I never resonated with Berkana nor had a particularly good working relationship with it until my adopted mom told me how much she associated it with Sigyn. Sigyn is Loki’s wife and a Goddess who is, today, little worshipped in contemporary Heathenry, though that is slowly changing. She is a magnificent Goddess, Whose attributes of courage, compassion, and quiet strength we could do far worse than to emulate. My mother wore a gold cuff with Berkana engraved on it every day for 26 years, and she had this rune tattooed on her wrist in honor of Sigyn. Its mysteries have much in common with those of the Goddess with Whom my mom so strongly associated it.
First and foremost, Berkana is a rune bursting with vibrant life. It is the cow with full udders, the fully stocked larder, the plants uncurling up through the dirt reaching tenaciously toward the sun, the young tree bursting into green bloom. It is the mother nursing her child, it is the furious, tempestuous, never-ending, never-yielding cycle of life, that which pushes ahead, pushes onward and seeks wholeness.
Sigyn is about wholeness too, in the face of sometimes crushing anguish. She is the Lady of Enduring Grace, the One Who does not yield ever. She does what she committed her heart and mind and hands to do, even when the cost is terrible. Berkana has a certain stubborn tenaciousness to it. It is a beautiful rune, often gentle and encouraging, but scratch that surface and you may see the immensity of its power, it’s focus, it’s unyielding commitment to endurance. It is growth, even in the hardest, rockiest, most unwelcoming of climates.
Because of this, berkana is a very good rune to meditate on in periods of emotional or spiritual darkness. It demands growth. It may be gentle about it, but it will not stop demanding growth, that we look at that which is keeping us from growth, and prune it away. If we cannot nourish our spirituality, it might just decide to do that for us in a way that will plunge us inevitably into the process of dealing with our shit; and berkana will look and smile and nod and say “this is a good thing. Just look what lies beyond that, look at what you are denying yourself. Come on, it is time to cut those spiritual weeds down to size and get on with the process of growing.”
Until my Mom’s epiphany, I usually associated this rune with Frigga (and I still do in addition to Sigyn). Frigga is a power broker. She is firm and very much in control of Her territory. She is the only Deity that consistently gets the better of Odin, a God known for His cunning and wisdom. She is often seen as a Goddess of frith, or right order. What many moderns don’t realize is that right order occasionally entailed thrusting a knife into one’s enemy to restore peace. She is that too and so is this rune. She is, as poet Elizabeth Vongvisith so beautifully pointed out:
“the war-hammer’s keeper in peace-time, frithweaver who bears a knife within my skirt, a bear who mercilessly defends my cubs…” (“Runes: Theory and Practice,” p. 104).
Life and the impulse toward life is merciless. Berkana softens that by tempering it with an understanding of the complexities of humanity but at its core, there is still a merciless endurance inherent in this rune. That is a good thing, a positive thing, because it can teach us to pick up and keep going even when the vagaries of life and its tragedies would grind us down and out. It is a rune of terrible gentleness. That is where I taste the connection to Sigyn for She too is a Goddess of terrible gentleness.
I admit though, that I still do not know this rune well. I can truly plumb its depths only by first meditating on Sigyn or Frigga. I have not yet learned to speak berkana’s dialect without the intermediary of such contemplations. I do know that berkana holds enormous power, especially when it comes to manifestation and growth. This rune is a nourisher and sometimes nourishing means building up, sometimes it means attacking and tearing down that which would strangle growth and limit wholeness. Berkana does it all.
This rune is often associated with the birch tree and birch is very, very special tree. It is a colonizing tree. After forest fires, birch will often be the first tree to grow again on the burnt soil. It brings nutrients back to the land and readies it to sustain other life. As the soil is restored and other trees also grow, there comes a time where they often overshadow birch and block the sun that it needs to thrive. Then the birch will die, giving further nutrients to the soil. In magic and energy work, the spirit of birch and the tree itself can be approached for cleansing. It brings wholeness, cleansing, restoration. Berkana too is a rune of restoration and by extension blessing. To our ancestors, health and wholeness were one in the same. That organic balance is berkana in action.
“Sigyn, Our Lady of the Staying Power” by G. Krasskova available at: http://www.amazon.com/Sigyn-Staying-Power-Galina-Krasskova/dp/0578031051/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272203672&sr=8-8
“Runes: Theory and Practice” by G. Krasskova available at http://www.amazon.com/Runes-Theory-Practice-Galina-Krasskova/dp/1601630859/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272203672&sr=8-1
Other good books:
“Lives of the Trees” by Diana Wells available at: http://www.amazon.com/Lives-Trees-Uncommon-Diana-Wells/dp/156512491X/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272204710&sr=8-4
“Celebrating Birch” by The North House Folk School available at http://www.amazon.com/Celebrating-Birch-Lore-Craft-Ancient/dp/1565233077/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272204768&sr=1-1
“The Birch” by John Peyton available at http://www.amazon.com/Birch-Bright-Tree-Life-Legend/dp/0939923424/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272204768&sr=1-3
For me, wunjo is such an intensely personal and experiential rune, that I find it difficult to translate those feelings and experiences into concrete language. I can work this rune and communicate with this rune but when it comes to making it known through the fabric of my words to someone else, it’s as if there is something ephemeral about its presence, as though it does not want to be pinned down by the concrete cage of words. So with that caveat, I’m going to try to present as clear a picture as possible of this rune’s nature. Wunjo is usually defined as a wish rune, or a rune of joy. It can certainly be both of those things. This is a rune of enchantment, of magic, of ecstatic inspiration. I agree with Kenaz Filan when he writes that: “One of Wunjo's highest and holiest manifestations is the mystic's ecstatic union with the Divine.” (1) In fact, this was the way that wunjo first revealed itself to me. This is wunjo in its best, brightest, most sacred. It whirls around those moments of pure communion. Just as Filan associates wunjo with that which is contained within the Holy Grail, so I associate it with Odhroerir, the mead of inspiration. It is the bliss of that perfect moment when one is ridden and being ridden by the daemon of creativity, where one is almost possessed by it, and where it all comes together and beauty flows from heart and hands and spirit into active, joyous manifestation. Wunjo dances around the God-spouse who stands taut in the indescribable ecstasy that is the presence of his or her Deity. It is the religious ecstasy that crosses all religious boundaries. It is the spiritual fire that devours, consumes, envelops and brings both the most joyous and most painful of bliss-filled ecstatic moments. It is holy radiance. Wunjo has a darker side though that no one ever discusses. It is obsession, madness, and addiction. Wunjo is held forth in those stereotypical stories of the brilliant genius, or artist who is then consumed by madness (or the magician who is devoured by obsession with his art). It’s that fine line between mysticism and madness, artistry and obsession. The Alfar know this rune well. It is one of the primary darts in their most devastating arsenal. Wunjo is the poison that you beg to drink, longing for more of its sweetness with your last, gasping breath. It can twist the mind, creating weird reflections that make things seem as they are not. It is, at its heart, a rune of glamour. It creates addiction and obsession, twisting the joy and pleasure that it can bring, tainting the creativity, turning that which is holy and pure into something that it was never meant to be. It will do this also where self-discipline is lacking because the undisciplined soul, the undisciplined heart, the undisciplined intellect cannot help but take this rune to that place. It counsels against loss of self- control and balance. One can dive fully into the ecstasy this rune brings, swim in it willingly, but one must know how to come back to the stolidity of Midgard’s shores again. It demands that fluidity of skill and focus. (This rune appreciates focus and works very, very well with the futhorc rune Yr as a rune of focused inspiration. It is excellent in this combination for artisans, artists, and craftsmen to work with, people who’s vocation involves taking inspiration and making it manifest through the conduit of their skill, creativity, focus, and disciplined technique).The aforementioned connection to the Alfar is particularly important. Elves do not have ethics. They have aesthetics, protocol, and intricate courtesies. They have a web of obligation and debt that defines their existence within their culture. As with any non-human being, it is equally important with wunjo not to project one’s own sense of human ethics and expectations onto this rune. There is nothing human about it and it does not partake of these very human constructions.
In its more positive aspects, Wunjo can be used to connect us to the sacred, to that which is greater than ourselves. It whispers and glimmers with echoes of the numinous and can teach us to ready ourselves for direct experience of the Holy Powers. Wunjo is the joy of the holy fool who has feasted with Gods and whose humanity is too small a thing to contain the joy of the experience. Wunjo simply laughs delightedly and says “grow” or maybe “dance.” It is the whirling dervish, the magus standing in rapture wielding with perfect, hard-won mastery, the raw energies of his art. Wunjo is order, perfect structure, the golden mean, a perfectly balanced stanza of poetry, or mathematical equation, or intricate measure of music. It is that which arouses the eye and breaks the heart with its beauty. Wunjo is that beauty and the transformation that it can bring. It is the power, the magnetism of creative brilliance both to ensnare craftsmen, artisans, and genius and to move those who view or hear it. It is also a rune of hope, and can be that foxfire glimmer of something true which gives one the ability to drag oneself up through the worst of one’s spiritual darkness. It is that which one seeks while in the midst of the dark night of the soul. It is inspiration on all levels. There is a sexual element to Wunjo: it is enticing and promises an almost orgasmic fulfillment. It drives itself beneath the skin, crackling and shimmering and is at once both immensely kinetic and immensely cerebral in its manifestation. It is easy to get drunk on wunjo and its gifts; the challenge to the rune worker is to experience the fullness of this rune but instead of being swept away by its intensity, to take it and *do* something with it. This rune rejoices in ecstatic manifestation, particularly in the creative arena. As you might have guessed by now, Wunjo is about beauty. It is a rune with a keen aesthetic sense. It is about the recognition and manifestation of beauty in all things. This is also a rune of graciousness. Attention to small details and courtesies will go far with this particular rune spirit because these things are another manifestation of the perfect structure of things that this rune so values. Wunjo glitters with an indefinable glamour and one surrounded by wunjo will have a subtle but inexplicable charisma. This rune, however, is not about surface beauty. It is about the inherent truth, the integrity and balance within each person and thing. It is about the beauty found in secure knowledge of the self, in open connection to one’s own unique truth. It is what Keats meant when he wrote “beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”(2)
Kenaz Filan points out that “both Wunjo and Thurisaz represent an irresistible penetrating power that breaks down boundaries. Wunjo burns through all the dross that separates the soul from the Divine. The uplifting feeling of transcendence we experience in the presence of beauty is the recognition that we are in the presence of the Gods, the presence before which all else is absent.”(3) Yes. That is wunjo in a nutshell. Wunjo finds the cracks in the citadel of one’s emotions, or the matrix of one’s mind, or the labyrinth of one’s soul and winds its way in, like Odin as Bolverk taking the serpents shape and winding His way into Gunnlod’s secret chamber. There is a certain viscous quality to it, like melted gold. It is sneaky and will find a way in when it wants to.
I associate Odin, Odin’s Vali, and the Alfar with this rune. Sources
- John Keats, “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” accessed at http://www.bartleby.com/101/625.html.
This is a solid, balanced, organic rune of immensely contained power. When I initially began working with the runes, I always though that Uruz connected in some way to the earth, because of its immense strength; but now I realize that it is fire: vitality, chi, life energy, health and wholeness. It drives our immune system both energetically and physically. This is a rune of strength, endurance, and power and for this reason, as well as its immense vitality, it is an excellent rune of healing and I tend to associate various healing Deities like Eir, and Arvolecia with it. There’s a wildness to this rune, a force that is just barely reined in by will and discipline alone and that almost physical discipline is something that this rune can help to teach.
It also struck me that euphonically (and this is probably just coincidence but I’m not etymologist and couldn’t say for certain) Uruz and Aurochs sounds very similar. That is what this rune represents. Whereas fehu is domesticated cattle (wealth), uruz is represented by the wild aurochs. It is a rune of initiation (young warriors would be sent out to hunt and kill an aurochs as part of their coming of age ceremonies). It asks you to consider where your strength comes from. It will teach you how to recognize and tap into that source, whatever it might be. It will teach you how to manage, maintain, and increase your own health i.e. the flow of your vital energies.
This rune is about making peace with power. It is about claiming your own power, really owning it, calling it to you and doing what you must do to truly have it as a reservoir at your beck and call. It’s also about taking well earned satisfaction in doing that. It isn’t just about vitality here, but about power of all sorts. This is the rune that says “get your ancestral house in order” because that too is part of your power. They are a wall of defense at your back.” It is this rune that says, “Take that class in time management because your lack of organization is wasting energy and that is a waste of power too.” This rune neglects nothing and will look at every aspect of a thing to best utilize it as a resource. It wastes nothing.
There is a martial aspect to this rune that’s not often tapped into. It’s this facet of its nature that says “train hard. Train so that your training is the worst thing you ever encounter.” It’s this facet that shines forth in the care taken in crafting a well made weapon, or exquisite suit of armor. This is the rune that says do the work necessary for proper preparation. Tend to your resources and the rest will tend to itself. This rune is all about the preparation necessary to go into battle confidently and emerge victorious. What that battle is might change from person to person, but for uruz the best offensive begins with careful, rigorous preparation of the self. In this, it is about a very practical mindfulness.
This rune is also about taking appropriate pride in one’s work. It is there in the pride of a master smith over a well crafted, exquisitely honed, perfectly balanced blade. There is a definite sense of craft and artisan-ship with uruz. Again, I think this links into this runes focus on preparation and preventive care, if you will. It taps into the care and focus, and skilled application of vision and will that are all part of the craftsperson’s way of working.
I may post more about this rune a little later. I feel that I’m still only brushing its outermost surface. I need to spend more time with it yet again.
Dagaz is also the continuity from one generation to another, of knowledge from a master to an apprentice who will later become a master and pass it onto his or her apprentice. It is the long, slow, repetitive process of learning that leads to artistry, craftsmanship, and brilliance. It is also the linkage between the living and the dead, and the process of inheritance, though Othala represents the inheritance itself. It is the twisting strands of DNA, containing the mark of our ancestral connections all the way back to pre-history. It is not only transition and passage and change, but the sharing of knowledge followed by the building upon of that which has been shared.
I wear a gold pendant around my neck that I received from my adopted mom. It has the rune dagaz carefully engraved in its center. She was a devout Loki and Sigyn’s woman and wore this pendant for the better part of twenty-six years. She also had dagaz tattooed on one wrist (with berkana, the rune she associated with Sigyn on the other) as an act of devotion. I loved her very much and learned a great deal from her before she passed away this past February; so to say that I have a deep affinity and affection for this particular rune would be an understatement.
We don’t have any surviving symbols for Loki, but many Loki’s folk see Dagaz as His rune and I am no exception. It embodies a certain type of unstoppable, sometimes deceptively easy, always quixotic and surprising change that He also wields with such dexterity. It is transformation, the act of change, the reality that things are always shifting, dancing, changing, moving, transforming from one state of being to another. It is the antithesis of stagnation and entropy and will often burble up in the midst of what might seem like safely contained normalcy bringing its own unique gift: movement, transition, awakening, longing, agitation. Dagaz will look at what is brittle with unexamined rigid orthodoxy and explode it into a thousand shards so that it can be melted down, reshaped, remade, and annealed. This is the revolutionary’s rune, quiet until it has crossed the enemy’s gates. Dagaz is the hammer on the anvil, the glass artisan’s furnace, it is the annealer, and the smith’s burning forge. It is dancing along the poet’s pen when he publishes “obscene odes on the windows of the skull.” (1) This rune is the moment of intellectual revolution, of emotional epiphany, of spiritual ecstasy, of that which burns away all that was, leaving the internal world of the self open to all that might become. It is also the truth in the lunatic’s laughter, the laughing contempt of the outcast flicking off the hypocrisy of his peers. It is creative obsession that culminates in a glorious symphony. It is there when the creative drives devours the mind as well. It is the moment of annunciation when one comes face to face with the divine, or messengers of the divine. It is the passion of adoration, and it those hammer blows of brilliance, of knowing, of truth that unsettle the soul forever after. Dagaz taps into all of those moments of change: it is the millisecond when one state of being morphs into another. Dagaz doesn’t stop. This rune never stops. It is all of these things and more.
Loki isn’t the only God that I associate with Dagaz. It is also the combined power of the sun and moon: Sunna and Mani, and Their Sister Sinthgunt. It is the turning of the day into night into day again. Not much is known about Sinthgunt, but I tend to see Her as a Goddess not just of cosmic energies (and by this, I mean that which crafted the stars, that which ordered the universe, the power of a black hole, the force of a supernova) and earthly alchemy, but also of quantum physics. In “Day Star and Whirling Wheel,” one of the contributors speaks of Sinthgunt as “Mighty Maga,” and names Her as Mistress of “the dark fire that flows between the sun and the moon.” (2) Dagaz is that dark fire too. Dagaz is that enormity of knowledge: the shaping and shifting of space and time. It is alchemical transformation and the turning of a cycle from the inside out, a cosmic never-ending Moebius strip.
This is a deeply magical rune. It has its dangerous side: it can cut like a razor blade if grasped without care, or clumsily, or with out proper respect for its power. It looks harmless on the surface however in reality it is anything but. Many rune workers choose to end the futhark with dagaz because of its ongoing, endlessly looping cyclical nature. It marks the pathway from one cycle to another. (For a number of reasons I prefer Othala at the end, and I believe this is more traditional, but I can see the strong argument for dagaz). Dagaz tells us that all things change, transform are folded one into the other. Life and death are simply an odd little paradox that it plays with, our concepts of time, of decay, death, birth, passages, endings, beginnings, night, day, world, space…they are playthings to the pathways this rune easily traverses. There is a joyfulness in this rune, a dark glee. It is the tangle of things, the pattern of wyrd, it slides easily between the warp and the weft, through each Gordian tangle, beneath the weaving and above it. It rises with the sun and sets with the moon and dances laughingly over everything in between. This is a rune of fire, but it isn’t literal heat; rather it is the fire of hunger for magic, to know, to dare, to explore, to never stop growing and changing.
The etymology of this rune means ‘day’ and therefore we know that it can also be associated with the God Daeg (Dagr), a God of day. Dagr is said to ride a magnificent horse and rays of light flow from its mane. He is the Son of the Goddess Nott and God Delling. In both lore and by modern spirit-workers, Dagr has variously been described as brilliant, shining, magnificent, and beautiful. He contains and manifests all that is best about the beauty of “Day”. Dagaz partakes so much of Dagr’s nature that at times it seems it almost acts as a herald for Him. As such, Dagaz has a compelling beauty, a draw, a charisma. It glitters and promises many things to those with ears to hear. Be careful. It will draw you in and those promises have unspoken codicils. This is neither good nor bad, positive or negative. It simply is the way of things. There is an element in this rune that engages in a certain negotiation, haggling of price. It enjoys wit and clever minds and tongues.
This association with day also means that dagaz brings insight. It will, in its own inimitable way bring those moments of spiritual, mental, and emotional “eureka.” Dagaz is there when the artisan finally “gets” a technique, or when the student has a difficult concept “click” into place. I have even heard this rune’s delighted laughter at such times.
Dagaz is also the confusion inevitable in the spiritual journey. It embodies those times the Gods and ancestors throw us into turmoil, where we cannot see where we are going or where we are or how we go there or what on earth is happening but all omens and portents, our own discernment, it all points we are where we need to be and going in the right direction. Dagaz can be called upon in those times to help wind one’s way to some small degree of understanding of the overall path out of the chaos. Chaos is part of dagaz’s nature though. it understands it and understands how it can be incredibly productive.
- “Howl” by Allen Ginsburg, available at http://sprayberry.tripod.com/poems/howl.txt
- “Day Star and Whirling Wheel” by Galina Krasskova, p. 61. Available at: http://www.amazon.com/Day-Star-Whirling-Wheel-Tradition/dp/0982579802/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271639800&sr=8-13
By Sowilo’s name, we know that this rune is associated with Sol, or Sunna, the Goddess of the Sun. The Sun Deity amongst the Norse was female, and She was associated with growth, wholeness, health, and well –being. She drove back not only the darkness but the creeping cold and the threat of famine (no sun no crops) and the lengthening of days rescued the people from winter’s bitter cold, and also from the tedium and possible frustration of being cooped up together for several months in a long-house! This rune is a rescuer. It opens the doors and lets the light shine in, if you will.
For all that, I’ve never seen Sowilo as a particularly gentle rune. Sunna Herself never strikes me as particularly gentle. She’s very focused on the task at hand. This rune bears some of that focused orientation on work. Gentleness implies a type of personal attachment and caring which is quite alien to this rune’s nature. This rune is often associated with joy and while it may be a joyful rune, I have never found it particularly kind. That is no criticism: it is what it is. I have never found it at all cruel either for that matter. It has a job to do, a job at which it excels, and in which it takes joy.
I’ve often seen Sowilo come up in a reading to indicate that moment where our consciousness is cracked open to let some sort of spiritual epiphany in. it’s that moment when our spirituality really puts down a taproot deep into our souls. As Kenaz Filan noted, Sowilo is “the dawning that destroys the dark” and it will do that on every possible level, not just the purely physical. The cracking of our illusions can be a very painful and traumatic process, though it is necessary for our spiritual health. Sowilo will do it in a heartbeat and then move on after filling us with a terrifying moment wherein its light illuminates everything. If you recall Plato’s parable about the cave, it is the moment the cave dwellers come into the light. In addition to Sunna, I see this rune with Farbauti, the Terrible Striker, Father of Loki. When Sowilo taps into that, it is a carefully aimed lightening strike at the weakest points in one’s orlog. Then, it will do what it is in this rune’s nature to do, bringing its fire and its light, and demanding an uncompromising clarity.
Sowilo may also be used to increase one’s confidence. This rune links into the smooth pride of a job well done, the triumph of a hard-won victory. It is a rune of victory, another warrior’s rune. This is a rune that is not afraid to go out in the front lines, aggressively taking the offense to get a job done, to accomplish what must be accomplished, to strike down the opposing force. It is a rune of immense, unexpected momentum, a blitzkrieg and it can be so in the spiritual as much as in relation to any physical obstacle. As Filan notes, sowilo can be to promote vitality, strength, and healing. It can give one a burst of energy (for which you’ll pay later in exhaustion) and to help one persevere in the face of grueling exhaustion. It’s a good immune booster as well. I usually recommend using it in conjunction with other runes because it can be a bit abrasive on its own.
Sowilo can be the kindling of a powerful mental fire. It is inspiration not of the heart but of the intellect. This rune is quick but never careless. It can be a rune of mental brilliance. It can also be used to help one rise above the confusion of one’s own emotions and subjectivity in order to see the “bigger picture,” to see what path one should take. Following algiz in the futhark, this rune is never far from the Tree.
Kenaz Filan writes (and this, Kenaz, was my favorite part of your post):
“Sowilo's victory is one gained through superior tactics and insight, not
through brute strength or blind fury. There is a great elegance to this
rune. Much as the sun rises and sets by a tight schedule and hews on its
course along a well-mapped arc, Sowilo is a rune which combines power and
precision. It is the sword-strike of the skilled warrior, the orderly
advance of the well-trained legion. If you are working on a project which
requires that sort of discipline, you will do well to channel this rune's
power and learn its lessons.” (http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com April 18th posting)
That is Sowilo in a nutshell. There is a tightly wound kinetic power to this rune that is always looking for an appropriate place to strike. This is why it can be exhausting to work with: it’s extremely kinetic but abrasive at the same time: like lightening in the veins of the mind. It wants to do things, to focus on something, to achieve something and if you have a good relationship with it, it might help you to do the same.
I got an interesting question from an e-list that I frequent today: how does one use runes? Do you know a good website? …
While the first part of the question is certainly legitimate, the second gave me pause. Knowing the quality of the list from which the question came, I was a bit taken aback by the unstated presumption that runes are something A) one is entitled to learn and B) that one can learn to use them in the blink of an eye. All of the occult arts take time, study, and a great deal of practice to master. This is even truer of the runes because they are alive and learning to work with them involves developing an ongoing relationship with a family of spirits. One does not become a rune-master overnight.
On his blog, my friend Kenaz Filan has been having a discussion about honoring one’s elders within Paganism. Apparently and surprisingly, this idea has created quite a bit of controversy on the forums in which my friend brought it up. To those of us trained traditionally or coming from indigenous faiths, it is appalling that one would not honor one’s elders and teachers. It occurs to me reading this, however, that this overweening sense of entitlement, the lack of respect for the art and craft that one is seeking to learn, might be one of the reasons that such honor is lacking. Why respect someone for doing what anyone can learn to do in five minutes off a website? (Not to mention if you do respect your elders, you’re admitting that you don’t know everything and that the secrets of the universe are not actually free for the taking. One might have to work).
While I find the lack of respect for elders and teachers appalling, I’m even more boggled by the lack of respect for the Gods and spirits with which one is working or Whose sacred tools one is co-opting. In Heathenry, a debate surfaces every now and again about whether or not one should go down on one’s knees to one’s Gods. Of course one should. Our ancestors would have known this. Our ancestors, lacking modern man’s sense of entitlement and personal hubris would have realized that they are dependent on the grace of the Gods for the good things in their lives. They would have realized that to *not* show respect is ludicrous. They would have gotten on their knees and in fact there are several passages in the surviving lore attesting to this. It is an act of courage and strength to realize when one should be humble. Humility as a virtue was not invented by Christianity! Of course, modern Heathens seem to engage in selective interpretation of the sources: if it involves actually interacting with or honoring the Gods, the respect will be interpreted out of the passage in question!
That, however, is a debate for another day. To segue back to the initial question, when it comes to runes, there is no one hard and fast way to learn them (unless you’re Odin with nine days to spare, a spear and the Tree!!). There is the discipline of study, the humility of seeking them out, and the ongoing work of establishing and maintaining a respectful, ongoing, reciprocal relationship.
There is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that, paraphrased goes:
“I can call spirits.”
“Aye. So can I, so can any man. But will they come when you do call?”
Not if you’re getting all your information from a book the runes won’t. They must be sought out and courted if one wishes more than simply the gloss of surface interpretations. Anyone can throw runes. You might even be able to use the symbols to get a basic reading but you won’t be a rune master, you won’t be working with the runes, and you won’t be getting a very good or in depth reading.
So read the books. Books are good. One should study and prepare. One should continue to learn all one can from other rune masters. Read everything. But it doesn’t stop there. After reading, comes the ongoing work of direct interaction. A map does not take the place of the actual territory. It can however, be useful in finding one’s way. In his book "The Craftsman," sociologist Richard Sennett notes that "All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about ten thousand hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician." (Sennett, p. 20). Why should it be any different with rune masters, who are also masters of a very ancient craft?
Books and blogs referenced:
Runes: Theory and Practice by Krasskova
Sigdrifa’s Prayer by Krasskova"The Craftsman" by Richard Sennett
Othala (Othila) represents odal land. This rune speaks to everything that is yours by right of birth and blood and hard work. It is your estate, your resources, all that is within your purview. It represents the right of ownership to the enth degree. There are several facets to Othala’s realm: ancestral connections, inheritance, luck, ownership, assets. It’s very much a rune concerned with good management of one’s resources, with keeping an ongoing thread of prosperity flowing from one generation to the next, and with good maintenance of one’s luck, part of which is always inherited. This is the rune that says “keep your ledger books in order.” Some rune workers place Othala as the penultimate rune in the futhark order and some place it last. I side with the latter group because I feel that this rune also represents the sum total of everything learned throughout one’s life and spiritual journey. It is that which will be left behind when you go.
Firstly, Othala is about knowing what is absolutely yours and keeping it in proper order. It is knowing that you own your house and the corollary to that is in order to honor that ownership and the spirit of the house itself, you keep it clean. It’s about maintaining the integrity of that to which and for which you are obligated. There’s a very subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) tie between Othala and Gebo in this regard. These runes speak to each other and often work in tandem from opposites sides of a given situation.
The idea of knowing what is yours by right is a very important concept with Othala, not just knowing it, but accepting it and defending it wholeheartedly if necessary. In my book Root, Stone, and Bone,” ( http://www.amazon.com/Root-Stone-Bone-Honoring-Andvari/dp/0615224261/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271438758&sr=8-11) I talk at length about this concept, which I learned from the Duergar Andvari. There is a skill and a sacredness in maintaining what is yours by right. You must know without a shadow of a doubt, what is meant to pass through your hands to someone else, and what is yours to guard, protect, and nourish. Do not steal from yourself: be it money, time, or material goods. Do not give yourself away. Guard what you know is rightfully yours. This goes for knowledge and skill as well: don’t give away your power. Othala is about knowing where your place of power rests, on all possible levels. This rune counsels joy in acknowledging and caring for your own domain.
“What do you truly own? Your status or your dignity? If you believe you lost your dignity…was it ever yours? Where do you root your dignity to make it yours? In your possessions? In your actions? In your heart? What makes you truly own the money in your pocket: the presence of it, or what you do with it? What makes you truly own your home: the deed of sale? The care you take of it? The people you shelter in it? All of these? None of these?”
(p. 4 of Root, Stone, and Bone by F. Arismendi and G. Krasskova)
These are the types of questions that Othala encourages one to ponder. Othala is represented by the home that is well cared for, the fully stocked larder, the bank account carefully tended that is passed onto one’s children. It is represented by a wealthy heart: a heart wise in kindness and caring. It is represented by one’s knowledge hoard. It is all of these things and more. What is your hoard? What do you value? What do you have that you will tend and nurture and pass on to those who come to you and those that come after? Othala urges us to look to the future. We are laying a foundation brick by brick for that future now and Othala begs the question of how firm and strong and long lasting will our own brick be.
There is an element of kingship with this rune, but it is kingship in the ancient sense: I own this, and these people are obligated to me but just as much I am obligated to them: to care for them, defend them and the land from which they draw their livelihood. I am obligated to defend them and to see that they have food in their bellies and safe shelter even if to do so I must go without. Ownership comes with very binding responsibilities. It is a reciprocal thread.
Othala is the rune of the homestead: the house, the land, the larder and the care that goes into tending it. Othala is about having your ancestral house in order. It’s about the ongoing respect for and honoring of one’s beloved dead. These are the people we carry in our blood. They are the ones from whom we are formed: blood and bone, marrow and every single cell. They are the ones to whom we owe our existence. We’re indisputably tied to those who came before us and one day, we will be to someone else, honored dead. Othala urges us to order our ancestral houses: to begin honoring them, and to do so with some measure of continuity. This is the well spring of our strength and a powerful guard at our backs. Othala says look to the dead for counsel in tending your affairs. Look to their wisdom and their mistakes. They are your family: dead or alive, they are kin and you have inherited both wisdom and folly from them. So consult with them, and honor them. One day you will be them.
This rune also represents the ongoing care and attention needed to maintain the integrity of one’s assets: be they financial, land, possessions, knowledge, wisdom, friendships…whatever you consider to be your assets, to be that thing that is truly yours: Othala represents the care necessary to maintain it. This rune, if one has a working relationship with him, can be consulted for advice on how to properly maintain these things. It’s more than doing upkeep for the sake of doing upkeep; it’s about doing upkeep because you respect and take joy in that which you are tending. It is also, in part, about preparing a feast joyfully in which you will take little part: you are preparing a treasure that will remain when you are gone just as someone did for you, whether they realized it or not.
On a purely practical, mundane level, there can’t be any blinders with Othala. This rune expects that you will pay mindful attention to your resources and your debt. Read your credit card statements, pay attention to your finances, budget appropriately, get regular maintenance on your car, take care of your house, attend assiduously to your child’s welfare, contribute to your community. You’re weaving a thread that will flow into your children and your children’s children. Make it a good one. (Even if you choose not to have children, you’re still passing something on to those who will come after). Othala counsels that success starts in the here and now, in taking care of those small things which are well within our power to attend; in looking with wide open eyes at those things that may scare us the most like our debt. It asks us to consider upon what foundation is your house being built?
There is also a powerful defensive aspect to this rune. That which you truly own must be inviolate. Othala isn’t just about the future, it’s very much about the here and now and crafting for yourself, a vital homestead. ..whatever that may mean to you. Othala smiles upon the work we do to better our circumstances.
“Root, Stone, and Bone” by F. Arismendi and G. Krasskova available at amazon.com.
Anything by Suze Orman.
Kenaz Filan has an excellent post on Othala at kenazfilan.blogspot.com
The typical way to cast the rune Isa is to use it as a shield; and it works very well in that capacity. One must be careful though: there is this prevalent idea that Ice (and by extension Isa) is all about stasis, entropy, stagnation, and lack of movement when nothing could be further from the truth. To understand Isa, one must understand the nature of ice, of the glacier, and of Niflheim, the cold world of ice and snow.
Ice is about contraction and expansion. There is an element of stasis and immense stillness to it, but not necessarily entropy. It is about holding one’s own space and yielding nothing. It is about territory. Ice is perhaps the most territorial and hierarchical of elements. It is both ruthless and beautiful. It is immense and unyielding. Rather than yield what it possesses, ice is likely to transform into another form : mist, water, slush, frost, snow and reinvest itself into what it holds. I recommend honoring ice as a separate element from water, even though there is much give and take between the two forms. The nature of their respective spirits is very, very different. Water is far more civilized, even in its wildest form, than ice will ever be…and that’s saying something!
Ice was the bane of our ancestors. It was the creeping darkness that fixed itself in their hearts, in the spaces between their bones, that wrapped its chill fingers around heart and mind and spirit. Ice was that which said to our forebears: “you will not survive if you are weak. So don’t be weak. If you are weak, you are mine.” All of the elements are completely inhuman, but it seems to me that ice is the most unforgiving of the elements. It is about survival of the fittest, about using ordeals and conflict, treacherous difficulty, and terrible danger to cull the species. Ice is about if not perfection, than at the very least excellence. It is about finding and nurturing the best, the brightest, the strongest, the most cunning, the most sensible. Ice tells you that there is no room for sentimentality, no room for self delusion, no room to play the fool. There is only survival and if, in the midst of survival, you are able to claim power and craft something of beauty and worth, well then maybe the effort put into you wasn’t wasted after all. That is ice: it sees value, but it does not allow itself to become personally invested until worth has been well proven. That does not mean that failure to thrive will not be mourned; it means that one will pick up and go on.
Isa is a bridge between that culture and ours. It’s a stark rune, one whose lessons can shake one to one’s core. It is not as brutal as it may, on the surface seem. Ice acknowledges the difficulties of the slow struggle toward excellence and it is patient. There can be a tremendous patience in ice. Isa encourages you to look within and really, consciously mold yourself into the type of person who can get things done, the type of person worth being. Many people think that Isa (and ice) is all about stillness but it isn’t. Both are only still on the surface. Beneath the surface, there is a whole world of movement and emotion and power going on. Isa can counsel self-regulation here: keep a calm surface. Do not be hasty. Do not give away too much.
For those called to the helping professions, there can be a constant struggle against becoming co-dependent. Isa can help here. It counsels “you can help others without hurting yourself.” Isa can teach about boundaries, how to maintain appropriate boundaries, and how to enforce them when need be. While some runes have lessons to teach about working with others, Isa is not one of these. Isa teaches you to work with yourself, by yourself. It will teach you to extricate yourself from harmful, unhealthy, or non-productive relationships and stand on your own two feet. Isa is about being alone, confident, and powerful. It is not about the give and take of a relationship. Isa gives nothing of itself away…not for a very, very long time, if ever. There is immense power and passion beneath its surface but it doesn’t hand that over readily. Isa says ‘maintain your ground. You are you. Do not sacrifice for what you do not need and you do not need this person, not like that. Be yourself, find your point of stillness. Find your place of power and then rejoice in it.” It can be a rune of solitary exploration, honing, and empowerment. Isa has little care for relationships that impinge upon the sanctity of its boundaries. It will dismiss them quickly and without regret. There is no regret whatsoever in this rune. There might be contemplation of past mistakes in order to learn from them and make amends but not regret. It considers regret an utter waste of time and energy and above all else, Isa and its related ice spirits do not waste anything. Isa can work well within a group because of that very self-containment. There is no leaking, no stickiness, no passive aggressiveness, no question of where one’s boundaries end and another’s begin. Isa is secure in itself. It is self-contained. It is whole.
Ice values aesthetics. As an elemental culture, there is a poignant sense of beauty: glaciers have their individual songs after all and ice itself is magnificent in its natural setting. It is beauty that acknowledges the sacrifice and cost of its creation. Isa teaches us that nothing comes without consistent, mindful, hard work and sacrifice. It something serves no purpose, it has no value to Isa. It, more than any other rune will hold up the dross of your heart and soul with the expectation that you will chuck those things into the metaphysical garbage can without further ado.
I recently received a letter from a gentleman who was intensely “disturbed and concerned” by the idea of the runes being a live. He was very anxious to know where I had received this information and seemed quite rattled.
I’m not sure why my correspondent found this so disturbing but it was clear that not only was this a new concept for him, it was also a very unwelcome one. In my book, I make it pretty clear that my knowledge of the runes’ nature came from twenty years of working with the runes themselves and an equal amount of time in service to Odin. Once a magician and wyrd-worker passes a certain point with the runes, there is simply no way to deny their intelligence, independence, and their life.
Ours is an animistic tradition. We honor land spirits, house spirits, ancestors, not to mention the Holy Powers (or we should). Is it so surprising that there are other families of spirits that the wyrd-worker can and should also honor? The Runes are not Gods; I want to be clear about that; but do you really think that Odin would have sacrificed Himself on Yggdrasil in a terrible nine night ordeal for insensate symbols?
That the runes are alive is only cause for concern if one wishes to work with them without showing the proper modicum of respect. For this reason, I was very careful to include ritual and protocol suggestions in my book. Is the idea of respect so very difficult for the modern Heathen to wrap his or her head around? Respect is the coin by which we show our gratitude for that which we have been given. In any relationship with an elder spirit (and the runes are many millennia our elders), it is the least that we can give. Yes, the runes are alive. If this is cause for concern, I would ask you to look deep within yourself and to really explore why because if we’re doing what we should be doing, and behaving the way we should be behaving, wyrd worker or no, it should not be.