Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Runes 101 - Runes in History - Maeshowe, Orkney

Orkney: Maeshowe neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave*
There can be no question about the reach of the Vikings during the roughly 300-year period named after them - the Viking Age (~790-1066).  Reaching Asia in the east and North America in the west, Vikings were the greatest navigators and explorers of their time.  They affected life and culture wherever they went, leaving behind evidence of their impact as grand as cities they founded and as simple as runic graffiti they carved.

Just over a year ago,  I provided an overview of some graffiti on the Piraeus Lion in Italy, carvings which were rather elaborate.  Much closer to the Viking homelands, however, lies one of the largest known groups of runic graffiti.

At the end of 1999, on mainland Orkney,  a UNESCO World Heritage Site was named and includes four neolithic structures - the Standing Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae (a neolithic village), the Ring of Brodger, and Maeshowe (pictured above).

However, Maeshowe is not famous just because of its age or its interior chambers and passages.  It is also home to at least 30 runic inscriptions, carved between the ninth and twelfth centuries.

These 30 inscriptions include at least one set of the Norwegian (Younger) Futhark, several common statements such as Vermunt carved (these runes) or Tryggr carved these Runes.  Some inscriptions mention women (Ingbjork the fair widow, for example), while others inform us about some of the men who broke into the cairn and carved the Runes on the walls.  They were crusaders and may have been in search of treasure or, at least, were aware that the cairn once contained treasure that had long since been taken, well before the Rune carvers showed up.

In addition to the Runes, there is also a worm knot and  very ornately carved dragon, which has become a common and recognizable Orkney symbol, appearing on T-shirts, jewelry, and even malt whiskey.  If you search online for images of the Orkney dragon, I guarantee you will see plenty of examples of it.  For now, here are a couple of links to sites that provide more images of and information about the Maeshowe Runic inscriptions:

The Project Gutenburg eBook


*Image from, photographer Juliane Jacobs

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Solstice Runes 2

On Sunday we celebrate the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Last year, I also wrote about this solstice by asking the Runes what they wanted to share with us about it.  This year, my question was more specific. I wondered how did we arrive here?  What was the path we followed over the last year and how have we realized it?

I think the response - Jera, Tiwaz, Dagaz - builds on last year's post, which presented Berkana, Laguz, and Othala.  What the Runes told us last year was that we were poised at the beginning of something and that we had to be creative and not be afraid to try new paths and realize that, while those paths may include personal gains, that we should look beyond ourselves in the process and recognize that the things that we do affect and are affected by others as well.  The three Runes this year are offering us guidance in looking back over the past year. 

Jera was the perfect first Rune, because it is the Rune of the year and represents, more so than any other, the idea of process and cycles.  It calls on us in this time of silent reflection during the winter solstice to look back over the year and realize how we arrived here.  Did we follow the wisdom the Runes shared with us last year?  Were we creative in choosing the steps we took that formed the path we look back on now?  Were we conscious of the ways in which our steps (choices) affected others?  As I look back over the year, I can say that, for me, these are some of the most important questions I can ask and I realize that not only was the Rune's guidance last year exactly what I needed, but that in a completely unconscious way, I followed that advice and had wonderful though not always easy outcomes.

The second Rune for this time of silent reflection is Tiwaz.  Now, I confess that I have an affinity to these two Runes (Jera and Tiwaz) more than I do to any others, but their positioning here still holds true.  Tiwaz is the warrior Rune, a Rune that represents strength and sacrifice.  We don't always think about both sides of that coin.  When we are exhibiting strength and making tough decisions or just standing up for ourselves, sometimes we don't acknowledge that sacrifices are being made along the way, especially if they are not our sacrifices, but sacrifices of those who support us.  This comes from Othala last year and the fact that whatever choices we made during this year were supported by others around us.  Rather than think only about the strength that you showed this year in making hard choices, think about who supported you in making those choices.  What strength did they show?  How did they support you?  Did it involve a sacrifice on their part?

Just as Jera was the perfect first Rune, Dagaz is the perfect third one, because it almost presents us with another beginning - the day - but it also reminds us to look back over the past year and find those bright spots that helped us get through the rough ones.  It shows us where we were strong, but it also calls to mind its own set of guiding questions.  What made those bright spots bright?  How did they come about?  What did you have to do to achieve those bright spots?  Think of your creativity.  Who helped you achieve those moments?  How did you on your own and with help from others build on those bright spots to make them more enduring?

Interestingly, these three Runes also set the tone for the coming year.  Jera says remember that there is a process for everything that happens during the year.  Tiwaz reminds us of the strength we carry through that process and that there will, at some point, be a sacrifice required.  Dagaz supports these ideas with a focus on the light, which I take to mean the positive.  By focusing on the positive, when we face a challenge, it will be far easier to over come.

With that practical, but important guidance from the Runes, I will wish you all well in the coming year and Happy Yule!  Gleðileg Jól!