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Revival of the Runes

The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes

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• Explores the five periods of runic revival: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romantic period, the early 20th century, and the late 20th century

• Examines the use of runes by the foremost magicians and scholars of each era, including mystic and scholar Johannes Bureus, who developed his own integrated system of runology known as Adalruna

• Reveals how the Nazi misguided use of the runes showed a lack of comprehension of what was being discovered by scientific rune scholars of the day

In this exploration of the history of the runes from 1500 CE to the present day, Stephen Edred Flowers examines the five periods of runic revival: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romantic period, the early 20th century, and the late 20th century. For each period, he discusses both the scholarly studies and those focused on the esoteric mysteries of the runes--and how these two branches of study were at first intertwined yet diverged in later revivals. Focusing in particular on the first runic revival, Flowers examines the use of runes during the Renaissance by the foremost magicians and scholars of the era, including mystic and scholar Johannes Bureus, the “grandfather of integral runology,” who developed his own system known as Adalruna.

In his examination of the runic reawakenings of the early and late 20th century, Flowers looks at how the runes were employed as part of a reassessment of Germanic identity, one school of which led to Nazi Germany. He explains how the Nazi use and abuse of the runes was misguided and revealed a lack of comprehension of what earlier rune scholars had discovered through their extensive studies of the past. He also offers a fresh look at the work of Guido von List and clears him of his guilt by association with the Nazis.

Detailing the multilayered history of the runes, the author reveals the integrated way the predecessors of today’s rune workers thought and conceived of the runes, highlighting how their discoveries helped shape modern magical practices and scholarly studies. He calls for a return of integral runology as was practiced during the Renaissance and before. By reuniting the two branches of runic study, blending the scientific with the magical, we make way for new discoveries in runology and a chance for a full-scale reawakening of integrated runic knowledge.

From Chapter Three. From the Renaissance to the Baroque

The Revival Phase I: 1500-1700


The Western world underwent tremendous cultural changes around the year 1500. Historians identify this approximate date as the beginning of the Modern Age. The Middle Ages, with roots in faith and the Church, are passing away and a new world more rooted in reason and science is rising up.

The rediscovery of the runes by the learned elite of northern Europe and their subsequent publication and teaching of these discoveries to a wider public begins at this time, but it would be a long and winding pathway over several centuries. Once forgotten by the cultural elite which first dealt with them, the deeper secrets of the runes would not reveal themselves again without a significant and prolonged intellectual and cultural ordeal.

The Brothers Magnus

Two brothers, Johannes and Olaus Magnus were two of the last Catholic archbishops of Sweden, who found themselves in exile in Rome due to the growing Protestant Reformation in their homeland. Their work is essential in the process of the runic revival. They were among the earliest writers to publish in printed form a reference tool for the renewal of runic writing beyond the limited areas where it had survived in Iceland, Dalarna, and Gotland. They were, however, very interested in attempting to save the prestige and reputation of their country in the eyes of Catholic Europe. In the process of writing their works they were among the first to bring the ancient runes to the attention of a learned public. In 1554 Johannes Magnus (Johan Store, 1458-1544) published a history of the kings of the Goths and Swedes, Historia de Omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque Regibus. A Swedish translation did not appear in print until 1620. Olaus Magnus (Olof Store, 1490-1557) published another history of the Nordic people entitled Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus in 1555. There he presented his “Gothic Alphabet” with their sound-values.

The Brothers Magnus considered the many runestones which dotted the Swedish countryside as a proof of the extreme antiquity of Swedish civilization. The brothers maintained that the Swedes were literate before the Romans knew how to read or write. They also claimed that the ancient Northmen used birch bark as paper. The runestones, they thought, must have been erected by giants in some Antediluvian Age. Olaus Magnus had the Carta Marina printed in 1539. On this map was the image of the saga-age hero Starkar holding two rune-tablets. The runes depicted are of the same style printed in 1555 on a woodcut called the “Gothic alphabet.” This is a runic alphabet (in ABC-order) with Latin transcriptions over each of the runes. It is mentioned by them that runes were used as a sort of cryptic mode of communication in times of war, but no special mention seems to have been made concerning their esoteric value or connection to the pre-Christian religion (although such is implied by the fact that they were considered to have existed before the time of Noah).

The Brothers Magnus were among the earliest contributors to a new Gothic mythology which would come to be known to historians as Storgöticism (“Meglo-Gothicism”). Although these brothers laid some of the foundation for Strogöticism, this would historically become a movement connected to the Protestant wave of thought interested in separating the North from the Roman and Latinate world, and in demonstrating the cultural and intellectual achievements of the North. But for the Brothers Magnus these general concepts were conceived of as a way of showing that the North had a venerable culture worthy of respect in the family of nations. I will return to the topic of Storgöticism presently.
The Brothers Petri

Like their predecessors, the Brothers Magnus, two other brothers, Laurentius Petri (1499-1573) and Olaus Petri (1493-1552), who succeeded them in their ecclesiastical offices also wrote on runes. The Brothers Petri were both essential contributors to the process of turning Sweden into a Protestant, and then specifically Lutheran, realm. Their real, non-Latinized, names were Lars and Olof Petersson, and their interests included the promotion of Swedish national identity and the use of the Swedish language for all purposes. They were instrumental in producing a Swedish translation of the Bible. Part of the shaping of a national church, with the king as its head involved rehabilitating the view of the national, and hence pagan, past.

Olaus began to study the pre-Christian monuments in the Swedish countryside and wrote about the pagan names of the weekday names. Both brothers wrote manuscripts that remained unpublished, but which were archived and used by subsequent generations of Swedish scholars. They noted that runes had continued to be used in a fashion parallel to the Latin script and Laurentius wrote a manuscript later referred to as “Mäster Larses Runekänsla”--Master Lars’ Runology.

Rudimentary studies and passages such as those produced by the Brothers Magnus and Petri only served to point out how the general runic tradition had fallen into relative obscurity and disuse, even in the areas of the North where they had best survived. So once the runes had largely fallen into obscurity over almost all of the Germanic world, and only remained a limited part of life in certain areas of Scandinavia--Iceland, the Swedish province of Dalarna and the island of Gotland--the stage was set for a true revival of runic knowledge as we will see in the work of Johannes Bureus. But the mystical aspect of his efforts will only be part of his contribution. Perhaps more important was the revival of runic knowledge that was being redeveloped in the halls of academia throughout Europe. The story of the scholarly runic revival is every bit as fascinating as that connected with magic and mysticism--and eventually, as we shall see these two worlds will begin to reconnect with one another.

Stephen Flowers studied Germanic and Celtic philology and religious history at the University of Texas at Austin and in Goettingen, West Germany. He received his Ph.D. in 1984 in Germanic Languages and Medieval Studies with a dissertation entitled Runes and Magic.

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (March 2, 2021)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644111796

Revival of the Runes is the most thorough presentation of the history and development of the runes, both historical and--most important-the magical esoteric side. This book provides various alternative theories regarding the origins of the runes and follows their trail from the 1500s onward (after a brief consideration of the earlier period), through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and the 20th century. The author also dissects and discusses rationally the Nazi specter very effectively. This work is an intellectual heavyweight to drool over--very academic and rich in terms of source material referenced in the footnotes and bibliography. It is a must for serious students and practitioners.”

– Freya Aswynn, author of Northern Mysteries and Magick

“Stephen Flowers’s new book is a valuable chronological account that shows how the ancient wisdom of the runes has continued since ancient times and has been renewed throughout history by notable masters of the Northern tradition. This wide-ranging historical account of the runes is a comprehensive and erudite work that brings together many strands and historical currents into a coherent narrative. It is a valuable addition to the author’s fine body of work on the history and practice of the runic tradition and deserves to be on the bookshelf of every person with an interest in the runes.”

– Nigel Pennick, author of Runic Lore and Legend

“Roughly two millennia ago, the ancient script of the runes was first codified, carved, and communicated by an unknown Germanic-speaking innovator whose vision absorbed elements of the neighboring Roman world. Although the traditional runestaves could later be employed for mundane purposes, their earliest associations were imbued with the sacred, and it is no wonder these stark and angular signs have exerted a fascination that continues right to the present day. The labyrinthian story of their decline and rediscovery, their use and abuse, is ably related in Revival of the Runes by Stephen Flowers, a trained runologist who is equally at home in the scholarly and spiritual domains. The results of his excavations are by turns exciting and disturbing but always culturally insightful and enriching.”

– Michael Moynihan, Ph.D., coeditor of TYR: Myth–Culture–Tradition

“The runes have enchanted people through the ages--the zeitgeist has been projected on these old signs from the Viking Age. In the 17th century Johannes Bureus combined runes with ideas from both folklore and Renaissance high magic. In the age of Enlightenment, runes and Viking myths were used for educational purposes in the Nordic countries. Most infamous is the Nazi regime’s misuse of runes. In this book Stephen Flowers, today’s foremost expert on rune magic, goes through different currents where runes are center. It is an invaluable contribution to both academic and practical esoteric knowledge of the mysteries of the runes.”

– Thomas Karlsson, Ph.D., author of Nightside of the Runes

“An essential read for anyone who wishes to understand the runes as they relate to the reawakening of Germanic spirituality taking place today. Revival of the Runes provides a thorough and scholarly history of the runes, from their origins with the Older Futhark, the later development of the Younger Futhark, the runic resurgences that followed their decline in the Middle Ages, up to the present revival of which Stephen Flowers himself has been an essential part. This book examines runology from a scholarly as well as the magical standpoint of an accomplished runic practitioner. Revival of the Runes documents the survival of the runes over time and their repeated return to our awareness, showing that for us, like Allfather Odin himself, the mysteries of the runes are eternal, just waiting for us to take them up.”

– Berkeley Harbin, Drighten of Woden’s Folk Kindred

Acknowledgments

Preface Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Introduction Binding Together the Ideas of Science and Magic

One The Runic Tradition--An Overview

Two The Decline of the Tradition

Three From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Four The Enlightenment

Five Romanticism

Six The Beginnings of Scientific Runology and Neo-Romanticism

Seven The Turbulent Dawn of a New Germanic Rebirth

Eight Runology in the Age of the Third Reich

Nine The Runic Renewal

Ten The Rise of Contemporary Scientific Runology and the Re-Emergence of the Rune-Gild

Eleven An Integral Runology for the Future

Appendix I Chronology of the Runic Revival

Appendix II Runic Origins of the “Peace Sign”

Bibliography

Index

"An erudite, wide ranging, and inherently fascinating study, Revival of the Runes: The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes is a deftly crafted, original, and assiduously diligent study of the history and use of the Runic alphabet in antiquity down through the 20th Century."

– Midwest Book Review

More books from this author: Stephen E. Flowers