R is for “Runes”

30 Dec

The lovely Ysmine initiated “Letter of the Week” for our SWK Group on MySpace. The purpose is for individuals to choose a witchy word for the designated letter and post the definition and any other input they would like to include. I am posting my words here, as well as on the SWK group site. Knowledge shared is never wasted.

I like working with runes on two different levels: one is writing/inscribing with runes (using them as sigils or binding runes) and the other is divination.

Background and Mythology

Runes are a set of letters used to write Germanic languages before and shortly after the Christianization of Scandinavia and the British Isles. The Scandinavian variant is known as Futhark (or fuþark, derived from their first six letters: F, U, Þ, A, R, and K); the Anglo-Saxon variant is known as Futhorc (due to sound changes undergone in Old English by the same six letters).

In Scandinavian mythology, the runes were of divine origin. The eddic poem explains that their originator was the god Odin and describes how Odin received the rune through his self-sacrifice. There are two accounts of how runes became known to mortal men. It is told in Rigsþula how Rig, identified as Heimdall in the introduction, sired three sons, Thrall (slave), Churl (freeman) and Jarl (noble), on human women. These sons became the ancestors of the three classes of men indicated by their names. When Jarl reached an age when he began to handle weapons and show other signs of nobility, Rig returned and having claimed him as a son, taught him the runes. In 1555, the exiled Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus recorded a tradition that a man named Kettil Runske had stolen three rune staffs from Odin and learned the runes and their magic.

In the Ljóðatal section of the Hávamál, the runes are attributed with the power to bring “dead to life.” The earliest runic inscriptions were simple markings on artifacts (e.g., flat gold coins, combs, etc.), giving the name of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or a linguistic mystery. Because of this, it is possible that the early runes were not so much writing system, but rather magical signs used for charms or divination. The name rune itself, meaning “secret, something hidden, ” indicates that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite. The eerie 6th century Björketorp Runestone warns in proto-Norse using the word rune in both senses: “I, master of the runes(?) conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this (monument). I prophesy destruction/prophecy of destruction.”

Runic divination is a modern practice of divination based on interpretation of the ideograms contained within the Elder Futhark. Runic divination as it is now practiced is not based on historical evidence because historical sources are scant, although it is known that the Germanic peoples used numerous forms of divination and means of reading omens.There are at least three sources on divination that may (or may not) refer to runes.

The first source, Tacitus’ Germania, describes “signs” chosen in groups of three and gives a detailed second-hand account: “Augury and divination by lot no people practise more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes towards heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them. If they prove unfavourable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augury is still required.”

A second source is the Ynglinga saga, where Granmar, the king of Sodermanland, goes to Uppsala for the blót. There, the “chips” fell in a way that said that he would not live long.

The third source is Rimbert’s Vita Ansgari, where there are three accounts of what seems to be the use of runes for divination, but Rimbert calls it “drawing lots.” One of these accounts is the description of how a renegade Swedish king, Anund Uppsale, first brings a Danish fleet to Birka, but then changes his mind and asks the Danes to “draw lots.” According to the story, this “drawing of lots” was quite informative, telling them that attacking Birka would bring bad luck and that they should attack a Slavic town instead.

Many modern authors advocate the use of divinatory runes made of clay, stone tiles or even crystals or polished stones. Modern authors like Ralph Blum sometimes include an ahistorical “blank rune.” Stephen Flowers, in the wake of his 1984 dissertation on “Runes and Magic, ” published a trilogy of books under the pen-name Edred Thorsson which detailed a method of runic divination loosely based on historical sources and hermeticism. These books were entitled Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic (1984), Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology (1987) and At The Well of Wyrd (1988) which was later reprinted and retitled Runecaster’s Handbook: The Well of Wyrd. Runic divination is a component of the “esoteric runology” course offered to members of the Rune Gild, as detailed in The Nine Doors of Midgard: A Curriculum of Rune-Work.

The Elder Futhark

Each rune has a name, chosen to represent the sound of the rune itself. The names are, however, not directly attested for the Elder Futhark themselves. Reconstructed names in proto-Germanic have been suggested for based on the names given for runes of the later alphabets in the rune poems and the names of the letters of the Gothic alphabet:

Fehu fehu
Translation: Cattle
Phonetic equivalent: f
Divination: prosperity, money, wealth, concern with physical and financial needs, goals, promotion, self-esteem, centredness, karma
Magical uses: money, business, promotion, finding a job, achieving a goal, starting new enterprises
Deities and myths: Freyr, Brisingamen, Gullveig, Dwarfs, Sigurd & the Otter’s Gold
Analysis: Fehu is both the day-to-day reality of our lives and the catalyst that awakens us to what lies beyond. It is whatever we think we are seeking, which frequently bears no resemblance to what we will eventually find. It is also our home, for after all our wanderings we will still need to attend to our physical needs and ground ourselves in the simple pleasures of home, family, and good work. Oz might be a fun place to visit, but after a while all you really want to do is go back to Kansas. Fehu reminds us that we must be secure in our physical situation before embarking upon any spiritual journey. We all must begin with the mundane reality of our lives, although many people never get beyond this. In many ways, we have become as domesticated as the cattle, living our day to day existence without wanting or even being aware of anything more being possible. The first step in breaking away from this situation is to catch a glimpse of what is possible, without dwelling on what security we may lose to attain it.

Uruz ûruz
Translation: Aurochs
Phonetic equivalent: u
Divination: energy, passion, vitality, instinct, wildness, sexuality, fertility, the unconscious, primitive mind, irrationality, shamanic experience, rite of passage
Magical uses: strengthen the will, increase sexual potency and energy; for hunting
Deities and myths: Ullr, Loki, Odin (as shaman)
Analysis: The aurochs was a species of wild ox, similar to a longhorn bull, that was once found all over Europe, but which became extinct sometime in the 17th century. They were said to be slightly smaller than elephants, and had horns as long as six feet, which were highly prized by the Germanii as drinking horns. This may or may not have been an exaggeration. Paintings of aurochs have been found in Neolithic caves, and it is believed that the aurochs hunt had some significance as a rite of passage for a boy entering manhood. The aurochs is the epitome of the wild animal, as opposed to the domesticated cattle represented by fehu. Uruz is the rune of the God of the sacred hunt and his shaman/priest. Following the kind of mundane, day to day survival represented by fehu, it is the first recognition by mankind of the divine in nature, and his first attempt to control it through the use of sympathetic magic. It also represents an awareness of death and our own mortality, which may well be the only thing which truly distinguishes us from other animals. The energy of this rune is raw, powerful, and distinctly masculine, in the sense that it is pure, elemental fire. The boy who has killed the aurochs has just entered manhood, and has therefore been initiated into the first level of the mysteries – the awareness that the source of life is death.

Thurisaz þurisaz / Þurisaz / thurisaz
Translation: Giant
Phonetic equivalent: th (as in ‘thing’)
Divination: hardship, painful event, discipline, knowledge, introspection, focus
Magical uses: aid in study and meditation, self-discipline, clearing out a bad situation
Deities and myths: Frost Giants, Loki
Analysis: Þurisaz is the first of the ‘obstacle’ runes. These obstacles are not necessarily destructive things, but are placed in our path to strengthen and teach us. After all, you can’t have a mythic hero without dragons to slay or giants to fight! The lesson of this rune is ‘to learn you must suffer’, meaning not only literal suffering, but also in the biblical sense of ‘allowing’ – allowing one’s destiny to unfold as it should, and allowing one’s self to experience all that life offers us. What may at first appear to be a negative, destructive event, may well turn out to contain an important lesson. The Giants may seem to be evil and destructive to the Aesir, but they bring about change, and eventually clear the way for a new age.

Ansuz ansuz
Translation: One of the Aesir
Phonetic equivalent: a (as in ‘fall’)
Divination: authority figure, leader, mind & body balance, justice, shaman, clairvoyant
Magical uses: wise decisions, success, leadership; to help in divination and magic
Deities and myths: Odin
Analysis: This rune represents the instinctive, primal energy of uruz tempered with the discipline and experience of thurisaz. These elements are combined in the personage of Odin, who exhibits the characteristics of both chieftain and shaman – a god of wisdom as well as war. Odin is also a shaman, travelling between the worlds on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Ansuz is a balanced rune. As with fehu, many people choose to remain at this point in their journey. It represents power, both secular and magical, and this power can be quite seductive. Odin has learned the lessons of the first three runes, thus gaining the wisdom to rule wisely, but this is really only another beginning. He has only gained temporal power, and has only a few of the tools he will need to perfect himself spiritually. There is a certain lack of compassion and perspective in this rune. Odin sits high above his world, looking down and making decisions, but he doesn’t yet have the capacity to really care about or understand his people or himself. He still needs that emotional connection to become a truly great leader.

Raido raiðo
Translation: Journey
Phonetic equivalent: r
Divination: journey, pilgrimage, change, destiny, quest, progress, life lessons
Magical uses: protection for travellers, to ease or bring about change, to reconnect
Deities and myths: the Norns, Sigurd’s journey
Analysis: Raiðo represents the path of a person’s life and how it intersects and interacts with other paths. In Norse mythology, these paths are seen as threads of fate, and are regulated by the Norns. The Norns are three sisters who live near the first root of Yggdrasil, which they tend with the water from the well of Wyrd. They also spin the fates of Gods and men, which is important when understanding the mechanism of runic divination and magic. The complex network of relationships formed by these threads of fate can be thought of as a web. Every chance encounter forms another connection in the web, and by tugging on one thread you affect everything else in the system. Most people do this completely unconsciously, but by becoming aware of the pattern of the threads surrounding you, it becomes possible to recognize and follow up on the kind of catalytic events that seemed to happen to us randomly back at fehu. In this way, we can find our way more easily along the path of our own journey, thus deriving the greatest benefit from its lessons. Otherwise we tend to get distracted and end up on detours and dead ends. Raiðo reminds us that, although it may seem that we have accomplished our goals at ansuz, life and change continue and we must always go on. We will eventually end up where we began, but on a higher level and with a better perspective. The journey never really ends.

Kenaz kaunan / kenaz
Translation: Torch
Phonetic equivalent: c (as in ‘candle’)
Divination: wisdom, insight, solution to a problem, creativity, inspiration, enlightenment
Magical uses: creative inspiration, aid in study, fertility, dispelling anxiety and fear
Deities and myths: Mimir, the Dwarfs, Muspellheim
Analysis: In modern usage, the Scottish ‘ken’ means to know or understand, and this is the sense in which the rune should interpreted. Today, light, inspiration and knowledge are often associated, as in ‘gaining enlightenment’ and ’shedding light on the problem’, and even in the image of a lightbulb going on over someone’s head when they get an idea. To bring light is to make the invisible visible. Unlike the wisdom gained at thurisaz, kenaz only allows us to take bits and pieces of this knowledge away with us as we need it, usually at the discretion of the Gods. This knowledge will generally come in the form of a sudden inspiration, and we will be able to see clearly the answer that was once hidden from us. This form of wisdom is more closely associated with the right half of the brain than the left, since it does not come through conscious effort but rather through passively opening one’s self to it. Thus, a more feminine element is added to our journeyer’s experience. The act of bringing light into the darkness is also a creative one. Again, consider the image of the person carrying a torch, representing the masculine elements of fire and air, entering the cave and penetrating the feminine realm of earth and water. This joining of masculine and feminine elements results in the creation of new ideas. In physical terms, this can be correlated to the application of fire to mold and shape matter – the art of the smith.

Gebo gebô / gebo
Translation: Gift
Phonetic equivalent: g (as in ‘girl’)
Divination: gift, offering, relationship, love, marriage, partnership, generosity, unexpected good fortune
Magical uses: find or strengthen a relationship, for fertility, to mark a gift or offering, to bring luck
Deities and myths: Sigurd & Brunhild; Aesir & Vanir treaty
Analysis: Gebo is a rune of connection, particularly the connections between people. Up until now, our journey has been a solitary one. This rune represents those places where our path intersects with others, and allows us to begin to form conscious relationships. Such relationships are strengthened and sanctified by the exchange of gifts. The use of the gift as a symbol of an oath or a bond is an ancient one. When a lord wanted to ensure the loyalty of one of his subjects, he would give that person a gift. The gift would create a debt on the part of the person receiving it, and this debt would ensure his readiness to serve his lord. Similarly, a gift given between lovers, especially that of the ring, symbolizes the bond between them. Originally, only the man gave the ring in a marriage for much the same reason as the lord giving gifts to his vassals, but today the arrangement is usually more equitable. Gifts or offerings given to the Gods often carry the same meaning, representing the giver’s love for or loyalty to their Gods. The giving of a gift implies the acceptance of a debt with the understanding that the debt will not be repaid. It is this imbalance which forms the bond.

Wunjo wunjô / wunjo
Translation: Glory
Phonetic equivalent: w
Divination: success, recognition of achievements, reward, joy, bliss, achievement of goals, contentment
Magical uses: success in any endeavor, to motivate, to complete a task
Deities and myths: Baldr, Asgard
Analysis: Wunjo is the last rune of the first aett, and thus represents both the end of one cycle and preparation for the next. It is a very positive, stable rune, and is another place where people tend to get stalled along their journey. Christian poets related it to heaven, but in fact it more closely resembles the Pagan Valhalla, since this particular paradise is not a permanent one. Like the wealth of fehu, the glory of wunjo is only an illusion. We have achieved success on one level only, and there are many more lessons to be learned. It is, however, a welcome respite which allows us to rest, re-charge our batteries and prepare ourselves for the rest of the journey. It also gives us some perspective, allowing us to look back and reflect on the road thus far. Wunjo gives us a glimpse of what is possible, but if we try too soon to reach out and grab it, like the Grail it will disappear between our fingers.

Hagalaz haglaz / hagalaz
Translation: Hail
Phonetic equivalent: h
Divination: sudden loss, ordeal, destruction, disaster, clearance, testing, karmic lesson, drastic change
Magical uses: removing unwanted influences, breaking destructive patterns
Deities and myths: Ragnarok, Loki, Frost Giants
Analysis: The idea of the destruction of the old being necessary to the growth of the new, as contained in the Norse myth of Ragnarok, is essential to our understanding of this rune. Interestingly enough, hagalaz lies between kenaz (fire) and îsa (ice), reminding us of the Norse creation myth and the creative potential that lies between these two opposites, even though their meeting may seem at first to be destructive. Like the Tower in the Tarot, hagalaz is only a negative rune if we choose to view it in that way, and refuse to learn its lessons. Appearing as it does at the beginning of the second aett, it marks both a beginning and an end, and knocks us out of the safety and complacency of wunjo. It represents what a friend of mine used to refer to as the ‘flying ladle syndrome’ – that whenever things appear to be going too well, you can expect a good, healthy whack in the head from the Fates, just to make sure you’re paying attention. These sorts of ‘wake-up calls’ from the Gods will happen frequently throughout a person’s life, but are often misinterpreted as divine punishment for some imagined wrong when in fact they are merely a way of drawing your attention to a recurrent pattern in your life. Unfortunately, these types of events have a tendency to repeat themselves with greater and greater severity until the lesson is learned and the pattern is broken. For example, someone who needs to break their dependency on a certain type of person will find themselves in relationships with such people over and over again with more and more disastrous results until they recognize the pattern as emanating from themselves and break it willingly.

Nauthiz naudiz / nauthiz
Translation: Need, Necessity
Phonetic equivalent: n
Divination: poverty, hardship, responsibility, discontent, obstacle, frustration
Magical uses: represent a need to be filled
Deities and myths: Freyr & Gurd, the Otter’s Gold
Analysis: If hagalaz is a flying ladle, then naudiz is the empty pot. It is a gentle, nudging reminder that all is not as it should be. Life appears to be out of synch, and nothing seems to be going right. No matter how much you have, it is never enough, and there is an ever present desire for something more, something better. On the positive side, this dissatisfaction with the status quo can serve to draw one away from the relative safety of wunjo and motivate towards change. Naudiz represents an imbalance between one’s desires and one’s assets. How you resolve this situation will influence the rest of the journey, but the awareness of the imbalance itself can also be illuminating. It causes you to closely examine and perhaps reassess your values and priorities, and forces you back onto the path of your own happiness. Perhaps mythologist Joseph Campbell said it best when he enjoined us to ‘follow our bliss’; in other words, that we will know that we are on the right track spiritually when we are doing those things which make us the most happy and fulfilled. Naudiz helps us to take the first step on that path by letting us know when we have strayed from it.

Isa îsaz / isa
Translation: Ice
Phonetic equivalent: i (ee as in ‘eel’)
Divination: inactivity, blockage, stagnation, potential, patience, reflection, withdrawl, rest
Magical uses: to stop a process; to represent primal form
Deities and myths: Auðumla, Nifelheim
Analysis: In modern symbology, fire is generally masculine and ice (or earth) is feminine, but it is unknown whether the Norse shared this association. Certainly, ice was a constant factor in their day to day lives. It threatened their crops and their ships almost throughout the year, but it also served as a symbol of creation, from which all life will eventually spring. It says something about the Norse mind that they could recognize the need to have such a seemingly destructive joining of elements in order to create and maintain life. Fire may be warm and pleasant, but it must be balanced by the freezing of winter just as birth must be balanced by death. Even the little death of sleep has been proven to be vital for our mental and physical well-being. Isa encompasses all of these ideas, but primarily represents a period of rest before activity, and itself forms the material from which life can be created. It is matter, inert by itself, but transformed into the stuff of stars when wedded with energy. It is the immovable form acted upon the irresistible force. In many ways, the Norse predicted Einstein with their version of the creation of the universe, recognizing that everything in their world contained both fire and ice (energy and matter), and that the relationship between the two defined the processes of life itself.

Jera jera
Translation: Year, Harvest
Phonetic equivalent: y (but may be used in place of ‘j’)
Divination: change, cycle turning, reward, motion, productivity, inevitable development
Magical uses: bring change; for fertility and growth
Deities and myths: Sif, Thor, Freyr, Granni
Analysis: In this modern age of central heating and oranges in February, it is difficult to imagine the close ties that people once had with the cycles of the year, particularly in the more Northern climes. The changing seasons affected not only the weather, but also the day to day activities and even the diets of ancient peoples. Constant change was the norm, and the object was to become attuned with those changes, not to fight against them. An ancient farmer (or even some modern ones) wouldn’t need to look at a calendar to tell him when to plant, or read a weather forecast to know when the snows were coming. The changing seasons were a part of his blood and bones, and his very existence depended on adapting to change. Jera follows isa just as spring follows winter. The frozen stagnancy of ice is broken by the turning of the wheel, and things are once again moving along as they should. In fact, we have now broken out of the entire set of ‘negative’ runes with which we began this aett. This has been accomplished not by fighting to escape the ice or railing against the unfairness of fate, but by learning from those experiences and simply waiting for the inevitable thaw. Jera is the communion wine – the product of the joining of opposites bringing life. Storms may come and go, but the sun is always there and life is generally pretty good. Enjoy it while you can.

Eihwaz îhaz / îwaz / eihwaz
Translation: Yew
Phonetic equivalent: ei
Divination: change, initiation, confrontation of fears, turning point, death, transformation
Magical uses: bring about profound change, to ease a life transition
Deities and myths: Hel, Yggdrasil
Analysis: The yew tree has been associated with runes, magic and death in northern and western Europe since time immemorial. The reasons for this ancient association are numerous, but seem to principally derive from the fact that yews are evergreens which retain their greenery even through the death of winter, and because their red berries are symbolic of the blood of life. The yew is also extremely long-lived, thus effectively ‘immortal’. Reverence for the yew dates back to before the times of the Celts, and continues today in Christian tradition. Eihwaz is the thirteenth rune in the futhark, and marks the middle of the alphabet. (It is interesting to note that the Death card in the Tarot is also the thirteenth card.) This rune is the turning point in the runic journey, and represents the transformation phase of the initiatory process. All rites of passage, particularly those marking the transition into adulthood, contain the symbolism of death, the idea being that one’s former ‘self’ has died and given birth to a new persona. Eihwaz is the passage through which we must enter the realm of Hel in order to gain the knowledge and acceptance of our own mortality, as well as those mysteries which can only be learned from the dark Lady of the dead. The process is a truly frightening one, but it is something we all must go through if we are to confront our deepest fears and emerge with the kind of wisdom that cannot be taught but must be experienced. Eihwaz is the gateway to this wisdom, and lies between life (jera) and rebirth (perþ).

Perth perþô / perþ / perth
Translation: Dice-cup, Vulva
Phonetic equivalent: p
Divination: rebirth, mystery, magic, divination, fertility, sexuality, new beginning, prophecy
Magical uses: fertility, easing childbirth, to aid in divination and magic, enhancing psychic abilities
Deities and myths: Freya, Angrbode
Analysis: The actual interpretation of perþ has been the subject of much controversy among runic scholars. The problem lies in the fact that the initial P sound doesn’t occur anywhere else in the old Germanic language, leading to the belief that the word was imported from another language. The Old English rune poem seems to indicate that it had to do with some sort of game, leading many to interpret it as ‘chess pawn’ or ‘dice-cup’. The dice-cup meaning is particularly interesting as it not only fits the shape of the rune, but also hints at such an object’s original use as a container for the runes themselves. An alternate interpretation of perþ is derived from the Slavic ‘pizda’, meaning ‘vulva’. This meaning (although obscure and somewhat unlikely) fits quite well into the progression of runes up until this point, symbolizing the rebirth that follows death. Viewing it as a symbol of the womb of the Goddess, it represents the same element of the mysterious and hidden as ‘dice-cup’, but taken literally as ‘vulva’, it adds a powerful, feminine, sexual counterpart to uruz that would otherwise be missing from the futhark. However you choose to interpret the literal meaning of perþ (and again, nobody really knows what that is), the basic symbolism is that of a vessel, nurturing and giving ‘birth’, keeping hidden and secret all those mysteries which can be uncovered only after the initiation of death. The rune is closely tied in with the idea of fate, that the road we travel, regardless of what we choose to do along the way, is pre-determined from the moment of our birth. The very act of being born sets us along a course of cause and effect, action and reaction that we may choose to follow blindly, or try to divine through the runes or other means in order that we may better understand the lessons we will learn. Perþ is the beginning of this process, as well as the tool for accomplishing it.

Algiz algiz
Translation: Protection
Phonetic equivalent: x, z
Divination: protection, assistance, defence, warning, support, a mentor, an ethical dilemma
Magical uses: for protection, hunting
Deities and myths: Heimdall, Gjallerhorn
Analysis: Heimdall is an interesting and mysterious figure in Norse mythology, and I associate him with the rune algiz because of his role as protector and guardian. He is the watcher at the gate who guards the boundaries between the worlds and who charges all those entering and leaving with caution. He is best known for his famous horn, but his sword is also important in the consideration of this rune. Snorri mentions that the poetic name for a sword is ‘Heimdall’s head’, and the poetic name for a head is ‘Heimdall’s sword’. This is particularly significant if we consider that one form of his name was ‘Heimdali’, meaning ‘ram’. Through the image of the ram, Heimdall’s sword and his horn can be seen as two different sides of the same image. Both the sword and the ram’s horns (or the elk’s antlers) are symbols of power which may be used for either offence or defence, depending on the situation. In terms of the journey, we have passed through death and rebirth, and must now face the Guardian before returning to our world. It is he who charges us to use our new-found power wisely. The person can no longer be simply concerned with their own personal development, but must now consider the effect that their actions may have on others. This is a crucial turning point, and the person will either choose to adopt a system of ethics or ignore the effect on others and only work to serve their own ends. Again, the sword is in their hands, but they must decide whether to use it for defence or offence.

Sowelu sôwilô / sowulo
Translation: Sun
Phonetic equivalent: s
Divination: success, positive energy, increase, power, activity, fertility, health
Magical uses:energy, strength, success, healing, fertility
Deities and myths: Sunna
Analysis: The sun is held sacred by almost every religion in the world. Its light and warmth symbolize life and growth and all that is good. Norse cosmology describes the sun being driven around the heavens in a chariot and chased by a great wolf, which will devour it at Ragnarok. Throughout Indo-European Paganism, the sun has frequently been associated with the horse, often described as being carted around the sky by a horse. Both are symbolic of life and fertility, and are usually considered ‘masculine’ in polarity, although in Norse myth the chariot is driven by a girl. The swastika or sun wheel is a constant motif in rock carvings dating back to Neolithic times, and occurs throughout Europe and Asia. The sun rune itself is a variation on this symbol, and represents motion and energy. Sowulo marks the end of the second aett, and like wunjo represents success and glory. However, unlike the rest and relaxation of Valhalla, the sun is very much an active symbol. We have reached the end of the aett successfully, and the conclusion is a positive one, but in this case we are fully aware of the changing and transient nature of the universe. We can see the wolf at our heels, and we know that we must move on. Here, though, the journeyer may pause briefly in the warmth and light of the sun, absorbing and applying its energy to the work ahead. This time we won’t need to be blasted out of our safe position, but will rather choose to leave it in order to continue on the journey.

Teiwaz tîwaz / teiwaz
Translation: Tyr
Phonetic equivalent: t
Divination: duty, discipline, responsibility, self-sacrifice, conflict, strength, a wound, physicality, the warrior path
Magical uses: protection, victory, strength, strengthening the will, healing a wound
Deities and myths: Tyr and the Fenris Wolf, Odin’s ordeals
Analysis: Just as the second aett began with the cleansing destruction of hagalaz, so too does the third aett begin with a loss. However, hail is imposed by the Gods to force the sacrifice of those things which aren’t really vital to our development. Teiwaz, on the other hand, represents a voluntary sacrifice, made by someone who understands exactly what they are giving up and why. Tyr’s sacrifice of his hand to allow the binding of the Fenris Wolf was a noble one, and notable in a pantheon of deities not known for their sense of duty and ethical responsibility. He is believed to be one of the oldest of the Norse Gods – a Bronze-age rock carving was found in Scandinavia depicting a one-handed warrior – and his position may well have originally superseded that of Odin. Tyr’s rune is also one of the oldest in the futhark, having survived virtually unchanged from the earliest Bronze-age carvings. It represents all those qualities associated with the God: strength, heroism, duty and responsibility. But it also represents a deeper mystery – that of the wounded God. Like thurisaz, the pain of teiwaz focuses the attention and forces discipline. However, in this case the effect is more conscious and the wound carries a greater significance. Uruz has been confronted and bound, and the lessons of teiwaz and hagalaz have been learned. This is the path of the warrior.

Berkana berkanan / berkana
Translation: Birch
Phonetic equivalent: b
Divination: fertility, health, new beginnings, growth, conception, plenty, clearance
Magical uses: healing (especially infections), achieving conception, making a fresh start
Deities and myths: Frigg, Idunna
Analysis: The birch is fundamentally a symbol of fertility. There are numerous instances in European folk tradition where birch twigs are used to bring prosperity and encourage conception. They were fixed above a sweetheart’s door on May Day in Cheshire, England, and were placed in stables and houses to promote fertility. On the continent, young men, women and cattle were struck with birch twigs for this same purpose, and young boys would be sent out to “beat the bounds of the parish” with branches of birch to ensure prosperity in the coming year. Witches were said to ride broomsticks made from birch, an image which probably originated with fertility rituals where dancers would ‘ride’ brooms through the fields, the height of their jumping indicating how high the grain should grow. If teiwaz is the fundamental male mystery, then berkana certainly belongs to the women, for it represents the path of the mother, the healer and the midwife, bringing new life after death just as the birch puts out the first leaves after winter. While Tyr’s wound is acquired through his encounter with death, berkana’s wound is that of menstruation, and her ordeal is that of childbirth. The birch is abundant and all providing, and heals through nourishment, cleansing and empathy.

Ehwaz ehwaz
Translation: Horse
Phonetic equivalent: e (as in ‘egg’)
Divination: transportation, motion, assistance, energy, power, communication, will, recklessness
Magical uses: power, aiding in communication, transportation; to ’send’ a spell
Deities and myths: Sleipnir, Freya’s feathered cloak
Analysis: The horse has been a powerful symbol in nearly every culture and every age. They were often believed to draw the sun about the heavens. Strong, swift and loyal, their relationship with humankind is unique. They allow us to perform tasks that would normally be beyond our strength, and to travel distances that would normally be beyond our reach. The mare symbolizes fertility and fecundity, and the stallion is the epitome of virility and raw energy. It is an animal that never lost its power by being domesticated. Like the sun which is its counterpart, ehwaz represents energy and motion. In this case, however, there is also respect for the source of the power to be considered. This is not merely an impersonal energy source – it is a living, breathing thing whose needs and desires must be taken into consideration, rather than be simply used as a slave. This is the power that was given by the God at algiz, and this rune reminds us of our oath to only use it to help, never to harm. Like the two-edged sword, the horse is a powerful tool, but must be carefully controlled to avoid harming yourself or others. It is tempting to just go barrelling along recklessly, but to do so is to risk losing that power forever. This is the balance that must be achieved on the path of pure magic.

Mannaz mannaz
Translation: Man, Humankind
Phonetic equivalent: m
Divination: significator, self, family, community, relationships, social concerns
Magical uses: represent a specific person or group of people; to establish social relationships
Deities and myths: Ask and Embla, Midgard
Analysis: In its broadest sense, mannaz represents all of humanity, and therefore the entire realm of Midgard. In more practical terms, though, it is those with whom we have personal connections, from our immediate circle of family and friends to the wider community around us, reminding us of our nature as social animals. It also represents our connection with the Gods and with nature, through the two Norse myths of the creation of humans; the first where they sprang from Ymir’s body, and the second in which they were created from two logs by a river. It takes the raw energy of ehwaz and controls it through our social conscience, reminding us of those we affect with our deeds both magical and mundane. The rune itself resembles gebo with its joining of masculine and feminine elements, but is much more complete. It is the entire web of human relationships, with the self at the centre, which mirrors the web of fate explored through raiðo. But while that web was more or less fixed, this one is mutable and alive. Past and present, male and female, self and other – all opposites are joined here and made whole. Mannaz is our home, and speaks for all those whose lives we touch when we use the gifts we have been given through the runes.

Laguz laguz
Translation: Water
Phonetic equivalent: l
Divination: emotions, fears, unconscious mind, things hidden, revelation, intuition, counselling
Magical uses: enhancing psychic abilities, confronting fears, stabilizing mental or emotional disorders, uncovering hidden things
Deities and myths: Njord, Midgard Serpent
Analysis: When most people think of water, they generally think of its more pleasant associations – peacefulness, love, compassion, intuition, and the emotions in general. However, we must remember that, to the Norse, water most often meant the sea, and the sea was a terrifying, unpredictable place, home of the Midgard serpent and the grave of many sailors. Laguz, then, should be thought of in terms of the lighter and the darker sides of the element of water. It speaks to our primal fears of the dark, the cold, and all those terrifying things hidden deep within our subconscious minds. Like eihwaz, which forced the journeyer to confront his or her mortality, laguz makes us examine the underlying roots of our personality and behavior, and allows us to modify those aspects which are hindering our spiritual development. The understanding and wisdom gained through eihwaz and the runes which followed have prepared the journeyer to face this darker side (represented by laguz) and accept it as an integral part of their selves. Laguz also prepares the person to take on the task of helping others through this self-examination process, allowing them to empathize more strongly and share their own experiences, making it (among other things) the rune of the spiritual counselor.

Inguz ingwaz / inguz
Translation: Ing
Phonetic equivalent: ng
Divination: work, productivity, bounty, groundedness, balance, connection with the land
Magical uses: fertility, farming, growth, general health, balance
Deities and myths: Freyr/Ing, Nerthus, Thor, the Vanir
Analysis: Ing is a Danish/Anglo-Saxon name for Freyr, the God of agriculture and fertility. Agriculture represents one of the first attempts by mankind to control the environment, and the fertility of crops, animals and people has always been the primary concern and religious focus of most Pagan agrarian societies. From the earliest Sumerian accounts to modern-day British folk custom, people throughout history have sought to ensure the success of their crops. The vast majority of people in Western society have lost all contact and connection with the land and the process of growing things. The spiritual consequences of this segregation from the earth have been disastrous, since most people find it difficult to relate to deity in a purely man-made environment. The shape of this rune can be likened to that of a field, but its real significance may lie in its balance, representing the harmonious relationship between ourselves and the four elements / four directions. Inguz reminds us of that ancient connection between the Gods and the land, and re-links (the real meaning of the word ‘religion’) us with our spiritual natures through the realm of the physical. It is quite literally a grounding rune, and by reintroducing us to the earth, it reconnects our bodies, our minds and our spirits.

Dagaz dagaz
Translation: Day
Phonetic equivalent: d (pronounced as ‘th’, as in ‘this’)
Divination: happiness, success, activity, a fulfilling life, satisfaction
Magical uses: bring a positive outcome
Deities and myths: Sunna, Baldr, Nerthus, Yggdrasil
Analysis: This rune effectively marks the end of the third aett, leaving only othila to complete the cycle. As in the previous two aetts, ðagaz concludes the third with light and hope. However, while wunjo represented earthly glories and the sun, heavenly power, the day brings these two realms together, bringing the more abstract light and power of sowulo ‘down to earth’ and applying it to our everyday lives. The shape of the rune itself denotes this kind of interconnection. It is reminiscent of gebo, with its balance of masculine, feminine and the four elements, but ðagaz makes further connections to the celestial and the realm of nature. Like inguz, it symbolizes harmony with one’s environment, but again takes it a step further, implying a harmonious relationship with the spiritual environment as well. It is a bringing together of all six cardinal points – the four compass directions, the celestial realm above us where the Gods are thought to dwell; and that which is below – all the spirits ofthe earth and of nature. All of these things are balanced and integrated through ðagaz and brought into our daily lives.

Othila ôþalan / othila
Translation: Property
Phonetic equivalent: o
Divination: property, land, inheritance, home, permenance, legacy, synthesis, sense of belonging
Magical uses: aquiring land or property, to complete a project, to strengthen family ties
Deities and myths: the nine worlds of Yggdrasil
Analysis: In othila, we find ourselves back in the seemingly mundane realm of wealth and property, just like the first rune, fehu. However, while cattle represented a more movable, transitory form of wealth, the land (as Mr. O’Hara said) is the only thing that lasts. It can be passed on as a legacy, but more importantly, it defines who we are by defining where we are. It is, ultimately, our home. This rune brings us to the seventh cardinal point, which is the centre. It is the meeting place between Midgard and Asgard; between ourselves and our Gods. It is the axis around which our lives revolve. The idea of land or property is only a symbol – we must all find our own “centre” (or, as Joseph Campbell termed it, our “bliss”) to give our lives meaning, and this is really the ultimate goal of the runic journey. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we discover that after all our travels and adventures, we all eventually end up going home. But this doesn’t mean that the travels and adventures are pointless. On the contrary, it is only through those explorations that our ‘home’ or spiritual centre can have any real meaning for us. “There’s no place like home” will have no power to send us there unless we come to truly understand what and where our home is to us. Conversely, none of the lessons learned along the way can be of any real use to us unless we actively integrate them into our ‘mundane’ lives and find that centre point to anchor them to. Othila not only completes the smaller cycle of the third aett, but also brings us back to the beginning of the futhark itself, only on a higher level. We may now begin the grand cycle of the runic journey again.

Simple Divination Techniques

Single Rune

As you might imagine, this method is designed to provide a quick, concise answer to a specific question. It can also be used daily as a subject for meditation, or as a general overview of the day before you go to bed. Think of a specific question. Pull a rune out of the pouch and look at it. The answer may be an obvious yes or no, or the rune might provide a more conditional response. If the rune you picked seems to make no sense at all as a response to your question, ask another question or try again later.

The Norns

This method is helpful in getting an overall fix on a given situation, and providing some idea about a future outcome. How much information you get out of it will depend on how much time you spend analyzing the reading and how well you understand the runes. Pull one rune and place it face up. This rune represents the first Norn: those events in the past which affect the current situation. Pull another rune and lay it next to the first. This is the second Norn: the present situation, which frequently refers to a choice that needs to be made. Pull a third and lay it down. This is the third Norn and the most difficult rune to interpret. In some cases it might represent the person’s inevitable fate. In others, it might simply be the end result if the current situation remains unchanged, or even just one of several results. You must rely on your instincts to decide which is the case.


4 Responses to “R is for “Runes””

  1. gt281 December 30, 2007 at 8:44 AM #

    Faerie♥Kat’s Been Going On (and On) About runes…
    I like Loki,, he’s an E-VILE little stinker…
    What’s this got to do with Sigmarr?…
    And how does this help me make Grog?,, or
    make pancakes?…
    Can I use Runes to predict what lottery tickets to buy?…
    Or to enchant hot women to want me?…

  2. Faerie♥Kat December 30, 2007 at 9:43 AM #

    Your head should now be so filled with magical intelligence that you should be able to conjure grog out of thin air, along with buxom women of low intelligence to pour it into your lap (accidentally of course; buxom women’s brains reside in their…wait, I just remembered, buxom women haven’t any brains, that’s why they can’t distinguish your mouth from your crotch!). They will also quite cheerfully pour grog into the flour canister, creating a bubbly, gooey mass that, when hastily poured into a hot frying pan to keep it from overflowing onto your freshly scrubbed kitchen floor, may or may not emerge as a Swiss doughboy, roughly equivalent to a buxom pancake. If the amorous attentions of buxom women preening through your hair like monkeys searching for tiny edible critters becomes at any point annoying, I’m sure you can easily palm a large portion of them off on Sigmarr. He’s probably crawling with all kinds of delicious goodies. [Insert witchy cackle here and turn the volume all the way up!]

  3. gt281 December 30, 2007 at 11:48 AM #

    I hear by the tone of your Wicca Witch cackle than you have forgotten you it is you are speaking too…I found your secret nefarious incantation hidden within your message,,
    and I easily cast it aside using but a mere feather dusted with the hot ashes of a sickem no more woof woof tree…You have forgotten that for 1000 yrs I studied under the grand Germanic
    Master Nietzsche,, and for 2 hundred yrs was the apprentice of ADOY,, learning all things about using an OBI WAND to defend myself against
    E-VILE trickery…So cast no more your clumsy attempts to butter your toast with my ear wax,, or I shall apon a midnight dreary send Puff down into the land of the Jebb to toast you like a marshmallow and dip you in chocolate sauce…
    Are we still on for tea at three?…

  4. Faerie♥Kat December 30, 2007 at 2:25 PM #

    Indeedy dee! Just us 3…

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