Part four of my little series of personal theories regarding Heathen lore. This is my most recent of the four theories, coming together while branching out a bit into different means of divination just this year. While the previous three theories of mine are already sort of ‘out there,’ this fourth one kind of passes them by as it flies out into the ether of possibility.
In studying Heathen lore, it was always something fun for me to read between the lines and come up with some of my own ideas about things. There are four major ideas of mine that I would like to share here, giving each idea its own post. They are:
- That the eye Odin sacrificed for wisdom is visible to all, as is the eye he still ‘has.’
- That Odin’s wife happens to be Njord’s sister-wife.
- That Heimdall is Njord’s son.
- That the runes aren’t necessarily what we think they are.
Over the years, when I would think of the runes, I didn’t have to strain my imagination too hard to picture the set I made for myself when I first set out to learn the runes and work with them. They are carved from a branch of corkscrew hazel, and kept in a pouch I found once while in Denmark. This set was blooded, and has been worked with numerous times. Although I can work with them, I have honestly never felt truly connected to them.
When I first started learning about the runes, I picked up a book from Edred Thorsson, in which he wrote what would probably have the most profound effect on my approach to the runes anyone else’s words had outside the Havamal. Essentially, Thorsson stated that one who would truly work with the runes needed to make them his or her own. I took this quite to heart, and decided to develop not only my own meanings for the runes, but my own way of writing with them (here is where I first published it all online). But like I said, as much as I researched the runes, contemplated the runes, worked with the runes, wrote with the runes, read from the runes – as well as it all worked for me, the spark was just never there.
But what are the runes, when it comes right down to it? After working with the runes, I came to the realization that the runes are not these physical staves, carved on wood, stone, or other materials. Odin didn’t hang himself from Yggdrasil, wound himself with his spear, and swing in the breeze for nine nights with no food and drink just to come up with a derivative of an alphabet that had already been created. When I first started learning to work with the runes, I wrote them all down on flash cards, along with brief descriptions of the meanings I had arrived at. I discovered once, after longer use, that I could divine with the cards as well as I could the slips of wood, even if the cards were not as easy to put in a bag and draw from (I didn’t try tossing them to the cloth – I thought about it, but it seemed too much like 52-card pickup and so I decided against it). The runes, from what I have experienced, are each steps, or entries into exploring the Mysteries of worlds within, of worlds outside, and of worlds beyond – and provide us with a means to affect changes within these worlds. Rune means ‘secret,’ or ‘mystery’ – it does not mean ‘alphabet,’ or ‘piece of wood.’ I think these things were applied to the runes long after Odin contemplated and grasped the Mysteries from a branch of Yggdrasil.
Thorsson suggested that people who would work with the runes make them their own. This makes sense to me in so many ways … the Mysteries are ours to discover and experience. I have come to disagree, however, with the cookie-cutter mentality that seems to be popular among many when it comes to working with the runes (I tend to reject cookie-cutter approaches in general), as it seems to defeat the logic behind making them our own (you must make the runes your own –versus- but you must be sure to do it our way!). Mysteries are intensely personal, thus they are as individual as the ones who would discover and experience them. If the Mysteries are individual, as are those who seek to understand them and work with them, then perhaps the steps we take to reach the Mysteries are also individual? If these steps are individual, then although they can be described in detail, they are ultimately unknowable to others beyond the individual, thus making them secret.
From what I have so far described, one might correctly gather that I see the runes as the beginning of understanding, not the destination itself. The runes are, therefore a tool for accessing Mystery. They are not the stave, they are not the wood or stone that the stave is carved upon. At least not to me. But this begs the question: might there be other ways to access these Mysteries? I think so. Helpful is the existence of more than one runic alphabet: is the AS Futhork, for example, more or less effective than the Elder Futhark for accessing the Mysteries? It would surprise me greatly if one were truly more effective than the other, as I feel like the greater difference in effectiveness is to be found in the connection the rune worker has with the tools s/he is working with.
It’s the connection – what I earlier called the spark – that I never really experienced with the runes in their ‘traditional’ form. While I was able to work with them, I had the experience of seeing the Mysteries I sought from behind a thick glass wall … I could see, but not really touch through the traditional runes. This truth was made even more apparent to me when I started to work with tarot cards the first time, not even half a year past. I did not pick up tarot cards because I wanted to work around the runes – I was drawn to tarot cards for a few years, and curious about how it would be to work with them. Perhaps the one influence that traditional runes had with regard to my interest in tarot cards was that I decided not to start working with tarot cards until I actually felt a connection with a deck – this is why it took me a couple years of interest in tarot cards to actually begin working with them.
As I’ve worked with the tarot card deck with which I connected – the Wildwood – I have come to understand that these cards perform the same function as runes, in that they present an entry to working with the Mysteries. They look different, and although I haven’t tried chanting ‘Blasted Oak,’ I can imagine it wouldn’t quite have the same resonance as ‘Hagalaz.’ I can, however, imagine magical workings that utilize tarot cards. I know that this might be a very unpopular thing to say in some circles; but for me, the tarot cards have become my preferred tool for accessing the Mysteries, through which I do not feel like I’m behind a glass wall. The tarot cards, then, have become my mysteries, my secrets – my runes. There is an expression from Matsuo Basho that I’m rather fond of, “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” I believe that is what I have started doing with regards to how I perceive the runes.