The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic: How to Interpret Runes, Rune Lore, and the Art of Runecasting - Edred Thorsson 2018
In part one of this book we hoped to establish the firm traditional basis in exoteric aspects of runelore with insights into hidden and timeless lore. In part two we will continue to base ourselves as much as possible in the solid traditional framework. Emphasis on verifiable tradition (i.e., historical runic systems, old Germanic literatures, ancient histories) is important if we are to avoid being forced to accept one man's (or one group's) “revelation.”
But of course, we will go well beyond the necessarily and properly limited academic/scientific aspect and delve into the practical application. We quicken the wooden forms of academic findings with the inspiration of Odin, but we remain forever open to new findings and conclusions reached through purely intellectual means as well. Ideally, the systematic collection of data and the logical analysis of those data to form rational conclusions, the intuitive understanding of the multiversal mysteries and the inspired use of those mysteries to transform or shape reality should work in tandem, each feeding the other. Hidden doors are thereby opened in both directions. This is the work of the Rune-Gild on all its levels.
“Rune” is in and of itself a magical formula. Paradoxically, as a word, the more we refine the definition of rune, the broader its meaning becomes. This is why the ambiguous “translation” as “secret” or “mystery” is suitable. (It is perhaps worth repeating that the term rune only secondarily refers to the letter forms [staves] commonly called runes.)
As a magical word, rune must be understood from self-created view points, and as such its true “meaning” cannot be communicated through profane, natural speech. As a magical word it is “whispered in our ear” by the Odin within.
Starting points on this road are the realizations that, on a cosmological level, runes are focal points of energy/substance in a complex implicit cosmic framework, and on a “psychological” level they are “points of reference” at which cosmic intelligence interacts with human intelligence. Knowledge of this level concerning the character of the runes must be allowed to go with you in all runic investigations; only so armed will the atheling be able to find his way in the complex realms of runelore.
Runelore Tables of the Elder Futhark
The surest way for runers to expand their own fields of meaning for the runes is to meditate on their shapes, sounds, and names, but most of all on their corresponding rune poem stanza (if any). It must be constantly kept in mind that the lore of each individual runestave is only part of the mystery; the rest is in the hidden ways in which the runes are woven together in a multidimensional webwork of being. Therefore, the lore of the following twenty-four tables must be read within the context of sections on the runic system and rune worlds (chapter 10). It is of the utmost importance for true runic understanding that the vitki know not only what makes fehu fehu but also how fehu is bound to other runes in the system and how hidden lines of connection may be discovered. Each stave is internally suggestive of wider vistas, and each points outward from its center to interconnections with the essences of other runes. The would-be runer's main task with these tables is the acquisition of a basic and instinctual “feel” for the meaning of each rune as a category but a category surrounded by a kind of semipermeable membrane that allows interchange with sympathetic energies and essences but acts as insulation against antipodal concepts.
Here we will especially concentrate on what might be called in our modern language the mythological, cosmological, and psychological aspects of each mystery. Each of the sections can be seen as esoteric commentaries on the relevant rune poem stanzas as well.
Mythologically, the F-rune is bound to the three great deities whose names begin with its sound—Frigg, Freyja, and Freyr. These divinities derive some of their power from the mystery of fehu. From the numinous fire of fehu Frigg and Freyja receive their gifts as seeresses. From this common source runecasters derive their ability to “read the runes aright” in divinatory work.
Fehu is the mystery of gold. That is, it is the numinous power of that which is called money or wealth in our society (which is now dominated by these “pecuniary mysteries”). This rune exists in a great ecological system of power or energy. The rune must be yielded into receptive fields—:: —in order to be increased. It increases in power through circulation, and it is transformed from one shape to another. This must not, however, be done blindly but rather with foresight and wisdom.
The fehu power naturally belongs in the hands of the true athelings, and it is their responsibility to see that it is properly used. Those who do not do so face the natural withering process ruled by “the lord” as a representative of the gods. Abrogation of such responsibilities leads to strife.
In the cosmology this is the true outward force of the primal cosmic fire—the expansive force that answers to contraction and solidification in ice (::). This is a fire generated out of water and in the dark depths of the multiverse—and in the dark corners of the self.
It is within the self that the power of the fehu is most important to the runer. The F-rune is a force that lies hidden in most souls—like a wolf in the woods—yet can be raised along the path of the grave-fish (serpent). From death shall come life; from darkness, light.
In the mythology uruz is to be identified with the original cosmic bovine Audhumla (see chapter 6). This is the undomesticated “wild” force of formation, the concentrated will-to-form. As such, uruz is the mother of manifestation. It is the process of ordering substance (Ymir), which leads to the shaping of the world in its manifold multidimensional form.
Uruz is the most vital of energies. It is a fire blended with the waters of life, a vital fire that can remove all weakness—all the dross (such as Audhumla's tongue!)—and transform the weak into the strong. If, however, this vital energy is spent in the wrong direction, unguided by wisdom, it can become destructive to the individual or to society.
The will-to-form is a powerful deep-seated instinct in man (hence, it is “on the moors”)—as is the instinct to transform with which it must work in tandem. Part of the will-to-form is the desire to defend the form, practically at any cost—to defend the security of the “homeland” ( :: ) of the soul.
The horns of the “beast” mentioned in “The Old English Rune Poem” are of extreme importance. Both of them point upward naturally but downward in the runestave. This twofoldness indicates manifestation in the objective universe and the ability to penetrate into other dimensions by the force of will.
The :: is the sign of pure action, potency, and instinctual “will” devoid of self-consciousness. It is the embodiment of directed cosmic force in the multiverse as a combination of polar energies projected in a straight line.
This form of raw power is held, on the one hand, by the thurses (giants) and is directed against the consciousness embodied in the Aesir. However, the Aesir are able to combat this power, and match might with might, through their defender, the warder of Asgardhr—Thor.
The TH-rune is therefore not only that of the thurses but also of the thunder and its god, Thor. This is due to their common origins as the result of the clash of polarized forces (see chapter 10) and also shows their common methods and motivations. Each is a reactive force. The thurses respond to the expansion of consciousness in the Aesir, and Thor responds with Mjöllnir to the resistance of the thurses. Thus, a balance is achieved but a precarious balance.
Thurisaz (3) is an assimilation of the potential energy contained in any two polarized extremes and the kinetic expression of them. Through this mystery the TH-rune is also the power of regeneration and fertility. As the thunder heralds the crop-bringing rains, so thurisaz breaks down opposition and releases energy so that new beginnings can be made. Here it is closely related to one of its formal correspondences::, but :: is the “releaser” and :: the “container.”
This tension is perceived by most individuals as a source of stress, but to the few (athelings or Erulians) it is a source of strength.
The “thorn is not only a symbol of the phallus but also of the whole psychosexual impulse used by athelings to transform the self.
It is rather clear that on one level the TH-rune is an expression of the combination of the F-and U-runes: fiery energy organized and directed, force and formation combined and directed.
The A-rune embodies the powers of synthetic, Odian consciousness in the multiversal structure and in the psychological complex of humanity. It is the rune of consciousness, especially that which successfully integrates the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This rune is the magico-ancestral power innately transmitted from generation to generation since the dawn of mankind. Ansuz is the name for an ancestral sovereign divine being. In the singular this usually refers to Odin as the god. This link between the consciousness of the gods and the mind of man remains unbroken. The thurses and their “gods” seek to break it.
The powers contained in :: were given (and these are their only gifts) by the Odinic triad of Odin, Vili, and Vé (or in another version Odin, Hoenir and Lódhurr) at the shaping of humanity (see chapters 12 and 13). These powers are received by humanity as the agents by which it can transform itself through the quest for knowledge and the expression of that knowledge in word and work, guided by the Odinic model.
On a cosmological level ansuz describes an ecology of energy. It is the medium through which power is received, the receptacle of that power, and the power itself when expressed through the inspired mental state. This is the rune of the magical word and breath, of the synthesis of linguistic thought with nonlinguistic, image-forming power in the poetry of the Erulians and skalds.
Raidho is the symbol of the cosmic law of right ordering in the multi-verse, in mankind, and in the soul. It is a mystery the outward face of which we experience each day in the rising and setting of the sun and in the cycles of activity and sleep. All rhythmic action is ascribed to raidho—dance, music, and poetic forms.
It is by the might of this rune that institutions of all types are organized: states, religious bodies, guilds, and so on. When those natural laws are broken, the power of raidho rebalances them—sometimes violently.
The R-rune is the vehicle (“wagon”) for and the pathway (the whole “ride”) along the journey of becoming in the rune worlds. This path is hard and difficult at times—often in hostile social or natural environments—and a strong vehicle ( = mental powers) and horse ( = spiritual substance; see ehwaz) are needed in order to be successful.
This is the path of rightly ordered action—ritual working. It is the network of road-ways between the worlds and an important part of the equipment needed to traverse these paths.
Raidho rules mathematical (geometrical) proportion, interval, and logical reckoning of all kinds. It is the rune of cognition. This is the might by which tally-lore works—active harmonization of forces appropriate to a willed end.
One of the great mysteries of the R-stave is its relationship to the idea of “wheels” within the psychophysical complex of man (see the Latin gloss iter [wheel] in “The Old Icelandic Rune Poem”). It is on these “wheels” that the magical journey of initiation is made.
The flow pattern of force in raidho is always directed, but it has a spiraling effect as well, which actually concentrates the force to a given aim. Its usefulness as a working tool should not be overlooked.
This is the rune of creativity—or more accurately, in Germanic terms, of the ability to shape. This is symbolized by controlled fire—the torch—but also by the fires of the hearth, harrow ( = altar), forge, and pyre. Each serves the human will to shape and reshape itself or its environment. In a person this is the bright light that all recognize as “charisma.” Although this is ever-present within the runer, it is most awake in “working states,” that is, when inspiration is high but physical activity is restive.
Kenaz is the root of all technological knowledge, the rune of the craftsman and the crafty one—Wayland (ON Völundr) and Loki. It is also the mystery of the deep connection between sexuality and creativity that is so characteristic of the Odinic path.
The hidden root concept behind kenaz is dissolution, whether by organic means (see the Norse rune name kaun [ulcer, sore]) or by fire (torch). This dissolution is necessary for reshaping to take place in accordance with a willed plan. In a sense this is the solve portion of the alchemical formula solve et coagula (dissolve and coagulate). Here :: would be the coagula portion—the recombination of forces in a transformed, self-aware essence: .
In many ways the K-rune is a culmination of the process begun in the A-rune and working through the R-rune: inspiration rationally crafted.
This is the rune that signifies the Gift of Odin in his triadic forms (see chapter 13)—the gifts of consciousness, life-breath, and form.1 Here the emphasis is on the exchange of power—the flow of force from one system into another to be transformed and returned to its source.
Within human society this is most evident in the economic field—the process of giving and receiving, the object of which is fehu and/or othala. Such an exchange builds strong bonds within society, and the same process is carried out between gods and men to build strong bridges between the worlds. Gebo is the rune of sacri-fice (or “making sacred”)—of giving to the gods and their obligatory return gifts to man. This is the mystery of the interdependence of gods and men. The power of this mystery is exalted and internalized within the runer in the E-rune.
The :: is the sign of the “magical (or alchemical) marriage.” This again finds expression in (mannaz), where the process is brought into full manifestation, and in (dagaz), where the process is absolutely internal and eternal. The most powerful example of this magical union is found in the Völsunga Saga where Sigurdhr, mounted on his otherworldly steed, Grani (see : : ), pierces the ring of flames and ascends the mountain Hindarfjell (Rock of the Hind) to awaken the sleeping valkyrja, Sigrdrífa (or Brynhildr).
Here we have what is perhaps the most archaic version of the “Sleeping Beauty” tale. On this mountaintop he ritually exchanges vows with her and receives runic wisdom from her. This process describes the attainment of communion with the “higher” or “divine self” of the runer.
The ecstasy of :: is of a serene type—the quiet balance of perfectly harmonized inner concentration of flowing vital forces.
The W-rune is the harmonization of elements or beings of common origin (nations, tribes, clans, families) and the magical power to recognize hidden affinities between sympathetic entities. The wunjo describes the inner, subjective feeling one attains when in a state of inner/outer harmony—with self and environment. This is an active willed harmony toward specific evolutionary goals. The wunjo marshals diverse but sympathetic forces and/or beings to a common purpose. This is why it is the mystery that rules the bind-rune-making process.
“The Old English Rune Poem” gives specific guidelines for the winning of such wunjo. There we learn that the runer should separate the self from most woe of all kinds (but keep a little), and further have three things: (1) OE blaed (“prosperity”: the inflow and outflow of energy); (2) blyss (“bliss”: to be filled with a sense of meaningfulness and joy); and (3) byrg geniht (“a good enough enclosure”: a good house of the soul). One needs vital breath, a psychological sense of meaningfulness, and a healthy body—after cleaving away negative influences detrimental to the concentrated work.
Wunjo also comes when the runer is able to make such a blend-work in the objective world—to bind and marshal forces to do his will.
This is the sign of the primal reunion of cosmic fire and ice—the poles of the multiverse—in the energized, yeasty seed form: the cosmic hailstone, or “hail-egg,” that gives rise to Ymir (see chapter 10).
Hagalaz is the framework of the world, the pattern upon which the multiverse is fitted out by the triadic root of consciousness—Odin-ViliVé. The H-rune contains the complete model of absolute potential energy, as it holds the full dynamism of fire and ice in its form. From this harmonious balance of all-potential, an internal evolution can take place within its space.
Numerical symbolism is very important for hagalaz. Nine is the number of completion, fruition, and dynamic wholeness in the Germanic system. All of this comes together in :: (9). Nine is the number of worlds in the branches and roots of the World-Tree, Yggdrasill, which is the innate pattern present in both the seed and the full-grown tree.
The H-rune is the pattern of completion implicit in the seed of every evolving or growing thing. As the whole yew is contained in a hidden genetic code in the berry, so too is the completed, transformed cosmos held in the world-seed. Hagalaz is the code—the pattern of becoming and completion. This is the hidden form of perfection toward which all conscious shaping (creation) is directed.
The “hailstone” is the rune mother; all runes are held, and can be read, within its form when contained in a solid (see figure 9.1). This is ultimately a multidimensional model, also present in the Yggdrasill pattern discussed in chapter 10, page 125.
Figure 9. 1. Mother rune of the hailstone.
Hagalaz is the unification of all opposites into all-potential. Within its mystery is contained the power of transformation, of the evolution from form to form along a consciously or mythically determined pattern.
Hail also has its destructive aspects, which can be turned to the advantage of the runer if they are directed outward in a protective way.
As the rune poems show, the N-rune can be experienced in unpleasant ways by those who do not have the understanding to use its power. Nauthiz is the force of cosmic resistance to the will and its actions. This is the source of the accumulation of layers of psychic substances that are the essence of what the Norse called ørlög ( see the P-rune ). But this “need” imposed from outside the consciousness can be the source of salvation for the runer who knows how and when to use it (see “The Old English Rune Poem”).
The N-rune is resistance to actions, a cosmic friction between sub-stances. This internal stress can be transformed into strength through the mystery of the need-fire (fire made by friction between two inert materials). Once the flame is kindled, the cold of need is alleviated. But without “need” the fire would never have been discovered in the first place. In this rune can be seen the root of the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
As we look deeper into the mystery of the need-fire, we see that it is a self-generated flame. In the realm of consciousness this is to be understood as a certain tension or friction between aspects of the psyche. This leads to the kindling of the flame of higher consciousness that is attainable only through these means.
Because of the absolute necessity for resistance in the cosmos before manifestation can come about, the N-rune is both the mystery of cause and effect and of the Nornir (Norns). The three Norns (see the P-rune) came forth out of Jötunheimr and thereby established the law of cause and effect and its resistance to the will of the Aesir. This brought about the laws of entropy, and thus the seeds of cosmic destruction were sown. Whenever anything is brought forth out of becoming into being, the laws of the Norns and those of the N-rune are activated. This particular law must be kept in mind in all operant forms of runework. It is the rune of “coming forth into being.”
The “ice” in the I-rune is not to be identified with that of Niflheimr but rather with the ice stream that flows out of that cold world toward the fire of Muspellsheimr. It is an extension of a concentrated force of absolute contraction or an absolute stillness or lack of vibration. The power of isa attracts the fire toward the “center” and makes what we call “matter” possible by formulating the hailstone (: :). The I-rune is a kind of prima materia (or the force of density that makes such a substance possible). It is the absolute power of inward-turning force that is as destructive as fire (expressed in :: ), but each balancing the other is the state sought by the conscious forces in the multiverse. When nonconscious forces gain supremacy, the pattern goes out of balance, and the destructive aspects of fire and ice are unleashed. It must be remembered, however, that this ebb and flow is to be expected in an evolving universe. The periodic release of the destructive forces is necessary to real change.
In the individual isa makes possible the manifold, polypsychic omniego (all-I), that is, ego awareness of all aspects of the whole psychophysical complex (see chapter 12). It holds these aspects together in a harmonious, preset pattern and is most evident when the mind is totally stilled and concentrated. The I-rune acts as a sort of psychic bonding material that can hold the self together through the stressful initiatory process. Unbalanced by the dynamic mysteries, this static bonding material leads to dullness and stupidity.
The :: is the mystery of the concentrated point and of its first extension—the line. These two images are used as bridging tools in gaining conscious access to other dimensions outside Midhgardhr. Isa is the solid floor on which the consciousness can make transitions, but it is sometimes only as wide as a hair and does not make for an easy journey.
The J-rune is the sign of the solar year of twelve months; its mystery refers to the “summer” half of the year, when crops are sown, grown, and harvested. (The old Germanic calendar only had two seasons, summer and “fall” refer only to short intervals at the borders of these tides.)
The central power of this rune lies in its cyclical nature. It is the rune of “eternal return.” Jera embodies the idea of arising, becoming, and passing away to new beginning present throughout the rune row; and its position as a core rune (with ::) shows its central importance.
It is the dynamic dyad and the ominpresent circumference.
Jera actually means “the fruitful year,” or “the harvest.” This is the reward reaped after a cycle of hard work within the natural (and numinous) laws. The symbolism of the agricultural process makes the meaning of jera clear. The seeds do not ask who planted them or why, only how they were planted. If the planting has been done right, the harvest should be good (see ::). Jera is the reward for right work.
The mystery of the J-stave is fundamentally linked to the first and last staves, as symbols of peace, prosperity, and freedom.
The J-rune is the cosmic millstone, the cosmic axis of which is the EI-rune.
The EI-rune is the omnipresent center axis of the cosmos—the omphallos of the world—and is the second in the core dyad of the rune row.
This is the vertical axis of the World-Tree, Yggdrasill, the channel along which the cosmic squirrel, Ratatöskr, like an electric arc, spreads discord between the eagle at the summit of the tree and the great serpent, Nidhhöggr, at its roots.
The EI-rune synthesizes extreme opposites—life/death, day/night, summer/winter—in a dynamic way (see the TH- and D-runes and note the numerical correspondences: 3-13-23). This rune penetrates through the three realms: the heavens, middle-earth, and underworld—Asgardhr/Midhgardhr/ Hel. It is the path of transformation of essences in any of these realms into essences of any of the others. “Material” objects can be made “spiritual” by this mystery.
The EI-rune is the latent, self-contained, transformational fire from within (activated by the N-rune and manifest in the K-rune). This is the hidden and immortal fire of the will that can remain vital in death (winter)—the hard spirit of perseverance.
It is along the “column of the yew” within the individual that the transformative magical fire is to be generated, rising and descending through the “wheels” of the body (see the S-rune). It is to this great mystery that the rune poems refer.
This is the most guarded of the runes. It is the cultic symbol of the secret of ørlög—the mystery of wyrd. This is the power of the Nornir and one that complements the force of consciousness present in the Aesir. The runer must learn to investigate the way of wyrd that he may understand it and, when need be, overcome it. (This is the great Odinic accomplishment at Ragnarök.)
The P-rune is a sign of the path of the investigation of ørlög through the methods of runecasting. Perthro is the cup or framework from which, or into which, the runestaves are cast in divinatory workings. This is a symbol of the Well of Wyrd—the Urdharbrunnr (Well of Urdhr, the first and eldest Norn).
In perthro we find a synthesis of the laws of cause and effect (x causes y, which sets z in motion) and the laws of synchronicity (x, y, and z occur [significantly] together). Causality is a law of the horizontal (mechanical) plane, synchronicity of the vertical axis of consciousness. The synthetic element is the psychic dimension of time. This force, in conjunction with that of the N-rune and the B-rune, is the principal agent of change, or becoming, in the multiverse.
The idea of wyrd (and of ørlög) also partakes of this synthesis of horizontal and vertical reality. Wyrd actually means “that which has ’become’ or ’turned.’” So it, like ørlög, which means “primal layers (of action),” has the mystery of past time bound up with it. This “pastness” is of vital import in the Germanic way of thinking. Only the “past” and the “present” have any objective reality. The “future” is a mass of undifferentiated all-potential for becoming. It is to be shaped by a combination of forces—cyclical laws, organic streams of life-force and tradition, the pattern of consciousness existing in the gods and other entities, and the will of man (especially that of runers). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the names of the three great Norns—Urdhr (that which has become), Verdhandi (that which is becoming), and Skuld (that which should become). Linguistically, the words urdhr (ON) and English wyrd (weird) are identical (the loss of the initial w is the result of the same regular rule that turns Wōdhanaz into Odin).
Elhaz is the divine link between a man and his fetch (see chapter 12). The Z-rune describes the power of attraction between the mind of man and its psychic counterpart, the “divine self.” This force of attraction works together with the mystery of sowilo to generate the magical will. It is a symbol of the valkyrja, the protective aspect of the fetch-wife, which is often magically attached to a sword or other symbolic weapon. (This is the hidden meaning of “The Old English Rune Poem,” stanza 15: elk-sedge = sword.) This symbolic link between horn and sword is nowhere more evident than in the myth of Freyr. After surrendering his sword in exchange for the etin-wife Gerdhr, it is said that he had only a horn with which to do battle.
The :: also describes the rainbow bridge, Bifröst, again a symbol of the link between Midhgardhr and the realms above and below.
In the Z-rune we see the force of protection that can come only with a linkage with the “personal divinity.” This is the entity that the Greeks knew as the daimon and the Romans called the genius. In runelore the fetch or valkyrja is the source of this inspiration as the most direct link between the individual and the ultimate source of inspiration, Odin.
The image of the stave :: is one of the most potent in Germanic symbology. It indicates the splayed hand ( = protection, humanity), the horn of the solar hart lifted to the heavens in pride and potency, the swan in flight (a reference to the valkyrja), and the Germanic arm posture for prayer and invocation. Some of this makes clear why this form was eventually used for the younger “man”-stave.
The loading with magical, numinous, or spiritual force effected through this rune implies a person or place with so much force that it becomes sacred, set apart and protected by divine power.
Also, there is a natural, underlying connection between this rune and the ::—the yew-stave. This is expressed in many ways; most graphic, however, is the formal relationship. The probable original stave form was : :, and in time : : became the younger yew-stave (which is an alternate form of the elder elhaz as well).
The sun is the guiding beacon on the roads of becoming. It is the light of consciousness—and its pattern which stands in the objective universe for all of those who seek to transform themselves to see. The archetypal sun, and its counterpart the “night sun” ( = the Pleiades), guide the “seafarer” from one zone of consciousness to another, from one “land” to another. This is the goal that gives motivation to the will. In skylore this is “the star” of the elliptic (the Pleiades), which at night travels the same path as the sun does by day.
In ancient Nordic symbolism the sun is seen as a wheel or as a shield. That is, it has transformative and protective, nurturing aspects. As a wheel, sowilo is a sign of the wheels along the path of the yew column, Yggdrasill, by which the runer consciously evolves. Sowilo is the shield of the consciousness and provides it with greater significance toward which to strive. One who has developed the will by the light of the S-rune (in all of its aspects) is blessed with honor and success.
The sun describes a counterbalance to the power of ::. In the row, however, both are necessary to a stable whole development of the world and of the runer. The S-rune also has been connected with the serpentine mysteries of the north, which involve the centers at which flows of heavenly and chthonic forces converge at a point on the surface of the earth. The power of the :: breaks down psychological or cosmic inertia and transforms it into a vital, dynamic force.
The tiwaz is also a guiding beacon; but unlike the dynamic circular pathway of the S-rune, the T-rune is a beacon of a much more distant, deep, and serene force—that of the Lodestar, Pole Star, or North Star (Polaris). It is also called “the Star” by the ancient Germanic sailors—the axis star that keeps its troth, and around which all other stars revolve. (See also “the Star” at the circumference of the elliptic in ::.) The North Star isa visible symbol of the god-force of tiwaz as the summit of the world column—the Irminsūl.
The cosmogonic force of Tyr is expressed in the initial process necessary to the shaping of the multiverse: the separation or polarization of the cosmic substances that allows for the vital glories of manifestation between the poles of fire and ice. The T-rune describes the aspect of the cosmic column that keeps these separate, holding cosmic order.
This is the essence of the god Tyr (English Tiw). (Significant aspects of the T-rune are discussed in chapter 13.) It is the power of detached, transcendent wisdom at the center of things. This contrasts with the wide-ranging multiformed essence of the A-rune.
In the human realm, with this rune the god Tyr rules over the thing (legal assembly) of the Germanic peoples. He measures out justice in accordance with the law (see also ørlög, “or-law,” in this regard). The T-stave is a sign of “law and order” in both the cosmos and the world of men.
It is meaningless to attempt to identify the natural tree to which “The Old English Rune Poem” refers under this stave. The B-rune is a numinous reality, not a botanical organism.
Berkano is the great and many-faceted “Birch Goddess,” who rules over the process of human and earth transformations; for example, the critical human rites of passage—birth, adolescence, marriage, and death—and the seasonal round of agricultural year. The B-rune rules the cyclical process of arising (birth), becoming (life), passing away (death) to a new arising (rebirth).
As “The Old English Rune Poem” clearly, if symbolically, indicates, the power of berkano is self-contained. It can grow independent of outside forces, but no growth can take place in the natural world without the aid of the self-generated process of the B-rune. Berkano takes seed substance, hides or conceals it in its enclosure, breaks the enclosure, and bears the transformed substance forth. It is structurally linked to, though independent of, the NG-rune.
The symbol of the B-rune is the birch rod, the magical instrument through which its powers (of fertility, transformations, eroticism) are evoked in the earth and in humanity.
Cosmologically, :: is a “unit of becoming.” It is that moment of being (a single “micro-cycle” of arising-becoming-passing away) on which all becoming is based—the eternal now. The B-rune also describes the principle of phenomenological randomness in the multiverse—chance in the evolutionary process.
Berkano is a conserving, protective force and rules over concealing enclosures (especially those used in transformational rites).
The B-rune also conceals the great mystery of the “alchemy of the word,” the power by which words are woven into meanings beyond their concrete definitions. In this, berkano is closely allied with ansuz. This is understandable because of all goddesses, Freyja is mistress to all aspects of the B-rune.
This is the rune of the symbiotic relationship between any two systemically distinct yet harmoniously working beings. In ancient times this was most directly perceived in the relationship between a man and his horse, especially among the Indo-Europeans who were the first to train these powerful creatures. Ehwaz is the mystery of the dually arrayed and sympathetic forces: man/horse, horse/chariot, and so on.
The E-rune is the living vehicle of the runer's journeys in self-transformation: the rune of the fylgja itself (not just the force of its attraction :: ) as a controlled or cooperative entity. That this symbolism is deep rooted is demonstrated by the Old Norse formula marr er manns fylgja (the “horse is a man's fetch”). The “horse/man symbiosis” as a metaphor for true human existence (or that of the atheling or Erulian) is shown by the bind rune: : (e + m ( + k), I am). Perhaps most central to the mystery of ehwaz is the steed of Odin, Sleipnir (an offspring of Loki). The level of identity between Odin/Sleipnir is indicated by riddle (no. 72) recorded in the Saga of Heidrek the Wise:
Who are those two,
that have ten feet,
and one tail?
(Answer: Odin riding on Sleipnir)
Ehwaz is the force on which the runer “slips” from one world to another. It is a sign of great loyalty, especially between men and women, and it is a symbol of lawful marriage.
The archetypal force of this rune is still vibrant around us even in popular culture, especially once one realizes that unconsciously the “horse” has become motorized. The man/horse/woman “triangle” is virtually cliché.
This is the structure of (divine) consciousness in mankind, imparted there through a genetic link with the unified god of consciousness. This is possessed in varying degrees by humans as described in the “Rígsthula” in the Poetic Edda. The link is there because ultimately humans are descendants of the gods; that is, the relationship is genetic not contractual. Hence, it is actually unbreakable.
A god with the name Mannus was worshipped in the time of Tacitus (first century C.E.), as there we have the earliest parallel to the Rígr/Heim-dallr version of the origin of human society recorded in the “Rígsthula.”
(See the Germania, chapter 2.)
Mannaz is a god made flesh, not as a unique historical event, as Christians would have us believe, but as a great biological, sociological, psychological process of consciousness becoming manifest. This is the mystery underlying the rune poem stanzas having to do with this stave.
The M-rune is the harmonious combination of the “mind” and “memory.” In the M-rune Huginn and Muninn speak freely to one another and inform the whole-self of the god Odin (see chapter 12). This is the man made whole, the initiate of the Odinic cult (Erulian). In Jungian terms it is the individuated self.
Mannaz is the rune of the moon, and of its tripartite nature: dark —becoming —light . In Germanic lore the moon is masculine (the man in the moon) and a transformational essence. It is the synthesis of the intuitive and rational (measuring, analyzing) intelligences in man. Its very name means “the measurer” (of time). As with Odin, his face is always changing, yet it remains always the same.
This laguz is the primeval cosmic water that wells up from Niflheimr—containing all life-potential—which is transformed into cosmic ice and energized by the fires of Muspellsheimr. It is the ultimate medium for life-containing forces. (See “Cosmogony” in chapter 10.)
Laguz-force “falls” into the realm of manifestation from extradimensional realms ( Útgardhr). This downward flow of energy complements the upward flow described in the alternate name of the L-rune, laukaz (leek). For this reason, the waterfall is a potent symbol of the dynamic mystery of this rune. It should be noted that the original place of the golden hoard of the Nibelungs was under a waterfall; it is to this myth of mysteries that the second half-line of “The Old Norwegian Rune Rhyme” refers.
The L-rune describes the layers of the laws of life, the layers with which ørlög works to form the wyrd of the cosmos and of individual elements within it.
Laguz is the rune of organic life and the passage to and from that state. This “water” is the main element in the mixture (ON aurr) that the Norns draw up out of the Well of Urdhr (Wyrd) to preserve the organized life of the World-Tree. At birth the Germanic child is reintegrated into the organic life of its clan through the rite of vatni ausa (“sprinkling with water”). Here the noun aurr and the verb ausa are derived from the same root. Also, the old Germanic funeral rites are often connected with water symbolism (ship burial, ship cremation, burial or cremation within ship-formed stone settings, etc.). The entryways into Hel are conceived of as rivers, with Odin often seen as the ferryman of the souls.
As a rune of life and vital power, laguz is closely related to the mystery of uruz (by the laws of skaldcraft uruz became connected to the concept aurr).
The L-rune manifests the unknown, dark depths of the watery, primeval state and that of death. If the runer (seafarer) is fitted out with an unsuitable vehicle (ship), he will fear the ebb and flow of this force. The “brine-steed” must be controlled in order to fare well.
The ingwaz-force is that which is released to give the plentiful year (: :). This is demonstrated in the relationships between their stave shapes. The force that breaks it open is that of berkano (:: ). The N G-rune is the nourishment, the seed energy needed during the period of gestation. The cosmic food is contained and consumed by berkano and borne forth through its power to replenish energy lost in the cyclical process.
It should be noted that the NG-stave was originally made smaller than other staves in the row and separate from the sometimes imaginary bottom line of the other staves. It is withdrawn into a hidden and independent realm for the secret exchange of energies that leads to transformation. In the NG-rune is contained the mystery of the transformational process of withdrawal—transformation— return. This process is useful in initiatory rites but is actually a powerful aid in any transformational operation (see figure 9.2).
Figure 9.2. Process of transformation.
This process is often experienced intellectually when an idea that is somehow in-complete or imperfect is “put on the back burner” for a while, allowed to gestate in the unconscious (or perhaps better said, in the “hyperconscious”) to be brought forth as a completed and perfected concept. The aspect of submersion into hidden realms is made quite clear in “The Old English Rune Poem.” “Going to the east” is always a code for faring into the realm of the etins, the dark preconscious forces of the cosmos.
The D-rune is the process that takes place at the edges of extremes. As the day and darkness merge in the twilight and the beacons of that tide, the morning and evening stars (for which Dagaz [ON Dagr] is a name) shine into the realm of Midhgardhr. It is a sign of the light of consciousness born by Odin-Vili-Vé to mankind by their gift.
In “The Old English Rune Poem” a synthesis between the powers of the drighten (lord = Woden or Odin) and the metod (measurer = Tiw or Tyr) is indicated, a synthesis between the right and left brain thinking that is the hallmark of inspiration.
Dagaz is the “Odinic Paradox”—the sudden realization (after concerted conscious effort of the will) that perceived opposites are aspects of a third idea that contains them both. This is the mystery of hyperconsciousness central to the Odinic cult, the Germanic cult of consciousness. In the light of the D-rune the pathways between extremes are seen clearly. An Odian does not seek the mystery of dagaz at the center but rather at the extreme borders. This is the simultaneous, bidirectional will that is almost unique to Germanic magical lore. The search ends when the contents of the extreme borderlands fall into a vortex of single pointed wholeness in the “center” (actually an extradimensional concept).
In :: we see the extradimensional models such as the Moebius strip and the to-roidal vortex (see figure 9.3), where in becomes out and out becomes in. This is of ultimate importance when considering the nature of the Odian mission in the world.
Figure 9.3. Toroidal vortex: Dagaz.
Othala is the sacred enclosure. In it is embodied the central concept of Midhgardhr and of the whole idea of “in-sidedness” and “out-sidedness” so prominent in Germanic (and Indo-European) thought. The O-rune describes the ring-wall, the symbol of the enclosed land separated from all that around it and thereby made sacred (ON vé). It is a sign of the site set apart for sacred purposes, the fane or hall. For the most part the othala force acts as a selective barrier. It prevents forces detrimental to the health of the interior form from entering, but it actually conducts beneficial energies into its interior.
In the often highly mobile society in which the runestaves were developed this concept quickly took on an abstract meaning, that of the spiritual heritage of the clan or tribe of which the odal-enclosure had been a symbol. As such, the O-rune is a sign of the kynfylgja (kin-fetch)—the sum of the spiritual heritage of a group. These kin-fetches are inherited from one generation to another and attach themselves to tribal or national leaders (see Runic Psychology, chapter 12). This is a metagenetic concept, and as such cannot as yet be fully explained in physical or purely organic terms. It is a hidden genetic code governed by laws of heredity active in families, clans, tribes, nations—but it goes beyond them as well.
Forces held by the ring of the O-rune must be well ordered and harmonious, following the path of right (:: ). With this state the common good is provided for, and peace and freedom reign. To this in-side, Odin turn his All-fatherly face—but he also faces outward into Útgardhr whence the Odian oft draws power and inspiration to serve himself and the good of the folk. But for the non-Odian to be thrust into the outside world—to become outlawed—is tantamount to a death sentence. This is because the non-atheling does not have a sense-of-self developed to the stage where he could survive such a psychological shock. Deprived of human context he is obliterated. The O-rune contains all aspects of this mystery.
Othala describes the essence of the mystery of the ebb and flow between states of order and chaos—the great cosmic state of flux. However, it celebrates the state of balance obtained when forces of consciousness have established their enclosures (As-gardhr and Midhgardhr) interacting with the powers of the exterior darkness (Útgardhr). Odin and his Erulians seek to maintain this balance. All-father is wise enough to know the ultimate outcome—but sly enough to know how to overcome it.
The Runic System
After studying the foregoing rune tables, the reader will be impressed with the degree to which the runes seem to interrelate. Runes weave in and out of one another in a great serpentine interlace of meaning. Indeed, their heritage is as much one of poetry (skaldcraft) as of “science.” As in poetry, linkages are made between “words” (here, ideas) through associations on various levels: sounds (rhyme, alliteration, etc.), spatial arrangements (meter), and mythic allusion. Skaldcraft sprang from runecraft, so the similarity in practice is not surprising. It is the intention of the runic system to break down barriers in the consciousness and to reveal the hidden meanings within the worlds. It does this through a sometimes tangled webwork of words and images, each reverberating off the other. Each rune is bound to the other as surely as it has its own unique identity. Certain obscure aspects of the ways the runes relate to each other are explored in the section “Runes” in chapter 10; however, here we will deal with the secrets contained in the most traditional yet mysterious arrangement of the runes in the three aettir (“families” or “eights”).
There is no “logical” or linguistic reason why the runestaves should be arranged in three groups of eight. This is a feature the Elder Futhark shares with ancient Greek, and there may be some Indo-European mystery of “twenty-four-foldedness” shared from the remote past at work here. Also, even among scholars there is no commonly agreed on reason as to why the runes have actual meaningful names. The Greek and Roman alphabets have only nonsensical names, like our letter “names.” The idea of having meaningful words as letter names is a feature shared with the Celtic ogham and the Hebrew alphabet.
What is known is that the runes remained an organized body of lore that went far beyond the amount of information necessary to keep a simple alphabet system intact for more than a thousand years. When all is said and done, the whole of runelore is summed up in table 9.1.
Table 9. 1. Synthetic rune table.
To unlock this table, we are faced with a double problem. First we must delve into the innate mysteries themselves, but before we can do that we must know a good deal about the basic meanings of these names and configurations. Through comprehension of the ancient lore, knowledge of the timeless mysteries will grow.
The deep-level structure of the multiversal mysteries (runes) is precisely reflected in the outer form of the system of the staves ( = runes). This runic system is a complex, sometimes extralinguistic framework of lore that includes
1) individual stave shape
2) phonetic values of staves
3) names of staves
4) explanatory poetic stanza
5) order of staves ( = number)
6) tripartite division of staves (aettir)
Only the second element of this system is truly necessary for a simple, linguistically functioning alphabet system. All of the rest is there for some other, more mytho-magical reason. In this section we hope to begin to instill in the aspiring runer some of the depth of this system, which underlies all formations and transformations of the runic tradition throughout history.
As far as the actual shape of individual runestaves is concerned, there seem to have been some variations. However, only rarely did these go beyond what might be called “typological” variants. For example in the elder period, the S- rune could be represented by forms such as :—but they all belong to the zig-zag or serpentine type. These principles should be kept in mind when intuitively exploring the inner meaning of the stave shapes. Through history, some never change, whereas others do. There is a hidden significance in this development or lack of it.
The sound value of each stave shape is also relatively fixed, with only certain systematic shifts. This second element in the system is actually totally dependent on the third.
These ideologically and culturally loaded names are acrophonic; that is, they indicate the sound value of a stave through the initial sound in the name of the stave, for example, f-ehu = [f]. The names themselves, however, are to be interpreted on three levels. As the runer will come to understand, this multilevel approach is basic to all illustrative runic work. These three levels are (using uruz as our example): (1) the “fundamental” or literal (aurochs—large and powerful, wild four-legged beast), (2)) the esoteric or metaphorical, oft socio-mythological (aurochs—the primeval bovine of formation); (3) the runo-Erulian, often runo-psychological (aurochs—the circulation of vital forces in consciousness and the capacity to understand).2
The name contains the idea and the sound. It is highly probable that there existed in ancient times a complex system of names, and that each rune had a group of words (possibly three) that could be used as its names. The Rune-Gild is slowly recovering these, but here we deal with the primary names and their meanings, shown in table 9.2.
Anyone with an active interest in the runes will want to begin to make certain associations among and between runes on all levels. What shapes are related to what other shapes and how? What names are related to what other names and on what levels? On this last point it will be noticed, for example, that these primary rune names are drawn from certain areas of life: (1) the superhuman realms: ansuz, thurisaz, tiwaz, ingwaz, and perhaps berkano; (2) organic nature: fehu, uruz, eihwaz, elhaz, and mannaz; (3) inorganic nature: hagalaz, isa, jera, sowilo, laguz, and dagaz; (4) technology: raidho, kenaz, perthro, and possibly nauthiz; and (5) cultural realms: gebo, wunjo, and othala. These categories can be further analyzed and recombined to give deeper meanings.
Table 9.2. Stave names and meanings.
[Words in capitals indicate modem English cognates, i.e. words that are directly derived from the ancient terms.]
The ordering of the twenty-four runes gives each stave a numerical position in the series 1 to 24, and the division of these twenty-four into three segments results in groupings of eight. These numerical formulas are innate in the runic system. When the system was reformed in the Viking Age, it was done by a systematic reduction of these numerical formulas.3
All runes came into being simultaneously, and each is linked to the other on different levels. The most obvious linkages are seen in the ordering and aett divisions (“airts”). Indeed, on one level, fehu is related to uruz, which is linked to thurisaz, and so forth in a straight line 1 to 24. This line is divided into three in such a way that each group of eight (aett) also shares certain characteristics, and in addition this results in eight groups of three runes vertically arranged (e.g., ::/: :: :/::) that are also bonded in a special way. It should also be noted that even on the horizontal 1 to 24 series, groups of three (1—3, 4—6, etc.) are significant. For the active runer these can serve as excellent subjects of meditation and contemplation.
The underlying meanings of the three airts are clear. The first airt delineates the mysteries the runer must learn and master before setting out on the difficult path of the Odian. This airt shows the establishment of the basic talents and characteristics of the runer: energy, understanding, action, inspiration, ritual, controlled will, generosity, and fellowship. It corresponds to the dreng. The second airt is twofold and full of trial and tribulation. H to J outline the process of overcoming objective confrontations and gaining the good harvest from them, and EI to S describe the subjective conflicts and the pathway to success. This corresponds to the work of the thegn. The third airt (of Tyr) describes the realm in which the Erulian, or runemaster, works. Established at the summit of the world column (:: ) and able to generate his own power internally along the pathways of the tree (::), the runemaster, in tandem with his self-created and integrated divine “ego” (: :), is able to pass through all layers of existence (::) to become the independent, self-contained, and ever-evolving Erulian god-man (::) enlightened by the “light” of day (:: ), ever interacting with the world “outside” while remaining above and beyond the fray (:: ). This is the work of the drighten.
As the next chapter will make clearer, the runes actually belong to a fourt-hdimensional reality, and therefore all attempts to represent them or their relationships must fall short. Ultimately, the runes can be seen clearly only in the “light” of dagaz. Through weaving the great webwork of mysteries, and thereby “worming” along the ways toward conscious realization of hidden realities, the runer will emerge and wing his way toward the Gard of the Gods.