Revival of the Runes: The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes - Stephen E. Flowers Ph.D. 2021
The Esoteric Revival After List
The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth
(Phase II: 1919—1935)
After the end of the First World War, Germany became increasingly fascinated 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 organizations in Germany. In 1912 he published his most remarkable contribution 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 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 periodical 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 Latin 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 (1925, no. 1, pp. 13—14). It followed a translation of the Old Norse poem Hávamál (stanzas 138—65), 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 heavens 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 favorable 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 individual runestaves have to say, you will gradually learn for yourself.
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, bondage. 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 = negation, 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, sickness, bodily aches; ᛇ = sunshine, becoming, ascent, money.
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 1930 work of Rudolf John Gorsleben (1883—1930) titled Die Hoch-Zeit der Menschheit (The Zenith of Humanity). The runology followed by Gorsleben is essentially that of List, with additional ideas of his own and others taken from other contemporary runeesotericists. 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 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 socalled 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 modern man has otherwise lost. Gorsleben, as was the case with many contemporary 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 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 practices 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 symbolism of more standard Western occultism.
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 the 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 he 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.
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, titled 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 exercises and mantras is closely linked to the work of Marby. An unfortunate 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—12) and two of his works, Rune-Magic (Kummer 1993) and Holy Rune Might (Woodharrow Gild, 2019), have been translated into English.
In the high tide of the runic renaissance there were dozens of writers and private occultists dealing with the runes. Every sort of magical 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 teachings of this magical order, see my book The Fraternitas Saturni (Flowers 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 archetype 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 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—so as 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 . . .