Does a rune by any other name ….

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:

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.


4 responses to “Does a rune by any other name ….

  1. As you already know, I don’t tend to work with my cards in the “traditional sense”.. I tend to see them as an unfolding story directly related to the energies around me and my own which I translate as I handle them (probably why I still have to look up the “by the book” meanings at times. Often the meaning/imagery/what they are trying to communicate is completely different but I read as I see, not as someone else things I should.. I like the reference of a tool tapping into the mysteries and wholly individual.

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    • Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Morgan, the person who introduced me to the Wildwood deck; and patiently helped me to understand that it would be okay to extend my sometimes cavalier approach to other traditions to tarot cards, as well :-)

      The tarot cards, as with the runes, as with any other tool, require practice as well as connection. With the traditional runes, I guess I was waiting for the practice to generate the connection. I had my Harry Potter finds his first wand moment when I saw the first picture of one of the Wildwood cards on your blog – that was the connection that I never had with the traditional runes, a connection that has inspired a more passionate approach to practice. Through practice (which I am happy to say I still need a lifetime’s amount of), I am able to submerge myself to greater and more deliberate degrees within the Mysteries I need to explore.


  2. When I tell people how to read tarot cards as personal apprentices I wouldn’t let them go near a book. I just asked them to tell me what they saw in the picture. Because when we work with symbols to make them our own we have to connect them to ourselves – they cannot be abstract concepts. One woman saw a card and just hated it because it reminded her of her sister-in-law . That visceral experience is always going to be stronger than what was in a book.

    For me it was bright colors – I always used the Greenwood deck having no idea of its worth financially but it is the most beautiful taro deck ever made in my opinion and part of the reason it worked was because she is such an amazing artist that the color choices pushed me inside and through the cards to where there were no cards . Now I don’t need to use anything which is good because of having multiple chemical sensitivity but I realize that the most important thing on any deck of cards for me was a lot of green and dark colors and vibrant colors. If they were muted I had absolutely no interest in looking at it.

    With the runes, maybe because of being raised off the grid with animals or having MCS and remembering how to do things before there was electricity and also my fascination with historical accuracy of cultures , I read the poem . And I take it literally – not as a metaphor . I don’t know how anyone ever got enlightenment from Kenaz. Twice it is a septic sore that kills children. Fevers that killed many people in the tribe especially children were very commonplace. There is no hidden message. Or when we say it is burning pine – have any of these people burned pine ? It is not a good torch and it is not a good hearth fire. It can help you as kindling when trying to start a fire with damp wood – but it is incredibly smoky. It makes your eyes burn and your throat raw. That fits somewhat with being sick . Having Lyme disease which is bacteria that can go anywhere they want in my body to cause infections and having babesiosis which is almost exactly the same as malaria , I have my own understanding of what Kenaz means.

    What I think many people forget is that these were given for doing magic. You put them on your hands. Never does Odin mention divination. So some of them are obviously curses. When you read the Anglo-Saxon one for Laguz it tells you that the boat is really not ready and the water is treacherous and you are completely screwed if you go on the sea. When you have traveled by water the easiest way to transport goods I’m sure many used this curse on their merchant competition.

    Thurs. read those ones! If that isn’t premenstrual stress or premenstrual tension I don’t know what is. It is a troll hurting women. For if we look at the Anglo-Saxons it is a thorn that will hurt you if you grab it. Where people find Thor in that I have no idea. But it does tell me when my PMDD – severe PMS – is about to happen .

    They are incredibly practical and have to deal with everyday life . But maybe if people don’t need to take an ax to the creek to chop through the ice to get water they don’t understand things that are literal. I just go by the poems. There are any hidden mysteries today I think it is all of the incredibly obvious, every day stuff that people in those time periods and cultures dealt with. The more you know about sailing the more some of them make a lot of sense. Without having the cultural immersion as they are rather meaningless. I found the same when studying the Ogam. If you don’t understand the things that everyone in the culture understood you just will have to make up some sort of mystical information that is not rooted in the actual writing.

    I haven’t written on my blog about this yet, but you reminded me of how important for me it was to understand what necessity meant especially with the Norns. Also why people would build a need fire . Without understanding that it doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t written about it yet because there are many of them that I haven’t thought about much because I frankly never get them. I’m basically limited to maybe eight – my life doesn’t have a lot of variation I guess LOL. with certain people in my life usually the same one shows up about them each time.

    I am excited though because a friend who is doing ceramics told me that he would make me an Anglo-Saxon full set, so I am totally excited!

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