The half month of Ansuz began on Sunday 13th August, its billowing wind whipping through the thorn bush of Thurisaz. These two runes are often thought to be in opposition to each other: Thurisaz representing the wild forces of chaos and Ansuz the ordering forces of the Aesir. This is, however, a huge over-simplification of the complex relationship between these two runes. As I discussed in this year’s Thurisaz entry, it was the Aesir who set in motion the conflict that continues to rage between the ‘gods’ and the ‘giants’, so any division of giants as ‘bad’ and gods as ‘good’ is already flawed.
Another popular way of viewing the relationship between these two runes is to see them as representing the heart and the mind. During our lives our hearts and minds are often in conflict with each other, presenting different options, speaking to us of potential futures. As we work to resolve these conflicts we learn about our deepest nature and stretch the limits of our lives, daring to reach further than we had previously thought possible. We often speak of people who are ‘ruled by the heart or by the head’; the agreement seems to be that one must always have dominance over the other. For me, the lessons of these two runes include the teaching that we should strive always towards harmony between heart and head rather than subjugation of one by the other. That is not to say that tension between heart and head should be avoided, rather we shouuld see conflict between what we feel and what we think as an opportunity for growth: once the lesson is learned harmony is restored.
Not surprisingly, as Odin’s rune, Ansuz has a particularly complex and confusing nature. In the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc the rune is ‘subdivided’ into three runes called Os (meaning ‘deity’ or ‘mouth’), Ac (meaning ’oak’) and Aesc (meaning ‘ash’), while the Old Icelandic and Old Norse rune poems give it the meanings of ’Odin/god’ and ‘estuary’ respectively. These successors to Ansuz reveal a spectrum of meaning for Odin’s rune: at one end we have the wild, uncontrollable nature of the All-Father, the lord of the Wild Hunt, the frenzied master shaman; at the other we have the solid and deep-rooted ash tree, or the enduring, sovereign oak.
I mention these different kennings for Ansuz as a precursor to focusing on one of this rune’s particular forms of energy work: the breath. Ansuz is both the rune of inspiration that flows unbidden into the mind, and of the spirit-inspired words that then flow forth as a result. The God Bragi is also a patron of Ansuz, he is known for his wisdom and is the god of poets, skalds and word-smiths; legend has it that Bragi has runes carved directly on his tongue. It is important to remember that, where our modern culture often champions the written word, the northern tradition was an oral tradition: wisdom was transmitted on the breath itself. Working with the breath is interesting because, in different forms, it can work to calm and centre, to induce a trance state, or to enter a state of spiritual ecstasy.
Calming and centering
One of the first techniques people following a path of energy healing, gnosis or magical work will learn is how to use the breath to calm and centre themselves. A common technique is to breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four and then hold for another four (and repeat). Some recommend increasing the number you count to over time, but I tend to just slow my counting down and stick with four. Many schools of thought will then encourage you to choose a particular word to use as a personal mantra to focus on as you count to four each time – the idea being to empty your mind of all extraneous thoughts so that you enter a place of calm and serenity. When I took my first steps on this path I chose the word I still use to this day: rune. It has stood me in excellent stead because it is so simple and the word itself carries no tangible ‘meaning’, it simply indicates something that is mysterious, whispered or unknown.
When you use this technique you might like to focus on the aspect of Ansuz that relates to the Ash or Oak. The calming breath meditation is best carried out lying down, or sitting with your back straight. Focus on the trunk of a tree, feel its rootedness in the earth, the strength and stability of your trunk. Feel the living vitality of the wood, and the solid, protective bark that shields you, allow your roots to sink down into the earth, anchoring you securely. When you are ready allow this visualisation to fade and focus exclusively on the breath, starting with the count of four technique, and then moving to a single word ‘mantra’ if you feel drawn to do so.
If you are having difficulties then you might like to try a variant of this technique known as ‘nostril breathing’. Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale for a count of four, then close both nostrils with your finger and thumb and hold for a count of four, then open the right nostril and exhale for a count of four, then close both nostrils for a count of four; then repeat ( this time closing the left nostril and inhaling through the right to begin with).
You will find a lot more information on these techniques in the following: Magick without Peers: A Course in Progressive Witchcraft for the Solitary Practitioner (covers a number of breath techniques focusing on preparation for magical work), Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick (includes a section on breathing and another on Vowel Song for runes), The Pathwalker’s Guide to the Nine Worlds (focuses on preparation for journeying or ‘faring forth’).
Entering a receptive trance state
In myth Odin and his two brothers created the first man and first woman from two trees (an ash and an elm) so we might all be said to be descended from trees. Odin and his brothers gave the gifts of sense, soul and blooming hue; these are approximate translations and there is much debate as to what these three gifts actually mean, the most common guesses being consciousness, spirit and life force. As part of their training my students journey to witness this scene for themselves; sometimes Odin chooses to reveal a personal mystery to the journeyer but others see the process of the life gift being given. On my own journey I saw Odin literaly ‘breathe’ life into the ash and elm tree. The You Tube meditation I have created is designed to help you to reach a light trance state which it is useful to cultivate if you want to embark on the path of ‘direct revelation (i.e. one where spirit communicates directly with you). For me the mystery of Ansuz is one of direct revelation, the rune opens us to receive the gifts of spirit, the divine breath passes through us.
I have not included a space protection rite with the meditation as it would be too long for the video, but I would recommend using a simple space protection such as the Hammer of Thor rite unless you have a permanent sacred space already set up. Setting up a safe space to work in is common sense whenever you are opening up your awareness to perceive and sense things beyond your everyday reality. Setting up a protective space is the difference between picking up the telephone and dialling a number to speak to a specific person and publishing your number on the internet with a big flashing sign saying ‘Ring me’.
This would be a fine blog indeed if I were able to open the gateway of divine ecstasy to anyone reading this page; I should say right now, in case you were wondering, that that isn’t going to happen. In many traditions, the attainment of divine ecstasy is the ultimate goal of years of daily practice and dedication. In the case of the rune Ansuz I would strongly counsel against working exclusively with this rune in the hope of achieving divine ecstasy through union with Odin. There is a reason why there are 24 runes – you need to take a balanced approach to working with them if you are to work safely. Odin is not a gentle and benevolent God, he is a complex deity who doesn’t suffer fools gladly; he will not come skipping happily down the World Tree to shower you in golden sunshine if you repeatedly dial his number and shout at him to bring you spiritual ecstasy. The northern tradition is a tradition which rewards hard work, dedication and a fair exchange of energy, a brush with the breath of the divine is all that is required to help us on our way to the next stage of our individual journeys with the runes. As one of my greatest teachers reminded me this week, perfection is something touched only briefly.
While I am waxing lyrical about the terrors of Odin, I must mention Neil Gaiman’s American Gods which includes a wonderful starring role for Odin. I was reminded about it by one of my students recently and, although it isn’t a traditional take on Odin and his lore, it does provide some interesting food for thought about the relationship between humans and our gods.