Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book Review - Odin's Gateways

I just recently came across Odin’s Gateways, while taking a peek at my local occult shop’s section on runes. As the owner is always staying abreast of new books, she also knows how to tempt me with new things as well.

To judge a book by it’s cover, first of all, I have to say, it looks very nice. The image of ravens in flight in front of a large tree, while behind them are small runes, hiding in the leaves, branches, trunk and root of the tree is very nice.

It is a short book, approximately 181 pages of text, divided into four sections, based upon phrases from the Havamal (the sayings of the high one) dealing with the runes. The phrases she uses are “do you how to ask?” (for the first section) “do you know how to interpret?” for the second section and “do you know how to carve?” for the third section. The fourth section is “Do you how to cast?. Each of the sections connects with information that is related to those questions.

The first section, “Do you know how to ask?”, deals with cultural lore, both historical and contemporary, and the cosmological underpinnings of the runes. The Havamal, Eddas, Gods, the roman history of Tacitus, contemporary uses, and the various worlds of the Northern Tradition and the spiritual inhabitants of each, from Asgard to Hel are all noted related to the reader. I found this section to be the most pleasurable, as it relates what can be very dense and challenging information, without overwhelming the reader. It also encourages and provokes the reader to seek out more and come into their own. It also shares some of the debates that surround runes in the contemporary use, and shows the various traditions of people who use them, from Asatru, to the Rune Gild, and the New Age movement. Over all I would say the first section is one the best, as it makes something that can be very dense and daunting, approachable, but definitely doesn’t leave you as though feeling you need to be in the author’s side, but able to form your own opinion and approach.

The second section “Do you know how to interpret?” introduces the reader to each rune in the Elder Futhark, and also establishes the connection of Odin with the runes. Each rune is given a few pages to introduce it conceptually. My only, and totally personal, comment is that her reduction of runes and gods to mechanistic energy currents or psychological states. While I suppose that might be useful to enter into the information for a neophyte, it does an injustice to the gods and runes. In reading the book, it does not seem that Ms Gerrard has this viewpoint personally, but in order to walk a safe line of acceptability, she has promoted that perspective. I did find some of her personal interpretations of runes interesting, however as while there was some difference from my own, I would say most of the difference comes from language expression of the experience of each rune.

“Do you know how to carve?” was probably the shortest, but also the most practical, as it contained the most advice when it came to getting and using your own set of runes. Having carved my own rune set for divination, I can say, what Ms Gerrard informs people with is almost identical to what I would say.

In “Do you know how to cast” she gives introduction to the use of runes and magic, through divination, taufr (talismans and bindrunes) and galdr. This section I had the most mixed response to. In the chapters dealing with divination, I actually had to say I enjoyed that the most. She talked about different methods (casting vs layouts) and also gave very practical and useful delineations, which work for either method. My most favorite was the “To Do List” reading. A symbol division of 4, in which areas are a cross section of urgency and important can give a lot of information that can be a great opening for a reading, especially when a client has a lot of questions and is unsure where to ask. She also explores the idea of reversing or not reversing runes, which is a common subject among all types of readers. Interestingly enough, while I do read runes in reverse, I don’t read Tarot that way. For me it has more to do with numerical statistics then anything, but I can be a necessary decision, especially if you start reading professionally.

After Divination, Ms Gerrard focuses on magic. I have say, I was not so impressed with this section. While I do find her example of secret bindrunes using a simple 8 point star pattern of lines (imitating the Aegishjalmur design) her drawings with it leaving something to be desire, mainly an artistic and aesthetic touch. While they can be effective, I do just like it when it shows more thought and effort then just a few lines on a point. Also, using only one line and imagining that designation of where they locate leaves a lot open to interpretation. How do you know if you are using the right bindrune? I also found one statement, which I did not agree with at all. When you are creating bindrunes, especially in groupings large then 3, the uniting of lines will create the appearance of others runes. Ms Gerrard indicates that you should avoid that, as those runes are “hijacking” the bindrune. I definitely disagree with that, as in most cases I have found that those additional runes are usually runes that inspire harmony, and so to me, are harmonizing the spiritual forces that the runes symbolize. She also mentions Isa, especially when using runes like Cenaz or Jera. In variant Futharks used by other Northern Tradition root cultures, Jera and Cenaz have the upright line that marks Isa, and it seemed that Ms Gerrard overlooked that. I find that in creating bindrunes for taufr is where the art enters into the art and practice of magic, especially with runes. While for a beginner it can be helpful to keep the runes distinct, if you have completed the two year process of working with runes, I think allowing for personal aesthetics is a benefit.

There is a difference between galdr (magical incantations) and the galdr indicated by Ms Gerrard. While the names of rune can be used as galdr when working with a solo rune, I find that when combining runes, or doing galdr for bindrune or taufr, more then just repeating the names of runes is called for. Just doing the rune names is more specificall rungaldr (Rune Galdr). When it comes to doing magic, this is another example where the consideration of the magic and art comes in. Poetry, a developed seed chant, or a way to vocalize the combined power of the bindrune would be better then just chanting/singing a single rune name in succession with others.

Over all, I think Odin’s Gateways would be a fine book for any beginner, and a decent book to add and read to any runemal’s personal library.

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