Monday, April 1, 2013

Runes 102 - Book Review - The Rune Primer

Shortly after I started this blog, someone suggested that I get a book called The Rune Primer: A Down-to-Earth Guide to the Runes, by Sweyn Plowright.  Heeding this advice, I bought the book, because I had been relying on Blum's, Book of Runes.  However, I was already aware of the the issues with that book, but had not found another book that resonated with me.

This book was a pleasant surprise and suited me well, because it deals primarily with the facts about what we know about the Runes.  In fact, Plowright states flat out in his introduction that the purpose of the book is "to keep it brief and to the point, to stick to the known facts and established conventions, and to avoid unnecessary elaborations."  To that end, Plowright fulfilled his goal.

His approach worked well for me, because I sought a deeper understanding of individual Runes.  Moreover, I found that the simplicity of the book allowed me to more openly and confidently interpret the Runes in a way that felt comfortable and accurate and allowed me to grow with the way I understand them.  Plus, as someone whose life has been spent in academia and around academics and researchers, I connected with his focus on factual information without a bunch of detailed interpretations or or his own influences.

In fact,  I use his book as much more of a workbook or reference book, because of the contents.  It contains the Rune poems in two ways.  First, he lists all three together for each Rune.  In the "Resources"section of the book, he lists them again by location (Old English, Old Icelandic,and Old Norwegian).  In this section he includes the original text and the modern translation.  In addition, there is an interpretation section, but, even within that, the details do not overwhelm the reader, rather give broad strokes and allow the reader to development his/her own more detailed sense of each Rune.

Plowright is also what I would consider a purist.  This has both positive and negative connotations.  I appreciate his desire to be as historically accurate with Rune use and interpretation as possible.  As I undertake to make my first set of Runes (Runes 301 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8), I am trying to make them in the same historically accurate fashion, because it is important to me.  However, on some level, he scorns some of the modern day, new age, uses of Runes, because they are not based on known information or historical sources.  While I appreciate this, I think it is important for there to be some evolution in Rune interpretation to keep them relevant to today's lifestyle.

For example, Fehu translates literally as cattle, but it has evolved into the idea of wealth and, following on that, the reality that wealth has many forms beyond mere financial gains.  My guiding Rune is Jera; it represents the harvest, but for me, the harvest is simply the final stage in a long focused process and it is the process idea where I use Jera, because if we want to have a successful harvest, whether it is growing crops, writing a book or any other endeavor, we must acknowledge the process and work with it.

The Rune Primer is a great resource for those looking for a solid entrance into using Runes and I recommend it for that.  Even with his negative scrutiny of some modern authors and Rune users, Plowright does make some very important points - you should ask critical questions, understand where authors derive their information, and have a basic understanding of the history and origin of Runes - and I recommend it for that too.


  1. I have two question areas: 1) Why did the Vikings not develop the runes into a written langauge. 2) Where are the vowels - not all of our Scandinavian vowel sounds are represented in the futhark.

    1. they used it as writing, just not the way we approach it from a modern perspective. it was much more of a labor, and appears to have been reserved for Important Things - carving names into weapons, runestone memorials. as i recall there are some that amount to graffiti in byzantium attributed to soldiers in the Varangian Guard, and carved into spoils from raids that were found in grave sites... but as i said before, it was not the sort of literacy we are accustomed to today so it wasn't used the way we use the written word. as far as the sounds, keep in mind we are dealing with a far, far older language. modern icelandic is reportedly the closest living relative. i would guess that is in a large part where the differences are. this is all off the top of my head, so i apologize if i got something wrong or missed something, it has been a while since i did that sort of research.

  2. Congrats on the excellent review. Just one clarification. Many folk read the book as a strictly "purist" perspective. However, see page 7. It is not saying anything against modern interpretations, only against some who claim that their modern systems are "traditional". It is only a call for honesty and clarity, not a criticism of the innovations themselves.

    **** From the book:

    As we look at the modern writers, we need to identify their
    sources and influences. This may sometimes seem to be harsh
    or even negative. This is not the intention. Sometimes we
    need to clear the ground before laying foundations. All of the
    popular writers on esoteric runology have introduced
    significant non-Germanic or personal inventions and
    influences. This is not necessarily bad in itself, but we should
    have the choice to accept or reject those imports on the basis
    of their origins and relationship to the system as a whole. We
    should not just accept anything as “authentic” on the word of
    any self-proclaimed authority.

    1. Thank you for this really thoughtful comment. I appreciate it. You are correct in everything you said and I think your quote from the book is the perfect clarification of my comments. Perhaps "scornful" was not the best word; maybe I should have said he questions it.

  3. Ah finally! I've been debating a Rune book to buy to get me started but can never find quite what I'm looking for - facts. I want to first have facts before I get started reading other's interpretations... and thanks to finding you on Pinterest I've found this book! Thank you for the wonderful review. I will be purchasing this one very soon.