Saturday, February 18, 2017
Runes 102 - Book Reviews - Icelandic Magic
Icelandic Magic: Practical Secrets of the Northern Grimoires, by Stephen Flowers, left me wanting more, but not for the reasons you might think. The book is divided into two parts. The first part provided a backdrop into which Icelandic magic occurred and it was informative. But, it was the second part (beginning with chapter 9),which is supposed to be "a unique book of magic in the traditional Icelandic form", that I felt was lacking guidance and that is where I really wanted more.
In Part One, Flowers provides an overview of the world in which Icelandic magic developed and existed. He covers some chronology and includes information on how Christian and southern magical influences played roles in it as well. It was interesting to see how they merged in many regards; for example, he talks about a medieval Rune stick (yes, carved in Runes) that uses "a Christian magical formula to allow for easy childbirth". Even though the words were carved in Runes, the words themselves were Latin and talked about Christ, Elizabeth who gave birth to John the Baptiste, and the Lord. Flowers also notes that single spells included references to Norse gods and goddesses, alongside the Christian god and Christian demons.
During his chronology, he highlights a few key Icelandic magicians, all of whom had ties to the church as bishops, vicars or predating Christianity and serving as goði (priest, chieftain) and whom are described in greater detail later. This leads into a discussion of the Icelandic books of magic, which I felt was the most enlightening pieces of the book. If you read only one chapter of this book, choose this one. Although it is just an overview of magic books, it helped to paint a picture of the important historical magic books and their influences.
After this, the book began to get confusing for me, but I thought things would fall into place when I got to chapter 8, which covers preparation and inner work and they begin to. Flowers claims the outer preparation - setting the ritual space - requires less effort than the inner preparation. This made sense. With regard to inner work, he says, "These skills of concentration, visualization, and memorization that are the ones that the ancients took for granted and that modern people almost entirely neglect." By taking them for granted, he means that the ancients understood that they had to undertake these preparations. It went without saying. When we don't do that today, the result is "magical failure".
Chapter 9 is the last chapter before part 2 of the book and it is also where I began to lose interest and feel like I am being deprived of some pivotal information that would help me understand his overview of the process better. I found many of his explanations lacking and his focus on invoking Odin incomplete. I confess that I work with the Elder Futhark and acknowledge that the ancient magicians would have used the Younger Futhark, but that is secondary to my ability to understand the process that he lays out in terms of the inner work. While I understand Odin's role in the Runes, when I invoke a god for Rune work, I choose Heimdall. So, what does it mean to use another god or even the goddess Freyja and incorporate aspects of seiðr?
The final piece, Part Two - Gray Skin - was really disappointing. Flowers states that it is a unique book of magic in the traditional Icelandic form and it contains work done in the Rune-Gild, a group that he formed in 1980. The struggle that I have with this piece is that he doesn't provide a single example as to how these spells were derived or arrived at or how to enact them. It is that understanding that I need where this book falls short for me.
This book is not the kind of Rune work that I do or am interested in and, with a few exceptions, was not for me. That doesn't mean that you would not find some benefit in it. I did find the historical context to be helpful.