In my last post I talked about the general idea of divination http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/divination-1/ Now I want to focus on one divination system, Germanic runes, to help elaborate a little on how divination works for me. It should be clear from the last post that I do not think that the planets or cards or crystals or even runes have within them magical or spiritual powers that let them reveal to us (if we know certain secret keys) a future that is otherwise hidden from us. No – that spiritual power is within each of us and it can be used in many ways if we develop ways to harness it. To do that we must educate ourselves spiritually. There are many methods.
Some people paint or write or make music, and in so doing unlock powers that seem to be over and above what they are normally capable of. Handel is said to have been heard weeping in his study when writing Messiah because the music astounded him: he was writing beyond what he thought of as his normal powers. He knew all about harmony and meter and whatnot, and had good training. Even so something creative was happening that he felt he was not causing. The ancient Greeks spoke of Muses, goddesses who could come upon creative people and add to their human talents.
Many writers, including myself, know the experience of being inspired – writing without being fully aware of the force that is controlling the creative process. Some fiction authors say that the characters and the story “write themselves.” It’s as if the author sets up the situation and then just lets it run on its own to the conclusion: the author feels like the channel through which the story runs, not the creator. If you have never experienced this feeling you won’t know what I am talking about. In the Preface to The History of Morris Dancing I wrote, “Other scholars will understand me when I say that great sections of [this] book wrote themselves with me simply acting as the vehicle for getting the ideas on paper.” I am not being modest here – I don’t have modesty in me. Sure, I did 25 years of historical and archival work to set the stage, but then the ideas took over: they had lives and minds of their own. The book wrote itself.
So what is this force? I don’t know. But I do know that we can harness it if we dedicate ourselves to the task. That’s where runes come in for me. My mind, thoughts, and ideas are always all over the map. When I write my other blog (daily), one minute I’m writing about cricket in Italy, the next I’m writing about arrowroot in the South Pacific (2 recent subjects). My mind is a giant cascade of information and I am cursed with a good memory, so it all swirls and tumbles around in there all the time. I am capable of focus, but it is hard. When I write, or teach, I always have a central topic, but without warning I find myself wandering all over the place. The original MS of The History of Morris Dancing was close to1,000 pages which I eventually trimmed to 600 by ruthlessly discarding all the stuff about such topics as the influence of gunpowder on Medieval warfare and jousting, the manufacture of silk clothing in the Renaissance, and so forth. They were all interesting to me, and germane to the central topic in a loose way, but they took the reader off the main path. I just can’t focus well. I’m always wandering off the main path. If you ever take a class with me you’ll understand. This is good and bad. It’s a very creative way to live, but I don’t always get a lot accomplished in a concrete way. Runes help me focus.
I want to say that this creativity is not ME, but a spiritual force within me. It is moving me, not the other way around. Sometimes it is very active and I feel alive and on fire; other times it is dormant and I am listless and uncreative. If you want to call that force “God” so be it. I won’t disagree. To channel that force I need help, so I use runes because they are external, physical, practical. Each day I pick a rune at random from my stock and it provides the focus I need for that day. Let me explain.
Runes are the letters of an old Germanic alphabet. They were devised for writing Germanic languages some time in the 1st or 2nd century and went through many changes. For the sake of simplicity I use a variant of what is known as the Elder Futhark – the oldest and best understood of the runic alphabets. In one sense you can say they are just letters whose purpose is writing things down. That is true. But unlike the Roman alphabet that we use, the runic letters all had names that had a specific meaning. The names vary depending on the language they are used for, but the names are quite similar in meaning regardless of language. So, for example, the first letter can be called fé (Old Norse)or feoh (Anglo-Saxon), but in both cases the names mean cattle (in particular) or tangible wealth (in general). Here’s one version of the entire Elder Futhark with some basic meanings (click the image to enlarge it):
It is called the Futhark because F U TH A R K are the first six letters (“th” is one letter), just as we call the letters that we write with an “alphabet” because the first two letters of the Greek alphabet are alpha and beta. We don’t use the Greek alphabet, of course, but we stole the word “alphabet” from the Greeks. The really cool thing about the runic alphabet is that there are several rune poems extant in different languages that list the runes in order giving a poetic stanza for each that elaborates on the meaning of each name. They tend to be rather cryptic, but they delve the meanings of the words in interesting ways. In the Old Norse rune poem, for example, the first verse (for fé/wealth) is (in translation):
Wealth (fé)is a source of discord among kinsmen;
the wolf lives in the forest.
I take this to mean something like – wealth can be a good thing if used well, but can cause strife if not (there is a wolf lurking there). Families can be torn apart by inheritance. You don’t need to take the rune poems as your only touchstone of original meaning, because they are poems. But they help considerably. What they essentially tell us is that no rune/word has a simple meaning. The more you think or meditate, the more profound and complex the meanings become. But there is always a central motif. That’s perfect for me.
To use runes for divination you first need a set of runes. You can carve each rune on a separate stone or piece of wood or you can buy them. I don’t think that part is terribly important. We know that runes were used originally for divination, but we don’t know how. Maybe they were scattered at random, or picked individually from a pile, or used in some other way. We just don’t know. Various modern authors have come up with creative methods, but they generally draw on card readings or other forms of divination for inspiration. I’m very simple in my approach. I have my runes in a bag and when I need some help I draw a single rune at random without looking. Recently I’ve been struggling with some personal issues so I draw a single rune each morning to act as a guide for the day. I don’t use the pure Elder Futhark, but a modified Anglo-Saxon version because I can read Anglo-Saxon and because I know a lot about Anglo-Saxon history and culture. Therefore I relate to the Anglo-Saxon rune poem better than the Old Norse and Icelandic ones. The thing is that trying to relate to divination systems founded in ancient China or India or native America cannot be very successful for me because I am not in tune with those cultures. I am more in tune with the world of the Anglo-Saxons. My rune for today was Peordh. The rune poem says:
Peordh is a source of recreation and amusement to the great,
where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.
This is not an easy rune because we do not know exactly what “peordh” means. One guess is that it means “pear tree” but that is little help. Some people suggest that gambling dice where carved from pear wood, or maybe archaic flutes were. I don’t think it matters too much, because the emphasis is on “recreation and amusement.” If it does mean “pear tree” meanings open a little more, so I tend to accept that derivation.
All day I have been thinking about peordh even as I go about my various tasks. The rune provides focus to my chaotic mind. How can I be “blithe” today? How can I find “recreation and amusement” in company? My rambling, chaotic mind is still rambling and chaotic; but day by day it has a focus. Today it is peordh, tomorrow who knows?
To be continued . . . ( a lot)