Johannes Bureus (1568-1652) (about him and his system more in other articles) said that his “15 adalrunor ["noble runes"] [were] inscribed on a cubical stone which fell from the heavens as a sign of the powerfull divinity on the mediator between God and Man.” (Flowers 1998, p. 12). For Bureus, runes formed the most ancient, original and divine language and the many runestones that can be found in Bureus’ country (Sweden) were mediators between the world of men and the upper world. The fact that Bureus ‘chose’ a cubic stone that fell from the sky is interesting.
Bureus was fairly well informed about the ancient mythology of Scandinavia. His information was mostly ‘second hand’, such as the writings of Roman historians. His understanding of the native mythology was therefor indirect, linking Roman (or southern European) gods with the gods of the ancient North. With all the present-day information about Teutonic mythology, I don’t know about stones falling from the skies or cubic stones in this tradition. So where did Bureus find his inspiration?
In Celtic mythology, stones fall from the sky frequently. These stones are often seen as the Holy Grail or they contain a sword that can only be pulled out by the new king. The most famous example of the first is the “lapsit exillis” (this is not proper Latin, but an anagram; also there are alternative ways of writing, such as “lapis exellis”) from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s (1170-±1220) Parzival (1215). This is the jewel that comes from the stars, or -as some say- it fell out of the crown of the rebel Lucifer during his battle with the angels. (Logghe 1997, p.V and 28). In the mentioned book the hermit Trevrizent says that only the chosen can obtain the grail. The name of the chosen can be found on the edge of the stone. Logghe (p.598) continues with saying that the Dutch mystic Jan van Ruusbroec (1293-1381) refers to verse 2:17 of the Book of Revelation, which says: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Ruusbroec explains that a new name (which is the name given before the beginning of the world) is given to any person coming back to God. This may mean, at death or at initiation. There are more stones with text on it. Guénon (2004, p. 280) refers to the black stone of Ouga and the one of Mecca, which are meteorites (thus: fallen from the sky) saying: “In certain circumstances inscriptions of similarly ‘non-human’ origin also appeared on the lapsit exillis. The latter was therefore a ‘speaking stone’, or, we might say, a ‘oracular stone’.
And so we come to the Lia Fail or the ‘stone of destiny’ that screams when the rightfull new king passes has, according to some, fallen from the sky (Guenon p. 281), while other say that it was brought by the Túatha dé Dánann (Logghe p.188). But did Bureus know Celtic mythology? I don’t think that this is likely, but of course he was royal archivist so he probably saw most of the ancient documents that were in the possession of the Swedish royal house of his time.
The symbology of the lapis is strong and complex, let me quote Logghe (1997, p.212, my translation from Dutch): “The Vajra, as Divine potestas [in the Buddhist tradition], expressed as a diamond, is nothing else than this jagged stone about which we spoke, the ‘caput anguli’. The confusion that Wolfram von Eschenbach rose with this is big because the Grail that is described as ‘lapsit exilis’ can refer to a stone that fell from the heavens (‘lapsit ex coelis’), but also to a banned stone ‘lapis exilis’), as is expressed in the Rosarium philosophorum (The Rosegarden of the Philosophers): “This banned stone still exists, and his price is low. He is despised by fools, and more beloved by scholars.”. ["Hic lapis exilis extat, precio quoque vilis Spernitur à stultis amatur plus ab doctis".] Even more peculiar things get when we know that the Holy Cup (‘Santo Cáliz’) from the cathedral of Valencia has an Arabic inscription that is read as ‘alabsit sillîs’ which comes close to our ‘lapsit exillis’.” Von Eschenbach even refers to the fact that the inspiration for his story came from the Arabic ‘Flegetanis’, which -according to Logghe- is a reference to the other world.
On page 603/4 Logghe gives even more explanations of Von Eschenbach’s term. Lapis elixer or philosopher’s stone. lapis exilis or small and insignificant stone, lapis ex caelis / lapsit ex caelis or stone from the heavens and the last term we already saw lapis exilis which can mean both stone of destruction and banned stone.
With the reference to the Rosarium Philosophorum we have another lead. The Rosarium “is a famous series of 20 woodcuts [by Arnold of Villanova (±1238-±1310)] which were first printed in the second volume of De Alchimia opuscula complura veterum philosophorum… Frankfurt 1550″ (quote). In alchemy there are more references to heavenly stones. Another very nice example is a quote from the Rosinus ad Saratantam (a 13th century text that was found in a 1572 compilation): “In the way way this stone, that is no stone, thrown into the earthly landscapes, elevated into the mountains. He lives in the air, feeds in the river and rests on top of the mountains. It is Mercury, who is named with many names.” (Timmer 2001, p.421, under “lapis angularis” (cubic stone)). Sometimes the philosopher’s stone (which has many names, such as ‘lapis aetherus’ or ‘stone from the sky’) is said to have fallen from the sky or seen as a cube (i.e. of perfect form). Many emblematic images have cubic stones (see for example the Maurisches Handbuch of 1829 on the site of Adam McLean, or here).
Bureus had -as you can read in the other articles- an interest in Kabbalism and esotericism in general. He was a supporter of the “Rosicrucian brotherhood” and wrote answers to the Rosicrucian manifestoes that appeared in the early 17th century. I haven’t been able to find references to cubic stones or stones that fall from the sky in Kabbalistic texts (sometimes the sephira Yesod is referred to as a cubic stone, but I think this is more in ‘neo-Kabbalism’ than in traditional Kabbalah), but a nice reference is made by Robert Ambelain (pdf-link) who writes that the cubic stone is “a real Ritual Object, which allows the Forces summoned by the Mage to be set in motion, behind the veil of immediate reality.” And he continues: “That is why, as Masonry knows, the four sides of this Cubic Stone are covered with a compact network of Numbers and Letters, from which, with recourse of traditional keys, one can discover “passwords” and “mysterious diagrams”. Understanding what is being concealed behind the “Cubic Stone”, and knowing how to put it in practise, is the necessary proof of a true Mage.”
As for the Rosicrucian writings, I have only found even more indirect references. On Antiqillum.com used to be very interesting article about the “Rosicrucian” symbolism of stones that fall from the sky in Freemasonry. Both Antoine Guillaume Chéreau (who lived somewhere around 1800) and Lambert de Lintot (1736-?) wrote about the symbolism of the cubic stone in Freemasonry. Of course, Freemasonry is (symbolically) all about shaping the perfect cubic stone from a rough block, but especially Chéreau, made the symbolism much deeper than just the working on the stone. His stone contains magic squares and diagrams with masonic and alchemical elements. This strongly reminds of the reference made by Ambelain to magical symbols. (Note: the article says that their diagram comes from Waite’s A New Encyclopedia Of Freemasonry, but in my version of this book, the diagram is in the form of a cross and there are also three triangles with text. This image can be seen here.
Could it have been Freemasonry then? ‘Officially’ Freemasonry ‘started’ in 1717 when the Grandlodge of London was founded, but in fact, there was (pre)Masonic activity already in Bureus’ time. In 1599 the first speculative lodge was founded in Edinburgh, UK (Scotland). On the other hand, nowadays scholars think that in the UK speculative Freemasonry began and later spread over the continent and the rest of the world. The center for the spread supposedly where the Netherlands, the but first lodge in my country wasn’t founded before 1754! It is not likely that Bureus was inspired directly by Masonic teachings.
Sure, Bureus used his runic system for some kind of magic, but the reason he came up with the runic stone, is to show that the gods sent the original language by throwing it down to earth. Is it a reference to the “Enochian language” that John Dee (1527-1608) received from the angels? It is more likely that Bureus’ source was Guillaume Postel (1510-1581) whom he drew heavily upon. As far as I know, Postel thought that the original language was Hebrew and the letters where all formed out of the smallest letter “Yod” and not carved in a rock that fell from the sky.
So I must conclude that my search has so far only pointed towards a few likely sources for Bureus’ idea for the runestone. Maybe not Celtic mythology (but should he have known this, there was plenty of inspiration), but pre-Masonic and alchemical symbolism. There are quite some nice articles about the symbol of the lapsit exillis and cubic stones on the internet and in books, but so far I haven’t found anything that could be provable or at least convincingly Bureus’ inspiration.
Johannes Bureus and Adalruna by Stephen Edred Flowers, 1998 Rûna Raven Press
De Graal, tussen Heidense en christelijke erfenis by Koenraad Logghe, 1997 Mens en Cultuur
Symbols Of Sacred Science by Rene Guenon, 2004 Fons Vitae, isbn 0900588772
Van Anima Tot Zeus by Maarten Timmer, 2001 Lemniscaat, isbn 905633528
A New Encyclopedia Of Freemasonry by Arthur Edward Waite, 1996 University Books, isbn 0517191482