The gift, the exchange. Gebo embodies two important concepts: reward for effort and altruistic giving with no expectation of reward. Its shape can still be found in the kisses (xxx) put at the bottom of a card or letter to a loved one; its symbol says ‘we are bonded by love, I bond us by love’. The written kiss doesn’t demand anything in return but, implicitly, it signifies a relationship between sender 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. It’s mysteries are similar to those of the Buddhist concept of Karma. The commitments we make, and the way in which we honour them build love and trust with family and community. In times of strength we give and in times of need we receive: love reciprocated, care when you are sick, support when you face difficulty.
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 seals the partnership between plant and animal kingdom.
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’ (The Gift, pg. 15).
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 , 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. The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, Lewis Hyde
Gebo is most commonly associated with the element of Air and it can, at times feel very intangible as so much of its essence relates to the unseen and binding forces of nature and human society. Its shape, reminiscent of the spokes on a wheel or a great cross-beam of support is, however, incredibly strong and balanced. It is a rune of consequences above all. Its shape is echoed later in the rune row through the Jera rune (harvest, success) which is also made up of two angles circling about each other. I personally see the element of Earth as being an important aspect of Gebo. We tend the land, plant the seeds, pour in our efforts in the hope of later reward through Jera. The impact humanity is having beyond the earth now spans well beyond any single agricultural year – work with Gebo can help us better attune our collective consciousness to the unseen but inevitable results of our actions.
Another key relationship for Gebo is the Nauthiz rune which teaches us what happens when we over-commit. Notice that the Nauthiz rune is also a cross, but this time imbalanced.
Literal meanings: Gift
Rich meanings: Exchange, promises, partnership, reciprocity
Deepening your connection with Gebo
Articles about Gebo
Northern soul lore: orlog and wyrd
Choosing your spiritual roots
Gebo horoscope: 1st October – 16th October
Learn about the mysteries of Gebo with the seventh of my journeys with the Elder Futhark
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