The gift, the exchange. Gebo embodies the concept of reward for effort, but also of generosity and selflessness which expects no reward. Think about the xxx you put at the bottom of a card, or a letter to a loved one or friend; these things represent warm feelings and love which do not demand anything in return but, implicitly, signify that there is a relationship between you and the recipient. Gebo seals a promise you want to make: fidelity to a partner, support for a child, allegiance to a respected and admired leader. The sort of giving signified by Gebo can also give the greatest rewards: love reciprocated, care when you are sick, support when you face difficulty.
Gebo seals contracts and demands that promises are honoured, a gift entails obligation: the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate (Marcel Mauss, Essai sur le don). Gebo requires openess on the part of both parties and promotes deep trust. Because of the sense of obligation arising from gift giving, gebo is intimately connected to oath making – pacts may be sealed using this rune. Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, explores the concept of gift giving across cultures, and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the mysteries of Gebo; he describes rituals of gift giving in many cultures and, specific to the Northern tradition he notes that:
In European folk tales the beggar often turns out to be Wotan [Odin], the true ‘owner’ of the land, who asks for charity though it is his own wealth he moves within, and who then responds to neediness by filling it with gifts. He is godfather to the poor. (pg. 24)
The first rune associated with Odin/ Wotan, is Ansuz, another ‘airy’ rune which provides inspiration, communication and union with the Gods. Gebo is a gentler energy but its laws are inviolable – when they are out of kilter greed, lack, emnity, jealousy, imbalance, and ultimately destruction, prevail. Whereas Ansuz might be seen as the intake of breath through the mouth and throat, Gebo is the action of the lungs which take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide – sustaining us and turning the invisible wheel of Gebo which unites the plant and animal kingdoms.
The trust Gebo represents is also trust in the universe, trust that you are deserving of the gifts life has to offer and that your effort will be appreciated and reciprocated. Consider the smooth motion of a windmill or waterwheel, both harness the power of a natural force but do not use it up; energy is exchanged and we use it to make food, but the water and the air harnessed by one arm of the wheel is simultaneously released by another. Meditate on Gebo while lying stretched out in the cross position focusing on your breath, in the words of Hyde ‘when we are in the spirit of the gift we love to feel the body open outward’ (pg. 15).
Traditional meaning: Gift
Gods: Gefjon, Vali, Sjofn, Odin, Heimdall
Colour: Dark blue, gold
Elements: Air is the commonest elemental correspondence for Gebo, perhaps referring to the gift of breath given by Odin to the first man and first woman. For me the motion of the windmill and the water wheel are both symbolic of Gebo; their shape harnesses the power of air and water, transforming energy from one form into another. For that reason I also associate Gebo with water.
Half month: September 28th-October 13th
Plants: Elm, heartsease
Body: Respiration, clears poison
Aroma: Patchouli, cardamon
Object of power: Reflection
The original act of giving is the giving of oneself, it is the only thing one can be free to give. (Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick)
Gebo is the seventh rune in the First Aett (first family) of the Elder Futhark. I will be publishing the rune journeys on their half months through 2018.