Archive for the ‘Runes’ Category
Some of you may already know that I do a monthly podcast on The Shamanic Voice on northern tradition shamanic practice called Shaman of the North. A lot of these shows include rune chanting and exploration of the northern mysteries through rune work. If you’re interested, I have highlighted the specific shows at the end of each of my rune pages. Check them out!
Fehu – Written in the Bones and Lady Luck and the Luck Dragon
Nauthiz – The Shamanic Calling
Eihwaz – Yggdrasil’s Song
Dagaz – Druid’s Walk
The next date for the one day rune making workshop is Sunday 8th July 2012. If you can’t make that one, don’t worry, I set the dates on demand so just get in touch. The day is a journey to find the spirit of the runes, bring them into being, and empower them so you can use them for rune casting and spell work. We will be making runes in clay and wood so that you can learn all the techniques you need to make your own set.
See you there!
Following some very helpful feedback I have started updating my resource pages for each of the Elder Futhark starting with Jera. You will find links to other bloggers’ work as well as You Tube videos which all bring different perspectives to rune work. I am also adding in further commentaries for the gods and spirits associated with the runes as well as the commonest elemental correspondences.
For me the most important thing that any rune worker can do is to work directly with the individual runes, raising their energy, meditating and journeying with them to find their own personal connections. Research is, of course, important as a way in to the mysteries of the runes and I think that every student should study the rune poems closely. The opinions of others, however, are only opinions and the best way forward is to learn as much as you can, but to ultimately trust your own instincts and intuitions.
With this in mind I would like to share my own personal meditations on Jera which have led me to include Summar (Summer) and Vetr (Winter) amongst the spirit correspondences for Jera. The Old Norse recognised two seasons: Summar and Vetr. Summar was the son of the God Svasud ‘Mild-One’, and Vetr was the son of Vindaul ‘Wind-Cool’ and grandson of Vasud, the freezing ice wind. Summar and Vetr were considered to be enemies, and we can see them circling about each other within the shape of the Jera rune. The Prose Edda gives a number of kennings for Summar and Vetr: both are kennings for ‘time’; Summar is known as ‘Growth of Men’ and ‘Comfort of Serpents’; and Vetr as ‘Destruction of Serpents’ and ‘Tempest-Season’ (Teutonic Magic: A Guide to Germanic Divination, Lore and Magic).
Much of the lore relating to Jera speaks of the Summer half of the year and the harvest time when the land is lush and giving. The cycle represented by Summar and Vetr reminds us that, however unpleasant, the winter months are also important to the harvest. Winter is a time of rest and sleep, energy is gathered in and conservered, that which is weak and diseased dies away ready for strong new growth in the spring. Another common interpretation of Jera is as a rune that brings success; in this respect its cycle can be seen as the cycles of planning, work, tending, harvest, celebration, reflection and rest needed for any successful endevour.
The idea of work and rest is also reflected in ‘The Song of Grotti’ in The Poetic Edda. In this tale two giant women are captured by the King Frodi and are set to work at a magic mill to grind out unsurpassed wealth for him. Frodi is a hard task master and refuses to allow the women to rest; eventually they turn upon him and grind with all their might, grinding out his doom through defeat in battle. They grind so hard that the magic mill-stone cracks in two. It is not clear whether their efforts actually create the army that defeats him, or whether they are grinding out magic or Wyrd that brings the battle to pass – but whatever the case this story shows that what was originally good fortune can turn to bad if you do not allow the proper balance of work and rest.
The tale also links Jera in with Gebo, the rune of gift giving and fair exchange. If you look at the two runes you can see that they are the same revolving shape, Gebo embodies the rules that must be followed if success is to be attained – Jera embodies the manifestation of that success. Summar and Vetr are not the only figures in Norse myth charged with maintaining a natural cycle; Sunna (Sun) and Manni (Moon), Nott (night) and Daeg (day) are also charged with sacred tasks that keep the balance of light and dark, warmth and cold as they need to be for the harvests of the worlds to be successful.
Jera reminds us that you get out what you put in; even good luck can dissipate if we demand too much without giving in return. If Frodi had shown simple kindness and consideration to the mill-workers perhaps he would still be reaping the plentiful rewards of the mill today.
It is appropriate that the half month of Isa fell during my time off and this article for the rune of inertia and resistance is therefore coming to you at the end of Isa’s time for 2011. Isa remains, however, an important rune to work with throughout the year and I couldn’t resist doing a little something for you on this beautiful but treacherous rune.
After all the struggles and stresses of Hagalaz and Nauthiz, the half-month of Isa can feel like a blessed release. Isa brings stillness, silence and rest; it is the rune that beckons us to hibernation, but it is also the bringer of death for those who have not prepared their winter nests well. I certainly found myself falling into the traps of Isa this half month as I struggled to keep going with the resolutions I had made for change in the coming year. Isa is the rune of the ego which always resists change and tries to fall back on the easy, destructive ways when the going gets tough. Isa whispers to us that it is simply too hard to make change and it is better just to lie down and give up. All of those good resolutions we made and all of those tough life lessons we passed through can seem far away and quite irrelevant as the cold sets in and we long to snuggle up where it is warm and safe.
Working with inertia and resistance
To all of you who have struggled on through the difficulty I raise my hat, but to those who (like me) have found the last few weeks as tough as old boots, Isa is not all doom and gloom. The rune of ice is also the rune that helps us know ourselves the best. Yes, I found myself staying in bed too long, eating things that were bad for me and watching trashy tv instead of going for the nice refreshing walk that I promised myself. However, this provided me with the cold hard slap in the face I needed, affirming that I have indeed identified my ego’s patterns of resistance effectively. Isa is the rune of reflection and at this time we find moments that truly reflect the person we have become during the previous year. My half-month included some moments of real clarity, healing and break-through, but there were also moments of sheer self-pity when the last thing on my mind was transformation and growth. It is often when we are on the very edge of change that our old ways come back to bite us the hardest; don’t forget that you are a strong person, so your old habits and behaviours will be strong too.
On the StarFire Alchemy Introduction to RuneCraft (launching as a correspondence course in 2012 for those of you who can’t get to London) we work with the stadgaldr for Isa. This rune posture includes voice work and the expansion of the self out to contact the full energy spectrum within Midgard. Although the Isa pose is the simplest stadgaldr, it is hugely important for further work with the rune postures as it works with the very basic concept ‘I am’. Isa is often referred to as the ‘ego’ rune; it ensures that we are stable and strong within ourselves so that we don’t become one big mess of competing desires and aspirations.
When we hit a point in our lives where we just don’t seem to be able to break through our bad habits, feelings of hopelessness, and lack of motivation, then we know that we have hit against the hard ice of Isa. Often we try to tackle these feelings by getting angry, effectively taking a sledge-hammer to the ice in an attempt to break through it. Problem is, that ice is you, so every time you yell at yourself or cry miserably into your pillow you are simply attacking your own being. The ice is either going to crack (leaving you in a worse state than you were before), or simply defend itself by becoming thicker and stronger.
Remember all those tales about winter? No one ever beats winter by getting mad, it is always acts of love, kindness and warmth that soften the Ice Queen’s cold heart and loosen her grip. The ego is like the Ice Queen, it wants to be in charge and to feel safe – much like a small child. When the ego feels threatened it responds with fear, resistance and stubborn tenacity. If we want to work effectively with our egos then attack is not going to work.
This month’s meditation focuses not on the concept ‘I am’ (for this is best used once we have made peace with our egos), but rather on ‘I accept myself’. This is the first step towards change. Let your ego feel safe and loved, then it will accept the gentle warmth of your desire for transformation ‘I accept myself and I am not afraid to become more than I am right now’.
We are now at the very heart of the half month of Nauthiz, the rune of necessity which is both the dark hollow of longing and the bright flame of the self-kindled fire. I find that Nauthiz comes up with surprising frequency for those seeking a spiritual path of self development and healing. At some point the rune of necessity starts to pull at you, exposing the tangled knots in our personal web and demanding that we begin the work of freeing ourselves.
This week Kay and I worked with a wonderful group of healers exploring shamanic techniques for cord cutting. Our course has developed under the guidance of Spider and the Nornir and we have been led to work very much along the principle that in order to cut cords, we must understand how they come into being in the first place. A cord is an established flow of energy between you and another person, situation, object, place or illness (in fact anything through which we define ourselves) - your entire self is made up of cords which wind together to create the person that is you. Many of our cords are positive, but some of them will be negative or may have started out positive and become negative along the way. Imagine a spider weaving its web, or a weaver sitting over the loom. As you look at their work you can see that an established pattern is forming and that the spider or weaver skillfully pulls different threads taut at different points to maintain that pattern and ensure that their work holds strong and steady. Our lives are like that, we have established threads within them that set the pattern of our future, and we cannot simply remove a thread without understanding that the overall tapestry will then change.
There are lots of different reasons why we might choose to cut cords. A common reason is when a relationship has come to an end but the energetic connection between the two people is still there; sometimes we want to let go but we simply can’t – in which case it is likely that the energetic cord between you hasn’t yet been cut. At other times a relationship might be stuck within old patterns that need to be released before it can move on: we see this a lot in relationships with our parents or sibblings who continue to treat us like they always have, even if we have changed. Marking rites of passage such as birth, maturation, marriage and death represent one way in which society has traditionally marked the end of one phase of life and the beginning of the new; the lack of these rites will often mean that cords that would otherwise naturally have been released still need to be cut years later.
Nauthiz is the rune that embodies the necessity of the pattern; but it also tells you when something has gone wrong with the pattern. People often associate the ‘dark night of the soul’ or a period of depression with Nauthiz; the rune brings trying times that can either be the making of us, or our destruction. On a wider scale, Nauthiz lingers within a disatisfied society: strikes, rebellion and rioting represent the many faces of Nauthiz that tell us the fabric is not holding and change is being demanded. Our job as rune and energy workers is to work with the underlying energy in our own lives, and that of our society, to skillfully cut what needs to be cut, remove what needs to be removed, and mend what needs to be mended.
For this half-month I want to look at Nauthiz as the rune which tells us when change is required. Nauthiz is, in many ways, a double edged blade. On the one hand it represents that which must be because of what has come before (it is the pattern we have fixed for ourselves), but on the other hand it also holds out the possibility of releasing that pattern. This possibility for release comes about through the work of the goddess Skuld, patron of Nauthiz, and goddess of that which must be. For me, work with Skuld is all about attitude. There are those who walk blindly in the world and believe that the pattern they have laid for themselves is simply an external force at work bringing them good fortune or ill at whim; there are others who choose to look the Goddess of necessity in the face and to seek her guidance on what work they must do to change their destiny. Skuld never promises it will be easy, but she certainly takes an interest in those who dedicate themselves to changing the web.
In our own lives we might already know what should change but not yet be able, or want to, change it. Our negative cords represent the negaive side of Nauthiz: addiction and compulsion. Often, a particular behaviour or the consumption of a particular thing represents our attempt to fill a need for something else which we haven’t yet identified or which may seem impossible to fulfill. A person who has low self esteem may not believe they are able to fulfill their dreams, but the need is still there and it demands to be filled. Our society is adept at providing us within things that we are told will make the need-ache go away: alcohol, cigarettes, sweets, clothes, cars, television, computer games etc. These things represent items which we might rationally tells ourselves we can do without, but there is a big difference between what we know we should do, and what our need tells us to do. Nauthiz is not the rune of should, it is the rune of must, ‘I must fill this emptiness inside me’. The need is real even if we haven’t yet found the best way to meet it. Committing to work with Nauthiz and Skuld represents a commitment to find out what you truly need.
My You Tube video for Nauthiz represents a very simple meditation you can do at home to open yourselves up to ‘true need’. We can do this work on behalf of ourselves and we can also do it on behalf of society.
Changing the self
For ourselves we can ask Nauthiz to begin the process of revealing the negative and empty cords which we are holding on to, preparing us to release them and so create the space in our lives for our true needs to manifest. I am currently working with this meditation to help ready myself for a cord cutting I want to undertake but which I know I am not yet ready for. This cord runs particularly deep for me as it was formed in my teenage years and there is a lot of raw, unprocessed, emotion tied in to it. As I started on this work I found that I dreamt more and more often about the particular person this cord is attached to, even though I haven’t seen them for years and years. As my work continued the dreams became more focused as I explored what need in me is being met by this strange attachment to someone from so long ago. As I write today I have been shown where on my body the negative cord between us is, so I know that soon I will be ready for the cord cutting itself.
You can use the meditation simply to say ‘I am ready to meet my true needs’. Over time you may start to receive information during the meditation itself about negative addictions, relationships and situations you are ready to release, as well as what your true needs are. You might also find that your relationship with the world around you is changing, perhaps you get itchy feet when you sit watching television too long or maybe you are less eager for an hour’s gossip with a friend who always leaves you feeling drained and inadequate. These little hints are signs from Nauthiz regarding where action is needed.
There is so much in our society which seems empty, barren and destructive at present. It is easy to become overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness which is all too common a response to the harsh truth of Nauthiz. We don’t even know how to begin to make a change or how one individual might remedy such a widespread problem. We can wonder why we bother with our little efforts when nothing seems to make a difference. Of course our individual efforts do make a difference, even when we don’t feel it; but we can also use our skills as runesters to bring about change in the underlying fabric of our society.
You can use the meditation simply to say ‘We are ready to meet our true needs’. Know that your focus and concentration are working upon the very fabric of reality to help loosen the knots that bind us to unhealthy, damaging behaviours. The bright flame of Nauthiz exposes the empty, negative threads for what they are and, collectively, we are able to unpick these threads and release them to the flames.
On Radio 4 this week Material World includes an interview with Vasudevan Lakshminarayanan who is publishing the latest findings concerning the Viking sunstone. In legend we are told that the Vikings used a ‘sunstone’ to navigate their ships and many since have tried to ascertain what stone this might be. In recent years Iceland Spar (a particular form of calcite) has been the most popular candidate and now Lakshminarayan confirms that his research has found that Iceland Spar can be used to determine the position of the sun on a ‘sunless’ day.
The sunstone is traditionally linked with Sowilo, the rune of the sun which is also known as the ‘joy of seafarers’. Although the link between Sowilo and Iceland Spar has been around for some time, it is very exciting to get another piece of evidence which seems to confirm this link and also provides us with a clear and practical demonstartion of the existence of the mythical ‘sunstone’ – a navigation methods which pre-dated even the compass.
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).
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.
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.
Wunjo! Here we are already at the height of Wunjo’s power. Wunjo is a lovely rune, its meaning is seemingly so simple and benevolent that it is easy to overlook it as we face the ‘winter runes’ with trepidation – but they aren’t here yet…
Wunjo literally means ‘joy’ and its appearance in a reading will signify happiness, fulfillment and the success of wishes. Although the rune poem states that Wunjo enriches everything around you, the rune is often thought to refer especially to the happiness that comes through family, friendship and kinship. While we know that our northern ancestors would have been celebrating the harvest, giving thanks to the ancestors and, for the Norse, celebrating the New Year at the end of this month, today this time has come to represent the ending of harvest and communion with the ancestors for a much broader section of the ‘pagan’ community.
For me this is a time to affirm bonds with both the living and the dead. My work is founded on the belief that each of us is bound up in the great web of being which connects all things; we gather great strength, joy and fulfillment through honouring each other and those who have come before us. On my podcast for Shaman of the North on The Shamanic Voice this month I have shared some of the ways in which I work with and honour the ancestors so, on this blog entry I want to share a very simple rite that I like to do with my family when we meet. It is based on the principles of the symbel rite practiced by modern Heathens, Asatru and other Germanic religious groups. If you are interested in reading about the history of the rite and modern reconstructions I would recommend Wednesbury Shire’s article or Arlea Hunt-Anschutz’s article. My own rite follows on from a workshop I did with Ian Read of the Rune-Gild which I found very powerful and moving.
Symbel is essentially a ceremony where toasts are made which honour those present, their gods and ancestors. The power behind it lies in the words spoken by each participant, and in the act of drinking from a blessed vessel which is passed from one person to the next by an individual who is responsible for ensuring the Wyrd is woven correctly as the vessel makes its journey. In a sense, the passage of the vessel is the motion of the threads of Wyrd; as the vessel passes from person to person their words and intentions are woven into Wyrd and (if spoken with truth and honour) will serve to reinforce the bonds of the clan and the luck of each individual.
My own family are of mixed faiths, and some are no faith at all, so it would be disrespectful to all concerned to try and reconstruct a religious rite such as Symbel. However, the act of speaking words of power and intention, and of passing the cup from person to person to weave stronger bonds and increase personal luck is a beautiful one. From a shamanic perspective, the honouring of ourselves, our loved ones, and our dead is also very healing and empowering; it allows us to speak words from the heart and to engage in a little bit of taboo breaking (as you will see). My family have no problem honouring a tradition which is part of their own heritage (being rooted in the Anglo-Saxon land and language) and we all enjoy the sense of occasion and sacredness - even if the sacred is something different to us all.
For your family rite (you can also do this amongst groups of close friends), you will need a large drinking cup or horn, and something nice to put in it – mead is traditional but my family have a particular fondness of red wine so we tend to use that. It is nice to perform the rite after dark, perhaps after a family meal. Bring down the lights and perhaps put out a few candles to mark the occasion. Take your time thinking about who you would like to toast to. The subjects are a family member (or close family friend) who has passed away, a living family member, and yourself. If you are in a large group then you might choose someone to take the drinking cup around, they will need to use their intuition as to who should go first and how the drinking cup will then make its rounds of the group. Otherwise, you can pass the cup around the circle, or each person can take it at the time that seems right to them. When it is your turn (or when you feel that it is your turn), take the cup and speak your words in honour of the person you have chosen, then drink to seal them and pass the cup around so that all may toast to the person.
Now, you will find that it is easy and heart warming to drink in honour of somebody else, but, it is also really important to drink in honour of yourself. This is where the taboo breaking comes in as the rite demands that you aren’t self deprecating or modest, you need to speak about something you have achieved or to describe personal characteristics or actions that you are proud of. It is no good demeaning yourself in front of your family and then drinking to seal a diminished and weakened version of yourself – you have to believe that your family are going to accept and embrace your words. On their part, each person in the group is expected to accept your words graciously – if you really believe a person has lied then you might get all Viking and challenge them, but I’ve never experienced that in the groups I’ve worked with so I can’t comment on how that gets resolved! Honour, integrity and acceptance are the important qualities for you all to hold in your hearts during the rite.
If you are feeling really brave, then the rite can also be used for oath-making. This is where a member of the family makes a vow over the sacred drink that they will fulfill a particular task they have set themselves. Their resolve is strengthened by weaving it into the rite, however, the whole rite will be weakened if they don’t fulfill their promise – so don’t promise anything you don’t intend to go through with. In the Symbel rite, these vows were witnessed by the gods, as well as the family and ancestors, so they were taken very, very seriously.
At the end of the rite the remainder of the drink is ceremoniously poured out onto the earth. You could offer it (as is right for you) to your ancestors, to the spirits of the earth, to your family’s protective spirits, and to the Gods.
Wunjo is not traditionally associated with drinking rites but, for me it is the perfect rune to call on to bless a drinking ceremony. What more could you want than a happy, harmonious family and the blessings of the rune of wish-making upon your vows for future deeds?
Gebo is the rune of the gift and, as such, we often see it as being about altruism and generousity when, to the Teutonic mind, gift-giving served a rather different function. Traditions such as the giving of golden rings to warriors and the debt of weregild (where a family is compensated for a member that is killed) speak of an answering gift being required – regardless of whether something is freely given or taken by force. Gebo is the embodiment of balanced exchange, each action entails an answering reaction or the worlds will be in imbalance and chaos take hold.
When I was younger I was horrified to hear the story that Mother Teresa did good works solely to win a place in Heaven. To my mind good works were done altruistically, with no hope of reward. What Gebo has taught me is that the act of exchange is a universal law, it doesn’t matter whether we seek for our good deeds to be acknowledged or not, the force of Gebo will inevitably seek a fair return for our efforts. I don’t know what Mother Teresa’s personal motivations were, or even if the story is true, but what I see now is that an action undertaken with love and generousity is not compromised by an acknowledgement that we are getting something out of it too.
In Viking society the ‘price’ of a particular action was clear and fixed, as were ones obligations to family and friends. This meant that the force of Gebo usually had clear channels to run through, restoring balance through the exchange of a gift. Today we can still see this Gebo force in operation when we send a thank you letter to our aunty for the delightful fridge magnet she sent for Christmas. If we send our thank you letters aunty will be pleased as punch but, if we don’t, she will still get her reward by being able to tell all and sundry how ungrateful the younger generation is. I like to feel that by declaring that she did good deeds to receive a reward, Mother Teresa was absolving those she cared for from their sense of obligation towards her, allowing them to accept her gifts without guilt.
While we may still send thank you letters and punctiliously turn up for family birthdays, my feeling is that, as a society, we are rather short on meaningful rituals of exchange these days. What the Gebo runes tells us, however, is that its energy is still flowing and, without clear channels for it to flow into, it’s simply doing the best it can. Gebo informs me that many, many of us are empty, and the more we cry out to be filled, the more it flows through the channels we have created for it: bigger TV screens; more realistic computer games; sweeter more more-ish junk food; cheaper and cheaper clothing; faster and faster ways of communicating with each other. These are the ‘rewards’ we have set up for ourselves, and this is what Gebo gives us, filling up the empty places with more consumable products which dry up, run out or were nothing more than trash in the first place. The ritual of exchange has not died, it has simply become corrupt.
Giving and receiving with mindfulness…
Imagine, even if it is only for today, that every single thought and action will automatically, necessarily, draw an influx of energy towards you. You don’t have to feel guilty about it, or worry that you don’t deserve it – it just happens, it’s the law of Gebo. All you can do is decide whether you want to let the channels our society has constructed dictate what it is you get in return – or whether you want to have a say yourself. People who practice positive manifestation or the law of attraction will be familiar with the next bit: tell the universe what you want. Sometimes it is clear what you are doing something for: I go and see a friend because I want our friendship to continue, I drink a glass of water because I am thirsty. But there are hundreds of things you do every day that are done on auto-pilot, or for reasons which buy in to our consumer-created emptiness. If it isn’t clear to you straight away what you are doing something for (e.g. I am getting up because I have to go to work, because I need the money, because I have bills to pay, because I need to buy stuff…um, why do I need all this stuff?), then you have a perfect opportunity to change the rules. Gebo doesn’t care about the WHY of stuff (other runes take care of that bit), it simply cares about the law of return. It won’t tell you to give up your job so you can stay in bed or do something you find more fulfilling; it just fulfills the rule that you deserve to get something in return for your effort so you might as well ask for something that you really want.
Another trick we play on ourselves is the use of the ‘should’ word. ‘I am doing exercise because I should, I am drinking this vegetable smoothy because I should, I am doing the weeding because I should, I am picking up the litter in the park because I should’. All of these things are highly commendable and, indeed, you may get a nice warm glowy feeling inside because you feel like a good person – but that will disappear very quickly and you will have to move on to the next ‘should’ item to keep it going. With every action you undertake, think about what you personally are getting out of it. The warm glowly feeling of complacency is not enough of a reward for your actions. You might think of exercise and smoothy drinking as inherently selfish activities (i.e. you are the one receiving the reward), but ultimately you are going to live for longer and the world is going to benefit from many more years of your wonderful presence, effort and energy. You should rest easy in the knowledge, therefore, that asking for something that you really, really want, even as a reward for something seemingly self-serving, is okay.
Give it a go today. Write down your dreams, you know, the really big ones as well as the eensy weensy ones. As you go about your day, give of yourself mindfully, affirming that every action is an exchange and you are calling what you truly desire to you.
I love this mantra. It comes from an absolutely beautiful and powerful working created by David Rankine which you can find in his wonderful book Becoming Magick: New and Revised Magicks from the New Aeon. I think of it whenever we pass through this time of year, moving through the runes ansuz, raidho and kenaz: inspiration becomes action which becomes manifestation. It fills me with a sense of anticipation and I become convinced that I can jump straight from thought into action Now, if you get David’s book you will see that his working takes a much more balanced approach – I would highly recommend it. As I am a rune-girl I have been looking to the runes to help me rein in some of my most ridiculous beliefs about how much one person can achieve in a finite amount of time.
I, like you I suspect, have a to-d0 list which is far too long. Like a fair number of people I am also stress-prone, I like to heap unachievable deadlines upon myself and then beat myself up mercilessly when I don’t achieve them all. This is one of the reasons why I am studying stress management (the choice to seek a qualification in it also being an example of my tireless pursuit to give myself more to do). That aside, I find that working with the runes helps me to get some perspective. Working with the rune calendar has proven invaluable, balance is key to the runester and, just as singing in your rune circle will bring you balance each day, working through the rune cycle each year ensures that you aren’t taking a lop-sided approach to life.
At this time of year we need to start conserving our energies, laying in a good stock of positive, sustaining energy for the winter ahead. Even though our lives are less obviously tied to the cycles of nature than used to be the case, we are still animals, creatures of the earth who develop, grow and live through the cyclical tides of the seasons. We may not be close to starvation (but there are those in the world who are), and we may not freeze to death (although there will be people who do), but many of us will suffer from seasonal affective disorder or at least find ourselves less bouncy and energy-filled. The hard work of the summer must give way to a more rested, considered approach as winter draws near; give yourself a break, slow down, chill out – why not spend some time meditating with a lovely rune
Following my Raidho meditations last half-month I have reinstated my ‘thinking time’ walks. These are always the first to go when I am stressed, I tell myself I don’t have time and end up lying on the sofa at the end of the day, boggling at the television after a day of frustration and inefficiently used time. I then wake up the next day feeling tired and crotchety and begin the whole cycle again. I find that if I allow myself time for my thinking walk then I am much more likely to find the time to cook proper meals, do my meditation, and make plans with friends. Corrina Gordon-Barnes from You Inspire Me calls this sort of activity your one ‘non-negotiable’ ; Corrina works with self-employed women but I believe her advice holds true for anyone struggling with a to-do list that’s ’whelming’ them (that’s one of my personal promises to myself by the way, I am never ‘over-whelmed’, but I admit to being frequently ‘whelmed’).
So, once you’ve found that bit of routine that is your own, personal ritual, then you can start to tackle your to-do list with a bit more presence of mind. That’s when Kenaz comes in, the fiery rune of creation and manifestation. Use this month’s Kenaz meditation to help you remove those deep blocks and obstacles holding you back, and find the clarity and the energy you need to move forward. Break your to-do list down into managable chunks and focus just on the day’s tasks. If your head is whirling with ideas, then take time each day to scribble them down so you don’t forget them. For small projects, check to see if the idea is still burning brightly three days later – if it’s still drawing your attention after three days then it’s probably worthwhile. If it’s a fairly big project, then three days won’t be long enough – give yourself three weeks and then check back to see if the project still draws your enthusiasm and energy. You can use the time to consult with knowledgeable friends, colleagues and contacts – then when your three weeks is up you’ll be ready to get started if you’re still feeling passionate about the project. The point of waiting is to ensure that the idea isn’t just a throw-away inspiration – place it in the Kenaz furnace and see whether it fizzles to nothing or burns more brighly and fiercly from its time in the flames.
On Thursday this week we will move into the half-month of Gebo, the rune of gifts and fair exchange. Life changes take approximately three-weeks to become habit so the Gebo rune can help us to stick to the commitments we have made during the period of inspiration, change and manifestation we have just passed through. I will be asking Gebo to help me stick to my ‘thinking-time walk’. When I make it into Wunjo , the rune of fulfilment and joy on 13th October, I will know that I have re-established my old habit and am giving myself the best possible chance of having a fruitful, plentiful winter.
For friends, colleagues and students in the sourthern hemisphere, the time is of course different. You are in the lovely half-month of Berkano, the rune of growth and potential. While we in the North are carefully conserving our energy with the sensible Raidho rune of the rider and checking that we are not giving or receiving too much (Gebo) - you will soon be speeding along on the steed of Ehwaz. Enjoy!