What is a Rune?

What is a Rune?

And Other Essays

Collin Cleary

Review: Gwendolyn Taunton

rune, collin clearyThe premise of What is a Rune? is explained in the introduction. The book is an expansion on a topic the author previously wrote about in an essay entitled “Philosophical Notes on the Runes”. Cleary also explains that despite the title of the book, it would “clearly be inaccurate to describe the runes as a ‘philosophy'”.[1] Cleary elaborates further on his position by stating that he takes his bearings from Hegel, and that,

Hegel grouped philosophy together with art and religion as the three highest expressions of what he called the human spirit. [2]

From the perspective of Hegel, via mythic, artistic and poetic modes of expression, the runes can operate within a philosophical narrative. After all, religions such as Christianity have all been interpreted by philosophers. It is a sign of maturity that contemporary Heathen Traditions are now being examined in such a manner.

While the purpose of the runes is not philosophical, much of the esoteric meaning behind individual runes can clearly have a philosophical interpretation, and this onerous task is the one Cleary has undertaken in writing this book. A substantial amount of the philosophy in What is a Rune? is viewed with a Hegelian lens. Therefore, Hegel would argue, “if it is philosophical thought that reveals the meaning of the runes to us, then isn’t philosophy a higher-level form of discourse?” [3]

Obviously this style of research is going to take the reader into very different territory than they will find by reading the likes of Ralph Blum in regards to the runes. What follows instead is the beginning of a comprehensive Nordic gnoseology, which first of all sets off to analyse the cosmological organisation of the nine worlds. Although this does not specifically deal with the runes, the chapter acts as an essential cultural framework which is required for any understanding of the runes to be developed.

This is followed by another chapter dealing with “the gifts of Odin and his brothers”. Once again the impetus is overtly philosophical. It examines the nature of consciousness, theories of mind, the subconscious and cognitive faculties. This chapter also places greater emphasis on traditional interpretations and Indo-European linguistic roots than the previous one.

The next chapter, “The Stones Cry Out”, takes the evolution of cognition even further, into the realms of archaeology to discern facts about the “creative explosion” which must have occurred in early humans as they shifted away from hunter-gather tribes towards civilization and complex tool-use. This, of course, is also the period in which art, religion, and other forms also began to emerge in the archaic substratum of religion which Guenon and Evola referred to as the Primordial Tradition. As such, a lot of this chapter deals with paleontology and cave-art.

This period of history has also been referred to by authors such as Mircea Eliade as “shamanic”, placing Shamanism as a consequence of this, at the root of religious genealogy for the Primordial Tradition. On this Clearly says that,

As to the art having been involved in practices that were specifically “shamanic”, if I were to make a case for this I would base it – at least in part – on evidence internal to Europe, rather than on comparisons to recent non-Europeans. Mircea Eliade, for one, did believe that there was a European Tradition of shamanism.[4]

In the same chapter, Cleary also links all these different ideas together and describes his theory,

My thesis, quite simply, is that art, religion, and language are all made possible by a mental or cognitive act which I have called ekstasis.[5]

The rest of the chapter then explains these concepts in the context of philosophy. This is then followed by a chapter in which the author states his opinion on the political issues which plague Asatru, before once again returning to philosophy with an examination of consciousness and the nature of the ego. This leads us to another philosopher who features prominently in the book alongside Hegel; Heidegger. The purpose of this section is to establish how older Germanic ideas have influenced later philosophers.

Finally there is the last chapter which deals with the cult TV show The Prisoner and Ibsen’s Brand, which although interesting, is a bit out of place compared to the previous content.

In summary, What is a Rune? offers an interesting hypothesis on the philosophical concepts surrounding the runes, and differs substantially from other texts on runes which offer purely divinatory means, adding an new perspective on the topic which does not rely on occult or ‘New Age’ sources.

What is a Rune? is available here

[1] Cleary, Collin, What is a Rune?: And Other Essays (USA: Counter-Currents Publishing Ltd., 2015), p. 1

[2] Ibid., p. 1

[3] Ibid., p.8

[4] Ibid., p. 98

[5] Ibid., p. 101