The Liber Runarum and Modern Runic Divination

As you might know, dear reader, last time I posted I released a translation of a 15th century work on using medieval runes in magic, specifically a kind of Renaissance planetary/angelic system where one inscribes particular names of angels or desires using a magical variant of medieval runes with a particular kind of elemental cipher.  It’s certainly an interesting system, and one I hope to use in the near future when I invoke these particular spirits.  Plus, for people like me who were never really into runes but are into magic, it helps to bridge the gap that I often find between people who are into runes or into the planets but not both.  After all, astrology is largely a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern thing as done in the Western Tradition, while runelore is further north from separate origins and legends.

That said, something Ocean Delano asked brought up a very good point: exactly how might this runic system of magic be a good introduction for people like me, who otherwise don’t work with runes, to the elder futhark?  After all, using the elder futhark, among the oldest of Nordic alphabets, is pretty common in a lot of Nordic reconstructionist or neopagan traditions.  However, the text I was translating from was only from the 15th century, while the elder futhark was used from the 2nd through the 8th centuries.  It’s really hard for me to speak at length about this, since runes aren’t my speciality, but overall, I’ll admit that there basically is no connection between the Liber Runarum and modern rune magic.

While many rune-users are right in claiming an ancient tradition that uses runes in magic and divination, it’s far from clear how our Nordid predecessors may actually have used runes in this manner.  Modern systems of divination go back only as far as the 17th century, with Johannes Bureus working with the runes in a framework based on visions (unverified personal gnosis) and qabbalah (a distinctly non-Nordic occult framework).  This may have influenced later Hermetic or magical uses of the runes, such as the Armanen runes, especially once we backed them up with verses from the Poetic Edda, but this too was a fairly late work which only preserved early Nordic myths in at least a somewhat Christianized form.  Even then, modern rune divination as we know it didn’t start off until the 1980s, when Ralph Blum published a well-known book on runic divination.  Though I’m not saying Blum “started” runic divination as we know it, it certainly set a lot of precedents that many runereaders and runeworkers still follow today (as far as I’m aware).

On the other hand, the Liber Runarum uses a variant of medieval runes, which were still in use in Scandinavian countries through the 16th century, and even afterward into the 20th century in some small communities.  This method of using the runes is completely different from what we’re used to seeing as “runes”, and there is no one-to-one correspondence with the elder futhark or the methods used by them.  Although some of the rune names may be similar (though corrupted, and I’ve made a note of this in my translation), there are simply more Liber Runarum runes than there are elder futhark, younger futhorc, or medieval runes (e.g. X or Z).  The method of ascribing the runes to the zodiac and to the planets is very Western astrology-based, and even the alphabetic ordering of the Liber Runarum runes follows the Latin letter order and not the standard futhark order.  In other words, the Liber Runarum uses a magical variant of medieval runes otherwise in (declining) use in parts of Europe at the time of its writing, and simply uses it as a magical written language to encipher and ensorcell written talismans, rather than for their perhaps-traditional usage that we’re used to seeing.

Even the method that the Liber Runarum uses to ascribe the runes to the planets and the zodiac seems to be independent of other qabbalistic works.  According to Stephen Skinner’s “Complete Magician’s Tables”, there is a correspondence between the futhark and the paths of the Tree of Life, but he lists the futhark merely in its alphabetic order and corresponds them in order to the Tree (so fehu, the first rune, is given to the first path #11, Kether-Chokmah, ur is given to #12 Kether-Binah, etc.).  Plus, there are simply more runes than there are paths, and he ends up going overboard and ascribes even the Anglo-Saxon futhorc to the sephirah and other non-existent paths on the Kircher Tree.

So, the Liber Runarum seems to really be its own system of written magic, independent of other runic works that we may or may not be familiar with.  Just wanted to clear things up that way.

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  1. Pingback: Search Term Shoot Back, March 2014 | The Digital Ambler

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