I'm rather glad the book Just Add Bloodhas the explanatory subtitle Runelore - Understanding and Using the Anglo-Saxon Runesotherwise I might have got the impression it was some sort of dodgy magical recipe book. But what does blood have to do with runes anyway?
As author Dr Kennan Taylor explains, traditionally a little bit of the practitioner's blood was sacrificed when each set of rune stones or staves was carved. Blood is magically powerful, a symbol of the essence of life and suffering is also often necessary to gain knowledge. Mind you, reading Just Add Blood makes learning about the runes pretty pain-free, which is a bit ironic.
Publisher Moon Books describes Just Add Blood on its website as: "A brief, idiosyncratic and magical approach to rune usage within Anglo-Saxon culture and spirituality, directed toward healing and personal development. Just Add Blood is an introduction to the use of the Anglo-Saxon runes. It serves as both a point of reference and a guide in how to use the runes and offers a fresh, contemporary look at the magical approach to rune use."
The book begins with both a short introduction and a longer version, offering a brief background to the runes for those who want to quickly move on to learning to use them or a detailed history for those who like the academic stuff.
Explaining how runes can be used, Dr Taylor says: ""Poetic and spiritual metaphors notwithstanding, the runes are a magical system par excellence. They are rich in meaning, challenging to work with, and make a demand on our morals asking us to fulfil our individual fate, or what the Teutonic peoples refer to as ‘wyrd’."
For divination, he explains they have several levels of potential meaning: "There is the pictorial representation that is itself symbolic. Assisted by the mixture of Roman and runic scripts over time we also have a definite phonetic sequence, as well as names for each rune, themselves of symbolic significance. The rune poems add another level of meaning, often in what could traditionally be seen as riddles or charms."
Dr Taylor recommends getting to know the runes personally, either by studying each one in sequential order or picking a random rune at a time. Once you have familiarised yourself with them, there are two easy and common methods for using them as a divination tool. The first is to ask a question and then pick a random rune to interpret for the answer. The second is to pick three runes to represent the past, present and future. The magical power of runes can be used by drawing, carving or etching them on objects to act as talismans or amulets.
The bulk of the book is devoted to the individual runes and their meanings. It offers the pictographic representation - or symbol - for each rune in turn, with its name, simple definition, associated rune poem verse and detailed discussion of its potential meanings and interpretation.
Just Add Blood concentrates on Anglo-Saxon runes rather than Germanic runes, or Elder Futhark. The author says: "In the modern era we have also focused a lot on the Elder Futhark, and this has greatly facilitated this rediscovery process. However, there is the extant and distinctly Anglo-Saxon rune row that has not, in my opinion, been fully explored." Yet, as he explains, they might be more appropriate for English people to work with as they would have been used by our own ancestors.
Reading Just Add Blood has made me want to get out my own set of runes, which have been languishing in a drawer for a couple of years, and see what the future might have in store - although I rather hope that future won't involve too much blood-letting :)
Dr Kennan Taylor is a consultant, therapist and teacher in holistic health as well as being a psychotherapist, practising shaman and member of the druid order OBOD.
Links and previous related posts
Just Add Blood: Runelore - Understanding and Using the Anglo-Saxon Runes