Rune Grandmaster Donald van den Andel on the Armanen Path, Odin as a Spiritual Model, and the Journey to Runic Mastery


As promised here is the second post concerning the Knights of Runes. Very happy to share this interview with Donald van den Andel, a renowned Rune Grandmaster, on his journey into Runic magic and spirituality. He provides deep wisdom for seekers drawn to this profound path. Huge thanks to him for spending so much time and sharing so much.

Knights of Runes
General introduction to Knights of Runes
Interview with Jurgens Pieterse
Interview with David Wolfheart

Interview Donald van den Andel

PAA: What first drew you to explore Ásatrú faith and Nordic Runes after having been raised Christian? Was there an ‘aha’ moment that sparked seeking your ancestral spiritual roots?

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to communicate with your readers. I recounted my journey to Ásatrú in my book Tales from the Ironwood: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern-Day Heathen. There I explained that it would not be fully accurate to describe me as having been raised Christian. Certainly I was baptized as an infant and continued in an on-again, off-again manner through the time of my confirmation as a teenager. In the years that followed, my twisting spiritual path led me away from Christianity to Atheism. Spiritual matters remained of profound interest however, so I didn’t simply abandon God. I looked to various authors who expressed serious skepticism of Christianity including Nietzsche and Bakunin. It was only later, when I was in my thirties and raising two children, that I returned to Christianity. Throughout that period, I went deep. I read, for the first time, the Bible from cover to cover. I began teaching Sunday School classes (explaining Luther’s Reformation to Eighth graders) and confirmation classes. Notably, during this period I had a profound spiritual experience at a time of particular need. While praying intensely over the health of my mother, which was failing at the time, I saw a figure surrounded in the brightest of white light. While no words were spoken or heard, I understood explicitly that my mom’s health would be fine (this was some 25 years ago and she’s still with us today.) I interpreted this sign within the the language and symbolism of Christianity. Hence, I teetered between this being a direct message from Jesus Christ or perhaps an angel. There was however no indication, outside of the paradigms of Christianity, as to where or whom such a message originated. Today, I believe firmly in various Higher Order Energies as these are recounted and experienced by practitioners of the world’s major and minor religions —as well as by initiates of magickal systems including, for example, Solomonic Magick. I believe the names, and the images themselves are attributed based on cultural standards and adherence to a particular set of religious paradigms. That is to say that the Angels and Demons of Judaeo-Christianity may be the same spiritual beings or Higher Order Energies that an Ásatrúar would call Elves and Dwarfs.

I believe that our journeys —and mine in particular—is the result of the entire series of steps along the way. Each step is as important as the prior and the next in taking us to where we may be at any given moment.

Donald van den Andel

But you have asked me about an “aha” moment—a spark that led me to seek my ancestral spiritual roots. I believe that our journeys —and mine in particular—is the result of the entire series of steps along the way. Each step is as important as the prior and the next in taking us to where we may be at any given moment. With that said, in a short span of time, my father died of an aggressive form of skin cancer and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was not at all that I had become angry with God—but rather that I felt a driving need for authenticity. I determined that our time —at least in this life—was limited. I needed to explore who I was. At the time, I thought that better understanding my ancestral spiritual roots would help me to realize that. I understood that I had begun to repeat the tenets of Christianity because they were a set of beliefs, that as a Christian, I was supposed to accept. But there were several such concepts that I didn’t truly believe. I may be described as somewhat of a skeptic—and have long approached many cherished sacred ideas in such a fashion.

PAA: Can you describe a powerful or mystical experience you had when first practicing Rune Yoga and feeling the energy flowing through you? How did that impact your path?

When I began practicing Ásatrú, I was lucky to have a very knowledgable Gothi leading our fellowship. A Gothi is the spiritual leader of Ásatrú groups. Our Gothi was particularly interested in education and conducted in depth classes on a variety of subjects —and sometimes brought in guest experts. Oddly enough I was extremely excited to attend my first couple of Rune Yoga classes (these utilized the Elder Futhark runes) but didn’t experience anything remotely “mystical” at all. For those who may not be familiar with the practice, Rune Yoga is performed by forming the position of the rune with your body while generally chanting the rune name or some variation of that name. I found myself, as did others in the room, attempting to form one position after another and chanting the name of the particular rune. It was essentially an awkward but enjoyable bit of exercise. I innately understood that there was more to this practice. I began my own studies and again went deep. I began to work my way through “The Nine Doors of Midgard” —the training curriculum of the Rune Gild that was authored by Edred Thorsson (aka Stephen Flowers). The initial lessons required the student to form the given posture —beginning with the ISA rune — essentially standing straight up with one’s arms at one’s side for ten minutes. The early lessons did not even include the chanting. It was this course work that resulted in the powerful flows of energy that I felt coursing through my body. The powerful and very evident experience of such energy has motivated me to continue this practice to this very day.

PAA: How has your background studying philosophy and aspects of Western esotericism like Crowley’s work informed your approach to Runic magic? Do you see connections?

As I indicated earlier, I believe that each step along the life path is as relevant as another. Each was essential in bringing me to where I am today—and such steps lead to the steps yet to be taken. On one hand, we are made up of our earlier beliefs and thoughts and works, but on the other hand, we are likely to think differently than we did in years past. With regard to Crowley specifically, I often consider his most famous saying, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” For me, and I believe for Crowley, this often misunderstood sentence means far more than “do as you desire.” At its heart is the concept of “will” and the intersection of man’s will with God’s will. Here “will” is that one critical thing that you are meant to do. Our actions and desires, at times, may actually prevent us from a proper execution of what is willed. At one time, I stumbled attempting to utilize the language of “Left-Hand Path” and “Right-Hand Path” in my rune work. Today, I have come to realize that Rune Magick is neither Left nor Right Hand Path — and it may also be considered both. There is a “life energy” that the runes provide us the ability to tap into. Such “life energy” has been given different names by various authors —each such name is weighted with many many references and ideas that are not helpful — and so I attempt to avoid such terms as: Orgone, Vril, Odic, etc. Such energies undirected are simply energy. It is ultimately the will of the Rune Magician that is critical in the directing of such energy. The practice of Rune Magick allows us to bypass the rational mind and harness our magickal abilities through the primal symbolism of the runes. This idea is similar to that manifested through sigils as described by Austin Osman Spare and many of today’s Chaos magicians. I believe that Rune Magick is largely a part of the Western magickal tradition. To understand it then, it is important to consider Western magick and its practitioners. While some might argue that Rune Magick is uniquely Northern Magick, we know very little of the actual Northern practices. What is generally understood and practiced today, when it comes to the runes, has its origins mainly in the Western occult tradition.

PAA: What called you to delve deeper into the Armanen Runic tradition specifically versus other Runic systems? What did you find compelling about it?

Like most practicing Heathens, my interest was almost exclusively the Elder Futhark for many years. I read a book here or there that described the “Armanen” runic tradition or the Younger Futhark or other systems, but for the most part, I worked with the Elder system. One day Jurgens Pieterse, a Grand Master in Knights of Runes, offered an online course on the “Armanen” system and I signed up for it. To be honest, I thought it was a single class and it would be over in an hour or so. It was simply an introduction, and it began my training and in depth studies of the “Armanen” system. I found almost immediately that this system of runes demonstrated a particularly powerful energy. I became very taken with the curriculum —which was that authored years earlier by Karl Hans Welz—and began to experience magickal insights that eclipsed the work that I had performed previously with the Elder Futhark.

PAA: You describe Odin as a role model for seeking magical wisdom while remaining humble. How does that Wanderer mindset influence your own Rune work and initiation?

Odin is central to my understanding of the runes and my spiritual journey. One of Odin’s many names is Gangleri which basically translates to “The Wanderer.” We see this name used in several places including importantly in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda as well as Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” For me, the Wanderer is the seeker. Odin is always wandering the nine worlds seeking new knowledge. He is the ultimate seeker of wisdom. He is not all-knowing, but rather “all-seeking.” Ásatrú, Odinism, or Wuotanism (as Guido von List called it) oftentimes comes with its own limitations and orthodoxy. At least some of those I’ve come in contact with seek to establish dogma and orthodoxy where there is arguably none. I’ve encountered Ásatrúars who limit their entire field of exploration to the Icelandic Sagas and Eddas. While these are very useful works, some are aghast to find a significantly wider range of materials on my library shelves. The Wanderer does not stay in Asgard each day repeating the old tales to the gods and goddesses that surround him. Rather he travels — oftentimes to Jotunheim — the land of the Giants — generally understood as his most powerful enemies, to exchange and seek wisdom. There are no limits to where one might seek new wisdom — and similarly there is no orthodoxy that may not be supplanted by a better more powerful alternative. As a teacher or mentor of the runes I urge my students to perform the early lessons precisely as written however. There comes a time, latter on the initiatory path when experimentation and variations on the themes and lessons are relevant and critical to understanding.

PAA: What does being recognized as a Rune Grandmaster mean to you after years following this spiritual pursuit? How has it impacted you personally?

Your question reminds me of a comment made by my favorite philosophy professor back when I was an undergraduate. She told us, “When I was younger, I knew all the answers, now, I don’t even know the questions.” The process results in an external recognition. This largely came as a result of work performed. It does not however bequeath some special power or wisdom. It has reminded me at times, when I was not behaving optimally, to consider, how, as a Grand Runemaster I should behave. It has helped me to become more introspective and to better appreciate what is most important in life. In that, it is often the simple things, family, friends, kindness. It is worth asking whether our actions or our words are making the world a better place or not. Do we sow division or unity? This is a specially important consideration when we turn to social media — but is also important in all of our day-to-day interactions. It is also a paramount consideration when we ponder our spiritual path. Does our path create more division or unity? The divisive path is the incorrect one as such division not only negatively impacts the objective world around us — it has a negative impact on us directly. Ultimately our thoughts of others become a part of our unconscious mind through the process of autosuggestion. Self-help author, Napoleon Hill wrote, “whatever we do unto others, we do unto ourselves.”

PAA: What inspired you to document your experiences and learnings in books like ‘Tales from the Ironwood’ and ‘Untimely Meditations’? What niche did you see them filling?

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I find it very cathartic. The two books are quite different from one another. With “Tales from the Ironwood,” my objective was to write an Introduction to Ásatrú book. I realized however that there were many such books available in the marketplace—and many of them were quite good. My unique angle would be to tell my story—how I came to discover Ásatrú. I dovetailed my personal experiences with an explanation of key elements of Ásatrú. For example, I discuss the various holidays and celebrations. I hoped that my book would be inspirational to some who read it. I believe that I fulfilled that goal based on the feedback that I’ve received.

“Untimely Meditations” is entirely different from “Tales from the Ironwood.” The rune training curriculum that I undertook required a report be written and submitted to the Grandmaster who was conducting the course. I wrote such a report for each of the 18 runes that make up the system. At the time, I was becoming more and more interested in magick and decided to write a lengthy magick book of which the 18 rune essays would be the centerpiece. I toyed with various titles, wrote a lengthy introduction, and began assembling the chapters. Upon inspection, however, I found it to be too sprawling. It was a collection of articles and essays —but not a complete whole. One by one I began removing chapters until the book was sized down to its current form. Unlike what I discovered with “Tales from the Ironwood,” there are very few good books on the Armanen system in English. My unique angle to the runes was two-fold. First I associated each not only to the Hávamál verses that Guido von List identified long ago, but I also explored their meaning in terms of the traditional rune poems—from whence runes gain their meanings. Secondly, I viewed the runes in terms of a mythological narrative. For me, that narrative was the tale of the Norse gods. For each rune, I determined a meaning beginning with the Ginnungagap through to Ragnarok. All along however, I remained anchored in the Hávamál verses and the traditional rune poems. I do not suggest that this is the only way, or even the correct way, to understand the runes. Rather it was my personal attempt and understanding. I would urge budding Runemasters to discover their own narratives when exploring the runes.

PAA: How do you see the role of Runic systems in the modern revival of pagan faiths like Asatru? Do you feel called to help restore ancestral magical knowledge?

While I discovered the runes following my conversion to Ásatrú, I don’t think such knowledge plays a key factor in the revival of the various pagan pathways. I find most Ásatrúars have only a mild interest in the runes. Some may be interested in the magick but others are rather suspect of it. There are several issues that arise. One issue is that the pagan pathways that show interest in the runes are themselves modern “reconstructions.” That is to say that very little is known about the actual day-to-day religious practices during actual pagan times. Such ancient practices also varied greatly both by geography and time. The runes too represent a much more modern practice than most would acknowledge. Surely we have ancient accounts of rune magick in the Sagas and various rune carvings that appear to have no other purpose than magick. With that said, our modern era is a very different world than the one in which such methods were used — and again we know little of these methods. When we adopt practices such as rune meditation, rune yoga, visualizations, hand mudras, and rune chakras, we should realize that these are fairly modern inventions — mostly dating back a hundred years or so. This in no way should diminish the effectiveness of such practices. I use them and find them very powerful—but if you are organizing an Ásatrú group that believes itself to be living a rugged Viking life-style, you are right to be skeptical of rune yoga and other modern occult practices. Personally, I would like to help restore many of these runic practices, but I would not describe them as ancestral knowledge.

PAA: What guidance would you offer sincere seekers today who feel drawn to start learning the Armanen Futhark and its mysteries?

The so-called “Armanen” path is a challenging and difficult one. I believe the 18 rune system to be a very powerful system of magick that can provide positive outcomes for the individual and the world. The term itself however is maligned and somewhat taboo due both to its detractors and adherents. First, it is important to understand what the term means and refers to. Guido von List created the term “Armanen” to refer not to the runes, but rather to an estate of people—a class, comprised of priests, leaders, teachers, and bards. He argued that in antiquity such a class represented an elite that were literate and understood doctrines of secret knowledge. He contrasted this group with the general population and the people who made up the other two estates, mainly the military class and the craftsmen and farmers. These latter comprised the bulk of those who practiced what I’ve been calling Ásatrú but which he called, using the Old High German term, Wuotanism. If we break the term “Armanism” down to its roots we arrive at the two key syllables “Ar” and “Man.” “Ar” is often described as “people of the sun.” I think a clearer and more accurate esoteric definition would be “the enlightened.” It refers not to any ethnic group (as we see such groups are made up of people of varied talents), but rather to those who are “enlightened”—those who hold some special or secret knowledge. “Man” refers to mankind’s relationship to God or the gods. It is our spiritual self and our spiritual relationship to the various Higher Order Energies. Together then “Ar-man” refers to those enlightened people who hold a special spiritual relationship with the divine essence.

I entitled my book, “Untimely Meditations” because, following the Second World War and the Nazi use and appropriation of runes in their symbolism, flags, uniforms, etc., many became wary of their use. The early Armanen masters are all tarnished by such associations. It is important to understand that most of this is unfair and inaccurate. Von List died in 1919 and argued that the runes should not be used for political purposes. His key followers Siegfried Kummer and Friedrich Marby who developed the practices of Rune Yoga, and Rune Mudras embraced a racial view of the world. The Nazis however were vehemently opposed to occult practices, despite what some might fantasize or think. The Guido von List Society was allowed to exist through the Nazi period but not to recruit any new members. Kummer and Marby were arrested and their rune work and schools were shut down. Marby was shuffled between various concentration camps for some 99 months until he was finally freed by American forces when they liberated Dachau.

In the years that followed, leading figures like Karl Spiesberger and Karl Hans Welz removed any traces of race and ethnicity from their books and teachings. Still, it is especially the 18 rune system that is controversial because of such associations. My guidance then is to know the landscape. Recognize that the runes may be practiced by anyone from any background or culture with startling effect.

PAA: What continues to drive your own Runic practice and writings today after initiation to high levels of mastery? What yet calls you onward?

Following my initiation as Runemaster, the first thing that I wanted to do was to begin my training all over again. I know several Grand Runemasters who have gone through the curriculum multiple times. Each time one works through it, new ideas are discovered. I am driven to better understand the runes esoterically and to better understand what some refer to as the “High mysteries.” Today, I continue to explore the runes but also expand my horizons through increased understanding of the Western Hermetic magickal tradition. There are countless avenues to explore. I am particularly interested in publishing the works of the various masters in our new journal entitled, “FUTHORKH: A Journal of Rune Esotericism and Magick.” Years ago, I attended a class in Sigil Magick led by a woman who was very experienced in her magickal practice and some 15 years or more my senior. While the class was conducted at an Ásatrú event, her methods were derived entirely from Austin Osman Spare whose works she strongly recommended to her students. I had the opportunity to discuss magick with her for quite some time following the class. I asked her how long it would take to become well-versed in magick. She responded, “Two lifetimes.” I understand that to be minimum requirement.

PAA: Thank you so much for such wonderful answers. We greatly appreciate your time in sharing with us.

Further Information

Knights of Runes
General introduction to Knights of Runes
Interview with Jurgens Pieterse
Interview with David Wolfheart

Introduction to Magic

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