To be candid from the outset, ALU is not about divination but about rune magic. Since the publication of “Futhark” in 1984, Thorsson has continued to study and write about runes while earning a doctorate in Germanic languages and Medieval studies from the University of Texas. This volume is his most recent addition to the contemporary body of rune lore and it does not disappoint.

Rune books come in three flavors: stuff people make up; amalgamations of made-up stuff and energetic but dubious scholarship; and finally, stuff based on solid scholarship and extensive experience. Thorsson leads the way in that last category. There are sections in this book where you can hear his rune-etched brass balls swinging, but I’ll concede that scathing asides towards pretenders and amateurs would be well-night irresistible to an acknowledged authority in the field.

ALU supplies an updated survey of rune history and use. I was surprised to see Thorsson peddling the esoteric equivalent of SODDI (Some Old Dude Did It) as the origin of the runes. Various male scholars have latched onto the SODDI theory in ancient astrology, too. The single-person origin theory is followed with remarks about an ancient rune guild, and one imagines a group of grubby old guys who look like the Sorcerer Tim in “Monty Python’s Holy Grail.” Evidence from Tacitus (a Roman general who wrote around 70 CE) is cited multiple times, although the author neglects to mention that the Germanic magic practitioners Tacitus actually names in “The Histories” were, in fact, women. Pardon my snark, but puleeze! Magic and sorcery have always been equal opportunity employment. Chapter 1 wanders into some silliness that makes me suspect the author has spent a little too much time looking at old books in dusty libraries. 

Returning to more useful material, the 24 Older Futhark staves are contrasted with the 33-stave Angle-Frisian Futhark and the 16-stave Younger Futhark. Periods of use and associated languages are outlined. Thorssen traces the ups and downs of runic tradition into the 20th century to Guido von List (d. 1919). The groundwork is laid for subsequent chapters through the promulgation of a mix of historical scholarly work and evidence-gathering with Tradition (“a permanent set of immutable and transcendent ideas,” p 32).

Chapter 2 “Lore of the Futhark” features instructions on writing and carving runes. Careful rune-by-rune descriptions offer etymological clues from which esoteric concepts are extruded. Historic examples from surviving rune-marked stones, jewelry and manuscripts are the source of the formulae included here.

Chapter 3 “A Theory of Operative Runology” presents a paradigm for the performance of effective magic useful to any spell-caster of any tradition. Radical operative runology, the topic alluded to in the subtitle, is presented as rune work combining fact and myth, science and art. Chapter 4 “The Practice of Operative Runology” is a rune-spell-caster’s guide. An opening ritual is provided. Several methods and formulae are offered for the reader to consider and apply. Chapter 5 “Rune Workings” follows with additional techniques that include rune tokens, carvings and scrapings, and bind runes.

The book ends with interesting appendices. Appendix A “Runic Dyads” considers how rune pairs in the Elder Futhark explicate core meanings. Appendix B “Triadic Rune Names” offers an etymological grid that vastly extends the meaning of each stave. Appendix C “Grail Mythos in Old English Runes?” poses a mystery centered on three of the Anglo-Frisian runes that will certainly twist the noses of the bulk of Grail scholars. There are copious endnotes and a bibliography (pp 209-227).

ALU is a cut above other rune-related texts because of the breadth and depth of scholarship upon which it is based. This is a work that targets runic spell-casters, scholars, and scholarly spell-casters. It opens up a wide range of operations for the magician while keeping said magician’s pointy-toed shoes firmly connected to historic facts and documented evidence. This is the author’s intention and he accomplishes it with gravitas and the confidence of extensive hands-on experience.

Highly recommended for readers interested in rune history with esoteric and magical applications. That said, Chapter 3 is worth the price of the book for spell-casters of any flavor, and is one of the best explanations for the basis of effective magic currently in print.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Edred Thorsson
Red Wheel/Weiser, 2012
235 pgs, $24.95

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