The runes are a sacred alphabet, one that many alternative spiritualities work with as a means for contacting the Divine. In fact, runes are used almost as often as the Tarot, by far the most common divination tool in spiritual practice. More than sixteen years ago, Diana Paxson created a class workbook to accompany the year-long runic study course she was teaching. Its quality was so immediately apparent that it instantly became a sought-after prize within the Heathen community. Those course materials – refined and redeveloped – have finally been made available to the larger community.

The primary characteristic which distinguishes a runic alphabet from other alphabets is that each rune has a meaning associated with it. In contrast, the common alphabet’s letters are nonsense sounds ("ay", "bee", and "cee") that must be combined to create meaning. The first three runes, "fehu", "uruz", and "þurisaz" are actual words in the Germanic language, meaning "cattle", "aurochs", and "giant," respectively. This complicated symbolism provides them with magical and religious significance, thus transforming the simple process of writing into a magical act.

There are many books about the runes – good, bad, controversial, and fictional. Some of them are beautiful, but downright bizzare. Others make no effort at all to connect with the folklore and practices that are known from their original context. Paxson’s book includes a brief survey for each rune of material from sources that are actually based on scholarly effort and practical use, along with the original folkloric rune poems themselves. This is combined with her extensive personal and community-based experience in scholarly, religious, and magical practice. It's not a thin book, but it is nevertheless a reasonably concise guide for material that would otherwise take a library to collect, if you could even find it all anymore.

I found Taking Up the Runes to be a magnificent achievement. It is well-written, detailed, and (above all) useful. Without hesitation, I recommend this book for anyone interested in moving a little deeper into the mysteries of the runes.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author:  Diana Paxson

Weiser Books, 2005

pp. 415, $24.95

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