Heathen Polytheism

The Runes                                                                       

There are many different runic alphabets with rune poems from Northern Europe and Iceland as well as from these lands. We in Wuffacynn are drawn toward the rune poem that is found in the "Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium Thesaurus" by George Hickes (1705ce). Stephen Pollingtons "Rudiments of Runelore" is an invaluable addition to any bookshelf as it gives a good foundation not only for the Old English Rune Poem but to many of the runic scripts of the Northern peoples.

With the popularity of the Runes in modern Pagan practices being somewhat to the fore, it is little wonder that there is so much written about them.

The runes fit themselves quite well into modern practice as a divinatory tool, sadly the cost is that their traditional values and practices are seldom considered. Much more could be gained from the Runes if these older values and uses were at the very least considered if not practiced.

We know that the Runes individually possess certain powers and strengths and these can be harnessed by the making of bindrunes and talismans. another way of harnessing the power of the runes is Galdr (empowering rune chant).

Historically a traditional use for Runes would be to advise re the state of wyrd that ebbs and flows through our lives, and if we pursue the study of runes in history we see that they figured as part of the curative process, taking their place within the mainstream of medical practice. Medicine in Pagan Anglo Saxon England was a marriage of herbal plant lore, charms (runes?) rites and superstition. All of these approaches had value and interacted at different levels and proportions depending upon the nature of the malady or illness. Whereas today Interpretation via divination is quiet possibly the most popular modern day use for the runes.

I think it is worth taking time out to consider the greater picture of the pre Christian Era of medicine. By doing so we realise that the approach of our Anglo Saxon forefathers is not unique. Medicine had a multiplicity of approaches, and these would be utilised collectively to achieve cure. Within early classical text we learn of the value of herbs, charms, etc, echoing what I have just stated regarding the Anglo Saxon disciplines. There is no reason to discount an interchange and adaptation of ideas and remedies between the different cultures and nations. Perhaps one great difference is concerning the use of gemstones. Within the realms of classical tradition, gemstones figure to a greater degree within the curative process. Both semi precious and precious gemstones being rarer than plants were considered to be stronger in their efficacy. This particular tradition was embraced wholeheartedly by the early Christian Church. Today we see new age and other Pagan traditions embracing this practice. Within the Anglo Saxon medical discipline we do not see any great exploitation of this, quite possibly because we do not have a great wealth of indigenous precious or semi precious gemstones. Reference is made to jet. We also find reference to the Thunderstone and the ‘Eorcenstan’, possible translation, pure white, powerful stone. We are not sure exactly what these latter two were. Bald’s Leechbook advises us that the thunderstone came from the skies during thunder storms and would protect the holder from lightning strikes, here they are equated with jet. Pliny on the other hand advises us that the thunderstones were flat round and heavy, - possibly ammonite fossils. As the physical remains of a thunderbolt they would protect against a further strike. Unfortunately we know practically nothing about the ‘Eorcenstan. Although reference is made to a white stone ‘hwita stan’ by Bald which has power against the stitch and other afflictions.

Today we are aware of the historic attribution of certain qualities and powers to the runes individually and collectively and this is manifested  in the creation of bind runes and talismans. In Earlier times these bind runes could form part of the cure as well as herbal remedy. Galdrcraeft (Galdorcraft), the art of rune or spell chanting could also form part of the cure. During the Anglo Saxon period if the cure failed to work the desired effect the fault was considered to lay with the practitioner and not the cure. As with the use of herbs strict procedures governed the use of runes either in Bindrune or Galdrcraeft. The coming of Christianity put paid to these practices. The use of galdrcraeft was replaced with verses and prayers to the new middle eastern God and his son and saints. The making and giving of bindrunes was replaced with the making and giving of crosses, the new religions symbol of salvation. Much of our former herb lore has been lost to the mists of time, yet the old ways haven’t gone away they are still there, waiting to be rediscovered. One word of warning to all who may consider using the runes to make either bind runes or talismans, know your runes, know their strengths and weaknesses and use them wisely.  

There is an old story of the youth who used the runes to create what he thought was a love inducing bindrune for the love of his life, he carved it with much love and consideration and managed to hide it in the girls home under her bed. Instantly she took to her sick bed gravely ill, no one could tell the nature of her illness. Her condition worsened. When she was close to death her parents consulted an old wise Runemaster to work his skills to cure their daughter, his skills would not work but he was able to advise them that their daughter was already bound by runes. Finally the runestave was found under her bed, this was then dealt with by the Runemaster. One rune had been incorrectly placed on the bindrune turning it from an invoker of love to an inducer of illness and death. The girls’ health improved immediately. Suffice to say she did not marry the boy.

If you are not sure but want to find out more then ask/consult someone who does know the runes. There are reputable courses run to help give a greater insight into the runes for the serious enquirer. The runes have many valid uses and if used sensibly, wisely and properly with maturity the benefits are there to be had.

What else can history tell us? Tacitus who wrote ‘The Germania’ in 98CE informs us:-

" They cut of a branch from a nut bearing tree and slice it into strips; these they mark with different signs and throw them completely at random onto a white cloth."

Tacitus goes on to advise that if the consultation was public three staves would be drawn and interpreted by a priest, if the consultation was not public the responsibility for drawing and interpretation fell to the head of the household.

Using Tacitus as a reference is fine though we must be aware that he does not inform us what ‘signs’ were carved on the wooden staves. It would be easy to assume runes were used, but in reality this is all we have, an assumption.

Tacitus provides an interesting commentary from a period in Germanic history. Apart from these writings there is precious little if anything else available to gain an insight into the lives of the various tribes/clans of the Germanic homelands. We must remember however, Tacitus used his writings to jibe at the Roman government of the day. His writings are heavily biased by his own political agenda and his Roman citizenship. Today we are too far removed from the era to determine the exact grain of truth in these works.

Other sources that provide evidence for the use of runes are from a much later period. Perhaps the most obvious and better known of these would be the Eddas.

It is from the Eddas we learn how Odin sacrificed himself in order to gain the runes and understand their secrets. We also learn that Skirnir’s threat of their use leads to his success in his quest to woo Gerd on behalf of his master, the God Frey.

The use of runes crops up on more than one occasion in the various Icelandic Sagas. Here we see them used as both charms for love, protection, and well being. We also read reports of their naïve misuse.

Early English Leechbooks give an insight into the use of runes within healing charms. Interestingly healing seems to have been a marriage between the efficacy of the herb and the power of the rune.

The realisation and study of all of these different aspects and uses of the runes, gifts to us a veritable treasury to be explored. 

Before we start any exploration of runic application we must accept the fundamental principle that the runes are very powerful. This power can manifest as both raw creativity or raw destructivity, or something middling in between. When dealing with such forces it is very important that we take the appropriate care to look after ourselves. As with all journeys the key to success is in the preparation.

Great emphasis must be put on preparation of the self. Centring the body, paying heed to ones frame of mind and inner self. Practising certain breathing techniques can help us focus. There are no short cuts to be had. Practice and perseverance are the keys to both understanding the runes and gaining an insight into their wisdom.

Each Rune must be invited in to our lives and studied, the power and strength of each Runes has to be embraced in its fullness. We have to truly know them to enable us to be true Rune Masters/Mistresses. We must never forget the diversity and rawness of this power and strength, this is why we need to adopt a positive and calm mindset that will aid and protect us on our journey. The whole process can not be rushed, there are thirty Anglo-Saxon Runes to be studied and this can not be achieved over night, take your time. Keep a diary of your journey it will act as a good “aide memoir”.  It will also serve as an invaluable personal reference point and will be your permanent reminder of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences for the years to come.


Copyright © 2007 Terry Stannard-Smith. All Rights Reserved