Saturday, July 22, 2017

Runes 102 - Book Reviews - Runes: Ancient Scripts

I came to the Runes through academic channels, which may be why Martin Findell's book, Runes: Ancient Scripts, caught my eye.  Though it's short, Findell provides a reasonable overview of the Runes as an alphabet, which is the primary goal of his book.

There are a number of aspects of this book that I like.  First, for those who are new to Runes, the writing isn't too dense; it does a good job of providing background on the Runes as a form of writing and communication.  And, although most of you who read my blog are engaged with Runes as an oracle, we should understand both sides of this coin.  Findell explains what Runes are in terms of a writing vehicle; he follows a chronology as the Runes changed and split from the original Futhark to the Anglo Saxon Futhorc and the Younger Futhark used in Scandinavia during the Viking Age.  I like the fact that he suggests there may have been more than a single original version of the Futhark.  There is some truth behind it if for no other reason than the existing examples of the Runic writing are scarce and there are inconsistencies in form.  It is similar to different dialects in language.

In his chapter on Rune names, Findell shows us one of the most interesting images in the entire book.  It is an 18th century copy "of an earlier late 10th-/11th-century manuscript [that] preserves the earliest [copy] of the rune-poems from which we can learn about the tradition of runes-names." The picture is from a book by George Hickes, an English Divine (church clergy) and scholar who lived from 1642-1715.  Some researchers believe that the Rune Poems were used as a way of remembering the letters of the Futharks.  I can see that given the ABC songs we are taught as children.  In modern times, we have adopted the meanings named in the poems to serve as the foundation for using Runes as an oracle.

The other insightful piece of Findell's book is his chapter on the work of Runologists.  From an academic and historical perspective, his explanation begins to lend an eye to the depth of work that has transpired to develop our understanding of runic writing and the cultures and environments in which runic inscriptions were made.  Runology, while being its own area of academic study, incorporates work in numerous disciplines - linguistics, archeology, art history, literary history, and cultural history.  I could also see anthropology and geography fitting into that mix.  Findell shares some of the challenges with interpreting inscriptions as well as the processes used to gain a full understanding of each object and not simply figuring out what is carved on it.

In his final chapter, Findell includes a nod to MR James and JRR Tolkien, but claims that there is seldom any connection between "fantasy Runes" (those developed by James and Tolkien in their books) and real Runes.  I would amend that slightly to suggest that the mistake is that some readers take James and Tolkien at face value and consider their fantasy Runes to be the real ones.  Next, he touches on the Nazi misappropriation of Runes, something that still taints the Runes and their surrounding culture.

Where I feel Findell goes astray is near the end when he seems to condemn modern uses of Runes for divination, stating that new age or pagan magic is perhaps the most prevalent present-day use of Runes.  While that remark is true, the tone of his writing changes and he seems to denounce it, stating, "Most pagan books or websites will mention the historical use of Runes as writing, but this is treated as something secondary to their symbolic and oracular function."  He further suggests that the Runes are viewed primarily as magical symbols and function as a writing vehicle "only secondarily and incidentally".  I largely disagree with this, for while Findell points out that most "pagan books and websites" present the Runes as an alphabet secondarily, that is because their primary purpose is to present them as an oracle, just as Findell presents them primarily as a written language and discusses modern uses secondarily.

I am sure there are some people who see the Runes as nothing more than a divination tool.  However, my experience has been that those who take Runes seriously and are dedicated to them as an oracle give equal credence to their history, historical culture, and role as a writing form.  This is actually why I reviewed this book; not to correct his assumptions about the Runes as an oracle, but rather to share information about the Runes as a writing vehicle, which we come to understand through the complex and multi-faceted approach that academics, like Findell, take in their work to unravel the mystery and history of the Runes and the cultural of which they were a part.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Runes 403 - Rune Interpretations - Forward Progress

Last week's Solstice got me thinking about cycles and balance, because the latter is not constant.  It comes in cycles, just like the Solstices and Equinoxes.  Equinoxes represent balance (12 hours of daylight and darkness everywhere on the planet), while the Solstices can be seen to to be moments "out of balance" - long summer days and short winter days.

At a time when we are "out of balance", how do we manage to keep making forward progress?  That is the question I posed to the Runes.  At a time when we feel out of balance, how do move forward and not let everything around us that is making us feel off balance over power us?

The Runes presented me with Dagaz, Perthro, and Hagalaz.  I like the circular meanings in this draw and the reminders that each Rune provides.

Dagaz is a very empowering, hopeful Rune.  The day Rune represents the idea that everything is less scary during the day than it is at night.  This works for either Solstice.  In both instances, Dagaz reminds us that we can do this.  For those facing a winter Solstice, it is a message to say that daylight is returning.  Be a little patient.  For those in the summer Solstice, you are in the heart of the day.  Positive energy is all around you.  Absorb it and let it help you to focus and move.

The reminders with Perthro are that we are not alone and that we need to remember to have fun.  Help is there for us.  Maybe knowing this gives us more confidence to actually do it on our own.  We are creating and implementing the plan.  And, we need to remember to have fun.  We have a lot going on and it can weigh us down if we forget to lighten the mood once in a while and what better way to do that than to spend some time being social?

Finally, Hagalaz hits us with hail.  This is a great Rune to end on, because it reminds us that, while things may start off feeling out of balance and like they are beating us down, in the wake there is nourishment.  When the hailstones melt, what's left behind feeds us.  I would argue that, we are responsible for melting the hail and, in doing so, create our own nourishment by tackling the challenges that are trying to knock us off balance.  This is the empowerment that we gain through Dagaz, bringing our interpretation full circle and moving us forward in a positive way.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Runes 303 - Rune Art - Deeper Meanings

Through readings and rituals, the Runes can be very empowering.  They can also provide some great and consistent energy through art.  I've recently started using art to express that very thing and am excited to launch a new series on  this blog as a result: Runes 303 - Rune Art.  Though it wasn't planned, this piece of art turned into something far deeper than the artistic representation I thought I was creating.

I love the coast - the beach, the sea air, the expanse of the ocean, and the life the coastal ecosystem supports.  I wanted to choose three Runes to represent the major aspects of this beautiful natural setting.  I chose Laguz, Ansuz, and Sowilo.


Taking the blank canvass, I wanted to create a background to depict the sand.  Once that was dry, I started to outline the sea with Laguz in the center.  In the upper left, I painted Sowilo to signify the sun.  In the lower right, I placed Ansuz as the embodiment of a river delta or the mouth of the river.  Opposite Sowilo, I made splotchy dots to denote the stars in a night sky.  Opposite Laguz, I painted the tributaries that feed the rivers that leads to the sea.

As I added the finishing touches, I considered the three Runes I chose and realized that they are more than a mere representation of the coastal ecosystem.   I recognized a much deeper meaning to them, one of self-exploration and awareness.

Laguz, the water Rune, is central to the image and beckons us to explore and face the mysteries of the deep where the sea is a metaphor for our subconscious.  The Old English Rune poem warns that people who take to the sea in an unsteady ship will be terribly frightened by the waves.  Similarly, if we venture into new parts of our subconscious, though it might be scary, we must be prepared to accept what is there.  It does not mean that what is there cannot be changed, merely that what we find is the current state.  It is what we do with the recognition of the current state of things that matters.  As we explore, we must remember to look at the good as well as the bad, the accomplishments as well as the challenges.

Having Sowilo above Laguz brings comfort, for Sowilo represents the sun and feminine energies of support and caring.  It lifts spirits and gives hope.  Interestingly, Sowilo's Old English poem mentions the sea-stallion bringing travelers to land, to safety.  This is the same sea stallion mentioned in the Laguz poem that is not heeding its bridle.  When I made this connection, it strengthened the empowerment of the image I had painted.  With Laguz, there is exploration and uncertainty, but Sowilo watches over that uncertainty and provides the space for it to be processed and understood safely.

Ansuz, as the mouth of the river, feeds Laguz, creating an intriguing dynamic when interpreting the image beyond its face.  Ansuz is almost like the beginning, for as the origin of every language (according to the Old English poem), its ideal intention is to provide wisdom and build confidence through knowledge shared.  But, we know that communication does not always follow its intended path.  Though well-intentioned, Ansuz's message can be twisted and contorted in the storms of Laguz, thus creating the challenges an exploration of Laguz might uncover.  In this way, it counters Sowilo nicely to provide balance to the meaning of the image and remind us that we must sometimes pause and reevaluate certain parts of our lives.

I was pleasantly surprised to realize that, through this creative exercise, I had actually produced a piece of art that holds such provocative meaning and insight.  What is especially profound is that what the Runes in this art revealed is exactly the effect that the coast has on me.  When I go to the beach and look out over the ocean, my reality (my current state) becomes much easier to accept and address just by being there.