RUNE MAGIC - AN INTERVIEW WITH D. JASON COOPER
What is Rune Magic?
Runic magic is the most visible tip of a school of magic called the Northern Path. Northern magic uses the myths, god forms, philosophy, and ritual forms of the various Germanic tribes. Part of that magic is the runes.
These are compact magical devices, associated with sound, color, image, number, and forming a matrix of magical practice. They're used for magic, talismans, worship, astral projection, spiritual advancement, and more. In this the runes are like the Hebrew alphabet within the Qabbalah. Not the whole of the thing, but an indispensable and beautiful part of it.
The Northern Path itself is different from the "Western Path" based on the Greco-Roman myths, Christianity and the Qabbalah. Nor is it part of the Eastern Path. In both cases the intrinsic structure, core values, and esoteric psychology of the Northern Path is unique to itself.
That said, the Northern Path does fit within under the broad umbrella of paganism. It is part of the broader movement back toward paganism which has been going since about the 1880's.
Why is Runic Magic, in particular, becoming so popular? What is its appeal?
There are four reasons why Runic Magic has enjoyed such growth.
First, it was "new." People were discovering the various ethnic forms of magic, including Celtic, Maya, Aztec, Yoruban, and so on. The runes were part of this. And people who were spreading out from the Golden Dawn or Wiccan traditions gave it a look.
This wave has probably finished, so we'll probably see a contraction of interest in the runes for a while. But there will still be a significant core of people who practice or are interested in the runes.
Second, at a time when everyone was talking about "risk management" and reducing risk and making things safer, the runes spoke of courage and facing up to danger. It spoke of taking on troubles when the ethos seemed to be to run away from them.
And at a time when individual worth and the importance of friendship were almost banished from the lexicon of human concerns, the runes stood for exactly these principles. So the runes speak to the lingering might-have-beens which resonate in our souls.
Third, the runes were (and are) an ecological form of magic. They require a balance from the practitioner. A gift demands a gift, as the saying has it. So just when a new-old view of the world was propelling the green movement, a new-old magical system with the same view was revived.
Fourth, there's just a trend to paganism, worldwide. People are turning back to the old ways in increasing numbers. More than that, they're turning away from the ossified Christian Churches who demand moral obedience and then molest your children. Runes, as part of that broad tradition of paganism, have enjoyed the fruits of that growth.
In fact, that growth should continue for some time to come. Inside the next fifty years, we'll probably see about 5% of the population become avowedly pagan. That's a conservative estimate, by the way. As a consequence, Runic Magic will itself grow.
It will grow because technology has reopened paganism. Think of this, a magazine about paganism on the Internet. The Internet teaches us about the humanness of individuals because it brings into contact with so many that the human nature of each of them becomes visible.
Paganism teaches the same thing. It was born before technology and so is an expression of the human individual. The more technology lifts burden from our shoulders, the more we `cease to notice it' as the futurists are promising, the more pre-technology paganism is going to address the sort of questions we're going to be facing.
How long have you been working Runic Magic?
Runic Magic itself, something like twelve or thirteen years. But I practiced other forms of magic for the fifteen years before that and have continued to practice other forms since. Paganism has always been about exploring different paths: it is a tradition rather than a church.
So in divination, for example, I use Tarot, I Ching, runes, geomancy, and two other methods which I've developed, myself. I choose the one/s which is/are most appropriate to the question I need to ask.
In magic I use the Northern Path (including the runes), traditional Western Path rites, or the methods of The Companions of the Phoenix - which methods form yet another independent path.
What initially attracted you to working magic with the Runes?
I actually came to the runes from something like to opposite direction of everybody else. Most people are looking for a magical path or a divination system and come to the runes, or they come to the Northern Path out of an interest in the deities like Odin, Thor, and Freyja.
I was actually studying the myths of the Indo-European tribes. This meant Brahmanic and pre-reformation Hinduism, Iranian and Zoroastrian beliefs, Roman Mithrasism, Norse myths, Manicheism, and so on. I was looking for the universals of myth in these groups, seeking to find the interconnections.
For example, why was the giant who fathered the gods called Yama? That's a Sanskrit word meaning hermaphrodite. What it a late accretion? Something from 10th century trade through Russia (the Rus were actually an Odin-worshipping Germanic people)? Or is it an ancient tradition which preserved the Indo-European root of the myth?
Through these studies I backed into the runes. That's why I was one of the early supporters of the importance of the aettir as part of the esoteric structure of the runes. It fit with other aspects of Indo-European lore.
The runes are a beautifully compact form of magic. They condense meanings very well with their system of correspondences and the uses to which they can be put. In this the runes match the Hebrew, Enochian, Greek, and Phoenician as one of the great esoteric alphabets of the world.
Is Runic Magic more or less powerful than other forms of magic?
In whose hands? A gun is little weapon at all in the hands of someone who can't shoot straight. Magic, too, is in the hands of the practitioner.
I see magic as being like a vast battery of energy. Our task is to conduct it. But the amount we can conduct by our own wills is limited. If we try to conduct too much then, like the filament of a light, we burn out.
We can increase the electricity we can get out of a battery by either making the wire thicker or by adding more wires. We do mental exercised in concentration and visualization to make the wire thicker. We use correspondences of number, shape, color and so on to add more wires. In either case we can conduct more energy for use.
In this sense, Runic Magic is on par with other forms of magic.
Can one employ the Runes within the hermetic magical system?
It's probably possible, but it would be very difficult. For example, the god forms of the Northern and Western paths are quite different. The god form of Jupiter, for example, is quite centralized and bound by a single archetypal image. Contrast that to the god form of Odin, which has three forms.
The god forms of Odin include both the shaman and the Allfather. Each has a different form and different (though overlapping) functions. As a shaman he carries a blackthorn staff (sometimes shown in bud, with small white flowers), wears a hat pulled down over one eye, and an animal cloak. As Allfather he carried Gungnir - his spear - wears a mailcoat, and is accompanied by two ravens and two wolves. The shaman is essentially a god of inspiration, as Allfather he is the giver of victory.
But the two forms, though part of the same god, are not put on at one and the same time. It is as if Jupiter could have different god forms, one for the puckish companion of Mercury and one as Jupiter Optimus Maximus, patron of the Roman Senate.
If we were to put it in terms of the Tree of Life, then think of it this way. The Greco-Roman and Egyptian god forms fit each to a Sephira, each Sephira to a particular world. But Northern Path god forms may fit to a Sephira, but not to a world.
In other words, take Hod, associated with Mercury. We usually think of this as being in the formative world of Yetzirah, the formative world. But it is equally true to say it exists in each other four worlds: Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah, and Assiah. A Northern Path god form applies to a particular Sephira in a particular world: for example, Hod in Atziluth (Allfather Odin) and Yetzirah (shaman Odin). Attributing the runes to particular sephiroth or paths would offer similar problems.
All this begs the question what's missing from either systems that they have to be merged rather than exist along side each other.
How would you use the Runes in order to help a ten year old girl in hospital with leukemia?
Since she's ten, it would probably not be possible for her to do a ritual for herself. So the ritual work would have to be done by me.
If it were a close association - let's say a relative or friend's child - the first thing I'd do is prepare the runes for an oath for an astral quest with ritual sacrifice or gift. That way I could clear out any pollution (or karmic debt) through which I contributed to her disease.
The astral quest is based on the Omega Quest technique. A ritual and oath are used to bind the projections together so instead of being like individual short stories they are like chapters in a book. In other words, where you end one experience you will begin the next in complete continuity - so long as you take too long for the next projection.
The experiences and beings there will guide you to the knowledge you need. In Esoteric Rune Magic, I give not only notes on the technique but a record of one such quest. In this case I would take an oath "to change such aspects of my life as have contributed to her leukemia."
With that quest done and the changes demanded made, I would go on to the ritual proper. If the girl were unknown to me, I would proceed to the ritual directly.
The Northern Path opens quite a few possibilities, but we'll restrict ourselves to the runes proper. But even here we have tremendous options through summoning the powers of individual runes, forming runes into a monogram, talismans, candle magic, and more. What we'll do, though, is have an actual ritual, and we'll begin with setting the place of our working.
This can be a room of the house, though if you happen to have a nice natural mountain, copse of trees, spring or river on your property, this is convenient, too. We'll use a room.
To form wards for the room we'll call on the four dwarves whom Odin set to hold up the sky. These are Nordi in the north, Austri in the east, Vesti in the west, and Sudri in the south. Facing north first and traveling clockwise (or counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere) we carve and color the rune ken - symbolizing a torch - in the air.
Ken looks like a "K" without the vertical line that makes the back. To carve it, carve the upper stroke down and left, then the lower stroke down and right. To color it (yellow) do the upper stroke up and right, then the lower stroke down and right. Ritually this is saying the power comes down and then radiates outward. When carving and color each stroke a phrase is said. For ken this is: I hold the light.
Most runes, though, use different phrases for each stroke. When ken is carved and colored, then we would say to the dwarf:
See thee the light of the torch,
accept its flame
and let none pass thee by,
Lest it scorch them to death.
When the wards have been set in the room, we would furnish it with a small table facing north as an altar. On this we'll place a candle into which has been carved the rune boerc. Then, using a blue candle, we'd melt its wax into the carved-out boerc. Then we'd have a candle with boerc in its proper color at the base. Since boerc is a good rune for healing, it makes sense to place it on the altar.
Since its number is two we could place two of them, but one will do. When we carve and color boerc into the candle we would use the proper order of strokes and use the phrase for each stroke.
Boerc looks like a capital "B." But instead of curves, the created by four straight lines, creating something like two triangles with a common side forming the back of the "B."
To carve, we start with the top diagonal and carve down and right, then the diagonal second from the bottom down and right. Next the vertical stroke (the back of the "B") is carved upward. Next carve the lowest diagonal up and right, then the second highest diagonal up and right.
To color, when dripping in the wax we color the vertical upward, then the lowest diagonal up and right, the second lowest down and right, the second highest up and right, and the highest down and right.
When carving we keep the mind silent of words. When coloring, however, with each stroke we recite one line of the following:
freedom and joy,
The associated deity of boerc is Idun, the goddess of healing who tended the apples of immortality. Its image is of birch rods. Therefor apples and birch rods may be added to the altar as decoration. We would also bless the candle in Idun's name.
Idun, healing one, keeper of the sacred grove,
bless this candle with me
that by its light I shall heal of her disease.
We can also add,
To this, a gift demands a gift,
so I pledge for this healing
nine golden coins
to the learning of healing arts.
The nine coins (in Australia the golden $1 or $2 coins are fine, in the US and Canada, the silver dollar should serve as well) would be placed on the table and left there until they were given to medical research. Note, you can't put the money in your pocket and write out a check for the same amount. The money is not anonymous: the coins in effect become a kind of talisman.
Now the choice of ritual. For we could make the candle itself the center, using the flame as a focus of our magic. But this leukemia is obviously difficult. In traditional Saxon magic, for example, there would have to be a physical link, such as an ointment or cream which could be placed on the child. Here we will incorporate touch, and use the spell for a timed healing.
So we have to arrange a time in hospital to see the child to place healing hands upon her. The ritual will focus on that time, to increase the healing. The object will not be outright cure, but strengthening of the child. As she strengthens, her system and the magic together should beat back the disease.
With that in mind, we'll summon the power of individual runes and their gods. Boerc with Idun would naturally be one. We'll also summon Eohl with Magni and Modi (sons of Thor, destined to inherit his belt, hammer, and gloves). Eohl is associated with protection in all forms.
We would enter the room and revive our wards with the four dwarves. We would then summon the power of the runes.
We would carve and color eohl. Eohl looks like a "Y" but with the stem continuing straight up to the height of the two branches. Start with the vertical straight down, then the left diagonal up and left, then the right diagonal up and right.
To color it purple we'd do the vertical up, the left diagonal down and right and the right diagonal down and left. With each stroke we'd recite one line of:
By my sword
and my magic
Then we'd visualize Magni and Modi, each wearing one glove of Thor and each with a gloved hand on Mjollnir, his hammer. We'd then invoke:
Magni and Modi, gods of right,
hear my plea.
For gods of justice you be.
By your strength,
is protected from
> We'd then invoke Boerc itself, carving and coloring into the air just as we did with Eohl. The goddess this time is Idun, whom we'd visualize as a women of soft blonde hair and kind face, wearing a long green skirt and white shift or blouse. She carries a woven reed basket of apples, each one of which is perfect and unblemished. We'd then recite the following invocation:
Idun, kind and gentle deity,
who is useful to all,
Bring thy power and gifts
Make her well,
add thy strength to hers,
through my hands,
that she shall be healthy
and shall live long.
We'd then light the candle, focusing on the flame. We'd visualize the girl growing stronger, the symptoms of leukemia regressing. We'd visualize ourselves providing a laying on of hands, feel the energy which flows to sickened flesh to make it whole.
And we must offer to the gods. So when the images are replete in our minds, and the time for the laying on of hands is well set, we would address the gods.
A gift demands a gift,
and for thy gift I offer
to Magni and Modi,
nine seeds and nine saplings
and of trees, planted,
nine gold coins
to serve justice,
nine praises to the name Idun,
nine praises to the name Magni,
nine praises to the name Modi,
nine gifts of food
to untamed animals,
nine knives buried
and nine touches of my hands
to heal .
We would then go to the hospital at the right time and lay hands just above contact on the sick girl. We would feel the heat of the successful healing. And we would then take nine days, and on each of them perform one each of the nine different gifts.
After that, we could repeat the spell. When the spell was done at last, we would thank the gods and dismiss the dwarves. To each god we would say:
I thank thee, ,
for having heard my prayers,
and know that thou hast answered them,
I thank thee for this gift of
health and strength to .
To dismiss the dwarves we would face each direction, erase ken, and say:
I thank thee for thy work.
Blessings to thee
until we meet again.
That's the outline of the spell. Naturally I would normally check it over several times before employing it. Always double check the script of any major ritual before undertaking it.
Can you recommend any good books for the would-be Runic Magician?
Actually, I'd start with my own two. The first, Using the Runes was published by Aquarian (now part of the Harper Collins group) and the second, Esoteric Rune Magic, was published by Llewellyn. Most readers discover one and not the other, as I found out when I got a letter from the United States, very well organized and with penetrating questions, except that it pointed our ERM didn't mention divination - that was in Using the Runes.
For other authors, I'd suggest Michael Howard's The Magic of the Runes: Their Origins and Occult Power and Edred Thorsson's Futhark: A Handbook of Magic, both from Samuel Weiser.
I'd also suggest they have a look at Lisa Peschel's The Runes: Their Uses in Divination and Magick from Llewellyn.
I should point out these books don't always agree with each other on every detail. But the reader should be able to find plenty of suitable material with which to begin runic magic.