Monday, July 29, 2013

Runes 102 - Book Reviews - Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic

This book was a bear for me to get through.  Although there were parts that I liked, there seemed to be many more that didn't click with me.  I found much of the information in Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic, by Edred Thorsson constituted his own deductions about the Runes, but provided no context or references for them.

Thorsson's knowledge of the historical aspect of Runes solid and there are many moments in the book, where the writing flows almost poetically.  For example, on the very first page, he explains Runes like this:
"It is this form that is inscribed as a symbol for a formless and timeless idea."
It's well said and eloquent and I hoped for more of this throughout the rest of the book.  In fact, there were snippets from some of the Rune interpretations, that I really liked, such as when he referred to Kenaz as "the ability and will to generate and create" and likened it to a Rune for craftspeople and artists.

His description of Nauthiz as "will-directed action" really empowered the definition of that Rune for me too.  Some of the ideas in his chapter on Rune Work were also interesting and I think they could be a great tool for those looking to expand or contemplate new and different ways to engage with the Runes.

However, overall, this book simply did not resonate with me.  I found myself constantly questioning Thorsson's interpretations of Rune meanings.  I wasn't questioning whether he was right or wrong, rather wanting to know his source for the deductions and claims he made.  I wanted to understand how he drew his conclusions.  For example, he claims "Fehu is the raw archetypal energy of motion and expansion in the multiverse" and that it is the "basic force of fertility."  But, I don't understand how he reaches these conclusion and that is a question I need to have answered for my own understanding.

Perhaps the biggest issue I had with Thorsson's interpretations is with Mannaz, when he states that Heimdall is Odin in "one of his many guises".  I researched Heimdall for two years when I was writing my novel, The Son of Nine Sisters, and never found any indication that he was anything other than a god and entity to himself.  I'm not saying the information showing this to be true doesn't exist, rather that, if Thorsson has such evidence, he needs to show it to me.

On a broader scale, it may well be that this book doesn't resonate with me because of its presentation.  Thorsson presents almost everything from a cosmological or multiverse external experience as a way to engage and understand the Runes, whereas my engagement with them is grounded in an Earth or Midgard-based perspective.  Maybe the complexity with which he approaches the topic is lost on me.

Of course, I have talked to people whose response to this book was similar to mine and I know people who love it.  I say this to point out that Futhark is not a bad book; it just wasn't the book for me.  That is why personal choice is so important and one of the things I love about the Runes.  Each person has to figure out for themselves how to interpret them and what better way to do that than by reading a variety of perspectives.

Will I use this book as a reference source in my work with the Runes?  Yes.  Will I use it often?  Probably not.  My go to book is The Rune Primer.

Regardless of my thoughts on Thorsson's Futhark, it is one that should be a part of any undertaking to learn the Runes, because it does provide a unique point of view.


  1. This is one of Thorsson's older texts and contains theories he later dismisses as inaccurate within his more recent work. I'd recommend ALU as a better text.

  2. This was written over 30 years ago and was based on an earlier manuscript dealing with the Armenen Runes and Rune masters in early 20th century Germany. He then revised it a little and made it conform to the Elder Futhark. While still maintaing a lot of influence from this modern rune system. He acknowledges all of it but still views it as essential reading to understand the scope of his works on the runes. It is the first in a trilogy which also includes Runelore, and Runecaster's Handbook: At the Well of Wyrd. Alu: An Advanced Guide to Operative Runology is not considered to belong to this grouping but something for the more advanced student who has a decent understanding of the Runes. Runelore give the most extensive treatment to historical information on the runestaves and their development over time. The other chunk is the esoteric part of his tradition. It is considered the textbook for the Rune-Gild curriculum. At the well of wyrd is short but sweet and has some insightful things within. Alu is very well done and perhaps one of his best works on the staves. He gives only a brief mention of the historical development of the staves as he is expecting the person to have read his other books and be familiar. After reading Runelore which includes much that you read in other books (A lot of his heaviest critics also use him as a source without giving credit, including runesters as well as authors) as well information from the other two and gets tedious with so much historical info,I love historical info but with the already encountered info it gets to you, it is somewhat of a relief. He also gives an extensive treatment and advocation of the English Futhorc for the purposes of writing modern English.