Hagalaz is the breaking down of things, it is the regenerative power of rot and decay. It is the compost, the mulch, the dung beetle, the carrion eater. Hagal is an intensely chthonic rune and it is not one that can be held at arms length. To plumb this rune, one must enter into it, which also means entering into one’s own mental/emotional/psychic shit. This a rune that says “we’re going to clean house now and it isn’t going to be pretty but you’ll thank me for it when it’s over.” Of course as much as the hope might be that one succeeds, this is also the rune that says “if you fail and shatter, don’t worry. I can recycle you.”
The traditional association for Hagal is with ice and hail. This ties this rune right back into the Norse big bang when the worlds of fire and ice collided bringing creation into existence. The idea of growth through conflict, through a violent conflagration of opposing forces is integral to Norse Cosmology. It not only shows up in the creation story, but this theme is subtle interwoven in the tales of the Gods interactions as well. Conflict is seen as a natural force, as something to be embraced and wrestled with, a cosmic dance from which endless possibilities may emerge. There is a violence in this way that can be very difficult for modernity’s children to comprehend let alone embrace. To understand the runes, especially such a primal rune as hagalaz, and to truly reap the benefits of their knowledge, one must do exactly that. No sentimentality with these runes.
This is the rune that will look at a vegetarian and say: “this is a luxury you have because you live in a wealthy country with no connection to its food. You have never truly been hungry. It is a luxury your ancestors lacked. If you want my help, the payment I demand is that you eat meat and honor it for everything that it meant to your dead.” (I use this example because I know a rune worker to whom this actually happened). It will look at the meat eater and say: “Do you know where that comes from? Do you know the suffering that went into every bite you are consuming? What can you do to make this better? Consider. Consider everything.” This rune forces us to examine our dearly held beliefs and to make sure that they rest on a true, firm, foundation. It will sweep away anything that is dross.
This is the rune that will sweep away our moral inhibitions*, our sentimentalities, our facades, and our safety net. It will throw us down, demanding that we seek out the underworld….whatever underworld we fear the most whether it be Hela’s realm, or the world within our own hearts and minds. This is the rune that demands we own our issues, all of them, each and every single last one. Then, and only then, can one begin one’s ascent out of the dark depths to which this rune can connect, then and only then can one grasp the true wisdom of hagalaz. This rune is a gift, but not a particularly comfortable one, nor, unlike other runes, will it attempt to clothe itself as such.
Hagal doesn’t have contempt for us, for the human condition. It is Hela’s rune and Hela is not in any way about contempt. She is about detached, transpersonal compassion. What this rune has contempt for is the garbage with which we fill our lives to avoid the aching call of the spiritual. This rune says don’t be complaisant. Don’t ever be complaisant, most especially in your own sense your ethical superiority. It says “you’re not that evolved. You are evolving. Hopefully. If you work at it.”
*it is the rune that will ask one to consider the difference between behavior motivated by fear of punishment and moral inhibition and behavior motivated by duty and one’s sense of purpose and personal, carefully examined ethics. Are you doing something because you’re afraid of the consequences either spiritually or legally, or are you doing something because it’s the right thing to do? Hagal can demand that this be considered.