Divination 2, Question 5
Describe the overall symbology of a chosen divination method as well as each individual symbol in that set. Review and compare to your answers to this question from Divination 1, explaining how and why those views have changed over time. If you have changed your primary symbol set, why did you change?
(min. 600 words for the descriptive essay, and 100 words per symbol)
- Gold, it is said, is the bane of those who horde it: it can cause discord among kinsmen if it is not properly distributed. Unjust kings and dragons are
hoarders of gold, and the slaying of dragons and unjust kings is often an allegory for promoting the proper distribution of wealth to all.
To me, drawing this rune indicates wealth, but it is also a cautionary tale: wealth is not something that you hold onto, for hording wealth is the surest way to make enemies, to break the cycle of the cosmos, and to hurt those closest to you. I suppose most deeply, it is a statement that you must give of what you have in order to enter the reciprocity that allows you to fully take part in the cosmos. If there were a rune that represented something like the Vedic Rta, it would be this one.
- This rune is usually given over to the concept of strength, matching up with the auroch, a species of extinct bison that boys would fight to prove their manhood. Most often, I follow this interpretation, thinking of it as manly strength (opposed to womanly strength, see Berkano), but it is also "that which is undesirable", with some poems indicating that it indicates the dross of iron, or the drizzling rain that never lets up and mildews the crops, destroying them. I have primarily worked with the concept of strength because in my experience with farming in Kansas, the mildew is less common here than the drought, and the imagery of the rune itself, with its one shoulder high, reminds me of the auroch visually. Still, this rune can only represent "strength" if you are up to the challenge it presents: those who are not ready, or who are overly confident, are unlikely to survive their first contest with the auroch.
- Sitting on thorns is terribly uncomfortable, and this thorn is no different. Þurisaz reminds us to look before we sit down, and is an over-all negative rune. It is the tormentor of women in some poems, the giant and force of chaos that we fear and seek to avoid. As the poems say, "few men are cheerful from misfortune."
Recent interpretations, though, have seen this rune differently. Thorsson considers this the rune of Thor, while Paxson considers the giants to be basic nature spirits who are neither good nor evil, but just "chaotic". Neither of these interpretations sit well with me, but at times, interpreting this rune becomes difficult: when the gods offer it to us as blessings, what does that mean? The concept of this rune as "Thor" is an important one, because the development of this rune into this meaning comes from a lot of peoples personal gnosis. I have found ways to read this rune that don't conflict with the original meaning, I think, as a take-off from this starting point.
Rather than think about Þurisaz as a rune of giants at some points, I think of it as a rune of "brute strength" and "using your
opponents strength against him." I took this from the general character of Thor, whose strength is very much like that of a giant: in
many ways, he fights fire with fire, using his brute strength to overcome their
brute strength. This is how I tend to interpret the rune in context, generally, but I never forget to mention that we should look where we sit!
- The most common interpretation of this rune is "Oðin", and nearly every rune-reader I've met has used this interpretation almost exclusively. If reading just the Icelandic rune poem, I can see that, but I tend to think of it more in terms of the "mouth" or "estuary" that is mentioned in the other poems. As such, I think of this as a rune of wisdom, not a rune of Oðin, who is himself merely one who partakes of Mimir's Well, sacrifices himself for wisdom, and is, in general, merely an obtainer of wisdom.
Also, rather than think of it entirely as something so simple as just a mouth or estuary, or even wisdom, I think about each of the poems and how they deal with this rune, and I fixate on the Norwegian poem, which informs us: "Estuary is the way of most journeys; but a scabbard is of the sword's." When I read that the first time, I thought about kennings I have heard: the sword rides the sheath, and here "estuary" is the beginning point of most journeys: from each both leave. I thought about Odin's sacrifice on Yggdrasil, as well as his sacrifice to Mimir's well, and considered what they had in common: the World Tree. And then I thought about kennings for Yggdrasil, and one stood out: Oðin's steed. Thus, this rune, to me, is Yggdrasil, the font of wisdom, for as the sword issues forth from the sword's steed (the scabbard), so to does wisdom issue forth from Oðin's steed.
It should be pointed out that I am fully aware that this is entirely my own gnosis, not supported any more than as tenuously described above, by the lore.
- In each of the rune poems, two characters appear in the stanzas surrounding Raðio: the rider, and the horse. In each, an easy journey is mentioned for the rider: the journey is described as swift and joyful. And then the focus of the poem shifts, and we are told that the journey is worse for the horse, or toil for the steed. This has always indicated to me that however our journey may be, however fluid or easy or speedy our travels might be in life, we must remember that there are those who help us along. We must not ignore their needs, nor think that we have managed all on our own. There are always those who bear us on their backs, and it is best if we remember this.
After many attempts to make heads or tails of the line in the Norwegian poem about Regin forging a sword, I can only assume that this line refers to the wealth Sigiurðr won when he killed Fafnir with that sword and placed the treasure on Grani's back: Grani served his master well through many trials, and when Sigurð died, he became heartsick. While we may not know what eventually happened to Grani, it seems likely that he died, heartsick from his master's death. Yet again the journey was worst for the horse.
- Kenaz is a rune with two distinct meanings: in some rune poems, it means ulcer, while in others it means torch. Reconciling the two, particularly in context, is very difficult.
I tend to read this rune based primarily on gut-feeling (no pun intended). When the rune is drawn, I consider the question, my feelings about what I believe the rune means in context of the greater ritual or events, and finally about what interpretation I feel is most correct for this
situation right now.
It is clear that in most circumstances, this is not a positive rune: it is the death of children, a sore that eats away at your insides, and battle that goes poorly. In some circumstances, however, it is the torch that keeps the night at bay and extends fellowship, giving hope and offering warmth.
Reading this omen is, in my opinion, entirely up to the seer and his or her take on the entire ritual or divination. I have found, though, that interpretations can either make or break the integrity of a reading, and the seer has a responsibility to read the rune correctly.
- The best single word to explain this rune is "reciprocity". If Fehu is the warning against hording your wealth, Gebo is the
acknowledgement that you have given freely and that you will receive just as freely, because it assumes a relationship that can only be true and right in the world: it is the rune of cosmic harmony (if that's not too fluffy to say), because when the cosmos is working properly, and you are working properly within it, you will find yourself not receiving what the cosmos would generally offer you. This rune is very much about being in tune with the way the universe works.
Interestingly, the rune does not mean that you will be "well off", but rather that there is a balance: those who have much will be generous to those who have nothing. Some may never manage to give into the system, but they will always have enough to survive, while some may never receive from the system, but they will always have enough to give (and will be required to give to it in order to retain their place within the cosmos).
- Wunjo is as close as the runes come to true bliss, though the old saying of "ignorance is bliss" comes to light in the rune poems as well: those who know no suffering, sorrow, or worry experience bliss. Traditionally within our Grove, this rune has caused a general shout of "Woohoo!" from the participants when drawn in our omens, but we do need to ensure that we're not ignoring issues with our rites: for the most part, this rune could best be described as, "good enough for a party," but certainly not "everything is right, all across the board." In fact, the desire to party might just be putting a band-aid over the issue.
Then again, it's hard to think of this rune as "bad". Like Fehu, it serves as a warning. In this case, we should be on the lookout for underlying issues, but we should consider things a success in general.
- I am under the impression that, in today's mostly urban society, "hail" is best described as an inconvenience and a problem for insurance companies. Having driven through Kansas the day after a hail storm, though, and spoken with my uncle and my grandfather before him about the damage one hailstorm can do to the crops, I am under no illusions that Hagalaz, the Norse word for "hail", is "creative change" or "like the death card of the Tarot". Simply put, hail is destruction, death, and an early winter. If hail strikes late enough in the season, it can wipe out any chance of a farmer to plant anew and salvage the harvest (though if it strikes early enough and the farmer has the means, he can replace the crops with a crop with a shorter growing season; this still means that everything invested into the first crop is simply gone).
In an agrarian society, nothing good comes of hail, and so I read this rune as purely negative (except in very rare cases where my
intuition directs me against my better judgment).
- Need or constraint are the words this rune translates to, and the rune primarily is one of absolute, abject poverty. Words associated with this rune include "grief",
"oppression", "toil", and "nakedness", with the phrase I most associate with this rune being from the Norwegian rune poem: "The naked freeze in the frost."
This rune speaks to me of work without reward, of the loss of the sole bread-winner for the family, and oppressive outside forces that you can do nothing about. It is a desperate state, one that I hope no one I know is ever in. There is a positive side, though, found in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem: here, there is an opportunity for lessons to be learned from the situation, but they must be learned early (and acted on as soon as they are discovered). This rune should always be examined immediately.
- The discussions of Isa in the rune poems are nearly entirely kennings, and I find the general effect is much like the effect the ice had on the writers: beautiful to look at, but dangerous to cross.
This rune is very much like that. The ice is the roof of the waters, and a bridge across them. At the same time, the ice is lovely to gaze upon, "clear as glass and most like gems." Still, it is "destruction of the doomed" and "the blind must be led" across it. There is a definite feeling that this rune is full of deceit that lays just below the surface, just below a thin veneer of attractive and charming choices.
Centrally, I see this rune as asking us to ensure that the choices we make are correct and full of forethought and consideration.
- Jera arrives in the runic alphabet in a shocking manner, being a rune that is amazingly positive so close on the heels of so many negative runes. Jera means "year", being particularly tied to the harvest, a time that is happy for everyone, where the folk have plenty, the crops have thrived throughout the year, and rich and poor alike are provided with the fruits of the earth.
This is a rune of generosity from the folk and the gods alike, and again reflects the cosmic order being aligned correctly. Here, the folk have put in their collective hard work, and they have, as a result, been blessed by the gods with a good summer and strong crops that will feed them through the next year. In many ways, this rune means more "the year ahead" than "the year behind," as a good harvest ensures that the community will get to see the next harvest.
- The majority of rune-readers will see Eihwaz as the world tree, citing an obscure passage in the lore that indicates that the world tree is actually a yew tree instead of an ash, and indicating that this tree is called a "needle-ash". I am generally unconvinced by this argument, and I already have a rune that matches up nicely with Yggdrasil in Ansuz, so I tend to reject this argument.
I mostly see this rune as a rune of battle, seeing as it is the wood used for bows and that it is traditionally planted on gravesites due to its evergreen status. I often see it as deeply tied to the ancestors, and often have interpreted it as "seek ancient lore," as I find that the rune is difficult, at best, to give a "usual" association to the rune, and I often find that more research is needed before I can work out the meanings. This has worked out well, as we should always be willing to go back to our roots (much as the yew tree has deep roots, so do we) to find our answers.
- When I read about Ralph Blum's "blank rune," I found myself saying, "Wait: there's already one in the bag!" Perþo serves the purpose of "unknown" in my runic divinations. It's not perfect: the rune poems talk about the dice-cup, or gambling, or even boasting. The word "Perþo" itself is difficult to translate, and has been alternatively offered as "dice-cup" (my own preferred translation) and "vulva". Some writers entirely refuse to translate it, or prefer to leave the translation as "questionable." Because of this, I find the best way to look at this is as "chance," and I tend to read the rune in exactly that way.
- Usually associated with protection and war, this is a warrior's rune if there ever was one. Looking over the lore, we find this rune playing a strong part in magic in the Norse world, particularly in the Helm of Awe spells presented in the Galadrabok, a book of Icelandic spells. There, it is both offensive and defensive, generally supporting the statement that the best defense is a good offense.
When drawn, this rune tends to mean "protection" when I first read it, but it is a protection of inaccessibility and terrible retribution, somewhat opposite of Þisaz, which is protection through brute, advertised strength and constant availability. Manifesting this protection involves closing yourself off for a time and lashing out if necessary.
- The sun is a representation of things that are right with the world: the sun has come out again, and it shines on our face and warms us. It destroys the ice and even on a cloudy day you can use it to navigate when at sea.
This rune is one of the joy of summer, growth, and things that never fail in their course: the sun will always rise, follow her path, and set according to her cycles. I often see this rune as one full of promise and strength, offering us warmth and joy in the days to come. It is a particularly good omen on the solar High Days.
- Tiwaz is a rune that is also associated with many good things. In the Icelandic rune poem, it is associated directly with the god of justice, Tyr, referencing the oath he made to Fenrir in order to ensure that the world would not end immediately. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem calls Tiwaz the north star, unerring in its course even through the night. This combination of justice and guidance speaks strongly to me, and I love to see this rune appear in a spread.
This rune shows the right direction, and sometimes will have a connotation of a
spiritual guidance that cannot be defined. Again, this rune indicates that the cosmic order is being maintained.
- I have often seen Berkano in opposition go Uruz: instead of being "manly strength", this is "female strength". Lest I be accused of sexism (because the rune poems talk of
fertility, youth, sucking life from the main tree, and Loki's deceit), let me explain a bit.
This rune is about making something from nothing, being resourceful within yourself, and, indeed, being fertile and creative. The poems speak of an internal pride and reaching forth to the sky, always proud (and with good reason). It is the brightest of greens, and self-sufficient in a way that other trees simply are not.
Because this rune speaks so strongly of inner strength that manifests in the physical world in unexpected ways, it speaks strongly to me of the women I know, and so I associate this rune with feminine strength. It is a good rune to pull, and I find much joy in it.
- We spoke some of horses under Raðio, and how they bear the burden of their masters, as well as how bearing that burden was great for the rider, but poor for the horse. Here, though, we find a stanza in praise of the horse that does the carrying, indicating that while the horse is indeed a tool for transport, it is not one that should be forgotten; indeed, here it is glorified (in some small way) in much the same way that individual horses are in the Rgveda.
To me, this rune means travel with help, but travel that is easier for all involved that Raðio might suggest. Perhaps "movement" is a better word than "travel", really, for there is a definite indication that the horse is comfort for those who are not at rest. Either way, the movement is more leisurely and less directed in this case than Raðio's movement.
- Often considered the "inner magician" or "inner diviner," this rune literally means "man." I prefer not to think of Mannaz as the self (and certainly not as only males), but rather as humans in general.
On a deeper level, though, this is a rune of mortality: all men will die and be buried, and at that point even the truest of men will fail their fellows. There is a sense of resignation about this state of affairs, and there is not even a hint of attempting to keep the memory of the dead alive, which I have always found strange.
I often feel like this rune indicates things beyond our control, things it is hopeless to struggle against. You might think of it as the rune of orlog, or "fate" (in an inadequate sense): it is the way of the world, an inescapable cycle of events. Despite that, I tend to read it as kinship, the power of humans together, and the determination to make a difference while we still can.
- Often, the watery aspect of this rune overpowers everything else to me. I envision it very much as the waterfall of the Norwegian poem, overflowing the cliffs and rushing down to the earth from high above, and a glimmer of gold can be seen in the rocks behind it: there is an aspect of overflowing wealth in this rune.
I find this a rune of change as well, as water is known to be fickle and to run its course wherever it sees fit. The water is also terrifying, much as the ocean is to sailors and particularly the inexperienced, again because it is so fickle and changing on a whim. This is a good rune to pull in general, though, and it shows much promise.
- This rune has ever been problematic to me, because I do not immediately feel the presence of Freyr as so many others do. While it makes logical sense from the context of the poem, I simply cannot find Freyr in the poem. Because of that I tend to see this rune as a rune of simple fertility and ancestor worship. I will often be heard to use the kenning "the god of the east" when I pull this rune, because the poem obviously speaks of a god, and I know enough about Ing to recognize his place as the progenitor of a number of royal houses. That may be part of why I see this rune as one of fertility and ancestor worship.
- Dagaz is a rune that often makes me think of the rising sun (even before I got into a certain Vedic goddess of the dawn). To me, this rune is a sign of bright things to come, of hope and happiness in the future. It is a rune that looks forward, never backwards, and brings the same promises to all of humankind, regardless of station.
There is also a sense of divine intervention that creates this day, so it could reasonably be described as "heaven sent," thus adding to the hope and order that is inherent in the world. This omen is particularly good at the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and might indicate the dawning of a new year at that point.
- Many place Oþila before Dagaz, but I like the sense of completion that beginning and ending with wealth gives to the Futhark. Like Fehu, Oþila is about wealth, but that wealth is different. While Fehu is gold, livestock, and other transient wealth that can disappear quickly from either over-giving or unlucky disease or other disasters, Oþila is a kind of wealth that is passed down from generation to generation, and is thus far more stable and more definite. It is certainly "consistent prosperity."
To me, this rune might indicate the completion of a task, being enclosed within yourself, or perhaps
inheritance. Really, it is very dependent on the query and the context.
Overall, the symbol set that is the runes deals primarily with the concerns of men (harvests, distribution of wealth, destruction of fields, navigation on the sea, travel, and fellows and kin), the natural world (ice, the sun, the day, and trees), and the order of the cosmos (day, death, guidance, and the forces of chaos). In general, these are things we would think were common concerns in the ancient world.
Most of these concerns are also modern concerns, though over the years, we have occasionally completely misunderstood the original concern (such as in the case of
Hagalaz) because we simply don't understand how serious the originators of this symbol set were about it due to inexperience and an apparent inability to put ourselves into the shoes of the rune masters.
I find the symmetry of ending and beginning with wealth adds a nice feel to the runes; I am not a fan of ending the
Futhark with Dagaz, despite the fact that I understand that the Anglo-Saxon poem puts them reversed from the way I like them. Looking at the
Futhark from Kylver, though, I feel comfortably justified in ending with Oþila instead of Dagaz, and thinking about them on a ring, the placement of wealth to wealth makes more logical sense.
I also tend to divide up the aettir a bit differently than most. Ættir, or ætts (meaning "families") are traditionally divided into three groups of eight, though I prefer to divide them into two groups of twelve. This is because the division on Vadstena appears to be a general fluke of either limited space or an attempt at making a square instead of a rectangle, and also because Old Norse works on a base-twelve number system (that is, like English, numbers 1-12 are non-redundant, and in Old Norse "one hundred" is equal to 120, with "one thousand" meaning 1200). It makes more sense to me to divide the ætts by 12 rather than 24, if one is going to divide them at all.
In looking over my Divination 1
work that I did in 2003, I see a number of discrepancies in how I originally
described the runes and how I described them today. There are far deeper
thoughts on various runes now, such as Fehu, which I indicated just meant
"wealth" in my original essay. Now, I see the deeper meaning of
reciprocity inherent in the rune. I chose not to review my previous work before
embarking on this work, because I wanted to see how far I had come myself: it
appears to be a long way.
I think that the amount of study I have done since then, the number of omens
I have taken in ritual, and the number of rune sets I have made over the years
have more intimately connected me with the meaning of the various runes. There
are nuances I understand today that I did not understand at the time, such as Raðio's
increased focus on the horse or mode of transport, or Uruz's mildewing of the
Another important thing is that I am starting to sense the warning inherent
in runes like Fehu and Wunjo. These could, I suppose, be picked up quickly by
the first-time reader of the rune poems, but I have found that it is really the
amount of time I have spent with these runes that has really brought this out
I still use this set of symbols because I find a close connection of concepts
between the Germanic thought I find in the runes and the Gaulish hearth culture
I follow. I still do not find a conflict between using a Norse divination tool
in a culturally Gaulish ritual; in fact, it has always seemed to work quite
well. I don't believe I will change divination methods very soon. Besides, I'm
just now learning this one.
Content © 2003-2007, Michael J Dangler
Updated on 08/04/2007. Site Credits / Email Me!
Basic site design from ADF.org
(Yes, I stole it!)