Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Folklore Society Review

From Runes to Ruins was nominated for the Folklore Society's non-print media award 2014. The judges released the following statement.

"This very professionally produced film by Tom Rowsell and Jamie Roper is a lengthy documentary following Rowsell’s personal investigation, starting with an ancient earthen burial mound remembered from his childhood. He explores Anglo-Saxon haunted barrows and pagan shrines to the dead; seeks evidence for roots of a pagan past by consultations with neo-pagans and Viking re-enactors, and finds healing gods and ancient cultures in old chronicles."

Monday, 10 November 2014

Review by Richard Rudgley

Gripping from the start, this personal and cultural journey into the religious heart of our Anglo-Saxon identity shows us how loud the past echoes even in the midst of the modern world with all its myriad and transient distractions. A film about the nature and value of identity that should not be missed.
Richard Rudgley- Author and television presenter

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Folklore Society's Non-Print Media Award

"From Runes to Ruins" has been short listed for The Folklore Society's Non-Print Media Award
Winners will be announced on 19th November. 

Rival entries include: 

  •  The Barley Mow: Field Recordings and a Film made in Suffolk by Peter Kennedy in the 1950s. Selected and presented by Reg Hall. DVD, produced by The Voice of the People.
  •  Bishopsgate Voices: A Celebration of the Lives of Ordinary People from London’s East End through Oral History. DVD, produced by Bishopsgate Institute.
  •  Cecilia Costello: “Old Fashioned Songs”. DVD, produced by Musical Traditions.
  • “I Pray you pay Attention and listen to my Song”: More Traditional Songs from around Lough Erne’s Shore, from the Keith Summers’ Collections 1977-1983. DVD, produced by Musical Traditions.
  • Irish Folk Furniture. DVD, produced by Tony Donoghue.
  •  “The Last of Old England”: A Celebration

Thunor and the Axe-Hammer

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review of From Runes to Ruins

By David Parry

Let me start with a confession. While writing this review, I suddenly had the disconcerting sensation that rather like the film-maker Thomas Rowsell, I too had been walking in the footsteps of Odin for most of my life. From my early admiration of the Crucified Man seen in every rural Anglican Church, to more recent intuitions regarding the vital significance of intentional suffering in our spiritual lives. Indeed, I sense both Rowsell and myself have actually been following an ancestral path first trodden by our earliest Anglo-Saxon forebears. Esoteric step by aesthetic footfall! In my case, a journey customarily described through experimental poetry and stagecraft, although in my young colleagues, through film and artefacts. Undoubtedly, a parallel form of cultural witness enlivening Rowsell’s highly expressive and deeply stirring documentary From Runes to Ruins.

So observed, there is genuine lyricism in his stylish reportage. Not to mention authentic magic in this biopic account of ancient treasures lost. Yet, the sorcery I am referring to is not discovered in Rowsell’s study of these charmed “shamanic” alphabets, or the stunning panoramic shots of our viridescent native countryside. Nor for that matter, his clearly commanding presence as narrator. Instead, such enchantments are found within Rowsell’s masterly evocations of our specifically English Consciousness: a unique northern European “soul-perspective” depicted through anecdotal tales, historical records, and bewitching cultural oddments. Thus, haunted burial mounds, Weyland’s Smithy, the London Long Sword Academy, historical re-enactors, Viking stores in Walthamstow, replicas of the Jelling Stones near Regent’s Park, and even the majestic Ruthwell Cross itself, are used to unfold Rowsell’s undeniably vibrant vision. Accompanied, as these items are, by his occasional recitations of Old English and Latin verse, delightfully eccentric animations, and a plaintive, atmospheric, soundtrack.

For my part however, the last ten minutes energized Rowsell’s entire enterprise, since shared notions of Romantic Primitivism (Anglo-Saxon and otherwise) are eloquently addressed. After all, claims Rowsell, it was Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert that revived recent interest in everything wildly Germanic across these lands. A contention possibly contextualizing earlier elucidations wherein he states: “England was founded under the tyranny of Teutonic invaders, who brought with them their language, their culture, and their Heathen gods”. All healthy reminders, of course, not to throw away the virile strengths of our own tribe as we step into uncertain destinies; whilst honouring those who went before us for bequeathing their gifts of fortitude and valour to future generations. Admittedly, there were a few times towards the end when these admonitions felt a little drawn out, but the majestic statues, lovely architectural follies, and Rowsell’s impressive sense of historical continuity, easily outweighed any perceived artistic imbalance.

If I had a criticism of Rowsell’s sterling documentary, it would be his shameless dismissal of modernist progressivism. Truly, such notions don’t sit easily amongst the ethnocentric stories he outlines, even though it would be generally encouraging to think we human beings may learn to co-operate on a global level at some point. Nevertheless, these comments are quickly dwarfed by Rowsell’s overview of our ethical heritage. The moral force of which developed through centuries of literary inquiry and scientific exploration into our present English character. And, as a consequence, has allowed us Englishmen to escape from an unnecessary slavery to previous precedent, along with an often bewildering resistance to cross-fertilized innovation, typical of our Continental kinsfolk. Traits boding extremely well for us Brits because, when all said and done, we don’t simply have a past behind us, but unknown conquests ahead of us.

To my mind, therefore, From Runes to Ruins is a minor masterpiece of cultural narration. All achieved, in an engaging, approachable, and entertaining, manner. Reminiscent, arguably, of John Dryden in his heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672) - as another innovative English creative who comparably introduced idealized pictures of "nature's gentlemen" into English discourse - as well as coining the phrase “noble savage” as a reminder of virtues lost. In like manner, Rowsell’s documentary is bound to conjure an equally compelling recapitulation of subtle historical processes inside our indigenous hearts and minds. A feat few film-makers will be able to emulate in these socially atomized times and marking this beautiful pageant of images and lore as an authentic celebration of everything pagan in the best sense of the word.

Friday, 12 September 2014


From Runes to Ruins will be shown this Sunday, 12:00pm, 14th September at Video Cafe of the Portobello Film Festival in the KPH Pub.

139 Ladbroke Grove
W10 6HJ

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Friday, 24 January 2014

Bands who sing in Old English Anglo-Saxon Language

There are quite a few bands who perform music in the language of the Anglo-Saxons, Old English. Here are a run down of some cool songs in Old English.

 Ildra are a pagan black metal band who recorded an entire 9 track album, Eðelland, in Old English in 2011.
The song title means "Over the whale's way (sea) we come" .

Aelfric sings in ancient Germanic languages like Anglo-Saxon and Gothic. This ethereal indie style song is called Thunor blad, which means Thunor boast. It's about the Anglo-Saxon god of Thunder.

FIRE + ICE are a neofolk group formed in 1991. This song has Anglo-Saxon lyrics which kick in about 3 minutes into the song. The song itself is about remembering the Gewisse tribe, who were an Anglo-Saxon tribe from Southern England.

Forefather are two brothers from Surrey who perform epic metal with an Anglo-Saxon theme. Some of their songs are even sung in Old English. The following track is a metal version of an English folk song which was first written down in 1225AD. The lyrics are actually in Middle English not Old English, but the two languages are very similar.

Æþelruna are a depressive black metal band who perform songs in Old English. Their name means "Noble runes". This song is about the Viking landings at Lindisfarne in North Eastern England, it was recorded in 2013.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Runes and Ambient Synth Music

This is a video made by Thomas Rowsell, showing the progression of the rock carving tradition in Sweden from 1800BC - 1100AD. Beginning with the rock carvings at Tanum, moving to the Järsberg runestone from the migration era, written in the elder futharc. Then the famous Sparlösa runestone with a runic curse carved by pagan Vikings, and finishing with three Roman Catholic rune stones from the conversion era.

The music is by Andrew Weis whose moody synth music is also used in the soundtrack for From Runes to Ruins

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Barrows of England and Sweden

Scutchamer Knob

Near to the village where I grew up is a dusty chalk path called The Ridgeway. At over 5000 years old it is the oldest road in Britain. In the centre of a small wood on the Ridgeway there is an Anglo-Saxon barrow that is known locally as Scutchamer's Knob.
It used to be known as Cuckhamsley hill and also as Cwichelm's barrow and is thought to have been the burial mound of the ancient Saxon ruler Cwichelm of Wessex. It is on this site that he was killed by the then pagan King Edwin of Northumbria in 636 AD, the same year Cwichelm was baptised.

Many centuries later, during the Viking era in the year 1006, the Danish army was pushing against the boundaries of the kingdom of the West Saxons. The Danes had been informed by an orcale that if they could march as far South as Cuckhamsley Hill, they would never leave English soil. They were all killed by Saxons when they arrived, and thus, the prophecy was fulfilled.

Scutchamer Knob looks a lot like many pagan burial mounds known as barrows that can be found around England and Scandinavia but in actual fact it predates the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in England. When the Anglo-Saxons saw the ancient neolithic barrows of the Britons, they assumed they were just like the barrows of their own Germanic culture which held the bodies and spirits of kings and great warriors. The Anglo-Saxons came to England from Germany and Scandinavia during the Migration era and brought with them Germanic cultural traditions. The Germanic pagans used to burn most of their dead, but really important people like kings were placed in burial mounds (barrows) like those at Gamla Uppsala in Sweden. I was lucky enough to visit those barrows last summer (see pic below)

Thomas Rowsell at Gamla Uppsala, Sweden.
These barrows are some of the most important ones of Germanic paganism that survive to this day. The Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus thought that the god Odin himself once lived at Gamla Uppsala, although, being a Christian, he didn't believe Odin was really a god. 
At this time there was one Odin, who was credited over all Europe with the honour, which was false, of godhead, but used more continually to sojourn at Uppsala; and in this spot, either from the sloth of the inhabitants or from its own pleasantness, he vouchsafed to dwell with somewhat especial constancy.
The 13th century Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturlusson, wrote that the god of fertility, Frey, built a pagan temple at Uppsala. 
Frey took the kingdom after Njord, and was called drot by the Swedes, and they paid taxes to him. He was, like his father, fortunate in friends and in good seasons. Frey built a great temple at Uppsala, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods. Then began the Upsal domains, which have remained ever since.
Saxo Grammaticus also believed that Frey used to sacrifice animals at Uppsala. 
Also Frey, the regent of the gods, took his abode not far from Uppsala, where he exchanged for a ghastly and infamous sin-offering the old custom of prayer by sacrifice, which had been used by so many ages and generations. For he paid to the gods abominable offerings, by beginning to slaughter human victims.
When they came to Oxfordshire and saw barrows like Scutchamer Knob and Wayland's Smithy, the Germanic pagans knew that these were important monuments. Wayland's Smithy was named after Wayland the blacksmith of the gods, known in Norse mytholgy as Völundr. Both of these English barrows are featured in From Runes to Ruins.