Runecaster's Handbook, by Edred ThorssonRunecaster’s Handbook: the Well of Wyrd, by Edred Thorsson
Red Wheel/Weiser, 9781578631360, 129 pp. (incl. glossary and index), 1988, 1999

Runecaster’s Handbook is a concise volume, targeted at providing the reader with just enough information to go about making and casting the rune-lots. As such, it touches briefly on a great many subjects, constantly referencing and referring the curious reader to Thorsson’s other works: Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic, and Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology.

Thorsson begins with a chapter on the history of the runes, followed by a chapter on divinatory theory. His approach to history is scholarly rather than the wishful thinking commonly found in Occult or New Age books. He clearly outlines which associations and practices have been documented historically and is explicit in presenting interpretation as interpretation rather than fact.

The bulk of the book covers his standard or typical interpretation of the 24 runes, comprising the corresponding stanzas from the Old English Rune Poem, the Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme (for the 16 runes of the Younger Futhark), and the Old Icelandic Rune poem (also for the 16 Younger Futhark runes), followed by paragraphs on the relevant Lore, Bright-stave interpretation, Murk-stave interpretation, and lastly, keywords. The inclusion of the extant primary sources (the rune poems) is appreciated, but the relation between the stanza’s content and the interpretive paragraphs is not always clear. The paragraphs nonetheless capture the complexity of the ideas and principles the runes represent, inclining the reader to avoid simplistic, one-word interpretations. This section of the book will serve as excellent reference while learning to cast and interpret the staves. Thorsson makes it quite clear that he does not approve of systematic innovation; the methods and meaning should be taught as authentically as possible, but that at the same time innovation and interpretation at an individual level is both recommended and necessary.

The following chapters cover the process of making a set of runes, a few methods of becoming attuned to them, and finally a handful of different casting methods with sample readings. As is the case with most instruction manuals, reading through these sections is slow, the interpretations are densely packed. The explanations however, will likely be sufficient as a starting point for the reader to actually begin castings of their own–and Thorsson does emphasize that it is only though study of the runes and diligent practice in casting that one will develop skill in interpretation.

Thorsson’s language throughout the book is rife with jargon and terminology, both directly rune-related and mythological in basis. He does include a glossary at the end of the book, but does not always clarify new terms as he introduces them. While this reinforces the perception of his scholarly credentials, it is at the sometime expense of readability–especially for new readers. At points, Thorsson will reference an evidently complex idea from one of his other works, without actually explaining it at all. Despite the present manuscript being presented as a standalone handbook, it is clear that Thorrson presumes that his readers will have read his prior works. For example, he begins the chapter on runic symbolism “In Futhark and in Runelore, we concentrated on magical aspects or on general matters of lore.”1 A compilation of his three books on runes, or their synthesis into a single more complete work would eliminate the error of this assumption and the necessity of these helpful but irritatingly obtuse references.

Runecaster’s Handbook is an excellent guide and reference for beginning the casting of runes for divination; it comes across as a scholarly and slightly more in depth version of the books that come with good Tarot decks or sets of Oracle cards. Whether or not it is a functional starting point depends upon the reader’s type: individuals who are interested in getting down to the actual casting as quickly as possible will find it includes all the information they require. Individuals who would prefer to have a full context before embarking upon the journey of attuning to the runes would be best served by beginning with Thorsson’s other works, and then progressing to Runecaster’s Handbook afterward.

  1. p. 17 []