Postwar Scientific Runology - The Runic Renewal

Revival of the Runes: The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes - Stephen E. Flowers Ph.D. 2021

Postwar Scientific Runology
The Runic Renewal

Of course, scientific runology continued along its way with little to no regard for any of these purely occult ideas. Most of the credentialed and legitimate runologists in Germany continued to work after the war regardless of their attitudes or positions during the Nazi regime. However, Helmut Arntz seems to have been so embittered by his treatment during those dark days that he devoted himself to other academic and writing pursuits after 1945.

In 1966, Wolfgang Krause published his important compendium Die Runeninschriften im älteren Futhark (The Runic Inscriptions in the Older Futhark) with archaeological contributions by Herbert Jankuhn. Both of these men had been involved with the Ahnenerbe during the war, but these past events were allowed to fade into the background as life went on. Krause’s edition of this body of inscriptions remains the standard today.

Scandinavian runology continued to develop and became better represented as an academic discipline in the major universities and museums of all of the Nordic countries.

In 1952 the Danish runologist Anders Bæksted (1906—1968) wrote a rather scathing critique of the widespread assumptions concerning the magical nature of the runes in his landmark work Målruner og Troldruner (Speech Runes and Magic Runes). Most scholars from the beginning had taken for granted that the runes had something to do with magic and mysteries given the constant reference to them in this regard in medieval literature as well as the contents of many inscriptions that seemed to corroborate this idea. Bæksted inaugurated the school of “skeptical” scientific runologists and called upon all runologists to be more careful and questioning in their approaches to runic evidence.

Despite a new wave of skepticism, the school of runic interpretation that took possible numerical symbolism into account would find its grandest and last great expression in the work of the Freiburg professor Heinz Klingenberg (b. 1934) titled Runenschrift—Schriftdenken—Runeninschriften (Runic Writing—The Ideology of Writing and Runic Inscriptions) published in 1973. He used the idea of gematria to its full effect. His interpretation of the inscription on the runic horn of Gallehus even brings into consideration the phi-ratio and the iconography on the elaborately decorated horn. The horn was made of gold and was obviously used as a drinking vessel for religious or cultic purposes. As regards the runic inscription on the horn, which is executed around the rim of the horn in a circular arrangement, Klingenberg notes certain numerical patterns that seem to defy random chance. The inscription reads:


The values of these runes given as numerals would be:

ek HlewigastiR HoltijaR horna tawido

“I, Hlewagast Holt (’man of the grove,’ or ’descendant of Holt’), made the horn.”

The division between words by four vertical dots is reckoned as being important, and they are given the numerical value of 4.


Note that the number of runes in the sections marked off by the word dividers also indicates the number with the multiplier of thirteen in the formulas above. According to Klingenberg, these formulas are recurring references to the number thirteen, the numeric equivalent of the rune eihwaz (ᛇ), which he logically connects to the World Tree from Germanic mythology. This simple presentation of Klingenberg’s theories only barely scratches the surface of what he does in his erudite analysis. Many have dismissed such analysis as “too speculative,” yet when we look at the inscription in question and the object upon which it was executed, and couple this with the fact that the inscription refers to the making of the horn, not the inscription—a horn that is covered with arcane symbols of obviously mythic or religious importance—one must pause before dismissing an interpretation such as that of Klingenberg out of hand.

Another important speculative field of runology that has continued to enjoy some energy focuses on the mythic and cosmological meanings and contexts of the rune-names themselves. As we know, these names are well attested for in the Old English and Old Norse traditions of the Anglo-Saxon and Younger Futhark, respectively, but for the Older Futhark period we must rely on reconstructions of the names. Both Krause and Arntz had been enthusiasts for this mythic line of thinking, while others such as Friedrich von der Leyen, Wolfgang Jungandreas, and Karl Schneider devoted special, and sometimes extensive, studies to the topic. Karl Schneider (1912—1998) was a professor of Old English philology at the University of Münster whose 1951 dissertation, Die germanischen Ruenennamen: Versuch einer Gesamtdeutung (The Germanic Rune-Names: Attempt at a Comprehensive Interpretation), was published in book form in 1956. In this study, he speculates that the rune-names are reflective of deep Germanic and even Indo-European cultural and religious concepts. In this he is not original, but he does take the structural relationships of these concepts to a new level. He presents runic pairs arranged by means of a series of twelve concentric circles by which the first and last rune (ᚠ:ᛟ) belong to the outermost circle, and so on. The resulting pairs are analyzed as belonging to certain circles of meaning, from the inside out, as follows:

1 = The circle of destiny: ᛃ:ᛈ

2 = Circle of primeval being (circle of the αρχη of life): ᚺ:ᛇ

3 = Circle of cold (or death): ᛁ:ᛉ

4 = Circle of warmth: ᚾ:ᛋ

5 = Circle of the warrior clan: ᚹ:ᛏ

6 = Circle of giving: ᚷ:ᛒ

7 = Circle of the luminous conception of the beyond: ᚲ:ᛗ

8 = Circle of light: ᚱ:ᛖ

9 = Circle of the dark conception of the beyond: ᚨ:ᛚ

10 = Circle of fertility in the human sphere: ᚦ:ᛜ

11 = Circle of fertility in the animal-vegetable sphere: ᚢ:ᛞ

12 = Circle of ownership: ᚠ:ᛟ

It should be noted that Schneider considered the order of the thirteenth and fourteenth runes to be ordered ᛈ—ᛇ, which is a reversal of how are typically assumed to be sequenced.

Beyond these perceived runic dyads, Schneider also proposed a more elaborated view of the dyadic relationship between adjacent runes in the futhark order. Jungandreas and others had recognized the special relationship between neighboring runes such as ᚠ:ᚢ, ᚦ:ᚨ, and so forth, but Schneider took this a step further and noted how these dyads related to the next dyad in an almost interweaving, or interlocking, pattern. He counts nineteen dyads as relevant in this analysis (it is only with certain dyads that he sees the interweaving of one set with the next). They are as follows:

ᚠ—ᚢ: Livestock (including bull and ram)—fructifying moisture of the primeval essence conceived of as a bull or ram.

ᚢ—ᚦ: Fructifying moisture (semen virile)—Thunar as god of matrimonial generation.

ᚦ—ᚨ: Thunar as god of thunder—Wodan as the storm god; both rulers within the atmospheric realm.

ᚱ—ᚲ: Solar wagon—cremation (with the luminous heaven as the beyond); unifying idea: realm of light.

ᚷ—ᚹ: Hospitality—clan; the former is the obligatory law of the latter.

ᚹ—ᚾ: Clan—membrum virile; context given by the idea of generation: ᚹ the work of ᚾ.

ᛁ—ᚺ: The primeval material (ice)—the primeval essence (born out of ice, cf. Yrmin-myth).

ᚺ—ᛃ: Primeval material—harvest; the First as originator of the Second.

ᛃ—ᛈ: Yield of the harvest (agricultural destiny)—religious destiny.

ᛈ—ᛇ: The power of destiny (*uurðiz)—world yew; notice that the well of Urð according to ON tradition lies beneath the World Tree.

ᛇ—ᛉ: World yew—Valkyries; note the well of the swans beneath the World Tree and the Valkyries who determine destiny as swans.

ᛋ—ᛏ: Sun—Sky God as the god of radiant light.

ᛏ—ᛒ: Sky God—Mother Earth as bride of the Sky God (for the generation of one of the divine brothers).

ᛒ—ᛗ: Mother Earth—Father Sky; between the two: the Sacred Marriage.

ᛗ—ᛖ: Father Sky—the youthful divine brothers (grandfather—grandson, according to the family tree of the gods) who are the Morning and Evening Stars.

ᛖ—ᛚ: The youthful divine brothers—sea; conceptual connection: the youthful divine brothers as rescuers in distress at sea.

ᛚ—ᛜ: Sea—Earth God; the latter simultaneously a god of the sea.

ᛜ—ᛞ: Earth God—Day-star (with the symbolic value “youthful divine brothers”); connection: Earth God is the father of one of the brothers.

ᛞ—ᛟ: Day-star (= youthful divine brothers as the protective gods in the form of the gable horses on the hall)—the seat of the clan.

This basic idea is appealing on an indigenous aesthetic level, as it would reflect a particularly Germanic idea of patterning of words and images.

Such theories usually depend on the idea that the names of the runes, or the words that were attached to the signs, formed an underlying cosmological or mythic system of meaning. Speaking against this theory is the fact that the evidence for these names comes along at a fairly late date when we consider the entire historical span of the Older Futhark and that we have to depend not on direct evidence for the names but on reconstructions of them for the Older Futhark period. As testimony in favor of the validity of such an exploration are the internal structural patterns that emerge when the meanings of the names are considered and the fact that most of the names that are well known and well established seem to refer to matters of mythology and concepts of deep cultural significance.