In Phalanx’s first podcast, Angel Millar talks with A.D. Mercer, author of Runen: The Wisdom of the Runes, about the ancient European symbols and, more especially, the later and far more controversial “Armanen runes,” as well as about aspects of their history, mythology, their relation to the world tree Yggdrasil, and Jungian psychology. Besides the podcast, below we’ve also included extracts from Mercer’s latest book.
A.D. Mercer’s Runen: The Wisdom of the Runes is published by Aeon Sophia Press, and is available to order here. Below are a few pages from the book (right click and open in new tab or new window to enlarge).
Below is an adaptation of “Odhinn: Dark God of the Runes” from A.D. Mercer’s Runen: The Wisdom of the Runes.
At the most basic, historical level, “runes” were both magical signs and letters of the alphabets (Futharks) of various pre-Christian northern European tribes.
The Mythology of the Northern Tradition contains a ‘pantheon’ of different Gods and Goddesses, but when it comes to the runes, there is only one God that shines forth: Odhinn, whose self-sacrifice first brought them into our world.
We should note that the name of the deity is most often spelt with only a single ‘n’ and no ‘h’ (i.g., as Odin), however, in the Icelandic tradition, the name is spelt Odhinn, and this spelling was also used by the Austian mystic Guido von List, who discovered or created the eighteen “Armanen” runes during the late nineteenth century.
Odhinn is considered to be the highest and most powerful of the “Aesir” gods. He represents power, might, war and death, but is also the god of poetry and wisdom. (Indeed the root of the word ‘Wisdom’, etymologically speaking, can be traced back to the Old English ‘weid’ which, in turn links the ‘the wise’ or ‘wise man’, which are both in turn linked to Old High German. Thus denoting both understanding, and he, or she, who has it — surely Odhinn.)
Odhinn is also known as the Alfadir or Alfather, as he is indeed father of the gods, both as their leader and, in the case of Alder, Hod, Hermod, Vidar, and Thor, etc., literally their father. And, it is by this name, the ‘All-father’ that he is often referred to in von List’s Armanen tradition. Odhinn features in all the various, interrelated, northern European mythologies that spread across the entire continent and, although there are variations in the spellings, it is clearly the same figure. The Anglo-Saxon’s refer to him as Woden (from which we derive the day of the week “Wednesday”), for example, which is very similar to the Old High German form; Wotan.
But who exactly is the dark god of the runes?
As already noted, Odhinn is the most powerful of the Nordic/Germanic/Anglo-Saxon gods. Residing in Valhalla (the hall of the fallen), where his two ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) bring him news. There he sits in judgment upon those who have fallen in battle, greeting those who have lived the true life, that of courage, valor, and strength, but will not allow those who have lived a ‘weak life’ to remain by his side.
Another striking feature is that Odhinn has lost an eye; this was sacrificed in order to gain great wisdom and knowledge, this he gained by drinking from Mímir’s magical well. Mimir himself was an ancient god of the Vanir, which was overthrown by the Aesir gods before the world of mankind came into being.
In the conflict, Mimir’s head was sent to Odhinn, which he kept and used as an oracle. But the pursuit of knowledge drove Odhinn on towards even greater sacrifices. Not content with the ‘quaff from Mimir’s well’ Odhinn ultimately sacrificed himself in his quest for wisdom.
According to the legend of the Havamal Odhinn hung himself from the world tree, Yggdrasil, for nine whole days and nights, stabbed with a spear. One can be forgiven for thinking that is merely a tale inspired by the Christian Myth. But historical evidence has shown that such forms of sacrifice — including having been pierced by a spear — predate Christian mythology by hundreds of years. (See, in particular, the ‘Tollund Man’, a human sacrifice discovered on Jutland Peninsula in Denmark and dated around the 4th century B.C.) And unlike the myth of Christ, Odhinn’s act was one of self-sacrifice — “myself to my own self given” — for the sake of timeless and primordial knowledge: the runes themselves.