Monday, February 24, 2014

Runes 102- Book Reviews - Rudiments of Runelore

Rudiments of Runelore by Stephen Pollington, is a quirky little book that I'd recommend to anyone who is interested in gaining a more academic understanding of the Runes and their origins and historical use as an alphabet.  In his book, Pollington avoids the New Age slant on Runes, instead approaching them from a very linguistic and Viking-Age and earlier perspective.

I really liked that he stated flatly that his intention was "to look at the runes themselves, their origins, what they were used for and how they were used."  He follows what he calls a common sense approach, addressing questions like what Runes are and where they originated.

All of this he does primarily from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, which is interesting, because many people come at the Runes with a purely Norse perspective even when using the Elder Futhark.  We must remember, though, that the Runes are Germanic, which includes at least Germany, Scandinavia, England, and the Netherlands.

When discussing Rune origins, Pollington comes from two locations and is potentially talking about two different sets of shapes that are considered runic.  In northern Europe and southern Scandinavia, he cites geometric shapes that occur in rock carvings, such as zig-zags, circles, and crosses.  The other location is in the southern Alps and links to an alphabetic script related to Etruscan writing.  Beyond this, Pollington walks his readers through how Germanic people may have come to use Runes and assures us that Runes were used widely by about 1800-2000 years ago.  Though not a primary concern of the book, he does mention and relate some uses to magical purposes.

Perhaps supporting his academic approach, he includes the Rune poems in both their native language and an English translation, as he does base arguments on them.  Even Pollington's interpretation of each Rune and its meaning bears his academic background and a fair bit of linguistic information, but offer some intriguing ideas.  For example, he refers to Hagalaz as the first winter Rune and Isa as the last before Jera brings spring.  Perhaps the interpretation that most caught my eye was Nauthiz, within which he includes distress and adversity.  This is quite a different idea on the notion of need and, in fact, is the emotional aspect or result of having a need.

Pollington also includes a section on Runic cryptography, whereby Runes are used in written (Latin alphabet) texts to serve as secret codes.  There are plenty of examples of this provided too.  Still, one of the most engaging bits of information in this book comes in chapter 5, when Pollington discusses the Norfolk 'Tiw' Runes.  I won't give it away here; I encourage you to read it.  All I will say is it has to do with the word 'alu' and gives a few examples as to how it may have been used.

This book is great for people who are still trying to get a sense of the Runes and would like a solid grounding in factual information, that is to say what is actually known, before venturing off into different perspectives.  Don't let the word 'academic' taint this book.  It's not dry or boring as the word might imply.  It is interesting.  Between this book and The Rune Primer, the reader can establish a good foundation for exploring and using the Runes.

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