Archive for runes

Ek em heiðinn

After a 20-year journey, I declare myself today a Heathen. It’s time. The tide of religious superiority must change, and those beliefs left trampled and broken by the Christian onslaught must rise from the ashes and reclaim what is theirs. I’ve sworn my oath. Stained the runes. This is a short piece about why.

The forced subjugation of the Northern European Heathen societies — and all pagan societies around the world — by the Christian church has done near irreparable harm to the earth and humanity. In Europe alone, centuries of artistic, societal, and cultural discoveries were destroyed along with the people who made them.

Jaweh — proclaimed a god of “love” by his adherents — has inspired more mass destruction, murder, rape, and pillaging than any other god ever worshiped. He is a god of subjugation, torture, and sorrow. Though claimed to be omniscient and omnipotent, he allows murder in his name. He allows corruption at the highest levels of his church. Misogyny, pedophilia, pestilence and disease. Either he’s not there or doesn’t care.

He is a dictator and his rules are anathema to humanity. His adherents must satisfy themselves with the life they’re given — no matter how humiliating — and wait for death to be redeemed. They are promised heaven; to be with everyone they once loved. His real plan as dictated by scripture is for them to eternally labor in the fields in sight of his palace, but never allowed to enter. All of this in the name of “love”.

The Heathen gods in contrast serve as moral and ethical examples of human behavior.  They ask nothing more of their followers than what is common human courtesy: friendship for those who earn it; hospitality for the weary; defense of the helpless; honor, respect, love for the family; to celebrate when appropriate and mourn when necessary. Negotiation or trade before war. They ask us to live well.

They inspire through their own actions, not with threats or promises of an invisible future. Their own quests for wisdom and lore are guidelines for human existence. They show us to look for life in the face of death. To continually seek knowledge and to share what we find. They teach the perseverance of courage in the face of fear. Their occasional punishments are just and fitting for the transgression.

In the end, what the Heathen gods ask of us is nothing more than to be human. To accept what that means and to discover the rest for ourselves.

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Runic template

In my rune research the other day, I followed a hypothesis that “eight” and “ætt” are cut from the same cloth. That there is more than phonetics connecting the two. It turns out that I wasn’t far off. Átta is the Old Norse word for the cardinal number eight, descended from átt which relates to directions (north, north-west, west, south-west, south, south-east, east, north-east). Also according to Cleasby-Vigfusson, certain writers would write átt and ætt indiscriminately which tells me that at some point they held the same meanings. In other words, during the development of the Old Norse language, the word that references the cardinal directions could have been the same as the word for family (though a comment in CV calls this “fanciful”, it is the only thing that explains the shared usage).For me, this was the trigger for further exploration.

We already know that the heavens are divided into eight segments (cardinal directions, as well as mythologically) for Norse Heathens. Add to that this idea of “family”, and we end up with an interpretation of ætt as a possible social compass (which I’ve seen mentioned in a few different places over the last month or so). A guidance given to us by our connection to our kin. This idea struck me as very powerful, and I started to re-examine the Elder Futhark with it in mind. Three rows of eight (átta). Each row referred to as an ætt.

When I started to replay the meanings of the runes with this idea in mind, I noticed a kind of story arc  from rune to rune. This idea had occurred to me before, too, but I figured I would stick with it this time and see what happend. Especially since it was a story arc that I was also noticing in my readings of Njal’s Saga and Egil’s Saga and that I had seen inklings of in the Havamal. In short, the order of the runes through the Elder Futhark can be seen as a template for living, as a model to follow in order to get the most out of Heathen life.

For example, the meaning of FEHU is clear as being about wealth, but wealth in a more transient mode — ie, pocket money — with a warning that it can spoil relationships (Gunnar returning from his adventures dressed in fine furs, Sigurd and his “river fire”: neither of which led to great happiness). Whereas the meaning of OTHALA is also wealth, but wealth that is able to be bequeathed to next of kin (what Flosi and Kari end up with at the end of Njal’s Saga). Wealth that is in the form of a stable home, family, inheritance. Even just looking at those two runes, we can start to see the beginnings of a story — from pocket money to transferable wealth — but can’t make much more out of it other than the idea that money now can become an inheritance later.

Looking at the Futhark in this light also helps with some of the more confusing interpretations. KENAZ is a great example of this. It’s a real puzzler. Across the three rune poems, it is represented as meaning three different things: a scab from a skinned knee or a battle scar, the weight of misfortune, or the lamp-lit safety of a cozy cottage. Looking at the rune by itself poses a challenge for interpretation — though it is possible, and most runesters ignore the Icelandic and Norwegian poems altogether. However, when looking at it from the point of view of ætt-as-story-arc, we can begin to see that KENAZ is the wound you live from and tell stories about. Especially coupled with RAIDHO to its left and GEBO to the right. H0w many sagas are there, heroic tales are there, that tell of a hero who goes on a journey (RAIDHO) only to return home with scars and stories (KENAZ) and gifts (GEBO) for his friends? And this continues through every row: each rune has a meaning that sets it as a particular place in a person’s life.

FEHU and OTHALA, KENAZ can all be viewed with this overarching idea, and so can the other 23 runes. Using this interpretation, each rune represents a moment or concept within the progression of one’s life. Either it is a moment that must happen in order to move forward, or it’s a moment that — if it does happen — has to be handled in a certain way or with a certain process.

The first row represents the arc of youth: get some money together (FEHU), prove yourself in tests (URUZ) and against strong opponents (THURISAZ). Journey off into the world and return with stories and gifts to the joy of your clan (WUNJO). The second row is the introspective process of middle age. It’s about internal needs (NAUTHIZ) and their relationship with the forces of nature (ISA) and how we control our interactions with them (PERTHRO). The third row is old age, then. Great sacrifice starts it off (TIWAZ) and there are images of rebirth (BERKANO) and renewal (reconciliation? retirement?), connections with other people (MANNAZ) in a more profound way than before, and then the end. OTHALA and our ability to bequeath some legacy to the next generation’s youth. Obviously there are runes I’m not mentioning, but you get the idea.

Once we have a template, we can do all kinds of things with it. We can use it as a guide for our children, we can use it as a foundation on which to build a society. We can even use it as a map to find ourselves if we’re feeling lost or as a guide to what might be coming up next. I’m using it as a way of trying to find more accurate interpretations of each rune’s meaning. It makes sense that a society priding itself on wordplay, wisdom, and storytelling would have developed a system like this. Given that, I feel comfortable continuing in this vein in the hopes of putting more of the pieces together.

I’ve got a lot more work to do with this line of work, but I figured I would share what I’ve got so far in the hopes we can all help add to the collective thought and work towards recreating so much of what has been lost over the years.

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From a comment to a translation of KENAZ

In the process of posting to a blog (, I made a breakthrough in my attempt at trying to come to terms with KENAZ.

This has been a tricky one because the Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic poems talk about wounds while the Anglo Saxon talks about safety and light inside a cabin.

For the Old Norwegian poem, I had translated it as this: “Scab is a bending child; misfortune makes pale humans”. Literal, to be sure, but implies bending from pain and does indeed imply that death can come from misfortune.

The puzzle with this one is the similarity between Icelandic and Old Norwegian, but the vast difference in the Anglo-Saxon version. A well-lit cabin is very different than infection and pain caused by a wound.

This is where I start to ask myself contextual questions. Wounds when survived are talking points, triggers for stories around a fire. As with most runes, I think there’s a story — instead of simple meaning — with this one. It’s about adversity.

A child’s scrape from playing is a mark of their passing through life, a battle wound is a mark of passing through adult life, and then you can sit around the fire and tell the stories. KAUN (KENAZ) then is the adversity or pain itself and the surviving of that pain and a reminder that we should remember what we’ve been through to get where we are.

This is also in keeping with the progression of the Elder Futhark from FEHU to OTHALA.

Anyhow, I’m glad there are others out there working these through. It’s going to take all of us to reclaim the information the runes represent. Thanks for allowing the space for commentary.

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Heathenism in the 21st century

Kind of a short post here, but the sentiment is from my heart: stop creating “Heathen” groups. It doesn’t make any sense.

Heathenism is powerful because of its decentralized and unorganized nature. Families on disparate farms had their own ways of tracking and marking holidays, prayer and sacrifice were — for the most part — individualistic (Uppsala was a huge center for worship where yearly feasts were held, however, and is an example of there being some kind of organization). Part of this decentralized nature could be attributed to regional weather, travel difficulties, distances between farms, perhaps; though it must be said that if any group of people took to travel, the Northern Europeans did. I think, though, that the greater proportion of reason for a lack of centralization lies in the very nature of what Heathenism is.

To be a Heathen is to simply be. To live as a human and get the most out of each day. To strive forward and live with a code of ethics based on honor. To care for your family and friends, to help your neighbors if they need it, to treat each day as though it could be your last. To be a Heathen is to enjoy the hell out of living. You don’t need an organization and weekly meetings and reading assignments to do that.  In fact, it’s better to start your own kindred among your family and close friends. Share old heathen stories with each other, vent about the work day, make a good meal, revel in your shared and personal existences. Work together to understand your place in the scheme of things, and let your common sense guide you in how you will represent heathenism to your neighbors and community.

The constant influx and arguments from the neo-Heathens about which organized group best represents “true” Heathenism is absurd. Those are the arguments for Christians, not for us. There’s no need for a Heathen Martin Luther with his 99 points. Each kindred is going to have different needs, experiences, and expectations out of life. There’s just no way or need to force all of those people to follow the same tenets, rituals, rules, etc. If you must have an example, look to the philosophers.

Existentialism in its simplest form is Heathenism. The understanding that our reason for being here may never be known, that there is no universal moral compass, that we are in charge of our own destinies and decisions. There is great freedom in these things. Great freedom and tremendous responsibility and room for error. These are the foundations upon which an ethical and powerful life can be built if one chooses to do so. These are the foundations of Heathenism. Unfortunately, attaching yourself to a pre-fab neo-Heathen group’s not going to help you. It’s going to turn you into a sheep who cowers from the adventure of free choice, who follows instead of leads. A sheep who might as well be Christian. This is something we each have to find and understand on our own.

So in closing, there’s nothing wrong with a good bonfire a few times (or more) a week, some good mead or beer to clear the head, and a few raucous cries to the heavens in case the gods are listening. Just don’t let anyone else tell you when or how you should do it. Make your own noise as you barrel through life. Laugh at your troubles. Brace yourself for the challenges. Live full and proud and as long as you can. It’s what life is for, after all.


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Displaying an Old Norse date

I’ve been working on a Norse calendar for a couple of weeks. My goal is to get a repeatable system that I can build against an active Gregorian calendar and start tracking time with it. During my search for ideas and information, I came across a good site over at The site is in Russian, but there’s a page — here — where a guy named Tim Stridman has posted a Java applet — complete with winter/summer and cross-quarter symbols — and JavaScript script to convert the current Gregorian date to a displayable Norse date. I liked it so much that I ported it to php and am running it at the top of my site (that thing in red up there).

While it’s based on his code and algorithms, any mistakes in the php are mine alone.  The version I ported was from his JavaScript file, so I don’t have the cross-quarter dates, easter timing, or any of that other cool stuff. I may get to a point where I reverse engineer it and add it in later.

At any rate. Thanks, Tim, for providing cool stuff for the web. Well done.

My translations of the rune poems are coming along quite nicely. I’ve completed the Old Icelandic poem and am more than 2/3rds of the way through the Old Norwegian one. I will be reading the Old Icelandic — both the original and my translation — in Hardwick, VT on February 25, so I’m focusing more on pronunciation than new translations.

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