Revival of the Runes: The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes - Stephen E. Flowers Ph.D. 2021
General Characteristics of An Integral Runology
An Integral Runology for the Future
First of all, it should be realized that runology will always have various branches and specialties and that those who study the runes will understand and misunderstand them to varying degrees. From a reading of this study it should now be apparent that this has always been the case, and recent history only amplifies that conclusion. What I propose as integral runology is a specialty unto itself, and one that involves a number of other kinds of study in a balanced synthesis. One of the main things that the integral runologist will realize is that there are several ways of approaching runology. They run along a spectrum from the highly objective and quantified to the exceedingly subjective and even “personal.” On the one hand, the objective type of studies is invaluable as the nuts and bolts of the discipline. Without this basis, the resulting writing or research about runes can only be considered poetry or an exercise in fantasy. On the other hand, the individual who pursues a hyper-quantifiable form of study certainly runs the risk of falling into the same trap as those in the parable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” The integral runologist takes the objective findings of science into account as much as possible and only uses imagination and educated guesswork as a way to hermeneutically bridge the gap between the objective analysis of the data and a holistic interpretation of what it really means, which includes a consideration of who the original creators of these artifacts and texts may have been. Essential to the approach of the integral runologist is also the acquisition of scientific knowledge from adjunct fields, such as comparative religion, history of religion, comparative mythology, anthropology, folklore, and so on, to broaden and focus his or her perspective and analytical tools.
It would appear that the aims of runologists over the most recent years have become ever narrower and limited with regard to what they hope to learn or discover. The integral runologist seeks to broaden those aims and to attempt to uncover something more about the character and nature of the individuals who wrote the runic texts over the centuries and to learn something of the culture in which they lived and worked. The hopeless skeptic will argue that we can never know anything certain about these matters, and so we should cease trying, but the ever-hopeful Romantic will try to persuade us that we should try harder, in ever more refined and comprehensive ways, and with a mind open to great possibilities. What is needed is an imaginative skepticism when it comes to runic evidence.
If, as most etymologists agree, the Proto-Germanic word *rūnō originally signified a “mystery”—that is, an awe-inspiring thing of unknown qualities deriving from some cosmic source—then the ramifications of the meaning of this word should be taken into account in any approach to an integral runology. Additionally, if the use of this word by the ancients as a designator of written characters is any indicator, the understanding of this word is an essential part of the pursuit. A mystery exhorts the observer to solve it. Assuming the cosmic level of awe ascribed to the runes by the ancients, it may be that runes can never be completely understood, that our knowledge of them, no matter how close we come to apprehending them, will remain eternally just beyond our reach. This circumstance then requires of us to develop ever more comprehensive methods of investigating them. We can make progress toward such knowledge, but the nature of their mystery is really such that it can never be fully grasped, understood, or defined by the finite intellect of humanity. In any event, such an attitude, if adopted by the world-be integral runologists, will always instill a healthy dose of humility—as well as respect—toward the ways the ancient runemasters thought and expressed themselves.
In the end, the situation revolves around answering to the sort of questions that arise when confronting the runic inscription on the Noleby stone (Vätergötland, Sweden, ca. sixth century) that we invoked at the beginning of this book:
ᚱᚢᚾᛟᚠᚨᚺᛁᚱᚨᚷᛁᚾᛟᚲᚢᛞᛟ [. . .]
runofahiraginaku(n)do [. . .]
rūnō fahi raginakundo . . .
“(A) rune I color, one stemming from the gods . . .”
Was the man who carved these runes more concerned with communicating with unseen beings and levels of reality, or was he more focused on representing his language in a grammatically correct manner to make himself clear to a human reader? Was he more a magician or a linguist? If we knew him personally, would he be more like a priest or a grammar teacher? How to discover greater knowledge about this man and the thread of those previous generations who taught him, and the thread of his future descendants in the craft of runecarving, is the most fascinating central question of integral runology. All components of the runic tradition are important and ideally none should be neglected in favor of another. The big picture is this: We have lost a great deal, especially in the humanities, in an era of overspecialization. There is a great role to be played by the generalist in all fields—someone who can weave all of the cords together into a coherent and meaningful pattern.
Historically, the runic tradition has been torn between the two beasts of timid intellect and raging emotion. An authentic inner approach to the tradition would have to go beyond the hyper-objectivity of diehard skeptics who—usually for reasons of career preservation—reject any sort of imaginative insight. In equal measure, such an approach would have to be able to resist the hyper-subjective spells cast by modern political agendas of whatever stripe. The traditional runic system seems clear. The mythic context of runic understanding is also clear in that it most closely belongs to the Odinic and heroic (for example, the lineage of the Volsungs) paradigm.*15 Runes are most authentically understood from within this mythic paradigm. Other models of approach are secondary.
In one regard, however, I would agree with the modernistic approach as it concerns the health and well-being of the future discipline of integral runology: the scholarly approach must be kept strictly apart from the esoteric application of knowledge concerning the runes. The integration of these two aspects is only possible and productive on an individual basis and within the confines of a specialized school of thought. This is rather akin to the Platonic separation between two distinct forms of knowledge: dianoia (rational thought) and noesis (rational intuition). In the Academy of Plato both were necessary; and dianoia was the precursor to, and basis of, noesis. This seems a wise course of thought. For myself, and for the future school of integral runology, attention should continue to be paid to both branches of knowledge to best understand the ever-mysterious objects of our study.