderate loosening of
the grip of the Church and the state over freedom of thought.
As Klaus Düwel (2008, 217–18) points out, the study of runes dur-
ing the earliest part of this time was dominated by certain ideas that
would only be disproven over time. One was that the signs were of
extreme antiquity going back to biblical times and even antedating the
Great Flood described in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Most
thinkers at this time still accepted the medieval idea that Hebrew was
the oldest language, or the original language of mankind, and therefore
the runes and all other forms of writing must have somehow derived
from the Hebrew letters. Because the most commonly found runes—
and the ones with the most magnificent monumental presence, appear-
ing as they did on the great memorial stones of Sweden—were written
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with the signs of the sixteen-rune futhark, it was believed that this was
the older system, whereas the few inscriptions that had been found and
identified with various additional signs (many of which bore a greater
resemblance to the Latin alphabet) were assumed to represent a younger
and more recent system.
As we have already noted, the whole study of runes in Scandinavia
was also made part and parcel of that great political and cultural move-
ment known as Storgöticism. In connection with these ideas, the
study of runes gained a symbolic value in the political and economic
struggles taking place between the two great Scandinavian powers of
the time: Denmark and Sweden. This seems to have been much more
important to the Swedes than the Danes, which was mainly because
the Swedes became the power rising in the North after their victory in
the Second Northern War (1655–1660), whereas the Danes had histori-
cally held the upper hand. From the Swedish perspective, they identi-
fied the ancient Goths with the inhabitants of their country known as
Götar (in Väster- and Östergotland, for example) and on the island of

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50  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Gotland. The ancient tribes known as the Ostrogoths and Visigoths,

together with the kindred Vandals and Burgundians, had all gained
great historical prestige in the Migration Age (300–550). Their his-
tories became the stuff of legend and their leaders and kings, such as
Alaric and Theodoric, achieved mythic status. Although the Goths had
disappeared from history after about the eighth century in Spain, their
legendary prestige could be harnessed as a source of political power. The
history and legends surrounding the Goths thus became intertwined
with the runic symbols in a new and powerful modern mythology.
The deep roots of Storgöticism go back into the Norse Viking Age
when the Goths entered the world of myth and legend. In the Poetic
Edda the plural designation gotar is used honorifically to mean men
of great power and the word goti is used for a valuable horse, as Gothic
horses were highly esteemed. So by the time Nicolaus Ragvaldi, the
archbishop of Uppsala in the mid-1400s made his famous speech at
the Council of Basel in 1434 extoling the virtues of the Goths, the
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traditions of giving a high place of honor to the Goths, and of the
Swedes identifying with this people, was already well established (see
Svennung 1967). Gothicism spans over several centuries of Swedish
and Scandinavian history, and some might say that glimmers of it still
exist today. Generally summarized, Gothicism is a combination of the
belief in the special antiquity and prestige of the Goths, their identity
with various local populations (Swedes, English, Spaniards, and others),
and the attempt to harness this identity and ideology in the service of
greater military and political power for the nation. As we will see in the
case of Bureus, Gothicism could also go in a quite mystical direction.
The apex of Swedish Gothicism was probably reached in the works of
the Swede Olof Rudbeck (1630–1702).
The chief effect of Storgöticism on the history of runology is that
the belief arose that the Swedish runestones, which number in the
thousands, were somehow the most splendid and ancient examples of
runic activity and so the sixteen-rune futhark that they bear must, for
this reason, be the oldest and most original form of the runic tradition.

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  51

This false assumption prevailed for a number of years in the sixteenth

and seventeenth centuries. How do we know it is false? Simply because
the language represented by the Older Futhark, Proto-Germanic or
Primitive Norse, is closer to the Indo-European root language than is
the language of the Viking Age, which is represented in the Younger
Futhark inscriptions. Archeological contexts also clearly show that the
Older Futhark of twenty-four runes occurs in older environments than
that of the sixteen-rune system. Moreover, the runic alphabet developed
in the Middle Ages is directly based on the Younger Futhark.


Since I first wrote about Johan Bure in Runelore (Weiser, 1986), con-
siderable interest has arisen in the work and personality of this remark-
able scholar-mystic. Unfortunately, information about Bure has been

For Review Only

Fig. 3.2. The symbol of Bure’s Adulruna

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52  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

rather difficult to acquire. His own written works—which fill many

volumes in Swedish archives—have gone for the most part unpub-
lished. Works about Bure are also relatively rare. The first extensive
treatment of his life and work in Swedish was perhaps the 1908 study
by Hans Hildebrand, “Minne af riksantikvarien Johannes Bureus” (A
Remembrance of Johan Bure, National Antiquary), published in vol-
ume 23 of the Svenska Akademiens Handlingar from 1910 (pp. 55–435).
Subsequently, a good deal of work has been done in Sweden by scholars
such as Susana Åkerman, Håkan Håkansson, and especially Thomas
Karlsson. The most extensive work about Bure in English can be found
in Thomas Karlsson’s “The Adulruna and the Gothic Cabbala,” which
comprises the second part of his book entitled Nightside of the Runes
(Inner Traditions, 2019).
It is as an early practitioner of what can be called radical runology
that we wish to approach the figure of Johannes Thomæ Agrivillensis
Bureus (= I.T.A.B.), as his full name appears in the Latinized version
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that was fashionable in his day. As we briefly move through his life and
work, remember that here we have a man living and thriving within the
circles of power close to the royal Swedish government a scant four cen-
turies after the destruction of the “heathen” temple at Uppsala. Interest
in a nationalistic Swedish (Gothic) Renaissance had already been ignited
by his predecessor Johannes Magnus, but it was Bure who would syn-
thesize the intellectual precision of scholarship with the inspired pas-
sions of magical enthusiasm. From our “postmodern” perspective we
must forgive Bure his spiritual intransigence in the paradigms (myths)
and terminology of Christianity. As one comes to understand who and
what Bure was, one comes to see that his words encode deeper meanings
than perhaps even he was fully able to grasp or articulate at the time.


Johan Bure was born on March 25, 1568, at Åkerby, about one mile
northwest of Uppsala, Sweden. The child was christened Johannes

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  53

For Review Only

Fig. 3.3. A portrait of Johan Bure from 1627

Thomæ Agrivillensis Bureus. His father was the Lutheran parish priest
of Åkerby and his maternal grandfather had also been a priest.
In 1570 Johan’s father died and his mother remarried another par-
ish priest that same year. But she too would pass die just ten years later.
Johan’s stepfather was kind to the boy and supported him in his early
By the time young Johan was nine years old, he was in school under
Magister Olaus Andreæ in Uppsala. At the age of fifteen he went to
Stockholm to study at King Johan’s Collegium under Ericus Schepperus.
In 1590 he received a position in the chancellery of the collegium.

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54  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Throughout the years he continued to learn various languages:

besides the Latin that was basic to all education at the time, he learned
Hebrew (beginning as early as 1584) and Greek. He even began teach-
ing himself Arabic at the age of sixty.
At the time when he received his position in the chancellery, his
interest was piqued in all sorts of antiquities. By the next year, 1591,
these interests had developed a mystical tendency. In the summer of
that year he read the Latin grimoire known as the Arbatel or De Magia
Veterum (On the Magic of the Ancients) and he developed an enthu-
siasm for the Kabbalah. Perhaps it was contact with the family of his
first wife, Margareta, whom he married in January of 1591, which set
Bure’s mind in this direction. Margareta’s father, Mårten Bång, was
involved with certain occult pursuits. These ended badly for him as he
was beheaded for heresy in 1601. Bång had instructed a certain woman
on occult teachings, who then began to report publicly on her “heavenly
journeys.” The contents of these reports were judged to be heretical so
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she was burned and Bång, who was charged with being her instructor,
was beheaded. This story demonstrates the mortal danger from estab-
lished authorities that such interests could incur at this time.
In 1593 Bure received a new position as corrector (editor) of religious
publications. This necessitated a move from Stockholm to Uppsala.
But just before he left Stockholm, he visited the Franciscan cloister on
Riddarholm (a small island that lies within Gamla stan, the city’s old
town area) in order to assess material in the library there. While on this
visit, he caught sight of an ancient runestone that had been set in the
threshold of a door. The practice of removing stones from their original
places to be used as building materials (especially for churches) had been
fairly common in medieval Sweden. Of course, Bure had been familiar
with the sight of runestones in the countryside from his childhood, as
the region around Uppsala is scattered with hundreds of such stones.
But when he saw this stone it is said that “his curiosity was awakened”
(Hildebrand 1910, 75).
From that time forward Bure focused much attention on learning

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  55

the language reflected in the stones and on the mystical significance of

the runic characters themselves. It is said that he went into the “back-
ward”—or culturally conservative—province of Dalarna to the north-
west of Uppsala and there learned to read runic characters from the
farmers in the region. This is quite credible because farmers in that
region were still known to be using runes into the nineteenth century,
three hundred years after Bure’s time.
Throughout the period of his government service, which was not a
very well-paid position, Bure earned extra income with handicrafts—he
made copperplate engravings, inscriptions in stone, and repaired clocks.
By 1595, at the age of 27, Bure formally entered the university at
Uppsala, where he began to study theology. He was promised the par-
ish of Börstil in northern Uppland, but he never took the final step of
becoming a priest. During the time of his studies, he travelled to the
south, visiting both Germany and Italy. Bure also began an extensive
expedition to record runestones in the Swedish countryside. He set out
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on August 8, 1599, and concluded the trip on April 5, 1600. In 1602 he
was named professor in the artes liberales by Duke Karl. His teaching
fields were to be “runska” (Runic Studies) and Hebrew.
The following year Duke Karl ascended to the throne of Sweden
and became King Karl IX. The king then named Bure as his “antiquar-
ian,” although no formal government post had previously existed for
this function. Karl was intensely interested in Swedish prehistory, both
for its own spiritual sake and for the political advantages that could be
derived from the results of such studies.
An example of this latter use of prehistory can be seen in connec-
tion with the Mora stones from a parish southeast of Uppsala (fig. 3.4).
Karl sent Bure to investigate this group of carved stones that not only
bore runes but also a representation of the triple crown insignia of the
Swedish monarch. The legitimacy of such a find would demonstrate the
great antiquity of the Swedish royal house (since it was believed that the
runes were, or could be, antediluvian) as well as the ancient hegemony
of Sweden over the other two Scandinavian countries (Denmark and

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56  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Fig. 3.4. The Mora Stones

Norway). Such a stone monument indeed exists, but the crowns were
obviously carved at a much later date than the runic inscription.
In 1604 Bure began taking part in the instruction of the young

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crown prince, Gustav Adolf, and thus a friendship was inaugurated that
would last for three decades.
Throughout the first few years of the 1600s, Bure’s work on the exo-
teric interpretation and esoteric significance of the runes was intense.
By 1599 he had completed a copper engraving titled Runakänslones
lärospån (Runology Chart), which was meant to instruct on how to read
runic inscriptions (fig. 3.4). This was followed with several other manu-
scripts, culminating in 1603 with the Runaräfst (Rune Investigation), a
scientific study of runelore. By 1605 the first version of his masterpiece
of runic esotericism, Adulruna Rediviva (Noble-rune Resurrected), was
complete. However, it must be noted that this, like so many of Bure’s
other works, was never published in the conventional sense. Over the
decades that followed he would revise this text many times until 1642,
when he himself deemed it ready to go to a printer.
To appreciate fully the pioneering character of Bure’s work, one
must realize that relatively little was known about the runes or Norse
mythology at the beginning of the 1600s. Bure and his contemporary

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  57

For Review Only

Fig. 3.5. Detail of Bure’s runology chart, Runakänslones lärospån (1599),
with illustrations of runestones and runestaves together with
interpretations of rune rows

rival, the Dane Ole Worm (Olaus Wormius), had virtually initiated
the academic study of runes on the one hand, and, as far as mythology
was concerned, the Codex Regius, a manuscript containing the cor-
pus of poems that would come to be called the Poetic or Elder Edda,
would only be discovered in 1643. For these reasons, as well as the
general cultural and religious climate in which Bure found himself,
we can perhaps forgive him what now might seem to be wild eccen-
tricities. It was simply a matter of not having quality primary sources
readily at hand.
One conclusion reached by Bure in his studies during the first
decade of the 1600s was that the runes had been suppressed by the
Christians and that a return of the use of the runes was tantamount
to a return of the Swedes to a place of honor. In this idea there is an

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58  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

implicit neo-heathenry. Bure went on to write and have published Runa

ABC-boken (The Rune ABC Book; 1611), which served as a handbook
to teach contemporary Swedes how to write their language in runes.
It is at the time of the publication of Runa ABC-boken that Bure
becomes a regular companion of Gustav Adolf (Gustavus Adolfus).
He continued to instruct his royal patron on matters of both Swedish
prehistory and esoteric matters until the latter’s departure for battle in
Germany in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War in 1630. This book may
have aided Swedish forces in using runes as a military code in Europe
during this war (Enoksen 1998, 184).
The second decade of the 1600s saw a deepening of Bure’s work in
the esoteric. He mysteriously refers to the year 1613 as the time when
he says that he “received knowledge concerning the hidden truth, and
when I found it, I knew it to be my duty to become its apostle” (quoted
in Hildebrand 1910, 75). Evidence seems to point to the Rosicrucian
nature of his enlightenment.
For Review Only
Historians of the Rosicrucian movement will not be disturbed by
the dates here, for although the first Rosicrucian manifesto, the Fama
Fraternitatis (The Story of the Brotherhood), was not published as a
printed document until 1614, it had circulated in manuscript form at
least as early as 1612 (see Yates 1978, 41). It is not necessary to assume
that the contents of the Fama alone exercised this influence on Bure. It
is more likely that since Bure was intimately connected to the interna-
tional Protestant esoteric intelligentsia through his personal relation-
ships with Kings Karl IX and Gustavus Adolfus, he was exposed not
only to potent manuscripts, but also to oral teachings of what might
best be described as proto-Rosicrucianism.
Let me hasten to add that we are not left to speculate as to Bure’s
Rosicrucian connections. In 1616 there appeared a Latin poem under
the title Ara foederis theraphici F.X.R. assertioni Fraternitatis R.C.
quam Roseæ Crucis vocant, consecrata (Altar of the Theraphic [=
Physicians’] Brotherhood F[raternitatis] C[rucis] R[oseae], dedicated to
the Assertion of the Fraternity R. C., which they call the Rosy Cross).

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  59

On the last page of the eighteen-page document there appeared a text

actually signed by Johannes Bureus.
It would, I think, also be a mistake to assume that Bure and his
royal companion were passive participants in the Rosicrucian adventure.
However, Bure’s version of these teachings seemed, at their deepest lev-
els, to be related to the symbolism of the runes.
According to Bure there was something exalted and hidden about
the runes—there were ordinary runes (as used to carve on stones), but
there were also adulrunor (or adelrunor), “noble-runes,” which behaved
in ways he compares to Egyptian hieroglyphics or Hebrew letters. A
good idea of how this system worked can be gained from the synopsis
of the contents of Adulruna Rediviva in the next section of the present
work. The essential idea of the adulrunor was in place by 1605, but the
esoteric realizations of 1613 in a certain way completed the picture for
him. Many of Bure’s ideas appear related to those of the English phi-
losopher John Dee (1527–1593) on a multiplicity of levels.
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In 1616 he delved deeper into the mysteries with the production of
a short text entitled Buccina veteris iubilei (The Old Jubilee Trumpet).
This is an esoteric text that Bure used as a focus for his teachings. He
began to gather group after group of students to whom he transmit-
ted the mysteries of the text. Students even came from Germany, which
brought him in direct contact with Prince August of Anhalt in Saxony,
who is known to have had interest in the secret sciences.
The 1620s were a period of intense scholarly activity for Bure. In
1624 he published the first edition of Monumenta Sveogothica hactentus
exculpta (The Hitherto Carved Suedo-Gothic Monuments), which was
the first attempt to create a scientific collection and edition of the vast
corpus of runic monuments in Sweden.
This period was, of course, also rich with esoteric discoveries and
explorations. Bure came under increasing attacks for his heretical ideas,
but he was solidly supported by the royal house against any and all crit-
ics, the majority of whom were members of the Lutheran clergy.
A fair amount of Bure’s new esoteric work at this time centered on

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60  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

dreams and their interpretation. One interesting anecdote reported in

Bure’s diaries, which are fairly extensive and detailed for this period of
his life, relates how Gustav Adolf told Bure of a dream he had in which
one of his boyhood tutors by the name of Henrik Horn appeared and
the king took him to be Satan himself. In the dream the king asked
“Horn” if he believed in Jesus Christ and the figure answered “No” and
said he had received a new revelation. What is most interesting is that
Bure interprets the dream-figure of “Horn” as a stand-in for himself.
This darkly reveals Bure’s own self-conception.
In 1626 Bure’s first wife, Margareta, died. Together they had
conceived eight children—almost all of whom died in childhood. The
sad circumstances of his children’s mortality grieved him greatly. Bure
was a man of emotion and sentiment. His diaries reveal his grief over
his dog, Sultan, who was killed by wolves.
On May 20, 1630, King Gustav Adolf officially created the
Riksantikvariet, the National Office of Antiquities, and named his
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friend and mentor, Johan Bure, as its first head, the riksantikvarie
(National Antiquary).* Just a few weeks later the king departed for the
battlefields of Germany where he and his Swedish troops would turn
the tide of fighting in the Thirty Years’ War. The antiquarian-mystic
was with his friend and student up until just a few hours before the
warrior-king departed. Sadly, Bure would never see his friend again, as
the king was killed at the Battle of Lützen in 1632.
In 1636, when Bure was 68 years old, he remarried. He and his new
wife had one child, whom he named Margareta. But she too was to die
in childhood.
Bure remained active as riksantikvarie until 1648, when he had to
leave his post due to failing health. He spent the last years of his life as
an invalid, though he continued to dictate works to the last. He died at
his longtime home at Vårdsätra on October 22, 1652.

*This office, now officially referred to as Riksantikvarieämbetet, the National Heri-

tage Board, remains an active part of the Swedish government to this day.

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  61


Bure begins his Adulruna Rediviva by laying out the function of the
runic system as a mediator between the divine and human levels of
existence. He says that the creative word of God is a mediator between
God and his creations, and that in the human realm this is mirrored in
languages, which act as mediators between speakers and listeners. This
notion is extended then to writing, which is also God-given, as a media-
tor between writers and readers. Bure notes that Jesus uses a metaphor
by which he refers to himself as a writing system: “I am the Alpha (Α)
and the Omega (Ω)” (Revelation 1:8). Bure also refers to a stone as the
most noble and lasting of all things. Clearly, then, a runestone is more
than just an archeological artifact for Bure—it is a mediator between
the divine and human minds.
According to Bure, everything that exists is either creative or cre-
ated, but between them there is another level, which is creation. This is
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the creative process itself. For this reason, Bure states that the origina-
tors of the runic system made the rune-row in three groups of five staves.
The first group of five is designated as the progenitor (Sw. födare), the
second as that of generation (Sw. födelse), and the third as that of the
generated (Sw. foster). Here we find the reason why Bure did not want
to recognize ᛣ as an independent rune. Only with its identification
with r can the number of runes be reduced to fifteen.
Although Bure was somewhat familiar with the newly reemerg-
ing data on the runes—such as their traditional shapes, names, and
the poetic stanzas attached to each—he dismissed this information
as exoteric and relied on his subjective vision to unlock the secrets of
the adulrunor. This accounts for the non-traditional elements in the
system of Adulruna Rediviva. It must be kept in mind that what lit-
tle was known and had been published about the runes from ancient
manuscripts appeared after Bure had already codified the essentials
of his esoteric system. This codification took place between 1605
and 1613.

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62  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

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Fig. 3.6. Bure’s Illustrative Runic Monument

Bure’s runology is represented in table 3.1, the left side of which was
printed in his 1611 text Runa ABC-boken (p. 11). It shows both the
adulrunor and the common runes used in writing, which Bure is inter-
ested in formulating for use in writing modern Swedish. (The section at
right presents another more readable version of Bure’s table.)

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  63


Runa ABC according to the Swedish ordering

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is Freyja’s (Fröja) stave. Fröja meant fru (lady) in the older lan-
guage. This comes from frö (seed), having to do with fertility,
and from this the word fröken (young lady) is derived. In the
rune-rhymes it is called fä (beast; cattle; fool), having to do with abun-
dance. This can be compared to Hebrew ‫( א‬aleph) meaning “ox.”

(ur) signifies the force of origin and expansion. It corresponds

to: (1) Latin ab or ex; (2) the ur- in urväder (bad weather; hard
wind with snow or rain); and (3) the ur- in urverk (clockwork),
which signifies motion.

is linked with the name of Thursday and is the most important

sign of freedom, because töras (to dare) means to venture out,
which is also connected to törna (to turn back to shore). Bure
links this rune with many geographical features in and around Sweden
showing where borders between peoples change or meet.

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64  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

is connected with the name of Oden’s day (Sw. onsdag) and is

called the Odin-stave (Mercurii litera) or the Öden-stave (stave
of fate = fati litera). Otherwise it is also connected to öde (fate),
and öud, which indicates “possession.” Bure claims that those who say
“Wednesday” or “woensdag,” and so forth, have forfeited their rights to
use the rune script.

stands for råda (to advise, rede), ride, rudder (by which a ship
is controlled). It is a sign of dominion and justice (rätt = right).
Bure identifies the ᛣ as the original form of ᚱ used in final posi-
tion. The ᛣ shows a straight line descending right down between the two
arches. Råda was exiled to the end of the row, outside the fifteen-rune sys-
tem, and designated with the ordinary name stupmadher (inverted man).

is the sign of sex (kön) or kin. It is the generosæ naturæ litera

(stave of noble nature). A shack is inverted to , which
shows the stave’s original kingly character, linked also to the
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concept of ability (kunna).

is called hagel (hail), that which encloses (Sw. hagar) everything

and/or makes everything that is most favorable (Sw. haglek = art
and craft) and protected (Sw. hagelig).

bears either the name nöd (need) or nåd (grace). Bure sees the
shape of the stave as an illustration of the relationship between
the two alternate names and concepts of nöd (need/ distress)
and nåd (grace; gift), in that grace is shown by the raised stroke on the
right side (note the subjective perspective here) and distress by the down-
ward stroke as one moves to the right.

is defined as poententiæ litera (stave of repentance) due to its

simplicity, or as the studii litera (stave of pursuits). Bure notes
offhandedly that the poems refer to it as “ice.”

Bure notes, has a variety of sound-values, and hence must have

a variety of names. Among these he counts ära (honor/glory),

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  65

år (year), and ari (eagle). He provides a list of Latin glosses: gloria

(glory), perpetua requies (eternal rest), littus (shore), aquila (eagle), annus
(year), annona (yearly produce, harvest), and sufficientia (plenty). The
shape of the stave illustrates its meaning as glory ending in tranquility,
because the stroke is raised forward moving to the right, the reversal of
nöd (need).

is the sun-stave, and the son-stave. The sun is named after the
light created on Sunday—the sun is linked with the Son of
Light. To this stave belong the words sona (to make amends),
suna (to be forgiven by the Son), ransuna (to redeem that which has
been stolen), The poems speak of the sun as the highest in heaven. is
called “hanging sun” because the rune hangs from the back of the ser-
pent . This latter form, says Bure, was adapted from the Greek Σ and
is called “kneeling sun.”

is the tide-stave (cf. Tuesday). It signifies time and holidays or

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ceremonial divine services. In ancient times priests were called
tidmän (“time-men”) and tijar (“godly ones”). The name tak
(roof) is used because of the shape of the stave. This is also connected
to the tar-torch and whip (swingle).

byrkal = byr-karl is the one who is lord over the farmsteads; or

byrgall (byrg-all), which contains everything and is contained in
everything. It corresponds to the beginning (börja). As a com-
pound of byr + ger, the name indicates the patron of the home,
fatherland, or city. Some translate the name as “son of war,” as we know
the ger-man is a “man of war.”

= lays, law. The name of Saturday, which Bure calls the seventh
day of the week, is lördag (“wash-day”) in Swedish. This comes
from lög (“bath”). Also, law (lex) comes from laga (to arrange),
so law is connected to laying. Also note the connection with sam-lag
(“sexual intercourse”) and hjone-lag (“connubial union”).

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66  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

is the last rune of the row in Bure’s system. Because it is the

rune-sound [m], made with the lips closed, that “closes the
mouth.” It is linked with Mon-day, and so to the Moon, and to
man. The form of the stave indicates a man with two uplifted arms or,
as on some stones, a man scratching his head .

These interpretations of the meanings of individual runestaves are a
mixture of philological evidence, folk etymology, and Bure’s own spiri-
tual insights. It is unknown how many of Bure’s ideas are derived from
the lore of the farmers and learned men of Dalarna, from whom he is
known to have learned something of the runes. It is also curious to note
that some of the more speculative innovations found in the Armanen
system of Guido von List seem to have some parallels in the ideas of
Bure. These parallels are not likely to have resulted from List and others
having read Bure’s works, because the latter were never widely published

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or translated.


Exoteric runology is concerned with the inner meanings of the
runestaves used for writing ordinary language, but it is seen that this
is a reflection of the esoteric runology of the adulrunor. So, the adul-
runor, as delineated by Bure, are not identical in form to the uppenbara
runor (evident or ordinary runes).
The fifteen adulrunor are said to be inscribed on a cubical stone
that fell from heaven as a sign of the powerful divinity of the mediator
between God and Man (fig. 3.7 shows Bure’s own illustration of this
stone). On three of the sides of the cube there are groups of five staves
organized in the form of a cross.
Again we see the typical Burean system of 3 × 5. The forms of
the staves of the adulrunor are often quite different from ordinary

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  67

For Review Only

Fig. 3.7. The Cubical Runic Stone

versions of the staves. The difference is often a matter of rotating the

stave ninety degrees, or the use of the rare Hälsinga rune-forms for ᚢ
and ᚱ, which are and , respectively. In the first quintet the five
signs appear:

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68  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

The three central runes (t, o, f ) refer to the triune divinities

of Thor–Odin–Frey. According to sixteenth-century “tradition,” these
gods were inherited in Sweden from Noah and his son Japheth. Bure
insists that only later did Asiatic masters of magic (Sw. sejd) and wiz-
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ards (Sw. tollare) arrive, pretending to be incarnations of the true Gods.
But the true religion of the ancients held sway for a much longer time in
the North than in southern Europe. Bure, like many other mythologists
of his time and earlier, used the Old Testament as a text for basic data,
which in Bure’s case was then coupled with a primitive understanding
of Saxo Grammaticus and perhaps of Snorri’s Edda, copies of which
had surfaced in the mid-1500s.
One of the innovations of the religion instituted by the wizards was
that instead of a triune godhead, the people should worship Thor in
life, Frigg at birth, and Odin in death. Here Bure wishes to maintain
the primal monotheism of the ancestors and ascribe pantheism to a
later, decadent, phase of history. This decadence represents the begin-
ning of the dimming of the knowledge inherent in the adulruna.
Bure then proceeds to interpret the individual adulruna-staves of
the first quintet, which as a whole signifies birth or the beginning of

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  69

is the freest and functions everywhere and in everything. This

is the highest and most powerful force, and it is equated with the Norse
god Thor. This force is actually androgynous. Bure points to an image
of Thor found in Uppsala that is masculine in the upper body, feminine
below. (Later commentators have identified this image as a badly dam-
aged early depiction of Christ.) Thor is linked with Jove, and hence to
Jehovah. The icon shows the door of a lodge at the horizon. It is
flanked by and , Odin and Frigg, who with outstretched arms
show the way to the door.

is the adulruna of Odin, the son of Thor, according to Bure.

This interpretation of Odin as Thor’s son was common in the early
studies of Norse myths, which were heavily influenced by compari-
sons with classical mythology. To Odin belongs all property and estate
and all offices of state. The name Odin is equated with Latin fatum,
“divine foresight,” due to the similarity between the god’s name and the

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Swedish word öde, “fate.”* This fatum is seen as the origin of all created
things. The originators of the runes concealed Odem, or the “blood-red
one,” Ådam, behind the image of Odin—or Mars, the destroyer. Of this
Ådam it is said that in his wrath all the power of the enemy shall be
destroyed by his blood.

is on the left side of Thor, and hence on the day after his day.
This signifies Frigg (or Fröja), the daughter of Thor and wife of Odin.
Bure identifies Freyja (Fröja) with Frigg and says that the Swedish ances-
tors worshiped the true breath of holiness under the name of Fröja.
This is further identified with the spirit that “moved upon the face of
the waters” (Genesis 1:2). This is the one who distributes all good gifts.
Below the horizon and outside the door are the twins (u, r), which
appear as ram’s horns . They indicate the password to the whole
divine work, which emanates from above and is in perpetual motion

*This is an example of folk-etymologizing on Bureus’s part; there is, in fact, no his-

torical relation between these words.

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70  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

and expansion. Bure indicates that everything emerges from the one,
and returns to the one, and cites a comparison of three Biblical pas-
sages—Daniel 7:10, Matthew 13:41, and 22:30—as a key.
But above the horizon the twins (r, u) are paired inside the door
thusly: . This is a password to eternal rest and union with the high-
est God. Bure cites the “Egyptian Trismegistus”:

Those chosen by God are of two kinds,

the one are those who migrate,
the other those who are still,
and these are the highest holiness of souls.

The second quintet of adulrunor appears:

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This is the quintet of birth or generation, as the first had been that
of the progenitor (the progenitor = father, birth the process which the
father initiates, but not identical with the father). The central triad of
this group of five is NotAriKon—those who bear the governments of
the three realms signified by the three crowns in the Swedish national
symbol. The ᚾ on the right side signifies grace/mercy, while the ᛅ on
the left side means glory in the Promised Land. is the ruling gov-

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  71

ernance of the kyn (kin) of the realm, which is invisible. Kyn is split in
two at the top like two branches of a tree. This indicates that the tree
of life stands on both banks of the river that emanates from God’s
The adulrunor of this quintet create a progressive sequence that
demonstrates the interrelationship of the three kingdoms:

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One emerges from the valley of grace/mercy (ᚾ) over the narrow pas-
sage of repentance (ider) into the plain of honor (ärevidden). From there
one must pass through a torrent of hail (hagelfors) in order to ascend
to the summit of character (kynnahöjder). Bure compares this progress
to the migration of Israel from Egypt over the Red Sea and through
the wilderness into the “redemptive land of peace.” Further, he equates
this process to the movement of the High Priest at the Israelite Temple
from the outer court (1), before the brazen altar (2), into the holy tem-
ple (3),  before the holy golden altar (4), and from there into the Holy
of Holies (5). Only the one who understands these progressions can
understand this quintet of adulrunor. He will understand the office of
the mediator priest (ᚾ), the lying stone (ᛁ), the royal government (ᛅ), the
falling stone (ᚼ) and the office of judges ( ).

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72  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

The third quintet is that of the offspring:

This quintet can be observed from two distinct angles: either

(1) horizontally ( ) or (2) vertically ( ).
In the first arrangement, a password is formed to the three-forked

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office of mediation here in this world—of mediating between sun ( )
and man (ᛉ) through the central lord (drotten) and king ( ), flanked
by the priests (tidemän) on the right and judges (lägmän) on the left.
All three—king, priest, and magistrate—act as mediators between the
sun (sol) of righteousness and his servants.
In the second vertical view a column is created between sol—the
most excellent of all visible things, which here has the high-seat (seat of
honor)—and the Moon (ᛉ, månen), which illuminates the night. The
former is likened by Moses to Eden (Genesis 2:8) and by Solomon to
the “heaven of heavens” (II Chronicles 2:6), while John likens it to the
New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), which requires no sun because it has
itself become a sun, and no moonlight because it is its own reflected
light. This new world is called Paradise by the Lord and an enclosure
in Eden by Moses. However, in the midst of this is the present dungeon
( ­f jätterhyddan: the “fetter-hut”). For this reason, we must await salva-
tion. The twins and remind us that everything has its time and
place (tid och lag).

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  73

These two interpretations of this quintet point to the strongly

ambiguous and even apparently paradoxical meaning of the adulruna:
in the one instance it is the mediator (king and lord); in the other,
the mortal clay of the body. The reconciliation of these two meanings
reveals a profound understanding of the role of the material universe
in the cosmology of the ancient Goths as well as in the modern world
newly emerging in Bure’s time.


The third section of Adulruna Rediviva deals with the office of the
pastor or priest. This section is an extensive commentary on a cruci-
form arrangement of adulrunor widely used by Bure, yet seldom fully
explained. The symbol appears:

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Fig. 3.8. The cruciform symbol of the priestly office

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74  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Note the three crowns arrayed at the top of the cross and above each
side of its horizontal beam.
The mythical priest-figure Byrger, who is said by Bure to have been
an originator of the runic system, is used as an archetype of the ancient
priesthood. Byrger illustrates the seven eternal adulrunor in a cruciform
arrangement according to the seven days of the week.

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Each of these is shown to correspond to the image of the crucifix—the
image of Jesus Christ (= Byrger) hanging on the cross—as shown in
Table 3.2.


on stands

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  75

This esoteric runic information is combined with the words of

Jesus: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The practice of “tak-
ing up the cross” is equated with the daily meditations known as the
Stations of the Cross. This, like other Christian forms of practice and
belief, was seen as something that actually belonged to the original faith
predating the time of the historical Jesus.
Although Bure’s melding of mystical Christian and runic iconogra-
phy may seem at first to be indicative of his subjectivist approach, one
should not be so quick to judge his ideas harshly. Studies have more
recently shown the degree to which early medieval Christianity was in
fact “Germanized” centuries before the first Christians ever came to
Sweden (see Russell 1994).
Bure maintains that Thursday is considered by Swedes to be the
holiest of days. He takes this as an indication that the secret spiritual
heritage of the Swedes (embodied in the adulrunor) antedates that of
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the Jews (whose holy day is Saturday) or the Christians (whose holy day
is Sunday). Bure traces the Swedish tradition back to King Ninus of
Babel who established the holiness of Thursday in memory of his father
Bel, who is identified with Jupiter (Jove = Jehovah). From this prime-
val time until the coming of Roman Christianity, the Swedes had kept
their holiest day as Thursday.
There are two groups of four runes each, which form the actual
cross under the body of Byrger/Christ—one group of four runes hori-
zontally across the arms, the other vertically along the length of the
body. The runes positioned across are (RUNA) = literatura,
experientia (because runa is, according to Bure, derived from rön, “expe-
rience”).* These adulrunor can also be combined thusly:

*Bure’s etymology is insightful here: as with Old Norse rún, “rune,” and raun, “expe-
rience” (the latter word being formed through ablaut from the same stem, rūn-, that
underlies the former), the modern Swedish words runa and rön are etymologically

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76  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

to form an image of grace and honor opening a gate to eternal peace and
rest. These same four runes are also significantly combined as
(AURN) = örn, aquila—the eagle. These are equated with the eagle
standards of Caesar Tiberius, which represented Gothic soldiers from

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the Pontus under Pilatus. The runes that form the vertical beam are:
—which Bure says can be readPIGKind = virginis filius (“son
of the virgin”). He comments that the sequence shows the “son of the
virgin.” The righteous guide, leading his followers out of bondage (the
“fetter-hut”) by means of ider (repentance) through the embrace of the
all-containing ᛡ (a combination of ᚾ grace and ᛅ honor) and through-
out into the highest level of freedom in .
So the vertical column describes the initiation of an individual from
a state of bondage to one of liberation, while the cross-beam is the expe-
rience (rön) of the mystery (runa) of the world.
Four adulrunor are identified as the shepherd runes:

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  77

that guard an inner seven, which is identified as the flock. The shep-
herd runes consist of the divine trinity Thor–Odin–Frigg ( ) along
with , which is the valor of the shepherd. The image of the is
likened to the breasts of the maiden, which feed the shepherd, as well as
to the double doors of a sheep-pen for the entrance and exit of a flock.
The runes signifying the “flock” are:

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Fig. 3.9 and Fig. 3.10. The seven cruciform runes

and the sevenfold Holy Spirit

From these seven cruciform runes (fig. 3.9) is formed a glyph

(fig. 3.10) that signifies the sevenfold Holy Spirit united with the Word
of God. These runes can be arranged from above to below to form the
phrase = gæghn mis = ocurre mihi (“run to meet me”). This
is the voice of the one who calls from above, and those who answer
from below call out sim äghn k(ynd) = simus possessionis filij,
quasi unus (“we are of the property of the Son, as if one”). Note that
is here read by Bure as an ideographic rune and that the formula is

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78  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

c­ reated by reading the seven runes from the bottom upward, reversing
the order of the original “call.”
The remaining four runes at the outermost arms of the cross are
= trol(l) (“trolls”), the “evil spirits,” daemons—indicating the
spiritual wolves that seek to scatter and gobble up the flock. At first
these wolves seem to entice the flock with both and (time and
space, tid och lag)—and then they drive members of the flock down into
the infernal regions with a three-pronged fork ᛣ (trident). The reversal
of this formula is (lort) [Sw. lort, “dirt, filth, muck.”] defraudato-
rum symbolum (“sign of the deceived”)—those who have been lured by
the trap and snares.
Bure has the mystical Byrger lay out the adulrunor in two groups: a
horizontal one of nine staves and vertical one consisting of seven staves.
The horizontal row defines the two outstretched arms of him who calls
(kallare), and on the “caller’s” heart stands the ᚼ, which radiates sacral-
ity. On the right arm stand the signs (= NORD). At first glance
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this reads nord (“north”), but Bure interprets the initial rune as an
ideograph: N(ådens)ORD / N(ödens)ORD = Word of Grace / Word of
Need. Read in reverse, this yields tron, meaning fides (faith). On
the left arm we find the runes , which can be read äful, “perma-
nent fullness.” But this too can be interpreted with an initial ideograph
ᛅ (äro, “glory”), thus: Ä(ro)FUL = “glorious.” Bure reasons that since
the “caller’s” right arm is God’s Word, then it follows that the left arm
must be the Holy Spirit: because without these two, he says, no one
could be called or follow.
The runes (lof ) can also be read as meaning “praise,” but,
according to Bure’s esoteric reading, these signs should be under-
stood as (lyf ) = “love.” From lyf Bure alternatively reads l(i)uf­–ful
, which refers to faithfulness—with all its legal hooks and
bitter barbs ᛚ, and also to the gospels and the grace-full horn of oil .
The group of seven staves depicts the “collector’s” vertical body, the
head of which is , while the feet are . Between these extremes,
however, are the five-runged ladder of

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  79

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On the downward climb the “caller” began in Thor’s stave and
completed the journey in byrgall—and there the ones who have been
called are to turn around and begin their ascent up the ladder. In Thor
( ) the return journey is complete. The descent begins by passing
through doors from which all good gifts come. The first rung is —
the highest realm of the Father. The second is ᚼ (hagal)—the one that
completes the Father’s will. The third is ᛉ (man, manna), which is the
heavenly bread. The fourth is ᛁ (ider), which is repentance as the result
of sin (guilt). The fifth is , which shows the rays of the Sun—take
note of temptation (Rev. 16:8), the Sun does the same (Luke 22:31).
The one who is in is sitting in fetters or bonds, being threatened
with death. The savior wishes that all those who doubt will come to
know that life is the great reward.
The shepherd himself made the ascent into heaven along the ladder
of staves described here.

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80  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Fig. 3.11. The ascent to heaven

This figure shows the immeasurable power received by those who have
been united with God.



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Bure uses the cruciform figure of the adulrunor to measure time in
mysterious ways. The right arm of the cross renders: ᛐ (300), ᛏ (5),
(1), and ᚾ (60) = 366—the number of days in a complete circuit of the
Sun. The fifth stave ᚼ = 30: the number of days in a lunar cycle from
new moon to new moon. This is the heart of the bride being embraced
by the bridegroom, which is the Sun. This cosmic embrace of the pri-
meval masculine and feminine first took place in Paradise. The staves
to the right: = 90 + 1 + 3+ 700 = 794. According to Bure’s
calculations, this is the number of years between the conjunctions of
Jupiter and Saturn—the two highest planets of (medieval) astronomy.
These numbers were used by Bure to arrive at cosmological dates—such
as 1648, which was to be the date of the next “embrace” of the Sun
and Moon (794 x 2 + 2 x 30 = 1648 A.D.).* Thus, the Incarnation of

*The year 1648 marks the end of the Thirty Years’ War with the signing of the Peace
of Westphalia. Many scholars of the history of ideas consider this to be a turning
point in which the Enlightenment period begins.

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  81

Christ occurred at one of the conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter. The

importance of such a conjunction to Bure is linked with the esoteric
interpretation of the planet/god Saturn with the “Gothic” god Oden
(fate) = Odin.*
Another of Bure’s calculations concerns the sum of the vertical
runes of the cross (500 + 100 + 70 + 900 + 30 + 5
= 1605). The year 1605 is the one in which Bure received the idea of
the adulrunor—the idea descended upon him, and with and from this
concept, or Word, he spent the rest of his life ascending the ladder of
the runes.
The numerological and eschatological speculations embedded in
Bure’s work are often extremely obscure to the outsider. Some of Bure’s
contemporary detractors accused him of trying to speculate endlessly,
and irrationally, about the date of the “end of the world” and they tried
to make it seem that he had become mentally incompetent. The facts
do not bear out this interpretation, which now seems to be politically
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motivated rhetoric at the court of the king. However, his speculations
in this direction are obscure and leave themselves open to such attacks.
For anyone who can penetrate his code of thought, illumination might
accompany their insights.


Bure traces the origin of the national symbol of Sweden, the three
crowns, back to the mythical figure of Byrger Tidesson, who advised

*The ongoing attempt to link Christ with Odin is further illuminated in studies
such as G. Ronald Murphy’s The Saxon Savior (Oxford, 1989).

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82  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

that the administration of the land be divided into three functions:

that of the king, the high priest, and the judge. Accordingly, the power
to govern was divided into three and so was the land they governed.
Each of the three parts of the land received a crown as its symbol—
and thus the coat-of-arms of all three crowns is a symbol of the whole
of Sweden.


Since the time when I first wrote the text of this section about Johan
Bure in 1998, great strides have been made in the studies surrounding
this Swedish runologist and mage. We can especially point to the work
of Thomas Karlsson, who was actually inspired by the magical words I
originally wrote at the end of this section, “Någon har mycket att göra.”
This call was heard and now I can say: Någon har mycket gört!
At one point Bure created a table with which he wished to show
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the place of the adulrunor in the great scheme of philosophy and the
sciences of his day. In his own Renaissance spirit, he was already laying
the foundations for an integral runology of the future:


Theosophia regina

Allrunæ (Adulrunæ) Virgines Runæ Vulgares

cubiculares Ancillæ
(chamber servants) (maidservants)

Christiana divina physica Artes liberales
kabbalah magica chemia

Astro- Grammatica

-logia/ -nomia

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  83

This table not only gives us a map of Bure’s esoteric universe of

ideas, it also articulates these ideas into a meaningful series of relation-
ships. Royal theosophy is divided into an inner and outer aspect. The
inner aspect is identified with the pristine adulrunor, which are artic-
ulated into the three sciences of “kabbalah,” “magic,” and “alchemy.”
The “common runes” are the “maidservants” known as the liberal arts.
These support and promote the esoteric pursuits and from them the
liberal arts branch out further into astronomy/astrology and grammar.
From Bure’s life and work it is clear that he realized the magical signifi-
cance of grammar—the meaningful arrangement of sounds/letters. He
saw this as being intimately bound up with the concept of a rune. Bure
recognized (correctly) the etymological link between the Swedish words
runa (“mystery; letter”) and rön (“experience, observation, understand-
ing”). The definition Bure gives of “adulruna” at this point is: nobilis
experientia quæ potissimum constat in naturæ cognitione, the “experi-
ence of nobility, which it is agreed (is) in the knowledge of nature.”
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Adulrunor are those things by which we may investigate the noble or
exalted aspects of objects—natural or supernatural.
The study of the ideas of Johan Bure is fraught with difficulties. His
esoteric works largely remain unpublished today. They are stored away
in archives in Stockholm, Uppsala, and Lund. This circumstance makes
a difficult study twice as hard as it would be otherwise. Bure’s ideas are,
I suspect, extraordinarily sophisticated and complex. Yet their meaning
is shrouded behind an obscure language of symbols that would be diffi-
cult to understand completely even if all his works were readily available
in convenient editions and/or translations. It is almost certainly the case
that Bure only revealed the key to his thought and language to those
students who took the time and effort to come and learn with him in
person. So, when we are left to speculate on his meanings or evaluate
his thought based on the fragments of printed material and commentar-
ies on the latter, we are confronted with the magnitude of the task of
unlocking the mysteries of Bure’s system.

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84  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Olaus Wormius (Ole Worm, 1588–1654), was a Danish physician,
natural historian, and antiquary, who was a true Renaissance man. His
father, Willum, was wealthy and at one time the mayor of the city of
Aarhus. Wormius studied widely—first theology in Marburg, Germany,
and then medicine in Basel, Switzerland, where he was promoted to
doctor of medicine in 1611. In 1617 he received a Master of Arts degree
in Copenhagen, where he taught Latin, Greek, physics, and medicine
for the rest of his life. He eventually became the personal physician to
King Christian IV of Denmark.
Although both Bureus and Wormius can be considered the contem-
porary grandfathers of modern runology, they were men of very dif-
ferent temperament: Bureus was a mystic at heart; Wormius was more
purely scientific in his approach. Another practical contrast between the
two is that Bureus produced much of his work in manuscript form only,
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whereas Wormius published a good deal more of his work in printed
In general, Wormius made many important contributions not only
to the field of antiquities, such as runic studies and medieval literature,
but also to medicine and natural history. The small bones that fill the
gaps in the human cranial sutures—the Wormian bones—are named
after him. He collected fossils and specimens of animals from around
the world. He had a pet great auk bird from the Faroe Islands, his illus-
tration of which is the only known depiction of this now extinct animal
drawn from a living model. He also famously disproved the existence of
the unicorn and showed that the horns widely attributed to them were
actually from a sea-creature, the narwhal.
The contributions of Wormius to runology were significant. He
traveled widely in Denmark and Norway in search of runic monuments.
In 1626 Worm published the Fasti Danici (Danish Chronology) con-
taining the results of his researches into runic lore; ten years later he
came out with the ᚱᚢᚿᛁᛦ seu Danica literatura antiquissima (Runer,

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  85

or the Most Ancient Danish Literature; 1636, with a later edition

appearing in 1651). In this work he tried to explain the origin and
development of runic writing. Generally, he maintained that all scripts
originated from the Hebrew alphabet as it was the oldest of all scripts.
The similarities between Greek, Latin, and runic signs were taken as
evidence that all of them were descended from a common archetype,
identified with the Hebrew alphabet. He did note that he believed
that the runes were older than either the Greek or Latin systems. His
Danicorum Monumentorum (Danish Monuments) appeared in 1643
and was the first printed collection of transcribed runic texts taken
from runestones and presented in any sort of systematic way. Some of
the work of Wormius, like that of Bureus, contains depictions of monu-
ments that have since been “lost.” In such instances, these illustrations
and descriptions may be our only evidence for their existence. He wrote
his works exclusively in Latin.
Wormius himself succumbed to the plague in Copenhagen while
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treating the sick during the epidemic.*

Johannes Bureus was succeeded as the head of Riksantikvariet by Georg
Stiernhielm (1648–1651), Johan Axehielm (1652–1657), and even by
his own kinsman Laurentius Bureus (1657–1665). An important fig-
ure who emerged at this time in Uppsala was the antiquarian Olaus
Verelius (1618–1682). Verelius served as National Antiquary between
1666 and 1675 and was also the founder of what became known as
the Hyperborean School of Swedish antiquities and history. This
held that the Swedes were the people referred to in Greek ­literature

*As a weird footnote, we may mention that in the stories of the early twentieth-
century American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, Wormius is cited as the translator
of a Latin version of the fictional grimoire of magic known as the Kitab al-Azif or
Necronomicon. Perhaps Lovecraft got Worm and Bure confused?

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86  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

as the “Hyperboreans.” This school is the successor to Gothicism, and

enjoys some adherents in esoteric circles to this day. Verelius was in
fact the teacher of Olof Rudbeck. In 1675 he wrote a handbook of
runic studies called the Manuductio compendiosa ad runographiam
Scandicam antiqvam recte intelligendam (A Short Guide to Correctly
Understanding Old Swedo-Gothic Rune-Writing), compiled the first
Old Norse dictionary by a non-Icelander, and showed that the pagan
temple of Uppsala was actually located where the present-day church
is at Gamla Uppsala.
Johan Hadorph (1630–1693) became the National Antiquary in
1679 and served in that office until 1693. Hadorph began the work
of collecting runic inscriptions for publication, as most of the work
of Bureus remained in manuscript form. The work was to be called
Monumenta Runica Sueo-Gotica (Swedo-Gothic Runic Monuments).
Hadorph actually enlisted the aid of the entire Swedish population
in the quest to hunt down runic monuments in the countryside. This
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mainly consisted of writing to church and governmental officials in all
of the parishes to be on the lookout for runic artifacts. In 1666 he for-
malized the office of antiquities, for which the noble and influential
university chancellor Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie was officially respon-
sible. De la Gardie is also well known for his contribution of buying the
Codex Argenteus, the sixth-century manuscript of Ulfila’s Gothic Bible,
which had been taken as booty from Prague by the Swedish army dur-
ing the Thirty Years’ War.
A persistent puzzle in the early study of the runes was the meaning
of certain inscriptions found in the Hälsingaland region of Sweden. To
most people they appeared to be nonsensical scribbles. A prize was offered
to anyone who could read them. In 1675 the mathematician Magnus
Celsius (1621–1679) gave a speech at Uppsala in which he demonstrated
his decipherment of these runes. However, because Celsius died shortly
after the speech, his solution was not published until 1707. As it turned
out, the Hälsinga runes were actually those of the Younger Futhark with
the “head-staves” (the vertical line) removed. This left only the branches.

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  87

In 1699 Johan Perinskiöld came out with an annotated edition of

the Vita Theodorici regis Ostrogothorum et Italiae (Life of Theodoric,
King of the Ostrogoths and of Italy), by the sixteenth-century German
humanist Johann Cochlaeus. In this volume, Perinskiöld claimed that
the runes had been brought to the North out of Asia by Magog, son of
Japheth. To support the idea further, he claimed to be able to read the
name “Magog” on the runestone of Bällsta in Uppland, which was a
misreading of the runes.
During the Renaissance period in England, in which the English
Reformation also took place, runes appear to have been only studied
by a few antiquaries. In the earliest period these men were clerics, but
by the seventeenth century, secular scholars also explored some runic
knowledge as well.


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A visionary and latter-day Renaissance man named Olof Rudbeck
(1630–1702) became one of the most radical Storgöticists in history.
Rudbeck’s father was Bishop Johan Rudbeck, personal chaplain to King
Gustav Adolph, and his son, Olof Rudbeck the Younger, was a botanist
and teacher of Carl Linnaeus. Olof Rudbeck was a physician, scientist,
and linguistic historian, who was accomplished in many fields. He was a
professor of medicine at Uppsala University, but is perhaps best known
today as a visionary historian.
Between the years 1679 and 1702, Rudbeck worked on the pro-
duction of works of linguistics, history, and national mythology,
which resulted in the publication of the four volumes of his magnum
opus Atlantica (Swedish version: Atland eller Manheim). In this work
he endeavored to show that the fabled land of Atlantis mentioned
by Plato was actually located in Sweden, and that Sweden was the
land of the original Paradise and the origin of all civilizations and
languages. The runes and runic inscriptions were a pivotal aspect of
his theories.

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88  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

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Fig. 3.12. An illustration from Atlantica (1689), in which Rudbeck
depicts himself in the company of Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle,
Apollodorus, Tacitus, Odysseus, Ptolemy, Plutarch, and Orpheus

Rudbeck, following in the footsteps of Bure before him, went into

the countryside around Uppsala and learned how to read runic perpet-
ual calendars carved on long staves by often illiterate peasants who had
preserved ancient knowledge.
Rudbeck also plumbed the depths of classical works to discover
that the Roman historian Pliny had determined that the original Greek
alphabet consisted not of twenty-four, but of only sixteen letters: Α, Β,
Γ, Δ, Ε, Ι, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ο, Π, Σ, Τ, and Υ.
The other eight letters were added later over time. This led Rudbeck
to conclude that the ancient Greek alphabet and the runic futhark
were one and the same. He also began to note the similarities between

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  89

Greek and Old Swedish words, taking into account certain systematic
changes: for example, Swedish /h/ corresponds to Greek /k/, as can be
seen with Sw. hiarta and Gk. kardía, both meaning “heart”). Rudbeck
was recognizing what would become established linguistic science some
years later with the discovery of the Indo-European family of languages.
For Rudbeck, however, these relationships were taken as proof of the
Swedish origin of all alphabets and languages.
Like every other scholar of his day, Rudbeck thought that the six-
teen-rune futhark was the original runic system, but in his own vision-
ary way he saw them as being derived from the shape of the caduceus of

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All the runes can be derived from this shape using the numbers as
guideposts. For example, the ᛏ-rune can be made by connecting 2 to 5

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90  ª  From the Renaissance to the Baroque

and 10 to 9. This schema was the instrument by which the Swedish god
Heimdall (= hem-taler: “secret speaker”) taught writing to the Greeks.
The fact that Hermes was considered the originator of writing among
the Greeks served to further substantiate the theory in Rudbeck’s vision.
Rudbeck’s theories gained little respect outside of Sweden, but
in his native land they made him immortal. In May of 1702, a fire
broke out in Uppsala that destroyed two thirds of the city, including
Rudbeck’s home and library. While the fire raged, Rudbeck attempted
to direct firefighters from his rooftop. Rudbeck’s biographer, David
King, describes the aftermath of the fire in this way:

As his life’s work turned to embers and ash, Rudbeck showed all the
strength for which his long journey had prepared him. In some ways
this was his finest moment. Far from complaining, losing hope, or
succumbing to bitterness, Rudbeck showed the inner strength and
wisdom that he always believed had existed long ago in a golden age

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under the North Star (King 2005, 250).

True to form, two weeks after the great fire had ravaged three-fourths
of Uppsala, Rudbeck entered the council chamber with drawings of
plans to rebuild his beloved town.
Just four months later Rudbeck would die peacefully in bed. He
would be entombed in Uppsala Cathedral at the transept. Subsequent
Swedish monarchs were often crowned atop his grave.
Rudbeck’s descendants would carry on some of his more fantas-
tic work, as his son Olof the Younger theorized about the reasons for
Sweden’s great political and military power, and also sought to show a
relationship between the Sámi language and Hebrew. A nephew, Petter
Rudebeck, also wrote books trying to show that the events of the Trojan
War actually took place in southern Sweden.
An objective yet sympathetic picture of Rudbeck is provided in
David King’s book Finding Atlantis, where he points out that although
Rudbeck’s specific theories about history and language (and the runes)

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From the Renaissance to the Baroque  ª  91

were inaccurate, many of his operating assumptions—for example, that

ancient artifacts could be dated according to how deep they were buried
in the ground, or how distant languages might be related to one another
despite how different they might seem to be—anticipated new scientific
breakthroughs in the fields of archeology and linguistics. It does appear
that Rudbeck was a true visionary and that his mythic vision acted as a
sort of potent national magic in Sweden.

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The Enlightenment

The historical period most commonly referred to as the Enlightenment

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is also sometimes known as the Age of Reason. This period roughly
encompasses the years 1650 to 1800. The Enlightenment was a radical
critique of the Renaissance, in that the Renaissance tended to look for
new and alternative sources and authorities for knowledge, whereas the
Enlightenment ideal was the questioning of all sources and the rejec-
tion of authority on principle. This led to a relative disinterest in the
past and a striving for more universal truth as based entirely on rational
The cultural roots of this period stem from three main sources. First,
there was increased religious or sectarian tolerance. This followed the
fiasco of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), which had essentially been
a civil war within Christendom between Catholic southern Europe and
Protestant northern Europe. Secondly, there was a continued growth in
strong nation-states, which led to political nationalism. Finally, there
was a general acceptance of the idea of rationalism as a way forward for
humanity. Both orthodox Christianity and Greco-Roman philosophy
were increasingly doubted as being dogmatic authorities based on tradi-


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The Enlightenment  ª  93

tion. The Enlightenment looked to subject all such “received knowl-

edge” to an empirical test.
The Enlightenment was marked by a desire to attain new kinds of
intellectual and artistic achievement, free from traditions and cultures
of the past. With the passage of time, however, there was a return to
the more open admiration and imitation of classical (Greco-Roman)
forms in art and literature. In its latter phase of development, the
Enlightenment became what is known as Classicism or Neoclassicism.
This is distinguished by the use of the aesthetics of the Greeks and
Romans with an emphasis on clarity, precision, and simplicity.
Generally, this phase in the history of ideas meant that interest in
the spirit and aesthetics of the “barbarian” past of the nations of north-
ern Europe became greatly reduced. This was the time of hyper-ratio-
nalism and the past was only admired insofar as it corresponded to a
(largely fictionalized) version of Greco-Roman culture and aesthetics.
However, tools of science were developed and methods of observation
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were pursued that would be of great use later as interest in the indig-
enous pasts of the various nation-states of northern Europe redeveloped
in the Romantic period.

Considered to be the last of the great Storgöticists, Johan Göransson
(1712–1769) is also often called the last Rudbeckian. Born into a farm-
ing family, he became a Lutheran priest, runologist, antiquarian, and
archeologist. He entered the University of Lund in 1740 and gradu-
ated in 1744 with a dissertation on the topic of Skadinaviens urgamla
inbyggare (The Ancient Inhabitants of Scandinavia). The next year he
enrolled Uppsala University and it was there that he became especially
enamored with the teachings and theories of Olof Rudbeck. In 1745
he began to teach at Lund University and in 1747 he became a priest
in Karlstad. He later continued his career within the church, earning
more academic and ecclesiastical offices (in this early modern period,

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94  ª  The Enlightenment

church offices and duties within the Lutheran Church were alternatives
to university life for scholars). Göransson developed a great reputation
for his intelligence and mental powers—so much so that he came to be
referred to as Sveriges ljus, the “Light of Sweden.” He wrote an unpub-
lished academic study of the Hebrew language, but mainly he devoted
himself to the history and ancient traditions of Sweden and Scandinavia
in general.
The influence of Rudbeck’s ideas are evident in his works such
as De genealogia regnum Suioniæ (On the Genealogy of the Royalty
of Sweden; 1746), where he claims that Sweden’s earliest kings are
descended from Saturn and Jupiter, while in the introduction to his
edition of the Edda entitled De yfverborna Atlingars eller Sviogöters ok
Nordmänners Edda (Edda of the Hyperborean Descendants, or Swedo-
Goths and Northmen; 1746) he maintains that this text was written at
a time contemporaneous with Moses and discovered in Sweden during
the reign of Queen Disa, three hundred years prior to the siege of Troy,
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and that they were originally written on brass tablets.
Göransson was also an important editor and translator of Icelandic
sources in Sweden. He published parts of Snorri’s Edda, translating
the passages into both Latin and Swedish. Similarly, he edited the first
poem of the Poetic Edda, the “Völuspá,” also attempting a Swedish
As far as runology is concerned, Göransson made two important
contributions: one scholarly and exoteric (for the most part!), and one
thoroughly esoteric and in the Rudbeckian tradition.
Göransson not only continued in the spiritual track of Rudbeck,
but also that of Bureus, Peringskiöld, Hadorph, and others whose
unpublished manuscripts became sources for his scholarly work with
runic inscriptions. In the realm of more scientific runology, Göransson
produced his volume Bautil, det är Svea ok Götha rikens runstenar
(‘Memorial Stone,’ that is, Runestones of the Kingdom of the Swedes
and Goths) in 1750. This was the largest collection of runic inscriptions
made up to that time, and encompassed 1173 artifacts. In the introduc-

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The Enlightenment  ª  95

tion to this work, Göransson put forward the idea that Swedish was
older than Latin and that the northern tongue was actually the mother
of the language of the Romans. In the production of the volume he
made use of material found in storage at the archives of the University
of Uppsala that had been created and collected by previous generations
going back to Bureus. When Göransson published this material under
his name it caused considerable controversy, which soured him on the
academic life. Although this work is filled with ideas stemming from
Stogöticism and the Rudbeckian school of thought, the work remains
valuable for its publication of many Swedish runestones now lost.
His most striking esoteric work is a book from 1747 entitled Is
Atlinga; Det är De Forna Göters, här uti Svea Rike, Bokstafver ok
Salighets Lära, Tvåtusend Tvåhundrad år före Christum, utspridd i
all Land; Igenfunden af Johan Göransson (Descendants of Is [i.e., the
runes]; That is, the Letters and Doctrine of Salvation of the Ancient
Goths, Hereafter the Kingdom of Sweden, Two-thousand and Two-
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hundred Years Before Christ, Distributed to Every Land; Rediscovered
by Johan Göransson). For the most part he identified the sixteen-rune
futhark as the original system and tied each of the runes to an epoch
in biblical “history.” The runes were used as tools for a biblical exege-
sis: as Göransson is well known for saying, “Every rune is a sermon.”
This book posited the runic order of signs as an outline of history,
with different epochs being ruled by different runes. With this method
Göransson could discover the secrets of the past and predict the future.
In this he was again following in the footsteps of Johan Bure.
Göransson continued the ideas of the Storgöticists that Swedish civ-
ilization was the most ancient known to man and that all the gods of all
people are really derived from the original gods of Sweden (Odin, Thor,
and “Bore”). These were originally men who were so powerful and
perfect that they came to be worshipped as gods, although they them-
selves were said not to be “heathens,” but rather pious proto-Christians
who foresaw the coming of Christ millennia before he even lived on
earth. Göransson shaped an elaborate secret and mythical ­prehistory for

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96  ª  The Enlightenment

Sweden, which posited the grandson of Noah, Gomer, as the first ruler
of the country. It was this Gomer, brother of Magog, who invented the
runes. Göransson saw these sixteen signs as the origin of the Greek,
Roman, and Etruscan alphabets.
A number of fantastic legends grew up around the personality of
Göransson. He was thought to be a magician and a man of great wisdom
(as we noted earlier, he was even referred to as “the light of Sweden”).
Some believed he had power over the winds, the harvest, and sickness.
His legend only grew after his death. A hundred and fifty years after his
passing, people would still draw attention to a cypress tree in front of
the church at Gillberga that had allegedly served as the site of a magical
ritual done by him to bind the plague.
In discussing this last representative of the Storgöticists, it is a
fitting place to point to a general feature in the esoteric thinking of
individuals in European culture. Once Christianity had been firmly
accepted for a few hundred years, and especially in the wake of the
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Reformation, it became almost impossible for individuals to entirely
reject that religion and its theology and traditions. Broadly speak-
ing, a bold religious revolution of that sort would only be possible
for those coming of age in the twentieth century in the wake of fig-
ures like Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche. But in earlier times there were
two apparent options in men’s minds: to Christianize the pagans (like
the Storgöticists did, for example, by insisting that the national tradi-
tions of the North were older than those of Christianity, and that
the ancient Northmen actually prefigured or established at an earlier
date what would become Christianity) or, as Guido von List would
do later, to show that the ancient Northern or Germanic way was
not destroyed by the coming of Christianity, but rather Christianity
had to absorb and accommodate the secret teachings of the ancient
Northmen and Germanic initiates (the Armanen, in List’s termi-
nology). In this latter case, we could say that Christianity, as it was
practiced in the Germanic world, was a new form of the religion that
blended the “Armanic” and Christian traditions. Both of these modes

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The Enlightenment  ª  97

of understanding, which at first appear insane, have gains of truth to

them. Indo-European myth and ritual had a decisive effect on Judeo-
Christian religion from the beginning, and certainly the Roman
Church did indeed have to accommodate the Germanic peoples of
the early Middle Ages in a way similar to how, more than a mille-
nium later, it would locally absorb indigenous religious features in the
course of its missionary work in the Afro-Caribbean region (which
simultaneously caused syncretized religions to form such as Vudoun,
Macumba, Santería, and so on). This being said, the neo-mythologies
created by men such as Rudbeck and Göransson can only be fully
understood in their cultural and historical contexts.
What was noteworthy about the runic studies carried out in the
Renaissance period and during the age of Storgöticism is the degree
to which the esoteric dimension was somehow unified with the scien-
tific study. This is what some critics have called the “heroic modern”
approach. As the modern age progresses, however, an increasing rift
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will develop between these aspects of human thought—the esoteric
and the scientific—and eventually an absolute division will be estab-
lished between the signifier and the signified. When this occurs, the
intellect has become dis-integrated, at least in the world of conven-
tional thought.
In the half century that followed the publication of Göransson’s
Bautil, runic studies declined to a nadir of interest in Sweden. This
was largely because the whole field of study was seen as the province
of dilettantes and fantasists by the more sober-minded and anti-Rud-
beckian antiquarians of the Enlightenment era such as Nils Brocman
(1731–1770) and Olof von Dalin (1708–1763). The former held that
runes and runic inscriptions were largely a Christian phenomenon,
while the latter was an outspoken critic of the unreason displayed by
the Rudbeckian school of thought.
As we will see, this period of skepticism was one more prelude to a
rebirth of deeper interest in the runes and the ancient Germanic culture
that would bloom in the time of European Romanticism.

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The Age of Reason, with its promises of a rapidly perfected world based

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on the application of logic and rational problem-solving in a progres-
sive manner, demonstrated its historical weaknesses and vulnerabilities
in the throes of the excesses of the French Revolution. Long before
that, however, many members of a younger generation had questioned
the theoretical basis of Enlightenment thinking. It had ignored the
particular in favor of the universal, the national in favor of the inter-
national. The revolution in the history of ideas that challenged the
Enlightenment came to be called Romanticism.
Even before the broader Romantic movement had begun, in
many parts of the Germanic world there were signs of disaffection
with the Enlightenment approach to intellectual and artistic life.
This was evident, for example, in German literary movements such as
the Sentimentalist school influenced by Pietism and mysticism from
1740–1780, and Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) during the years
The Romantic movement as such is thought to have run its course
in mainstream culture by 1848, a year when there were general upris-


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Romanticism  ª  99

ings all over Europe in favor of national revolutions. These uprisings

were generally suppressed by the monarchal powers, and the Romantic
spirit became more of a matter of individual sensibility and of subcul-
tural artistic expressions. Certainly, the basic ideas of Romanticism did
not go away, and remain as vibrant today as ever.
The importance of the Romantic impulse to runic study was this:
scholars began to be more and more interested in national traditions,
local phenomena, and organic and biological realities. This led atten-
tion increasingly away from things that made all peoples the same,
and more and more toward those things that distinguished them one
from the other. It was the unique, the individual, the national, and
the natural that would become ever more compelling. The particu-
lar and peculiar art, literature—and even writing—exemplified by the
ancestors of the Germans, English, and Scandinavians at least became
a topic of fascination and curiosity. But it would not be until the end
of this period that enough data had been gathered, and the requisite
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methods made available, that would enable seekers to discover the real
truth about the runes, their origins, and their true nature.
The late 1700s had been a period of especially widespread dis-
interest in Germanic antiquities, even in Sweden. There we find an
overreaction to the excesses of Gothicism as expressed by men such
as Rudbeck and Göransson. But the Romantic Age ushered in a new
interest in the Germanic past, and one that was more a part of the
artistic world as well as being relatively better informed with regard
to history and linguistics. In Sweden this found expression in the
organizations called the Götiska Förbund (Gothic Society), formed
in 1811, and the Manhemsförbund (Manheim’s Society), formed
in 1815. Manhem is a term that harkened back to Rudbeck’s work
and signified the “world of men,” the original golden age of human-
ity. The leaders of these Swedish societies were shaped by the ideals
of Romanticism stemming from Germany at the time and by their
own interests in renewing a patriotic sensibility. One of the leading

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100  ª  Romanticism

lights of this movement was the poet, musician, and investigator Erik
Gustaf Geijer (1783–1847), who wrote an influential chapter concern-
ing runes in his work Svea rikes häfder (The Traditions of the Swedish
Kingdom) in 1825. The historian Nils Henrik Sjöberg (1767–1838)
of the University of Lund also reawakened general interest in the
runes with his three-volume study Samlingar för nordens fornälskare
(Collections for Aficionados of the North) published between 1822
and 1830.
The neo-Gothic movement in Sweden during the Romantic
period was not principally focused on runic material, so I will have
little more to say about it here. (However, it is a major focus of volume
two of The Northern Dawn, my study of the greater Germanic revival
from the Early Modern period to the present.)
A more exacting and scientific approach to the study of language
emerged in the early part of the nineteenth century in conjunction
with the spirit of Romanticism. Because of increased interest in indig-
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enous culture, and due to the fact that so little had been preserved—
and even less cultivated—with regard to the ancient Germanic past,
ever more precise theories and intellectual tools had to be developed
to uncover the long-buried truth of these matters. The process would
not be quick, nor would it be easy. It would be fraught with many
missteps and often beset by false assumptions. Nevertheless, it is in
this period when the methods that would lead to a more perfect runic
revival would begin to be developed.
Linguistic science made great leaps over the course of the nine-
teenth century. This was mainly due to the work of historical
linguists of Germany and Denmark, for example Rasmus Rask (1787–
1832), Franz Bopp (1791–1867), Jacob Grimm (1785–1863), August
Schleicher (1821–1868), and Johannes Schmidt (1843–1901). These
scholars were able to show the relationship of the Germanic languages
to one another, and to contextualize them in the historical develop-
ment of the greater family of Indo-European languages to which they
belong. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that this

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Romanticism  ª  101

linguistic science was sufficiently developed and established to begin

to have a significant influence on the course of runic studies.
The rapid progress that took place in the field of linguistics found
its way into runology much more slowly and with various degrees
of success. In part this situation was exacerbated by the paucity of
research material relating to runes and the lack of suitable scien-
tific collections of runic texts that would enable linguistic scholars
to pursue their work. Written sources, such as those in Old Norse
literature, the Gothic Bible (written in the Gothic language of the
fourth century), Old English literature, Old Saxon literature (such as
the Heliand), and Old High German literature formed a large cor-
pus of information, upon which serious scholars could toil away in
their efforts to unlock the essence of ancient Germanic culture. By
contrast, the runes were more difficult to gain similar access to at
the time. The resolution of this enormous problem would not even
be underway until the beginning of the twentieth century, when the
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great editions of the various bodies of runic inscriptions began to be
edited and published.
A persistent misunderstanding was that the runes of the Younger
Futhark were older than those of the twenty-four-rune system. This
was undoubtedly due to the overwhelming number of inscriptions
in the simpler system, which made the few inscriptions in the other
system appear to be a decadent variant. However, the application
of the growing knowledge concerning the languages in which these
inscriptions appear would eventually make the picture clear. The even
more comprehensive body of knowledge that was being amassed con-
cerning the discovery and growing awareness of the truth about the
Indo-European context of indigenous European culture and language
would also aid greatly in this process.
The most important figure in the scientific field of runology since
the days of Bureus and Wormius is that of Wilhelm Carl Grimm
(1786–1859) who published a landmark study, Ueber deutsche Runen
(On German Runes), in 1821. Wilhelm and his brother Jacob were,

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102  ª  Romanticism

of course, pioneering figures in many fields, ranging from linguistics

to mythology, folklore, and the history of the law and legal concepts.
A year after Grimm’s work appeared, the Dane Jakob Hornemann
Bredsdorff would be the first to establish that the twenty-four rune
futhark was, in fact, the older of the two systems. During the middle
part of the nineteenth century, several linguists worked on specific
problems surrounding the runic systems and the correct reading of
them in a basic way. Because the Older Futhark was more ancient,
rarer in the record, and contained may puzzles relevant to the devel-
opment of Germanic language at an archaic level, the study of them
became increasingly interesting to all concerned.
Johan Gustaf Liljegren (1791–1837) published works under the
title Run-Lära (Runology; 1832), which was a landmark work in
the scientific study of the runes, and in 1833 his companion vol-
ume Run-Urkunder (Rune-Records) appeared. The latter work con-
tained illustrations and transliterations of three thousand of the
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inscriptions only.
A work that seems to represent a potential link between pre-Roman-
tic and modern esoteric runology is the two-volume study published in
1856 and 1859 entitled Die Urreligion, oder das endeckte Uralphabet
(The Primordial Religion, or the Primordial Ancient Alphabet) by the
Catholic bishop to Sweden, Jakob Laurents Studach (1796–1873). He
was also a translator of the Poetic Edda (1829). In his Urreligion vol-
umes, Studach forms all sorts of connections between Germanic and
other mythic and magical symbolic and alphabetic systems, including
the Egyptian and the Greek, as well as astrological lore. In the sec-
ond volume of his Urreligion study, which is titled “Das Pentalpha des
Runenalphabets” (The Pentalpha of the Rune Alphabet), an outline of
his basic runology is given on pages viii–ix. I will provide a translation
of this here and the reader can make the connections between Bure and
List, as well as others. Studach’s Catholicism may have affected some of
his peculiar associations in the text.

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Romanticism  ª  103


No. Shape Sound Name/Meaning
1 ᚠ F fra, fre, frei, fro (fraujo), fé, fich, vrat, fir (vir–virgo =
Freyr–Freyja), fyr, ax: Free man, lord, god, riches (cattle,
gold, hoard), child, boy, youth (fire), spruce-tree [Ger.
Fichte], ear of grain.
2 ᚢ U ur, vr, vraz, (dyr): bull, storm weather, archer’s bow, child,
(atrium, “hall”).
3 ᚦ Th thor, thorn, thurs: bull (hammer), thorn, triangle, giant,
(blister [Ger. Beule]).
4 ᚮ O (henc), os, ors, hors, (odil): (patibulum [= crossbar
for cross used in crucifixion]), estuary, horse, cross,
5 ᚱ R (r-initial), rat, rad, red, ræd, reid (RT), tir (TR): wheel,
rede, horse, god.
6 ᚴ K (diuot), kaun, kön, ken, chen, cen, chæn-thanne: Diut,
Thiod, Teut, Tot), genus, type, (blister [Ger. Beule]),
acorn tree.

8 ᚾ
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hagalc, hagilc: H-chalice, holy vessel, (the seven chalices).
naut, nöt, not: ring, cattle, night, need (nemesis, eight,
9 ᛁ I is, iz, isc, Isch, (isa): ice, iron, man, Irmin column (isa) or
the jarn-, jar-, jær = war-, wær- wér- sign (world-sign).
10 ᛅ A (r-medial) ar: river (Acheron), purifying fire-water, holy
11 S sol (endi-sol): sun (Gin-sonne, elf-light [ignis fatuus]).

12 ᛏ T tyr, tir (TR): god.

13 ᛒ B birc, birich, beorc: birch, tree (Leichenstossholz [funeral
14 ᛚ L laugr, lögr, lag: lye, water (bathwater), law.
15 ᛉ M madr, man: MN = vir and virgo, (mancipium = freeman
subject to the power of a Roman head of a family).
16 ᛣ R (r-final), aur, ur, or, ör, yr, ir: money, guild (debt), archer’s

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104  ª  Romanticism

Appearing virtually at the same time as Studach’s work was

one by Franz Joseph Lauth (1822–1895) entitled Das germanische
Runen-Fudark, aus den Quellen kritisch erschlossen und nebst einigen
Denkmälern zum ersten Male erklärt (The Germanic Rune-Fudark,
Critically Revealed from the Sources and Explained alongside Some
[Related] Monuments; 1857). Lauth was also an early practitioner of
Egyptology when that discipline was fairly new. His particular ­obsession
appears to have been the calculation of time using the runes as a guide.
Despite the advances in linguistic science—or, it appears, in some
cases because of those advances—the idea that the runes actually had
their genesis in the North and among the Germanic peoples, or that they
sprang from a root common to all alphabets independently, persisted up to
the middle of the nineteenth century. Scholars such as Gisli Brynjulfsen,
W. Weingärtner, and F. Dietrich supported this idea and Brynjulfsen
stated that they had their origin among the “Gotho-Caucasian tribe.”
Apparently, the logic went, if the languages of the Germanic peoples have
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an ancient link to the Indo-Germanic heritage, so too must their ancient
writing system. The fallacy of this should be obvious, but it stems from
the lack of understanding of the essentially oral character not only of
early Germanic culture, but also that of the Indo-Europeans of the East.
When we look out over the whole sweep of the Romantic move-
ment of the early nineteenth century in the Germanic countries (and at
this time the United States could still be counted among these), we see
a variegated picture with regard to the place of runes in this phenome-
non. In general, it must be said that their role had become minimal. We
see that runic symbolism had remained strong in Sweden for a very long
time, especially under the sponsorship of the Gothicism of Rudbeck
and Göransson, but elsewhere in Scandinavia they had slipped from
the public’s attention; in England (and America) runes had become
the purview of dilettantes and eccentrics; while in Germany runes had
remained largely unknown until the work of Wilhelm Grimm.
By the 1870s, however, the German world had been introduced
to the runes at the level of “popular culture” in the form of Richard

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Romanticism  ª  105

Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerke (“total works of art”) otherwise known as

“operas.” In the Ring of the Nibelungen cycle of four such works, we
see how Wagner used the concept of the runes as important symbols
in his own personal and philosophical recasting of Germanic heroic
mythology. The ring itself is said to be worked with runes and the shaft
of Wotan’s spear is described as having runes inscribed on it. Runes,
and the concept of runes as a method of conveying magical power, are
deeply imbedded in Wagner’s artistic worldview. It is from this time
forward that the runes begin to gain a new attention in the German-
speaking world and beyond. This is largely because Wagner’s work was
influential in many parts of Europe and the world.
In a forthcoming study titled Wagner’s Ring and the Germanic
Tradition, the philosopher Collin Cleary has recently reviewed the idea
of the runes in Wagner’s Ring:

[W]e may note that there are numerous references to the runes

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in Der Ring des Nibelungen, where the term has the same vari-
ety of meanings it does in the Scandinavian sources. At times, it
simply seems to mean letters or signs. For example, in Scene Two
of Das Rheingold Fasolt reminds Wotan of the “runes (Runen)
(Runenzauber) makes a ring from the gold.” In the Prologue of
Götterdämmerung, Brünnhilde says to Siegfried “I gave to you a
bountiful store of hallowed runes (heiliger Runen).” And Siegfried
says to her “in return for all your runes I hand this ring to you.”

Clearly, Wagner had some ideas of his own concerning the symbolic
and conceptual significance of the runes in Germanic lore. Wagner was
a visionary in his own right, and the vision of art as a transformative
agent in cultural revolution was the motivating factor in his work. The
runes were brought into the consciousness of the Western world on a
new level by Wagner’s subtle inclusion of them on key symbols in his
narrative. The golden ring of the Nibelungen appears to have been fash-
ioned under the magical influence of the runes. The ring is a symbol of

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106  ª  Romanticism

love and the cosmic power it wields—not only through the renuncia-
tion of love, but also through giving love, receiving it, and withholding
it from others. The other symbol upon which Wagner inscribes runes is
Wotan’s spear, a record of the god’s binding contractual oaths involving
the cosmos and other beings within it. The spear is a legal scepter of
sovereign power. Wagner’s use of these symbols prefigures both Freud
and Jung.
Toward the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the world, and
especially Europe and the United States, was beginning to engage in
what would be called the Second Industrial Revolution. The techno-
logical, economic, and concomitant cultural changes this brought about
would have wide-ranging repercussions on society at large and would
be felt in the intellectual world in which the runic revival was taking
place. On the one hand, scientific clarity was increasing, but on the
other hand, there was a significant nostalgic reaction to the rapid and
often ugly changes being wrought in society. Especially in Germany this
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would give rise to what came to be called the Reformbewegungen—the
Reform Movements.

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The Beginnings of Scientific

Runology and Neo-Romanticism

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This brief chapter acts as a prelude and bridge to the great outburst
of runic revivalism that will occur in the early twentieth century. But
that revival did not spring out of thin air. The cultural preparations
for it really took place in the twenty years leading up to the turn of the
The end of the nineteenth century was a time of great development
in the world of ideas. Following the demise of the broader European
Romantic movement in the wake of the failed revolutionary activity of
1848, alternative ideas began to go more “underground,” into what we
today recognize as subcultures. These subcultures continuously fight to
make themselves more broadly influential in the mainstream of human
culture. It remains so to this day.
More rigorous methodologies for the study of antiquity and the
Middle Ages had become established in the academic world, and a con-
siderable amount of sound scholarly groundwork was laid in the early
nineteenth century using the new tools of philology, linguistics, com-
parative mythology, archeology, and other disciplines. Interest in the


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108  ª  The Beginnings of Scientific Runology and Neo-Romanticism

Germanic past was growing and had matured by the late nineteenth
century, to a certain extent due to the influence upon popular culture
exerted by figures such as Richard Wagner, which we discussed at the
conclusion of the last chapter.
By the latter part of the nineteenth century, a number of aspects
of life were being questioned and alternative views were becoming ever
more popular and acceptable. The ideas of major thinkers such as Karl
Marx and Charles Darwin were being put into action on various cul-
tural levels, and new ideas entered the mainstream through popular lit-
erature and other art forms.
In the realm of esotericism, the late nineteenth century was the
period when the ideas that would bloom forth as the so-called magical
revival were being developed. Popular interest in matters of the unseen
and occult was on the rise as spiritual matters were increasingly taken
out of the hands of churches and academics, and progressively put
into the hands of the masses. Several sometimes related, but often
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independent, spiritual groupings came into being. The Theosophical
Society had been founded in America in 1875 and by the 1880s had
put down roots in German-speaking Central Europe. Besides the
Theosophists, there were offshoots such as the Anthroposophists
and the Ariosophists, and countless other groups like the German-
Christians, the Germanic-Faith Movement, and all manner of mysti-
cally oriented organizations.
A number of broad alternative cultural movements were also on
the rise during this period. In Germany especially, the philosophy of
Lebensreform (life reform), as expressed through a loosely knit array of
Reformbewegungen (Reform Movements) associated with it, had the
goal of holistically reshaping various aspects of life—the environment,
politics, economics, social and sexual relations, education, art, fashion,
as well as the spiritual worlds of ethics, philosophy, and religion. This
spirit of Reform has had a continuous effect on German culture since
those days and was even exported to other countries to various degrees
as well. For example, it has been convincingly shown that the American

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The Beginnings of Scientific Runology and Neo-Romanticism  ª  109

“Hippie Movement” had its original roots in the German Reform ideas
(see Kennedy’s Children of the Sun, 1998).
The reformist spirit was largely motivated as a reaction to the some-
times grim and repressive aspects surrounding the Second Industrial
Revolution, which began as early as 1870. But there were also positive
effects that came about from the growth of new technologies. One of
the most significant developments for the future of runic studies, both
scientific and esoteric, is the great expansion in education and economic
advancement of a burgeoning middle class. More people were being
educated and more people were earning the money with which to buy
books, and so on. It is from this time forward that we can trace the
present state of socio-economic life in the West.

In the world of academic runology, the most important development

during the late nineteenth century was the work of the Dane Ludvig
F. A. Wimmer (1839–1920), and specifically his landmark study
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Runeskriftens Oprindelse og Udvikling i Norden (The Origin and
Development of the Runic Script in the North), which appeared in
Danish in 1874. But when this work was translated into German in
1887 as Die Runenschrift (Runic Writing) it gained a much wider read-
ership and thus set off more general scholarly interest in runes in the
years immediately following.
In the history of ideas, Wimmer’s work came at the time when the
two fields of historical (diachronic) linguistics and runology finally
came together in a cooperatively productive way. The field of historical
or diachronic linguistics had developed to such an extent that many of
the difficult runological problems of the past could now be solved. In
many respects this time period can be called a “golden age” of runology,
with pioneering scholars undertaking the great task of producing com-
prehensive editions of the known runic inscriptions in their respective
nations, as well as delving into bold systematic interpretations of the
runic tradition, its origins, and its greater meaning.
Although collections of inscriptions had been made as early as the

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110  ª  The Beginnings of Scientific Runology and Neo-Romanticism

Renaissance period, it was only after the stage had been set by Wimmer
that this task could be undertaken in a systematic and coherent man-
ner. The time was ripe for philologists working in the various lands
where runes were to be found to think about creating definitive and
comprehensive editions of these runic inscriptions. Toward the end of
this incubation period, the first results of this collective project began
to be published. This process is, however, so enormous and split up into
various national spheres of interest, that it would not even be completed
in the twentieth century. (The work of producing a uniform edition
of all the known runic inscriptions still remains unfinished today, but
modern technological advances in the age of the Internet have, for the
first time, made the realization of this enormous task foreseeable in the
near future.)
In 1889 Rudolf Henning came out with a study entitled Die
deutschen Runendenkmäler (The German Runic Monuments), which
discussed thirteen runic inscriptions from the territory of modern
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Germany, in which he included bracteates and Gothic inscriptions.
It was also during this period in the late nineteenth century that
George Stephens (1813–1895) published his massive collections of
runic monuments in English. His works were the four volumes of The
Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England, which
came out between 1866 and 1901, as well as his Handbook of the Old-
Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England in 1884. His
works were elaborately illustrated with drawings of the runic monu-
ments that remain interesting and useful to the present day. However,
his treatment of the actual inscriptions was rather uninformed and
uncritical. A balanced assessment of Stephens can be found in Andrew
Wawn’s scholarly history of the nineteenth-century “invention” and
popularization of the Viking Age period, The Vikings and the Victorians
(Wawn 2002, 215–44).
As a continuing characteristic of the runic revival after the peri-
ods of the Renaissance and Storgöticism in Sweden, the scholarly world
and the esoteric world generally seem to have kept their distance from

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The Beginnings of Scientific Runology and Neo-Romanticism  ª  111

one another. During the late nineteenth century, there was a general
“occult revival” in various parts of the world, especially in Britain and
France, while at the same time runic studies were certainly beginning
to become more fixed and complete. It appears that it was during this
time period especially that the present-day rift between those interested
in the esoteric dimensions of the runes and those devoted entirely to the
linguistic aspects of their study became established.
Perhaps a key catalyst in this bringing about this rift was the
Austrian mystic and poet Guido von List. We will examine List in more
detail in the next chapter, but here it is relevant to briefly consider this
pivotal figure in the light of the late nineteenth century, so that we may
appreciate the soil from which his esoteric vision would grow during the
first few years of the following century.
Between 1877 and 1900 List wrote a wide variety of plays, novels,
poems, and journalistic articles. None of them were overtly esoteric in
the strict sense. However, it appears that in List’s own mind his ideas
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were being synthesized into a more coherent esoteric vision before 1900.
The key to his vision lies in the systematic treatment of the sounds of
the German language, which are, in turn, eventually keyed to the runes.
List’s biographer, Eckehard Lenthe, notes that List began to use a pen-
tagram in his signature from 1898 onward. Lenthe takes this as a sign
of List’s declaration that his intentions were magical and that he was
dedicating himself toward working to alter or influence the world in
some way. During the decade of the 1890s in Vienna, List certainly
would have been directly exposed to the personalities of men such as
the Theosophist Franz Hartmann, the Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner,
and Dr. Carl Kellner, the alleged founder of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
In 1900 List’s poem “Wuotans Erwachen” (Wuotan’s Awakening) was
published in the Austrian journal Der Scherer.
The earliest epicenter of the neo-Germanic revival would be the
city of Vienna, a city that was a great cauldron of social, political, and
cultural upheaval, turmoil, and with all that a vibrant creativity that has
rarely been matched in human history.

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Germanic Rebirth

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The turn of the nineteenth century or, as it is also known, the period
of the fin de siècle, was a time of extreme and dramatic development in
human history. There were technological revolutions such as the inven-
tion of the light bulb (1879), the motion picture camera (1891), powered
flight (1903), radar (1904), radio (1906), and the affordable motor car
(1908), all of which would transform society. These technical inventions
also fired the imaginations of people on a popular level, and this was
mixed with dramatic new ideas in social organization—Marxism was
on the march (from the 1850s onward), Social Darwinism (from the
1880s onward), and Freud published On the Interpretation of Dreams in
1900, ushering in a new era of psychology.
These events and developments affected every aspect of life in the
Western world, and runology, both scientific and esoteric, was not
exempted from these trends. Especially in Germany, where the ideas of
the Reform Movement had established deep roots, the new wave of cul-
tural development had significant effects. Radical solutions to age-old
problems and questions were embraced with a special enthusiasm.


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Following the year 1900 the number of editions cataloging the

corpus of runic inscriptions began to proliferate. The scholars of each
nation dedicated themselves to the production of comprehensive edi-
tions. The project in Sweden, due to its enormous size, has even to this
day not been completed, but with the advent of the Internet and elec-
tronic databases there the project is now nearing completion. The most
unfortunate chapter in this story is the lack of a comprehensive edi-
tion of the Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions. (My concise edition of these
inscriptions, Anglo-Frisian Runes [2019] at least provides an organized
checklist and basic readings for the corpus.)
The early twentieth century also produced a collection of bril-
liant runic scholars from each of the countries involved. In Germany,
the names of Helmut Arntz and Wolfgang Krause are among the
best known. In Norway, Carl Marstrander is someone we will meet
again later. He was a student of Sophus Bugge and not only partici-
pated in the advancement of runology with his editorial work on the
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Norwegian runic inscriptions, but was also a Celticist who jointly
edited the journal Ériu with Kuno Meyer. Magnus Olsen was also a
major participant in the Norwegian project. In Denmark, the names
of Lis Jacobsen, Erik Moltke, and Anders Bæksted can be considered
stellar. Sweden had a number of excellent scholars undertaking the
great task of editing the huge corpus of Swedish inscriptions, among
them were Otto von Friesen, Erik Brate, and Sven Jansson. Ludwig
Wilser was one of the last writers with any scholarly credentials who
upheld the theory of an indigenous origin for the runes, an idea which
he defended as late as 1905.

In the world of scientific runology, the first half of the twentieth cen-
tury was also a time in which a number of competing theories about
the origin of the runic system were developed among scientific or aca-
demic runologists. Among a certain group of scholars at this time there
was also a significant school of runology that focused on speculation
concerning a numerological aspect to the runic tradition. This concept

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114  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

found its first proponent in Magnus Olsen, as exemplified in his land-

mark study “Om Troldruner” (On Magical Runes; 1916), and probably
its last great champion in Heinz Klingenberg with his tour de force enti-
tled Runenschrift—Schriftdenken—Runeninschriften (Runic Writing—
The Ideology of Writing and Runic Inscriptions; 1973). Not all of these
numerical analyses were the same. Olsen simply proposed that the run-
emasters, such as Egill Skallagrímsson, used a system of rune-counting
to compose and formulate inscriptions, especially if they were intended
to have a magical effect.
Following the lead of Olsen and others, Hans Brix wrote a series of
studies in the late 1920s and early 1930s on what he called runemagi
(rune magic). He saw the numerical magic in what to others might
appear to be “ordinary” memorial inscriptions. Brix took three numeric
aspects of any given inscription into account: (1) words, (2) characters,
and (3) dividing markers. An example of his method will demonstrate
how his system worked:
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The Ulunda stone from Uppland, Sweden, reads:

halha x raisti x stin þina x aftir x hrulf x buanta x

sin x kuþ hialbi x at hans

“Helga raised this stone after Hrolf her husband.

God help his spirit.”

The word-count of this stone is 12 (4 + 4 + 4).

The rune-count is 53, which, by reducing this number by the rune-
count of the name in the sponsor, renders 48 (= 24 + 24).
The number of dividing signs is 9.
The three key-numbers for this runestone are therefore 53 (rune-
count) + 12 (word-count) + 9 (sign-count). This makes 74 in all. Brix
wants to subtract the numbers of the names of both the sponsor and
of the deceased (5 + 5 = 10) to render the “magical number” of the
stone as 64. Furthermore, if the number of the sign-count and the

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  115

word-count (21) is reduced by the number of the runes in the spon-

sor’s name (5), we get 16. So here we see in the overall numeric sym-
bolism references to the key-number of both the Older Futhark (24)
and the Younger Futhark system (16). This sort of numeric symbolism
forms a sort of meta-poetry, whereby meaning is conveyed by language
and writing in ways that transcend the natural or normal modalities of
During this phase of scientific runology, it was a Swedish pro-
fessor from Lund, Sigurd Agrell (1881–1937), who most thoroughly
developed theories of numeric symbolism with regard to runic inscrip-
tions. He did not merely see the numeric patterns and claim there
must be something “magical” about them; rather, he developed a
whole historical and theoretical underpinning for the phenomena. He
posited that the runes owed much to a connection with the Mithraic
cult, into which many Germanic tribesmen were initiated, and that
this cult was deeply involved with numeric symbolism—most particu-
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larly a method known to the Hebrews as gematria and to the Greeks
as isopsephy. This entails the assignment of a numeric value to each
letter of an alphabet, and then adding together the numeric values
of words or phrases to unlock hidden meanings and reveal formulas
of magical power by means of the numeric symbolism. Such sym-
bolism was widely known in late antiquity, as is well attested by the
famous New Testament passage [Revelation 13:18] that refers to the
“name of the beast” as either 666 or 616, depending on the manu-
script one reads. Into this mix Agrell also threw a revolutionary new
theory about the structure of the well-established futhark. He claimed
that the system did not originally begin with the f-rune, but with the
u-rune. This made the u-rune the equivalent of the number one, the
th-rune the number two, and so forth; and it thus meant that the
f-rune was now the twenty-fourth rune. Agrell’s assertion became
known as the “Uthark-Theory.” Unfortunately, there is no substantial
evidence for this theory, other than the circumstantial evidence that
some words when analyzed in this way seemed to him to correspond

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116  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

to numeric formulas found in the Mediterranean world. An example

of this would be the famous runic formula ᚨᛚᚢ alu, which according
to Agrell’s Uthark-theory would render the numeric formula 3.20.1
= 24 and thus the formulaic word alu could be seen as the symbolic
equivalent of the entire runic futhark. By the same token, however,
the gematria for the word using the supposed conventional numeric
values would render 4.21.2 = 27 (2 + 7 = 9). Interestingly, the con-
ventional system also causes the Old Norse word derived from alu,
öl, rendered in runes as ᛅᚢᛐ, to result in the same sum: 10.2.15 = 27.
The most significant defense of Agrell’s ideas can perhaps be found
in the fact that there is actually a Kabbalistic technique, known by the
technical Hebrew term avgad, which consists of replacing each letter
by the next one, so that the first letter has the value of the last. Such a
practice is also briefly mentioned by the runologist Klaus Düwel (2008,
182) as one of the later practices used with runic codes.
With regard to the use of runes as numbers and the “gematria”
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theory, it must be said that there is no solid basis for this in the runic
record before the Middle Ages. As Prof. Dr. Klaus Düwel showed in his
1979 review of Klingenberg’s work on runic gematria from 1973, there
is no instance of runes being used as numerals, and when numbers are
mentioned in inscriptions they are spelled out in words.
This objection does not, however, entirely dismiss the idea of
numeric symbolism in the repertoire of the runemaster. The more mod-
est and conservative theories put forth by Olsen and Brix, which hinge
on the counting of runes in an inscription or meaningful (or otherwise
“marked”) segment of an inscription, appear to fit in well with the gen-
eral ideology of the poet. In traditional Germanic poetry the syllables
in a line are counted, stressed syllables are arranged in certain patterns
(meter), and so on. The introduction of written characters among poets
in an otherwise illiterate culture seems a plausible opportunity to take
their poetic art to a new level. Poetic patterns in general (meter, allitera-
tion, rhyme, and end-rhyme) are all measured in their artistry by the
degree of meaningfulness and intentionality that is put into the text.

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Rhyme for its own sake is referred to as doggerel. The patterns of poetry
should indicate an extra dimension of meaningfulness in the message.
As we saw in the discussion of the magical theory in chapter 1, the ele-
ment of communication between realms of reality (between men and
higher beings, or between men and nature directly) is essential. Poetry
separates profane or mundane speech from sacred or magical utterances.
The use of numeric patterns in visible speech (writing) would be just
another level of this kind of thinking. We may therefore expect to find
rules analogous to those that govern “registers” in the theory of socio-
linguistics to be at play in the theory of magical communication, or
what is called an operative speech act. Runic inscriptions themselves
represent language performed in a higher register than ordinary, every-
day speech.
Many of these numerological theories have been rightly and ratio-
nally criticized by skeptics who note that the rules for this practice
posited by scholars such as Olsen, Brix, Agrell, and others are often
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highly flexible and arbitrary. All sorts of patterns can be made to fit the
theory. Two responses suggest themselves: (1) the same thing is often
true of other poetic rules; what pupil has not heard of “poetic license”
at almost the same moment as the idea of poetry itself is introduced?
and (2) the idea of intentionality is key—if the writer intends to create
various subtle patterns in his art, then they part of the overall effect of
his work. That being said, discovering the specific intentionality that
underlies an ancient literary text is admittedly somewhat of a specula-
tive endeavor.

Due to a new, more scientific level of study and understanding of the

ideas of religion and magic, it was also during the early twentieth cen-
tury that many scientific runologists came to assume the intrinsically
“magical” character of the runes and runic writing. These included
Magnus Olsen, Carl Marstrander, Helmut Arntz, and Wolfgang
Krause. This was a logical assumption to make considering that most
runic inscriptions were not easily intelligible as any sort of purely secular

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118  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

c­ ommunication, coupled with the fact that almost all early ­references to
runes in Icelandic literature (including the Eddic poems) refer to runes
and their use in a magico-mythic light.
Although scientific runology appears to have developed in accor-
dance with its own intellectual traditions, those outside that stream of
thought, perhaps caught up in the turn-of-the-century frenzy of inno-
vation, also soon pulled the age-old runes into the picture. As opposed
to the Renaissance tradition of a Johan Bure, who brought together the
best scientific and the best esoteric methods of his day, the new esoteric
runic revival, true to its modernistic roots, developed its own special-
ized systems apart from the world of academia. In the spirit of new and
revolutionary applications of knowledge, the Austrian poet, journal-
ist, and mystic Guido von List cast a vision of esoteric runology that is
still felt today. Evidence shows that List was certainly well versed in the
doctrines of Theosophy, an esoteric movement founded in 1875 in the
United States and largely based on the writings of the Russian writer
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Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, which is a synthesis of Neoplatonism, spiri-
tualism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Egyptian lore. It holds that there
is a secret organization of Mahatmas (“great souls”) who guide the
organization. Theosophy teaches that there is a single divine Absolute
and that the universe is a series of emanations from this source. In this
respect it follows many religions and philosophies of the past. It also
especially emphasizes the doctrine of reincarnation and the laws of
karma, in other words the belief that all action (Skt. karma) results in a
reaction, positive or negative.
The century began with the publication of a visually impact-
ful book by Friedrich Fischbach (1839–1908) called Ursprung
der Buchstaben Gutenbergs: Beitrag zur Runenkunde (Origin of
Gutenberg’s Letters: A Contribution to Runology; 1900). Fischbach,
who was a professional decorator and textile designer, brings the tem-
perament of the visual artist to the questions of runology, and specu-
lates wildly about the iconic meaning of the rune-shapes. That is, he
interprets the meaning of the runes in a pictographic way and links

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  119

their significance to the practice of an ancient Aryan fire-cult. These

ideas would inspire even more fertile imaginations in the early part of
the twentieth century to come.


(Phase I: 1904–1919)
What can best be described as the Armanen Movement is a German-
based neo-runic phenomenon founded and inspired by the Austrian
writer, poet, and mystic Guido von List (born October 5, 1848, in
Vienna; died May 17, 1919, in Berlin), whom we met in the last chapter.
His influence was considerable, but has often been mischaracterized in
later interpretations. In the German-speaking world, most rune-occult-
ists in one way or another were inspired by his ideas, if not the sys-
tem that he championed. List came from a fairly well-to-do family. It
is noteworthy that List never published anything of a “practical” magi-

For Review Only

cal nature; his approach, at least as it was expressed publicly, was more
philosophical and historical in character. His theories were, however,
employed by more practically minded writers, such as Friedrich Bernard
Marby, Siegfried Adolf Kummer, and E. Tristan Kurtzahn. The first
phase of this movement took place during List’s own lifetime and was
shaped by his voluminous writings from this period. Most important
for our purposes are Das Geheimnis der Runen (The Secret of the
Runes; English edition: Destiny, 1988) and Die Bilderschrift der Ario-
Germanen (The Hieroglyphs of the Aryo-Germanic Folk; 1910).
A more in-depth discussion and presentation of the practical or
experiential aspects of early twentieth-century German rune occult-
ism can be found the book Rune Might by Edred Thorsson (Inner
Traditions, 2018). There the reader will find a summary of the various
techniques used by these occultists. Here we will instead concentrate
primarily on the historical and runological aspects of their work.
Runologically, List’s great contribution to the esoteric side of the
runic revival was his development of the concept of an eighteen-rune

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futhork. Living as he did in a highly literate world, and emerging from

an orthodox Christian cultural context, the power of scripture was
undeniable in his world. List’s eighteen-rune futhork is based on the
literary evidence provided by a section of the Old Norse Eddic poem
known as the Hávamál. This section, which comprises the conclud-
ing twenty-eight stanzas of the poem, is known as the “Rúnatals þáttr
Óðins”: Óðinn’s Story of the Listing of Runes.
List was a well-known and successful writer before he published
his first groundbreaking esoteric work The Secret of the Runes (1908).
He was a poet, writer of fiction, playwright, and journalist. His most
famous and successful work up to that time had been his Deutsch-
mythologische Landschaftsbilder (1891), which was a two-volume collec-
tion of his travels to, and observations of, various unusual and historical
landscapes mainly in Lower Austria. The chronology of List’s develop-
ment, suggested by the contents of Eckehard Lenthe’s biography of him
Wotan’s Awakening (Dominion, 2018), indicates that List became ever
For Review Only
more drawn into the world of the occult and magic during the course of
the 1890s. Lenthe notes that List included a pentagram in his signature
after the year 1898, and alluded to the idea that this marked him as a
magus, a practicing magician, from that time forward (Lenthe 2018,
93). It was during the time Guido von List was temporarily blinded
by arduous treatments for cataracts between April of 1902 and March
of 1903 that his “inner eyes” are said to have been opened to a vast
system of esoteric connections involving the development and struc-
ture of language. The runes would be basic and fundamental to the
building blocks of this vast theory, which was ultimately given its final
expression in his 1915 book Die Ursprache der Ario-Germanen und ihre
Mysteriensprache (The Original Language of the Aryo-Germanic Folk
and Their Mystery Language).
List was obviously heavily influenced by the literature and methods
of Theosophy, and it is upon these mystico-magical methods that he
based some of his insights regarding runic symbolism. It might be said
that the eighteen runes of the Armanic Futhork have an esoteric heritage.

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List claimed to have secret knowledge that the eighteen-rune futhork was
indeed the primeval system out of which all others originated. No con-
temporary historian or philologist could ever agree with such a claim, as
no epigraphical evidence exists for it. List struggled his whole life to try
to get his theories of runes and language accepted by the academic world,
a world that was almost entirely uninterested in his mystical approach.
As we have seen elsewhere in this book, for centuries runologists thought
that the sixteen-rune futhark was the most ancient form of the runic
tradition, so List probably felt justified in his interpretation, since the
Armanic Futhork is clearly an extension of the younger system.
This is not the place to enter into a lengthy or detailed discussion
of the person or the numerous theories of Guido von List. Interested
readers can consult the works of List himself:, along with the afore-
mentioned book about the practices of the early twentieth-century
rune mystics, Rune Might (Thorsson 2018). The most important recent
contribution to Listian studies is the aforementioned book Wotan’s
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Awakening by Eckehard Lenthe, translated by Annabel Lee and pub-
lished by Dominion Press in 2018.
For us it is here only important to outline List’s basic runological
theories. Clearly his ideas on the runes were fundamental to his whole
approach, as he began his series of esoteric writings with the book The
Secret of the Runes (1908), which in many ways encapsulates and exem-
plifies his larger philosophy.
List not only had a revolutionary approach to the runes, but to lan-
guage itself. These linguistic theories are found in all of List’s works, but
a summary compendium remains Die Ursprache der Ario-Germanen und
ihre Mysteriensprache. List’s ideas about the German language, which
must be characterized as entirely esoteric, have their origin in linguis-
tic ideologies stemming from ancient India. This attraction to Indian
thought only becomes intelligible with knowledge of the culture of the
Theosophical Society and the popular interest of Germans in the con-
cept of Indo-Germanic unity. Several of the “technical” terms used by
List come from Sanskrit, for example, kala, rita, and Garma (= karma).

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The learned linguistic structure of Sanskrit, reflected in its writing

system using the Devanagari script, is syllabic in character. It is made
up of syllabic “seed-words” consisting of combinations of consonants
linked to vowels. Using this same principle, List devised a Germanic
version of this system whereby he could analyze, on an esoteric level, the
hidden meaning of any word in any language, ancient or modern.
While List can rightly be criticized for the inaccuracies of his theo-
ries from a purely linguistic standpoint, it is interesting to note that
there is evidence that Icelandic scholars of language in the Middle Ages,
and specifically the author of a work known as the First Grammatical
Treatise, expressed similar ideas to those of List as regards the arrange-
ment of sound in a syllabic system. It would seem that these theories
or practices probably have their roots in runelore and are as much sym-
bolic or mythic representations of language as they are practical linguis-
tic exercises. (For a brief study of these Norse ideas, see my article “The
Medieval Icelandic ‘Grammatical Treatises’” published in the volume
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Mainstays [Thorsson 2006].)


No. Shape Name Meaning
1 ᛓ Fa Fa, feh, feo = fire-generation, fire-borer, livestock,
property, to grow, to wander, to destroy, to shred.
“Generate your own luck and you will have it.”
2 ᚢ Ur ur = Ur [i.e., “the primordial”], eternity, primal fire,
primal light, primal bull (= primal generation), aurochs,
resurrection (life after death). “Know yourself, then you
will know all!”
3 Thorn thorr, thurs, thorn = Thorr (thunder, thunderbolt,
lightning flash), thorn. Thorn of life and death.
“Preserve your ego.”
4 Os os, as, ask = Ase [i.e., one of the Æsir], mouth, arising,
ash, ashes. “Your spiritual force makes you free.”
5 Rit rit, reith, rath, ruoh, rita, rat [English “rede”]. Roth [red].
Rad [wheel], rod, rott, Recht [right], etc. “I am my rod
[right], this rod is indestructible, therefore I am myself
indestructible, because I am my rod.”

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  123

No. Shape Name Meaning

6 Ka ka, kaun kuna, kien, kiel, kon, kühn [bold], kein [none],
etc. “Your blood, your highest possession.”
7 ᛡ Hagal hagal = the All-hedge, to enclose, hail, to destroy.
“Harbor the All in yourself, and you will control All!”
8 ᚾ Not nauth, noth [need], Norn, compulsion of fate. “Use your
fate, do not strive against it!”
9 ᛁ Is is, ire, iron [Ger. Eisen]. “Win power over yourself and
you will have power over everything in the spiritual and
physical worlds that strives against you.”
10 Ar ar, sun, primal fire, ar-yans, nobles, etc. “Respect the
primal fire!”
11 Sig sol, sal, sul, sig, sigi, sun, sal-vation, victory [Ger. Sieg],
column [Ger. Säule], school, etc. “The creative spirit
must conquer.”
12 ᛏ Tyr tyr, tar, tur, animal [Ger. Tier], etc. Týr, the sun- and
sword-god; Tiu, Zio, Ziu, Zeus; “tar-” = “to generate,
to turn, toconceal”; thus Tarnkappe [cap or cape of
concealment], etc. “Fear not death—it cannot kill you!”

For Review Only
13 Bar bar, beork, biork, birt, song, bier, etc. Birth, life, death,
rebirth. “Thy life stands in the hands of God, trust it in
14 ᛚ Laf laf, lagu, lögr, primal law, sea, life, downfall (defeat).
“First learn to steer, then dare the sea-journey!”
15 ᛉ Man man, mon, moon (ma = to mother, to increase; empty
or dead). The exoteric and esoteric concept of man.
“Be a man.”
16 Yr yr, eur, iris, rain-bow, yew-wood bow, error, anger, etc.
Mutability of the feminine essence. “Think about the
17 ᛅ Eh eh, marriage [Ger. Ehe], law, horse, court, etc.
“Marriage is the raw-root of the Aryans!”
18 Gibor ge, gi, gifa, gibor, gift, giver, god, gea, geo, earth, gigur,
death, etc. “Man, be One with God!”

Table 7.1 shows a general schematic outline of List’s symbolic runic

system as it appears in The Secret of the Runes. At least some of the
appeal of List’s system comes from the claim that it is based on a more
archaic model than any other ever recorded. It is believed that the

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Master—as List was known to his followers and admirers—had dis-

covered the key to runic symbolism inherited from the original source,
which stemmed from the Antediluvian world of Atlantis. This esoteric
approach was very reminiscent of the approach to religious symbolism
exemplified by Theosophists, such as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–
1891) in her two-volume magnum opus The Secret Doctrine (1888),
which appeared in German translation as Die Geheimlehre in 1900. List
also appears to have been greatly influenced by the writer Maximilian
Ferdinand Sebaldt von Werth (1859–1916), who was also a member of
List’s society. But we should never underestimate the innovative and
creative abilities of List himself in the formulation of his system.
Table 7.1 also provides some insight into the way in which the
Listian system of runology worked. Based mostly on the phonology of
Modern German, with some input from dialectal forms and the use
of Old Norse cognates, and so on, he built up an elaborate framework
for the esoteric interpretation of language. List bases this on a quasi-
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systematic series of connections or correspondences that he discovers
between words due to their similarities in sound. It may be likened to
a sonic or phonic Kabbalah. Especially marked are words that begin
with the same sound, followed by a vowel of any quality, and a conso-
nant within the same natural class as other words; for example, clas-
sified under the ka-rune are: kaun, kuna, kien (as in Modern German
Kienholz, “torch”), kiel (English “keel”), kon, kühn (bold), and kein
(none). Thus, in an uncanny way, and not based on scientific princi-
ples of actual historical linguistics, he makes the connection between
“ability” (Ger. Können), torch, boat, boldness, and Old Norse kaun,
“sore.” List’s approach to language resonates with that of many poets
of his day in both the German and French languages.
A review of this system shows that List had innovated or signifi-
cantly modified several of the rune-names ( fa, rit, bar, eh, gibor) and a
shape similar to his gibor-rune ( ) is only to be found among the manu-
script runes (ᛁ). He also acknowledges the complexity of the rune-names
in his presentation, a complexity that was radically simplified in later

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  125

iterations of the Armanen tradition. Note too that he did not use the
peculiar forms of the f- and u-runes that are found in the works of S. A.
Kummer and which became so influential though the writings of Karl
A deeper analysis of List’s runology reveals some interesting results.
List’s supposed insights into the structure and meaning of the German
language seem to have informed his interpretation of the runes as much
as the runes—or any traditional runology—influenced his Armanen
teachings. A few examples of this kind of thinking will demonstrate
what is meant: Ur (“aurochs, slag, drizzle”) is firmly linked to the
German prefix ur-, meaning “primeval, ancient, original”; rit (“riding,
wagon”) is attached to Sanskrit rita, “cosmic order”; hagal (“hail”) is
connected to the idea of enclosing or harboring (Ger. hegen); sig (“sun”)
is linked to German Sieg, “victory”; eh (“horse”) is equated to German
Ehe, “marriage.” Such examples could be multiplied. But before we make
too many smug assumptions, we should note the apparent similarities
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between some of List’s ideas and those of Johan Bure, who also made
the connection between hagal and “enclosure,” despite the evidence of
the rune poems to the contrary. The likely source for these similarities
is not a traditional connection between the teachings of Bure and those
of List, but rather a case of two men with analogous underlying theo-
ries working on data with a similar structure: the Swedish and German
languages, respectively. The marked difference between the approaches
of Bure and List remains conditioned by the ages in which they lived.
In Bure’s time, a close association between what was understood as sci-
ence and spiritual pursuits was possible, and even expected, whereas List
lived at the dawn of the hyper-modern age in which these two sisters in
science, the esoteric and exoteric, were beginning to become woefully
One of the chief features of the Armanen tradition seems to be
its relative disinterest in the use of runes as a mode of writing natural
language. The runes are seen more in terms of individual symbols,
or “hieroglyphs” in the Romantic sense, than as phonemic signs for

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126  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

the writing of an actual language. Each rune is mostly viewed with

regard to its own isolated symbolic or “magical” content. This ten-
dency was also present in the two sides of the runic philosophy first
pioneered by Johan Bure, where he differentiated between uppenbara
runor (ordinary runes) and adulrunor (noble-runes). This hieroglyphic
approach to runic symbolism would continue to dominate the work of
esoteric rune revivalists throughout the twentieth century. We might
also note that the hieroglyphic approach makes the runes useful in
an experiential way without involving the practitioner in the tedious
task of having to write words and sentences with them—especially in
archaic languages!
The ancient approach to the runes was one in which the symbolic
content of a runic inscription was much more holistic in character.
The runes could be seen as significant as isolated symbols, while they
remained potent tools for composing formulaic words, such as alu or
laukaz, or perhaps sound formulas such as luwatuwa, but it appears
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unlikely that the new emphasis on the symbolic content of the indi-
vidual rune was the result of any decrease in the regular use of runes
as a utilitarian script. In many respects, on a deep level, the twenti-
eth-century hieroglyphic approach can be seen as a reflection of the
ideology of the modern, whereby the signifier is distanced from the
List’s way of identifying the runes was, as we have seen, based on
the idea that the “Rúnatals þáttr Óðins” is the key to an archaic runic
system. List’s system is basically the sixteen runes of the Younger
Futhark with the two supplemental runes eh (e) and gibor (g).
Noteworthy is the transposition of runes fourteen and fifteen from
the younger order of m–l to l–m. The motive for this switch appears
to have been an interest in getting the m- and y-runes to be directly
juxtaposed to one another for symbolic reasons (since they were seen
as the runes of man and woman, life and death, etc.) as well as for
graphic symmetry.

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  127


(Phase II: 1919–1935)
After the end of the First World War, Germany became increasingly fas-
cinated with matters of the occult and other cultural diversions. Perhaps
this was in part a way of coping with the disastrous effects of the Treaty
of Versailles. In this second phase of the Armanen Movement, the ideas
of now departed “Master” Guido von List continued to dominate, and
this influence would persist in the esoteric world within Germany for
many decades to come.
One of List’s most unusual students was Philipp Stauff (1876–1923),
an anti-Semitic journalist active in a number of nationalist organiza-
tions in Germany. In 1912 he published his most remarkable contri-
bution to the history of runic esoterica, the book Runenhäuser (Runic
Houses). Here Stauff theorized that the patterns made by the wooden
beams used in the construction of half-timbered (Fachwerk) houses had
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a runic significance. If a person knew the secret code, then the hidden
meaning of the house could actually be read. The “messages” built into
these houses were rarely thought to be anything other than a series of
abstract symbols, not actual texts in natural languages.
At this time there were several occult groups that used the runes
and runic symbolism. Most of these were völkisch, or nationalistic, in
character. Among them were the Germanen Orden (Germanic Order)
and its offshoot Germanen-Orden Walvater (Germanic Order, Val-
father), which published a periodical called Runen (Runes). This peri-
odical often featured pieces on the runes both from a historical and an
esoteric viewpoint. Articles promulgated the idea that the runes were
the oldest script of humanity and that the Lain alphabet, for example,
was derived from the runes, rather than the other way around. These
articles were apparently the work of the editor of the publication,
Hermann Pohl. The runes were sometimes presented in an alphabetic
order and redesigned to be a suitable medium for the writing of New
High German. This alphabet was presented in the pages of Runen

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128  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

(1925, no. 1, pp.  13–14). It followed a translation of the Old Norse

poem Hávamál (stanzas 138–165), which describe Óðinn’s “taking up”
of the runes. A pseudonymous author, “Tannhäuser,” then presents a
system of runic divination based upon this runic alphabet:

Since the runes in parentheses are considered unfavorable, there

are therefore twelve favorable and twelve unfavorable divine signs.
Dear Order-siblings, learn and write the ancient runes of Odin.
If you want to know how the ancestors inquired of the heav-

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ens by means of the runes in cases of distress or doubt, then you
should properly cut small, approximately 3-centimeter-long, staves
from the branches of a fruit (apple) tree and carve the divine signs
illustrated above (without parentheses) into the bark using a sharp
pointed instrument. Then take up position in a quiet, holy place
and face south. Speak a devout prayer directed toward the heavenly
realm and request knowledge and then randomly throw the staves
onto the ground covered with a white linen cloth. Now reverently
pick up three staves, one after the other, while keeping your mind
as empty of intention as possible and interpret them as being favor-
able or unfavorable. If all three runestaves are unfavorable, then this
particular inquiry must no longer come under consideration for the
rest of the day. In you have in your environment a person (namely a
virgin girl) who has talent as a medium, then let her choose the lots.
In this procedure you may write your question in runic signs on a
piece of paper and cast the staves onto this paper. What the indi-
vidual runestaves have to say, you will gradually learn for yourself.

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  129

The favorable time for inquiring of the gods was, according to

ancient Germanic experience, consistently the time of the full moon
or the new moon.
Now what the individual runes mean in the deepest sense has
been learned after years of experimentation: The rune ᚨ = sincere
love, willingness to sacrifice, gold. ᛒ = curse, evil, sickness, bond-
age. ᛞ = recovery, health. ᛖ = harmony, sympathy, happy marriage,
money. ᚠ = fire, power, sexual desire. ᚷ = agitation, ill humor, bad
news. ᚺ = sickness, lack of health, hail. ᛁ = standstill. ᛋ = nega-
tion, destruction. ᚲ = child (open lodge); ᛚ = love, property, money.
ᛗ = strength, spiritual power, health; ᚾ = need, nothing, no. ᛟ =
woman, order. ᛈ = pain, sickness. ᚱ = brutality, meanness, injury.
ᛋ = victory. ᛏ = masculine power, ability to reproduce. ᚢ = bad
heath, ruin, decline. ᚹ = woe, pain, suffering. ᛉ = trouble, prayer.
ᛜ = Walburg, fruitfulness, femininity (closed lodge); ᚦ = pain, sick-
ness, bodily aches; ᛇ = sunshine, becoming, ascent, money.

For Review Only Tannhäuser

Readers of Runes were thus encouraged to use runes for magical

purposes. Metal runic rings were sold in the pages of the journal, and
in general the tenor of the texts was both esoteric and political, with
frequent attacks on the Jews.
As for the Armanen tradition more narrowly, it received its most
comprehensive and wide-ranging ideological presentation in the roughly
six-hundred-page work of Rudolf John Gorsleben (1883–1930) entitled
Die Hoch-Zeit der Menschheit (The Zenith of Humanity; 1930). The
runology followed by Gorsleben is essentially that of List, with addi-
tional ideas of his own and others taken from other contemporary rune-
esotericists. This book has, perhaps rightly, sometimes been called the
“bible” of Armanic runology.
Like List before him, and as was the case with most Ariosophists
of the day, Gorsleben was heavily influenced by the doctrines of
Theosophy. In contrast to the latter, Ariosophy often emphasized the

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130  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

idea that Aryan mankind was at one time a pure and noble race, which
has devolved over time due to interbreeding with subhuman species.
This worldview was heavily promoted by an eccentric Austrian ex-
monk, Lanz von Liebenfels, who was a member of the some of the same
circles as Guido von List. Theosophy, on the other hand, saw the human
race more in terms of a progressive line of evolution through various so-
called Root Races, or stages of human evolution. Theosophy was more
orthodox in its Darwinistic views than was Ariosophy. Theosophy did
have teachings about the “Lost Continent of Atlantis” where the beings
who inhabited this lost civilization had certain occult powers that mod-
ern man has otherwise lost. Gorsleben, as was the case with many con-
temporary German esotericists, believed that the noble characteristics
of the original Aryan god-men could be remanifested though eugenics
and the development of occult powers. The runes were thought to form
an essential part of this development.
For the most part, rune-occultists followed the lead of Guido von
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List, but one writer, Friedrich Bernhard Marby (1882–1966), charted a
bit of a different course. He was an astrologer and a student of various
forms of alternative spirituality. He was the earliest writer to publish
widely about innovative practical applications of the runes in magical
work. The beginning of the twentieth century in Germany was a time
very much obsessed with the human body, its beauty, and its meaning in
motion. Marby combined this German predilection with the runes and
created a system of what he called Runengymnastik (runic gymnastics).
In this system, the runes were imitated by bodily postures and in these
postures the practicing magician was said to be able to manipulate the
powers inherent in the runes, as if they were some sort of dynamistic
force. Influenced by Marby was another occultist of the day, Siegfried
Adolf Kummer (1899–1977) of Dresden, who developed similar prac-
tices that he called Runenyoga (runic yoga). Kummer’s runology was
more strictly in keeping with the Armanen teachings of Guido von List
and he mixed this with elements drawn from the practices and symbol-
ism of more standard Western occultism.

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The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth  ª  131

Despite his considerable written output, Marby never explained

his full runology. It generally seems that he took the Anglo-Frisian
Futhorc as the oldest and most original system because it was the most
extensive, with the most signs. For Marby the runes were signifiers for
sounds, which bore a special power. Although he rejected the use of the
term “rune yoga,” which was used by his occult competitor, Kummer,
it seems that Marby had a runic ideology that was very similar to the
esoteric study of letters in Indian tantric schools wherein the letters of
Devanagari alphabet are more or less arbitrary signs for the sounds of
language, which are sacred and magically powerful.
Marby remained active during the first few years of the National
Socialist regime in Germany. He had been a supporter of the Nazis
politically, but also continued to publish books and organize runic
groups independent of the official Party line on the subject. For this
he was arrested in 1936 and would spend the next eight years or so in
concentration camps.
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Siegfried Adolf Kummer was intensely active between the years
1932 and 1935 when he published a series of books, led off by his main
work entitled Heilige Runenmacht: Wiedergeburt des Armanentums
durch Runenübungen und Tänze (Holy Rune Might: Rebirth of
Armanism through Runic Exercises and Dances) and then other texts
supporting his school for runic yoga. His runology was firmly based on
that of List, but his method of utilizing them through physical exer-
cises and mantras is closely linked to the work of Marby. An unfortu-
nate convergence of difficulties—charges of “plagiarism” being leveled
by Marby, and the crackdown on runic esotericism by the National
Socialists around 1935—seem to have forced Kummer out of the runic
field. He appears to have worked as a bureaucrat and part-time artist
in and around Dresden during both the period of the Third Reich and
the postwar (East) German Democratic Republic. Many of Kummer’s
exercises are shown in the book Rune Might (Thorsson 2018, 107–112)
and two of his works, Rune-Magic (Rûna-Raven, 1993) and Holy Rune
Might (Woodharrow Gild, 2019), have been translated into English.

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132  ª  The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

In the “high tide” of the runic renaissance there were dozens of

writers and private occultists dealing with the runes. Every sort of magi-
cal school, it seemed, had to come to terms with them. It was during
this time that the most influential eclectic magical lodge in Germany,
the Fraternitas Saturni (Brotherhood of Saturn), began to incorporate
runic occultism into its magical curriculum. For a review of the teach-
ings of this magical order, see my book The Fraternitas Saturni (Inner
Traditions, 2018).
As a general comment, from an esoteric point of view, what appears
to be occurring with movements such as the Gothicism of Sweden,
which persisted over several centuries, or the Armanism of Guido von
List and his followers in Central Europe, is that a latter-day synthesis is
being projected back and posited as an original, all-encompassing arche-
type or paradigm. Such synthesized “back-projections” can be insightful
to the degree to which the materials and methods used to create the
synthesis are accurate. But it is important to realize, too, that claims
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of this sort are not restricted to the theories being considered in this
book—the same type of thinking is displayed by Christians, Marxists,
and many other ideologues when considering interpretations of the
past. For human beings who dream of a better future and are inspired
to create a model for it, this kind of thinking allows them to project
their model back into the mythic past—in illo tempore, as Mircea Eliade
put it—in order to fortify it in the minds of present-day people. This is
just one of the many ways in which myth works.
All in all, during the 1920s and early 1930s the runes had found a
broad and powerful field of activity, in the exoteric sphere as well as in
the esoteric one. But during this era a bitter edge was also being ground
on the runic sword, so to speak, and this development, perhaps coupled
with the lack of a wise leader to wield that sword magically, effectively
“laid down the law,” leading to woeful wyrd . . .

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Runology in the Age of

the Third Reich

For Review
It would be a huge error to assume that all runology pursued in the time
of the National Socialist regime in Germany was somehow “Nazi runol-
ogy.” There was something—or there were some things—that might be
characterized as National Socialist runology, as we shall see, but it bears
little resemblance to what most sensationalists would have us believe.
For example, speculation has run wild over the supposed connections
between the runic occultism and National Socialism. This specula-
tion comes from those who are fearful of it, as well as from those who
actually promote the idea. When dealing with the possibilities residing
in the world of occult/esoteric orders and groups, and the people who
formed them, there is an inherent difficulty in sorting out fact from
fiction, history from propaganda.
The best sources for becoming familiar with the general con-
text of these ideas are The Occult Roots of Nazism by Nicholas
Goodrick-Clarke (Aquarian, 1985) and The Secret King by Flowers


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134  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

and Moynihan (Feral House, 2007). The former book is compre-

hensive, but a bit tainted by its own Marxist roots, while the latter
book is specifically focused on the person and writings of Karl Maria
Wiligut, but also contains an introductory section that provides a
critical overview of the idea of “Nazi occultism.” When attempting
to analyze the phenomenon of “Nazi occultism,” it is useful to under-
stand that the generation of men responsible for National Socialism
in Germany was by and large a product of the broad Neo-Romantic
cultural Reformbewegung (Reform Movement), which, as we have
noted, began as early as 1880. For this movement—which was also
the deep-root of what we call the “Green Movement” today—the ideas
of indigenous qualities and features of culture, land, flora and fauna,
and so forth were consistently evaluated as superior to those imported
from the outside—simply because they were indigenous. Things from
the outside were seen in terms of being “invasive species.” Such ideas
extended themselves to the runes, as these were seen as the indigenous
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Germanic way of writing.
With regard to the whole study of the Nazis and the “occult,” a
great deal of misinformation and sensationalism, as well as obsessive
interpretations, have been pumped out over the years. I try to present a
comprehensive view of this topic in my forthcoming detailed study of
the subject of Nazi occultism, which will appear sometime after 2021.
In The Secret King we offered a first glimpse of a rational approach to
the study of this topic. The key to understanding the history of these
ideas is to recognize that the facts, history, myths, and legends actu-
ally stem from quite disparate sources: (1) the prehistory of ideas that
formed a basis for National Socialist ideology; (2) actual contemporane-
ous activity with within Nazi Germany; (3) contemporaneous anti-Ger-
man propaganda; (4) postwar pro-Nazi interpretations, often fantastical
in tone; and (5) postwar anti-Nazi interpretations, often likewise fan-
tastical in tone.
These sources, and how they intermingle with one another in the
popular imagination of today, make for some fairly sensationalistic

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  135

mythologizing. The runes have sometimes been caught up in this intel-

lectual tangle.
Strictly within the confines of documented Third Reich history,
runology can be seen as a complex topic. It basically existed on three
different levels: (1) the purely academic-scientific, (2) the lay-scientific,
and (3) the esoteric.
When considering the involvement of the Nazis with matters of
esoteric or alternative interpretations of history and symbolism, it is
always valuable to keep in mind that the generation of 1914 (those old
enough to have fought in the Great War) grew up amid the cultural
current of the Life-Reform Movement, which was also a time marked
by certain popular ideas about Germanentum (“Germanicness,” loosely
translated) and runes.

Certainly, runological scholars involved in academic studies at uni-

versities, such as Wolfgang Krause, received more attention than ever
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before, but they were largely left unencumbered by politics to pursue
their scientific ends. This fact shows that on one level the Nazis real-
ized these studies had some validity. However, the Party also virtually
installed men who had formerly been what we might call lay investiga-
tors (self-appointed, “self-taught,” experts who were without academic
credentials) in academic posts. A detailed history of this phase of the
work of the infamous Ahnenerbe (“Ancestral Heritage”) office of the SS
and of the Institut für Runenforschung (Institute for Runic Research)
are to be found in Ulrich Hunger’s 1984 dissertation Die Runenkunde
im Dritten Reich (Runology in the Third Reich). The third, or esoteric,
level of study appears to have been restricted and highly sensitive, even
within the confines of Party politics, and therefore quite secret.
During the period of the National Socialist regime in Germany
there was certainly a great proliferation of written works, many of
them by leading scholars, designed to popularize awareness of the
runes and runic history. These included Wolfgang Krause’s Was man
in Runen ritzte (What Was Carved in Runes; 1935), Helmut Arntz’s

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136  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Die Runenschrift (Runic Writing; 1938), Wilhelm Weber’s Kleine

Runenkunde (A Brief Runology; 1941), Schilling’s Kleine Runenkunde
(A Brief Runology; 1937), and Konstantin Reichhardt’s Runenkunde
(Runology; 1936). Notable about these works is that they have no exces-
sive esoteric dimensions but usually do not deny the spiritual dimension
of the runes either.
One of the most significant and general misunderstandings of
runology in the period of the Third Reich is the claim that it essen-
tially represents a direct continuation of the esoteric school of thought
founded by Guido von List. To be sure, List instilled in a whole genera-
tion a newfound enthusiasm for the secrets of the runes, but an actual
examination of all materials developed just prior to and during the time
of the Nazi regime in Germany shows that the Armanen tradition of
List was influential but not determinative. Nazi runology is not the
same as Listian runology, either in aim or form. As a general assessment,
I think it would be fair to say that List’s ideas and methods were far too
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mystical to be suited to the kind of ideas being pursued by National
Socialism as a political movement. By the same token, however, a num-
ber of List’s ideas and terms did find their way into the jargon of the
National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), albeit in a rather
piecemeal way (Lenthe 2018, 222–38).
The runes constitute a cultural feature that was treated on two dis-
tinctly different levels during the time of the Third Reich: (1) for pub-
lic consumption and for purposes of education in the ideology of the
movement, and (2) as a private, inner, pursuit of the elite of the Party,
such as the SS under Heinrich Himmler.
Actual magical or esoteric applications of the runes and rune
magic as such seems to have been a minor obsession of Reichsführer-SS
Heinrich Himmler. For a time, his chief advisor in this pursuit was the
mysterious Karl Maria Wiligut (1866–1946). Wiligut also wrote under
the names Jarl Widar, Weisthor, and Lobesam.
But who was this Wiligut and where did he come from? This
information was obscured at the time and intentionally so. Following

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  137

his retirement from the Austrian army in 1919, he was a participant

in esoteric runic circles in Germany and Austria. But Wiligut’s career
in the world of mysticism had started much earlier with the publica-
tion of his book entitled Seyfrids Runen (1903), which appears to have
been influenced by the earlier writings of Guido von List. He started
his own esoteric study circle in Salzburg in first years of the 1920s. His
unorthodox teachings, coupled with marital problems, resulted in him
being involuntarily committed to a mental institution from 1924 to
1927. After his release, he went to Munich where one of his students
was Richard Anders, a member of the SS, who introduced Wiligut to
Heinrich Himmler. Wiligut himself was inducted into the SS in 1933
and he became an advisor to Himmler on matters relating to runic sym-
bolism, ritual, and esoteric history. For the next six years Wiligut was
Himmler’s mentor concerning these areas and he designed the “death’s
head” ring (Totenkopfring) of the SS. But he was also an influence for
the suppression of rival runic esotericists, such as Siegfried Kummer
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and Friedrich Marby, as well as for the protection of the members of
the Edda Gesellschaft (Edda Society), a study group founded by Rudolf
Gorsleben and with which Wiligut was affiliated.* Wiligut’s past caught
up with him when Karl Wolff, chief of Himmler’s personal staff, made
others aware of Wilgut’s record with regard to mental illness. The old
man had to leave Himmler’s service. The story of Wiligut and transla-
tions of his esoteric work are all contained in the aforementioned book
The Secret King.

The most systematic presentation of anything that approaches a coher-

ent runology by Wiligut was published in his 1934 article “Whispering

*It is interesting to note that Werner von Bülow, the editor of Hagal, the official
organ of the Edda Society (and a publication to which Wiligut himself had con-
tributed), continued to publish the journal until 1939 and the outbreak of the Sec-
ond World War. In general, however it was the case for alternative “neo-Germanic”
groups like this to be suppressed far earlier, as we outlined in the last chapter with
the story of F. B. Marby.

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138  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

of Gotos—Rune Knowledge.” This appeared in Hagal 11 and is trans-

lated in the pages of The Secret King (Flowers and Moynihan 2007,
92–94). Wiligut reveals a decidedly hieroglyphic approach to the runes,
which emphasizes the idea that they represent a development of natural
and metaphysical forces in an evolutionary pattern of unfoldment. It
is evident here that Wiligut was greatly influenced by the runology of
Guido von List, but had his own unique interpretation of the organiza-
tion of the runic symbols.
Obviously, as we have learned over the course of this book, the
Nazis did not invent interest in the runes. This had been growing of its
own accord for centuries. They did, however, exploit the already exist-
ing popularity of runic signs and designs among a certain segment of
the German population, and they did so for propagandistic purposes.
It must be acknowledged that the Nazis themselves were also to a great
extent the products of the general cultural atmosphere of the earlier
part of the twentieth century when runes had reached a high level of
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popularity in the hands of rune-esotericists such as Guido von List and
many others.
This popularity of runes, especially in the area of general interest
and quasi-academic presentations, enjoyed a great upswing in the early
years of the Nazi regime. The three levels of interest in runes—the aca-
demic, lay-academic, and popular/esoteric—were all well represented
during this period. The most influential academic figures of the time
were Helmut Arntz (in Giessen) and Wolfgang Krause (in Göttingen).
For the most part the studies completed by these academic figures
still hold up in the light of scientific scrutiny today, and both remain
respected figures in the history of runology. Arntz suffered significant
setbacks in his career during these years as it was suspected that he was
an Achteljude (one eighth-Jewish), in other words, one of his great-grand-
parents was Jewish. Krause headed the Institut für Runenforschung
(Institute for Runic Research) at the University of Göttingen and was
himself actually inducted into the Ahnenerbe early in 1943 (Hunger
1984, 224), but his membership was entirely within his role as a scholar.

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  139

Both Krause and Arntz were open-minded as to the possible magico-

mythic significance of runes and runic inscriptions, and both empha-
sized the idea that the individual runes conveyed (through the power of
their names) mythic or ideographic content.
The National Socialists made sweeping and sudden changes to
the structures of all cultural institutions, and the universities were
no exception. Academic departments were politicized and “purified”
racially: Jewish professors were expelled, and often in their place were
appointed lay enthusiasts, marked more by their ideological fervor than
their academic qualifications. Among these were men such as Karl
Theodor Weigel (SS-Hauptsturmbannführer) who headed the Lehr-
und Forschungsstätte für Runen- und Sinnbildkunde (Instructional
and Research Institute for Runology and Symbology). Weigel had
no higher academic degree, but he was a dedicated lay-folklorist who
collected images of medieval folk art supposedly connected with the
ancient Germanic past. The collection of his images (drawings and pho-
For Review Only
tographs) is still housed at the University of Göttingen as the Weigel-
Archiv im Seminar für Volkskunde (Weigel Archive in the Department
for Folklore).
The politicizing of science is a trend and drift that is in no way
unique to the Nazis. The same phenomenon, albeit with a different
orientation, was at work in Soviet Russia: Stalin and certain Soviet
linguists tried to implement the systematic instrumentalization of
everything and language was a key component. Similar tendencies can
even be discerned in today’s Western academic world, which has also
become an environment obsessed with political outcomes and mat-
ters of race, ethnicity, and biological identity—although in a manner
entirely inverse to the aims of National Socialism. Stalin’s admirers
in the Anglo-American academy used these ideas in the past and we
can see them being used today in our politics (and in our universities).
Language is used to frame political realities and define the debates
by defining (or redefining) the words and phrases used in those

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140  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Groups dedicated to the pursuit of the esoteric qualities of the runes
were actually severely curtailed during the Nazi regime. Publications
by members of these circles also became rare. There were two kinds
of runic esotericism: that which was approved by the government and
that which was rejected by officials. Independently minded men such
as Marby and Kummer fell into the latter category. Things that were
tinged with the overtly magical were the most singled out for disap-
proval—apparently on the theory that they were dangerous to the order
and direction of the collectivist philosophy and agenda of the Party.
Widespread magical and mystical ideas only encourage individualized
experience and subjective understandings, both of which were antitheti-
cal to the program of the Party.
The serious advocates of totalitarian philosophies tend to encourage
wild and subjective approaches to reality in years prior to their actual
assumption of absolute control, as such trends are useful in creating cul-
For Review Only
tural chaos, which makes the host culture weak and full of self-doubt.
Then, when absolute power is obtained, such features are systemati-
cally bought under ideological control or eliminated. The same process
occurred in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia where all sorts of avant-
garde ideas were supported in the years of Lenin, only to be crushed under
Stalin. These trends can be seen as a sobering warning from history.
Runes were generally popular in Germany during the Nazi era. An
example of one of the popularizers was Heinar Schilling (1894–1955),
who constitutes an interesting case study for the period. Schilling began
his writing career in 1908. All in all, his output would equal approxi-
mately one hundred works. He served in the First World War and was
later sympathetic toward pacifistic ideas in Expressionistic circles in
Dresden. He was a friend of the artist Otto Dix, who painted a portrait
of Schilling. Politically, he was involved in socialistic and even commu-
nistic ideas at that time. But from 1920 onward he drifted away from
this political sphere and in the direction of nationalistic ideology. He
began writing in earnest about ancient Germanic history and culture

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  141

beginning in 1922. By 1930 he had gravitated toward the National

Socialist movement, but he did not formally join the Party until after
Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933. He wrote a column for the SS
magazine Das Schwarze Korps. Interestingly, Schilling rejected Nazi
racist ideology! He was eventually sentenced to a prison term for intel-
lectual sabotage. His main offense was his support for the idea of mon-
archy. He was stripped of his membership in the Party in 1942, but
also given the title of “professor” for his work on German prehistory.
After the war, as his property was in the Soviet occupation zone, his
real estate was seized and his archive was plundered. He escaped to the
West and lived out his days as a librarian at the Glücksburg palace in
Schleswig-Holstein. One of Schilling’s most obvious contributions to
the popularization of runes is his 1937 work Kleine Runenkunde. An
introductory paragraph from his 77–page book is representative of the
general tenor of this kind of literature of the time:

For Review Only

Rune—the word alone, through its similarity of sound with the
anciently related “rown” (whisper), fills us with trembling feelings of
awe and mystery. Yet these were the austere letters of our own fore-
fathers, with their strict signs so characteristically corresponding to
the temperament of Nordic man that made up the script used by the
Germanic folk before we adopted the Judeo-classical culture. These
truly original “letters”—for our German word Buchstabe (letter) also
originates from the time when the runes were being used, since accord-
ing to holy practice, the individual signs were carved onto staves of
beech (Ger. Buche) wood—and the not all too numerous inscriptions
in this alphabet are therefore the oldest evidence for our own particu-
lar form of writing. Therefore, it is more necessary than ever before
not to remain ignorant of these mysterious signs, especially since they
belong to the most valuable and authentic inheritance of our race.

This book was originally intended as a sort of “official” runology

of the Ahnenerbe, but it was ultimately rejected for this role because

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142  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Schilling’s views regarding the runes did not correspond exactly with
those of Himmler (Kater 1997, 72).


The National Socialists had a general interest in popularizing runes
and runic symbolism as an instrument of propaganda. The purpose of
this propaganda was to emphasize the distinction of German(ic) culture
from other cultures and to suggest that it was, in fact, superior to all
other cultures. The runes were useful in this regard for implying that
the Germanic people were “literate” with their own form of writing,
and that this form of writing was perhaps older than the other writ-
ing systems of the world. In this general idea, the propagandists found
antecedents in earlier scholarship. But by the early twentieth century,
when these notions were being put forward in propaganda, academic
runology had already determined the approximate time of runic ori-
For Review Only
gins and had some idea about the origin of the runes based on older
Mediterranean scripts. Therefore, claims of an indigenous origin for the
runes, or that the runes first arose many thousands of years before any
known runic inscription, clearly fall under the label of “occultism” or
belong to the realm of the esoteric.
Runes found official interest mainly in two institutions of the
NSDAP itself: the Rosenberg Office (Amt Rosenberg) under Alfred
Rosenberg (1893–1946) and the SS under Reichsführer-SS Heinrich
Himmler (1900–1945). Rosenberg, who had become prominent in
the Party due to his authorship of a popular book Der Mythus des
Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (The Myth of the Twentieth Century;
1930)—an ideological survey of human history from a National
Socialist viewpoint—headed up a rather symbolic office in the Party
apparatus called the Dienststelle des Beauftragten des Führers für die
gesamte geistige und weltanschauliche Schulung und Erziehung der
NSDAP (Station of the Deputy to the Führer for General Intellectual
and Philosophical Schooling and Education of the NSDAP), com-

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  143

monly referred to as simply “Amt Rosenberg” (the Rosenberg Office).

Within this was the Amt für Volkskunde und Feiergestaltung (Office
for Folklore and Ceremonial Design).
Publications produced by and for members of the SS, such as
Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps) or Der Schulungsbrief (The
Educational Letter), frequently had articles about runes in them. The
specific part of the National Socialist governmental operations that was
most involved with anything runic was the so-called Ahnenerbe, which
was part of the SS.

The official designation of this office was originally the Studiengesellschaft
für Geistesgeschichte “Deutsches Ahnenerbe” (Society for the Study of
Humanities “German Ancestral Heritage”). It was a quasi-independent
department, more akin to a think tank, which operated within the SS.
For Review Only
The scientific purview of the Ahnenerbe encompassed all of what we
call the humanities (including history, folklore, religious studies, symbol-
ogy, musicology, etc.) as well as racial and ecological studies. In postwar
sensationalistic literature it has been falsely referred to as the “occult
bureau.” The history and wide scope of this organization is substantially
outlined in Michael Kater’s 1974 book (second edition, 1997), while the
runological dimension is delineated in Ulrich Hunger’s Die Runenkunde
im Dritten Reich (Hunger 1984, 171–289). In general, it appears that
Himmler’s vision was a broad one that included many mysterious areas of
interest—and ones that also interested lay-investigators of dubious quali-
fications. Himmler recruited these latter types, but he planned to replace
them once qualified academics could be developed to investigate these
areas more scientifically and reliably. Men such as Wiligut clearly fell into
this unscientific category. Some of the older spirit of the Listian enthusi-
asm for the supposed runic aspects of heraldry could be found in work
done by Karl Konrad Ruppel for the Ahnenerbe, such as Die Hausmarke,
das Symbol der germanischen Sippe (The House-Mark, the Symbol of the

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144  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

For Review Only

Figure 8.1. The quasi-runic colophon of the Ahnenerbe

Germanic Clan; 1939). Franz Altheim, who was primarily a classicist,

wrote Vom Ursprung der Runen (On the Origin of the Runes; 1939) for
the Ahnenerbe, a work that bolstered the theory of a North Etruscan
origin for the runes.
Of course, the leading force behind the Ahnenerbe was
Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. He was someone whose talents lay
in the fields of organization and management rather than original cre-
ativity or research. He apparently applied the same organizational skills
to “ancestral research” as he did to mass murder. Himmler was primar-
ily a political activist, but he also had deep and longstanding interests in
alternative philosophies and sciences. He was active in the Artamanen
Gesellschaft (Artaman League), founded by Willibald Hentschel,
which advocated the colonization of territory through the settlement
of polygamous agrarian communities, as outlined in Hentschel’s book

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  145

Mittgart (1904). The Artamanen Gesellschaft was later absorbed into

the Hitler Youth of the NSDAP in 1934.
The most conspicuous example of runic esotericism to be found
within the official operations of the Nazi Party itself is found in the
case of Karl Maria Wiligut, already outlined above. His case is very
unique in that he is clearly a representative of the earlier twentieth-cen-
tury school of visionary or poetic interpretation of the runic (or pseudo-
runic) “tradition” who serendipitously found his way into official circles.
Although the Nazis never developed an official and established sys-
tem of National Socialist runology, many uses of the runes are to be
found in official documents and publications.
The Sig-rune was seen as the rune of victory (Ger. Sieg), the Tyr-
rune was the rune of the struggle (Ger. Kampf ), the Othil-rune was the
symbol of “blood and soil,” and the Hagal-rune was that of salvation
(and/or racial purity). The name of the s-rune (ᛋ) actually means “sun,”
but because of the spelling of the Old English rune-name (sigel, pron.
For Review Only
[SEE-yell]) the association between the German word Sieg (victory) and
this rune was made long before the Nazis.

Fig. 8.2. Design of the runic death’s head ring by Wiligut

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146  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Wiligut explained the meaning of the symbols on the Totenkopfring

of the SS in a manuscript (see Hunger 1984, 149–51) as follows:

ᛋᛋ = “The creative spirit must be victorious.”

= “Man, be one with God, with the Eternal.”
ᚼ = “Enclose the All in yourself and you will command the All.”
ᛋᛋ + t/a = [victory] tyr = os = “Be guileless, brave and true.” “The
power of your spirit makes you free.”

In his article “Unsere Stellung zu den Runen” (Our Attitude toward

the Runes), Karl Theodor Weigel applied the following meanings to
certain runes:

ᛋᛋ = In the meaning of victorious power.

ᚼ = “For the protection of the wearer against an enemy.”
ᛋᛋ [misinterpreted as a single rune, gibor] = “victorious power of
For Review Only
the personality.”
ᛏ/f = ᛏ = Preparedness for self-sacrifice unto death + f = well-being,
riches (Weigel 1936, 57).

Among the most popular conclusions reached within the National

Socialist understanding of the runes was that they were primarily to be
connected with prehistoric ideograms. This idea is rooted in the work
of Herman Wirth as outlined in his monumental Die heilige Urschrift
der Menschheit (The Holy Primordial Script of Mankind; 1931–1936).
Wirth was among the founders of the Ahnenerbe in 1935, and headed
that organization until 1938, when he was forced out due to his
unorthodox beliefs—as far as the National Socialist ideology was con-
cerned—regarding ancient Germanic matriarchy and pacifism. Wirth’s
methodology had the underlying rationale and function of opening
his line of reasoning to a widely comparative approach focused on the
physical shapes of the symbols. This allowed him to reach conclusions
relatively free of the constraints of rigorous rules of philology.

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  147

This allowed for a freer range of ideas to be applied to the symbols.

Wirth’s influence was not entirely responsible for the interest of both
Arntz and Krause in the concept of “Begriffsrunen” (the use of indi-
vidual runes to stand for the meaning of their names or for related for-
mulaic words), though such an interpretation certainly became highly
regarded during these times. The idea of runes as ideograms standing
for their names is an undeniable part of scientific runology, however,
the idea that they are based on older, pre-runic ideograms of rather sub-
jective value is a different matter.
From the standpoint of the use of runes for purposes of what might
be called overt propaganda, or simply the “branding” of NS programs
and concepts, the runes constituted a ready-made set of symbols that
were both meaningful and attractive to the eye. Some of the most com-
mon runic symbols used during the Nazi era were:

ᛋᛋ Schutzstaffel (Protection Division)

ᛏ = Hitler-Jugend leadership badge
ᛉ = LifeFor Review Only
ᛣ = Death (origin of the “Peace Sign,” see Appendix)
ᛟ = Homeland
ᚼ = Lebensborn

The Lebensborn (“Life’s Wellspring”) was an SS program designed

to raise the birthrate of “Aryan” children. Unwed motherhood was
encouraged through sexual liaisons with SS-men and babies were sup-
plied to SS families for adoption.
Here are a number of other runic explanations from Fritz Weitzel’s
small tract Die Gestaltung der Feste im Jahres- und Lebenslauf in der
ᛋᛋ-Familie (The Planning of Ceremonies in the Course of the Year
and of Life in the SS Family; 1939):

ᚼ Hagal-rune means: “The All-surrounding.” Hagal (Germanic) lit-

erally means “I destroy.” Through the destruction of the enemy, all-
surrounding peace is ensured.

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148  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

ᛋ Sig-rune means “Victorious sun” and signifies the indwelling

strength that assures victory. “The two Sig-runes on the banners of
the ᛋᛋ express the old formula ‘sig und sal,’ which is the salvation that
lies implicitly in the certainty of the sun’s victory” (K. Th. Weigel).

Gibor-rune is made up from the Sig-rune and the Is-rune. It is

therefore a combined rune. The Is (ice)-rune is the north–south line
of the circle of the year and symbolizes “life”; in human terms: the
living personality. The Gibor-rune therefore stands for the victory-
assuring strength of the personality.

ᛏ Tyr-rune: It symbolizes the Germanic god of war, Tyr (= Ziu =

Zeus) and signifies preparedness to sacrifice oneself unto death for
the redemption of honor.

ᚠ Fa-(Fe-)-rune: “Fe” is contained in the Germanic word feod =

farm animals. It symbolizes all movable farming goods, livestock,

For Review Only

wealth. The Fa- and Tyr-runes together mean: self-sacrifice unto
death, despite any cherished material goods.

ᛉ Man-rune: With its up-stretched arms, it shows the birth of a liv-

ing creature. (Cf. the heraldic symbol of the Lily.)

ᛣ Yr-rune: With its downward-pointing arms, it indicates the death

of a creature. Man- and Yr-runes are taken from the six-spoked
wheel of the year. (Cf. the Is- and Hagal-runes.)

ᛝ Ing-rune: Ing means “to be born,” “to stem from,” and can still be
found in this meaning as a suffix to hundreds of words in today’s
German language. The rune shows the interconnection of two life-
bearers and is therefore used as a wedding-rune.

Odal-rune: Odal or Alod is the Germanic word for the allodium

of the clan. It also stands for this meaning. It encompasses every-
thing that we understand in the concepts allodium, soil, homeland.
(Weitzel 1939, 41–43).

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  149

Obviously, many of these interpretations will rightly strike the sci-

entific runologist as fanciful and subjective. The Nazi rune-symbolists
were not concerned with “accuracy,” but rather only effectiveness in their
efforts to convey subtle messages to the viewer. The runes and various
rune-like symbols became iconic “slogans” that spoke directly to the
unconscious minds of the individuals viewing them. It is also clear that
the meanings of the runes and runic symbolism varied among National
Socialist writers and that there was no overriding “orthodoxy” with
regard to runic symbolism.
By the same token, it can also be seen that the esoteric use of the
runes by the Nazis was far more sophisticated and subtle than most peo-
ple normally think, but it was also of a distinctive nature. The main use
of runes did not involve sitting around casting runic spells, doing runic
yoga or chanting runic mantras in any organized way. The “spell” was a
much larger operation. It was virtually identical to what we call “brand-
ing” in the advertising world today. Runes and rune-like aesthetics were
For Review Only
used to attract an already Germanophilic population to the cause and
repel those who were not attuned to this aesthetic. The symbol of the
swastika (Ger. Hakenkreuz), which the National Socialist Movement
adopted at the suggestion of Hitler himself in 1920, became its chief
“logo.” Certain circles, cells or offices within organizations such as the
Ahnenerbe may or may not have explored the esoteric side of the runes
further. But if they did it was most likely just a hangover from their
previous interests in such things stemming from their younger days.
The role of the Nazis in the Germanic revival and the revival of
the runes was often a damaging one. These things were evolving natu-
rally and broadly in Germany in the early twentieth century. They were
highjacked by the National Socialist ideology (with its preconceived and
often erroneous doctrines about race, religion, myth, and history) and
many enthusiasts of the Germanic revival were coopted by this political
wave, although not all of them were accepted or promoted (as we have
seen in the examples of figures like F. B. Marby and Heinar Schilling).
Certainly, opponents of the legitimate and independent Germanic and

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150  ª  Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

runic revival have enthusiastically attempted to use the black mark of

Nazism to stain our cause in more recent years as well. The only posi-
tive way forward is through understanding the real truth of these mat-
ters in context.


On one level, in the 1930s and early 1940s runology continued to
develop outside the borders of Germany as if the Nazis did not exist.
The subsequent events of the Second World War, however, did seriously
impact the lives of many scholars and disrupted normal affairs in every
European country. But runological studies tend to grind on very slowly,
and from the historical perspective of the whole field of study, the
National Socialist episode in Germany was a short-lived phase. What
makes it a major interest is both the enduring (often sensationalistic)
fascination it holds for people and the ways in which the Nazi interest
For Review Only
in runic symbolism is “hyped up” in our present day by both enthusiasts
and fearmongers alike. These factors do lead to significant disruptions
in the objective pursuit of knowledge in runology, whether academic or
Runology in Scandinavia during the Nazi years was affected some-
what by the occupation of Denmark and Norway by Germany from
1940 to 1945. However, it must be noted that runological work contin-
ued in occupied Denmark with the production of the standard edition
of the Danish inscriptions by Jacobsen and Moltke in 1941/42 as well
as the edition of the Icelandic inscriptions by Anders Bæksted in 1942.
Similarly, the standard edition of the Younger Futhark inscriptions in
Norway by Magnus Olsen began to be published in the occupied coun-
try in 1941. Sweden maintained its neutrality throughout the war.
An amusing story once recounted to me personally by the great
American linguist Winfried Lehmann involved the adventures of the
famous Norwegian linguist, runologist, and Celticist Carl Marstrander,
whom we met earlier. He was active in the Norwegian resistance to the

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Runology in the Age of the Third Reich  ª  151

Nazi occupation of his country. The philologist was imprisoned on sev-

eral occasions, but in one instance Marstrander devised a plan to foil his
Nazi captors. He carved some ogham-inscriptions on sticks and secretly
threw them over the fence of the camp where he was being detained.
These were discovered by guards patrolling the perimeter and, as every-
one was ordered to report any strange antiquities to the Ahnenerbe,
word quickly got back to Berlin about these unusual finds. Intelligence
about experts in Norway determined that there was only one man in the
country who could possibly decipher these strange inscriptions—none
other than Marstrander! The Norwegian Celticist was at once moved
from the camp and put to work in more comfortable surroundings to
interpret these cryptic texts, a task that, for some strange reason, he was
able to do with relative ease!

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The Runic Renewal


In May of 1945 the Third Reich underwent its final death throes.

For Review Only

Germany was in ruins, but the spirit to rebuild the country in a new
way was strong. Those who survived the war would take some years
to reorient themselves before they could again take up their old inter-
ests. In the case of the runes themselves, they had become closely asso-
ciated with the National Socialist regime simply because runic images
were so widely used in Nazi insignia. Few people had any awareness
of Himmler’s private obsessions or the quasi-esoteric studies of the
Ahnenerbe. But the runes did have to be reenvisioned in much of the
public eye in order to separate them from their conspicuous association
with National Socialism.
No one did more in this effort to “rehabilitate” the runes in
Germany’s esoteric and occult subculture than Karl Spiesberger
(1904–1992). Spiesberger trained as an actor in Vienna. In 1932 made
his way to Berlin, which at the time was the center of world film-
making. He was a student of hypnosis and other occult arts when
he arrived. In Berlin, he became friends with the Grand Master of
an occult order known as the Fraternitas Saturni (Brotherhood of


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The Runic Renewal  ª  153

Saturn) named Gregor A. Gregorius (= Eugen Grosche). In 1948

Spiesberger was finally initiated into the order, taking the lodge-name
of Frater Eratus.
In the 1950s Spiesberger wrote two important contributions
to the esoteric runic traditions: Runenmagie (Rune Magic; 1955)
and Runenexerzitien für Jedermann (Rune Excercises for Everyone;
1958). In these works, he presented the esoteric Armanen tradition as
founded by Guido von List, but he incorporated ideas and practices
developed by Marby, Kummer, and others. He also tried to purge the
tradition of what was perceived to be racialist aspects and position
what he was teaching within what might be termed “pansophical,” or
eclectic, context.
A comparison between the contents of table 7.1 in chapter 7 (see
p. 122) and table 9.1 on page 154 will show the dynamism of the
Armanen rune meanings and how these meanings evolved over just a
few decades. Although List founded and shaped the original Armanen
For Review Only
system, it did not remain simply a replication of his ideas; rather, sev-
eral other writers contributed to its character and content. The main
influence for the evolution of the runic symbolic values stems from
the world of practical occultism and esoteric physics as expressed in
the works of F. B. Marby, S. A. Kummer, Friedrich Teltscher, Emil
Rüdiger, and Karl Spiesberger.
Another exponent of the new runic revival was Roland Dionys
Jossé (birth and death dates unknown), who published a work, also in
1955, called Die Tala der Raunen: Runo-astrologische Kabbalistik (The
Numeric Interpretation of the Runes: Runo-astrological Kabbalism). In
this work he made use of the sixteen-rune futhark, which was a major
historical departure for the practice of runic esotericism in Germany.
Jossé rightly assumed that the seventeeth and eighteenth runes of the
Hávamál (taken up by List as gospel) were actually additional runes
lying outside the numerological system. Jossé presented a complex but
highly workable numerology and a system of astrology based on the for-
mula of sixteen.

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154  ª  The Runic Renewal


No. Shape Name Meaning
11 Fa Primal fire, change, re-shaping, banishing of distress,
sending generative principle, primal spirit.
12 Ur Eternity, consistency, physician’s rune, luck, telluric
magnetism, primal soul.
13 Thorn Action, will to action, evolutionary power, goal-setting,
rune of Od-magnetic transference.
14 Os Breath, spiritual well-being, word, radiating Od-magnetic
ᛟ Othil Arising, the power of the word, receptive power.
15 Rit Primal law, rightness, advice, rescue, rhythm.
16 Ka Generation, power, art, ability, propagation.
17 ᛡ Hagal All-enclosure, spiritual leadership, protectiveness,
harmony, cosmic order, the midpoint of order.
18 ᚾ Not The unavoidable, karma, compulsion of fate.
19 ᛁ Is Ego, will, activity, personal power, banishing, consciousness

For Review Only
of spiritual power, control of self and others.
Sun, wisdom, beauty, virtue, fame, well-being,
protection from specters, leadership.
11 ᛋ Sig Solar power, victory, success, knowledge, realization,
power to actualize.
12 ᛏ Tyr Power, success, wisdom, generation, awakening, rebirth
in the spirit, spiraling development.
13 ᛒ Bar Becoming, birth, the third birth in the spirit,
concealment, song.
14 ᛚ Laf Primal law, life, experience of life, love, primal water,
water and ocean rune.
15 ᛉ Man Man-rune, increase, fullness, health, magic, spirit, god-
man, the masculine principle in the cosmos, day-
16 Yr Woman-rune, instinct, greed, passion, matter, delusion,
confusion, death, destruction, the negative feminine
principle in the cosmos, night-consciousness.
17 ᛅ Eh Marriage, lasting love, law, justice, hope, duration, rune
of trust and of the dual (twin) souls.
18 Gibor God-rune, god-all, cosmic consciousness, wedding
together of powers, the generative and receptive,
sacred marriage, giver and the gift, fulfillment.

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The Runic Renewal  ª  155

Jossé presented a system for transliterating names into the sixteen

runes of the futhark in the following way. This table accounts for
sounds in Norse, German, and English.


Number Rune Sounds Letters Double-Letters
1 f fv
2 uvw uvw au uo ou
3 th d th d ð þ

4 oå o aa a
5 r r
6 k k g ch ng k ck g ch kj ng nk
7 ᛡ h (soft) ch h ch kj

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i j y e ie ei ai ey ay
10 aäe aäæe
11 ᛋ s sch s ss sch sh sk skj sj
12 ᛏ t t d dt z
13 ᛒ bp bp pf
14 ᛚ l l
15 𐤶 m m
16 öü öüøy eu oi äu øy øi
œ ue ui iu eo

Jossé’s numerology involves first transliterating a person’s name

into the sixteen runes of the Younger Futhark, then reducing it to a key
number by “units” of 16, and finally adding the remainder until a num-
ber below 16 (or 18) is reached. For example, the name Aelfric Avery
would be treated in the following manner:

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156  ª  The Runic Renewal

ᛚ I I
= 81 = 16 × 5 + 1 = 6

That is, there are five units of 16 in the sum of the numerical values of
the name (16 × 5), with one left over. These are added to the number
of units to arrive at the key number of the name, which is 6. Therefore,
the key-rune for this individual, according to this system, would be the
Kaun-rune, which Jossé interprets with the Listian motto: “Your blood,
your highest possession.” This rune, or Raune,* as Jossé called it, is also
connected with the idea of artistry and a deep concern with beauty.
As far as the great number of personalities involved in esoteric
runology in the pre-Nazi period are concerned, only one seems to have
weathered the storms of war: F. B. Marby. Although he had been per-
secuted by the Nazis and even imprisoned in Dachau, he was given no
compensation for his losses by the Allies, as he was judged to have been
For Review Only
a Nazi-supporter. At least he was not re-imprisoned by the new authori-
ties! Marby began to republish his material from the early 1930s and
re-established himself as a figure in postwar esoteric circles in Germany.
In 1957 he came out with what is perhaps his greatest work, Die drei
Schwäne (The Three Swans), which had been completed before his
arrest by the Nazis in 1936. This book is a kind of mystical autobiog-
raphy, and, as published in 1957, it contains copious notes and com-
mentaries by the author that make it invaluable for understanding the
Marbyan system.


Of course, scientific runology continued along its way with little to no
regard for any of these purely occult ideas. Most of the credentialed

*Through his terminology Jossé is evoking the sense of a rune as a “whisper” (cf.
Ger. raunen, and the archaic English verb to round, both meaning “to whisper”).

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The Runic Renewal  ª  157

and legitimate runologists in Germany continued to work after the

war regardless of their attitudes or positions during the Nazi regime.
However, Helmut Arntz seems to have been so embittered by his treat-
ment during those dark days that he devoted himself to other academic
and writing pursuits after 1945.
In 1966 Wolfgang Krause published his important compendium
Die Runeninschriften im älteren Futhark (The Runic Inscriptions in the
Older Futhark) with archeological contributions by Herbert Jankuhn.
Both of these men had been involved with the Ahnenerbe during the
war, but these past events were allowed to fade into the background as
life went on. Krause’s edition of this body of inscriptions remains the
standard today.
Scandinavian runology continued to develop and became better
represented as an academic discipline in the major universities and
museums of all of the Nordic countries.
In 1952 the Danish runologist Anders Bæksted (1906–1968) wrote
For Review Only
a rather scathing critique of the widespread assumptions concerning
the magical nature of the runes in his landmark work Målruner og
Troldruner (Speech Runes and Magic Runes). Most scholars from the
beginning had taken for granted that the runes had something to do
with magic and mysteries given the constant reference to them in this
regard in medieval literature, as well as the contents of many inscrip-
tions that seemed to corroborate this idea. Bæksted inaugurated the
school of “skeptical” scientific runologists and called upon all runolo-
gists to be more careful and questioning in their approaches to runic
Despite a new wave of skepticism, the school of runic interpreta-
tion that took possible numerical symbolism into account would find
its grandest and last great expression in the work of the Freiburg profes-
sor Heinz Klingenberg (b. 1934) titled Runenschrift—Schriftdenken—
Runeninschriften (Runic Writing—The Ideology of Writing and Runic
Inscriptions; 1973). He used the idea of gematria to its full effect. His
interpretation of the inscription on the runic horn of Gallehus even

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158  ª  The Runic Renewal

brings into consideration the phi-ratio and the iconography on the elab-
orately decorated horn. The horn was made of gold and was obviously
used as a drinking vessel for religious or cultic purposes. As regards the
runic inscription on the horn, which is executed around the rim of the
horn in a circular arrangement, Klingenberg notes certain numerical
patterns that seem to defy random chance. The inscription reads:

ekhlewagastiR holtijaR horna tawido

The values of these runes given as numerals would be:
ek HlewigastiR HoltijaR horna tawido
“I, Hlewagast Holt (‘man of the grove,’ or ‘descendant of Holt’), made the horn.”

The division between words by four vertical dots is reckoned as being

important, and they are given the numerical value of 4.

For Review Only

ekhlewigastiR holtijaR
= 273 or 21 × 13
holtijaR horna = 169 or 13 × 13
horna tawido = 143 or 11 × 13
tawido ekhlewagastiR = 247 or 19 × 13

Note that the number of runes in the sections marked off by the
word-dividers indicates also the number with is the multiplier of thir-
teen in the formulas above. According to Klingenberg, these formulas
are recurring references to the number thirteen, the numeric equivalent
of the rune eihwaz (ᛇ), which he logically connects to the “World-tree”
from Germanic mythology. This simple presentation of Klingenberg’s
theories only barely scratches the surface of what he does in his eru-
dite analysis. Many have dismissed such analysis as “too speculative,”
yet when we look at the inscription in question and the object upon
which it was executed, and couple this with the fact that the inscription
refers to the making of the horn, not the inscription—a horn that is

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The Runic Renewal  ª  159

covered with arcane symbols of obviously mythic or religious impor-

tance—one must pause before dismissing an interpretation such as that
of Klingenberg out of hand.
Another important speculative field of runology that has continued
to enjoy some energy focuses on the mythic and cosmological mean-
ings and contexts of the rune-names themselves. As we know these
names are well attested for the Old English and Old Norse traditions of
the Anglo-Saxon and Younger Futhark, respectively, but for the Older
Futhark period we must rely on reconstructions of the names. Both
Krause and Arntz had been enthusiasts for this mythic line of thinking,
while others such as Friedrich von der Leyen, Wolfgang Jungandreas,
and Karl Schneider devoted special, and sometimes extensive, studies to
the topic. Karl Schneider (1912–1998) was a professor of Old English
philology at the University of Münster whose 1951 dissertation, Die ger-
manischen Ruenennamen: Versuch einer Gesamtdeutung (The Germanic
Rune-Names: Attempt at a Comprehensive Interpretation), was pub-
For Review Only
lished in book form in 1956. In this study, he speculates that the rune-
names are reflective of deep Germanic and even Indo-European cultural
and religious concepts. In this he is not original, but he does take the
structural relationships of these concepts to a new level. He presents
runic pairs arranged by means of a series of twelve concentric circles by
which the first and last rune (ᚠ:ᛟ) belong to the outermost circle, and
so on. The resulting pairs are analyzed as belonging to certain circles of
meaning, from the inside out, as follows:

11 = The circle of destiny: ᛃ:ᛈ

12 = Circle of primeval being (circle of the αρχη of life): ᚺ:ᛇ
13 = Circle of cold (or death): ᛁ:ᛉ
14 = Circle of warmth: ᚾ:ᛋ
15 = Circle of the warrior clan: ᚹ:ᛏ
16 = Circle of giving: ᚷ:ᛒ
17 = Circle of the luminous conception of the beyond: ᚲ:ᛗ
18 = Circle of light: ᚱ:ᛖ

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160  ª  The Runic Renewal

19 = Circle of the dark conception of the beyond: ᚨ:ᛚ

10 = Circle of fertility in the human sphere: ᚦ:ᛜ
11 = Circle of fertility in the (animal-)vegetable sphere: ᚢ:ᛞ
12 = Circle of ownership: ᚠ:ᛟ

It should be noted that Schneider considered the order of the thir-

teenth and fourteenth runes to be ordered ᛈ–ᛇ, which is a reversal of
how are typically assumed to be sequenced.
Beyond these perceived runic dyads, Schneider also proposed a more
elaborated view of the dyadic relationship between adjacent runes in the
futhark order. Jungandreas and others had recognized the special rela-
tionship between neighboring runes such as ᚠ:ᚢ, ᚦ:ᚨ, and so forth, but
Schneider took this a step further and noted how these dyads related to the
next dyad in an almost interweaving, or interlocking, pattern. He counts
nineteen dyads as relevant in this analysis (it is only with certain dyads that
he sees the interweaving of one set with the next). They are as follows:
For Review Only
ᚠ–ᚢ: Livestock (including bull and ram)—fructifying moisture of
the primeval essence conceived of as a bull or ram.
ᚢ–ᚦ: Fructifying moisture (semen virile)—Thunar as god of matri-
monial generation.
ᚦ–ᚨ: Thunar as god of thunder—Wodan as the storm god; both
rulers within the atmospheric realm.
ᚱ–ᚲ: Solar-wagon—cremation (with the luminous heaven as the
beyond); unifying idea: realm of light.
ᚷ–ᚹ: Hospitality—clan; the former is the obligatory law of the
ᚹ–ᚾ: Clan—membrum virile; Context given by the idea of genera-
tion: ᚹ the work of ᚾ.
ᛁ–ᚺ: The primeval material (ice)—the primeval essence (born out
of ice, cf. Yrmin-myth).
ᚺ–ᛃ: Primeval material—harvest; the First as originator of the

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The Runic Renewal  ª  161

ᛃ–ᛈ: Yield of the harvest (agricultural destiny)—religious destiny.

ᛈ–ᛇ: The power of destiny (*uurðiz)—world-yew; notice that
the well of Urð according to ON tradition lies beneath the
ᛇ–ᛉ: World-yew—Valkyries; note the well of the swans beneath
the World-tree and the Valkyries who determine destiny as
ᛋ–ᛏ: Sun—Sky God as the god of radiant light.
ᛏ–ᛒ: Sky God—Mother Earth as bride of the Sky God (for the
generation of one of the divine brothers).
ᛒ–ᛗ: Mother Earth—Father Sky; between the two: the Sacred
ᛗ–ᛖ: Father Sky—the youthful divine brothers (grandfather—
grandson, according to the family tree of the gods) who are
the Morning and Evening Stars.
ᛖ–ᛚ: The youthful divine brothers—sea; conceptual connection:
For Review Only
the youthful divine brothers as rescuers in distress at sea.
ᛚ–ᛜ: Sea—Earth-god; the latter simultaneously a god of the sea.
ᛜ–ᛞ: Earth-god—Day-star (with the symbolic value “youthful
divine brothers”); connection: Earth-god is the father of one
of the brothers.
ᛞ–ᛟ: Day-star (= youthful divine brothers as the protective gods
in the form of the gable-horses on the hall)—the seat of the

This basic idea is appealing on an indigenous aesthetic level, as it

would reflect a particularly Germanic idea of patterning of words and

Such theories usually depend on the idea that the names of the runes,
or the words that were attached to the signs, formed an underlying cos-
mological or mythic system of meaning. Speaking against this theory is
the fact that the evidence for these names comes along at a fairly late

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162  ª  The Runic Renewal

date when we consider the entire historical span of the Older Futhark
and that we have to depend not on direct evidence for the names, but
on reconstructions of them for the Older Futhark period. As testimony
in favor of the validity of such an exploration are the internal structural
patterns that emerge when the meanings of the names are considered,
and the fact that most of the names that are well known and well estab-
lished seem to refer to matters of mythology and concepts of deep cul-
tural significance.

For Review Only

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The Rise of Contemporary

Scientific Runology and the
Re-Emergence of the Rune-Gild
(Phase VI: 1975 to Present)

For Review Only

The revival of contemporary Germanic spirituality has often been
linked to publicity surrounding the rebirth of Norse paganism
in Iceland under the leadership of the Icelandic poet Sveinbjörn
Beinteinsson. This occurred in 1972 and was widely covered in the
press throughout the world. As there was a general “occult revival”—
which ranged from Wicca to Anton LaVey’s Satanism and from
Aleister Crowley to Scientology—going on in Western culture during
the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the news of the
renewal of Norse paganism in Iceland fell on receptive ears wherever
it was heard.
In this same period the academic world found itself in the midst
of a new golden age of philology as well as comparative linguistics,
mythology, and religion. Many American universities had healthy pro-
grams in Germanic and Indo-European studies like never before. But
the seeds of their destruction were already being planted in those very


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164  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

same universities as such areas of study increasingly came to be seen as

the bastions of “dead white European males.” So instead of this being
the beginning of a new and brighter phase, it was a time when it was
as good as it would ever be. The history of how this deterioration in
academia took place has yet to be written, but its epicenter appears to
have been the universities of the United States where the schools of the
social and behavioral sciences and humanities were inundated with the
1960s generation (many of them staying in school for prolonged periods
of time to avoid military service in the Vietnam War). As this genera-
tion gained footholds of power in various departments—and eventually
in the administrations—of the universities, the die was cast.


One of the problems in writing this book has been that its subject mat-
For Review Only
ter is one in which the author is so intimately involved on all levels. I
have taken great pains to remain as objective as possible, while at the
same time not hesitating to make use of what I think is a unique and
empathetic perspective on the whole story. But it is at this point that I
must insinuate myself in a virtually autobiographical manner. For those
who want even more of the details on this phase of the runic revival,
there is no better source than my book History of the Rune-Gild (Gilded
Books, 2019).*
In the summer of 1974, while I was an undergraduate student
at the University of Texas at Austin, I heard the word “runa” (pron.
ROO-nah) in my mind’s ear. Research at the university library resulted
in my finding, along with many academic runological books, Karl
Spiesberger’s book Runenmagie. This was the needed link for me to
connect scientific runology with practical or experiential magical work.
I privately translated his book and began to work with it in the context

*Published under my pen name, Edred Thorsson.

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  165

of other Armanen material that I had been able to locate written by

Gorsleben, Kummer, and others. Daily work and magical training—
which would become the prototype for the curriculum in The Nine
Doors of Midgard—undertaken in 1974 and 1975 led to the comple-
tion of a book-length manuscript called A Primer of Runic Magic in the
summer of that year. This work was still within the Armanen tradition.
I sent the manuscript around to various publishers in the USA and in
England, and it found interest with the well-known acquisitions editor
Tam Mossman of Prentice-Hall. I was promised a contract before the
Yuletide of 1975. But then word came back that Mossman had gotten a
report from the marketing department of the company saying that they
did not think runes would “sell.” This sent me back to the proverbial
drawing board.
For some reason or another I had remained unaware of the activity
of the Ásatrúarfélag (Fellowship of Ásatrúar) in Iceland until well after
I had begun to engage in the work of a reawakening of runic esotericism
For Review Only
in 1974. I was alerted to the activity of such groups as the Ásatúarmenn
and John Yeowell’s Odinic Rite in England by a friendly Swedish pro-
fessor at the University of Texas who knew something of what I was
already doing at the time.
Stephen A. McNallen founded a religious organization originally
called The Viking Brotherhood in the USA in 1969/70, independent
of the Icelandic movement. He published a newsletter called The
Runestone. News of the developments in Iceland and elsewhere would
be instrumental in transforming McNallen’s organization into the
Ásatrú Free Assembly (AFA) in 1976. The AFA had a general interest
in runes, but it was not a main focus of that religious organization.
Many years later, Stephen McNallen would become a Master in the
An apparent early rival to the AFA was the Runic Society led
by N. J. Templin. It too had little to do with runic practice or ideol-
ogy. A leaflet produced by this organization (although no one really
knows if this group had any members) presented a single sheet of

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166  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

­idiosyncratic information about the runes, not worth repeating here.

This group was highly “political” and racialist, demanding that
Denmark turn over Greenland to the group to form a Nation of Odin
and exhorting subscribers to “Return to the Religion of Our Race.”
Ideas were drawn from German groups such as the Ludendorff Society
and the Artgemeinschaft (Community of Our Kind). Happily, the
Runic Society faded away fairly quickly.
In the late 1970s many of the ideas that would become the founda-
tion of the Rune-Gild were being established. My great disadvantage—
or possible gift—was that I had no living informant or teacher who
knew anything about the esoteric dimensions of the runes. I worked
almost entirely from books, which directed me back to an immediate
connection with the ultimate teacher, Woden himself. The only excep-
tion to this circumstance came in the person of David Bragwin James
(1937–2014), a deeply learned poet and scholar, whom I met at his
home in New Haven, Connecticut, together with his young student,
For Review Only
Alice Karlsdottir, around 1978. He was full of great ideas, about which
we corresponded extensively afterward. It is regrettable that not more of
his work has come to light.
A curious publication appeared in 1978 entitled Rune Magic by
Carlyle A. Pushong. This book was full of the author’s other special-
ties, I-Ching and yoga. The runic sections appear to have been taken
directly from Spiesberger, although Spiesberger is not acknowledged. It
is also possible that this material came his way from my 1975 manu-
script, which had circulated in England at that time. Another book
from 1982 was Rune Games by Marijane Osborn and Stella Longland,
which has recently fallen into obscurity. Osborn was a professor (she
is now emerita) at the University of California, Davis, and a special-
ist in Old English and Old Norse. The book is a serious attempt at
runic reawakening with an unfortunately frivolous-sounding title. The
“fatal flaw” is, however, its combination of the runes of the Anglo-
Saxon Futhorc with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life cosmology. This was
apparently done on the rationale that the Anglo-Saxon runes were often

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  167

carved in a Christian context, and since the Christians might plausi-

bly be familiar with Jewish learning, the combination of Kabbalistic
cosmology with the Anglo-Saxon runes becomes a possibility. As the
studies of Gershom Scholem have shown, however, the Kabbalistic cos-
mology as we know it today is not of archaic origin; it is a medieval phe-
nomenon. In any event, the chance to combine the runes with a genuine
Germanic cosmology was missed.
This particular period of the modern runic revival—character-
ized as it was by the work of Pushong, Blum, and Osborn—lacked the
authenticity of an autochthonous understanding of archaic Germanic
myth. This element of authenticity would only come about with the
publication of my book Futhark in 1984. It remains regrettable that
this book was not made available at the time of its actual completion
in 1979. As flawed as Futhark may be in some respects, its accomplish-
ment is that it combined, for the first time, an authentic runology
with actual Germanic myth, cosmology, and psychology—a reunion
For Review Only
of elements reforged after a thousand years.
My academic work soon demonstrated to me that the Armanen
tradition was a modern Listian innovation and I wanted to go deeper.
By 1979 I had competed a new manuscript based on the Older
Futhark. This was Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic. After send-
ing this manuscript around to publishers, I received a contract with
Llewellyn Publications, which at the time was going through some
difficult financial straits. The book languished there unpublished for
three years. In 1981, I got the rights to the book back from them.
Throughout these years, I had been continuing my own studies
and exercises, and during the Yuletide of 1979, shortly after finish-
ing the manuscript for Futhark, I founded the Rune-Gild and the
Institute for Runic Studies, Ásatrú (I.R.S.A.) in a ritual conducted
in a remote area of Zilker Park in Austin, Texas. The Gild began
publishing booklets, called the Lore-Books. On the eve of my time of
studying in Göttingen (1981–1982), I negotiated a contract with the
publisher Samuel Weiser for Futhark, to be published under my pen

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168  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

name Edred Thorsson, which I have generally reserved for my more

esoterically oriented works. It would not actually appear in print until
May of 1984—the same month I formally received my Ph.D. from the
University of Texas. It would be a nine-year process from the summer
of 1975 to this moment of fruition. After Futhark appeared and met
with a positive reception, a second book of mine was published two
years later: Runelore (Weiser, 1986). Its contents were based on the
collected Lore-Books writings that had circulated within the Rune-
Gild, together with additional material. My third work in this initial
series of Thorsson books, was At the Well of Wyrd (Weiser, 1988; it
was later reissued in 1999 as Runecaster’s Handbook).
In Germany, I attended events of the Armanen Orden and con-
tinued to study esoteric runology. But mainly I was deeply initiated
into the world of academic and scientific runology by my men-
tor, Prof. Dr. Klaus Düwel. At that time also I had an office in the
Scandinavian Department. The office I was given had been Wolfgang
For Review Only
Krause’s personal study—a small room filled with runic knowledge on
all levels.
On my return to Texas in 1982 I was soon confronted by the
appearance of Ralph Blum’s The Book of Runes in October of that
year. Blum tells the story of how he discovered the runes, but there
is another story here as well. Blum ran in circles of publishers, edi-
tors, and book “packagers.” His project was generated as an idea for
an ideal Christmas gift package for the year 1982, not only a book but
also including a set of cast-resin “rune cookies” (mimicking those that
Blum had claimed to have found in England when researching runic
divination) as well. It was a huge financial success and over time it
would sell more than two million units worldwide. (Apparently, runes
did “sell” after all!) The fact that Blum popularized the runes could
have been a great development. But because he used an ordering prin-
ciple that was based on a single “reading” he did for himself one night,
his work gave readers the impression that the ancient tradition of our
ancestors was unimportant or, worse yet, never existed. Great num-

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  169

bers of potential runic enthusiasts were given the wrong impression

that the runes were not a venerable and well-established tradition,
but rather were part of some New Age, “do-your-own-thing”–kind of
invention. In this way, the burgeoning runic revival in the English-
speaking world during the late twentieth century was dealt a serious
blow. When what it needed was for all the stars to align just right to
succeed quickly, what it got was a major roadblock.
Blum describes in his book (pp. 28–31) how he discovered the
runes. His system stems from a reading he did, reportedly on a sum-
mer solstice, in which he asked the runes: “In what order do you wish
to be arranged?” This was done after he had invoked “the Holy Spirit,
the Tao, my Higher Self, and all my Unseen Guides and Helpers.” The
result was the following:

For Review Only

As Blum reports, his reading was done with a set of commercially
produced “rune cookies” that he had purchased in England, so the
peculiar mixture of rune-shapes, nor the presence of the “blank rune”
cannot be ascribed to him. Blum decided to read this sequence from
right to left, starting with the top row. If the reading of inverse runes
as a negative or problematic indication had been heeded,* he would
have stopped right there. In any event, Blum’s biography would indi-
cate that he subsequently took a course at San Diego State University
with Dr. Allan W. Anderson, who taught in the subject areas of reli-
gion and spirituality; this and other studies provided the framework
to interpret the runes independent of other evidence. He later ascribed
the following meanings to the runes in the order of his “revelatory”

*In Blum’s interpretative system, reversed runes are taken as a sign of blockage and
represent a “call for caution in the runic vocabulary” (cf. Blum 1983, 37).

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170  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology


No. Shape Meaning No. Shape Meaning

1 ᛗ The Self 14 ᚲ Opening

2 ᚷ Partnership 15 ᛏ Warrior
3 ᚨ Signals 16 ᛒ Growth
4 ᛟ Retreat 17 ᛖ Movement
5 ᚢ Strength 18 ᛚ Flow
6 ᛈ Initiation 19 ᚺ Disruption
7 ᚾ Constraint 20 ᚱ Journey
8 ᛝ Fertility 21 ᚦ Gateway
9 ᛇ Defense 22 ᛞ Breakthrough
10 ᛉ Protection 23 ᛁ Standstill
11 ᚠ Protection 24 ᛋ Wholeness
12 ᚹ Joy 25 The Unknowable
13 ᛃ Harvest

For Review Only

I could spend a good deal of time analyzing and criticizing the writ-
ings of Blum, but that would be pointless in this work. In the final
analysis, I will just say that his results could have been a whole lot bet-
ter if he had done some more research on the runes before writing his
book. It appears that material he refers to and his bibliography were all
added after The Book of Runes and its approach were already a finished
One may contrast my path with that of Blum. I used an untradi-
tional system—the Armanen tradition—to create my first project. That
project was thwarted, in my view, by the spiritual influence of Woden
with the intention of “sending me back to school” to do better next
time—and the experience opened me to the possibilities of reawakening
a traditional and integral runology. Blum, on the other hand, was given
a free ride to success and prosperity with his first effort. But the results
of that will be but a footnote in the history of runology, and a blighted
one at that.

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  171


No other land is more esoterically bound up with the runes in mod-
ern times than Germany has been. Since the dawn of the occult revival
there, the runes have been playing a significant part in that process.
Therefore, when we look at the ways in which the runes are used in
magical circles in Germany today, we see a deep-level network of inter-
connections that is much richer, but also more diffuse, than that which
we might expect to find in England or the United States. There is at
least one German order based on what are essentially runic ideas: the
Armanen Orden (Armanen Order). This is a direct continuation of
the legacy of Guido von List and is also connected to the Guido von
List Society. The magical order Fraternitas Saturni, which maintains an
eclectic magical curriculum, probably also continues to have instruction
in the art of rune magic as a part of that curriculum.
Ralph Tegtmeier is an important figure in the world of esoterica in
For Review Only
Germany. In 1988, he published a book Runen: Alphabet der Erkenntis
(Runes: Alphabet of Knowledge), which made use of the 24-rune futhark
system. This appears to have been influenced by Rune-Gild research and
it was dedicated to Edred Thorsson, “Runenmeister sans pareil.” Tegtmeier
was also the translator of the German version of my book Runelore.
The Armanen Orden was, for all intents and purposes, a moribund
institution before it was revived by Adolf Schleipfer in 1968. He received
the charter of the order from the then-aged president of the Guido von
List Society, Hanns Bierbach, and proceeded to rebuild it based on what
seems to be a syncretization of not only List’s ideas, but also those of the
other rune mystics and magicians of the German past (Marby, Kummer,
Gorsleben, etc.), as well as the traditions of the Order of the New Templars
and the Fraternitas Saturni. The rune magic of the Armanen continues to
be taught mostly within the confines of the Armanen Orden itself.
A review of chapters 7 through 10 of this book will clearly show
the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the Armanen tradition. It
had various phases and faces over the course of the twentieth century.

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172  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

The first phase was that defined by the works of List himself. The next
phase was characterized by the practicalizing of the runes in occult
exercises as presented by Marby and Kummer. The third phase, quite
distinct from the first two, was a politicizing of the runes under the
Nazi regime. In the next phase, which came in the postwar period, the
runes were universalized by writers such as Spiesberger and brought, in
Germany at least, into the mainstream of Western occultism. Following
this, the runes and the Armanen tradition were situated more firmly
into an overtly heathen context by Adolf and Sigrun Schleipfer from the
end of the 1960s forward. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the
Armanen system was brought to the attention of the English-speaking
world by my translation of List’s The Secret of the Runes (Destiny, 1988)
and the first edition of Rune Might (Llewellyn, 1989).* Subsequently,
the various phases of the history of the Armanen Movement have been
synthesized in ways that are not necessarily reflective of any one of
the actual individual phases of Armanen history. Gone, for example,
For Review Only
is List’s respectful tone toward Christianity and now present are the
occult practices of Kummer, Marby, and Spiesberger, which are quite
foreign to the spirit of List’s original presentation.
Another almost exclusively rune-based system is that of Rune
Gymnastics. This magical system continued to be promoted through
the works of F. B. Marby, as published by the Rudolf Arnold Spieth
Verlag. In the 1980s another latter-day runic school gathered around
Werner Kosbab, essentially based on the runic divinatory system elabo-
rated in his book Das Runen-Orakel (The Oracle of the Runes; 1982).
During the 1990s the Germanic religious revival experienced a new
upswing in Germany. Not all of these groups and organizations were in
any way allied with the political right. But since the time of the reunifica-
tion of Germany, runes and rune-like signs and symbols have increasingly
been the object of legal persecution in Germany as the Federal authori-
ties seek to ban and prohibit what they have determined to be symbols

*A third revised and expanded edition has been published in 2018 by Inner T
­ raditions.

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  173

dangerous to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany.

There really has not been a new explosion of interest in the runes in
Germany; the original explosion already took place back in the beginning
of the twentieth century. What is taking place there now is a slow and
steady, and not always smooth, readjustment to the indigenous national
esoteric traditions of the German people. In this instance there is a good
deal of influence from the Anglo-American schools, such as the Rune-
Gild. This is perhaps because the pioneering Germanic spirit appears
especially strong in cultural outposts, and hence the vitality of what seems
to be a “new” idea is full of a special energy there. This vitality can expand
from its epicenter to the rest of the world. In the beginning of the twenty-
first century, the Rune-Gild itself began the process of expanding into
Germany and the rest of German-speaking Central Europe, and beyond.


For Review Only

Back in the United States, many others began to follow in the wake of
the success of the Blum phenomenon. Among these was an Austrian
named Karl Hans Welz, who says he studied runes in Berlin. In 1984
Welz organized the Knights of Runes (KOR) based on the Armanen
system. Welz took pains, as Spiesberger had done, to rid the Armanen
tradition of its völkisch elements. Following much in the footsteps of
Spiesberger, who also lived in Berlin in the 1980s, Welz sees the runes
in terms of energy fields and forces. Clearly, this sort of view was also
heavily developed and promoted by Marby, who must be seen as the true
father of runes interpreted as quasi-physical forces: orgone, odic force,
and so on. Welz has invented and markets machines and devices meant
to generate and manipulate this sort of vital energy. Welz describes
himself in KOR literature from the 1980s in the following way:

KARL HANS WELZ was born in Innsbruck, Austria. He attended

the University of Innsbruck and obtained his bachelor’s degree at the

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174  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

age of nineteen. He went on to study theology, and later p­ sychology

and mathematics there in graduate study.
Karl Hans Welz was interested in metaphysics from the age of
fourteen. During the course of time and during his extensive travel-
ing, he explored and practiced nearly all fields of metaphysics.
Karl Hans Welz became a Rune Master as a member of the
Sacred Brotherhood of the Golden Ray, West Germany.
He is the author of several books and essays on the spiritual and
occult sciences, and he has appeared on many TV shows. He consid-
ers the Runic system to be one of the most powerful spiritual tools
known to mankind and that it can bring about rapid advancement
in and mastership of psychic skills.
It is unfortunate but true that there is no book in English which
describes the symbolism of the 18 Sacred Futhork Runes, even though
the Runic system was extensively used in the Anglo-Saxon, Nordic,
and Keltic countries before it was mercilessly exterminated by the fol-

For Review Only

lowers of the Christian religion in the eleventh century CE.

Figure 10.1. The emblem of the Knights of Runes

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  175

Karl Hans Welz sees it as his mission to make this powerful

Runic system accessible to as many people as possible and to train
more Rune Masters in this country.
It will be well worth your effort to practice Runes until your ini-
tiation as Knight of Runes, after four months, and Rune Master,
after approximately one year of practice.

Welz apparently taught bodily and manual rune postures in the tra-
dition of Marby and Kummer as ways to channel runic forces.
In brief, he presents his Armanen runology as follows:

Fa (to help) Ar (to reframe)

Ur (to heal) ᛋ Sig (to win)
Thorn (to project) ᛏ Tyr (to sacrifice)
Os (to accept) ᛒ Bar (to rest)
Rit (ceremonial) ᛚ Laf (comic law)
For Review Only
Ka (capability)
ᛡ Hagal (universe)
ᛉ Man (spirituality)
Yr (roots)
ᚾ Nod (karma) ᛅ Eh (cosmic union)
ᛁ Is (true ego) Gibor (self, oneness)

These values can be compared to those of Guido von List given in

Table 7.1 (see page 122).

In 2000 Welz relinquished the charter of the KOR for a period of time
to a man named Larry Camp (Dietrich) of Sandusky, Ohio. Camp tried
to return the Armanen tradition to a more Listian mythic vision. This
did not always sit well with Herr Welz, who secretly dissolved the KOR
around 2008 and then reconstituted his own version of the KOR as
an almost rival organization called “The Great Timeless Brotherhood
of Runemasters.” Both organizations became moribund in the ensuing
years, but periodically efforts to reactivate this school in a unified form
have surfaced.

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176  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

Miguel Joaquín Diego del Carmen Serrano Fernández (1917–2009) was
a proponent of National Socialism in his native Chile as a young man
during the Second World War, a war in which his country remained neu-
tral. Serrano was initiated into a völkisch esoteric stream of thought by a
“mysterious” German immigrant during these years. Later he would enter
the diplomatic service of Chile in a career that would last from 1953 to
1970, when the Marxist regime of Salvador Allende took power in Chile.
With the ouster of Allende, Serrano returned to Chile and undertook his
work in articulating the idea of “Esoteric Hitlerism.” It is clear that he
was interested in esoteric matters his whole life, he was versed in German
culture, and he had been an adherent of National Socialist ideology since
the 1930s. However, it also appears that his esoteric Nazism stems from
himself and was the product of the times in which he began to write the
works that supported these ideas, that is, from the late 1970s onward.
For Review Only
He too picked up on what was “in the air” during those years. Perhaps
because of his ties with a respectable establishment, his ideas became
influential in certain circles. (Due to some shady dealings, his books were
only translated into English late and in a haphazard way, or they probably
would have been even more influential.)
In 1984 Serrano published the best-known work in his “Esoteric
Hitlerism” trilogy: Adolf Hitler, el Último Avatãra (Adolf Hitler: The
Last Avatar). In this book he provides an almost hundred-page out-
line of runic symbolism based on the eighteen runes of the Armanen
Futhork. His runology is fitted out with elaborate illustrations by the
German artist Wolfgang von Schlemm (1920–2003), some of which
were inspired by the work of the German esotericist Peryt Shou
(1873–1953) as found in his 1920 book Die “Edda” als Schlüssel des
kommenden Weltalters (The Edda as the Key to the Coming Age).
Shou was not particularly involved with runic symbolism himself, nor
was he a völkisch philosopher. In the final analysis, Serrano’s work is
poetic, mystical, inspired (by something), but is not coherent from a

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  177

runological perspective. His is a very unique take on the runes. He

draws on material from the Armanen and other German rune-eso-
tericists and couples it freely with Indian mysticism and Gnoticism,
synthesizing these elements and other elements in a “Pan-Aryanist”

For Review Only

Fig. 10.2. Diagram from Serrano’s El Último Avatãra that is referred to

as the “Rune Zodiac” and characterized as the “Secret Platform” or plane
of combat against the extraterrestrial Enemy, the Demiurge

This passage from the English translation of El Último Avatãra

(Serrano 2014, 223) is instructive with respect to his attitudes and ideas
concerning the use of the runes:

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178  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

Runes appeared to Wotan as sound-signs, number-letters. They are

the exterior form that now carries the Vril and are sent to vîras as
weapons in the Great War they undertake against the Demiurge
Jehovah, within his corrupted Universe. They deliver us the neces-
sary schematic knowledge of the Science of Return, keys with which
to open doors. Only they can give us the possibility of escape, of the
leap into Sunya, the Void of the Black Sun, beyond this diabolical
Creation. So the Jew will never use them. They do not serve him.
Only Aryans. Yet the Jew has falsified the Hagal Rune, using it as
the “Star of David.” The Rune symbols are the only ones among
magic alphabets with sharp symmetric shapes that resemble the
bodies of divyas alone and no others. Rune exercises, Runic Yoga of
the body, impregnate their matter with magic vibrations. [The one
who] knows his Runes acquires the power of material dissolution
and reintegration, of voluntary death and resurrection. He will be
able to make his Note vibrate in the highest pitch. To escape, thereby,

For Review Only

from the Circle of Returns.

The mixture of runic ideas with Hindu religious concepts and ele-
ments of the postwar myths of Nazi occultism (Vril, the Black Sun),
coupled with overt Anti-Semitic verbiage are characteristic of Serrano’s
writings. His world-denying (Hindu/Gnostic) ideology is a clearly non-
Germanic trait. Serrano’s overall approach and style is similar to that
found in Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny (1973) or Pauwels’s
and Bergier’s Le Matin des magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians;
1960), both of which seem to have exerted some influence on him.
Serrano’s text is an evocative spell in its own right, but one that is
restricted to a “poetic truth” at best.


In general, there was a tidal wave of rune books in the wake of the eco-
nomic success of Ralph Blum’s Book of Runes and the establishment

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  179

of a more authentic runology with Thorsson’s Futhark. It now seemed

that every sort of publisher had to have a “rune book” of one kind or
another. Because so many people had received their first impressions
about the runic tradition from the book by Blum, there was for a long
time much confusion even among supposed authors and lay “authori-
ties” on the runes. The shoddy level of scholarship in these books raised
the animosity of the scholarly runologists even more than had been the
case in the old days of Guido von List and others. It might be said that
from the early 1980s forward, there developed two schools of esoteric
runology: the Blumian and the Edredian. The motto of the Blumian
school would be: “do your own thing” or “if it feels good, it’s right.” On
the other hand, the motto of the Edredian school would be: “verified
tradition activated by experience leads to inner truth.”
As time went on, many books were produced in both streams of
thought. In the Blumian stream we find books with such titles as
Lady of the Northern Light, Runes for Today’s Woman, and many oth-
For Review Only
ers. Although Blum did not invent the “blank rune” idea, it is cer-
tainly a hallmark of his influence. One of the worst offenders against
tradition in the pseudo-runic “revival” was the British author Michael
Howard, who actually published three books using the Etruscan
alphabet and calling them “runes.” At one point (on page 20 of his
1980 book The Magic of the Runes) he admits he has made an error
previously, but rationalizes continuing in the error “so as not to con-
fuse the reader.” That was just one overt sign of a pervasive trend in
the spate of “rune books” that came out in this period. That trend
was characterized by authors who did not know their subject matter
being confused about things that were actually quite clear to those
who had done their homework, and then those authors spread their
confusion to the general public. Often the very names of the runes
would be butchered, all because the author apparently thought the
names they had invented “sounded better” than the actual ones. The
enormous number of basic inaccuracies found in books produced in
this period did a great disservice to the public and to the cause of the

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180  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

runic revival. Several of these books are reviewed in some detail in my

anthology Mainstays (Thorsson 2006).
Some other examples from the first runic wave are Donald Tyson’s
Rune Magic (Llewellyn, 1988) and Lisa Peschel’s A Practical Guide to
the Runes (Llewellyn, 1989). It is difficult to take Tyson as a sincere pro-
ponent of runic esotericism, as he wrote the following in another book,
The New Magus, which appear that same year with the same publisher:
“The gods of the Germanic peoples . . . are dangerous. There is no more
polite way to phrase it. By modern standards, many would be classi-
fied as demons. They represent the crudest of elemental forces” (Tyson
1988a, 268). I suspect that this confession of bad faith is indicative of
a trend in many—but thankfully, not all—of the books that comprised
this first wave of the runic revival of the 1980s.
A notable publication that came toward the end of the first runic
wave was Jan Fries’s Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick (Mandrake,
1993). His system is based on the Anglo-Frisian inventory of signs,
For Review Only
and the book is heavily jazzed up with dark and primitive illustra-
tions and admixed with techniques and symbols drawn from a variety
of Western magical traditions including the Armanic rune yoga of
Kummer (by way of Spiesberger), Aleister Crowley, neo-shamanism,
and so forth.
One of the most persistent and erroneous notions abroad is that
the Celts had anything to do with runes. One regularly sees the phrase
“Celtic runes.” No such thing exists. I originally wrote my book on
the Irish ogham in 1992 to clarify what the Celtic tradition, which is
somewhat analogous to the runes, actually was.* No runic inscription
exists in a Celtic dialect. But all this seems to have had little effect on
the most stubbornly ignorant among us. Really the list of such books,
blogs, and websites appears endless and growing as the forces of chaos

*This was The Book of Ogham (Llewellyn, 1992), which I have since let another
author, Michael Kelly from the Isle of Man, rework into a revised and expanded
­edition, issued under his name in 2010.

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  181

and misinformation continue to attack our venerable tree of runic tra-

dition from every angle.
On the other hand, in the wake of Futhark and Runelore there also
developed a more traditional school of runic esotericism. To qualify to
be a member of the “traditional school” it simply means that (1) the
author minimally adheres to one of the established ancient runic tradi-
tions: the Older Futhark, Younger Futhark, or Anglo-Frisian Futhorc
as a basis for what is written; (2) the names of the runes are presented
in a reasonably accurate form (as based on academic references); and
(3) the cosmology or mythic framework in which the runes are under-
stood is historically part of the Germanic world. That may seem like a
fairly low bar, but this is only a testimony to just how bad some writing
about runes had become in the 1980s and beyond. In this early period,
there was a handful of authors that belonged to one degree or another
to some traditional school. These authors include Nigel Pennick, James
M. Peterson, Kveldulf Gundarsson, and Freya Aswynn.
For Review Only
Nigel Pennick is a very prolific writer from Cambridge, England.
He has well over thirty books to his credit, most of them having to do
with esoteric Germanic or Celtic studies. He first started out in the
1970s publishing small pamphlets on geomantic and folkloric topics,
including one on the swastika. Over the years, he has published books
with several major publishers. His books are like encyclopedic manuals
to the Germanic folk tradition, which includes a good deal of runic and
other esoteric knowledge. Nigel was named an honorary member of the
Rune-Gild in 2016.
Following in many ways directly in the wake of the tradition of
the Rune-Gild is the scholar and novelist Kveldulf Gundarsson (=
Stephan Grundy). Kveldulf wrote books for Llewellyn and also penned
several successful works of fiction: Rhinegold (1994) and Attila’s
Treasure (1996). He received a Ph.D. degree from Cambridge with a
dissertation on Óðinn as a “god of death.” Subsequently, he served as
a leader in the religious organization called The Troth (­formerly: The
Ring of Troth).

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182  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

Freya Aswynn became the first major female writer in the field
of esoteric runelore with her book The Leaves of Yggdrasil, which she
first published in London in 1988. It was later reissued in the USA
under the title Northern Mysteries and Magick (1998) and has since
reached a much larger readership. She too became involved with the
Ring of Troth, until she was expelled from the organization for mak-
ing politically incorrect remarks on social media.
One of the most extreme exercises in speculative esoteric runology
in the past few decades is the French work by Jean-Yves Guillaume
titled Les Runes et l’ écriture des étoiles (The Runes and the Script
of the Stars; 1992). The French have specialized in the world of the
imagination when it comes to the esoteric for a long time, so this
comes as no surprise. Guillaume reconfigures the heavens with new
runically based constellations and traces such a view of the sky back
to the time of Atlantis!
There is no way a complete and annotated bibliography of these
For Review Only
“New Age” books on runes published after 1975 can be included here,
however, such a project would be an interesting endeavor for someone
to undertake.
This runic new wave was not just limited to “New Age”–type
applications and esoteric literature; it entered the popular culture
generally and found its way into all sorts of other sub-cultures.
Among these was the Neo-Nazi, Skinhead, White Nationalist fac-
tion. Groups and individuals in this subculture also began to use
runes in their symbolism to a degree far beyond that of the origi-
nal Nazis. At first these groups used the runic symbolism that had
been prevalent in National Socialist Germany (1920–1945) as seen
in chapter 8 of this book. But in the wake of the runic wave of the
1980s, the use of runes expanded in a more general way within popu-
lar culture and began to be used in tattoo art and other ways, espe-
cially beginning in the early 1990s. The motivation for the use of
runes appears mainly as an attempt to project a sinister or terrifying
image to “outsiders,” as well as to act as a code of solidarity within

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  183

the group(s) using them. In that sense, it can be counted a revival of

one of the functions of the runes in ancient times—to appear scary to
the non-initiate and express a specific identity among initiates them-
selves. As a rule, the use of runic symbolism by White Nationalists
has to be assessed as a setback for the broader runic revival because
of its profaning tendencies. It has become popular to say, about the
Nazis (paleo- or neo-), that they “misuse” the runes. This criticism is
only legitimate once one has posited the actual sacred, tribal, and ini-
tiatory character of the Germanic runes. If, by contrast, the runes are
to be understood merely as arbitrary and alternative phonetic signs
used for writing natural language, then Nazis and New Agers cannot
really be said to be “misusing” them, as they are merely employing
them for a new purpose. To say they are being misused is to presup-
pose that they are endowed with a certain sacred sense that is being
violated. It is ironic that those who are quick to charge others with
“misusing” the runes also tend to be the very ones who claim that
For Review Only
runes actually have no intrinsic, sacred meaning. But certainly, if we
realize a deeper, archaic, and authentic symbolism inherent in their
history and mythology, then all efforts to use them contrary to their
original and culturally specific purpose may be considered a “misuse.”
Just because Nazis and New Agers hit upon the runes after the runic
wave of the 1980s should not deter sincere seekers of the mysteries
from pursuing their eternal meanings.
Another manifestation of the concept of runes in popular culture
came along in their use in various role-playing games (RPGs) that
became increasingly popular in the 1980s. Not infrequently, the idea of
a “rune” in these games is a sort of hidden power to shape events rather
than a symbol or sign. As such, this reflects an archaic conceptualiza-
tion of the runes as well. The subculture involved in RPGs also tended
to be fans of the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, the Oxford professor of
Anglo-Saxon from 1925 to 1945 and author of various works of fantasy,
for which he created pseudo-runes as part of the backstory of the cos-
mos he called Middle Earth.

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184  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology


Here we may consider another example of how the spirit of *Wōðanaz
moves in the world in entirely mysterious ways. At the exact same
moment in time that I was doing intense workings to re-establish the
runes in North American culture, another wave of runic revival was
taking place in Sweden. In that same summer of 1975, the association
called Yggdrasil was founded by Mikael W. Gejel and Karin Norberg,
and in 1976 they began to publish the periodical Gimle. Participants
in this group also included Mikael Hedlund (Bodvar Bjarke), Jörgen
I. Eriksson (Atrid Grimsson), and Marie Ericsson. The goal of the
Yggdrasil group was the study of magical or esoteric dimensions of the
Nordic tradition, which included seið, galdr, rune magic, and the prac-
tice of útiseti (“sitting out”), a sort of Norse version of a vision quest.
Runelore was always important in the work of the Yggdrasil group and
For Review Only
was first presented in a 1976 article in Gimle by Mikael Gejel entitled
“Talmystiken i den äldsta runraden” (The Number-Mysticism in the
Oldest Rune Row). This text was subsequently adapted for a chapter
in the Swedish book Seid (Gimle, 1985), collectively authored by vari-
ous members of the Yggdrasil group, which included more material on
rune magic. The esoteric model for much of the Swedish runic reviv-
alism of the 1970s and 1980s was rooted in the discovery by a new
generation of the work of the Swedish philologist Sigurd Agrell and
his “Uthark-theory” (see chap. 7). This theory and the context of the
ideas that Agrell presented in his books were tailor-made for a new
generation schooled in the Kabbalah and the Western magical revival.
Agrell’s original books were also readily available at the time in the
antiquarian bookstores of Sweden. The “Uthark-theory” was generally
accepted by every Swedish revivalist of the day. Other important contri-
butions stemming from this group include Atrid Grimsson’s Runmagi
och Shamanism (Rune Magic and Shamanism; Vattumannen, 1988)
and Bodvar Bjarke’s ᚱᚢᚾᚨ: En kortfattad introduktion till Runorakel

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  185

& Runmagi (Runa: A Concise Introduction to Rune Divination and

Rune Magic; Hedlund, 1988).
This “map” of the four directions amply demonstrates the breadth
of the vison encompassed by the work of the Yggdrasil group:

Night, darkness



For Review Only

Evening, twilight Sitting Out Seid Galdr
Morning, dawn
Waning Moon
New Moon
Old Age


Day, light
Full Moon

Figure 10.3. The Four-Directions Map of

the Yggdrasil Group

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186  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

No discussion of the runic revival in the current climate can go

without giving kudos to the Swedish scholar and esotericist Thomas
Karlsson. He is the founder of a major magical order called the Dragon
Rouge and the author of several books that touch on the runes, especially
in a practical way in connection with the runology of Agrell. Thomas
was a young guest during the early phase of the Yggdrasil group but
was not a member of that organization. In 2002 he published the book
Uthark—Nightside of the Runes. But Karlsson’s shining contribution
lies in his scholarly work with the legacy of Johannes Bureus. A good
primer of his contributions is provided by his composite book Nightside
of the Runes (Inner Traditions, 2019), which contains a complete trans-
lation of his book Adulrunan och den götiska kabbalan (Adulruna and
the Gothic Kabbalah; 2005) on the work of Bureus. Karlsson received
a Ph.D. from the University of Stockholm in 2010 with a dissertation
titled Götisk kabbala och runisk alkemi (Gothic Kabbalah and Runic
For Review Only
After the first wave of runic revivalism that began in the early 1980s,
higher-quality books on runelore began to be written and published,
as the basic traditions were increasingly better understood. The rising
use of the Internet and the generally more widespread availability of
higher quality research materials for esoteric rune-enthusiasts made
this possible. It seems that after about the year 2000, a second wave
of more solidly written esoteric rune books began to be published.
These were marked by the tendency to use actual runic traditions and
the names of the runes and so on were increasingly accurate. The best
examples from this second wave include Paul Rhys Mountfort’s Nordic
Runes (Destiny, 2003), Leon D. Wild’s The Runes Workbook (Thunder
Bay, 2004), Diana Paxson’s Taking Up the Runes (Redwheel/Weiser,
2005), and Kaedrich Olsen’s Runes for Transformation (Weiser, 2008).
Each of these books contains elements that make it worthy of recom-

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  187

mendation. We can now only hope for a third wave, in which the full
promise of integral runology will be met.


With regard to the Armanen tradition and the work of Guido von List,
it had been my original plan (dating back to the early 1980s) to con-
tribute a few works to the legacy of this chapter of the runic revival
from the early part of the twentieth century connected to and derived
from the ideas of Guido von List. My efforts were aimed at “satisfy-
ing the curiosity” of those who were interested in this historical phase
of the movement. Thus, over the years I have translated List’s Das
Geheimnis der Runen (The Secret of the Runes; 1906. English edition:
Destiny, 1988), Der Unbesiegbare (The Invincible; 1898. English edi-
tion: Lodestar, 2011), Die Religion der Ario-Germanen (The Religion
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of the Aryo-Germanic Folk; 1910. English edition: Rûna-Raven, 2005)
and Der Übergang vom Wuotanismus zum Christentum (The Transition
from Wuotanism to Christianity; 1911. English edition forthcoming. I
devoted a whole book to the study of some of the history and practices
of the early twentieth-century German rune-magicians in the form of
the book Rune Might, first published by Llewellyn in 1989, and subse-
quently reissued by Inner Traditions in a revised and expanded edition
in 2018. This effort to inform people about an interesting past phase of
the movement actually ended up stimulating a wider and deeper inter-
est in this alternative runic tradition.
In the age of the internet, the Armanen tradition enjoyed a renewed
level of enthusiasm, especially in the English-speaking world. This
interest is largely unexpected because the vast German-language liter-
ature from within that tradition has never been published in English
translation. Some of this renewed interest seems to have been fueled
by polarized political feelings. The Armanen ideology of Guido von
List has wrongly been condemned as somehow identical with that of

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188  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

National Socialism. Those drawn to the Armanen tradition today seem

to find it attractive that it is so taboo and “politically incorrect.” This
world, like so much of our society today, is driven by the unseen laws
of value-polarization: sides are drawn, identities are reinforced or exag-
gerated through verbal and symbolic echo-chambers, and as one side
goes on the attack, the opposite side that feels hostility is only further
entrenched in ever more radical versions of its own ideology. In this
way, individuals and groups allow themselves to be defined by their
opponents. The whole process is largely driven by perceptions gained
through the media and compounded by experiences on social media.
An honest appraisal of events tends to show that traditionalists and
those proposing authentic and autochthonous values are first attacked
by the forces of political correctness and targeted as “racists.” This then
baits the conservative wing into overreacting, pushing both sides into
ever more extreme corners.
But beyond any merely “political” dimension, the Listian tradi-
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tion—with the contributions of men such as Marby, Kummer, and
Spiesberger—also expresses ideas and developed practices that are highly
accessible to the contemporary Western mind. This stream of thought
remains compelling for some. For this reason, in 2018 I re-released my
long-forgotten text written in 1975 as The Runic Magic of the Armanen.
In reality some of the best minds in the reawakening movement,
such as Stefn Thorsman and especially Aelfric Avery, have devoted
themselves to this Armanic branch of the revival. Avery published a
translation of Kummer’s major runic text, Heilige Runenmacht (Holy
Rune Might; 2019) as well as a three-volume study, Armanen Runes and
the Black Sun (Woodharrow Gild, 2018).


Since its genesis in the mid-1970s, its establishment and growth between
1980 and 2011, and its organizational transformation following 2011,
the Rune-Gild has been a remanifestation of the guild of runemasters

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The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology  ª  189

of old. The Gild counts among its ranks an accomplished array of indi-
viduals meant to rival the Florentine academy of the Medicis. This evo-
lution can be experienced in many of its nuances in the volume entitled
History of the Rune Gild (Thorsson 2019), so I do not need to delve too
deeply into it here.
Most importantly, the myth—the esoteric level of self-understand-
ing—of the Gild is that the organization itself, and the individuals
within it, represent, in essence, the reawakening of the ancient network
of runemasters. The material contained in the present volume and in
History of the Rune Gild constitute a record, as brief and incomplete
as it might be, of the long process of this reawakening. Recalling the
methodological lens used in my book The Northern Dawn, in order for
reawakenings of older paradigms to occur, we need to have four factors
present: motivation, freedom, sources, and methods.
Motivation is the desire of individuals or groups to undertake the
work of reawakening slumbering paradigms. This volition is the pri-
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mary factor; without it, any “study” or “contemplation” of archaic pat-
terns is sterile antiquarianism.
Freedom is a factor that has two edges: inner freedom (the psycho-
logical freedom to seek the reawakening) and outer freedom (a political
or cultural condition that allows individuals and groups the engage in
such pursuits). Today this freedom, which in the recent past was taken
for granted, is once more facing challenges.
Sources constitute the concrete data (written or traditional) nec-
essary to effect a reawakening. In the case of the runes, this factor
required centuries of hard work by scholars to once more bring to light
the contents of runic inscriptions and the literary material that supple-
mented and expanded this knowledge-base.
Methods are the intellectual resources necessary to interpret the
source data. These are refined and improved over time, but it is not
always the case that the most recent methods or approaches are the
best. The humanities are especially susceptible to prejudices—be they
religious, philosophical, or political. For this reason, methods can be

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190  ª  The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology

r­ apidly corrupted by external considerations. The traditionalist wants

to uncover the mysteries of how our predecessors thought and conceived
of the runes in order to be informed by these ideas today. We do not
seek to make use of these ideas to further an agenda external to the
prime directive of seeking the mysteries.
All of these factors must be present and cultivated in order to assure
a true reawakening. A review of the contents of this book shows how
the presence of these factors guided and aided the process of the runic
revival and how their absence or corruption disrupted that process.
Essential to the reawakening of the Gild and of the power of the
runes was the development of the esoteric workbook entitled The Nine
Doors of Midgard. This was first published in 1991 and went through
several additional editions over the years. This is the best and most
complete guide to runic studies on an esoteric level, and its program
has even been adapted to other traditions as well.
In some corners the runic revival is increasing in its quality and
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velocity as we enter more fully into the twenty-first century. In other
corners is it just as off-base as it ever was. This revival, or reawakening,
faces many challenges, both from within regarding the enhancement
and growth of the quality of the ideas and works related to it, and from
without as runes and the Germanic are frequently targeted by the thur-
sic forces of “political correctness.” These two challenges are inexorably
linked. The attacks from the outside cannot be allowed to affect the
authentic and inner-driven qualities of the ancestral runic spirit. Most
objective observers would have to agree that it is within the Rune-Gild
that this spirit lives and where it is cultivated. The impeccable scholar
of Western esoteric traditions, Prof. Joscelyn Godwin, Ph.D., writ-
ing in his book The Golden Thread, refers to Edred Thorsson as the
most “active and erudite spokesman” of the philosophically based neo-
Germanic movement (Godwin 2007, 165). The Rune-Gild transcends
the polarized mundane world of contemporary politics, with its often-
superficial conflicts, and reflects the original intertribal network of the
runemasters who freely and authentically sought the mysteries.

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An Integral Runology
for the Future

The runes have been studied and pursued on many levels since the
beginning of the modern age. The growth of scientific or academic run-

For Review Only

ology at first developed only slowly and was always shadowed by what
can be described variously as mystical, magical, and esoteric ideas con-
nected to the runic system. This connection is seen by some to have
been with the tradition from the beginning, whereas others to be a
fantastic misinterpretation of the simple and practical purpose of the
After reviewing the history of the pursuit of the runes and critiqu-
ing the current state of runology—both exoteric and esoteric—our
main purpose here is to suggest ways the study of runes can be made
to be a more integral form of study for individuals and groups of indi-
viduals working together to understand this unique feature of European
culture in a more synthetic way.
The objective, logical, and rational study of the artifacts left behind
from the pre-1500 runic record is a noble pursuit and one that should
be protected from all forms of outside interference, ranging from the
subjective fantasies of individuals to the imposition of agendas from
political ideologies. At the same time, based on the track record of


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192  ª  An Integral Runology for the Future

the past five hundred years, it has to be recognized that the runes will
continue to be a source of fascination in people’s minds, just as they
did during the earlier phases of the runic revival. There will always be
those who let their imaginations run wild over this body of evidence
and those who simply focus on the most mundane dimensions of runic
writing. But these two opposing trends should not be allowed to destroy
the middle ground. Between such extremes of fire and ice lies a way that
requires attention and thought in order that it might be better devel-
oped. This is the pathway of integral runology.
When we review the history of the runic revival, we must first rec-
ognize that the ancient and medieval periods (pre-1500) of runic prac-
tice were filled with phases of innovation, decay, and renewal. The use
of runes was in constant flux, with the major stabilizing influences
remaining in the human institution of the oral tradition, which sup-
ported and transmitted knowledge of the runes apart from literature
and books. This is the institution of rune-learning, which passed from
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teacher to student over the centuries during the times of preliteracy and
highly restricted literacy. This is what we could refer to as the ancient
guild of runemasters. The dawn of the Modern Age brought with it
more widespread literacy and the printing press. With these develop-
ments, the first printed references to the runes appeared and the revival
phase can be said to have truly begun. As our review of the scientific
study of the runes shows, it took approximately three hundred years
for scholars to develop the knowledge-base and methodological tools to
unravel the basic history and development of the runic tradition. The
impediments to these discoveries were mainly a lack of a coherent pic-
ture of the runic record itself (due to the dearth of major editions of
enough inscriptions for scholars to study) and the prevalence of errone-
ous concepts (such as the belief that the sixteen-rune system was older
than the twenty-four-rune system).
In the world of esoteric runology, several strong currents emerged
in the twentieth century. The revolutionary impact of the writings of
Guido von List was remarkable. From the first decade of the twentieth

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An Integral Runology for the Future  ª  193

century, List’s influence is felt in a continuous fashion right up to the

present through the agency of the printed word. Even if the particu-
lars of his theories have been increasingly superseded by an expanded
knowledge-base and ever more traditional ideologies and awareness of
mythic patterns, the power of his poetic vision cannot be denied.The
twentieth century concluded with the foundation of the Rune-Gild as
a more comprehensive and integral view of runology and the transmis-
sion of runic knowledge, and the next century saw the maturation of
that institution.
Of course, it must be realized that the Modern Age generally
brought about the demise of traditional modes of knowledge-transmis-
sion that were based on lineages of oral teaching. But it has compen-
sated for this loss with an expansion of the possibilities of recording the
ideas of people from the past in ways that allow for knowledge to be
transmitted over time and space in a discontinuous fashion. This real-
ity is central to the real mystery of writing itself, which is only intensi-
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fied and expanded by the ability to reproduce the written word more
broadly through the printing press—and now the Internet!
Some would argue that this expansion in the possibilities of the
quantity or volume of such communication inevitably causes a reduc-
tion in the quality of the content of such transmissions. Realizing this
tendency is the first step in taking measures to prevent the decay of
intrinsic quality.
An observable trend in the history of science and scholarship has
been the shift from more general and overarching approaches to ones
dominated by highly specialized studies. This is true in the field of
natural sciences as well as in the humanities. Early in the develop-
ment of scholarly interest in the runes, this trend toward specialization
worked in favor of runology. The study of either biblical or classical
topics, being seen as things that provided general or global perspectives
on knowledge, were challenged by the growth of interest in specialized
national topics that were given new focus and interest in the early mod-
ern period. Previously dismissed as “pagan” or “barbaric,” topics relating

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194  ª  An Integral Runology for the Future

to Germanic or Celtic antiquities attracted rapidly increasing levels of

interest and respect from a new breed of scholars. The repercussions of
this development on runology were dramatic.
The effects of these new approaches to knowledge led to the loss of
an integral understanding of the topics being studied, but by the same
token it also facilitated deeper levels of precision in the analysis of par-
ticular parts of the data. In other words, the discipline fell into the same
conundrum as the rest of the world as regards the effects of modernism
comprehensive knowledge is lost to the particulars, and in the particu-
lars people soon lose sight of the meaning of what it is that they are
endeavoring to understand.
In general, modernism as an ideology is held to be suspect in many
corners today. It is seen as being overspecialized and saddled with erro-
neous conceptions of inevitable progress based on a purely rational
mode of “problem-solving.” The utility of this approach cannot and
should not be denied, but ultimately it may not be best equipped to
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answer many of the most enduring riddles of human existence. In the
field of runology, one of the most significant intrusions of hypermod-
ernistic thinking was introduced by the highly respected and influential
English runologist R. I. Page (1924–2012), who posited the existence
of what he called “skeptical” and “imaginative” runologists. While his
analysis was undoubtedly correct in many respects, the labeling of these
“schools” served to polarize the discipline in a way that was perhaps
unnecessary and counterproductive. His observation had the effect of
exacerbating the division. Of course, his intent may have been akin to
that of one or another of the early Church Fathers, who were anxious to
label ideas as “orthodox” or “heretical” in an attempt to purify doctrine.
In many ways, Page’s imaginary division led to increasingly real
divisions in the science of runology. The academic community, as it
drifted more and more into the cult of political correctness, often con-
sidered the study of runes to be suspect in itself. This suspicion was sup-
ported by the supposed connection between the Nazis and the runes,
but in fact it was more a matter of attempting to eliminate any sort of

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An Integral Runology for the Future  ª  195

interest in pre-1500 European intellectual life, as such interests would

inevitably lead to the discovery of the quality of the values of ancient
Indo-European culture. This was something that had been targeted
for elimination by ideological opponents of Western culture and civi-
lization. The only refuge for many runologists was simply to immerse
themselves ever deeper into the more quantifiable aspects of their study.
The decidedly “unimaginative” school of runology has a death grip on
the discipline in academia, and one that will not be soon broken. Most
recently, another English runologist, Michael P. Barnes, wrote in an
article attempting to define runology: “A meaningful definition of run-
ology must, I think, be narrow. If it is to include archaeology, mythol-
ogy and all kinds of history there might as well be no definition at all”
(Barnes 2013, 27). Simplifying and narrowing one’s focus is a classic
method of ensuring accuracy and thoroughness in academic work, but
if one’s assumed task is the discovery of the actual meaning of the data,
rather than merely an attempt to appear clever in front of one’s peers
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or not to risk losing face before them, then this narrow path will surely
lead into a dark crevasse.
Despite the fact that the hyperspecialization of any discipline will
inevitably lead its practitioners further away from a global and general
understanding of the topic, if these specializations can be harnessed in
a more integral way, the contributions of these particular studies are
invaluable. Specialists devoted to the fields of diachronic linguistics, art
history, archeology (and specifically the data relating to the construc-
tion of runic artifacts), codicology (regarding the manuscript tradition
of the runic record), and a dozen other such fields only deepen and
expand the possibilities for greater understanding.
But it might also be seen that the recent history of the discipline we
know and love as runology is slipping into the paradigm familiar to all
as the parable of the “Blind Men and the Elephant,” which originated
on the Indian subcontinent in ancient times and tells of six learned men
who were blind and who came to study an elephant: each concluded,
based on his own experience depending upon what part of the elephant

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196  ª  An Integral Runology for the Future

he examined, that the object of their study was akin to a wall, a snake,
a spear, a tree, a fan, or a rope. This formed the basis of a clever poem
written by John Godfrey Saxe in 1872, which includes the lines:

And so these men of Indostan

   Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
   Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
   And all were in the wrong!

The poem concludes:

So, oft in theologic wars,

   The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance

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   Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
   Not one of them has seen!

The challenge of integral runology is to bring a global understand-

ing of the field back into the picture without sacrificing the precision of
specialized studies. The object of our study must be seen in its entirety
while maintaining the possibility of analyzing its constituent parts with
precision. If, indeed, we are all blind as we deal with an object as myste-
rious and elusive as the runes represent, then some imagination must be
exercised in order that, even in our blindness and by honestly compar-
ing notes of our understandings, we can construct a model of what the
whole elephant must look like—even if we can only conceive of it in our
To put it another way, as an obscure character in imaginative fic-
tion named “A. Square” discovered when, living in his two-dimensional
world of Flatland, he had an encounter with a certain “A. Sphere,”

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An Integral Runology for the Future  ª  197

whom to A. Square only appears to be a series of progressively larger,

then smaller, circles. What A. Square has encountered is a being from
a three-dimensional world as it passes through his two-dimensional
homeland. A. Square is able to reason out what he has experienced, but
not without a dose of imagination, as he can never directly perceive a
sphere in his two-dimensional universe. Thus, the writer Edwin Abbott
shows us in his little book Flatland (1884) that even A. Square can real-
ize the truth, but not without the application of some imagination. The
formula should probably be something like nine-tenths logical analysis
and objective study coupled with one-tenth imagination.
As we have seen over the course of the history presented in this
book, academic runology has regularly succumbed to various intellec-
tual and ideological trends of the day. In the Storgöticism of the early
modern age as well as in the National Socialism of the early twenti-
eth century, such pressures were obvious. Today it is no different. The
ideological climate of academic institutions in the West has become
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dominated by positivistic and quantitative methodologies that are often
tinged to one degree or another with the assumptions of Marxist criti-
cal theory from the humanities. In general, topics drawn from pre-1500
(pre-Modern) fields are denigrated. Studies that focus on the sym-
bolic and mythic content of pre-Modern European cultures are espe-
cially singled out for elimination in favor of multicultural and “global”
approaches that focus on agendas of social injustice, and so on. Instead
of the natural trend that could be observed from the early 1980s when
interest in runes and runic writing was exploding in the popular culture
and should have been reflected in the expansion of such studies in the
world of academia, they were increasingly and severely curtailed, if not
totally eliminated. Generally speaking, in the instances where runology
does continue to be studied in academic contexts, the trend in recent
years has been toward increased study of runic evidence in connection
with purely linguistic data analysis and other more quantifiable and
thus “safe” aspects.
One of the reasons I wrote this book was to examine the history of

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198  ª  An Integral Runology for the Future

runology on all levels and thereby give current students and profession-
als a better view of the historical context of the pursuit of the meaning
and interpretation of the runes and runic writing. It is my hope that
in the future runology can be increasingly returned to its roots as an
integral contextual study of Germanic culture. Runes are certainly best
understood as a part of a larger cultural context. By the same token,
within the study of runes, all individual artifacts and every group of
related artifacts have to be seen as multidimensional cultural phenom-
ena—a nexus of linguistics, art, ideology, and ethnology.

First of all, it should be realized that runology will always have vari-
ous branches and specialties, and that those who study the runes will
understand and misunderstand them to varying degrees. From a read-
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ing of this study it should now be apparent that this has always been
the case, and recent history only amplifies that conclusion. What
I propose as integral runology is a specialty unto itself, and one that
involves a number of other kinds of study in a balanced synthesis. One
of the main things that the integral runologist will realize is that there
are several ways of approaching runology. They run along a spectrum
from the highly objective and quantified to the exceedingly subjective
and even “personal.” On the one hand, the objective type of studies is
invaluable as the “nuts and bolts” of the discipline. Without this basis,
the resulting writing or research about runes can only be considered
poetry or an exercise in fantasy. On the other hand, the individual who
pursues a hyper-quantifiable form of study certainly runs the risk of
falling into the same trap as those in the parable of “The Blind Men
and the Elephant.” The integral runologist takes the objective findings
of science into account as much as possible, and only uses imagination
and educated guesswork as a way to hermeneutically bridge the gap
between the objective analysis of the data and a holistic interpretation

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An Integral Runology for the Future  ª  199

of what it really means, which includes a consideration of who the origi-

nal creators of these artifacts and texts may have been. Essential to the
approach of the integral runologist is also the acquisition of scientific
knowledge from adjunct fields, such as comparative religion, history of
religion, comparative mythology, anthropology, folklore, and so on, to
broaden and focus his or her perspective and analytical tools.
It would appear that the aims of runologists over the most recent
years have become ever narrower and limited with regard to what they
hope to learn or discover. The integral runologist seeks to broaden
those aims and to attempt to uncover something more about the char-
acter and nature of the individuals who wrote the runic texts over the
centuries, and to learn something of the culture in which they lived
and worked. The hopeless skeptic will argue that we can never know
anything certain about these matters, and so we should cease trying, but
the ever-hopeful Romantic will try to persuade us that we should try
harder, in ever more refined and comprehensive ways, and with a mind
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open to great possibilities. What is needed is an imaginative skepticism
when it comes to runic evidence.
If, as most etymologists agree, the Proto-Germanic word *rūnō
originally signified a “mystery”—that is, an awe-inspiring thing of
unknown qualities deriving from some cosmic source—then the rami-
fications of the meaning of this word should be taken into account in
any approach to an integral runology. Additionally, if the use of this
word by the ancients as a designator of written characters is any indica-
tor, the understanding of this word is an essential part of the pursuit.
A mystery exhorts the observer to solve it. Assuming the cosmic level
of awe ascribed to the runes by the ancients, it may be that runes can
never be completely understood, that our knowledge of them, no mat-
ter how close we come to apprehending them, will remain eternally just
beyond our reach. This circumstance then requires of us to develop ever
more comprehensive methods of investigating them. We can make prog-
ress toward such knowledge, but the nature of their mystery is really
such that it can never be fully grasped, understood, or defined by the

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200  ª  An Integral Runology for the Future

finite intellect of humanity. In any event, such an attitude, if adopted

by the world-be integral runologists, will always instill a healthy dose of
humility—as well as respect—toward the ways the ancient runemasters
thought and expressed themselves.
In the end, the situation revolves around answering to the sort
of questions that arise when confronting the runic inscription on the
Noleby stone (Vätergötland, Sweden, ca. sixth century) that we invoked
at the beginning of this book:

ᚱᚢᚾᛟᚠᚨᚺᛁᚱᚨᚷᛁᚾᛟᚲᚢᛞᛟ [. . .]
runofahiraginaku(n)do [. . .]
rūnō fahi raginakundo . . .
“(A) rune I color, one stemming from the gods . . .”

Was the man who carved these runes more concerned with com-
municating with unseen beings and levels of reality, or was he more
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focused on representing his language in a grammatically correct man-
ner to make himself clear to a human reader? Was he more a magi-
cian or a linguist? If we knew him personally, would he be more like
a priest or a grammar teacher? How to discover greater knowledge
about this man and the thread of those previous generations who
taught him, and the thread of his future descendants in the craft of
runecarving, is the most fascinating central question of integral runol-
ogy. All components of the runic tradition are important and ideally
none should be neglected in favor of another. The big picture is this:
we have lost a great deal, especially in the humanities, in an era of
overspecialization. There is a great role to be played by the generalist
in all fields—someone who can weave all of the cords together into a
coherent and meaningful pattern.
Historically, the runic tradition has been torn between the two
beasts of timid intellect and raging emotion. An authentic inner
approach to the tradition would have to go beyond the hyper-­objectivity
of diehard skeptics who—usually for reasons of career-preservation—

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An Integral Runology for the Future  ª  201

reject any sort of imaginative insight. In equal measure, such an

approach would have to be able to resist the hyper-subjective “spells”
cast by modern “political” agendas of whatever stripe. The traditional
runic system seems clear. The mythic context of runic understanding
is also clear in that it most closely belongs to the Odinic and heroic
(for example, the lineage of the Volsungs) paradigm.* Runes are most
authentically understood from within this mythic paradigm. Other
models of approach are secondary.
In one regard, however, I would agree with the modernistic approach
as it concerns the health and well-being of the future discipline of inte-
gral runology: the scholarly approach must be kept strictly apart from
the esoteric application of knowledge concerning the runes. The inte-
gration of these two aspects is only possible and productive on an indi-
vidual basis and within the confines of a specialized school of thought.
This is rather akin to the Platonic separation between two distinct
forms of knowledge: dianoia (“rational thought”) and noesis (“rational
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intuition”). In the Academy of Plato both were necessary; and dianoia
was the precursor to, and basis of, noesis. This seems a wise course of
thought. For myself, and for the future school of integral runology,
attention should continue to be paid to both branches of knowledge in
order to best understand the ever-mysterious objects of our study.

*Both the Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic rune poems contain a half-dozen
clearly recognizable references to material from the Saga of the Volsungs. There may
be further such references that are too obscure to identify easily.

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Chronology of
the Runic Revival

Historia de Omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque Regibus by

Johannes Magnus
Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus by Olaus Magnus
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De gentium aliquot migrationibus, . . . by Wolfgang Lazius
(1514–1565) makes known the treatise De inventione lit-
terarum (usually attributed to Hrabanus Maurus)
De literis et lingua Getarum, siue Gothorum,  .  .  .  by
Bonaventura Vulcanius (1538–1614) (runica manuscripta)
Runkänslans lärospån by Johannes Bureus
Letter from Granius to Vulcanius with Swedish rune
Runaräfst by Johannes Bureus.
Adulruna by Johannes Bureus completed in its first
De inventione litterarum published in Rerum
Alamannicarum scriptores aliquot vetusti . . ., edited by
Melchior Goldast von Haiminsfeld (1578–1635)
Runa ABC-boken by Johannes Bureus
Fasti Danici by Olaus Wormius


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Chronology of the Runic Revival  ª  203

1630 Office of Riksantikvariet created by King Gustav Adolf

in Sweden
1636 ᚱᚢᚿᛁᛣ , seu Danica literatura antiquissima by Olaus
1642 Last version of the Adulruna completed by Johannes
1643 Danicorum Monumentorum by Olaus Wormius
1643 Codex Regius discovered in Iceland
1651 Second edition published of ᚱᚢᚿᛁᛣ, seu Danica literatura
antiquissima by Wormius
1675 Manuductio ad runographiam by Olaus Verelius; Magnus
Celsius delivers a lecture in which he deciphers the runes
of Hälsingaland
1689 Atlantica (Atland eller Manheim) by Olof Rudbeck
1699 Vita Theodorici regis Osrogothorum et Italiae, auctore
Joanne Cochalaeo, . . . edited by Johan Perinskiöld
For Review Only
Linguarum veterum septentrionalium Thesaurus, . . . by
George Hickes, in which he edits the Old English Rune
1732 Runologia by Jón Ólafsson of Grunnavík
1734 Runic horn of Gallehus discovered
1747 Is Atlinga by Johan Göransson
1750 Bautil, det är Svea ok Götha rikens runstenar by Johan
1811 Götiska Förbund (Gothic Society) founded in Sweden
1815 Manhemsförbund (Manheim’s Society) formed in
1821 Ueber deutsche Runen by Wilhelm Grimm
1832 Run-Lära by Johan G. Liljegren
1825 Svea rikes häfder by Erik Gustaf Geijer
1833 Run-Urkunder by Johan G. Liljegren
1866–1901 The Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and
England (4 vols.) by George Stephens

RevRun.indd 203 10/27/20 2:58 PM

204  ª  Appendix I

1856–1859 Die Urreligion, oder das endeckte Uralphabet (2 vols.) by

Jakob Laurents Studach
1874 Runeskriftens Oprindelse og Udvikling i Norden by Ludvig
1884 Handbook of Old-Northern Runic Monuments of
Scandinavia and England by George Stephens
1885 Die älteren nordischen Runeninschriften by Fritz Burg
1887 Die Runenschrift, new edition and translation of
Wimmer’s 1874 work
1889 Die deutschen Runendenkmäler by Rudolf Henning
1891–1924 Norges Indskrifter med de ældre Runer (3 vols.) by Sophus
Bugge and Magnus Olsen
1900 Ölands Runinskifter, first volume of the ongoing
series Sveriges Runinskrifter: Ursprung der Buchstaben
Gutenbergs by Friedrich Fischbach
1908 Das Geheimnis der Runen by Guido von List
For Review Only
“Om Troldruner” by Magnus Olsen
Runornas Talmystik och dess antika Förbild by Sigurd
1930 Die Hochzeit der Menschheit by Rudolf John Gorsleben
1931–1935 Marby Rune book series (8 vols.) by Friedrich Bernard
1932 Heilige Runenmacht by Siegfried Adolf Kummer
1939 Die einheimischen Runendenkmäler des Festlandes by
Helmut Arntz and Hans Zeiss
1941/42 Danmarks Runindskrifter (3 vols.) by Erik Moltke and
Lis Jacobsen
1942 Islands Runeindskrifter by Anders Bæksted
1952 Målruner og Troldruner by Anders Bæksted
1955 Runenemagie by Karl Spiesberger
1966 Die Runeninscriften im älteren Futhark by Wolfgang
Krause and Herbert Jankuhn

RevRun.indd 204 10/27/20 2:58 PM

Chronology of the Runic Revival  ª  205

Manuscript of “A Primer of Runic Magic” by S. Edred
Thorsson completed; Yggdrasil group founded in Sweden
Manuscript of Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic
by Edred Thorsson completed; Rune-Gild founded on
December 20
The Book of Runes by Ralph Blum
Publication of Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic by
Edred Thorsson
Nytt om Runer first published
The Rundata (Scandinavian Runic-text Data Base) proj-
ect initiated
First World-Moot of the Rune-Gild held in Austin, Texas
Futhark: An International Journal of Runic Studies first

For Review Only

RevRun.indd 205 10/27/20 2:58 PM


Runic Origins of the

“Peace Sign”
(Originally published in Runes IV:5 [1986])

In the early 1960s a curious sign, which until then had been unknown
For Review Only
to most people, became prevalent. It could be seen on buttons, on the
sides of microvans, and often painted or drawn on neighborhood build-
ings. Perhaps it was first noticed as a sign carried in various left-wing


RevRun.indd 206 10/27/20 2:58 PM

Runic Origins of the “Peace Sign”  ª  207

demonstrations for peace and/or nuclear disarmament. It came to be

known popularly as the “peace sign.”
Among rune occultists it is popular to assume that anything that
is rune-like is in fact, on some level, actually runic, that is to say, mys-
terious or magical in character. While such forms of ascriptive magical
thinking when kept under control can be made meaningful, it might be
interesting first to find out whether a given rune-like sign has factually
runic roots. In the case of the “peace sign,” this can be shown.
Some years ago, I read an account of this sign that was highly unsat-
isfactory. It stated that the sign was made up of a combination of two
letters, N + D, from some obscure alphabet or another, and that these
letters stood for “Nuclear Disarmament.” Furthermore, it was reported
that the sign was first developed and used by British anti-nuclear activ-
ists in the early 1960s. Later I was to discover that the “alphabet” in
question was the semaphore signal system in which stood for N and |
stood for D. The resulting sign, , was in fact seen in protest groups,
For Review Only
but it is distinctly different from the more familiar “peace sign.” It seems
beyond doubt that the latter sign was also used by such groups at that
time, but was it their invention or did they borrow it from some previ-
ous source?
As it turns out, the use of this sign was not new to the Left in the
1960s. It had been used, for example, by the anti-Nazi Left in Germany
itself and also by clever Russian propagandists on the eastern front.
Actually, it is an example of the use of a group’s internal symbolism
against itself. In the esoteric runology of the early twentieth century,
chiefly originated by Guido von List and his followers, the sign ᛣ indi-
cated “death.” This is in contrast to the sign ᛉ, which meant “life.” This
symbolism quickly spread to popular use in early twentieth-century
Germany, so that even certain newspapers began to print the dates of a
person’s birth and death prefixed by the signs ᛉ and ᛣ, respectively, for
example: Guido von List ᛉ 1848 – ᛣ 1919. Some papers continued the
practice long after the war. It was well established that these symbols
essentially stood for “life” and “death.” (Perhaps it should be noted that

RevRun.indd 207 10/27/20 2:58 PM

208  ª  Appendix II

far-right-wing organizations have also taken up the “life rune” as a sym-

bol, for example, on the masthead of the National Vanguard.)
The Russians, as the Red Army advanced toward Berlin, distrib-
uted leaflets urging the Germans to give up the fight, telling them that
the war was lost and that only death awaited them. These leaflets were
decorated with the “peace sign”—in this case a sign of death. In the
example below, we see a propaganda poster alerting the German Leftists
that Heinrich Himmler (that is, the SS) was to assume responsibility
for internal security in Germany as he had done in various lands the
Germans had conquered—wherein massive genocide had been prac-
ticed. “Now it’s OUR turn!!” the poster declares. Note the use of the
“death rune.”

For Review Only

It would seem that the sign was later taken up by Leftists. Doubtless,
this was due as much to its mysterious allure (common to runic symbols
in general) as to its associations with previous causes.

RevRun.indd 208 10/27/20 2:58 PM

Runic Origins of the “Peace Sign”  ª  209

This can be taken as an example of the power of attraction possessed

by certain signs, a kind of “command to look” (esoteric geometry),* and
also as an example of the use of cultural associations with signs being
used in a mode of psychological warfare. It may be a fact that if such
signs have their roots in the deep psyche of the group being targeted,
they will be far more effective than if they are arbitrary and wholly arti-
ficial. In this form of black magic, of course, Madison Avenue has far
outstripped both Moscow and Berlin.

For Review Only

*This concept is further discussed in my article “The Command to Look” (Flowers

2019b); for its original explication, see William Mortensen and George Dunham,
The Command to Look: A Master Photographer’s Method for Controlling the Human
Gaze (Feral House, 2014).

RevRun.indd 209 10/27/20 2:58 PM


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Altheim, Franz. 1939. Vom Ursprung der Runen. Frankfurt/Main: Deutsches
Andersson, Björn. 1997. Runor, magi, ideologi. Uppsala: Swedish Science Press.

For Review Only

Anttila, Tero. 2015. The Power of Antiquity: The Hyperborean Research Tradition
in Early Modern Swedish Research on National Antiquity. Dissertation,
University of Oulu.
Arntz, Helmut. 1938. Die Runenschrift: Ihre Geschichte und ihre Denkmäler.
Halle/Saale: Niemeyer.
———. 1944. Handbuch der Runenkunde. Second edition. Halle/Saale:
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Festlandes. Leipzig: Harrassowitz.
Aswynn, Freya. 1988. The Leaves of Yggdrasil. London: Aswynn.
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Woodharrow Gild.
Bæksted, Anders. 1942. Islands Runeindskrifter. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
———. 1952. Målruner og Troldruner: Runemagiske Studier. Copenhagen:
Balzli, Johannes. 1917. Guido von List: Der Wiederentdecker uralter arischer
Weisheit. Vienna: Guido-von-List-Gesellschaft.


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For Review Only

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For Review Only

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Uralphabet. 2 vols. Stockholm: Bonnier.
Svennung, Josef. 1967. Zur Geschichte des Goticismus. Stockholm: Almqvist &
Svärdström, Elisabeth. 1936. Johannes Bureus’ Arbeten om Svenska Runinskrifter.
Stockholm:Wahlström & Widstrand.
Tacitus, Cornelius. 1948. The Agricola and the Germania. Translated by H.
Mattingly. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
———. 1975. The Histories. Translated by K. Wellesley. Harmondsworth, UK:
Tegtmeier, Ralph. 1988. Runen: Alphabet der Erkenntis. Freiburg/Breisgau:
Thorsson, Edred. 1984. Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic. York Beach, Me.:
———. 1987. Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology. York Beach, Me.:

RevRun.indd 217 10/27/20 2:58 PM

218  ª  Bibliography

———. 1988. At the Well of Wyrd. York Beach, Me.: Weiser.

———. 1989. Rune Might: The Secret Practices of the German Rune Magicians.
St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn.
———. 1991. The Nine Doors of Midgard: A Curriculum of Rune-work. St. Paul,
Minn.: Llewellyn.
———. 1992. Northern Magic: Mysteries of the Norse, Germans and English. St.
Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn.
———. 1996. Green Rûna: The Runemaster’s Notebook: Shorter Works of Edred
Thorsson, Volume 1 (1978–1985). Smithville, Tex.: Rûna-Raven.
———. 2006. Mainstays from Rune-Kevels, Volume 1 (1993-1998). Smithville,
Tex.: Rune-Gild.
———. 2012. Alu: An Advanced Guide to Operant Runology. San Francisco:
———. 2016. The Nine Doors of Midgard: A Curriculum of Rune-work. Fifth
revised and expanded edition. South Burlington, Vt.: Rune-Gild.
———. 2018. Rune Might: The Secret Practices of the German Rune Magicians.
Third revised and expanded edition. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions.

For Review Only

———. 2019. History of the Rune-Gild: The Reawakening of the Gild, 1980–
2018. North Augusta, S.C.: Gilded Books.
Thorsson, S. Edred. 2018. The Runic Magic of the Armanen. [Originally written
in 1975.] Bastrop: Runestar.
Tyson, Donald. 1988a. Rune Magic. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn.
———. 1988b. The New Magus: Ritual Magic as a Personal Process. St. Paul,
Minn.: Llewellyn.
Wawn, Andrew. 2002. The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North
in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Woodbridge: Brewer.
Weber, Edmund. 1941. Kleine Runenkunde. Berlin: Nordland.
Weigel, Karl Theodor. 1937. Runen und Sinnbilder. Berlin: Metzner.
———. 1943. Beiträge zur Sinnbildforschung. Berlin: Metzner.
———. 1936. “Unsere Stellung zu den Runen.” SS-Leitheft 2: 56–58.
Weitzel, Fritz. 1939. Die Gestaltung der Feste im Jahres- und Lebenslauf in der
SS-Familie. Wuppertal: Völkischer Verlag.
Wild, Leon D. 2004. The Runes Workbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Learning
the Wisdom of the Staves. San Diego: Thunder Bay.
Wiligut, Karl Maria [Lobesam]. 1903. Seyfrids Runen. Vienna: Schalk.
Willis, Tony. 1986. The Runic Workbook: Understanding and Using the Power of

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Bibliography  ª  219

Runes. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian.

Wilser, Ludwig. 1905. Zur Runenkunde: Zwei Abhandlungen. Leipzig:
Akademischer Verlag.
Wimmer, Ludvig F. A. 1887. Die Runenschrift. Translated into German by F.
Holthausen. Berlin: Weidmann.
Wirth, Herman. 1928. Der Aufgang der Menschheit: Untersuchungen zur
Geschichte der Religion, Symbolik und Schrift der atlantisch-nordischen
Rasse. Jena: Diederichs.
———. 1931–1936. Die heilige Urschrift der Menschheit: Symbolgeschichtliche
Untersuchungen diesseits und jenseits des Nordatlantik. 2 vols. Leipzig:
Koehler & Amelang.
Yates, Frances. 1978. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Boulder: Shambhala.

Academic Runology
Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies. 2010–present.

For Review Only

Nytt om Runer: Meldingsblad om runeforskning. 1985–2008.

Esoteric Runology
Hagal: Ur-Sprache, Ur-Schrift, Ur-Sinn. Published by the Edda-Gesellschaft.
1934, 1936–1938.
Hag All/All Hag: Zeitschrift für arische Freiheit. Published by the Edda-
Gesellschaft, Mittenwald, 1933.
Runen: Zeitschrift für germanische Geistesoffenbarungen und Wissenschaften.
Merkblatt für den Freundschaftsgrad des Germanen-Ordens Walvater.
Magdeburg: Germanen-Orden Walvater, 1918–1929.

RevRun.indd 219 10/27/20 2:58 PM


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Not For Resale
Revival of the Runes
The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention
of the Germanic Runes

The scientific and esoteric history of runic studies from

the Renaissance to the modern era
• Explores the five periods of runic revival: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romantic
period, the early 20th century, and the late 20th century
• Examines the use of runes by the foremost magicians and scholars of each era, including mystic
and scholar Johannes Bureus, who developed his own integrated system of runology known as
• Reveals how the Nazi misguided use of the runes showed a lack of comprehension of what was
being discovered by scientific rune scholars of the day

In this exploration of the history of the runes from 1500 CE to the present day, Stephen Edred
Flowers examines the five periods of runic revival: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the
Romantic period, the early 20th century, and the late 20th century. For each period, he discusses

For Review Only

both the scholarly studies and those focused on the esoteric mysteries of the runes—and how these
two branches of study were at first intertwined yet diverged in later revivals. Focusing in particular
on the first runic revival, Flowers examines the use of runes during the Renaissance by the foremost
magicians and scholars of the era, including mystic and scholar Johannes Bureus, the “grandfather
of integral runology,” who developed his own system known as Adalruna.
In his examination of the runic reawakenings of the early and late 20th century, Flowers looks at
how the runes were employed as part of a reassessment of Germanic identity, one school of which
led to Nazi Germany. He explains how the Nazi use and abuse of the runes was misguided and
revealed a lack of comprehension of what earlier rune scholars had discovered through their exten-
sive studies of the past. He also offers a fresh look at the work of Guido von List and clears him of
his guilt by association with the Nazis.
Detailing the multilayered history of the runes, the author reveals the integrated way the prede-
cessors of today’s rune workers thought and conceived of the runes, highlighting how their discov-
eries helped shape modern magical practices and scholarly studies. He calls for a return of integral
runology as was practiced during the Renaissance and before. By reuniting the two branches of
runic study, blending the scientific with the magical, we make way for new discoveries in runology
and a chance for a full-scale reawakening of integrated runic knowledge.
Stephen Edred Flowers, Ph.D., received his doctorate in Germanic languages and medieval stud-
ies from the University of Texas at Austin and studied the history of occultism at the University of
Göttingen, Germany. The author of more than 25 books, including Lords of the Left-Hand Path and
Original Magic, he lives near Smithville, Texas.

Inner Traditions • ISBN 978-1-64411-178-9 • $19.99 (CAN $24.99) Paper

Also available as an ebook • 240 pages, 6 x 9 • 35 black-and-white illustrations
Rights: World • Spirituality/Occult

March 2021