Casebound in brushed and inked 1.6 mm zinc plate cover. Decorated doublures. Closed: H290 x W160 mm. Open: 320 mm. 32 folios. Edition of 144, of which this is #98. Acquired from the artist, 15 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.
Fuþorc, the name of Brynja Baldursdottír’s artist’s book, is the word made from the first six runes of the Runic alphabet, much as alphabet derives from the first two Greek letters alpha and beta. The shield-like covers, laid face down, display all twenty-four runes of the fuþorc. Over time and geography, the runes have changed in number, spelling and meaning, reflected in the explanatory and interpretive Norwegian, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon versions of the “Rune Poem”. Baldursdottír’s version is “The Old English Rune Poem”, translated by Marijane Osborn and Stella Longland, which is we have the Old English fuþorc rather than the Scandinavian fuþark.
The Runic alphabet divides into three equal parts or ættir (pl. of ætt). In Fuþorc, Baldursdottír signals the beginning of each ætt with a double-page spread in which the eight runes of the ætt arc over a central image containing the ætt’s first letter. Different attributes attach to the ættir and each of the runes they embrace. Using layout of the text and imagery embedded in or surrounding the rune, Baldursdottír has evoked these attributes.
So, for the Ætt of Feoh, figures dance around the Maypole-like rune feoh, which is the first letter of Freyr and Freya who rule over this ætt associating it with agriculture, fertility and sexuality. Although Baldursdottír has Thor ruling over the Ætt of Haegl, it is the Watcher god and goddess Heimdall and Mordgud who rule over it. The seacliff-dwelling goat refers to Heimdall’s usual watch post. The snake to the left of the goat may be Jörmungandr, for which Thor goes fishing in the Prose Edda, which explains the presence of Thor’s hammer in the upper right of the image. Haegl means “hail”, and Heimdall is associated with the kind of disruptive weather threatening the ship at the foot of the image. For the Ætt of Tir, the arrowhead or spear shape of the rune evokes Tyr, the god of war, who rules over this ætt. By shaping each ætt with one of the fundamental geometric shapes of square, circle and triangle, Baldursdottír highlights the elemental nature of the Runic alphabet.
Ætt of Feoh, Ætt of Haegl, Ætt of Tir
In displaying each rune, it is as if Baldursdottír invites the viewer to peer through a rune-shaped stencil to that other world of associated attributes, but as with most divination, the images are partial and ambiguous. Is that a horse or a dragon behind feoh? Hail descending and melting behind haegl? A warship’s prow behind tir?
The runes feoh, haegl and tir
No doubt, more familiarity with the lore of runes would increase the reward of close attention to each image. But many are easily accessible. The image of horses shows well enough through the rune eh (or ehwaz), which means horse, horses or transport, but if there is any doubt, the explanatory text is laid out like reins and a bridle.
The book closes with the Valknut, sometimes called Odin’s knot, at the center of the Acknowledgments. Although runes and symbols such as this may be susceptible to misappropriation, the Acknowlegments themselves serve the Books On Books Collection as a welcome reminder that Fuþorc was first seen among other treasures at Ron King’s home.
“Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.
“Ron King“. 1 March 2021. Books On Books Collection.
“Serena Smith“. 10 March 2023. Books On Books Collection.
King, Bernard. 2000. Runes : An Introductory Guide to Interpreting the Ancient Wisdom of the Runes. Rev. ed. Shaftesbury: Element, 2000. New Perspectives (Element).
Looijenga, Tineke. 2003. Texts & Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions. Leiden: BRILL, 2003.
Osborn Marijane and Stella Longland. 1982. Rune Games. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.