After reading numerous books on magic - and rune magic specifically - it is difficult to find a single volume that stands out from the others. "Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick" by Jan Fries is one rare book that truly shines in this see of generally unoriginal tomes. Upon getting halfway through this book, I knew that it would be placed on my shelf of frequently used references.
Fries begins his book with a series of discussions on historical topics. These include the origins of runic symbols and various runerows, what we know of ancient runic inscriptions, the Nazi misuse of runes, and early Germanic religion and culture.
"Helrunar's" history section deserves special attention, as Fries is careful to remind the reader of the volatile nature of history. The fact that he discusses how more recent research constantly forces historians to revise theories earns him a great deal of respect. This is best exemplified when the author includes a supplement at the end of the second edition of his book to clarify and revise some of his own claims.
After an invigorating series of history lessons, the book launches into the discussion of exercises and discipline. In this section, Fries not only recommends different exercises, but he explains why they are so important. In this process, he explains the importance of whole-self - including the often overlooked body - involvement in the magical disciplines.
In this section, the author also describes some of the various experiences a person practicing these exercises might have. He goes on to explain why one might have them and how to respond to them if the experience indicates a problem. This is a marked difference between Fries and those who leave the reader wondering if "they're doing it right."
The book ends by discussing the various runerows. In this section, Fries lists the various rune poems with translations. He also gives his own etymological insights. However, these are sparse and poorly connected at times. This is done because the author encourages the reader to seek more personal interpretations. While I agree with this philosophy in theory, I feel a better understanding of established runelore would be advisable at first. This, combined with the fact that the author's preference for chaos magic overshadows the whole book, prevents me from recommending "Helrunar" as a primary guide for rune magic as the title suggests. However, I do consider it an excellent runelore supplement as well as a general magical reference.
A review of this book would be incomplete without mentioning the author's own illustrations. Fries' drawings - which can be found throughout the book - display his great imagination and vision. I found them utterly inspiring and would recommend pondering them in an appropriate state of meditation.
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