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Paganism: Part XI - The Esoteric Runes
Our forefathers had a tradition where knowledge was passed down to the younger generations orally, from parent to child. Today we tend to think of our distant forefathers as ignorant and primitive beings, but their knowledge of the world we live in was vast, and they developed different techniques to make it easier to memorize it all. One such technique was to tell everything in rimes, another was to personify the different forces in nature and man, but the perhaps most important technique was to create symbols each representing different events.
Today we use the different scripts to write down everything we know in books, but originally the scripts were merely symbols used to help people remember the myths. This is the cause for all the European scripts, whether we talk about the Greek and Latin alphabet, the Slavonic runes, the Irish Ogam script or the Scandinavian runes. In the past myth and knowledge were two sides of the same coin; it was told in a mythological language, but it was actually pure science or knowledge.
In this article I will give You an example of how the Scandinavian rune row can provide answers to even our most existential questions, in this example the very creation of man, the world we live in and the meaning of life itself.
The Kin of Fraujaz (Freyr)
1. The first rune sign is Fehu. This translates as "cattle" and it symbolizes cattle, goods, properties and material wealth and is linked to Auðhumbla ("desolate black sea"), the proto-cow mentioned in the creation myth.
In the ancient days they used cattle as a measurement of wealth, so the Fehu came to symbolize money too. The Fehu rune sign is a picture of a cow's horns. This is the beginning of the rune row, but it is also the beginning of everything else, including the beginning of creation.
Just like Auðhumbla had been the beginning, of the creation of man and the world we live in, the sound of the Bronze lures, symbolizing her horns, gave signal to start the religious ceremonies. After that they dismantled the lures and buried them in the ground, to symbolically use the remains of Auðhumbla to create the world we live in.
2. The second rune sign is Ūruz. This translates as "drizzle" and "proto-" and it symbolizes drizzle, strength, health and the well-being of the body and is linked to Ymir ("grumble", "murmur"), the proto-giant of creation. The rune sign is a picture of a bull, as seen from the side, with a strong and powerful neck.
The rune sign is the symbol of the created, but unfinished world. This is the sleeping giant, reproducing itself, growing and taking nourishment from Auðhumbla, the desolate and black void above us, best known as outer space.
3. The third rune sign is Þurisaz. This translates as "goblin", and it symbolizes goblins, trolls and giants. It is a sign for hidden, negative powers, hospitality and a portal or a change to these powers and is linked to Bölþorn ("wretched thorn"), a giant better known as Jörmungandr ("rod of magic", "animated rod"), the great worm of Middle-Earth. This rune sign is a picture of a thorn. In the Viking Age this rune sign was actually called Þorn ("thorn") too.
This is the original world, Ymir, that has become dangerous. This is an era when the cruel, stupid and grotesque giants rule the Earth. We know the giants from H.P. Lovecraft's fantasy books as the Ancient Ones (Ymir/Bölþorn/Jörmungandr = Cthulu), from the Greek mythology as the Titans, from the Hebrew mythology as Leviathan/Satan and from the Babylonian mythology as Tiamat.
4. The fourth rune sign is Ansuz (Norse Áss, i.e. the singular form of æsir1). This translates as "mouth", "river mouth", "breath" and "blow" and the word is understood as "a source to divine utterance". Ansuz symbolizes signals, messages from the gods, gifts and divine wisdom and is linked to Óðinn ("mind", "fury", "thought"). This rune sign is the picture of a spear point, resembling a spear point made of bone or teeth, used in Antiquity mainly for hunting or fishing. The spear point symbolizes the spear of Óðinn, the spirit that attaches itself to the physical body.
At some point the gods arrived in our unfinished world. In the mythology we learn that the sky god Búri ("born"), a.k.a. Tuisto ("two hands", id est the Sun and the Moon) and Týr ("honour", "god"), arrived and the gods were born when his son, Börr ("man") married a daughter of Bölþorn called Bestlá ("the best blood"). As seen from this rune sign the spirit of the gods attached itself to the best material in the (wretched) physical world, like a hunting spear attaches itself to the prey or a fishing hook to a fish, and for the first time our world housed living beings with a mind.
This is however really not a description of the creation of the gods, but a description of the creation of man. Mankind was created from the blood of the giants, and what makes us different from the giants is the fact that we have a mind; we are partly earthly and partly divine. The gods are only good forces in the world we live in, and for the first time they were a part of life on Earth. Prior to this event the cruel, mindless and grotesque giants ruled the Earth.
5. The fifth rune sign is Reiðō. This translates as "ride" and it symbolizes a journey, a ride, the mind's ride after death, a rider and a pilot and is linked to Þórr ("loyalty"). This rune sign is probably based on the letter R in the Latin alphabet, or it is a picture of the lightning on the sky, caused by Þórr's hammer.
This is a description of what actually happened when the sky god, Búri, tamed the horrible giants. We know this from the myth about Þórr (en emanation of Búri) and his fishing of Jörmungandr. He "rode the waves" in a boat and used a fishing hook (the spear of Óðinn, the fourth rune sign) to catch this giant worm, and then used his hammer (the lightning) to strike it down and throw it into the abyss - just like Marduk does to Tiamat, just like Jehovah does to Leviathan/Satan and just like Kronos/Saturnus does to the Titans et cetera.
6. The sixth rune sign is Kaunaz. This translates as "high" and it symbolizes light, an opening and enlightenment and is linked to Múspellsheimr ("fire home", "home of light") and Surtr ("black"), the home of light and its guardian. This rune sign is a picture of a beam of light entering through a small opening.
This is a description of what happened when man was created; the stupid giants of the past were enlightened by their unification with the gods.
7. The seventh rune sign is Gäbon. This translates as "gift" and it symbolizes gifts, spiritual talent, talent, offer, partnership, sharing and reward for loyalty and is linked to Heimdallr ("home counter" [=Kronos/Saturnus]). This rune sign is probably a picture of two opposite forces, the sunlight of the æsir and the water of the vanir, meeting in the centre of the two lines that makes up this rune sign. In nature these opposite forces form a rainbow - the symbol of Heimdallr's mercy and the bridge to Ásgarðr.
The vanir ("water") are as we know the gods of Earth, or in others words; the vanir are Bestlá; the best of the wretched matter, namely water. This suggests that life was first created in water, in the vast sea and of course the sunlight is essential in this context - and as we know modern science supports this theory. Naturally this life is described as a gift from the gods to the giants. They were after all given a mind!
8. The eighth rune sign is Wunjō. This translates as "joy" and it symbolizes joy, absence of suffering and sorrow, well-being, balance and harmony and is linked to Heimdallr's wife, Fjörgyn ("mountain") - the proto-Mother Earth. This rune sign is probably the picture of a woman.
This is the completion of the first "phase" of the evolution of the divine man. This is a description of the Golden Age, when mankind was happy and safe, living in harmony with Mother Earth. This is the era that followed the victory of the æsir over the vanir.
The Kin of Hagalaz (Norse Hagall)
9. The ninth rune sign is Hagalaz. This translates as "hail" and it symbolizes hails, pebbles, dissolution and harmful natural forces and it is linked to Œgir ("awe" [=Gymir]). It also symbolizes a shift between two worlds, a change-over period. This rune sign is the picture of a hailstorm and the rain pouring down from the sky. It is based on a pre-runic symbol that symbolized the same as the Hagalaz rune sign.
The Golden Age came to an end, not because mankind sinned or anything like that, as described in the Hebrew mythology, but because the gods had plans for us and wanted us to improve.
10. The tenth rune sign is Nauþi. This translates as "need" and it symbolizes limitations, need, slavery, cause to human grief, lesson, harshness and necessity and it is linked to the Norns, the goddesses of destiny. This rune sign is possibly the picture of a rope tied around the waist of a man, symbolizing slavery or the bonds of destiny, limiting our freedom.
The giants were eternal in the sense that they could not die from old age, because time didn't exist. Before this there was no past, no present and no future; the giants existed beyond time, and our world was created beyond time. When we interpret the mythology we therefore often have to look at the myths as being descriptions of the same event: Börr's wedding with Bestlá, Þórr's fishing of the giant worm and the war between the æsir and the vanir for example are all descriptions of the same event; the unification of the early giants and the divine gods!
11. The eleventh rune sign is Īsa. This translates as "ice" and it symbolizes ice, cold and lack of movement and is linked to Hel ("complete", "luck", "health"), the goddess of death. This rune sign is a picture of an icicle.
For the first time the living creatures on Earth, including man, could die from an old age. Naturally old age was not a problem when they all existed beyond time, but with the introduction of time came also aging and naturally death.
12. The twelfth rune sign is Jēra. This translates as "year" and it symbolizes a fertile year, spring and harvest and is linked to Freyja ("love"), Frigg ("[maternal] love") and Íðunn ("returning wave", "work carried"). It is the rune sign of marriage, and is a picture of two people lying next to each other.
Time may be a curse in relation to life, but it is also a blessing. When we can grow old and die from old age we can also reproduce and give birth to new human beings, grow up and watch our children grow up. We no longer need to be created beyond time, and we return to life after death.
13. The thirteenth rune sign is Eihwaz. This translates as "yew" and it symbolizes defence, yew and bows made of yew and is linked Skaði ("harm"). This rune sign is a picture of the waxing or waning Moon traveling across the sky. It is based on a proto-European pre-runic symbol best known in the English speaking world as the Swastika, that was known in ancient Scandinavia as the hooked cross or the Sun cross. The hooked cross is a picture of Þórr's hammer rotating and flying through the air, but its oldest form, more than 7.000 years old, was actually a plain circle symbolizing the Sun or celestial bodies in general. The Eihwaz rune sign is made up of the half of the hooked cross.
Life had to be protected, or rather we had to expose ourselves to danger (harm) in order to evolve further. Mankind went through a micro evolution lasting ages and all the hardness and strife we had to endure in life made us better. It was a necessary phase in the completion of man.
14. The fourteenth rune sign is Perþ. This translates as "expedition" and it symbolizes initiation, secrets and the quest for answers to secrets and is linked to Sleipnir ("glider", "flower") and his origin, Loki ("lock", "end"). It symbolizes a journey to the wyrd ("esteem", id est the other side). This rune sign is a picture of a horse in vertical flight, riding straight upwards or downwards, to Ásgarðr or Hel.
This is where (the Pagan) religion became a factor in life. The Pagan mysteries and lifestyle (with competition, strife and war as a natural part of life) enlightened us and our inquisitive nature made our minds better. We improved spiritually, because we followed the rules of Paganism.
15. The fifteenth rune sign is Algiz. This translates as "elk" and it symbolizes birth and life, health, bodily healthiness and strength, protection, defence and widgeon grass and is linked to Víðarr ("wood"). This rune sign is a picture of a birth, showing an elf (=the eternal spiritual faculties of man) with his or her arms stretched towards the sky, as it ascends from the underworld, back to the world of the living.
After participating in the Pagan initiation mysteries and learning the runes in the realm of the dead man returns to the world of the living as a newborn, in a spiritual sense.
16. The sixteenth rune sign is Sōwila. This translates as "alone", "independent", and it also means "Sun", and it symbolizes completeness, the Sun, sunbeams and mystical eloquence, recharging, creativity, eyes, stars and female enchantment and is linked to Sól (a goddess, and the younger Norse name of Sōwila). This rune sign is a picture of a sunbeam.
After participating in the Pagan initiation mysteries man has become elevated to the divine. She is married to Freyr and he is married to Freyja, and another phase in the evolution of man has ended.
The Kin of Tīwaz (Norse Týr)
17. The seventeenth rune sign is Tīwaz. This translates as "honour" and "god" and it symbolizes victory in battle, wars and a war god, a guiding planet or stars, a strong beam that blesses the people and is linked to Týr (=Búri/Tuisto), the sky god. This rune sign is a picture of a tree, based on a pre-runic symbol of a tree, but it might symbolize a beam of light too, shaped like an arrowhead.
At this point man has become divine. We are no longer only women and men, but goddesses and gods; representatives of Freyja and Freyr on Earth, blessing the kin and fighting the negative powers and forces in our world for the betterment of man.
18. The eighteenth rune sign is Berkō. This translates as "birch" and it symbolizes growth, birch, rebirth and new life, is associated with fertility cults and is linked to Jörð ("earth") - Mother Earth. Most likely this rune sign is based on the B in the Latin or the Beta in the Greek alphabet, but it might actually be a picture of the breasts of a woman - or indeed the grave mounds on the óðal property.
This simply describes the blessed life of the divine man; the life of the nobleman of the Pagan world, and the role of the noblemen in society (blessing the crops, fertility cults and so forth).
19. The nineteenth rune sign is Ehwaz. This translates as "yew" and it symbolizes movement, horses, tempo, progress, loyalty, is associated with the celestial bodies' movement across the sky and is linked to Máni ("measure") - the Moon. This rune sign is a picture of a horse riding across the firmament, that has later been influenced by the letter M/Mi. Naturally, as seen from both the name of the rune sign and its meaning, this rune sign is closely linked to the Eihwaz rune. We know that both Skaði and Máni are deities of the Moon, a female and a male respectively, and that explains why these rune signs are so similar, in more than one way.
The hard life cannot end here, because we still need to improve, genetically. We cannot surrender to the temptations of a luxurious and easy life, even after we have become noble.
20. The twentieth rune sign is Mannaz. This translates as "man" and it symbolizes mankind, the human mind and thoughts, memory, the human species and knowledge about yourself and is linked to Börr (a.k.a. Mannaz) and mankind. This rune sign is possibly the picture of two women, or more likely a woman and a man, kissing each other.
This is the actual creation of man, that took place when Börr was united with Bestlá in a holy matrimony, and that took place as described by all the earlier rune signs. Creation is in the Pagan worldview not complete, and is still going on, so not until we, each one of us, have been elevated to the divine will the creation be complete.
21. The twenty-first rune sign is Laguz. This translates as "liquid" and it symbolizes currents, water, the sea, lakes and rivers and the fertility of these things and is linked to Njörðr ("lower isthmus" [=NerþuR/Nerthus]). This rune sign resembles the Greek lambda (Λ), but is probably a picture of the lower body of a man, with a large phallus, the most common symbol of fertility, or it is a picture of a waterfall.
Man is almost complete and can engage in its most important task; to weed out the poor genes and concentrate on letting only best blood survive.
22. The twenty-second rune sign is Inguz. This translates as "love" and it symbolizes completeness, destiny, love, wishes, concessions, willingness, creative forces and fertility and is linked to Freyr ("love"). This rune sign is a picture of the spouses of the Jēra rune sign united (in the act of making love).
Finally mankind learns true love. Finally man is able to really love each other and express their love, on a divine level.
23. The twenty-third rune sign is Dagaz. It translates as "day" and it symbolizes day, the light of the gods, progress, fertility, lifetime, cycles, terms, time-limit, deadline, breakthrough and hope and is linked to Baldr ("clean", "pure", "white"). This rune sign might be the picture of an hourglass.
This is our goal; we need to become perfectly white and innocent, like Baldr is. We need to achieve this before we die, or else we have to start all over again and try again. Unless we succeed we will be born again on Earth (the realm of the giants, id est Satan).
24. The twenty-forth and final rune sign is Oþila (Norse Óðal). This translates as "allodium" or "allodial possession", and it symbolizes the homeland, óðal property and óðal law, nobility, noble, inherited goods, fatherland, land property, distinguished family, splendid, kin and the nation and is linked to the blood and soil (house and fatherland). This rune sign is the picture of ándveget, the high seat, the symbol of the nobleman's óðal rights.
This is our ultimate goal; to return to our divine homeland, the óðal property of the gods! This original fatherland is the divine realm, Ásgarðr ("the yard of the æsir"), that most people know simply as "Heaven".
The runes have also been used for divination and fortune telling, and in modern times as a system for meditation or yoga and similar, and I have to say that I am not overly fond of any of this. Meditation is a technique for the Asian man of yesterday, id est for a subhuman being incapable of achieving inner calm and total concentration without years of practice, and even then only manages this after hours of meditation, and I fail to muster any interest in this subject whatsoever. Yoga on the other hand might be good exercise for the body, but it has nothing to do with our European religion. Fortune telling, with or without the use of runes, can be great fun for sure, but I don't see it as relevant in context with the Pagan religion. Fortune telling is a parlour game, and little else. Mixing the runes into any of this is as far as I am concerned just silly. If I wrote the whole bible in runes it wouldn't make it any less Judaic, if You see what I mean?
Divination in the past was (in Scandinavia) called frétt, and this was "a religious rite performed to ask the gods for advice". They could use the runes in this context, but it was more common to interpret the flight of birds, horses or the clouds. If they used the runes to ask the gods for advice the divinator after sunset cut down a branch from a tree bearing fruits, nuts or berries (and not during the day, because the Sun beams vaporizes all the elves [spirits] and bring them back to Ásgarðr). He or she then cut the branch in twenty-four pieces, each marked with a rune sign. The pieces were then placed on a piece of cloth, newly washed and all white. They could also use a cauldron with water from a holy source, and place the pieces of the branch in that instead. The divinator then addressed the gods verbally and picked up three different pieces, while still looking towards the sky. The first piece he or she picked up represented the foundation or past, the second the current situation or present time and the third the future or outcome.
The piece of white cloth and the cauldron were symbols of the well of Urðr ("esteem"), and the runes represented the influence of the gods in our blood, that is poured over the tree of life every day. If the question to the gods was answered positively it had to be confirmed, and if it was answered negatively it had to be respected. The positive answer had to be somehow confirmed (by signals from the gods [like by watching the birds' flight or the formation of the clouds]) within twenty-four hours of the frétt.
Only the divinator could touch the branch or pieces of the branch, the cauldron or piece of cloth, and naturally the divinator had to be initiated in the Pagan cult for the frétt to work. He or she had to know the ásamál or else the whole ritual would be pointless. Ordinary men and women cannot communicate with the gods, and certainly it serves no purpose to ask the gods for advice if you cannot communicate with them in the first place. The branch had to be fresh from the tree too, by the way, and the pieces with runes on them could only be used one single time.
To receive answers from the gods by studying the flight of the birds or horses the divinator first had to have access to a holy source. He or she would simply wait nearby the holy source until the "white" (holy) horses (id est untamed horses never used for labour) or the birds started to drink from the holy source. While doing so the divinator asked the gods for advice, and after a while received an answer to his question. If the horses or birds, after drinking from the holy source, ran or flew northwards or eastwards it was seen as a positive answer, but if they instead ran or flew southwards or westwards it was seen as a negative answer.
North was positive because the realm of the dead was located to the north, and the realm of the dead was also the portal to the realm of gods. East was positive because the Sun rises in the east. South was negative because the giants attack from the south in Ragnarok, and west was negative because the Sun sets in the west.
Naturally only the initiated man or woman could communicate with the gods, using their messengers (id est the birds and the horses) as intermediaries. It served no purpose for others to perform a frétt of any sort, just like it serves no purpose for the uninitiated modern man to do so.
Any well read and erudite reader of this article will see that you cannot find information of this kind anywhere else today, and I regret that, but if You wish to know a but more about the runes and what they symbolize I suggest You simply read "The Mysteries And Mythology Of Ancient Scandinavia" (MMAS) when or if this book is published (although I haven't really given that much attention to the runes in this book). By doing so You will understand better what I have explained about the runes in this article, and You will also find an explanation to and a description of all our high festivals, the ancient calendar, mythology, mysteries and so forth. Unlike any other book about this subject MMAS includes everything You need to know to understand and practise our common European religion, and that it also why I wrote it.
The different names of the three main faces of the common European Sky God
Below is a list of (a hastily made version of) the proto-Norse runes and their Greek and Latin equivalents respectively:
I have also included a list of the younger rune signs, from the Viking Age, only with recreated Germanic names:
In other languages: Italiano