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13 Mar 2010

Review: Runes: Theory & Practice (Galina Krasskova)

Runes: Theory and Practice by Galina Krasskova
With contributions by Raven Kaldera and Elizabeth Vongvisith
2009, New Page Books
223 pages

I have enjoyed what I have read of Galina Krasskova’s writings, so I was quite excited to review this book. Having devoured it, I have come to the conclusion that, although there are some discordant notes that did not sit comfortably with me, it is on the whole a valuable contribution to contemporary runic lore.

The book is not really for beginners, and for the most part assumes the reader already has (or is capable of acquiring) a grasp of the history of the runes, and indeed of Heathenry more generally. It focuses more on explaining Krasskova’s ideas and experiences pertaining to rune work, derived from her many years of experience.

Krasskova is one of those admirable Heathen/runic authors who is open about which of her claims have an historical basis and which come from her own invention or experience. In a world where many authors on runes present themselves as being historically/academically sound – only to then promulgate all kinds of fabrications as “authentic” – this is very welcome.

The book begins with some general comments on rune magic, including Krasskova’s thesis that the runes are sentient spirits; moves to a discussion of each rune (including the Anglo-Saxon runes, a rare inclusion); and then discusses theory and technique for applying the runes to various purposes such as magic, galdr (song magic, which she correctly notes as not necessarily being a runic practice), and divination.

The discussion of the runes themselves is thought-provoking and Krasskova has some fascinating interpretations and ideas. She accompanies her thoughts with translations of the three Rune Poems that history has bequeathed us – essential for anyone who has an interest in the runes – and her discussion is also accompanied by some evocative modern rune poems composed by Elizabeth Vongvisith.

Krasskova’s ideas on divination and singing the runes are very useful. Some authors on rune magic, being addicted to the vice of over-complication, leave the reader feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, whereas Krasskova makes one feel inspired to experiment and explore.

Despite my generally very positive impression, I did have a few raised eyebrows when reading this book. Krasskova’s ideas about runes as spirit allies are very unorthodox, but she pretty much presents the notion as though it were simply a matter of fact. I think a little more transparency with her readers would be appropriate on that score. I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea personally, but there are plenty of very experienced rune workers out there who do not adopt this notion and seem to have no difficulties at all.

Similarly, her claim that runes inevitably and necessarily like to feed on blood offerings is very unusual. I have known many experienced rune workers – and indeed, I am one myself – but I have never before encountered this notion. Again, Krasskova presents this idea as a simple matter of fact, whereas in truth it is quite unusual. I think for something potentially so controversial it would have been in good taste to have explicitly noted that many rune workers would disagree with this idea.

Perhaps Galina has simply assumed that, given her audience are likely to have some familiarity with runes already, they will know that these ideas are unorthodox. Nonetheless, I think that a simple acknowledgement or qualification would have been easy enough to include. Certainly such an inclusion would have been more consistent with her general openness about the difference between historical lore and personal innovation/experience.

Some of the book’s initial remarks on ordeal magic and spirit allies feel like introductory comments, but unfortunately the book does not really return to flesh these themes out. I rather wish the book had been longer; it ends rather abruptly and I felt like she had more to say. This is especially relevant given that this is a book for those who are no longer beginners and who are willing (and able) to dive deep.

I would hesitate to recommend this book to a beginner, but it certainly has given me pause and some fresh ideas for exploration, as well as inspiration to re-examine my own spiritual/magical practice. I still think that Jan Fries’ Helrunar remains unsurpassed as the best modern book on rune magic, but nonetheless Runes: Theory and Practice represents a considerable contribution to esoteric runic literature and offers many refreshing insights and reflections.

    3 comments to Review: Runes: Theory & Practice (Galina Krasskova)

    • Brett Williamson

      The detail on each individual rune was fascinating. Going into “Wyrd” and how to Galdr was interesting, and the types of divination showed me new techniques to find answers for myself. Overall the book was intense and insightful.

    • Christopher Morden

      I’d agree with the general review presented above, but would also caveat that Krasskova is quite mindful about providing citations where she can and generally draws conclusions based on the literature available, notwithstanding the varying beliefs of practitioners. It is a uniquely scholarly approach such as the material allows and her insights on blood magic and rune work are structured as a well reasoned discourse with some evidence provided for this view. I think it might border on pedantic to ever provide special dispensation for the caveat, “but you might want to do it differently.” This book was one of my favorite finds of 2010.

    • Hi Christopher,

      A quick check (gods bless authors who are thoughtful enough to include indexes!) indicates that the book provides no historical or mythological citations for the runic blood offering thing. Despite this, the author explicitly states that anyone who wants to use the runes will inevitably find themselves having to make blood offerings to the runes.

      My point is that there seems to be a great number of very experienced runic practitioners out there for whom this is not the case (and in fact I’ve never met or heard of anyone who has insisted on the necessity of blood offerings to the runes). I’d like to think that it would be appropriate not to exaggerate the prevalence of such a potentially controversial practice.

      I certainly wouldn’t deny the quality of this book. However there is much confusion and misinformation out there about runes; hence it is important for esteemed authors to be up front about views that are idiosyncratic. What does the book have to lose from making such qualifications? If anything such openness would just build the author’s reputation for integrity.

      You might think me pedantic, and that’s your right. When I was first learning about runes I wasted a lot of time trying to sort out seemingly credible opinion from actual fact because even the “big names” in the field sometimes have bad habits when it comes to presenting individual experience as universal truth. If this makes me more stringent than some then so be it; I would rather save others some of the frustration and confusion that I experienced.



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