© Frigga Asraaf 2009
Both runes and wights play a significant role in my life. To me, runes represent primal powers, forces which go beyond our imagination and perhaps even beyond our universe. Runes are a key to the gates leading to all secrets, knowledge and wisdom hidden behind them. In my opinion, both scientific and esoteric knowledge are equally worthy for those who want to learn more about these signs. One of my mottos regarding runes is: play with them as long as you are fully aware of the fact that they are not toys.
Wights I perceive as individuals and I also approach them that way. The various life forms in the other eight worlds are simply different from Midgard, our own realm and our human life form. Each world and group of wights have their own possibilities and impossibilities. The spirits I’m most connected with, beside the ancestors, are elves, thurses and dwarfs. To me, thurs is just a word for these huge and powerful spirits which in english are known as giants.
From my point of view, spirits might be connected with runes instead of the other way around. In fact, this difference could give a good opening for a debate on Ansuz, Tiwaz and Inguz since the names of these three runes either mean literally ‘god’, or there is a correlation with the name of a god.
My main rune row is the Elder Futhark, or Common Germanic Futhark and it is by use of these 24 symbols I want to share some of my thoughts concerning runes and wights with the readers of this unique magazine. The following part has come from my playful mind and experience.
How do all these different spirits relate to the runes? Do they even know them? Well, the Hávamál (143) tells us that elves, dwarfs and giants are actually familiar with the symbols:
en fyr alfum Dáinn,
Dvalinn ok dvergum fyrir,
Ásviðr jötnum fyrir,
ek reist sjalfr sumar.
‘and Dain for the elves,
Dvalin for the dwarfs,
Asvid for the giants,
I myself carved some.’
The runes have proven themselves to be useful in many ways to me. Beside their use in things that are common to me, such as healing, insight and magic, they can make it easier for the wights to introduce themselves to us. Sometimes a new spirit shows up, and since I prefer to work with names I ask for one. If they can’t tell me their name I ask them to show themselves by using runes, letting them represent who and what they are. These runes, along with an old book with first names and a table of roots for early-medieval given names and bynames in The Netherlands and Flanders, have given me and my co-seidhworker Ellynn several names for dwarfs, elves and thurses. A name given to us this way is Logwer for a fire-dwarf. The runes he showed us were Isa, Nauthiz and Algiz. Isa and Algiz gave us the impression of protection and keeping and we found in the mentioned list ‘wer’ with means ‘keeper’. Nauthiz felt in this case as (need)fire and for this we found ‘loga’ ‘fire’. Turning to these wights for runelore was a whole new experience for me. Singing the runes with dwarfs is more like grunting, with the jotnar it feels like shouting and with the elves it is a mysterious whisper. As long as we, human beings, respect the wights and their way of life, we can get along fine. Needless to say that it is very important to ask permission for roaming their lands and it also takes some courtesy from our part to wait and see who amongst these groups are willing to work with us. I would say it’s just common sense, and other seidhworkers would probably agree with me.
Every rune could be perceived as a diamond with many facets, and due to the changing lights and the different angles from which we look at a rune, it might reveal an immense variety. Imagine, for example, Gebo as a three-dimensional sparkling blood red coloured ruby and step into it. Can you feel the spokes of the sign itself as a connection to the eight worlds around us and through these worlds to the spirits who dwell there? Gebo is one of the runes connected to relationships and in my opinion it could be seen as a general connection between mankind and spirits. Therefore, it can be used with all kinds of wights to establish a connection with them. I will take a little detour here before continuing with runes and wights.
Besides the earth we live on, represented by Othila, other heavenly bodies strongly influence our lives: the stars, the planets, the sun and the moon. Tiwaz can represent all stars for I see a relation between this rune and the polestar. The sun in all her power and glory we have in Sowulo. Although one might come up with some valid arguments to explain the fact that there is no rune in which the power of the moon could be found, I sometimes miss a moon-rune. I particularly love the full moon and each month it is a surprise to discover what he would look like and what kind of energy this phenomenon will bring.
After some pondering I thought Raido and Laguz to be two proper runes when I want to call upon the powers of the moon. Raido is connected to the cycles of nature. One of these cycles is of course the turning of the moon which has its influence on another cycle: the tide, the cycle of water represented by Laguz. The cycles of nature are also found in Jera: the cycle of the year and the harvest.
Back to runes and wights: the rune most related to giants is, of course, Thurisaz. The Flemish writer and Assyriologist Vincent Ongkowidjojo states that the etymological meaning of Thurisaz is ‘the powerful’ which is, as he says, a typical quality of the thurses.1 This is something I can relate to. Because of their size and the way they are mainly portrayed in the myths it is amazing how gentle, careful and prudent they tend to be in their contact with humans. When it comes to runes and riddles they can be really good teachers.
The elves seem like an intriguing group of beings to me, known and yet unknown. I really like to spend time with them and maybe someday I will really get to know them. Somehow I mostly connect elves with the elements air and water, because they often feel so tenuous, especially next to jotnar and dwarfs. Therefore, I would say that the obvious runes for the elves are Ansuz and Laguz. Since I prefer to work with groups of three runes, a third rune would be Berkana. Trees and healing are part of elfdom as well, in my opinion, coming together in the rune Berkana, the birch tree known for its healing powers.
In the rhythm of dwarfs hammering on iron I can hear Raido, sometimes even the ‘heartbeat’ of the earth herself. After all, the inside of the earth is their dwelling. In their teamwork I can recognize Mannaz and the earthly strength of Uruz shows their stamina. Singing these three runes after calling the dwarfs feels like being wrapped in their energy, their essence.
Wunjo, Nauthiz and Dagaz are three runes I sometimes use to call upon Loki, one of my favourite giants. Loki in his own inimitable way can teach us about the joy of life, one of the aspects of Wunjo. The paradox of life, represented by Dagaz, is shared by the rune and this giant. Nauthiz stands like a bridge between these two runes. The needfire Nauthiz can be the necessary change Loki often brings. With some fun and laughter, the unexpected and absurd sides of life can become a bit more bearable.
Let us go back to the beginning of the rune-row, to Fehu and, in a way, also to time and tide.
Among other things, Fehu represents the power of spring to me and in this aspect I connect the elves with this rune. Contemplate on Fehu’s fire a little longer and ice comes to mind. Fire and ice are to be found in respectively Fehu and Isa, both primal forces of the universe. These powers brought forth a giant they once came across in Ginnungagap, so Fehu can be related to giants as well. If we see Fehu as a representative of Ginnungagap which is the home of Audhumbla, the power of the primal cow is part of the power concealed by this sign. In Isa the rime-thurses can be recognized. These giants are able to decorate the land so beautifully with hoarfrost or snow in wintertime. And, when asked in a friendly way, they are willing to leave by the end of February to make place for spring.
Hagalaz is related to ice as well, as hail is a strange phenomenon of nature and a giant power, I would say. But, because of the in-between state of hail, it can be elfish as well, for it is elusive: once in our hand it will melt to become fluid water again.
In the runes Fehu, Uruz and Ehwaz the animal kingdom could be recognized, including mythical animals, animal spirits and power animals. The literary meaning of Fehu is ‘cattle’, Uruz stands for the wild ox and Ehwaz can be translated as ‘horse’. Algiz can be a fourth rune in this row as it represents another animal: the elk. There are many mythical animals, for example, Ratatosk the squirrel, Heidrun the goat, Audhumbla the primal cow and Nidhögg the dragon, to name a few.
Originally, Ehwaz meant ‘horse’ and, according to Rudolf Simek, the German scholar of Scandinavian Studies, the horse had a special meaning for Germanic peoples, for the practical reason of riding and because of Indo-European traditions.2
This significance becomes apparent in horse sacrifices as described by Adam von Bremen, or the many horse names Snorri gave us in his Prose Edda: at first Odin’s horse Sleipnir and his offspring Grani, but also Gladr, Skeidbrimir, Falhófnir and Léttfeti, to name a few of them. I remember one time I used Ehwaz to calm down a horse. I was sitting next to a coachman on the box of a coach. One of the horses was still in training and rather nervous because of all the city traffic around him, and the coachman had some problems controlling it. After I softly and unnoticed by others sang the Ehwaz-rune over the horse, it walked much more at ease.
While Uruz and Ehwaz illustrate the animal kingdom, at least two runes show the vegetable kingdom: Eihwaz and Berkana. I would add Inguz to make this set of three complete.
Inguz could represent seed, a bearer of life. I’ve bumped into the assumption that a translation for Perthro could be ‘fruit bearing tree’ or ‘apple tree’, again a tree. Laguz compared to laukar ‘look’, is a plant force.
Experiments gave me two combinations of three runes to be used for working with the ancestors. The first combination I will mention here has something to do with the direct family-line: Wunjo, Inguz and Othila. The second combination would be Mannaz, Inguz and Othila which suit the ancestors in general, every person that once lived before us. The distinction between direct foremothers and forefathers or ancestors in general can be seen in Wunjo as the family’s solidarity and in Mannaz, which is related to mankind in general. An important part of the force of Inguz is DNA that has been passed on from generation to generation and will be passed on as long as living organisms inhabit this planet. This ongoing line of Inguz flows into Othila: the rune of the land to which we will give back our blood.
If we place the underworld beneath the earth, it leads us to another rune. The underworld is reflected in Hagalaz and therefore it’s a runic force that could be used to dive deep into the collective subconscious of which ancestral power and knowledge are significant parts. Another rune ready to be used for this kind of work is Perthro, which I mentioned before with the possible meaning of a fruit-bearing tree, but which to me is foremost a representative of a well, specifically the well of Urd, the well of Mimir and Hvergelmir. In this way Perthro might represent the ancestral part of the whole Germanic field.
I work with a specific symbolism: everything comes forth from the well and everything will return to the well(s). So it is in the well, Perthro, we can find ancestral lore, knowledge and skills. Especially with a little help from Kenaz, the rune that lights our way to and through the well.
These are some of my thoughts and experience with runes and wights so far. One never gets bored with wights or runes, I would say. Due to my years of experience I’m convinced both wights and runes will teach me many a thing yet beyond my imagination, something to look forward to!
1. Ongkowidjojo, Runen in de noordse traditie, p. 19
2. Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythologie, p. 157
Larrington, Carolyne (translation) -The Poetic Edda – Oxford University Press, Oxford, Engeland 1996
Ongkowidjojo, Vincent -Runen in de noordse traditie – Ank-Hermes BV, Deventer, Nederland 2007
Simek, Rudolf -Dictionary of Northern Mythology – D.S. Brewer, Woodbridge, England, 1996
Kees Nieuwenhuijsen -Living History Studies
The Northvergr Foundation