Question by “A Junior Student” | Reply by H.P.B.

I shall feel highly obliged if you will kindly insert in the columns of The Theosophist the meanings and history of the two following names:

1. Runic; and 2, Arne Saknussemm.

I guess the meaning of the first to be—the name of a language. Of the second the name of a Professor or a learned man of the 16th century, a great alchemist of the day.

I want a regular history of the second expression.

“A Junior Student,” Trevandrum, 8th April, 1883.

Editor’s Note [HPB]: “A Junior Student” makes a right guess in one instance. There is not much mystery in the adjective “runic,” though its noun “Rune” of Rûn (an Anglo-Saxon word) stood in days of old for “mystery,” and related to magical letters—as any Encyclopædia might have told him. The word runic relates both to the language and the peculiar alphabet of the ancient Norsemen; and “runes” was the name used to indicate the sixteen letters or characters of which the latter was composed. It is of the remotest antiquity, and the few ones who were acquainted with the use of those peculiar marks some old stones bearing yet inscriptions in the Runic character—were considered as great enchanters and magicians, until the runes began to be used in communication by writing and thus—their sacred and mystic character was lost by becoming vulgarized. Nevertheless, in some Occult books it is distinctly stated that those letters received in their subsequent usage a significance quite distinct from the original one, the latter remaining to this day a mystery and a secret with which the initiated descendants of the Norsemen will not part. The various talismans and charms used occasionally by the modern so-called “wizards” and “witches” in Iceland—supposed to have inherited the secret science of old—are covered generally with runic marks and may be easily deciphered by those students to whom no ancient mystery is one, they studying Occultism in its general or universal aspect.

As to the other word or rather name of which “Junior Student” wants “a regular history”—it will be more difficult to satisfy him since no such name is to be found either in the catalogue of mediaeval Alchemists and Rosicrucians, or in the long list of Occultists in general, since Apollonius of Tyana and down to the days of Éliphas Lévi.

It is most certainly not a European name, in its second half at any rate; and if the name of Arne is to be occasionally met with, that of “Saknussemm” has an Egyptian rather than a Western ring in it. There was an “Arne” (Thomas Augustine), an English musical composer and the author of “Rule Britannia” in the 18th century, and two men of the name of Socinus—in the 16th and 17th. But these were no alchemists but great theologians, or rather we should say anti-theologians and infidels. Lœlius Socinus—the first—was the friend of both Melanchthon and Calvin, though he denied the fundamental doctrines of popular Christianity and made away with the Trinity. Then came Faustus Socinus—his nephew, and a great sceptic, the protégé of F. de Medici, grand duke of Tuscany. This one openly maintained that the Trinity is a pagan doctrine; that Christ was a created and inferior being, and that there was neither personal God nor devil. His followers were called the Socinians, but even this name answers very little to Saknussemm.

Having thus confessed our ignorance, we can suggest to “Junior Student” but one plan; and that is, to seek for his “Saknussemm” among the Egyptian deities. “Arne Baskenis” was the Greek name of Aroeris the elder Horus, “Sakanaka” is the mystical appellation of a great fire, which is mentioned in the 165th chapter of the Ritual of the Dead—and may have, perchance, something to do with the alchemist fire of Saknussemm. Then we have Sakasutu—the “Eldest-born of the Sun God,” one of the names of the planet Saturn in Chaldean Astronomy; and finally Samoulsamouken, the name of the rebel king of Babylon, the brother of Assurbanipal, king of Assyria. Having done our best, we can but advise our correspondent to let us know in what work he met with the name, as also his reasons for believing that “Saknussemm” was an alchemist, or a learned man of the sixteenth century.


[Note: the following is a further letter and reply from The Theosophist, October, 1883, on the name “Arne Saknussemm”]

Letter by “F. de Tengnegell” | Reply by H.P.B.

Having just received The Theosophist for June, I find on page 234 a letter from one signing himself “A Junior Student,” and headed—“An explanation wanted.” I now beg you will allow me a few remarks upon the subject, which may, perhaps, prove of a certain importance. Seven or eight years ago, in one of Jules Verne’s works (I forget the title), I read the following: A savant finds in an old book verses in Runic characters that his nephew alone can decipher. These verses contain the proof that an old alchemist Arne Saknussemm, burnt alive by the Holy Inquisition, had performed a voyage into the interior of the earth via the crater of a volcano in Greenland, etc., etc.; a voyage undertaken later on by the uncle and nephew. This old alchemist, among other extraordinary feats, was the inventor of the double “M” written in Runic characters in a peculiar way. It will be easy to verify the statements, and in case they are found correct, to put down “A Junior Student” as he deserves—for his impertinence.

Editors Note. [H.P.B.]We thank our Java brother for the information. We have read this work of Jules Verne along with all his other works of scientific fiction as they have appeared: but since one reads certainly not a romance for the sake of its action, descriptions, and analysis of human nature, the names of the fictitious personages used as crystallizing points, or “motor-centres,” by the author are soon forgotten. We did our best to give “Junior Student” facts we presumed he actually wanted; and we hope our Editorial ‘Note’ edified him. But if the party in question got his alchemist out of Jules Verne’s romance, and put his query in a spirit of quizzing, it would only show that he is yet a very junior student, indeed, who has, moreover, a very puerile notion of a joke; and when he blooms into a ‘Senior,’ or a graduate, he will discover what a simpleton he made of himself. The proverb tells us to “Answer a fool according to his folly”; but in this instance our sober answer profited others perchance, if not him. But, perhaps, we do the lad injustice. He may have sent his questions in good faith.