Although Tyr is my main god, sometimes other gods step into my life in a big way. It’s not uncommon for me to hear from Loki, Skadi, Thor, and Freyja, but lately Freyr has been making himself known. It’s not that Tyr isn’t important–it’s just that Freyr needs to assert himself in my life. If you’ve ever had one god step into your life If you’ve ever had one god step into your life that wasn’t there before, you may be wondering why other gods and goddesses pop in and out of one’s life at various times. I want to address why and how to work in the new god or goddess into your life.
Our Gods Strengths
Our gods are very good at what they do. Naturally, because they’re gods. But with few exceptions, they’re very good at what they’re known for and not as good outside those areas. For example, although there are many strong gods, Thor is the strongest and the most feared. At the same time, while he’s not stupid, he’s not the most clever god of the Aesir. So, if you want help from an intellectual god, Thor probably wouldn’t be your first choice to help. You might go to him if he is your main god or if you are more familiar with him, but he may act as an intermediary between you and Odin or whomever.
Tyr is the god of law. He’s an incredibly powerful god who gets few acknowledgments other than losing his hand to Fenrir to keep the wolf bound. My own UPG has determined that he’s not only the god of human laws, but also of the Universe. Meaning that while Odin and his brothers created the world, we have Tyr to thank for the laws of physics. Our universe makes sense thanks to Tyr. His laws govern our entire existence and the world around us. That makes him a pretty damn powerful god in my book.
But even though Tyr presides over an awful lot, he doesn’t deal with certain areas that are more human-related, such as growing crops, husbandry, hunting, and wealth. When I need advice or help in my life, Tyr will often refer me to another god, whose purview it is. Sometimes that god will just show up on my figurative doorstep and offer counsel. Hence, my surprise having Freyr show up and advise me.
Good Allies to Have
Freyr is a good ally to have. He’s the son of Njǫrd, which makes him a god of prosperity, something I could use right now. Since Njǫrd is the god of wealth and the sea, Freyr has it “in” with his father. Given that the Northern peoples relied heavily on the sea for trade and raiding, it’s little wonder an ocean god would also be considered a god of wealth.
If you have a problem that is outside of your god’s or goddess’s expertise, you should still ask them for help. Chances are, they may send you to other gods who are more familiar with the situation you are in. You may have a another god or goddess work with you on a particular problem, having had your main god make the introductions. Listen to the god who has more experience in your situation and meditate on whether it is good advice. Some gods, like Loki, are well-meaning, but can give terrible advice. Others may simply give good advice but you’re just not ready to hear it or use it. Nevertheless, thank the god or goddess and make an offering to them. Keep their image or a token of what reminds you of them on your altar and be sure to include them in blots.
Sometimes the newcomer isn’t a god but a wight. The same advice holds true here. They may be good allies to have or they may not be in your best interest at this time. Still, respect the wight and give it offerings. After all. they came to help you at the request of your main god.
One thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to what the new god or wight has to say, even if they simply show up on your doorstep unannounced. Maybe you don’t have a problem that needs their expertise–yet. Maybe they know something you don’t and are there to help you through something which will be going on in your life. Still, other gods simply show up uninvited because you’ve piqued their interest for some reason.
Talk to your main god(s) and/or goddess(es) and find out if this will be beneficial or not. Some gods and wights you don’t want visiting for a myriad of reasons. If this is a god or wight whom your main god doesn’t want you to talk to, you’ll have to make a choice. If your main deities have not steered you wrong, you should politely thank the god or wight for their offer and refer them to the gods you have a better rapport with. However, if your main deities aren’t helping you, tread carefully because you don’t need an annoyed god on top of everything else. You may have to at least listen to the newcomer and see if his advice is sound. Talk to your gods and see if there’s a problem with going a different direction. Chances are, if your original gods aren’t helping, they’ll be glad to have you work with a newcomer.
This is just my advice, and as I often say YMMV or Your Mileage May Vary. Let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks!
Where the fuck did April go? I swear, it was just the first week when I promised myself to sit down and write. Only there were plenty of distractions, most of them from working as a professional writer and a small-time rancher. Like predators entering the horse pen. Or trying to avoid the bear coming around to investigate things. Or my computer of five years taking a crap.
To make matters worse, I’ve been wracking my brains trying to come up with a better writing strategy. To be blatantly honest, very little of what I write makes lots of money, whereas before as a professional writer I did okay and made a reasonable living. Since that time, a lot of things in my life changed and I seriously need to do damage control after so many bad things occurred. I won’t get into the issues involved, but let me say that although some were self caused, many were just a run of bad luck. So, like a good Heathen, I decided to take stock of what I could do.
When the Gods Offer Advice
For several months I felt like I was alone. Tyr and Skadi were there, but they felt aloof. I suspect it was more me than them. The gods talk to those of us who listen, but sometimes when your life is a shitstorm, it’s hard to feel them. And yet, during this time, I’ve had conversations with Tyr. Which suggests I’m really not alone in all this. Around the Spring Equinox, Freyr stepped into my life. Not in a big way, per se, but as a counselor of sorts. He directed me toward an avenue of novel writing that I had been capable of doing before the bunch of ugly things happened. Namely writing a book every few months. A writing friend of mine accidentally pointed me in that direction and we had a very frank conversation about what they were doing in terms of writing books.
Freyr told me to take this route because it had worked for me in the past. Never mind that I hadn’t been able to sit and write every day (sometimes I don’t practice what I preach) and I certainly hadn’t been able to write 1000 words a day on a novel, let alone the 2000 words I used to crank out.
Consulting the Runes
After feeling particularly depressed after a hard day of writing, I sat down and consulted the runes. I do this often to center myself, but I hadn’t been centering myself lately. I tried to put myself in a meditative state and tried to remember the Teiwas Shoat pattern. That didn’t happen and I didn’t feel like searching for a runes book or going online. Instead, I ended up doing two three rune readings with an overarching rune that tied the two readings together. The runes told me I would embark successfully on this new writing journey, but there would be ups and downs. No surprise there. And the over-arching rune? Why, Fehu, of course.
I then pulled out four runes, asking who was advising me. Of course. It was Freyr and Tyr. The other two runes were a bit more murky, but I suspect one was Skadi and the other was Loki.
What We Can Learn from this
Our northern gods tend to be hands-off when it comes to our lives. Frustrating for those of us who were raised with the Christian god who never seemed to be personal even when that’s what he promised in his religion. Our gods can be very personal in our lives, but they’re not interested in controlling your life the way the Christian god does. This can be somewhat frightening when we’ve been treated like children most of our lives by one religion and then told to step up and put on the adult pants when we change to Heathenry. Yes. it can even be terrifying when you realize that prayer isn’t going to pay the rent, put food on the table, or better your life. Our gods are a resource of inspiration and yes, knowledge, we can tap into. They can comfort us or urge us to action, but they seldom get involved directly.
Our Gods Aren’t Vending Machines
One thing I’ve learned talking to Tyr is that he often gives me the space to reason out the problem. He may drop subtle or not-so-subtle hints as to how I should do something. (Now, Skadi has dropped animals in my lap while I’m hunting, so I can’t say she doesn’t take a keen interest in my success, but I feel that is her prerogative.) Freyr has been offering me advice too. He has even pointed where I need to go to do what I need to do. That being said, our gods aren’t vending machines. Saying X number of prayers to them doesn’t give you a prize at the end. Giving gifts to them works up to a point. The god or goddess may do whatever the Hel he or she wants to do, whether or not it is in your interest and whether or not they accept your offering.
Have a Conversation with Your Gods
The gift for a gift is a nice thought, but I think it’s more important to have a conversation with our deities. When you have familiarity with the gods you ask help from, you’re more likely to get it than if you just approach a god out of the blue. For example, it’d be foolish for me to solicit Heimdallr for help even though he’s part of our pantheon. Why? Because I don’t have a rapport with Heimdallr. I have more of a rapport with Loki than with him, oddly enough. But even though I do have a rapport with Loki, when I ask for help, it’s usually advice. I know his advice can be good or bad, and it’s up to me to determine what the trickster is actually saying. For advice, I trust Tyr, Thor, Freyr, Freyja, and Skadi. They’re pretty my go-to gods, but if it’s not in an area they have domain over, they will refer me to others to speak with. In that case, I know they’ve already at least introduced me to the god or goddess I need to talk with.
What to Do if You Don’t Hear the Gods
What if you don’t hear the gods like I do? It’s a simple matter, really. Talk to the god you’ve had the most rapport and see if you get any feelings from them. The feelings may be your own, or they may be the god’s to let you know which way you need to go to solve the particular problem. Many times, it’s nonverbal cues. You might have someone show up who may have an answer to the problem, or you may get a sudden flash of insight. The main thing is to keep your mind open and look for opportunities, even when you feel there are none.
Anyway, I will write more here. I promise. Have you missed me?
One of the frustrating aspects of our religion is that, when it comes down to it, we only have a smattering of tales about our gods. Sure, we have the Poetic and Prose Eddas that tell us stories about the main gods and goddesses, but there are so many gods and goddesses we know next to nothing about. Sure, we have names and stations in our myths and legends, but unless it’s one of the big gods or goddesses, we hear little about them. But what do you do when one of the lesser know deities call you? Or the lesser known gods attracts you? How do you go about honoring them?
Research the Lesser Known Gods / Goddesses
If one of the lesser known gods / goddesses calls to you, chances are you’re probably researching them. After all, if someone is knocking on your door, you probably want to know who they are before you let them in. No, not all gods, wights, and ancestors are good and beneficial to you. Some are downright harmful, which means you really don’t want them in your life. Some are beneficial and some are neutral. Entering into any relationship with a god requires due diligence on your part. Just because Odin shows up at your door doesn’t mean you should open your arms wide without some reservations. Odin can be fickle and dangerous to those he chooses. And this is a god we know quite a bit about by comparison to other gods in our pantheon; imagine knowing nothing about a god who shows up on your doorstep, literally or figuratively.
Start researching the god or goddess. You may have nothing more than a name, but you may be able to find out if they were worshiped or honored in a particular geographic area. That may be able to give you more insight into the god or goddess. Researching the god/goddess is an excellent way of honoring the deity. You are showing interest in them now that they’ve caught your attention.
Create a Shrine to Them on Your Altar
Once you know something about the god or goddess whom you wish to honor, the next step is to create a shrine on your altar, if you have one, or someplace in your home, if you don’t. It doesn’t have to be huge or ostentatious; something heartfelt that reminds you of the god or goddess works. For example, on my own altar, I have pine cones and images of dogs to Zisa. (Many think she is Tyr’s/Ziu’s consort.) By having something that honors the god or goddess on your altar, you can be reminded that this deity has a special place in your heart.
Include the Deity in your Offerings and Blots
Naturally, if you are honoring a lesser known god/goddess, you’ll want to include them in your offerings and blots. This is just good practice, in general, but also to establish a rapport with the deity. After all, if you’ve considered venerating them, it helps to offer them something they might like. Choose something within that god’s/goddess’s elements or something that is meaningful to you. Either way, I think it’s a good way to establish a rapport with a deity.
Pay Attention to UPGs
There I go talking about Unverified Personal Gnosis again. Unverified Personal Gnosis or UPGs, the bane of most recons, can give you insight into the god or goddess that you can’t get anywhere else. While you can’t claim UPGs as being the absolute truth, they can give you a foundation for worshiping the god or goddess and provide the backbone of a relationship. Because they’re personal, you can’t expect your UPGs to be considered fact, but they are ideal for your relationship with a god.
Do Works in their Name
Are there good causes your god or goddess would want you to work in? One of the ways you can offer something to them is to donate your time and effort towards something that would further their causes. For a nature god, try offering work to clean up forests or natural areas near you. A battle deity? Try helping out veterans of the armed forces. A home or house deity? Donate goods or help cook meals for the poor. The gods and goddesses will appreciate your efforts.
These are just some ideas I’ve had. Chances are you have a few as well.
Apparently, I struck a chord with some of my readers when talking about soft polytheism versus hard polytheism. I assumed many of my readers were soft polytheistic, that is, looking at the gods as archetypes and forces of nature, and not necessarily physical beings. Apparently, I was wrong. Many of my readers do indeed look at the gods as physical beings.
Some Caveats About Beliefs
Before I get into the whole soft polytheism versus hard polytheism arguments, I need to reiterate my beliefs here. As I’ve said previously, I tend toward a soft polytheistic belief of archetypes. However, given that I have dealt with the gods directly, I believe that the gods can take human-like forms. (They are, after all, gods.) I also believe that our gods go by many names and manifestations, but they are the same gods. At least, in this Universe.
How Far Down the Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go?
Having said that, I don’t necessarily have an issue with your beliefs if you want to go the hard pagan route. It’s just I know that proving the stories we tell in the face of science gets to be difficult at best. Unless you really believe that our world hangs off of a physical tree and humans were carved from wood, I don’t think you and I will have much to argue about. If you want to go down that rabbit hole and believe everything in our stories is 100 percent true, despite science proving it isn’t, I suggest you go in your corner and maybe find some Christian fundamentalist friends to argue with. What you believe isn’t logical and I won’t be able to convince you to the contrary.
If you’re a hard polytheist in the strictest sense, you tend to accept our stories at face value. That the Moon and the Sun move across our sky, rather than the Earth revolving around the Sun and the Moon revolving around the Earth. That there really was a cow that licked the brine from Ymir and the gods, thus creating the first pantheons. That Odin along with his brothers slew Ymir and fashioned our Earth from Ymir’s bones. This is more fundamentalist than anything, and again, since you really believe that, nothing I’m going to tell you is going to make a difference.
I would bet, however, that most hard polytheistic Heathens are a mix of this hard polytheism and soft polytheism. You like the creation tales, but you at least accept the current explanation of how the Universe came into being. Maybe you’ve resolved that in your minds, and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you just don’t know what to believe.
Blending Myth and Fact
Now, if you believe our gods manifest themselves in physical forms, that’s fine. I’m good with that. I believe that they can and do, but I also don’t believe that Asgard exists in our dimension. I tend to accept string theory as well, which if our gods exist in physical forms, they possibly occupy more than the three dimensions we live in. In this case, we may have a tough time seeing them. It could just be that our wights may also inhabit those dimensions, affecting our existence without necessarily seeing them in their full forms.
With the exception of some clueless wankers, most people believe the Earth is round, that it revolves around the Sun, and that stars are simply other suns, some very much like our own sun. Our sun is a relatively ordinary star, too, with the exception that it is the only solar system we know of that has life. That may change because not only are there are trillions of stars, but there are galaxies with trillions of stars in them. The Earth formed some 4.54 billion years ago and not 6000 years like the new Earth creationists would have you believe. I’m pretty sure that the formation of Earth wasn’t from a frost giant named Ymir, unless you’re willing to believe that Ymir’s bones were some primordial matter that came from the death of another star. Given that our star is a second or even third generation star, we can look at the stories and deduce that maybe our creation stories are one big metaphor. Or maybe they’re just a way for people to explain how things came into being.
Whence Our Religion Came
Heathenry is a product of our ancestors combined with communication with our gods and curiosity about our world. It came from a more ancient religion that our Proto-Indo-European ancestors worshiped. Those ancestors’ predecessors practiced a form of animism. The interesting question is when our gods revealed themselves to our ancestors.
I would argue that given the overall similarities of certain religions, we have to assume a Jungian collective unconscious was passed down throughout history. No matter how different other ethnicities seem, they have similar stories that run throughout their folklore. To a certain degree, one could argue that it is because our brains are wired the same, and I’m not going to dispute that. But I do suspect that all our ancestors had a shared experience at one time. Think about it. We know that humans nearly went extinct at least twice. Could this be the time when our gods stepped in to help us?
That, of course, is purely speculation on my part. I have no clue if that really did happen, but it does make for some interesting ideas.
But I digress…
Getting Back on Track
Soft polytheism tends to look more at the concepts of the gods as archetypes. In it’s extreme form, it’s closer to atheism than a religion. I would not consider most soft polytheists in that group. Many are pantheists, which allows the worship of other gods, and it equates the universe with the gods. I sit more comfortably in the pantheistic version of Heathenry, because I believe that the universe and the gods are the same. My belief is our gods go by other names in other religions. I chose our gods not only because I am most comfortable with them, but because I have had interactions with them by those names.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Let me know your beliefs in the comments.
On one of the myriad groups I occasionally hang out on, I noticed someone was asking if the Norse gods were the only gods. In this world of monotheistic gods, it’s not as strange of a question as pagans would like to think. Are the Northern deities the only gods out there? And if they aren’t, what makes them better than any other gods?
First, let’s look at polytheism, as a whole. There are basically two types of polytheistic beliefs: hard and soft. If you’re a hard polytheistic believer, you believe our gods are individual and physical beings. That Thor really rides a chariot pulled by two goats and Sunna drives the chariot of the sun, being chased by a wolf. You believe that Odin is really in human form and there are little demigods wandering around this Earth.
Soft polytheistic believers tend to believe the gods as archetypes. They may believe the different pantheons are simply manifestations of a core pantheon. Or they may believe that the gods are aspects to a single god.
What I Believe as a Polytheist
Before we get much further in my arguments, let me state my own position, so that there isn’t any confusion. I tend toward a soft polytheistic belief of archetypes, BUT given that I have dealt with the gods directly, I believe that the gods can take forms we humans can see and interact with. (They are, after all, gods.) I also believe that at least in this Universe, our gods go by many names and manifestations, but they are the same gods wherever you go.
Now, that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about whether our gods are the only gods out there.
The Only Gods?
It’s common today to think that our way is the only way. That our gods are the only gods. In some ways, I’m sometimes tempted to think that route, but that’s wrong. That thought is a holdover from monotheistic beliefs. The history of Norse polytheism suggests that our ancestors didn’t consider the Norse gods to be the only ones. We know that our Northern ancestors borrowed beliefs and gods from other pantheons and affected other pantheons, in kind. For example, the Kievan Rus worshiped the Slavic gods, which bear an uncanny resemblance in many ways to the Norse pantheon. That’s not surprising, given that the Varangians, known as the Rus, came from the Norse lands and settled in Russia and other Slavic lands.
Not the Only Gods
We know that the Icelandic peoples worshiped Jesus alongside the Norse gods, given the Icelandic Cross/Thor’s Hammer. It’s also suspected that the Vanir are a group of gods that got assimilated into the Northern pantheon sometime in the past, thus making the Aesir and Vanir to be two groups of gods that merged to give us our current pantheon.
So, given that the Norse weren’t picky about who they worshiped, if it fit their world view, they would have a tough time with the concept that the Norse gods were the only gods out there. I suspect the attitude changed with the appearance of monotheistic religions and their insistence on their god being the “one true god.” When someone tells you that your belief is all wrong and tries to persecute you, you can bet that push back is going to be that Odin is better.
Let’s Dig Deeper
But, let’s consider the evolution of religion to begin with. Religions, whether polytheistic or monotheistic stem from the ancient roots of animism and then shamanism. If you go back through the evolutionary time period for religion, you’ll see that we’re looking at a type of pantheism which eventually split out into a Proto-Indo-European main religion. This religion eventually split off and morphed into the polytheistic religions of Europe. The similarity between our god and other gods caused the Romans to refer to Germanic gods by Roman god names. I don’t think this was an egotistical classification by the Romans, either. The Romans certainly weren’t fond of Celtic and Germanic tribes. For Romans to ascribe their own gods to ours would’ve suggested that the belief was similar.
So, if our religion is derived from an older religion, and our religion is closely related to other polytheistic religions, what does that mean for being the only true religion? Since religion is derived from the same roots, our gods are similar to the other gods within the European pantheons. Granted, we have cultural differences. If our gods are the same gods as those in the Celtic pantheon, the Roman pantheon, and the Slavic pantheon, then how can we hold up our gods and say they are the only gods?
What if They’re Not the Same?
Even if you don’t believe that the Norse gods aren’t other gods in other belief systems, the fact remains that most northern polytheists would readily accept a god or two from another pantheon. And if tribes met peacefully, if one god was similar enough to another, I could easily see our ancestors adding those stories to the legends. A good story, after all, is a good story.
The problem I have with separating out the gods from other pantheons is the roles they take on in nature. Thor is the thunder god. Does that mean that we must worship the Thunderbird because we’re in America and that is the creature of thunder here? Does that mean that in Ireland there is only Taranis and not Thor? Of course not. Thunder and lightning are the same everywhere on Earth. In fact, it behaves according to the laws of physics everywhere in this Universe, so one could potentially argue that Thor is a Universal god. Gerd is an Earth fertility goddess. So is Demeter, Gaia, and a host of other goddesses. Again, the Earth is the Earth, despite its variations. What causes the crops to grow one area is the same as another. Again, physics.
If you’re a hard polytheist–which is getting pretty difficult to do in the face of science–you may decide that I’m full of shit and there really is only one Thor, one Tyr, and one Odin. But then, again, I think most of you who read this blog are tending toward soft polytheism anyway, with occasional forays into believing that the gods can take any form they choose. If it happens that Odin takes on Zeus’s form, so what? If Thor is Perun to the Slavs, who cares? In the end, they are our gods, and that is really all that matters.
Prayer. Its power is something a lot of people take for granted when something bad happens. People pray for their god or gods to make things better when something bad happens. Or they pray to whatever wights and spirits in the hopes that things will improve. Prayer gives people a sense that they are doing something to change the situation. But, they’re not. Not really.
The Wild Hunt Article
I was reading a Wild Hunt article about Native Americans and pagans “healing” the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Long story short, members of the Indigenous peoples and pagans there are walking around the entire length of the lake (the second largest freshwater lake in the contiguous US) and praying for the waters to heal, and hopefully forgive humans for causing the damage to the ecosystem.
Some Explanation Before I Continue
Now, before I get into my rant, let me first say that I have the utmost respect for the Native Americans. These people have been treated horribly–and are still being treated horribly–by the United States government. These people have, in many cases, been stripped of their culture, language, and religion, not to mention their freedom and their lives. Even into the 1950s and 1960s, children were being stolen from their parents, put in orphanages, and then sold to white people for a mere donation. I’ve known plenty of people with Native American ancestry and I respect them highly. What was done to their people is unconscionable.
This post is not questioning whether their beliefs are “right” or “wrong,” but rather the methodology being used to “fix” the problem. The problem is quite real and it affects people, both Indigenous and those from other ancestry.
Lake Okeechobee and its Problems
Okay, I get that there’s a problem with Lake Okeechobee and the issues that arise from humans trying to control the lake’s waters. The lake, from what I understand, has a containment ring and its waters are only allowed out through canals into the sugarcane fields of the Everglades Agricultural Area. As a result, the lake is prone to flooding and toxic algae blooms. The water seeps into the ground, adding arsenic to the aquifers from agriculture. Not good.
Naturally there is a lot of concern. Algae blooms kill wildlife and make the lake inhospitable to humans. The blooms, if they get out through flooding, cause havoc with the local ecosystem as well as life in the ocean, if it makes it there. You can guess the issue with the arsenic. Basically, none of it is cool.
Prayers and Pleas
Now, I’m not going to say that people shouldn’t pray to the lake’s spirit. But reading the article it suggests that humans are going to start healing the waters by praying to the spirit and asking forgiveness.
Okay, let me remind you all that the gods and wights are not your bitches and that prayer only goes so far. If you want to spend a week walking along the lake and saying prayers, that’s nice, but you’re really not doing much. It’s human hubris to think that the wights there would listen without some type of established rapport. And even if they did listen, what exactly would they think about someone saying they’re sorry?
It’s like locking someone in a room and feeding them toxic bread and water occasionally. And then, someone comes in who looks a lot like their captors and ask for forgiveness. If you were the wight in that situation, would you respond positively? I think not.
How a Wight Might Respond
Now, obviously I don’t know the wights or the spirits of that lake. But knowing how wights react out West, and seeing the general reaction of the spirit of the lake (algae blooms, floods, etc), I can pretty much guess that the apology won’t go very far, if anywhere. You see, the problem hasn’t changed for the lake, and the lake isn’t getting the help it needs. Forty or so pagans and Native Americans praying aren’t going to make a difference to its problems. The only thing that it will respond positively to is returning it to some semblance of a natural state.
Prayer Doesn’t Work, According to Science
Now, if you point out to me that the real intention is to call attention to the problem with their prayer walk, I’d agree with you. It’s a good media promotion and one that will work given the nature of the situation. (Pardon the pun.) But prayer only goes so far, and if you believe the atheists, prayer really doesn’t do shit to improve anything. To a certain degree, they’re spot on. A real, double-blind scientific study suggests that intercessory prayer doesn’t work and may actually make things worse. (Talk about a twist.)
Now, we can argue that they were praying to a Christian god, but we really don’t know that for certain. (Although it’s a pretty sure bet that they were.) And we can argue that in that case, the people were asking a god for an outcome, and not just talking to the god. Fair enough. I concede that point. But how is this different than thinking your prayers can heal the lake wight? If they are praying to the wight, wouldn’t the wight be able to heal itself, if it could? If they’re praying for a deity to heal the wight, how is this different than the intercessory prayer?
What DOES Work
Prayer is nice, but it doesn’t do the heavy lifting here. Action, that is repairing the physical damage done to the lake, does work. Look, I live in the West where there are tons of Superfund sites, caused by past damage to the environment by mining, logging, and yes, damming rivers and lakes. People deal with arsenic and heavy metals in their water, asbestos in the top soil, floods, radon gas in their homes, mudslides, erosion, and widespread wildfires because of past insults to the environment. The environment responds in ways that it can only respond, given the rules set forth by the laws of physics. To expect anything different is foolhardy, at best. And yet, people pray for divine intercession to problems that humans have caused.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. I get that those who don’t have the power to get the clean up done feel powerless and use prayer as a way to assuage their guilt, hopeless feelings, or whatever. But don’t tell me you’re going to heal the lake through prayer. That sounds remarkably Christian, and it provides a band-aid when you’ve cut a femoral artery.
Our ancestors have used runes as divination tools for centuries. Whether fashioned from bone, wood, stone, or something else, people relied on runes as a written means of communication, powerful talismans, and a means of learning about the future. I’ll explore why in this piece.
Runes — and writing, for that matter — is the human attempt at establishing immortality in a very mortal world. Look at the runic inscriptions we have from our ancestors: they talk about deeds, imbue power into weapons, mark the existence of a person, keep track of goods, or give us a magical formula of some sort.
Even today, humans want to leave their indelible mark on the world. Whether it’s a person who wants to be a published author, an actor appearing on the silver screen, a recording artist, an Internet blogger, or a tagger spray-painting graffiti on a boxcar, all these people are looking to achieve some sort of immortality. The Internet and movies are just another form of media that came from the written word. Before writing all people had were their memories and oral traditions. Sure, the person learned the story from their parents and grandparents, but over time the stories morphed into something less recognizable by the original teller. Like an ancient form of the kid’s game “telephone,” original details were lost and new information was added. Only when the stories were written down did we have a record of what the story was at the time it was written. That’s assuming, of course, that the scribe wrote it down word-for-word without embellishment, which generally didn’t happen.
The Magic of Writing
If you’ve been one of my long-time readers, you know I eschew the word “magic.” But in this case, I’ll forego that avoidance. Writing, itself, is magical. Think about it. We can convey our thoughts, stories, feelings, and beliefs to people we have never met. To people whom we will never meet. This power is something we take for granted now, but writing has really only been around for a little over 5000 years. The world’s oldest writing is cuneiform written in 3200 BCE. Scribes developed and used cuneiform to record transactions in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, which is in present-day Iraq.
Agrarian societies invented writing to keep track of goods, possessions, and taxes. Writing is a by-product of commerce, which makes sense. Even Scandinavian/Viking merchants used runes to keep track of their goods. I would argue that until produce and trade developed, humans had little need of the written language. Sure, there were magic sigils and marks, but until people exchanged money, or at least goods and services, they didn’t have a pressing need for a written language.
How Does “Magic”Divination Work?
Warning! Personal Unverified Gnosis Ahead!
I believe part of the runes’ sacredness comes from the “magic” of being able to learn from people long gone from the world. How magical it must feel to hear the voice of an ancestor from something written. The ancestor most likely carved the runes into something more permanent like rock, bone, wood, or metal. This lasted far longer than his or her 40 to 50 years in this world.
Another magical part of the runes is the ability to tap into our subconscious selves. That part of our mind pays more attention to the world around us. It’s where we often get our insights and hunches. And it’s more likely what hears the gods when they speak to us. When we touch the runes, our subconscious knows what rune we touched. The feel of the wood, bone, or stone, the rough cut of the rune, the shape of the rock: our subconscious mind knows what it is even if we can’t consciously identify it. So, the runes help us find the answer within ourselves and our subconscious observations of the world around us.
(At this point, I can hear purists who believe in magic screaming that I’m full of shit. Cool. You don’t like what I say? Bitch somewhere else. You got the warning above; deal with it.)
Whether you believe that Odin gave our ancestors the runes or not is immaterial. The runes are here and they possess a quality that we can use to explore our mind and our collective unconscious. It may serve as a way to understand what our conscious minds haven’t grasped. And it may be a way to know what is happening in the future.
Block Heads and Block Universes
If you’ve read my piece about free will, I go into the block universe theory and why we may not have free will at all. Briefly, the block universe theory in physics states that everything has already happened and it’s just our limited perception of time that keeps us thinking sequentially. The past, present, and future exist simultaneously. Time doesn’t go forward, per se, we just experience it in our limited capacity as if a spotlight is being shown on that particular instant in our lives.
I wonder if people can and do access those other parts of space-time, just not consciously. As a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, the thoughts are intriguing, certainly. If we can access the past and future subconsciously, it makes sense that the runes help us do it.
Rune Meanings and Interpretations
My sister gave me a rune set and Ralph Blum’s Book of Runes when I was a teenager. I actually have a first edition somewhere, assuming it didn’t get lost in moving. Whether or not you think Blum’s book is a bunch of crap, you have to admit that it was and still is quite popular. I did some pretty successful runecasts with it, despite its faults.
Even so, I subscribe to the more traditional interpretations, though. I also don’t believe in using merkstave as a reading, because merkstave was added to make the runes more tarot-like. Plus, there are plenty of negative sides to the runes already–we don’t need more. I also don’t believe in using the blank rune, because the runes already have perth, which is the equivalent as such.
That being said, because the runes are our gateway into reading into the future with our subconscious mind, my guess is you can have whatever interpretation you fancy and still get the reading right. (I can hear the purists screaming now.) The main thing is to stay consistent in interpretation, otherwise it’s unlikely you’re going to have a good reading. I prefer using traditional meanings over others, if , for no other reason than to have consistency.
I would say go with whatever works for you. If merkstaves and blank runes work, then do it. If going the completely traditional route works, then do that. Hel, if you find Ralph Blum’s interpretations work, then use those. Let me know what works for you in the comments.
If you’re a Heathen, you probably know the story of how Odin hanged himself for nine days and nights on Yggdrasil and obtained the runes. It’s a great story and one we love telling to explain the overall mystical qualities the runes possess. But, like anything, our stories don’t necessarily tell the whole story of how the runes came into being. So, this piece looks at the runes and how they evolved.
The Havamal and Archetypes
The Havamal describes how Odin sought wisdom by hanging himself on Yggdrasil for nine days and nights. He hanged with a spear stuck through him to earn the runes’ wisdom. For those who follow Christianity, the image is oddly reminiscent of Jesus on the Cross. Think about it: a god sacrifices himself to himself via crucifixion. He is stabbed with a spear. He dies and comes back to life, even before he created the world.
It just shows how the archetypes of ancient legends filter through to today’s most popular religion. The idea of a crucified god isn’t new, nor is the concept of a god dying and being resurrected. But that discussion is for another time. We’re still talking about the runes, here.
Runes in the Havamal
I trow I hung on that windy Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,
myself to mine own self given,
high on that Tree of which none hath heard
from what roots it rises to heaven.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
crying aloud I lifted the Runes
then back I fell from thence.
Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
son of Bale-thorn, Bestla’s sire;
I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
with the Soulstirrer’s drops I was showered.
Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word following word, I found me words,
deed following deed, I wrought deeds.
Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
graved by the Utterer of gods.
For gods graved Odin, for elves graved Daïn,
Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,
All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,
graved some for the sons of men.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
Thus Odin graved ere the world began;
Then he rose from the deep, and came again.
Where Did the Runes Actually Come From?
If we look at the runic alphabet from archaeology, we can get a sense for where the runes came from. Even so, it’s sort of a mystery how the runes came into being. We know that the oldest runes, the Elder Futhark, were written as early as 150 AD or CE (Common Era). But whence they came is as interesting as the story in the Havamal. Runes may have be derived from what are called the Old Italic Alphabets, which includes the Raetic and Venetic alphabets. These alphabets may have come from a Proto-Indo-European language and made their appearance as far back as the 700 BC or BCE (Before Common Era). You can see the similarities in the Elder Futhark and the Raetic and Venetic alphabets, if you look closely. Many of the same letters in the runic system are there.
We can assume that the runes and the modern alphabet came from a similar source. The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use today, was derived from the Etruscan alphabet which had most of the same letters. These letters came over from the Greek language from a Greek colony in Italy, around 600 BCE. There’s a possibility that this alphabet influenced the runic alphabet as well.
There’s also a hypothesis that the runes may have Germanic origins because of the Vimose Inscriptions. These inscriptions are some of the earliest Elder Futhark inscriptions, and they’re written in Proto-Norse. They were found on an island off of Denmark, making a case for West Germanic origins.
Scholars just don’t know the exact origins of the runes, but they can guess given the similarity of the alphabets.
Why the Runes are so Powerful
Our ancestors ascribed magical powers to the runes, and it’s not hard to guess why. If you’ve never had a way to keep knowledge available for generations to come other than oral tradition (which had problems with changes over time, and lost information due to untimely deaths), it would seem like magic. Think how magical it would be to have a way for your ancestors to speak to you. Those who could write the runes must have appeared to be very powerful shamans to less learned folk. And those who could read the runes were certainly powerful in knowledge.
As the Rational Heathen, I’m not really into the woo-woo stuff. And yet, I do and have done runecastings. I suspect that the runecastings work through your subconscious–that your mind knows what is going on and you’re in touch with it. Your fingers pick out the runes that your subconscious knows well. Perhaps a person who does a runecasting for someone else gets cues that only our subconscious can understand and comes up with a reading that makes sense.
Or, maybe not.
Whether you believe that Odin brought us the runes, or whether you think they evolved from another written language, I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know what you think and whether I should write more rune posts.