A second-generation Neo-Pagan, Phillip English began his study of the Elder Futhark, Runecraft, and Norse Magic at the age of nine under the tutelage of his father. In his late teens, being obliged by Odin to pursue magical knowledge, he began an earnest study of the myriad streams of magical practice and spiritual philosophy throughout the world- paying close attention to Western Hermeticism, Gnosticism and Ceremonial Magick. He is an initiate of Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Blue Lodge degrees of Freemasonry. He has given lectures, talks, and classes on various topics focusing on ritual magick, Norse magical traditions, spirituality in everyday life, the occult and the history of esoteric societies. As one of the co-founders of Catland Books, he has had the privilege of experien ing the legion that are the streams of Magical practice as they manifest in NYC – The Crossroads of the World.
Having studied the Runes for 24 years, Phillip is a foremost authority on the study and practice of Rune magic. His upcoming online course, Approaching The Runes, starts February 17th, and we felt this was an excellent opportunity to chat with him about the Runes and provide some background for the course and for those unfamiliar with this form of magic.
What are the runes and where do they come from?
In their highest sense, the Runes are the spiritual mysteries underlying all phenomena. They come from the chasm beyond Yggdrasil- the world tree. They are the essence and source of all the phenomena we percieve, and their interplay defines the patterns of life we’ve come to call “archetypes”.
However, in the sense used most often in modern discourse, the term “rune” is used to refer to the pictograms comprising the various futharks (pre-latin alphabets) of Northern Europe. There’s a number of theories about their origins in this context, but I am inclined to believe they were derived from old Mediterranean scripts.
What is a Vitki?
Vitki is the old norse word for sorcerer.
In modern parlance, it’s often used to delineate between a male-identifying practitioner of magic derived from Pre-Christian Norse sources as opposed to the terms female counter-part: Volva.
A more descriptive term I use to identify my practice is galdramaður- a worker of galdr. Galdr is a branch of magic that focuses on singing, chanting, and carving runes to make changes to Wyrd (roughly- fate). I specialize in this branch of magic, though it’s a bit of a mouthful for most non-Icelandic speakers.
I should note that entire PhD theses have been written on old Norse terms of art as well as gender constructs in magic, and I’m always wary of giving brief definitions of complex terms. I hope these will be taken as short-form definitions of terms from an intricate and tricky stream of thought and linguistics.
What is your background with the Runes?
My father began to teach me the Runes when I was nine years old. He had been engaged with various streams of the New Age and Occultism since the 70s. Some time in the early 80s he had an epiphany that lead him to focus on the Runes as his primary magical paradigm and became involved with a Rosicrucian influenced Runic mystery school (this was during a pre-Internet time, where magical communities weren’t always easily accessible).
I had access to magical material (a whole lot of gorgeous/hilarious early 90s LLewellyn stuff) from a very early age, and he primed me with Tolkein- pointing out that the cirth script (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cirth) correlated to the Anglo Saxon futhark. Around the time of my ninth birthday, he introduced the notion of divination using the Elder Futhark, and began teaching me the “meanings” of the various Futharks.
In my teens, I became agnostic for a bit until I had a profound out of body experience when I was 19: I found myself face to face with Odin, and I saw that the Runes underpinned all of existence as I knew it. From that point on, I have been devoted to Odin (the God who won the Runes) and it has felt as though Rune Magic is my life’s calling and Great Work.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have regarding the Runes?
One big misconception about the Runes is that they are JUST the pictograms and mnemonics associated with the Futharks. As the mystery signs and songs of phenomena, they are something much bigger than that, but we use the Futhark as a means of accessing Runic energies passed down through a particular stream of cultural wisdom originating in Pre-Christian Northern Europe.
Another misconception regarding the Runes is that they are innately connected to European ancestry. This is a sad side-effect of the long history of the misappropriation of Runic symbolism by white supremecist organizations. Given that the universe is a tapestry composed of Runic energy, the Runes are truly universal.
A misconception growing increasingly common as the world of divination becomes more popular, is that the Runes have fixed “meanings” that can be quickly memorized and added to a collection of divinatory tools. This is not the case- the pictograms of the Futhark represent VERY BIG energies that aren’t easily relegated to a few lines of correspondences in a book. It takes a deep level of personal interaction with, and reflection on these mysteries to properly divine using the Runes. The Runes are not easy, but studying them is profoundly rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out with Runes?
First, I advise looking to primary sources (The Rune Poems, and Old Norse Mythological poems) for inspiration in developing a personal relationship with each Rune.
Next, despite what many modern authors and teachers would have you believe (for the sake of selling a product), not all Magick is safe or easy. The Runes are potent, big energies. This can be a good thing when you need to get shit done magically, but it can also backfire spectacularly. I advise the same kind of caution in approaching the Runes that one would use interacting with any big elemental force: You wouldn’t go big wave surfing, or skii a double black diamond slope, or use an arc welder without a lot of preliminary work and a good understanding of elements at hand. Approach the Runes with the same level of respect and caution you’d use when approaching any powerful force. Don’t rush things. Trust your own experiences. Study primary sources, and if you can- find an experienced teacher.
What can people expect to learn from your course?
People in my course will learn how to divine with the Runes, as well as to work with the Runes magically. They will learn how to differentiate the various sources of Runic knowledge, and how to view contemporary sources with discernment. Along the way, they will also learn a bit about the culture and spiritual worldview of pre-Christian Norse people.
Rather than picking up “meanings” to memorize, students will learn how to approach the Runes in a way that develops a personal relationship and unfolds deeper layers of meaning than one can get from words alone.
They will also have the benefit of learning from my twenty-four years of triumphs, mishaps, backfires, and calamities as a Rune magician. I’ve had things blow up in my face as the result of misapplying Runic magic, and I hope to share these harsher lessons so that students don’t have to learn them first hand.
Where can people learn more about you and your offerings?