This is the second article in our series exploring modes of power.  We’re digging in, in particular, to Thurisaz the 3-angled rune of Power and Ehwaz the rune of partnership.  Power with is not as easy as power over.  It takes time and patience. So what models of ‘power with’ can we find to inspire us in the northern tradition?

A pair of horses gaze into each other’s eyes. Horsa and Hengest. Freyr and Freyja. The Alcis.

Power with is founded on trust.  The Ehwaz rune is the 3rd rune of the 3rd Aett (the last ‘rune family’).  It is the rune of partnership, representing the steed: a horse or other animal that carries the rider.  It also represents soul partnerships such s that between the conscious and unconscious mind or the individual and the ‘fetch’ or ‘companion spirit’ as well as states of being in which the mind is ‘hi-jacked’ in some way such as when dreaming, being overcome by inspiration, or channelling a deity of spirit.   Its shape looks like a modern capital M and some see within it two horses facing each other and forming a bond of trust. 

A shaman lets his conscious self step aside that he may be filled with the spirit of another.  The runes speak, a God speaks, our ancestors speak, we see and are seen in our truth.

‘Power with’ requires vulnerability and a ceding of control to the ‘other’.  It necessitates a recognition that different people bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table.  It is continually negotiated as power is rarely distributed evenly but rather rises and falls in a cycle.

For those of you interested in the numerology of runes the rune of power and aggression, Thurisaz is the 3rd rune of the first Aett.  It reminds us that our natural instinct is often to defend, dominate and seize control.  Ehwaz, 3rd in the final Aett represents the maturity of a soul able to lay down arms, surrender and trust that the opposer/ partner will do the same.   Before we can operate effectively in ‘power with’ we must understand the role of ‘power over’ and have come into awareness of how it operates  within our own psyche.  Here are some examples of power with:

  • Democracy
  • Consensus
  • Polytheism
  • Heterogeneity
  • Collaboration
  • Debate
  • Team
  • Ecosystems

The 3rd rune of the second Aett is Isa, the rune of ice, solidity, risk self and ego.  It reminds us that it takes confidence to surrender, courage to take risks, and love to accept that sometimes we will be hurt when we make ourselves vulnerable. 

A goddess offers the toasting cup to her kin in preparation for the symbel rite.  Frigg, the Asynjur, our Disir, our mothers. 

In the Western world we have lost many of the local rituals and ceremonies through which ‘power with’ is sustained.  Ceremonies with our local land spirits, rituals of ancestral remembrance, honouring and oath-making, rites of passage for our young people, initiation of our leaders and honouring of our elders.  These ceremonies bring us closer to one another, they are moments where we share our values and agree our responsibilities.  They can be as simple as a family-friendly symbel rite at dinner with a round of ‘what am I proud of today’, ‘who has done something good for me today’ and ‘what am I looking forward to’ tomorrow.  These small ceremonies expose our children to the concepts of community, pride, vulnerability, gratitude and the importance of nurturing and sustaining meaningful relationship with each other.  Imagine what it would be like if we more regularly asked each other what we were proud of instead of observing the weather

Two souls take hands and are bound with red thread.  Frigg and Odin, Thor and Sig, Loki and Sigyn, married partners, civil partners, business partners. 

The importance of speed

Ehwaz is also the rune of speed which speaks to an inherent tension within the rune of partnership which has grown as human society aged.    In our ancestor’s societies the only decisions that needed to be taken at speed related to individual matters (e.g. a medical intervention) or in times of war when obedience to ones chieftain or sovereign was agreed to be paramount.   In present day society world-changing decisions are being taken at unprecedented speed which makes ‘power with’ even more challenging to achieve.    Democracy, collaboration and debate all require heavy investment up front in relationship building, listening and consensus on how agreement will be reached.  We place more onus on precedents, policies and regulation than on ceremony, ritual and wisdom gathering.  It’s costly to get lots of people in a room to bond and debate  – why not rely on what’s been written down from the past?  In the interests of speed corners can be cut.  Every now and then we notice that a law made 100 years ago may not quite fit the present need – but it’s costly and time consuming to renegotiate it.  Power over sneaks in and if we’re not careful those rules and regulations end up undermining, rather than building trust.

Countering the authority of 'power over'

Here’s a scenario some of you may be familiar with.  During lockdown I’ve became more lax on the television rules with my sons and I wanted to pull back.  I was a bit nervous about the conversation so did that thing where you consult Google to get some added authority for your position.  There I was reliably informed that children over 2 should watch no more than 1 hour of TV a day.  FAIL .  I am a terrible mother, it is CONFIRMED.  I envisioned the inevitable ultimatum conversation ending in a confiscated remote control and two bawling children with a heavy heart.  Luckily we’ve already gotten into a nice flow with our family friendly symbel rite so I thought I’d give that a whirl first.  We chose some activities the boys wanted to do for our subject and spent the next day doing those.  I also used the opportunity to share with them that I wanted to do more fun things and less TV.    Now, I’m not saying I’ve definitively solved the television problem overnight but what I hope I’ve illustrated is that having structured moments for exploration of a problem together is the first step in offering an alternative to ‘power over’.  Perhaps offering an environment where adults discuss relevant worries and problems with their children and ask them to help co-create the solutions is the first step in setting their expectations for what the adult world could be, and should be like?  Maybe offering this type of ‘power with’ conversation is in fact more beneficial than an outright ban on films of more than an hour in duration?  Yes, we watched a film the following Sunday – but we also made pancakes, did painting and a heap of lego as committed to on our Saturday night symbel.

Our world is heavily defined by law, books and the internet.  We spend huge amounts of time absorbing information in a way that confers authority or ‘power over’ us.  The way to counter this is not through more information but rather through  exploratory conversations,  rituals that mark a passage from one state into another, and ceremonies of connection where we become active participants in the decisions we make about who we are and who we want to become.           

This week I would like to invite you to consider the ways in which you might bring a little more ‘power with’ into your own life.  Here are some thoughts to get you going:

  • Put plants in your garden that you know are indigenous to your land and will therefore thrive
  • Journal on what rituals of togetherness you already have with your family and friends – could you enrich them further or add new ones?
  • Join or initiate a community project
  • Instead of asking people how they are, ask them what they are proud of or what they’re wishing for
  • Keep a tally of every time you take a decision (or almost take a decision) based on what someone else has told you you should do; journal on how you could make it a decision based on ‘power with’
  • Try the family friendly symbel rite (it works just as well with grown ups…)

NB: I have a very nice, reasonably sized drinking horn we like to use on a Sunday for a more special symbel.  This week my sons discovered the enormous drinking horn I keep stashed in my temple room.  Needless to say, the small horn is now scorned.  If you want to see something comic try helping a 2 year old drink water from a drinking horn only marginally shorter than he is…

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