Book Review: The Runes by J. Hamburger

I have received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Runes is American author J. Hamburger’s debut book. It can be read as a short introduction to the runes as a divinatory system or as a guide for reflections. The book starts out with Hamburger telling us a little bit about how he discovered the runes through his family and a little bit about his philosophy when it comes to divination. I always find it interesting to know from what perspective the author comes from. He reveals that he believes in free will and that humans have the power to shape their own destiny. I like that he takes the approach that the divinatory meanings of the runes are not definite and that he is open for that they may even change over time. I experience this as a modern and up to date take on rune reading that does not try to give a false impression of an ancient unbroken tradition of rune reading. This does not mean that the author does not care about history. Quite to the contrary the author seems to have a deep respect for the history of the runes and therefore attempts to portray them as accurately as possible. He is open about that little is actually known about how the runes were used for divination and refers to Roman historian Tacitus’ account of rune divination.

Hamburger has chosen not to focus much around the divination ritual itself. The section about rune reading is quite brief and it mostly leaves the reader to figure out what approach they want to take on their own. What we get is a short version of Tacitus’ account and some comments from the author about his own take on rune divination such as that he does not use a blank rune or that he does not subscribe to different meanings for runes which land upside down. What he says are all sound advice when it comes to rune divination, but for a philosophical minded person like myself, I feel that this section leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I agree with him that there is no definite way to do a rune reading, but when he says that we are doing a rune reading to open up for a message I would have liked to see his thoughts about where these messages come from. Is it from Odin, the Norns or perhaps the deepest part of our own psyche? It would have been a good opportunity for the author to share his thoughts and get to know him a little better. I don’t know about his future plans, but it could of course be that he plans to elaborate on his own philosophy in future releases. In any case, this is not meant as a major critcism, but it is worth knowing that neither this aspect of divination or that using the runes for magical operations (bind runes etc.) is the focus for this book. He seems to attempt to take a no nonsense and non-speculative approach. And that is fair enough.

Most rune divination systems seem to be inspired by the Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic or Norwegian rune poems to some degree. This is also where The Runes can offer us something unique. Hamburger gives us the Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic rune poems in a new translation. The original rune poems in Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic are included in the book alongside the new English translations after the rune descriptions. He explains why he has left the Norwegian rune poem out and I understand that. Although as a native Norwegian that is the rune poem I personally prefer. The rune poems and the reflections around them are the main part of this book. Essentially these are what you should get this book for. I like that he sticks close to the rune poems for the divinatory meanings. One interesting consequence of this and the fact that he chose both the Icelandic and the Anglo-Saxon rune poems is that he gets alternative meanings. Often this turns out as a more grim version based on the Icelandic rune poem and a more softened meaning based on the Anglo-Saxon rune poem. It is also worth mentioning that the Icelandic rune poem is based on the Younger Futhark and that Hamburger follows the tradition which is utilizing the Elder Futhark for divination. This means that there will not be Icelandic verses for every rune. I think this approach in combination with the new translation has made Hamburger successful in creating something new and interesting. I feel that sticking close to the rune poems gives an authentic feel as the divinatory meanings are at least grounded in something. The benefit of that is that you don’t get the feeling that you have no idea where a meaning comes from. Both Hamburger and I agree on that the meanings are open for interpretation and are not definite, but it is easier to relate to meanings that are grounded in something than if they had been decided at random. Personally I would be inclined to pick some meanings from the Norwegian rune poems, but I agree with Hamburger’s approach in sticking close to the Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon rune poems.

His reflections on the rune poems are good and it is clear that they are made by someone who has a passion for what he is doing. It must have taken quite some effort and research to translate the runes poems. He does a very good job of explaining them. All the circumlocutions and kennings can make it difficult for us to understand the poems today.

The book is an easy read and he cites his sources so that you can go and look them up if you feel the need to. There is also a handy quick guide in the back if you just need the key words.

The Runes is a good contribution to the topic and I always welcome new perspectives and interpretations. I probably will take some of the ideas I have received from this book and use it in my own practice. I also want to highlight that experienced practioners, who might have in interest in magic, also can expand upon Hamburger’s ideas and put it to that use. Even if Hamburger himself does not state if he has an interest going in that direction, it does not mean that his interpretations cannot be useful for this purpose. Therefore I think his claim that it is a book suitable for both beginners and advanced practioners holds true.

If you are interested in rune divination I find that this is a good book to add to your collection. It takes a fairly simple and no nonsense approach to rune divination, so it leaves that mostly up to the reader. Perhaps that is not such a bad idea after all as the ideas around Norse mythology, religion and even rune reading seems to become increasingly politicized. This book stays clear from all of that. Hamburger focuses on the rune poems and that is an interesting place to start your journey for either learning for the first time or strengthening your connection to the runes.

The Night Spirit

My calling and the Goddess Hekate

In January 2018 I had a dream. I often dream when I sleep and usually there is some kind of strange story going on. And if there isn’t a story going on at least there is some kind of location or setting that would be possible to describe. In January 2018 though, when I had this experience, there was neither a story going on or any particular location that I would be able to recognize. Everything was pretty much black or grey. It could be that I am in a dark cave or something, but I cannot tell because I don’t really see anything.

All of a sudden I feel a force that seems overwhelmingly powerful and frightening. I understood instinctively that I was no longer alone in this dark space. I would never hold any conversation with any entity without trying to have it identify itself, so I asked it what it was and it replied “I am the Goddess Hekate”. At the time, I did not really know much about Hekate at all. I had never worked with her before and the only context I had heard her mentioned in was a negative context as something dark and terrifying and referred to as the Queen of the Witches. So perhaps not so surprising my response back was asking what she wanted from me. Her response took me quite a bit by surprise: “I want you to become my messenger”. Only a fool would accept such an outrageous request immediately so my response was somewhere along the lines of “Hell no!”.

Today, I am not actually sure how much choice I had in the matter. I don’t act on or put too much meaning into every single dream I have, but now I felt strongly to seek out information on Hekate. Perhaps this was the intention. It is likely she already knew that I would seek out more information. I ended up getting a few books and reading up on the historical Hekate. It was a lot more complex than I had expected with all the different epiphets, syncretisms and alternative names so getting a clear picture of exactly who she is, isn’t easy. I am not going into detail of that here, as I think that is a process that is useful for anyone with an interest in her to go through, but she is definitely not what I thought she was when I first met her in that dream.

I also had some books recommended to me by an “occult friend” who had been interested in Hekate some years ago and that’s  when I got into reading books by modern day devotees of Hekate. I enjoyed these and I enjoyed reading about the historical Hekate so eventually I decided that I would be willing to be working with this entity. So  I set up a devotional shrine where I can honor and petition the Goddess. After that I have just been continuing that practice as well as incorporating new elements into my practice, adding things step by step, as it feels appropriate when I read something new and discover new ideas. The studying doesn’t stop (it never will). And I frequently have new and interesting experiences.

One rather interesting episode happened after I got my statue of Hekate. I had decided to invest in a proper nice statue and much to my dismay it arrived broken. It was broken in two places. The headdress of the statue I managed to fix quite easily with some glue, but the torch she was holding in her left hand proved to be more difficult. I tried to glue it back on, but it just wouldn’t hold. When I took my fingers away after holding it in place for a longer period of time it would fall off again. So I went to the store to buy a second type of glue and repeat the process. It still wouldn’t hold. In a last desperate attempt I went back to the first type of glue and it still didn’t seem to work, but after I got tired from holding the torch in place at the correct angle, I decided to try and support it up with a small box of incense sticks that I placed between the torch and the body of the statue. It seemed stable enough, but suddenly the box of incense sticks fell rather violently to the ground. Anyone familiar with spirit communication knows that it doesn’t necessarily take the form of audible sound. In this case I suddenly felt a strong sensation of “I don’t need this”. The torch has been standing in place ever since.

The reason why I said that I am not sure how much choice I had in the matter is that now recently, I have been asked to hold a talk about witchcraft in a local shop. It wasn’t even my idea! I don’t know much about Wicca or other types of witchcraft so naturally a lot of my talk will center around Hekate and the type of work that is possible to do with her. What was absolutely unthinkable for me before is about to happen. I suppose I have gone from a “hell no!” to a “hell yeah!” Having that said, I consider this story that I just shared to be rather ordinary and normal. There are a lot of devotees out there with interesting stories (many way more interesting than my own).

Going forward I suppose I will share more of the work I am doing with her as it ties into some of the other topics I have already started writing about here.

 

– The Night Spirit

 

20190816_153327
Again I find myself standing at the Crossroads.