Review copyright 2011 by Freeman Presson
“[K]ey is the balanced openness to the mythic spirit of Odin.” — Dr. Stephen Edred Flowers, in a 2003 interview in New Dawn magazine1.
Edred Thorsson is the open pseudonym of Steven Flowers, Ph.D., under which he writes his more occult works. He is the most traditional authority on the lore and practice of the Runes. Because of his depth of scholarship and insistence on the value of the tradition, he has gained a reputation in some corners as a curmudgeon. However, in this book he is quite clear that inspiration and improvisation have their place, but that one should learn the tradition before starting to improvise on it. After all, how good is improvisational music performed by someone who never learned to play by rote? (I can show you on my recorder or pennywhistle: you’ll enjoy the first 10 to 20 seconds of it).
This book is the place to start for someone who wants to learn to read the runes according to traditional methods. Thorsson has also written Futhark and Runelore for those who want more depth in the development and general and magical usage of the runes, and their place in the weltanschauung of the North. In place of that, herein is a very quick introduction to the history of the runes and the theory of divination, followed by a very solid middle section giving great detail on the interpretations of each rune. All of the major rune-poems are cited, and a great deal of detail is available for each one.
The chapter on the tools of runecasting shows how to make or select a variety of traditional rune-sets: the familiar disks, more traditional staves, and even cards. Chapter 5, on Rites of Runecasting, basically shows us how to make divination, well, Divine. He explicitly states that some of the methods given in this chapter serve to avoid a sort of parlor-game atmosphere which tends to make runecasting (and by extension other forms of divination) have less weight and importance than it should.
Chapter 6, The Ways of Runecasting, will astound the casual student. I had no idea there were so many variations in methods, just within the historically-attested tradition.
The book shows its scholarly pedigree by ending with a List of Abbreviations, a note on transliteration, a pronunciation key to Old Norse, Glossary, Bibliography, and Index. It is also graciously free of editing errors.
I’m sure that books by several other authors are of great value to the beginning student of the runes (mysteries), but when I feel it is time to learn runelore for myself in detail, I’m picking up this little book.
1. New Dawn, March-April 2003.
The Well of Wyrd
5 3/8 x 8 1/4
January 15, 1999
[Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, usw.]