Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

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Asatru FAQ: Thorsson's Rune Magic Books?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Frequently Asked Question: What's your opinion of Stephen Flowers / Edred Thorsson and his rune magic books?

My answer:

He writes his more academically oriented books under his real name, Stephen Flowers, and his magic oriented books under Edred Thorsson. Recently when a certain book could go either way, as with Icelandic Magic, he's opted for his real name. His academic oriented works are accessible to laypeople and yet pretty solid with the research.

Many heathens don't like his magic books because they aren't "authentic", that is, not works of reconstructionist heathenry. Flowers is a Setian. There are heathens of the older generations who feel that he influenced heathenry with his rune magic system and his Hammer Rite and then left Asatru for the Temple of Set. Although Thorsson always belonged to multiple occult and religious organizations at the same time, many heathens of the older generation feel that he broke up with heathenry and they are still mad about it and so they don't want to support his work.

If the test of a book on magic is whether the magic works, then he passes the test easily for the right reader. His book Futhark: Handbook of Rune Magic created the modern rune reading system on which almost all the most recommended rune magic books are based. As such, if one wished to learn such magic, that would be the book I'd recommend. It's the one I learned from myself, and also the book that convinced me that heathenry was my path, even though it was a book about magic not religion and did not use the words heathen or Asatru. The rune books using the Elder Futhark that are more commonly recommended these days, such as Freya Aswynn's, were influenced by Thorsson's system and are at root the same system. 

There are other competing rune magic systems. The most famous competing systems are:

1. Number one in terms of popularity is Ralph Blum's system, with the "blank rune," which is nearly universally despised among heathens for total inauthenticity. The "blank rune" is Blum's invention. Runes are an alphabet and no alphabet has a blank letter, so the "blank rune" not only has no historical basis, it doesn't even make sense. Blum's system became popular because his rune book was sold as a kit with set of premade runes, at a time when most occult stores did not carry premade sets of runes. (Like most other systems at the time, Thorsson's book advised runesters to make their own set.)

2. Guido von Liszt's system, which came to him in a dream and therefore is basically made up. His system is contaminated by being used by Nazis.

3. "It's impossible to know what the ancient system was, therefore we can't use one," the system most favored by total reconstructionists, which obviously isn't useful for anything. A closely related contention among reconstructions is, "runes weren't used for magic, therefore you shouldn't use them for magic." Again, that is not helpful to someone wanting to learn rune magic. 

4. Various systems specific to particular writers in modern times, where modern times stretches back far enough to include Bureus, and systems based on reconstructing particular cultures. Many retroheathens interested in reconstructing specific cultures and time periods are interested in specific runic alphabets such as the Anglo-Saxon, Frisian, etc. There are various books about those systems. None of them are as famous or popular as Thorsson's, Blums, or von Liszt's rune magic systems, but if one is interested in a particular culture, there are books available on them these days. Many books on fields of narrow interest have been published since the publishing technology revolution of this century. Some of them are quite good, but they are not as influential as foundational books written during the beginnings of the heathen revival.

Additional question: OK so what about Icelandic Magic, then, and all the xianity in it?

Icelandic Magic is based on a real book of magic from Iceland, which is from the post conversion period. Thorsson put some of his own new works in the same system in his book as examples of how to personalize the system, and create one's own magical signs and objects using the system. The pure translation parts of the book have not been "reclaimed" for heathens by being changed, but are presented as in the original Galdrabok, which is a historical document. That's why I said Icelandic Magic is part academic and part magic. 

Link to my review of Icelandic Magic: https://eternalhauntedsummer.com/issues/winter-solstice-2016/icelandic-magic/ 

Image: Rune Stones by Jasmin777 via Pixabay, creative commons

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners and other books. She was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, and is the author of the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018.

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