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The Runes – Another window into beliefs about the sacred and profane

Mosaic runes - the futhark and some runic messages with ribbons and symbols.

Mosaic runes – the futhark and some runic messages with ribbons and symbols – xjy via Flickr

Runes are the characters of different Germanic languages dating from 150 CE.¹

The characters gradually took on divinatory and mystical significance as they spread from southern Europe to Britain and Scandinavia. They were replaced by the Latin alphabet when runic cultures converted to Christianity between 700 CE and 1100 CE. Still used for decoration, some New Age enthusiasts see the runes as tools for depth psychology, divination and mysticism.

Not unlike modern interpretations of the I Ching, which adapt ancient Chinese commentaries, New Age runes are said to be based on runic inscriptions found on swords, stones and bronze pendants. Also like the I Ching, Tarot and other forms of divination, the runes have been commercialized.

Some believe the commercialization of the runes invalidates their divinatory and mystical significance; others don’t make a sharp distinction between God and commercialism.² This latter group believes that God’s ways are greater than any human thought or construction. So God can work through anything, be it a traditionally sacred vehicle or another branded as a sellout.³

evolution of the j-rune.

evolution of the j-rune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the language of Religious Studies, the debate over commercialization involves beliefs about the sacred and profane, cosmology, and how everything does or does not connect within a given belief system.4

Wikipedia, although claiming to be as objective as possible, displays a secular, slightly sarcastic bias when addressing modern forms of Runic mysticism.

The lack of extensive knowledge on historical use of the runes has not stopped modern authors from extrapolating entire systems of divination from what few specifics exist, usually loosely based on the reconstructed names of the runes and additional outside influence.

A recent study of runic magic suggests that runes were used to create magical objects such as amulets, but not in a way that would indicate that runic writing was any more inherently magical, than were other writing systems such as Latin or Greek.5

An inscription using both cipher runes, the El...

An inscription using both cipher runes, the Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark, on the 9th century Rök Runestone in Sweden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ Paula Byerly Croxon claims they can be traced to 1300 BC via archaeology. See PDMB&S (2003), p. 245.

² Next time you’re in a Catholic Church, take a look at the back page of the parish bulletin. Even though Jesus was enraged by ancient merchants peddling their wares and money-changing in the temple, Catholics are doing a similar thing today: Ads over the whole back page of the bulletin, sometimes really smarmy ones.

³ I tend to fall into this camp. So when some clergy preach against the horrors of TV, the internet or “secular” ways, I usually reflect on how regimented and ignorant they really are. I also smile inwardly when, moments later, they reverentially scoop up the “secular” money with an offertory hymn. Sometimes more than once in a given Mass. Does this somehow make the profane sacred? Some say it does. Others see it as rank hypocrisy and a general lack of psychological integration.

Picture of Runes used in Fortune Telling

Runes used in Fortune Telling (Wikipedia)

4 One of the leading scholars to address this issue is the Romanian, Mircea Eliade.

5 That’s why, as staggering as it is, Wikipedia often isn’t enough. We need books, articles, independent blogs and websites to unpack assumptions and to provide alternative perspectives. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes

Related » Odin

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 Pope Francis Might Let Married Men Become Priests (newsy.com)

 Catholic Church of Guam established $1M sexual abuse settlement fund (foxnews.com)

 Secret Society of Jesus (mysteryoftheiniquity.com)

 Pope suggests ordaining married men to tackle priest shortages (telegraph.co.uk)

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Avesta

Bodleian Library, MS J2 fol. 175 (colorized) via Wikipedia

The Avesta is a collection of the most sacred scriptures in Zoroastrianism, containing the teachings of the prophet, Zarathustra (Gk. Zoroaster). The original, written form is in the Avestan language (an eastern Indo-European language). However, its contents were most likely orally transmitted before being written down during the 3rd to 7th centuries in Iran.

First translated from Avestan and introduced to Europeans in 1771, it’s still used by Iranian Gabars and Indian Parsees.

The Avesta is mostly read to instill a sense of personal religious duty to the Lord (Ahura Mazda). As such, its style roughly compares to a combination of the Hindu Rig Veda and Book of Manu. Within the text Zarathustra dialogues with Ahura Mazda, asking questions and receiving answers on practical, cosmological and soteriological issues.

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The theme of physical and spiritual pollution enters prominently in the Avesta, extending to both corpses and women during the menstrual period. Evil spiritual beings – “fiends” – are said to haunt the dakmas (graves or exposure sites known as “towers of silence”) and from their feeding create a stench.

Ahura Mazda tells Zarathustra,

The fiends revel in there until that stench is rooted in the Dakhmas. Thus from the Dakhmas arise the infection of diseases, itch, hot fever, humours, cold fever, rickets, and hair untimely white. There death has most power on man, from the hour when the sun is down.¹

These diseases tend to beset evil people who do not try to improve their ways.

As in many ancient cultures, including India and Greece, sickness and disease are attributed to the influence of the Evil One (Angra Mainyu) and his various demons.

A variation of evil spiritual beings feeding off and weakening mortal beings is found in Vampirism, and in today’s New Age circles, the concept of spiritual or psychic vampirism.

At one point in the Avesta narrative, Zarathustra enters into battle with the fearsome Angra Mainyu, to emerge victorious. The resulting invocations and praises to various deities (all subservient to Ahura Mazda) again reveals that the Avesta is very much influenced by – and yet different from – the Hindu Rig Veda.

Although the Avesta is traditionally believed to have been revealed to Zarathustra, most scholars claim that only the Gathas, a group of 17 hymns, were authored by the prophet. While sections of the original text survive, much has been lost over the centuries.

¹ http://www.sacred-texts.com/zor/sbe04/sbe0413.htm


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Polyphonic Chant

gregorian chant

gregorian chant: amppit / K Leb

Polyphonic Chant is a type of Christian devotional singing, developed in the 9th century, where more than one voice accompanies the main melody.

As with anything new, not everyone approved of polyphony. Some believed that too much musical intricacy was the work of the devil, who tried to seduce believers through the sin of pride.

However, such narrow-mindedness couldn’t stop the flow of musical innovation. As different cultures and musical styles continued to intermingle, more complex forms of polyphony emerged in the 11th century, such as the motet, the rota, the canon, polyphonic masses and madrigals.

The 18th century saw the development of the fugue. A good, humorous example of a fugue can be found in Glenn Gould‘s “So You Want To Write a Fugue?”

» Orpheus

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