The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic: How to Interpret Runes, Rune Lore, and the Art of Runecasting - Edred Thorsson 2018
The Rune World
It is not possible in a book of this scope to present all levels of the runic cosmogony and cosmology. Certain portions of this lore have been used in interpreting and illustrating the properties of the individual runes, and before progressing to the theories of rune magic proper, steps should be taken to explain the cosmos in which these mysteries manifest themselves. A more advanced level of operative runology is presented in the book Alu:An Advanced Guide to Operative Runology (Weiser, 2012).
As we saw in chapter 10, the best source for understanding the runic cosmology is found in the Eddas, where we read that before time began there was Ginnungagap, which literally means a “magically charged void.” In the present discussion we wish to concentrate on the practical magical aspects of cosmology. The cosmos, or framework of reality, is a beginning point for all magical operations. We have to understand the secrets of the organization of the world if we wish to be able to alter it in any way. Clearly the esoteric cosmology of our ancestors is seen to have been dominated by two opposing forces often called “fire” and “ice.” But a close examination shows them to be originally “fire” and “water.”
It is also important to realize that: (1) in the first phase of cosmogony there is no personal Creator—cosmogony is seen as a natural and organic process; (2) the universe ultimately derives from a single source, Ginnungagap, clearly contains two poles within its substance, two extremes of fire (expansive energy) and ice (primal matter/antimatter). This polarity is mutually attracted, and from their (re)union the primal essence and archetypal pattern for manifestation are formed. From this framework the multiplicity of being evolves. Beyond this first phase there is indeed a creator figure, or a cosmic reformer: Odin, the All-Father. This god, the first form of consciousness, re-formed the chaotic and disorganized state of existence into a beautiful and rational cosmos. This re-creation makes magic possible for humans to perform.
The Eddas teach us that once existence had been stabilized, the multiverse consisted of nine worlds, contained in and supported by the World-Tree, Yggdrasill. These worlds contain countless abodes and dwellings. In the center is Midhgardhr, with the other worlds arrayed around, above, and below it. In the north in Niflheimr; in the east, Jötunheimr (Etin-world); in the south, Muspellsheimr; in the west, Vanaheimr (Vanir-world). In the middle, above Midhgardhr, is Ljóssálfheimr (light-elf-world) and above that Asgardgr, the enclosure of the Aesir, which houses many dwellings. Below Midhgardhr is Svartálfheimr (“black-elf-world” or “dwarf-world”) and below that Hel, the silent, still, and sleepy realm of the dead. Between and among these worlds the runes and their roadways are to be found—here a great rune lies hidden. In practical work it is essential to remember, to keep in mind, that these worlds exert an effect on Midhgardhr, where our practical work is to find manifestation. By the same token we must realize that we can influence the flow of power from those realms to this one. The beginning of that process is in the realization of their existence and character.
Manifestation of the Rune Row
The manifestation of the runes and their ordering in the Futhark row are bound up with the cosmogonic and cosmologic processes. The runes have no point of origin; they are the substance of the latent energy contained in Ginnungagap. The runes exist simultaneously in an undifferentiated state throughout this void—and thus defy comprehension. At the division between Muspellsheimr and Niflheimr, the runic forces are polarized into shining runes (ON heidhrúnar) and dark runes (ON myrkrúnar.) These are polarized aspects of the entire corpus of runic power expressed simultaneously. These runic forces attract one another, in order that they might rejoin and create the cosmic seed of manifestation contained in Ymir. The shining runes and dark runes are re-assimilated in a pattern capable of manifestation. The runic forces are at work throughout the cosmogonic processes described above; however, the runes as we know them have not been manifested, because the entire process, up to the sacrifice of Ymir, takes place in an unmanifested state. When Odin, Vili, and Vé sacrifice Ymir (the crystalized seed form of the collective runic pattern), they arrange this runic “substance” in accordance with the multiversal pattern. Thus they “create” the nine worlds and Yggdrasill. This primal act brings about cosmic order and manifestation.
At this point the runes are ordered in the Futhark row in their linear form as the primary arrangement at the center of the multiverse. This manifestation unfolds from the “inside out,” beginning with the most basic forms of cyclical (: : ) and vertical (::) force. From that point the other runes manifest themselves in a linear pattern governed by a twelve-fold spherical law. As each succeeding circle is manifested, a pair of runes—esoteric concepts —are isolated within the “space.” The laws of sympathy and antipathy determine which runes crystalize in each circle. Also, those same laws govern which of these two concepts will be aligned with which previously manifested rune in the row. The row thus produced is perceived by the intellect in an order governed by the path of the sun, and thereby the runes manifest their numerical values 1 through 24. These numerical values are also part of the innate relative positions of one mystery to the others, and play a determining role in their ordering. A graphic representation shows the full glory of this mystery in figure 20.1.
Figure 20.1. Diagram of the futhark pattern of manifestation.
These patterns, as well as those that govern the linear alignment of the staves, are fruitful avenues of meditation and will reveal much wisdom and provide great power to the vitki who can unravel their riddles.
Figure 20.1 represents only one of several patterns in which the runes are arranged or divided—each world or “realm of being” has its own particular modality. The aettir are ruled by the pattern of the eightfold “cross” or “star” by which the ancient Northmen divided the heavens (see figure 20.2).
Figure 20.2. The eightfold division of the futhark.
This rudimentary and fragmentary exposition of runic cosmology is only a hint of the secrets and splendors to be discovered by the vitki who perseveres, and penetrates the wisdom of the worlds.
Much work has been done by German runic magicians concerning the intake and manipulation of streams of runic force. These streams may be classified according to the realms in which they originate: (1) terrestrial streams, which run along the surface of the earth; (2) heavenly streams, which circulate in the atmosphere; and (3) chthonic streams, which flow in the subterranean sphere. These streams or fields constantly interact upon one another, causing changes and fluctuations in the intensity and form of the force found in each realm. All runes exist in all realms; they are, however, concentrated and intensified in power within the realms most sympathetic to the force they embody. Through the practices of stadhagaldr and meditation the vitki is able to draw these cosmic streams into his or her own personal runic sphere, there to be integrated (for increased personal power) or reprojected in order to cause changes in accordance with the will of the vitki. The practical section on stadhagaldr explains how to manipulate these streams in more detail. The word “stream” is perhaps a bit misleading. Actually, these runic forces may be felt as a variety of sensations within the psyche. Some are indeed similar to flowing streams of power; others are akin to waves, or whirlpools, or utter stillness. Each vitki should explore the “feel” of each rune on its own terms. Once contact has been made, it will be unmistakable.
The Soul and Personal Power Concepts
In chapter 12 we discussed the various ancient Norse soul concepts. Certain soul qualities were given to the primal man and woman (coequally and simultaneously) by the triad of gods. This triad, which is a threefold expression of the god usually known as Odin, was identified above as Odin, Vili, and Vé. In another account, given in the “Völuspá,” we read:
Until the Aesir,
mighty and loving,
came from the host
to the coast;
on the land they found
of little might
Askr and Embla
They had not önd,
they had not ódhr,
neither lá nor laeti
nor good litr;
Odin gave önd
Hoenir gave ódhr,
Lódhurr gave lá
and good litr.
The last three gifts indicate external qualities (lá, appearance; laeti, movement; litr, health), which are extremely important but not of central interest here. Önd is the breath of life, the “spirit” that is the “divine spark” in mankind and that all-pervasive force that penetrates and animates the multiverse. (This is very much akin to the Indian conception of prana and is etymologically connected to Sanskrit atman: breath, soul.) Ódhr is the power of inspiration and ecstasy. The name Ódh-inn is derived from the same root word. This is that pure and irrational numinous power that is the magical faculty of gods and men.
With the entrance of the Nornic force, time and the laws of cause and effect arise (see the P-rune). Furthermore, the infusion of divine structure and consciousness provided by Heimdallr/Odin (see the M-rune) provides another numinous force, which is handed down through the generations. This force is increased or decreased according to human action throughout the life of an individual. These concepts are expressed throughout the rune row. With these qualities the development and concentration of magical power become possible—and even necessary.
Four principal entities arise from this complex interplay of runic forces and are centered in mankind: (1) hugr, (2) hamr, (3) hamingja, and (4) fylgja. The hugr is the conscious will and intellect. The hamr is the personal aspect of the plastic imageforming essence in the cosmos. This is the realm of images, which bridges the worlds and acts as a matrix between the “spiritual” and “physical” worlds. A powerful hugr can project and even reform this personal essence in another location in an almost “physical” manner. The Norse sagas abound with accounts of this type. Most readers will be reminded of such phenomena as astral projection, and bilocation. The complex entity that gives this power is known as the hamingja, a term that means “shape-changing force,” “luck,” “power,” and on occasion “guardian spirit.” Hamingja may be transferred from one person to another, from a person to an object, or merely projected into space as indicated above. This force may be increased continuously by ritualized magical action and deeds of honor. The fylgja is the storehouse of this action, which is symbolized by a female figure, an animal (specific to the internal nature of the individual), or a crescent shape that hovers before the person. Fylgja (fetch) constantly interacts with all levels of the personality imparting the ørlög or “fate” of the person in accordance with past action. Both the hamingja and fylgja may be passed from one generation to the next as a type of “reincarnation.” The use of these qualities and entities in magical operations will be elucidated in some of the sections on practical work.
Basic Theories of Rune Magic
The forces used in magic and ritual may be divided roughly into two categories: the dynamistic and animistic. The dynamistic powers are more mechanistic, without a large degree of what we would call consciousness or will, other than their singular (or complex) functions. It is within this category that we may place the runes, and the multiverse generally. However, they do have a degree of “animism” about them, as personal investigation will show. The primal runic forces also are at the root of all being, as the section on cosmogony demonstrated. All the various wights, gods (Aesir and Vanir), elves, dwarves, and giants (thurses and etins) belong in the animistic category. The gods are archetypes, or exemplary models of consciousness, that are perceived as animate primordial images. These forces are ultimately derived from the dynamistic nature of the universe—as is mankind, which they help to form.
These exemplary models are also extremely useful in magic, of course, either as internal consciousness factors or as symbols or vehicles for consciously directed power in invocatory rites. This latter type of rite is infrequent in common runecraft and belongs more to the magical religious expression of Asatru. In the old Nordic multiverse these two categories were closely interwoven. The following is a simplified model for the understanding of the runic processes at work in practical magic.
The rune streams are present in the multiverse, and they have their representative structures in the personal sphere in the hamingja of the vitki. This is similar to a macrocosmic-microcosmic model, except there is no definite boundary between the two. The “personal runes” and “world runes” are consciously synthesized in the magical/religious act according to willed or instinctual patterns. This is the essence of the Old Norse concepts heill (holy; wholeness) and heill hugr (whole mind), a high state of consciousness. The runestaves act as keys to give access to these streams in mankind and in the causal multiversal realms. As symbols, the runestaves (with their threefold nature) are the forces they “represent.” Through willed ritual action the vitki is able to manipulate (through combination, intensification, concentration, direction, etc.) the runic forces in the realms of the nine worlds. By the laws of perthro these actions become manifest as the altered rune streams react on and reverberate within the world in accordance with the will of the vitki. The efficiency of the vitki's work is in direct proportion to the intensity and quality of the impression he or she is able to bring to bear on the image worlds that are adjacent to Midhgardhr. The ancients knew that all “things” were filled with runic force—all things “had their runes.” Rune wisdom is access to and knowledge of these modalities that penetrate and vivify all the worlds.
Although this book does not contain invocatory magic of a specifically “religious” nature, it is nevertheless important to understand the god-forms that are housed in the rune realms. These gods and goddesses are holy archetypes and consciousness modalities, that preexisted the self-consciousness of mankind but are intensified by human action. These images are culturally distinct exemplary models. They are to varying degrees self-conscious. For example, the rime-giants have practically no consciousness and are almost purely mechanistic, while the god Odin is “structurally” as complex as the most complicated human being. These wights occupy various worlds, each according to their kind. There are, however, no well-defined borders between most of these realms.
For practical purposes and future reference, it would be well to explore the structure of the divine relationships in the worlds of the gods (Aesir and Vanir). The runic god-forms may be understood in a threefold matrix plus a fourth category. To a large degree this divine paradigm is reflected in the social structure of the ancient Germanic (and Indo-European) peoples. The mysteries of the M-rune explain this phenomenon.
The “divine society” is based on a tripartite system. The three levels, or functions, of this system are (1) sovereignty, (2) strength, and (3) production. The first and third functions are dual in structure. The first level contains both the judicial and the magical aspects of “kingship,” while the third function encompasses the divine twins and the holy brother and sister. The major gods and goddesses of the Germanic pantheon are arranged according to this pattern:
1. The Judge-King (Tyr) or the Priest-Magician (Odin)
2. The Warrior (Thor, in his oldest aspect)
3. The Providers (Freyja and Freyr, or Alcis)
A short study of these deities will show the complexity that is possible within this paradigm. In Norse theology Odin has aspects in all three levels, true to his shamanistic nature of traversing all worlds. Tyr is considered a god of war because the old ones considered war to be a type of judgment, according to past action and amount of honor/ luck (hamingja) gathered by that action. Thor is the warrior of the gods. As opposed to Odin and Tyr, he actually fights the battles. But he is also important to the farmers because through his atmospheric power he breaks open the clouds and brings forth the fertilizing rains. Freyja is rather similar to Odin in that she has aspects in all three levels: she is the goddess of fertility and the teacher of the magical arts of seidhr to Odin, and half of all warriors slain in battle go to her in the realm of Fólkvangr. (The other half goes to Odin in Valhöll, or Valhalla, “the hall of those slain.”)
The fourth realm is that of “deified” dynamistic forces or natural phenomena within the cultic sciences (belonging to the magical function). These would include the sun (Sunna; Sól), the moon (Máni), and fire, which is embodied in the runes kenaz, naudhiz, and dagaz, and other “elements” and forces.
In ritual work this classificatory system shows the efficiency of these deities in various types of operations. Gods and goddesses that belong to the third level are powerful aids in rites aimed at fertility, art, craft, wealth, and eroticism, while those of the second function rule in operations concerning protection, defense, liberation, and curses. The first level is rather all-encompassing, but the Tyr aspect is most valuable in rites of law and order, justice, and success or victory. The Odin aspect is the most comprehensive and is especially powerful in rites to obtain wisdom, numinous knowledge, and personal power, and to bind or constrict enemies.
Odin has an important lesson to teach all aspiring vitkar. Like Odin, the vitki should search restlessly all the worlds, seeking wisdom and power, always willing to sacrifice of self to self, and constantly sharing that wisdom and power with others of like mind. To the Odian no path or door in the multiverse is blocked or closed.