So, a friend just posted something that talks about his early magical training. He was taught that “magic can’t affect anyone who doesn’t give it permission, but that setting wards and putting up shields were a form of permission.” I don’t fault him for this; it’s what he was taught, but this teaching itself is not only flat out wrong, but it’s the type of bullshit that gets people hurt.
Properly worked, one doesn’t need to believe in magic any more than one needs to believe in a bullet for the aforementioned weapon to cause harm. Shields and wards are not “permission,” but a hard line in the sand, protections against the harm that others might work, a manifestation of the magician’s consent and will. They also help if one is gifted in keeping out excessive external stimuli. To say that shielding/warding gives permission for magic to work on you is like saying that if a woman takes self-defense classes and learns to use a firearm, she is opening herself up to rape and assault. It’s like expecting that you must understand how medicine works in order for antibiotics to be effective. Really? REALLY? Just take the fucking pill.
The only people who think that one needs to believe in magic or give permission for it to work are those who don’t understand how magic works, have no respect for the art, are utterly incompetent at it, are head blind, or those who don’t believe in evil – we shield and ward after all not just from magic but also from evil spirits of all sorts…OR it’s coming from those who don’t want you to have the proper protections to keep their own malefica out, those who want to keep you weak, to manipulate you, and to take advantage of you for their own power. Of course, it could be coming from weaklings afraid of power too—you know, the new age, prosperity gospel type who think the universe is a kind and loving hothouse created solely for their personal development– but either way, it’s a really dangerous level of delusion to walk into occult circles carrying, or, you know, the world in general.
This is less a post and more random thoughts and insights as I work yet again through the first runic aett. Each time I approach a rune spirit, I discover new things. Each time I approach a rune spirit, I’m taken more deeply into that rune’s mysteries. Each time I approach a rune spirit, new worlds open – at least a little – to my understanding, or at least to my awe.
They are such potent gifts of Odin and it is Odin and Loki Who have inspired me in their use. It’s not just that they are powerful forces in and of themselves, forces that can provide glimpses into the wyrd and the architecture of the worlds, but the runes reflect the mysteries of our Gods and working with them, if one is called to such work, has the potential to open up pathways to the Gods as well, especially Odin.
Writing this, with a blistering migraine so bad that focusing my eyes on words hurts and makes me nauseous (we’re being buffeted by Tropical Storm Henri right now as I write this, and with my migraine issues and chronic pain I’ve spent most of the day in agony), I can’t help but reflect that this is one of the key differences between working in the esoteric traditions of the Northern Tradition, and something like ceremonial magic. Working with the runes reinforces our understanding of divine hierarchy (1). I am grateful, so immensely grateful to be steeped in these mysteries, and this tradition. I am grateful to know about our Gods, to be able to honor Them, to touch – for however long or short a time – the echo of Their presence. Every moment of rune working is a reification of Their glory, Their power, the architecture of creation that They set carefully into place – every single moment.
I am, more and more, coming to think that the runes themselves are worked into that architecture, moving, living pieces of it brought forth from the Gap. They move and flow along its threads and angles and keep creation alive, vital, ever changing. They provide keyholes through which we can tap into that vital creative power. They provide doorways to all that lies behind creation. For this reason alone, the way they interact with each other is an important thing to consider in one’s work with them.
That first aett: fehu, uruz, thurisaz, ansuz, raido, kenaz, gebo, wunjo is filled with life. It’s force and fire, the raw force of vitality that in Greek, I’d term Βιος. It bubbles up and fills every world with wonder and more importantly with luck and power. It’s a bright aett in many ways, the energy of it is bright but it ends in the darkness of mystery just as it began with the promise of a luck drenched hamingja. It’s probably my favorite aett with which to work. I find it surprisingly accessible on the surface (though wunjo can be problematic to access at first) just as I find the third aett, more concerned as it is with concrete manifestation, to be the most difficult (and of course, any definitive statement made about these aetts needs to be viewed as a part of the whole, not definitive, but reflective of my own experience with them. They’re complex, multi-layered beings and what they choose to show is dependent on the relationship the runester has with them, and *that* is a very individual thing).
The runes pair off in interesting ways. This is particularly evident with that first aett. This aett is sometimes called “Freya’s aett” by rune workers of the generation preceding mine and while the runes are part of the Odinic retinue (2), that appellation makes sense to me. It’s not just that I think this generation latched onto the phonetic use of Fehu as the first letter in Freya’s name, but that this entire aett contains the kind of life and vitality so strongly part of the mysteries of the Vanir (3).
Fehu and uruz work extremely well together. I never really thought about this until recently. I’ve just started going through this aett with one of my students and doing it in a systematic order has been very revealing in terms of patterns and relationships that might otherwise not stand out or that might be taken for granted. Thurisaz and ansuz do the same, likewise raido and kenaz, and the sacrifice of gebo leads to the mystery and power of wunjo. Kenaz pairs well with all of them, elevating and opening the way. Raido I haven’t quite figured out yet in this capacity. It contains such an intense forward focused momentum that I feel like it aids the other runes in moving over and past (or through) blockages. It and kenaz are the outliers in these pairings for me in a way that bears further exploration. I’d add that when I say pairings, these are special relationships within this aett. They don’t preclude other working partnerships (thurisaz works extremely well with uruz for instance, or wunjo with fehu, and so forth), but I think these are particularly important in teasing out the overall power and mystery of this particular aett. The order of the runes is important on some level. How do these runes choose to interact with each other and what does that accomplish?
Working through the aett this time, I’ve realized how much Wunjo is a bitch of a rune. All the rune books talk about how it means joy or perfection (and it can). That is only on its surface. It’s also raw, ecstatic inspiration, frenzy, ekstasis. This is the rune of Bolverk when He won Óðrœrir. It’s crafty, clever, and sometimes cruel. Sometimes the force of inspiration really, really hurts. Sometimes, it demands a sacrifice of one’s preconceptions of morality, of right/wrong, one’s comfort. Sometimes it fills the space left by those sacrifices with glory. It’s the wand-rune of a God that doesn’t mind a body count, that doesn’t mind the consequences of necessary sacrifice. It’s far, far more vicious than thurisaz, which is clean and upfront in its hungers. The two of them have … a perplexing relationship that I’ve only begun exploring. Wunjo and dagaz have a similar working relationship with each other.
- It’s not that ceremonial magic can’t do that too, it’s that the way it’s so often taught is unbalanced by lack of attention devotion. Then you get ceremonial magicians who think they are God instead of competent practitioners rooted in the divine hierarchy from which the structures they are wielding flow.
- The Runes are Odin’s mysteries. Other Gods may use them (and DO!) but they are specifically Odinic mysteries and thus part of Odin’s retinue of spirits, just like the Valkyries.
- This just briefly discusses the relationship between the runes of the first aett with each other – and even there, only in brief. It should not be taken to imply that the runes of this aett don’t interact with the runes of the other aettir. They do.
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One of the key mysteries of our tradition is that of the runes. The word itself, rún, rúnar (1) means just that: ‘secret’ or ‘mystery.’ Our high God Odin (Oðinn) hung on Yggdrasil for nine nights and nine days in agony, pierced by His own spear, a sacrifice to Himself. The result of this ordeal was acquisition of the runes and the knowledge and ability to wield them. There is much the story doesn’t tell us, starting with where the runes originate, what they are, and what their connection to the fabric of creation might be.
I talk about all of these things in my book Living Runes, so I won’t focus on that too much in this post. In short, I think they originate in the Ginnungagap, are a family of living, sentient spirits, and are worked into the architecture of existence in numerous ways, creating loopholes through which the holy can seep (or work) again and again. When I think about this, they’re so often in motion, coursing through creation the way platelets, plasma, and blood cells course through our veins. They may rivet the more liminal parts of creation in place, or they may whirl and dance through the world working His will and their own. I think it varies and it’s something I’m still exploring in my own practice.
What I wanted to discuss today is one of the techniques that I employed when I was first learning how to really engage with the runes. This is also something that I give to my apprentices when they are learning the runes for themselves. Usually, this is done after one has initially met the runes through offerings and galdr – a round 1 of ‘getting to know you,’ shall we say. Once a student has passing familiarity with the runes, knows what they are, has maybe galdred a bit, or meditated with them, once he or she has his or her own devotional relationships to Gods and ancestors securely established (2), when that student is ready for the second round of in-depth engagement, this is what I have each of my apprentices do (and no, this isn’t in my book). I do this myself every now and again myself. One never stop learning after all!
Before I describe this, I want to offer one caveat. If you are going to do this, begin with Odin. He is Master of the Runes (Rúnatýr – God of the runes) and they are first and foremost His mysteries. Afterwards, next approach the Deity or Deities in turn to whom you are dedicated, Whom you would consider your fulltrui, Who hold the most significant place in your personal devotions. This is simply a matter of both protocol, and courtesy and respect.
Now, onto the exercise.
A). Make a list of the various Deities that you venerate or Whose insight you might be interested in gaining with respect to the runes. For instance, Odin, Frigga, Freya, Loki, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Heimdall, Mani, Sunna, Sinthgunt, Eir. (Make your own list, starting with Odin. This is just an example, though it’s close to the list one of my apprentices recently employed).
B). Each night, meditate upon and galdr the same rune, first making offerings to one of these Deities, and then to the rune itself. So, start with Fehu. Set up a working altar or shrine, some place where you can make offerings to the rune of the night and to whatever Deity you’re approaching. If you have a personal household shrine (and if you’re doing this, you should (3)), you can go ahead and use that. The first night, make an offering to Odin. Offer prayers to Him and ask Him if He would be willing to teach you something about fehu. Make an offering to fehu itself, asking it if it would work with Odin and teach you something about itself. Then galdr the rune, meditate on it, write down your insights. Thank the two powers, Deity and rune invoked, and you are done for the night. Work through your list of Deities meditating on the *same* rune. When you’re done, move on to the next rune and go through the list again in the same order.
What you’re essentially doing is building your own book of correspondences as you engage in this process. I would also repeat this, either approaching the same Deities or perhaps with a new list (though always begin with Odin. He is the doorway to the runes in many respects), every few months. Be polite when you approach both Powers. You are not after all, entitled to Their wisdom. As with anything, the more polite you are, the more productive this is likely to be. Even having worked with the runes for close to thirty years, I still keep this in mind every time I approach them. At the end of your list, or even somewhere in the middle of it, do one night where you do NOT approach a Deity, but work only through the rune itself.
I stumbled on this process of approaching various Deities like this accidentally. I was having a bit of trouble with something and struggling to figure out how to work the rune I had decided to call upon. Completely unexpectedly, Sigyn sorted it out giving me an unexpected bit of insight. I thought, ‘wait. You know runes?’ Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised – She is a Deity after all –but when we have deeply personal devotional relationships with our individual Gods, it can be easy to forget that They are well, Gods. It can be easy to think that we know Them as we might know a friend down the way. We may indeed know a little given that relationships are mutual processes, but no matter how much experience we have in devotion to a Deity, THEY are always so much more.
One of the things that I really like about this particular exercise also, is that it allows the one doing it the opportunity to approach Deities he or she may not have previously considered approaching. It allows for a potential devotional relationship to bloom. It gets one out of one’s comfort zone, away from the regular way of doing things and allows room for unexpected insights to occur.
There are things to consider when you are engaging in this process: how does the rune feel? When you galdr, do you get any images running through your mind, any words popping up wanting to be worked into the galdr, any other sensory expressions of its presence (and that may include taste and smell too)? How do you feel before, during, and after? Has your impression of the rune changed at all? Do your best to keep a good record of this. It is helpful when you’re going back to check your progress. Be sure to stay hydrated and maybe eat a little protein after your nightly sessions. I would also be sure to center and ground well afterwards.
Finally, the futhark tells a story. Each Aett (4) contains its own mysteries. It is normal that some runes will prove harder and more difficult to access than others. That’s ok, and the reverse is also true. Most will have one or two runes stepping forward as a guide through the futhark and through one’s work therein. When you encounter a rune that just won’t open, that’s ok. Be respectful, do your best, make your offerings and come back to it later. There are runes (for me, mostly in the third aett) that have taken years before they allowed me to so much as dip a toe into their mysteries. Again, as with so much spirit-work, you’re building a relationship. Part of the process of learning to work with runes is that they are learning your mental patterns, internal language, internal symbol set and you are learning something of theirs and the two of you are building this pidgin (is that the correct linguistic term?) by which you can communicate. You’re learning each other’s language and building a shared syllabary through which you can productively communicate. That’s going to take time. Some things cannot be rushed.
Before I close, I want to take a moment’s focus on the first aett. As with our sacred texts, there are numerous ways that one can approach and interpret the narratives that we’re given. Since there are numerous patterns in the way the runes relate to each other, one can tell many stories. While these stories are not direct engagement with the runic powers, they are a means of conceptualizing and learning from them. They are doorways into each rune’s power. Here is a very brief way of reading through the first aett connectively. Fehu is the luck that flows through our blood (ancestral luck, hamingja), vitality, wealth, abundance, power. Like a sap through a tree or chlorophyll through a leaf, it flows through our veins and the veins of our soul body giving it life – just like Loður gave us sense-awareness and color, and the roaring pulse of our heart’s blood when the Gods created humanity. Uruz is raw power, maegen, the ability to tap into, access, and use one’s luck. It is initiation that awakens us to the Powers, challenge by which we earn the right to use what we have been given. Thurisaz is a challenge to focus, to discipline, to hone and temper our power. It’s the hard work we do to strengthen our spiritual and ethical muscles. It is the force that shatters our illusions, clears us out, devours what no longer serves, frees one – sometimes violently – from constraints, burns like napalm in the soul until we order ourselves rightly and leave our bullshit behind. (Edited 3/7 to include ansuz, as I was writing with a migraine and accidentally left one of my favorite runes out). Ansuz is divine inspiration, ecstasy (in the classical religious sense), surety and confidence in the Work. It is the touch of the Gods, grace that allows us to persevere in our spiritual becoming even when it is hard. It is the opener of the way, that, if we are working to become rightly ordered, will show us the way forward. Raido is movement, momentum, overcoming of obstacles, the progress made when we accomplish the first three runic lessons and are rightly ordered with the Powers, and the power by which we may find our way through any obstacles in the way of that. Kenaz is the torch, the hearth fire, the offering fire, a candle on a shrine, the light of knowledge, piety, and devotion. It is that which we have been given to tend, to keep fed and bright and warm (our devotion, our traditions). Gebo is the process of exchange between us and the Holy powers, the law by which we are called to live our lives, the pious sensibility underlying every positively ordered engagement with the Powers, and with each other. Wunjo is the fulfillment of fehu, pleasure and ecstatic awareness of the powers, perfection and glory, joy and transformative power. It is the sum total of the other seven runes in this aett. One cannot access the fullness of wunjo, without first accessing and understanding these preceding runes. Wunjo is also the mead of inspiration, of frenzy, of magic, of inspiration on every possible level. How will you drink of it, how will it shape itself to your mind and talents? It will enliven you for the work to come with the next aett, which takes us down immediately into the place of the dead. This is the foundational work one must do in order to access the Mysteries, in order to be of use to our Gods, in order to become functionally realized human beings. It is ongoing work, and the runes can reflect that, though they are also so much more (5). I would also stress that this is only one way of lightly tapping into their insights.
I’ll wrap this up for now. As all rune work begins with Odin, so too should it end with praises to this God Who had the will to win them.
Hail to the God of the gallows,
Terrible and unrelenting.
Hail to the Wyrd-riven Wonder-worker,
Who leaves ecstasy in His wake.
Hail to the Bale-eyed Beguiler,
with His whispered charms
and savage conjurings.
Hail to the Lord of Asgard,
Architect of the Worlds
Who breathed us into Being,
Eternally let us praise Him.
- These are the nominative and genitive singular forms respectively.
- It goes without saying that the runes are a specialty, as well as being a Mystery all their own, and not only does one not have to work with the runes to be a good Heathen, but those who don’t already have their spiritual houses, i.e. their devotional world, in some semblance of order, should not work with them. They are tools of magic and divination and it becomes very complicated, very quickly.
- Really, if you don’t have the most basic devotional space set up and active in your home, you’re not ready to work with the runes no matter how far along you think you are.
- This word just refers to a set of eight. There are three sets of eight that make up the elder futhark.
- They are sentient, amoral, non-human spirits. They have their own agendas and are allied to the All-Father Who also has His agenda. It’s healthy to never forget that.
Grounded and centered, having offered to the Gods my morning prayers, and having lit incense to the ancestors I sit comfortably and consider the following meditation.
I reach up with my consciousness, through endless boughs of an enormous Tree, and its leaves whisper with secrets. I am one of those secrets being whispered and sung up the gnarled knots of that ancient Tree. It exhales me up beyond the worlds.
We exist within the breath of a God. We ride that breath into being. We exhale that breath back into the mouth of the All Father at the moment of our death. We are tied to everything through His breath and it pulses around us, the steady hand of the storm. I breathe it in down into my crown. I am alive. I am Odin sitting atop Hliðkjalf and I wear the crown of sovereignty. Nothing can separate me from this God. He has knit Himself into my soul.
It is Mani to Whom I reach as I move to my third eye. He is an ancient God and all manner of folly He has seen and dismissed. He forgets nothing and yet He is luminous. I pray that my mind and my heart may be luminous too, that I may rest in the House of the Moon, and may my Sight be always true.
My throat is filled with Loki’s fire. It burns away deceit. It cleanses and renders and because of it I speak true. His is the crucible in which I am ever refined. He hones my courage.
My heart is Sigyn’s hall. She protects and tenderly nourishes all that falls within Her care. She keeps my heart steadfast and the gentle flame of devotion burning within it. I look to Her that my soul might be constant. In such things, She does not yield.
In my gut, the seat of my will, I think on Thor. Mighty Thor with His chariot and gleaming hammer, He fights off pollution. He girds the world against dissolution. He will never be overcome. With Him at my back, I know that I will always be able to align my will with the divine order. Thor will keep me clean, the Holiness He bears will keep me focused.
In my sex lies Freya’s gift, roaring, liquid heat connecting me to life and primal desire. She is Mistress of Sesrumnir and Her blessings are holy. She teaches us to find joy in living. I strive to remember this.
At my root, lie the mysteries of Frigga’s hall. She grounds me in piety and respect, reverence, and power. She is the All-Mother and Her touch makes everything sacred. She roots me deep in the purest iteration of myself and throuh Her all magic flows.
Beneath my feet breathe the bones of the dead. Thousands of generations of ancestors having passed through Hela’s hallowed halls. They walk with me and when necessary lift me up. There is no place I can go where they are not and in times of danger they are an honor guard. With each step I thank them. With each step I am grateful.
In my hands, I feel the echo of worlds. In my right hand I hold fire, in my left hand I hold ice. There is the holy chasm in between. All of creation is within me and I see the moment the Gods willed the worlds into being. I stand with Them then, again and again. I am willed into being too with each and every prayer. I am sustained and my prayers fall like nourishing water from the well of memory upon the Tree. It is sustained too. It is enough.
I reach above me with my right hand drawing power up from the dead and from the living earth and down from the most secret powers of the heavens and it is right and good and I touch my brow and chant:
Til ykkar, Oðinn og Regin,
I touch my belly and intone: rikið.
I touch my right shoulder and intone: krafturinn
My left shoulder: dyrðin
I cross my arms over my heart: nú og að eilífu
I bow my head in reverence: Amen.
And it is done.
(my photo: “the World Tree”. Do not use without permission).
So my article on re-enchanting our world seems to have provoked a bit of concern among some of my readers. Normally, this would pass unremarked but I think in this case it really highlights the major ideological fault line running through our various communities today: what takes precedence, the Gods and spirits or humanity?
This is not new. In fact, I think it’s always been the primary fault line upon which we dance for at least the twenty-five plus years that I’ve been a polytheist. I wasn’t surprised to see it come up here. This is what the differences in our communities largely come down to: do you prioritize the Gods or do you prioritize the people and if the latter, then what it eventually becomes is prioritizing politics over any Holy Being. That is the inevitable outcome of that consideration. Is it any wonder then that the political pagan crowd are so doggedly determined to silence polytheists? We challenge the entire framework by which they have ordered their world. We also apparently challenge contemporary parenting styles, you know, the kind that teach you that there are consequences to one’s actions.
There are rules to dealing with Gods and spirits. They don’t have our ethics and we don’t make those rules but yes, we are expected to abide by them. This is not a difficult thing. There is, in fact, no small degree of middle class Western privilege inherent in our difficulties with what is really a very easy equation. It’s something that anyone raised in their own indigenous polytheisms easily comprehends. Hell, it’s something that anyone raised in a culture still possessing a vibrant folk tradition (like, for instance, Appalachia) might also comprehend. It’s only the privilege of the supposedly enlightened middle class that refuses to see what any five year old familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales might know: there are consequences to ignoring rules and we don’t get a pass with the spirits when we do so just because we’re happily steeped in social justice, politics, or racial self-abasement. Some spirits value our consent, but not all of them, not by a long shot and that goes for Gods too. What is the saying? Ignorance of the law does not excuse breaking it.
Now, one may argue that by laying my charms I’m setting out a honey trap. Yes, I am. It is still the choice of the passer by whether or not to steal it. Choices have consequences and if I am able to create even the barest crack whereby my Gods and spirits might gain greater purchase in our world, then I am happy to help and I shall sleep content.*
I think that at the core of this fault line is fear of the Gods warring with lack of belief and perhaps lack of desire to believe. If you believe in the Gods after all, then don’t you trust Them? Why would you not wish to return the world to Them, to restore what was destroyed? If you don’t believe in Them, why are you bothered at all? A delicious catch twenty-two, yes? No matter, paucity of piety on the part of others will never impact my own work and let me be clear about what that is.
My allegiance is to my Gods and spirits. My job is to open doors for Them, restore Their cultus, reclaim territory ripped away by monotheism. I am not in the least bothered if that makes people uncomfortable. I will always put the needs of my Gods and Their attendant spirits first and foremost, understanding that They are hunters, understanding that They have been waiting a very long time to reclaim what was Theirs, understanding that in struggles such as these there is always a rate of attrition. I will break your reality down until you see and hear and taste and smell, acknowledge and maybe even fear what is actually there.
and i’ll consider that a good day’s work.
* I might also add that it’s rather insulting that my readers might assume that I simply create blanket doorways for random passing spirits. Of course they are keyed to a very specific group of spirits and Gods. I am very careful in what I do.
We have assembled inside this ancient
& insane theatre
To propagate our lust for life
& flee the swarming wisdom
of the streets
This weekend was so tremendously inspiring, in part because I was able to talk with other devotees, other polytheists, and in a couple of cases other spiritworkers. We were able to exchange knowledge and techniques, and one of the things that I was able to see first hand is how others go about opening doors to the Gods and spirits in their world. I’ve come away with quite a few ideas.
One of those ideas is actually littering my town with enchantments designed to enhance people’s awareness of the Gods and spirits populating our world, designed to open small keyholes and doorways through which our eldritch spirits may skitter. I suppose it might be called ‘glamour bombing’ but there’s less glamour and more eerie fucking magic to be had when this is done right.
To create charms designed to affect the finder, designed to tag them for the spirits, designed to mark them for the Gods, designed to open their awareness little by little to the world beyond our world, the world within it, the enchantment, the holiness all around us? Fuck yeah. It is seeding the place with power. It is creating contamination with the holy. I’m good with that. Let the Gods and Their retinue of spirits seep and creep into our world by any means necessary, by any doorway, window, keyhole, and loophole at their disposal. Amen and ashe.
Tonight, I decided to try my hand at it. It’s 2:30am and I just returned from planting the first charm, and about that I’ll say no more save that I felt it take hold in the fabric of the wyrd and it is the first of many to be laid.
I’d like to encourage others to do this…use the conduit of art to lace your world with enchantments, beauty, and a little mystery. Create charms and shrines and everything in between and fucking recolonize the world for and with our Gods and every one of the spirits that serve Them. Step by step, stone by stone, shrine by shrine, offering by offering, and charm by charm let us reclaim. They are everywhere.
The Lords. Events take place beyond our knowledge or control. Our lives are lived for us. …But gradually, special perceptions are being developed. The idea of the “Lords” is beginning to form in some minds. We should enlist them into bands of perceivers to tour the labyrinth during their mysterious nocturnal appearances. The Lords have secret entrances and they know disguises. But they give themselves away in minor ways. Too much glint of light in the eye. A wrong gesture. Too long and curious a glance.