Hagalaz – strengthening the self for challenge

The half-month of Hagalaz began on 29th October and reaches its peak on 5th November.  The Hagalaz rune is traditionally linked with the great ruler of the underworld,  Hel, the primal being Ymir, and the ‘watchers’ Heimdal and Modgud.  Hagalaz is the rune of ‘primal pattern’, it is sometimes thought of as the DNA of the World Tree which was made from the body of Ymir after he was slain.  Hagalaz is often considered to be a rune of violent destruction, but perhaps this is down to this very first act on the part of Odin.  We don’t know whether Odin and his brothers chose to set the pattern of creation with this first sacrifice, or whether Ymir’s death was always a necessary part of the birth of the universe.  Whatever the case, Hagalaz (also known as the mother rune), contains within it the crystalline pattern of creation, and the implacabale requirement for destruction.

If you are pagan you will already be comfortable with the idea that death and rebirth walk hand in hand and cannot be prized apart from each other – to do so would only bring stillness and inertia.  For me, the appearance of Hagalaz within the rune row signifies that the time of ‘weaving’ is at an end and a time of testing is now at hand.  The creative production within the first Aett culminated in Wunjo, the rune of wholeness and ecstasy; now the universe passes a critical eye over what has been created – where has the pattern gone astray?  Where have the threads become snagged or loose?  We are all weavers, we all partake in the act of creation and so, instead of looking upon the coming of Hagalaz with fear and foreboding, we can choose to don our ‘critical eyes’ and seek to learn from what has been done well and release what has been done badly back into the waters.

In the northern tradition souls that have acted well and acquired strength during their lifetimes will move on into new forms of being upon death; the rest of us will drift into the currents of the Well of Wyrd and be swept into Hel’s realm – ready to rise up into the waters again and give it another bash.  This is where Modgud and Heimdal come in, they guard the gateways of Hel and Asgard and only let those meant to have passage to the upper or lower worlds pass through.   For my own part, I work with the model of the ‘woven soul’ which unites many elements within a single being; I believe that the process of death will be more complex than a simple rise upwards or a sinking downwards – different bits of me may stay together, others may be released for cleansing, and others may go on to do different work.  I also believe that this process takes place at all times – death is simply a particularly intensive period of release.  This is where my shamanic work comes in as I am able to work with my spirit guides to help myself and others release parts of the self which are damaging to them, and strengthen the bits of them that are precious and integral to the Web.

Looking with your Hagalaz eye

This time of year is characterised by releasing (which traditionally takes place through the autumn, right up to the present time), and work with the ancestors.  In some pagan traditions this is also the time of New Year and it marks a point of appraisal where we can take stock of the year that has passed.  I invite you to look at the year with your Hagalaz eye – the critical eye which sees both the strength and wisdom within your past actions, and the errors of judgement and deed which inevitably befall us all.  The idea of seeing with a special eye features in the northern tradition as well as within shamanism: Odin sacrifices his eye to gain spiritual insight and wisdom, and in shamanism we speak of seeing with the ‘strong eye’ – the eye that sees beyond the physical.  For me the ‘Hagalaz eye’ is the critical gaze of the Norns who look over the tapestry of being; they are the law makers who determine what will be released back into the Well and what will remain embedded within the trunk of Yggdrasil as the embodiment of the eternally manifesting present.

Take a moment now to sit and write out two lists.  One list should be a record of the new strengths and skills you have accumulated in the past year, the other should be a list of things that have not gone so well and actions where you have disappointed yourself.  If this seems like a daunting task with a potentially never-ending list, then choose nine items for the first list and nine for the second (nine being the number of both Hagalaz and the World Tree).

Reinforcing strengths

Your strengths list represents the qualities you would like to bring forward and build on in the next year.  There are many ways in which you can ‘reinforce’ this list and ensure that your strengths bring you luck and further growth (rather than being lost).  This year I will be keeping my list by my bed where I can see it.  Another aspect of the ‘strengthening’ work I am doing at the moment is to honour my ancestors each evening (both blood line and spirit) by speaking their names and thanking them for their protection and guidance in my life.  The act of speaking their names strengthens our bond and I feel their presence strongly around my before I go to sleep (which is lovely).  As I look at my list of strengths before I go to sleep, I know it is also being witnessed by my ancestors and is therefore resonating outwards through them.  This form of sharing with the ancestors echoes the power of symbel rite I discussed last half-month for Wunjo.  Words, and the exchange of words, are hugely important magical acts in the northern tradition.

Releasing weaknesses

The first thing to do with your ‘releasing’ list is to think ‘what have I learned from this’?  Our experiences should not be wasted and sometimes the most negative times in our lives provide us with the greatest strength.  You may already notice that some of the items in your ‘strengths’ list stem directly from the way you responded to mistakes or painful experiences – if you haven’t extracted the seeds of strength from your ‘releasing’ list, do that now and add them to your strengths list.  Now look at your releasing list again and pinpoint for each one, the aspect of your own actions that you don’t want to bring forward into your future.  There are, of course, many things we would like to change about the way other people and events manifest around us, but our locus of control is within ourselves and it is here that we must begin the cycle of change.

Hagalaz is the rune of events which are outside our control, but it is also the rune that helps us find the strength to cope with them and so transform our futures.  Let’s say you have been experiencing bullying.  Your strengths list may include a very large number of positive qualities that you have brought to bear on the situation to cope with, or resolve it, while, in your weaknesses list you may simply wish to write ‘I felt like a victim’.  The act of releasing this feeling ensures that you don’t carry the identity of ‘victim’ with you into the next year and so inadvertantly attract further negativity towards yourself.

Write your ‘releasing’ list on biodegradable material such as paper or a slip of wood.  Then take it to a place where there is running water.  Read out each of the items you wish to release and either whisper ‘Hagalaz’ after each one or say ‘Mother Hel please accept these offerings, may they return to the waters and be cleansed from the present’.  Drop the list into the water and know that these parts of your past have been released.

This little ritual should be performed before the begining of the half-month of Isa on 28th November.  At this point the solidifying force of this rune will set the course of the coming year – ready for birthing at the Winter Solstice when the rune Jera is at its peak.

Preparing for the future

You may also like to do a rune reading at this time to identify your own personal strengths and points of weakness/ personal challenges within the coming year.  The reading may affirm the strengths you have already pinpointed or it may reveal other strengths you weren’t even aware you had.  The reading uses the ‘mother’ form of the Hagalaz rune which comes from the Younger Futhark and Armanen rune systems. Because I like to have it all I work with the Elder Futhark as a repository of power for all the later rune systems (I know some of you may not like that but it works for me).  The mother rune form of Hagalaz looks like an x with an additonal horizontal line through the centre which forms a six pointed star.  Incidentally, the six-pointed star shape is reminiscent of the roots and branches of a tree shooting up and down – this links the mother rune in with Yggdrasil and Ymir who, as an hermaphrodite, was both the mother and father of creation.

Take a rune cloth (the one you see here is available for order in the casting cloths section of my shop).  Using your preferred casting method (see my rune casting page for a simple method) lay out six runes.  The three runes at the top of the spread represent your core strengths in the coming year, while those at the bottom represent personal weaknesses that may get you in trouble if you’re not careful.

For this reading I like to ask Hel to bless the reading and lend her wisdom for the personal weaknesses/ challenges which I see as rising up through the layers of Wyrd to make themselves manifest within the future.  I then ask Heimdal to assist me in selecting and interpreting the ‘strength’ runes above.

In the example reading the core weaknesses/ challenges are Berkano, Othala and Kenaz.  While Berkano is well aspected, Othala and Kenaz are ill-aspected; I take this to mean that Berkano may relate to a new project or birth which is likely to be challenging but not necessarily negative if countered by the personal strengths above.  The ill-aspected Othala and Kenaz, however, might represent the querent’s own stubbourness in dealing with family and manifesting their creative ideas.  When I did this spread both the Othala rune and Kenaz rune seemed to be being ‘dragged’ reluctantly upwards, as if they are weights the querent really should be trying to shed but has trouble letting go of.  The Nauthiz rune on its side suggested to me that the person has strong ties, a keen desire, and a steady support network that will help them tackle the challenges being presented by the Berkano rune.  This was further enforced by the Gebo rune that suggested the person has made well-judged bonds with others that will also assist with the family issue looming.  The Raidho rune suggested to me that perseverance and steady work would stop the frustation and lack of progress suggested by the inverted Kenaz rune.  As you can see from the picture, I went on to draw further runes to elucidate on each of the six primary runes; you might also choose to do a specific reading about each rune to explore the issues more thoroughly.