Can you tell fact from fiction about runes? Most of the popular books on runes are substantially fictional. The Rune Primer is an academically accurate introduction to the runes, delivered in an easy-to-read style. It contains analysis of original historical sources, translations of source texts, and candid reviews of some modern esoteric authors.
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I have taken on the task of writing a basic introduction to the Runes after many requests from new Rune-Net members for such a book.The problem with the many New-Age rune manuals is a general lack of proper research.
It does not take a great deal of research to write a reasonable introduction to the runes, yet most have chosen to write superficially about runes while padding out their books with large amounts of New Age, Wiccan, or Eastern esotericism. They cash in on the popularity of runes, with little regard to their proper cultural and religious context. Those of the modern Northern Traditions see this as not only poor research, but the greatest disrespect for an ancient cultural heritage.
On the other hand, the problem with the more reliable and academic works is that they are often rather dry and obscure for most readers. They tend to throw the beginner in at the deep end. In some ways the more academic popular writers require more caution in reading, as their own agendas and inventions are harder for the general reader to see.
One thing students asked for was a more concise and plain writing style. Most of the books they reviewed were found to be too padded out and wordy. They lacked focus and structure, and made it difficult for students to gain a clear basic picture.The purpose of this book is to keep it brief and to the point, to stick to the known facts and established conventions, and to avoid unnecessary elaborations, while still including some useful extra information.
From Chapter 8
Another of Krause’s theories was that the word Erilaz, which
appears in a small number of inscriptions, had a meaning of
“Rune Magician”. This was taken further by Thorsson, who
postulated a cult or guild of rune magicians connected with a
tribe called by the Romans “Heruli”.
There are about a dozen early inscriptions of the form “I the
Eril, wrote this” (-az being the masculine singular word
ending). There is no indication in the inscriptions that gives a
clue to the meaning of the word. However, there is fairly
good linguistic evidence.
It is accepted by many scholars that there is a linguistic link
between the name of the Germanic warriors listed by the
Romans as “Heruli”, the “Erilaz” from the runic inscriptions,
and the Old Norse “Jarl”, Old English “Eorl”, and modern
English “Earl”. However, there is still much debate and
disagreement among the experts, many do not accept that
“Erilaz” from inscriptions has anything to do with the actual
groups called “Heruli”.
If we look at the linguistics, the only viable theory connects
all of these words to warriors or armies. The reconstructed
Germanic root is “*Harjaz”, = “army”. The root word
survives remarkably little changed in modern English as “to
harry”, a term still used in the military to describe repeated
surprise attacks designed to wear the enemy down, or test
their strength. It also survives in German as “Heer” =
“Army”. It is also the root word of the warriors of Valhalla,
the “Einherjar”, and of names such as “Hereward” (armyprotector).
The Heruli were “the army people”, “those who harry”, or
“the marauders”. “Ek Erilaz” almost certainly meant “I the
warrior”. The word obviously had a lot of prestige, and this is
not surprising in a culture that valued warriorship so highly.
The word gained further in prestige until it came to mean
“army leader” (Jarl/Earl). There is a clear linguistic theme in
which the meaning of the root word remains consistent. It is
highly unlikely that such a word would have diverted its
meaning so radically that it ever suggested “rune magician”
at any stage.
There is mention in the Rigsthula that a Jarl should be an
educated person, who should know runes and also magic,
among many other things. It can not be interpreted as saying
that a Jarl was a rune magician, merely that an ideal Jarl
should be broadly educated. Warriorship was still the Jarl’s
primary business. Virtually all other sources place Jarls
squarely in their military and political occupations.
Nothing in the linguistic or historical evidence suggests
“Erilaz” means “rune magician”. In fact the bulk of evidence
points against it. The most widely accepted meaning of “ek
Erilaz” is “I the Earl”, indicating a warrior of high standing or
a commander who is stating his authority.