Monday, January 27, 2014

Runes 101 - Runes in History - The Hedeby Stones

Reconstructed Viking Village at Hedeby
Though now a part of Germany, during the Viking Age, Hedeby was part of Denmark and it was a busy and crowded trading center between the 8th and 11th centuries.  Its location served basically as a crossroads between the North and Baltic Seas.

By the second half of the 11th century, Hedeby was abandoned, due largely to two major and intentional fires.  However, before its inhabitants left, Hedeby became home to four interesting Runestones.

The first two stones date to the decade of 930 and are called the Sigtrygg Runestones.  The 930s date is given to these stones, because they both mention King Gnupa, a tenth century Danish King, who was succeeded by his son, Sigtrygg, also mentioned on the stones.  It is important to note that these stones were both raised by Gnupa's wife and Sigtrygg's mother, Asfriðr.  It is common knowledge that many Viking women raised or were mentioned/honored in Runestone inscriptions; this is just one example.  One other cool tidbit about these stones is that they were not found together.  In fact, not only were they 'discovered' nearly 100 years apart (one in 1797, the other in 1887), but one was being used as part of the ramparts of Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, across the river from where Hedeby used to be.  The castle was built sometime in the mid 12th century for the local bishop.

The third Hedeby stone was raised by King Sveinn, in the early 980s to honor the memory of Skarði, who is referred to as a heimþegar.  This has been interpreted to be someone who serves a king (or other royalty) and receives gifts, such as houses, from them.  The stone claims that Skarði went west, but then died in Hedeby.  Scholars believe that this means he went west to England.  Given that King Sveinn is thought to be Sveinn Forkbeard, the 'west' being England is highly likely, since Sveinn was King of England too.  What is unclear is whether the two men traveled together and if Skarði was injured in England, but died in Hedeby or returned safely from England and then died.

Eric's Rune is the fourth and final Hedeby Runestone, raised roughly a decade after the Skarði stone.  This stone tells the story of how Hedeby was sacked by King Eric from Sweden.  The translation of the inscription is a bit confusing.  What is clear is that Thorulf raised the stone.  Eric, for whom the stone was raised, is memorialized as having been a captain and a good and valiant man and the two men were, apparently, business partners (for this quest, at least).

As best as I can tell, all four of these Runestones are on display at the Hedeby Viking Museum.  You may want to put this on your list of places to visit should you find yourself in northern Germany.  They have set up the Skarði stone to light up as a recorded voice reads its inscription.  I'll leave you with a short video of that.  (Make sure your have the volume up on your computer so you can hear it.)

Image credit: stock photo from

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Empowerment of Isa

Isa is the ice Rune.  I know many people who, when they take time to reflect or meditate or just pause, pick up Isa.  It's supposed to invoke a period of calm or rest, even peace. 

Using Isa for this purpose can be very powerful, because it is important, sometimes, to just sit and be with the present without judgement or expectation.  This is one way that Isa can help to empower us.

However, Isa also tends to be associated with stillness and caution, a lack of progression or forward movement.  In this instance, Isa suggests that things aren't flowing.  It comes with warnings to stop and 'enjoy the view', but not to tread on the path.

So what do we do if this happens, if we happen to get stuck in a place (a mental, emotional, spiritual or physical place) that acts on us like this aspect of Isa?  It inhibits our forward motion, though we are still eager to move in a positive direction?

Remember, even water molecules in ice move a little, despite being frozen.  So why can't we still wiggle when an external force makes us feel stuck?  Frozen?

This is another way that Isa can be very empowering.  It can help us work within a confined space.  Although there may be limits to what we can do in this restrained position, this is a great time to prepare, to work on small pieces of the puzzle that we will need down the road.  We can keep our eye on our long term ambition, but work within the short term to support it.  Isa can also help rally our inner strength, that part of us that needs to stand up and fight or that needs to bide our time just a little longer.  Moreover, one great way to spark creativity and innovation is by restricting avenues.  (I use this technique occasionally with great success in writing workshops.)

Now... I don't usually mention a Rune's place within the Futhark... but I think this one is particularly interesting.  The ice Rune is wedged between Nauthiz, the Rune of need and necessity, and Jera, the year Rune.  These two Runes support Isa's position and role.  We begin with recognizing what we need, what our basic requirements for survival are.  With Nauthiz, we do exactly what we need to do.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Once we know what those needs are, we start to acquire them through Isa where, of course, we heed its advice to use caution.  Once we wiggle within Isa's boundaries and address our most basic needs, we will move on to Jera, the year, the harvest, the process.  This is where our plans hit their stride and forward progression surges.

Jera is one of the best Runes we could have here, because it allows us to take what we've accomplished through the support of Isa and move forward in a stronger way.  By accepting Isa's freeze and working on what we could within its confines, we lay a foundation on which to build.  Laying that foundation through Isa's slow and cautious movement empowers and ensures us that, when the time arrives (Jera) for real forward motion to resume, we will be ready to make the most of it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Runes 402 - Rune Dialogues - Time

Last week's post about releasing disappointment included two Runes related to time - Jera the year and Dagaz the day.  That, obviously, got me thinking about time, its various durations and how we use it.  In considering time, I also decided it was time to start a new series, Rune Dialogues, which relays the conversations I have with the Runes about certain topics. 

I began this time dialogue with our two time Runes from last week.  And, I can assure you, this conversation went nowhere near the subjects I imagined.  Instead, the Runes provide us with a foundation for the way we spend our time, rather than telling us specific tasks. 

Me: Last week, you gave me Jera as the second Rune of three, when I asked about releasing disappointment, and followed it with Dagaz.  These struck me as two very important Runes dealing with time, so I want to learn more about it.  Can you give me more details about time and how we use it or should use it?

Runes: In using time, making the most of it so to say, Dagaz is a good place to start.

Me:  Yes, last week, Dagaz told us to move out of the shadow and into the light.  Metaphorically, I took this to refer to our capacity to think critically, instead of responding emotionally.  Is that how we should begin, by thinking critically?

Runes:  Think of it in a more positive way.  Your ability to think and weigh situations is a step, but finding the positive aspect in this process is a true gift.  That is why I give you Gebo here, so that you can strive to find the positive aspects of the good and bad on your path.  It is also possible that others will see your ability to find and move forward in a positive way and reflect it in their actions too.

Me:  What is the best way to do that?

Runes:  Wunjo belongs here, because it works in two positive ways.  First, it simply reminds you to be happy.  Coupled with that, if you are true to a path that makes you happy, you will find a way to do things that not only make you happy, but that lead you to sustained happiness.

Me:  But this is all rather obvious.  I know I asked you how we should use time and your response - that we should use it to make ourselves happy and share that joy with others - is sage advice.  Thank you.  However, most of us, how ever well-intentioned, find it more difficult than it probably should be to follow that path and I believe it comes down to how we use our time.  So, can you be more specific about how we can follow your advice and use our time on things that make us happy?

Runes:  Fehu, Jera, and Othala.

Me:  I think I understand Jera as planning and process, and Othala as time with friends and family and building a happy home, but why Fehu?

Runes:  Remember, Fehu measures wealth. Cattle is not the only way to measure it, neither is money. Wealth is more than possessions.  How you measure your wealth and the things to which you assign value plays a great role in determining whether or not you are happy.  For some people, that translates into money (generally gained by working).  But work takes on many forms.  Growing a garden is work; it may not pay you much money, but it may give you peace of mind that you are growing your own food or beautiful flowers; it may just give you some quiet time to relax or time to reconnect with Earth.  So, as you are planning how to proceed on your path through time, keep in mind that money is not the only form of wealth and, once things are given their true value, the direction of your path or how you spend your time may change.

Me:  What if that which makes us happy is not very productive?

Runes:  Thurisaz will give everything its place.  You must realize that happiness unleashed through something that empowers you is very positive.  However, with Thurisaz comes great power, the kind you do not really want to mess with unless you can manage it.  The message here is two fold.  First, don't let the things that make you miserable control you - don't give them this great power - and, second, being happy does not mean being completely reckless either.

Me:  So you're saying that what makes us happy can also be detrimental to us, like the negative things in our lives, if we don't give it context within everything else and if we don't manage it?

Runes:  You must let your natural joy be free.  Think of it as Uruz, a wild ox, not cattle.  Approach it with caution.  Be aware of its power.  And realize that, if you work with that free energy, your time will be well spent and will benefit you and others greatly.

Me:  Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me today.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Runes 403 - Rune Interpretations - Releasing Disappointment

Welcome to 2014!  This year, I am proposing a different approach to the new year.  Instead of jumping right in to making resolutions, I propose first releasing disappointment, which I'll explain in a moment.  I do this for two reasons.  For starters, I am not a fan of resolutions, if for no other reason than they tend to be "commitments" we make on a lark or because we are expected to and not because we are truly committed to completing them; as a result, we create little or no infrastructure to support or ensure our success.  The only thing the accomplishes in the end is adding stress to our lives.  Second, building the support to accomplishing goals is far different from making well-intended, but not necessarily realistic proclamations.

Briefly, before drawing the Runes for this week, I want to explain what I mean by releasing disappointment.  When things don't go our way (the way we though or hoped they would) or we "fail" to complete something we say we're going to do, we go through emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness.  What I suggest is that by releasing those feelings, we let go of the disappointment that underlies them.  Infused within this idea is the creation of support to ensure success in not only accomplishing goals, but. equally important, becoming adaptable when challenges and obstacles present themselves.  In this way, we empower ourselves and, instead of dwelling on negative things, focus on positive potential.

So, what did the Runes tell me when I asked them what we can do to release disappointment?  Berkana, Jera, and Dagaz provide the answers.

I could not have asked for a better first Rune in answer to this question.  Berkana, the birch Rune, deals with birth and beginnings with a splash of creativity thrown in.  Two weeks ago, when I drew winter solstice Runes, this Rune also came first and presented the solstice as the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.  Similarly, by letting go of our disappointment, we allow ourselves to begin anew.  The fact that this comes with the beginning of the new calendar year just reinforces the idea.  Put simply, whenever we decide to release disappointment and stop being hard on ourselves and/or others, we find ourselves at a starting point and with an opportunity to move forward in a more positive way.  Just as the birch grows again in the spring, so too can we.

Our second Rune is my personal guiding Rune and the perfect Rune in this position for this question.  Jera reiterates what I stated above about building support and infrastructure around the things we want to accomplish.  If a farmer doesn't give her seeds enough room to grow, enough water, minerals and sunlight... and time, she will not have a very good harvest.  This metaphor can be transferred to any other process.  In addition, Jera is both complex and simple at once.  It incorporates time (a year), the harvest (a cycle), and process (how the cycle functions).  Yet, within these layers, is the simplicity of doing what must be done.  The challenge arises when obstacles make what must be done a very curved, twisted and contorted path.  This aspect can be overwhelming, so, where do we find the strength and focus and desire to accept those turns and keep moving forward toward our dreams?

The answer is simply Dagaz, the day Rune.  If we have created a good plan, even if things go awry, if the plan's foundation is strong and stable, we can manage the bumps and loop-de-loops that occur.  The challenge within this is to recognize that the process will not be a straight line and to not be disappointed when the first bumps comes into view.  It is not a sign of impending failure or doom.  We must simply shed the darkness that these obstacles bring; move out of the shadow and take step into the light.  In this sense, Dagaz represents our capacity to think critically, instead of responding emotionally.  We know that everything seems clearer in daylight than in darkness, but it is what we do with the things we can see that makes the difference.  Look at all the pieces.  See how they fit together.  Weigh options.  Then, when you're ready, take the first step.