Rune ranting

©2021 Michael Raven

As I read more of runes and rune interpretation, one of the things that strikes me is that the same things plague rune and sigil study as that which plague most of the reconstructionist attempts at reclaiming our ancestral heritage that was obliterated during the Christian conversions: most are stuck with inferring meaning based on post-conversion texts and are biased in favor of reconstructionist thinking that may or may not be supported by fact (when it comes to facts about the pre-conversion period, there is very little in the way of supporting documentation and much of it is as much fantasy as it is “good old boys” agreeing that their own inferences are accurate representations of what was tradition).

But, even more notable to me is the absolute forcing of dualistic thinking on the runes themselves. I am no expert on the matter, but I find it striking that many of the authors are applying a good/evil (or bad) dichotomy on many of the runes, even when some will argue that there “is no myrkstave interpretation for the [such and such] rune” while they argue about what constitutes a myrkstave reading to begin with.

For those not in the know, a myrkstave or murkstave is derived from the Old Norse work “myrkr” (Icelandic: myrkur) which is defined as “dark, difficult to understand, gloomy or obscure” and supplanting the word “rune” in “runestave”. I don’t recall seeing the word used in other contexts, so I suspect it is a modern invention, not a word supported by the classic Norse sagas and poetry — again, I am no expert on the matter and I could be wrong, but it is noteworthy that a word may have been created to account for a concept that may or may not have been a real concept in a historical context.

So this returning to the dualistic concept of good/evil bothers me somewhat. It’s along the same lines of people insisting they practice only “white” magic, but oh gods no, they are not dualistically thinking because that is a gasp Christian conceptualization of the world. And yet…

I think I might modify the pages I have created for interpretations of the Elder Futhark to get rid of the implication that there are myrkr interpretations for any of the runes. I remain unconvinced that the runes should be classified as having either favorable or unfavorable interpretations — used to understand how wyrd evolves, the runes are more signposts to draw your attention to certain parts of the web rather than predictions of fortune or turmoil. If anything, they illuminate the path, they do not define it.

I’m also more than slightly suspicious when I see so much of the divination portions of books (which is why I decline to treat my drawings as divinatory) that is heavily based in the concepts put forth by interpreters of tarot cards for the purposes of divination. While there is some scant information suggesting that runestaves might have been used for the purposes of divination, I hardly think that they resembled the practices of tarot, which were largely developed in the modern era. Even with warnings that the old ways didn’t think of past, present, and future the same way as modern thinking goes, the experts still seem to lean into such linear (as opposed to cyclic) thinking with the readings themselves.

Additionally, many of the authors place too much emphasis is put on ensuring “favorable outcomes” in the future by following a linear progression, with little emphasis on understanding one’s ørlǫg and how it impacts the totality of one’s wyrd. I’m not convinced ritualization (candle magic, carving runes like wayward graffiti on everything) was used to ensure one future over another. Again, I haven’t seen evidence in my other readings to support such things (and not just with Northern Traditions, but with paganism in general) — but I’m willing to accept that it might have occurred. Just don’t suggest that, in fact it occurred without anything more than inference to suggest it.

I’m a curmudgeon, I know. But I think such thinking is distraction and an attempt to wedge something into pop culture rather than question if anyone really should try to make these ideas fit into our current understanding of the world, which has not been entirely free from mistaken interpretation as it is.

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