Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG)

Our religion is a living religion, our gods are living gods. Because of this it is our belief that the gods speak to people, that they are active in the lives of those who form relationships with them. They send us messages and signs, they respond to prayers, they visit us with dreams and visions; communication between us and them is in this way not a one way road. Yet we must temper this belief with the understanding that entities can and do misrepresent themselves and can and do lie. Because of this we cannot throw ourselves completely to the wind with whichever entity knocks on our door.

When discussing receiving divine inspiration it is important to first discuss the generally accepted vocabulary. You may already be somewhat familiar with some or all of these terms:

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis)

SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis)

VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis)

It is important to discuss these terms by breaking them down. “Gnosis” is a term of Greek origin that indicates religious knowledge. There is unfortunately nothing inherent in this term that really implies it is knowledge recieved from gods or spirits. Gnosis could in this way be any knowledge, learned from any source, even a book or a teacher. This is a shortcoming in the modern terminology I will discuss in a moment. But when we apply the “personal” to the gnosis it is implying that the knowledge has direct personal links to you, the gnosis is your personal knowledge recieved by you.

The proper term for “personal gnosis” should technically be “epiphany”. An epiphany (another Greek term) originally was an insight gained from a divine source. This is somewhat different than the term for a vision of a god themselves which was called “theophany”. A theophany was a specialized type of epiphany in this way because while it is relatively accepted that all epiphanies are generally of divine origin they do not always concern the gods or show the gods. Instead the epiphany becomes a theophany when the diety involved in sending the epiphany manifests themselves in the epiphany. Most of the time these days when people use the term “UPG” they are really meaning epiphany or theophany.

The P in UPG is important. If you are watching a movie, if you are reading a book, if you are listening to someone else explain something and you decide it jives with you and you put it into your practice – it is not your UPG. You didn’t have the epiphany, someone else did, it is impersonal to you, it is not your UPG, it is someone else’s. You’re merely along for the ride because they convinced you to join into their UPG. UPG is more than just a feeling of “alright, that seems reasonable, yeah okay”, UPG is supposed to be your epiphany or theophany. If someone is telling you about something it doesn’t just become your UPG any more than you would become the inventor of the lightbulb upon learning about Thomas Edison’s invention.

It is both unfortunate and fortuitous that we have UPG as our go to term; it is unfortunate because proper terms like epiphany and theophany already existed but it is fortuitous because the U in UPG is a saving grace for the term. The U in UPG is Unverified. This means that inherent in the term is the need for verification. Verification occurs through one of two avenues – research into the pre-existing religious material to see if it is supported in the lore or through time when many others over generations have recieved the same or similar UPG which has been substantiated independently.

Shared Personal Gnosis (SPG) in an of itself is not substantiation. The shared aspect does not mean you tell someone about your UPG and they agree with it. It is not your UPG if someone else recieved the vision, it’s still their UPG no matter how much you jive with it. Instead, SPG occurs when two people in unrelated events have the same epiphany such that there are two people who recieved the same piece of knowledge independently from the gods. It is SPG between those people who shared the message of the epiphany because it is personal to them. This does not in and of itself substantiate the UPG but it does provide a route for it after a long time of many people independently corroborating the information over decades or longer.

Verified Personal Gnosis (VPG) is essentially when someone receives an epiphany which upon further research they find out is directly supported by something in the lore. At that point of verification the personal nature of the gnosis is valuable only to the person who recieved the epiphany and it become more communally valuable to share the lore source as well when discussing the epiphany. Alternately, as stated previously, when many others over generations have recieved the same or similar UPG which has been substantiated independently it can also become verified. But that is not a process which generally is instant gratification but would be an organic growth over generations of use.

I would then define these terms as:

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis): knowledge of a religious nature that was recieved by you from a divine source such as an epiphany (general religious understanding recieved from a divine source) or a theophany (an epiphany in which a god manifested themselves).

SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis): UPG which has been recieved by you from the divine which you have also found to have been recieved by several other individuals independent of one another but which corroborate the given information.

VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis): UPG that has been recieved by you from the divine which you have been able to corroborate through sources in the lore (or far in the future, through generations of being SPG).

I would also point out that in some cases our UPG will be directly contradicted by the lore. This presents a personal quandary. Is the lore, which was the culmination of generations of people’s epiphanies, incorrect? Or are the forces behind that specific epiphany misleading us for their own purposes? The lore can have it’s flaws and is Christianized in some places which flavors the text; all of that must be weighed against the world view and how the epiphany fits into the totality. But I feel it would be folly to ignore the lore entirely because while it is not gospel it is our best glimpse into those ancient religious traditions which were substantiating lore for generations before they were written down. I have personally set aside some of my own UPG because it did not mesh with the lore or with ancient world view. In the end though, it is up to you if you choose to believe your UPG. You are under no obligation to believe your UPG or anyone else’s because deities can and do lie. You are under no obligation to believe or trust a god just because they come to you. In the case that your UPG is contradicted in the lore it remains UPG, because it remains unverified, but it is up to you if you choose to act upon it.

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Let’s talk Declaration 127

Declaration 127 has become kind of a shorthand for inclusive heathenry. Heathen folks are essentially using it as a catch all for anything that would not be considered racist or sexist or whatever. That is a problem. From the perspective of acting like a contract, Declaration 127 is really incredibly weak. What you sign on to with Declaration 127 is a statement that says “We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.” These discriminatory policies being that they are unwelcoming of anyone not straight or white. I love the sentiment, however there are a lot more racists out there than just those in the AFA and the declaration only prevents one from doing business with or associating with the organization of the AFA. Only the AFA, and only as an organization.

It does not:

  • Take a stand against associating with individual members of the AFA
  • Take a stand against associating with racist or sexist or bigoted individuals
  • Bar a person from dealing with or including bigots in their group
  • Do anything besides prevent working for or with the AFA organization

So for all those heathens or orgs out there touting their signatory status on Declaration 127, I do not think it does what you think it does. Furthermore, it is not likely to ever do anything more than what it is currently written to do.

It is a product of it’s time, an artifact from that moment in time that the AFA was posting extremely bigoted material publicly. So this is coming to light in 2016 and continuing in 2017; through this we get Declaration 127 as a reaction. It’s original intent was to face off against the AFA, that is how it was written. It was not written to be a catch all because the only real actionable statements apply only to the AFA. It was a singular purposed document; it does this one thing for this one moment in time. It further has not evolved into something bigger or wider no matter how much people tout it; it merely sits there on its site as an artifact.

So herein lies the problem – the simple fact is that most heathens are ignorant of Declaration 127. They are not aware of its limitations, they are not aware of it’s actual content and purpose, they are not aware of it’s history, and so it has been stretched thin trying to cover more than it really was intended to cover. You would think heathens would be oath-aware considering the importance of oaths in our religious culture, you would think we would all be contract savvy because of oath-awareness, but no. We are not. The problem of this is in a group’s ability to make this actionable. Under Declaration 127 this is not actionable for what folks think it is supposed to do.

Since this has become an obvious communal need such that we stretch Declaration 127 far beyond its capabilities, we obviously need something new, we need something that actually can and will do what heathens have been assuming Declaration 127 was already doing but wasn’t. We need some kind of philosophical statement like a Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) but for heathenry. It needs not to be tied to being against any one organization and honestly considering how there is no enforcement organization to check up on things it needs to just be a statement of philosophy. So when groups sign on, they can be pledging that they hold with a set of philosophical minimums.

And yes, it needs to be set at a minimum bar – that those who signed on essentially would collectively pledge our groups and personal practices to be opposed to discrimination against others due to their race, gender, or sexuality. That is truly all that needs to be set at the moment too, a bare minimum against bigotry. So many times people set things at the highest level for idealistic reasons but for these purposes you want to include anyone who is not a sexist or racist or homophobe and not to exclude people who would otherwise support the non-racist non-sexist position. You essentially want to draw a line in the sand. Perfect is the enemy of good, we cannot allow perfection to prevent us from coming together to face off against these issues. But so too is specificity an enemy in this case; it was the specificity of Declaration 127 that effectively neuters it. We need something though, because we cannot keep just trusting that we’re covered by Declaration 127 when we’re really not.

We also need to collectively understand something about inclusion and inclusivity that many understand but some people still struggle to wrap their minds around – that just because we take a stand against bigotry in our religious groups it doesn’t mean we necessarily must throw wide the doors of our religious groups to anyone for any reason. Not everyone is well suited for every group, not every group is well suited for every person. Taking a stand against discrimination based on things people cannot control (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) does not mean you cannot close your group off from negative things people can control (racism, bad attitude, toxic personality, dangerous behaviors, etc.). You don’t want liars in your group, you don’t want unapologetic assholery in your group, you don’t want frithless folk. The choices we make, our deeds, and the people we choose to be are what we should be judged on, not who we are born as. You want religion to be enjoyable, you should not hate the people you’re standing in worship with.

(If you would like to check out the wording for yourself, pay close attention to the actionable parts underlined: Declaration 127.)

This is my attempt at a philosophical statement on these matters: Declaration of Deeds.

⌘ This is a Valknut

⌘ This is a Valknut.

800px-Valknut.svg

This one, not as much.

The thing we’ve come to associate fondly with as a “Valknut” is a symbol we do not fully understand the name or the meaning of. What does this mean? It means that as with oh so many other aspects of things we “know” and love, the earliest forces of modern heathenry fed us all a hefty dose of misinformation which we readily gobbled up and internalized to the extent that people were and are out there warning others not to get the “Valknut” symbol tattooed onto their bodies or they may suffer the fate of being chosen by Odin.

Case in point:

screenshot_20190830-074621_samsung internet4918813991635605213..jpg

[1]
What a load of hogwash. It has zero bearing in fact when we reexamine the evidence we have available.

This symbol, dubbed the “Valknut” modernly, is unnamed on any historical source in which it is pictured and its name passed from folk reckoning. It does not appear in any lore source by that name at all. This seems odd, so why did we start calling it a “valknut” then? Basically, people modernly named it that giving it the air of accuracy and authenticity by it being in Old Norse. I tried, I really tried to figure out who incorrectly applied the term for the symbol and that information was not forthcoming; I’m sure it exists somewhere but I do not know who erroneously applied that term or when. However, there already existed a symbol by that name and it is most certainly not triangular. The looped square (⌘) is known as the valknute in Norway, it is a Valknut. That ⌘ has a history of ancient heathen use as well and if its name is a survival you’d find the etymology would be interesting and everything people want the “Valknut” to be. However, if ⌘ is a Valknut, what should the “Valknut” properly be called?

1024px-Vodicka_triquetra1.svg

It’s in a family of symbols we refer to as triquetras (as seen above), but that is most certainly not what it would have been called for the ancient heathens. Instead, the most likely name for it would be Hrungnir’s heart. This name is derived from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda the Skáldskaparmál in which he wrote:

“Hrungnir átti hjarta þat, er frægt er, af hörðum steini ok tindótt með þrimr hornum, svá sem síðan er gert ristubragð þar, er Hrungnishjarta heitir.”[2]

Here in the 1916 Brodeur Translation:

“Hrungnir had the heart which is notorious, of hard stone and spiked with three corners, even as the written character is since formed, which men call Hrungnir’s Heart.” (Skáldskaparmál, Prose Edda)[3]

This is our only source for this, and even it is unspecific, because of that it is not a definitive answer as to the name of this symbol. However, no other source exists to even hint at the name of the symbol. The name “Valknut” was applied to the symbol modernly and any connections to that name through etymology or philology would not apply because that is not the proper ancient name. Those etymologies would instead probably apply to the ⌘.

Hammars.png
The whole Stora Hammars I stone can be seen here.

If it’s not a Valknut, is it at least connected to Odin? No, not *definitively*. It appears on various carved stones and none definitively show Odin with the symbol. On Storra’s Stone I there is a hanged(? this one is somewhat dubious) man and a raven(? it could be a raven) and perhaps a human sacrifice(? I don’t know what is going on here but it looks like some dude is being shoved into a photo copier) as well as a man with a spear and the symbol appears above.

stone
The whole Tängelgårda stone can be seen here.

Yet in the Tängelgårda stone an eight legged horse sleipnir(? because what other horse has eight legs) is pictured in one area without any of the symbol and elsewhere a man on a four legged horse is pictured with several of them. There was clear opportunity to put the triangular symbol with Sleipnir but it was not done, there was clear knowledge of the symbol because it was pictured elsewhere on the same stone. This to me signifies that it is probably not strictly a symbol of Odin but instead something else entirely. To me, the burden of showing it as a symbol of Odin has not been met. If it isn’t entirely a symbol of Odin and if it isn’t a “Valknut”, well what is it?

Is the “Valknut” a symbol of death? I am not convinced it is a death symbol. This goes back at least to H.R. Ellis Davisdon who associated the “Valknut” to Woden through some cremation urns found in East Anglia.[4] However, Davisdon does not reproduce drawings of the particular urn or urns she was referencing and they have alluded me in my searches for them. I have seen Spong Hill urns with Horses and what looks like wolves on them, but none with the “Valknut”. I have been trying to find pictures of these specific urns. You would think you could search for the urn you wanted to see by symbol, but no. I have seen lots, LOTS of urns with swastikas on them. But here is the problem – even if there are urns covered in “Valknuts”, just because someone stamps it on an urn does not make whatever it is stamped there a symbol of death. So even if these “Valknut” urns do show the “Valknut” we know and not just some other triquetra it does not make it a death symbol. I will keep looking for them all the same though.

The simple answer is that we just do not know what this symbol means. It’s definitely not a “Valknut” though, not a “knot of the slain”, that is what we can know for certain. Too many mental connections have been made to the false etymology though and due to this it will be hard to shake. It is also probably not strictly a symbol of Odin either, but either way it isn’t provable. It could be a death symbol, but could just as easily not be one. It might have been called Hrungnir’s heart at least some of the time; but even that isn’t completely certain despite being our best bet from the lore. What is certain is that you need not fear the symbol. From everything we do know about it, we can say that there is no evidence that it is some kind of Odin beacon drawing his attention. What is far more likely to be an Odin beacon is worrying overly much about Odin beacons.

Furthermore, we as a whole should become more aware of passing on information we cannot trace back to a source. UPG is fine and dandy for you when it is your UPG. But we’re coming up against things not based in the lore that have been passed around as unquestionable truth for nearing two decades now which we cannot trace back to a source. Many of these things may have been UPG, but when they lost that personal connection and were passed off as gospel they lost all real value. The problem is that people have had this “Valknut” idea beat over their heads from day one continuing for decades and it is baseless. We need to get away from that and we need to reevaluate these things more instead of just accepting that they’re true just because so-and-so told so-and-so from a twenty year old source.

[1] http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/tattoos.html (This image shows an all too common idea we need to reexamine).

[2] Snorre Sturlason, Snorres Edda, accessed on Völuspá.org September 3, 2019, http://www.voluspa.org/skaldskaparmal21-30.htm

[3] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed September 3, 2019, https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre05.htm

[4] H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1981), 147.

Against Monism and Omnipotence

So there is this concept in Neo-Platonic thought called Monism. In a nutshell, this guy Plotinus had this concept of “the One” which was like an everything god or more properly THE everything god. In a sense it is like the softest of soft polytheism, so soft that all the gods and really everything everywhere gets boiled down to the One. This is really at issue in some polytheist philosophy today in that there is a disagreement on the nature of omnipotence because Monism would have an omnipotent force because it is all of everything and therefore omnipotent. I am here to give an argument against Monism and thereby once more against omnipotence.

I would contend that Monism is inconsistent with something that appears to be evident through experience, namely, that there is a plurality of things. I see rocks and not all rocks are the same and certainly trees are not rocks and people are not trees. There is a plurality of things that are observable. We shall assume that a plurality of material things exists, and so barring radical skepticism about both perception and observation, there seems to be strong observable evidence for existence pluralism.

It is obvious through perception and observation that there is a plurality of concrete objects. It is intuitively obvious that since there is a plurality of concrete objects, then there is good evidence based reasoning to believe that there is a plurality of insubstantial objects. Let me be clear in this, if I ask you to imagine the idea of a chair that idea would be different from the idea of a frog and the idea of the frog from the idea of a cup. Even though I have asked you to imagine these things and they did not exist in the concrete world but instead were the mere idea of these things, your mind reached out and grasped the idea of these things in a way that shows that there is a plurality of insubstantial objects as well. So even in the insubstantial realm we can see that we can observe evidence of a plurality of insubstantial objects.

Even in science there is a plurality of things. The element Hydrogen is not the element Selenium is not the element Tungsten. They behave entirely different. If we go further and say they are built of the same things, we can know quite well that the proton is not the same as the neutron is not the same as the electron. And even further our scientific knowledge tells us that dark matter exists and it is fundamentally different from matter. These things differ, even in the scientific world there is a great plurality of things.

If we see such overwhelming evidence of the plurality of things in both the concrete and insubstantial realms of observation, how can we argue for the one-ness of everything? Monism is thereby contradicted by and should be found to be completely and totally inconsistent with observation and with perception.

To tackle it from another direction, let me bring up Plato himself. Plato held the idea of the existence of a multi-part soul, itself not unique to Plato but being an offshoot of a general belief in the multiplicity of the soul. However Socrates in Plato’s Republic Book IV rationalized it and provided the logic for proving a multi-part soul could and should exist. The rationale was essentially that if something is at one with itself it is not in conflict and that if conflict does indeed exist in the thing it is indeed not one thing. This goes into the law of non-contradiction.

In a sense, a person can be in conflict with themselves and that provides the rationale for the soul being multi-part, because if it were not multi-part then we would be of one nature and could not be in conflict with ourselves.

Furthermore, on divinity we utilize the stories about divinity as well as our own experiences of divinity to shed light on the nature of the gods. In even this we see conflict, and where there is conflict there is not one thing but many because to be one would mean to be in a state where conflict did not exist. Furthermore, seeing as how divinity presents itself as multitudinous, why would we consider it otherwise? That seems to me to be hubris – that we in this way think so highly of ourselves we think we know better than the gods. If a divine entity is throughout time appearing as an individual in and of themselves, who are we to argue with that entity’s expression of self?

There is conflict within the universe around us, it is readily visible and observable; how does monism overcome this most basic thing? Monism would need to completely disregard the extremely apparent conflict in the nature of the observable universe and indeed the conflicting nature of all things in order to rationalize that away into one-ness. I am sure that someone will try, but if to hold a philosophy one must contort the very nature of the universe and everything inside of it to do so then it is an unnatural thing twisted and contrived and not one inspired by observation and perception.

The Bifröst – Rainbow Bridge of the Gods… or is it?

So the other day I was thinking about the colors of the rainbow when something I had read in the Prose Edda came back into the back of my mind and began to nag and eat at me. The Prose Edda says that the Bifröst has three colors. Three colors. Three. That just did not compute for a hot minute. I sat there stumped thinking about how a rainbow on even a meagre day has more colors than that. So I decided to look it up and see what else I may have glazed over. As it turns out there are actually a few potential hiccups with our interpretations of the Bifröst, especially in how the texts we have described the thing itself. (Check out the rest of the Bifröst source material at the end of this post if you want more than I post to read here.)

 

The best description for the Bifröst comes from the Prose Edda and reads:

English, Brodeur Translation (1916):
“Then said Gangleri: ‘What is the way to heaven from earth?’
Then Hárr answered, and laughed aloud: ‘Now, that is not wisely asked; has it not been told thee, that the gods made a bridge from earth, to heaven, called Bifröst? Thou must have seen it; it may be that ye call it rainbow. It is of three colors, and very strong, and made with cunning and with more magic art than other works of craftsmanship. But strong as it is, yet must it be broken, when the sons of Múspell shall go forth harrying and ride it, and swim their horses over great rivers; thus they shall proceed.’
Then said Gangleri: ‘To my thinking the gods did not build the bridge honestly, seeing that it could be broken, and they able to make it as they would.’
Then Hárr replied: ‘The gods are not deserving of reproof because of this work of skill: a good bridge is Bifröst, but nothing in this world is of such nature that it may be relied on when the sons of Múspell go a-harrying.’”[1] Gylfaginning XIII

Old Norse:
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Hver er leið til himins af jörðu?”
Þá svarar Hárr ok hló við: “Eigi er nú fróðliga spurt. Er þér eigi sagt þat, er goðin gerðu brú af jörðu til himins, er heitir Bifröst? Hana muntu sét hafa. Kann vera, at þat kallir þú regnboga. Hon er með þrimr litum ok mjök sterk ok ger með list ok kunnáttu meiri en aðrar smíðir. En svá sterk sem hon er, þá mun hon brotna, þá er Múspellsmegir fara ok ríða hana, ok svima hestar þeira yfir stórar ár. Svá koma þeir fram.”
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Eigi þótti mér goðin gera af trúnaði brúna, ef hon skal brotna mega, er þau megu þó gera sem þau vilja.”
Þá mælti Hárr: “Eigi eru goðin hallmælis verð af þessi smíð. Góð brú er Bifröst, en enginn hlutr er sá í þessum heimi er sér megi treystast, þá er Múspellssynir herja.”[2]

 

English, Brodeur Translation (1916):
“Then said Gangleri: ‘Does fire burn over Bifröst?’
Hárr replied: ‘That which thou seest to be red in the bow is burning fire; the Hill-Giants might go up to heaven, if passage on Bifröst were open to all those who would cross. There are many fair places in heaven, and over everything there a godlike watch is kept. …’”[3] Gylfaginning XV

Old Norse
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Brenn eldr yfir Bifröst?”
Hárr segir: “Þat, er þú sér rautt í boganum, er eldr brennandi. Upp á himin mundu ganga hrímþursar ok bergrisar, ef öllum væri fært á Bifröst, þeim er fara vilja. Margir staðir eru á himni fagrir, ok er þar allt guðlig vörn fyrir. …”[4]

 

From this we can gather that the Bifröst is *perhaps* called a rainbow, has three colors, and is covered in a visible burning fire.

 

We find mention in both Prose Edda and Poetic Edda the quality of the Bifröst burning or being covered in visible fire (Þat, er þú sér rautt í boganum, er eldr brennandi). Sure they say it was perhaps called rainbow (kann vera, at þat kallir þú regnboga), but they never said that for certain merely that it could be (kann vera). It also said it had three colors (Hon er með þrimr litum). These things simply do not jive with each other if it is a rainbow. But perhaps we’re thinking about it in the wrong way, perhaps our entire interpretation of the Biföst is some kind of mild misunderstanding. Now let me spin you a tale.

 

What if the Bifröst is not a rainbow at all as we know it but is instead the Aurora Borealis? The Aurora Borealis is unlike the rainbow in many ways but is like the rainbow in others. It is multi-colored like a rainbow and can technically be seen in several colors, but it really only usually comes in three (or four) main colors – red, green (sometimes blue in there), and like a pinky violet.[5] And this apparently has to do with what elements the solar wind is affecting and at what height in the atmosphere.[6] I am not a physicist so I’m relying on others here and my sources being from student website projects done at the University of Fairbanks Alaska (because they were concise and had understandable graphics that help). So it is not a precisely perfect color match entirely to fit *perfectly* in the three; but because it is less frequent to see and it is variable it is then also far more likely that they could register and justify three colors typical for the Aurora than they could three colors for a rainbow.

auroracolors[7]
This image shows that the greatest possibility is within the green spectrum but that technically a fourth color of blue is possible but is still within the mostly green spectrum.

 

AuroraSpectrum[8]
This image shows a comparison between the ordinary rainbow which is represented by the spectrum of light and also the spectrum of light possible in the Aurora which greatly reduces the number of colors you can see in relation to the rainbow.

 

The other quality and one that is mentioned far more often is the burning nature of the Biföst. Nobody to my knowledge has ever mistaken a rainbow for burning. But that is precisely what has happened time and time again through history with the Aurora Borealis.

One notable example comes from Seneca who was discussing the various phenomena visible in the sky when he began talking about the Aurora Borealis –

“Among these should certainly be placed a phenomenon of which we often read in the chronicles – the heavens appeared to be on fire. The blaze of it is occasionally so high as to mount to the very stars; occasionally it is so low as to present the appearance of a distant fire. In the reign of Tiberius Caesar the fire brigade hurried off to the colony at Ostia supposing it to be in flames; during the greater part of the night there had been a dull glow in the sky, which appeared to proceed from a thick smoky fire. No one has any doubt that these burnings in the heavens contain flame as really as they display it; they have a certain substance in them.”[9]

Now here we have a Roman talking about the Aurora Borealis and speaking of it that it truly contained flames as it appeared so full of them. Yet in the next paragraph section he wonders about the illusory nature of the rainbow because it appeared to be some kind of illusion or phantasm or apparition and did not seem substantial.[10] This can show that to the ancient world there is a big difference in the realness of these two astronomical events, the Aurora Borealis is something that is so real looking and so flame like that it warrants mustering the fire brigade while one wonders if the rainbow is just a trick and illusion. This is further not the only occurrence of the flame-like quality of the Aurora Borealis, history and folklore of people the whole world wide who have remarked on the flaming nature of the Aurora.

 

The next thing to consider is that the Norse peoples would have been far enough north to see the Aurora in ways that more southern folks would not have been able to see. This works two ways, making it probably somewhat more likely for it to work its way into their myths and conversely making it harder for southern-minded people to recognize it when the northern-minded people wrote about it.

 

To recap, there are three descriptions for the Bifröst written about in the Eddas: that the Bifröst is perhaps called a rainbow, that it has three colors, and that it is covered in a visible burning fire. All three of these are well suited to describing the Aurora, however only one of these is useful in describing an actual rainbow. But the most telling aspect may be in the name itself, Bifröst. Let’s discuss etymology.

 

We can learn from the etymology which for Bifrǫst seems to be either from bifa (“shake, tremble”) or in the case of the variant Bilrǫst would be from bil (“moment”).[11] Neither of these is incredibly conducive for describing a rainbow but do fit fairly well with the Aurora which moves and shimmers and shakes in ways that the rainbow never has and never will and is furthermore far less predictable and far more in the moment than a rainbow. The “-rǫst” is somewhat more puzzling and I propose more important because it is related to “rest”.[12] The word Bifrǫst seems odd to use “-rǫst”, rest, when it could have used “-brú”, which would have been applicable seeing as how it means bridge, a word they were well accustomed to using even when describing supernatural bridges; unless the “rest” aspect is in fact very important.[13] I propose that it is precisely this that gives us the last clue that the Bifröst is indeed the Aurora Borealis – “-rǫst” being rest indicates evidence that it took place at night when people were intended to be resting.

 

Being a person living in the south and never having seen the Aurora, I would like to think that the Bifröst would be the rainbow for selfish reasons that I would get to see it. However, I can no longer personally support that conclusion because everything in the evidence is screaming at me that the Bifröst is actually the Aurora Borealis. It typically has the proper number of colors, it appears as if on fire and indeed was historically mistaken for fire, it is rainbow-like, it shimmers and shakes, and perhaps most importantly it appears when people are resting – hence the “-rǫst”. Given these things, it is most probable that the Bifröst is best understood as the Aurora Borealis.

 

 

 

 

Sources for the Bifröst:

 

Fáfnismál – Poetic Edda

Sigurth spake:
14. “Tell me then, Fafnir, | for wise thou art famed,
And much thou knowest now:
How call they the isle | where all the gods
And Surt shall sword-sweat mingle?”

Fafnir spake:
15. “Oskopnir is it, | where all the gods
Shall seek the play of swords;
Bilrost breaks | when they cross the bridge,
And the steeds shall swim in the flood.[14]

 

Grímnismál – Poetic Edda

  1. Kormt and Ormt | and the Kerlaugs twain
    Shall Thor each day wade through,
    (When dooms to give | he forth shall go
    To the ash-tree Yggdrasil;)
    For heaven’s bridge | burns all in flame,
    And the sacred waters seethe.

  1. The best of trees | must Yggdrasil be,
    Skithblathnir best of boats;
    Of all the gods | is Othin the greatest,
    And Sleipnir the best of steeds;
    Bifrost of bridges, | Bragi of skalds,
    Hobrok of hawks, | and Garm of hounds.[15]

 

Gylfaginning – Prose Edda

XIII. Then said Gangleri: “What is the way to heaven from earth?” Then Hárr answered, and laughed aloud: “Now, that is not wisely asked; has it not been told thee, that the gods made a bridge from earth, to heaven, called Bifröst? Thou must have seen it; it may be that ye call it rainbow.’ It is of three colors, and very strong, and made with cunning and with more magic art than other works of craftsmanship. But strong as it is, yet must it be broken, when the sons of Múspell shall go forth harrying and ride it, and swim their horses over great rivers; thus they shall proceed.” Then said Gangleri: “To my thinking the gods did not build the bridge honestly, seeing that it could be broken, and they able to make it as they would.” Then Hárr replied: “The gods are not deserving of reproof because of this work of skill: a good bridge is Bifröst, but nothing in this world is of such nature that it may be relied on when the sons of Múspell go a-harrying.”

 

XV … Each day the Æsir ride thither up over Bifröst, which is also called the Æsir’s Bridge. These are the names of the Æsir’s steeds: Sleipnir [The Slipper] is best, which Odin has; he has eight feet. The second is Gladr [Bright or Glad], the third Gyllir [Golden], the fourth Glenr [The Starer], the fifth Skeidbrimir [Fleet Courser], the sixth Silfrintoppr [Silver-top], the seventh Sinir [ Sinewy], the eighth Gisl [ Beam, Ray], the ninth Falhófnir [ Hairy-hoof], the tenth. Gulltoppr [ Gold-top], the eleventh Léttfeti [ Light-stepper]. Baldr’s horse was burnt with him; and Thor walks to the judgment, and wades those rivers which are called thus:

 

Körmt and Örmt | and the Kerlaugs twain,
Them shall Thor wade
Every day | when he goes to doom
At Ash Yggdrasill;
For the Æsir’s Bridge | burns all with flame,
And the holy waters howl.”

Then said Gangleri: “Does fire burn over Bifröst?” Hárr replied: “That which thou seest to be red in the bow is burning fire; the Hill-Giants might go up to heaven, if passage on Bifröst were open to all those who would cross. There are many fair places in heaven, and over everything there a godlike watch is kept…”

 

XVII. Then said Gangleri: “Thou knowest many tidings to tell of the heaven. What chief abodes are there more than at Urdr’s Well?” Hárr said: “Many places are there, and glorious. That which is called Álfheimr is one, where dwell the peoples called Light-Elves; but the Dark-Elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike in appearance, but by far more unlike in nature. The Light-Elves are fairer to look upon than the sun, but the Dark-Elves are blacker than pitch. Then there is also in that place the abode called Breidablik, and there is not in heaven a fairer dwelling. There, too, is the one called Glitnir, whose walls, and all its posts and pillars, are of red gold, but its roof of silver. There is also the abode called Himinbjörg; it stands at heaven’s end by the bridge-head, in the place where Bifröst joins heaven. Another great abode is there, which is named Valaskjálf; Odin possesses that dwelling; the gods made it and thatched it with sheer silver, and in this hall is the Hlidskjálf, the high-seat so called. Whenever Allfather sits in that seat, he surveys all lands.

 

XXVII. “Heimdallr is the name of one: he is called the White God. He is great and holy; nine maids, all sisters, bore him for a son. He is also called Hallinskídi and Gullintanni; his teeth were of gold, and his horse is called Gold-top. He dwells in the place called Himinbjörg, hard by Bifröst: he is the warder of the gods, and sits there by heaven’s end to guard the bridge from the Hill-Giants. He needs less sleep than a bird; he sees equally well night and day a hundred leagues from him, and hears how grass grows on the earth or wool on sheep, and everything that has a louder sound. He has that trumpet which is called Gjallar-Horn, and its blast is heard throughout all worlds. Heimdallr’s sword is called Head. It is said further:

Himinbjörg ‘t is called, | where Heimdallr, they say,
Aye has his housing;
There the gods’ sentinel | drinks in his snug hall
Gladly good mead.
And furthermore, he himself says in Heimdalar-galdr:
I am of nine | mothers the offspring,
Of sisters nine | am I the son.

 

  1. … In this din shall the heaven be cloven, and the Sons of Múspell ride thence: Surtr shall ride first, and both before him and after him burning fire; his sword is exceeding good: from it radiance shines brighter than from the sun; when they ride over Bifröst, then the bridge shall break, as has been told before.[16]

[1] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm (I have formatted the structure of the paragraph to better match the Old Norse but have not altered the text.)

[2] Snorre Sturlason, Snorres Edda, accessed on Völuspá.org August 15, 2019, http://www.voluspa.org/gylfaginning11-20.htm

[3] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm  (I have formatted the structure of the paragraph to better match the Old Norse but have not altered the text.)

[4] Snorre Sturlason, Snorres Edda, accessed on Völuspá.org August 15, 2019, http://www.voluspa.org/gylfaginning11-20.htm

[5] Christina Shaw, “Why are there Colors in the Aurora?”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/211.fall2000.web.projects/Christina%20Shaw/AuroraColors.html

[6] Christina Shaw, “Why are there Colors in the Aurora?”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/211.fall2000.web.projects/Christina%20Shaw/AuroraColors.html

[7] Christina Shaw, “Why are there Colors in the Aurora?”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/211.fall2000.web.projects/Christina%20Shaw/AuroraColors.html

[8] Alex Slaymaker, “Welcome to Colors”, University of Alaska Fairbanks, accessed August 15, 2019, http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/212_spring_2014/Alex_Slaymaker/Alex_Slaymaker/Colors.html

[9] Seneca, Physical Science in the Time of Nero: Being a Translation of the Quaestiones Naturales of Seneca, translated by John Clarke (London: MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1910), 40-41. Accessed August 15, 2019, https://archive.org/stream/physicalsciencei00seneiala#page/40/mode/2up

[10] Seneca, Physical Science in the Time of Nero: Being a Translation of the Quaestiones Naturales of Seneca, translated by John Clarke (London: MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1910), 41. Accessed August 15, 2019, https://archive.org/stream/physicalsciencei00seneiala#page/40/mode/2up

[11] “Bifrǫst”, Wiktionary, accessed August 15, 2019,  https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Bifr%C7%ABst#Old_Norse (Bifröst is my usual spelling but my source here uses the more accurate Bifrǫst)

[12] “Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/rastō”, Wiktionary, accessed August 15, 2019,  https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/rast%C5%8D

[13] “brú”, Wiktionary, accessed August 15, 2019, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/br%C3%BA#Old_Norse

[14] Henry Adams Bellows, trans., The Poetic Edda (New York, NY: Princeton University Press, 1936), “Fafnismol”, accessed August 15, 2019,  http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe24.htm

[15] Henry Adams Bellows, trans., The Poetic Edda (New York, NY: Princeton University Press, 1936), “Grimnismol”, accessed August 15, 2019,  http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe06.htm

[16] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda, Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (New York, NY: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916), accessed August 15, 2019, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre04.htm (I added the translations for the horse names from the footnotes but did not bother with the other name translations in other verses. I like horses.)

Eostre & Ostara, We Need to Have a Talk

So here is the deal, we need to talk about Eostre. Every single year it would seem we run the gamut of people not only being woefully ill-informed and spreading misinformation but also people debunking misinformation. But the problem with this is that you also have overzealous debunkers who throw the good out with the bad. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to try to break out my sources to debunk someone else who is trying to debunk something about Eostre. And you know what? If those people are incorrect they are even more likely to cleave to their misinformation than those they are trying to debunk. Here is the thing, I’m a college educated historian, I study history. I can be swayed if the sources are compelling enough; I have altered my opinion many times as new information comes to light. Furthermore, I have come across lay historians who have no degree at all who are as well informed in their preferred subject or more so than I am. It is not a degree that matters in history; it is adherence to the historical method. But if you are trying to have a historical argument and the primary sources are staring you in the face and contradicting everything you are arguing then you’re not really having an academic argument and you should not keep that pretense. Heathenry is full of contrarians fueled by their own self-righteousness claiming they are academics yet many are ignorant of the sources or fully willing to ignore sources entirely. Reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology doesn’t make you an expert or an academic. This is not only an Eostre issue, it is a wider issue in heathenry, but today I am talking about Eostre.

The main source for Eostre comes from the Venerable Bede, in particular his book De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time). In this book he goes into a brief aside about the English months and how they were named.

 

The Latin source regarding Eostre reads:

“Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretetur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant; consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes.”[1]

 

The Faith Wallis translation reads:

“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs names Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”[2]

 

The primary source telling us about the names of the months of his time period and their origins, Bede, has informed us that the month was named after a goddess who was celebrated by feasts in the same general season as Paschal. Some people argue that Bede is lying and that no such goddess existed. First off, Bede has no reason to lie about this because it was not ordinary for clerics to invent new gods but was however common to find them arguing against ancient gods that they knew about from earlier times. Basically, he has no reason to lie about so small a detail. Furthermore, he is generally a very reliable source of information when he is relaying information from his own time period. Bede is not a bullshitter; if he wrote it in this capacity then it is very fair to say that he genuinely believed it was true. Also since he was writing about things within his own area of the world he was better equipped to know about this material than most anyone else. We can then conclude that the evidence we have is indeed pointing toward the existence of belief in a goddess named Eostre.

So who was Eostre?

This is where the record gets a little bit murkier. There is no Anglo-Saxon source for understanding what Eostre is associated with or how she acts as a goddess. But then again it is an Indo-European religion and there is a considerable overlap between Indo-European religions; religion must have developed before the tribes broke apart and migrated considering the overlap. The religions of each culture developed with their own flair but in many cases a core kernel of continuity can be discovered and many times there are linguistic or mythological links between the cultures. Essentially, it is accepted practice to examine Indo-European religions for similarities because those similarities can help inform on the other religions.

 

In this vein of thinking, if we examine Eostre we can see that she is not the isolated unknown and unknowable goddess that some try to make her out to be. Eostre is linguistically related to several goddesses through the PIE root word *haéusōs: Eos (Greek), Aurora (Roman), Aušrinė (Lithuanian), Auseklis (Latvian), Ushas (Vedic).[3] Each of these goddesses is linked both to dawn and the east in this linguistic way, which makes sense given the location of dawn in the east.

 

I will provide a more full and actionable reconstruction of Eostre through these goddesses as a lens soon.

 

Now you know I feel conflicted about Jacob Grimm. On the one hand his book is incredibly old and full of too many leaps than a historian should make and stay within the boundaries of the evidence. On the other hand, Grimm also says many things most historians think in the subject but would never say because to do so would be to step beyond the evidence. Grimm is also biased. Grimm is a nationalist and wanted to condense and boil things down into a Germanic mythology. But Grimm was also pretty damn good at historical linguistics. Grimm, being German-centered, goes straight to Ostara. Now I can hear your alarm bells going off – *warning*Ostara alert *warning*. But really, we have to examine in ourselves why we react this way to Ostara. Let’s examine what Grimm actually has to say on the subject and then we will examine his sources and thought process.

 

“We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears the oldest of OHG. remains the name ôstarâ gen. –ûn; it is mostly found in the plural, because two days (ôstertagâ, aostortagâ, Diut. 1, 266a) were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the AS. Eástre, must in the heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries. All the nations bordering on is have retained the Biblical ‘pascha’, even Ulphilas writes paska, not áustrô, though he must have known the word; the Norse tongue also has imported its pâskir, Swed. påsk, Dan. paaske. The OHG. adv. ôstar expresses movement toward the rising sun (Gramm. 3, 205), likewise the ON. auster, and probably an AS. eástor and Goth. áustr. In Latin the identical auster has been pushed round to the noonday quarter, the South. In the Edda a male being, a spirit of light, bears the name of Austri, so a female one might have been Austra; the High German and Saxon tribes seem on the contrary to have formed only an Ostarâ, Eástre (fem.) not Ostaro, Eástra (masc). And that may be the reason why the Norsemen said pâskir and not austrur: they had never worshipped a goddess Austra, or her cultus was already extinct.

Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted to the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter, and according to a popular belief of long standing, the moment of the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy (Superst. 813). Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing (Superst. 775, 804); here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess (see Suppl.).”[4]

 

Obviously he is incorrect on a number of his ideas like the thought of male counterparts and trying to shoehorn the Norse into having an Eostre goddess. I cringe a bit in reading them. But Grimm is not trying to tell you the gods-honest-truth here; he is trying to spitball ideas. Furthermore, his goal is to find some overarching Germanic mythology and to stop short of at least trying to spitball the idea would not have fulfilled his biases. But just because his work is biased and flawed does not make it useless. I read here in this section more truth than falsehood on the whole, but only if you are able to distinguish the two. The key to this section though is that he sees a link between Eostre and various other PIE dawn goddesses, and in this he is almost certainly correct. He further links Eostre to Ostara, and rightfully so. And that is a link all too often ignored because of many heathens having overriding bias against anything perceived as being too touched by Wicca or something else similar. Here is the thing though; Ostara is not the “fluffy” and baseless thing many of you have been led to believe.

 

A brief history of Ostara:

Ostara is first mentioned in Eginhard’s Vita Karoli Magni (the Life of Charlemagne):

 

Latin:

“Mensibus etiam iuxta propriam linguam vocabula inposuit, cum ante id temporis apud Francos partim Latinis, partim barbaris nominibus pronuntiarentur. Item ventos duodecim propriis appellationibus insignivit, cum prius non amplius quam vix quattuor ventorum vocabula possent inveniri. Et de mensibus quidem Ianuarium uuintarmanoth, Februarium hornung, Martium lenzinmanoth, Aprilem ostarmanoth, Maium uuinnemanoth, Iunium brachmanoth, Iulium heuuimanoth, Augustum aranmanoth, Septembrem uuitumanoth, Octobrem uuindumemanoth, Novembrem herbistmanoth, Decembrem heilagmanoth appellavit.”[5]

 

English translation:

“He gave the months names in his own tongue, for before his time they were called by the Franks partly by Latin and partly by barbarous names. He also gave names to the twelve winds, whereas before not more than four, and perhaps not so many, had names of their own. Of the months, he called January Winter-month (Wintarmanoth), February Mud-month (Hornung), March Spring-month (Lentzinmanoth), April Easter-month (Ostarmanoth), May Joy-month (Winnemanoth), June Plough-month (Brachmanoth), July Hay-month (Hewimanoth), August Harvest-month (Aranmanoth), September Wind-month (Witumanoth), October Vintage-month (Windumemanoth), November Autumn-month (Herbistmanoth), December Holy-month (Heiligmanoth).”[6]

 

Of course there is a lot to work with in this list for calendar reconstruction shenanigans but of interest in this capacity currently is Ostarmanoth. I have never seen a sufficiently compelling argument for how Ostarmanoth existed without there being a native festival on the continent when it is fairly obvious that the naming convention persisted in the continental Germanic world until the time of Grimm when he noted the naming convention was still in use. I once read, though I cannot remember where, a theory thrown up by historians that Ostarmanoth was an English export and that British monks popularized it based on their own Eosturmonath. There are many theories but ultimately they are lacking evidence, especially when what we do have argues against what they are saying. We should, as historians, be led by the sources whenever possible and not try to shape them to our biases and desires. Those historians who try to brush this under the rug are completely avoiding and obfuscating the truth of the matter, Eosturmonath has no plausible path to influencing Ostarmanoth. There is this big and gaping hole in the matter. If Eostre existed in England and had an Anglo-Saxon festival and a month and these were named after the goddess Eostre, and indeed these are so given the sources already presented as evidence, then the Anglo-Saxons as Germanic migrants to England would have originated on the Continent and the cult would have had some continental precedent prior to migration. These people did not typically just spontaneously develop new gods and goddesses willy nilly, most of them were well entrenched before migration, especially when they carry linguistic cognates to one another. Eostre parallels and cognates out to several related PIE goddesses of the east and dawn. This shows a level of continuity. And you then also have Ostarmanoth appearing on the continent? And you’re going to conveniently ignore that just because some Wiccans? That’s not good historical practice.

 

What this shows is that through this continuity you can essentially show Ostara to be a perfectly well founded continental Germanic goddess and the festival equally well founded. There is enough proof and enough corroborating evidence through the Venerable Bede and through Eginhard to argue these things perfectly well. What we do not have in these sources is how to celebrate this festival. That comes through folk traditions and other survivals.

 

Let me break it down for you another way:

  • Bede says Eostre is a goddess and the month Eosturmonath is named for her.
  • Bede has no reason to lie and is generally reliable.
  • Eginhard says that the Germans also have an Ostarmanoth.
  • There is no plausible reason not to have Ostarmanoth as a native festival.
  • They are from similar time periods (Bede ~725, Eginhard ~814).
  • Eosturmonath and Ostarmanoth are perfect linguistic cognates of one another having shifted with their respective languages.
  • If Eostre is the root of Eosturmonath, then Ostara should be the root of Ostarmanoth.
  • The Angles and Saxons and Jutes came from Germania and migrated into England.
  • Eostre cognates out with several other PIE dawn goddesses, so too does Ostara.
  • The linguistic evidence shows religious continuity.
  • This gives evidence that they brought Eostre with them from the continent.
  • If they brought her with them, she must have existed on the continent prior to migration.
  • It is reasonable then to say that Ostarmanoth is the continental continuation of the festival expressed in England that was held in common with the local Germanic peoples of that area of the continent.
  • It is reasonable and indeed logical to say that Eostre is to Eosturmonath what Ostara should be to Ostarmanoth.

These all show continuity and give evidence to say it is only logical that Ostara was indeed a local Continental Germanic goddess and that it is a parallel path in the development of some proto-Germanic goddess that split into Eostre on the one hand and Ostara on the other in much the same way that Thunor and Donar developed along parallel linguistic lines.

 

And this all continued; Easter is still Ostern today in Germany. They have a whole range of nice words based on that root. Furthermore, the practice of calling it Ostarmanoth had persisted until quite recently as Grimm noted that it was still in use in his time. That this survived shows no shallow import theory is plausible; instead this must have been a deeply engrained, native cultural phenomenon to survive conversion against the grain of Paschal.

 

Some final thoughts:

 

The Historian’s opinion in me:
I cannot support the idea that Ostara historically extended to the Norse peoples because the linkages are simply not there. They celebrated Paschal up there just fine with no real evidence of Eostre or Ostara to speak of. There is no one Germanic paganism, but instead there were many variations expressed regionally and in time. These variations morphed and adapted.

 

The Pagan’s opinion in me:
Heathens were and are polytheistic. If a goddess jives with you then worship her. Plus you’d basically be a fool in today’s time to pass on the feasting and wonderful cultural traditions involved in Easter. It is culturally relevant to English speaking people and as “Norse” as someone’s religion may be you’re living in an English colony, speaking the English language, and steeped in English culture. Eostre is big enough for the both of us as long as you understand and respect her history.

 

So the next time you hear someone bad talking Eostre or even Ostara, inform them that there is in fact enough evidence to show Eostre and Ostara were indeed culturally specific goddesses and had festivals in that spring time of year. If you want, you can also inform them that it is generally people unable to remove their bias that argue otherwise. Further inform them that there are also ample linkages to be able to do a reconstruction of the goddess from other PIE dawn goddesses for personal religious use. Or you can just tell them that they can go shove it, either or.

 

 

[1]The Venerable Bede, “Caput XV: De mensibus Anglorum”, Beda Venerabilis: De Temporum Ratione, accessed August 12, 2019, http://www.nabkal.de/beda/beda_15.html

[2] The Venerable Bede, Bede: The Reckoning of Time, translated by Faith Wallis (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 54. (This is in my opinion the best translation of this work that I have ever read and it is well worth buying if you’re into Bede. But be aware that the pertinent section for calendar reconstruction of the English months is literally two pages so if you buy it do so for the whole thing and not just for the two pages on the English months.)

[3] J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), 300-301, 409. (This can be accessed online on this site if you want to check it out: https://smerdaleos.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/ie-mallory-adams.pdf )

[4] Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Vol. 1, translated from the fourth edition by James Stephen Stallybrass (London: George Bell and Sons, 1882), 290-291. (You can access this volume using this link: https://archive.org/details/teutonicmytholog01grim/ )

[5]Einhard, “EINHARDI VITA KAROLI MAGNI”, The Latin Library, accessed August 12, 2019, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/ein.html#29

[6] Einhard, “The Early Lives of Charlemagne by Eginhard and the Monk of St Gall”, edited by A.J. Grant (London: Alexander Morning Limited, 1905), Project Gutenberg, accessed August 12, 2019, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48870/48870-h/48870-h.html#id52 (I have inserted the original month names from the corresponding footnote in parentheticals next to the translated month so that both may be viewed at once; besides this, the quote is direct.)

Runes – the Good the Bad and the Ugly

The runes present a major problem in heathenry and paganism in general that most people are not even aware of. Let me put it like this, the runes suffer from the same issue as any part of religious ideology in that once you have formed your opinions on them they are very difficult to adjust no matter how false they may actually be. Those thoughts for many of us have become set and now here I come in the 11th hour trying to upend your thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, the runes like heathenry in general do have a racism issue. I am bound to ruffle some feathers, but all I am truly trying to achieve is to get you to think about some of these things so just stick with me and keep an open mind. You are likely to find your thoughts and feelings and opinions challenged, that is the point. I am also intending this to be a brief introduction to the Runes. So new or old, this is for you.

 

The Bad and the Ugly:

 

First, there are some glaring inconsistencies to examine. The vast majority of heathens are Norse heathens that are focused on the Viking age right before the era of conversion. There is not really a good reason for this except for prevalence of the imagery in popular literature, culture, and mythology. Yet despite the majority of heathens being Norse heathens, the vast majority of heathens who use the runes utilize the Elder Futhark, a set of twenty four runes used and discarded hundreds of years before the Vikings. The Vikings utilized instead the Younger Futhark, a set of sixteen runes that actually fit their language. So we have to ask ourselves why. Why are these Norse Heathens using the Elder Futhark that was not used by the culture they are patterning their religion on and that doesn’t fit the language or the culture when they have access to the system of runes that they actually did use? The answer is not actually very simple and is hard to swallow in some cases.

 

The prevalence of the Elder Futhark system is primarily grounded in the work of the earliest, and indeed racist, heathens who were trying to sell people on the concept. Partly this tendency is due to the area of Germanic studies becoming highly taboo due to the post-WWII period associating it with Nazism and it is also partly due to a lack of reliable scholarship when the pagan community needed it so the pagan community turned to earlier work from the racist past.[1] It is also however due to racists steering people incorrectly for their own motivations. For example, one of the biggest names in runes is Edred Thorsson otherwise known as Stephen Flowers. Thorsson/Flowers is one of those early influential personalities that had his hands in a lot of pies. He was deep in the Troth, he was writing books, he was “academic”, he was steering a lot of things on the esoteric side of studies for decades. But he is also a racist and a white nationalist and has an unhealthy obsession with the Nazis; this flavored a lot of his work. Furthermore, he may have been an academic but his esoteric works are anything but academic. He put a polish onto the system of runes he was trying to popularize that was built up through falsification of information or hiding his methodology. If you were to crack open his book Futhark, you would find a “polished” system with all kinds of information telling you how to use the runes, how to interpret the runes, how to do runic standing stances like yoga, and even how to mumble out some runic “galdr” which amounted to noise making. (By the way, that Galdr nonsense of just making rune noises that sounds like mooing is complete hogwash and I will debunk it on another occasion because it has obscured the reality of what Galdr actually is, essentially any vocalized incantation.) The issue with this is that none of it had any basis in history; it was entirely falsified and made up. As polished as it seems, it is gilded on the outside but rotten at the core. To make it worse, he did not point people toward the sources that would have actually allowed people to check where he was getting this information. He delivered the Elder Futhark and a complete system for its use that is entirely poppycock but is presenting itself falsely as historical or academic.

 

If people had been able at the time to see his sources they would have found out that all the parts of it that were remotely of worth were derived not from the Elder Futhark but from the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. There are no Elder Futhark sources that would give us any way to use them or interpret them. Not a single one. But the Futhorc contains every Futhark rune inside of it, they must be interchangeable right? Not at all. There is no way for us to remotely know how those people might have conceived of several of the runes because the ᚨ for instance split into three different Futhorc runes each with its own meaning. So which one of the three do you take? You lose two in the process. That is only the issue with one rune and that is assuming that the meanings would have been remotely comparable hundreds of years prior. There are also runes which vary considerably in meaning between the Futhorc and the Younger Futhark showing that the meanings may not have stayed as constant as we would like.[2] To just strip out the meanings from the thirty three Futhorc runes to apply to the twenty four Elder Futhark runes also means that you will be losing several runes from what would have been considered a full set already and if they were used for cleromancy then it is likely that the meanings of the lost ones would have been important for the overall effectiveness of the set. So in a nutshell, everyone using the Elder Futhark is using an incomplete Futhorc set every time they use their runes. The meanings were stripped out of their context and slapped onto the Futhark in ways we have no ability to say would be remotely within the context of their meanings for the original Futhark and they are missing eleven runes to boot which would have originally been part of the set of symbols used alongside the others.

 

Here is a rule of thumb going forward, if they are not giving you access to the ancient rune poems from which we derive runic meanings then they have an agenda in hiding them from you. If they are not giving you access to a complete set of complimentary poems for the set they are pulling from then they have an agenda too.

 

So why did these early people push the Elder Futhark instead of the Futhorc when they were so obviously using the Futhorc to derive the meanings for the runes they were using? I cannot say for certain. There was a very early bias on older being better and that probably had a lot to do with things. It is also likely that once the earliest people had begun pushing the Elder Futhark that the commercialization of the rune sets gave supply to meet demand and once that was set it was set. There were also some racist reasons because the idea at its core in some of the earlier racist heathens seems to be that the closer to the Germanic origins was the most “pure” in this way. This is the same bent as the Nazis pushing the imagined concept of Aryan purity. Coupled with the early racist texts on the runes these paint a bad picture. They are one in the same; these two thoughts are derived from the same thinking. So the next time you go to pull one of your Elder Futhark sets remember that some Racists are one of the main reasons you’re pulling out of 24 runes because they generally and erroneously equated earlier with more pure. They’re also the reason your runes are the shape that they are too.

 

It should also be noted that the runes do not have a single form as most popular modern books seem to try and steer people into thinking. This standardization was not an ancient thing; the runes were written any number of different ways already. For instance, the runestones can give us a clue to this as the runes on many occasions were written boustrophedon, basically in a snaking pattern that paid no attention to orientation of the runes as one would letters in the modern way of writing. [3] This alone blows a huge hole in the concept of “merkstave” because there is no such thing as a backwards or upside down rune, they carried the same phonetic meaning in any and every orientation and they give every indication of being very flexible in form. If they carried the same meaning in writing, there is literally nothing to point to saying they would have any meaning other than the meaning they ever had in any orientation. The static, unyieldingly straight runes that descended to us are descending to us through Nazism yet again and uniformity of shape was one of their aesthetic additions they laid onto the runes (like the S.S. symbol”. The runes are meant to be crooked, to alternate in height, to be jankety and wibbly wobbly, and to be in all manner of orientations. Rigid, unyielding runes are anachronistic and a sign of fascist meddling.

 

1937_runenkunde_1115_32364606352564486566.jpg

 

This image, showing the stark, dark and straight and rigid lines we are used to for the runes is from a Nazi publication in 1937, Runenkunde. The Nazi form of the runes is bold, rigid, and unyielding. If you think the runes must be one way, one direction, and must be straight, bold, and rigid then you’re right in line with the Nazis in the S.S. because that is where this style of runic imagery is originating.

 

So let’s dispense with this whole loaded history for the moment and instead of gobbling up what those early racists wanted you to buy into, let us go back an examine the runes and let us build together through looking at the primary sources a reconstruction of how one can utilize the runes for cleromancy. The casting of lots for divination is called cleromancy by the way.

 

The Good:

 

I know this has been difficult to face but now we’re through it and we can begin to look at how we can reconstruct the idea of runic divination as a system to fill our need for heathen religious cleromancy in the modern world. Do not let people tell you that the runes as magic and potentially as divination have no basis in history because it does. While that flimflam peddled by Blum and Thorsson/Flowers has no basis in history; let me instead build you a case for a more historically friendly runic divination.

 

First let’s begin with Tacitus. Tacitus in his Germania gives this very interesting look into the divinatory practices of the early Germanic peoples.

 

“For divination and the casting of lots they have the highest possible regard. Their procedure in casting lots is uniform. They break off a branch of a fruit tree and slice it into strips; they mark these by certain signs and throw them, as random chance will have it, onto a white cloth. Then a state priest, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family, if it is private, prays to the gods and, gazing to the heavens, picks up three separate strips and reads their meanings from the marks scored on them.”[4]

  • Tacitus Germania

 

This excerpt lets us gather several important thoughts. First we see that cleromancy and divination were incredibly important and prevalent in the Germanic society of the 1st century CE. It also lets us see that if not only the priests but also the heads of households were able to conduct this divination by lots then the symbol set must have been universally understood and carried the same meanings no matter who looked at them. This symbol set would then be universally understood and had fixed meanings. That is a major thought because even if they weren’t using precisely the same runes we are they were using something similar; the entire concept of divination was indeed very important in their world view.

 

kam-med-runer-fra-vimose_do-4148_20006435375669561541813.jpg

 

Jump forward and we find some very early runic inscriptions. The Vimose comb for instance is from about 160 CE which makes it only about 70 years after Tacitus wrote his Germania. This means we get the runes as symbols very early, they would have been known earlier because they wouldn’t just spontaneously come into existence in 160 CE in what would more modernly become Denmark. Especially not since the system of writing was based on Etruscan and Latin back to Phoenician. This would have had to have spread over hundreds of years to get to that point in both area and development. Page, the most unimaginative of runologists, even says that the runes had to have been in use for a minimum of a hundred years to have the complexity of system and form that they achieve by the time we have any apparent inscriptions.[5]

 

Now we skip forward to our next piece of evidence, the Old English Rune poem. This poem was written in the 700s or so CE in England.

 

ᚠ Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum;

sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan

gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan.

 

Feoh

Wealth is a comfort to all men;

yet must every man bestow it freely,

if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

ᚢ Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned,

felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum

mære morstapa; þæt is modig wuht.

Ur

The aurochs is proud and has great horns;

it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;

a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

ᚦ Ðorn byþ ðearle scearp; ðegna gehwylcum

anfeng ys yfyl, ungemetum reþe

manna gehwelcum, ðe him mid resteð.

Thorn

The thorn is exceedingly sharp,

an evil thing for any knight to touch,

uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

ᚩ Os byþ ordfruma ælere spræce,

wisdomes wraþu ond witena frofur

and eorla gehwam eadnys ond tohiht.

Os

The mouth is the source of all language,

a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,

a blessing and a joy to every knight.

ᚱ Rad byþ on recyde rinca gehwylcum

sefte ond swiþhwæt, ðamðe sitteþ on ufan

meare mægenheardum ofer milpaþas.

Rad

Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors

and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads

on the back of a stout horse.

ᚳ Cen byþ cwicera gehwam, cuþ on fyre

blac ond beorhtlic, byrneþ oftust

ðær hi æþelingas inne restaþ.

Cen

The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame;

it always burns where princes sit within.

ᚷ Gyfu gumena byþ gleng and herenys,

wraþu and wyrþscype and wræcna gehwam

ar and ætwist, ðe byþ oþra leas.

Gyfu

Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity;

it furnishes help and subsistence

to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

ᚹ Wenne bruceþ, ðe can weana lyt

sares and sorge and him sylfa hæfþ

blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht.

Wynn

Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety,

and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.

ᚻ Hægl byþ hwitust corna; hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte,

wealcaþ hit windes scura; weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.

Haegl

Hail is the whitest of grain;

it is whirled from the vault of heaven

and is tossed about by gusts of wind

and then it melts into water.

ᚾ Nyd byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum

to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.

Nyd

Trouble is oppressive to the heart;

yet often it proves a source of help and salvation

to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.

ᛁ Is byþ ofereald, ungemetum slidor,

glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust,

flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne.

Is

Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;

it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;

it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

ᛄ Ger byþ gumena hiht, ðonne God læteþ,

halig heofones cyning, hrusan syllan

beorhte bleda beornum ond ðearfum.

Ger

Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven,

suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits

for rich and poor alike.

ᛇ Eoh byþ utan unsmeþe treow,

heard hrusan fæst, hyrde fyres,

wyrtrumun underwreþyd, wyn on eþle.

Eoh

The yew is a tree with rough bark,

hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots,

a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.

ᛈ Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter

wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ

on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.

Peordh

Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great,

where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.

ᛉ Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fenne

wexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme,

blode breneð beorna gehwylcne

ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ.

Eolh

The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh;

it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,

covering with blood every warrior who touches it.

ᛋ Sigel semannum symble biþ on hihte,

ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,

oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.

Sigel

The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers

when they journey away over the fishes’ bath,

until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

ᛏ Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel

wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde

ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ.

Tir

Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes;

it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.

ᛒ Beorc byþ bleda leas, bereþ efne swa ðeah

tanas butan tudder, biþ on telgum wlitig,

heah on helme hrysted fægere,

geloden leafum, lyfte getenge.

Beorc

The poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers,

for it is generated from its leaves.

Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned

its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.

ᛖ Eh byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn,

hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymb[e]

welege on wicgum wrixlaþ spræce

and biþ unstyllum æfre frofur.

Eh

The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors.

A steed in the pride of its hoofs,

when rich men on horseback bandy words about it;

and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless.

ᛗ Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:

sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican,

forðum drihten wyle dome sine

þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.

Mann

The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen;

yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,

since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

ᛚ Lagu byþ leodum langsum geþuht,

gif hi sculun neþan on nacan tealtum

and hi sæyþa swyþe bregaþ

and se brimhengest bridles ne gym[eð].

Lagu

The ocean seems interminable to men,

if they venture on the rolling bark

and the waves of the sea terrify them

and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.

ᛝ Ing wæs ærest mid East-Denum

gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est

ofer wæg gewat; wæn æfter ran;

ðus Heardingas ðone hæle nemdun.

Ing

Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes,

till, followed by his chariot,

he departed eastwards over the waves.

So the Heardingas named the hero.

ᛟ Eþel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men,

gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on

brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.

Ethel

An estate is very dear to every man,

if he can enjoy there in his house

whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

ᛞ Dæg byþ drihtnes sond, deore mannum,

mære metodes leoht, myrgþ and tohiht

eadgum and earmum, eallum brice.

Dæg

Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord;

it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor,

and of service to all.

ᚪ Ac byþ on eorþan elda bearnum

flæsces fodor, fereþ gelome

ofer ganotes bæþ; garsecg fandaþ

hwæþer ac hæbbe æþele treowe.

Ac

The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men.

Often it traverses the gannet’s bath,

and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith

in honourable fashion.

ᚫ Æsc biþ oferheah, eldum dyre

stiþ on staþule, stede rihte hylt,

ðeah him feohtan on firas monige.

Æsc

The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men.

With its sturdy trunk it offers a stubborn resistance,

though attacked by many a man.

ᚣ Yr byþ æþelinga and eorla gehwæs

wyn and wyrþmynd, byþ on wicge fæger,

fæstlic on færelde, fyrdgeatewa sum.

Yr

Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight;

it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey.

ᛡ Iar byþ eafix and ðeah a bruceþ

fodres on foldan, hafaþ fægerne eard

wætre beworpen, ðær he wynnum leofaþ.

Ior

Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land;

it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.

ᛠ Ear byþ egle eorla gehwylcun,

ðonn[e] fæstlice flæsc onginneþ,

hraw colian, hrusan ceosan

blac to gebeddan; bleda gedreosaþ,

wynna gewitaþ, wera geswicaþ.

Ear

The grave is horrible to every knight,

when the corpse quickly begins to cool

and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth.

Prosperity declines, happiness passes away

and covenants are broken.

The Bruce Dickins 1915 translation is not my favorite translation I have read. It is however free to use online due to its age and it is an accurate enough translation such that it will not misinform. [6]

 

 

This poem is our oldest understanding of the runes. It is also our longest and most detailed rune poem. It is generally believed that the rune poem was intended to be read without the title of the rune but that the title was added later.[7] This is well in line with the understanding of the word rune as mystery.[8] The runes were therefore mysteries that were intended originally to be puzzled out, poetic riddles that needed solving but that were solved by the transcribers. It is also notable that several runes lack riddles and there is no real reasoning for that given; we have their name but no riddle. Either they were missing or unavailable or forgotten or they never had a riddle. Of these possibilities I personally tend to think it is most likely that they have been lost to history at some point along the line. It is a minor miracle that the poem survived in the form it did at all and its survival is due to it being copied in 1705 before a 1731 fire destroyed the original document.[9] So now we have the 1705 copy which gave to us the completed riddles. I have often heard the criticism of the Old English Rune Poem as if it were some kind of “A is for Apple B is for Barn” kind of alphabet book. However, the existence of the poem as riddles more or less precludes its usefulness in that regard and far more lends itself to some kind of esoteric meaning. So if we take these as some kind of meanings for the runic symbols we should examine more sources.

 

The Poetic Edda provides ample sources for the understanding of runes as magical.

Havamal

  1. Certain is that | which is sought from runes,

That the gods so great have made,

And the Master-Poet painted;

.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

.    .    .    .    .     of the race of gods:

Silence is safest and best.

  1. Runes shalt thou find, | and fateful signs,

That the king of singers colored,

And the mighty gods have made;

Full strong the signs, | full mighty the signs

That the ruler of gods doth write.

  1. Othin for the gods, | Dain for the elves,

And Dvalin for the dwarfs,

Alsvith for giants | and all mankind,

And some myself I wrote.

  1. The songs I know | that king’s wives know not,

Nor men that are sons of men;

The first is called help, | and help it can bring thee

In sorrow and pain and sickness.

  1. A twelfth I know, | if high on a tree

I see a hanged man swing;

So do I write | and color the runes

That forth he fares,

And to me talks.

 

Sigrdrífumál

Sigrdrifa said:

  1. “Beer I bring thee, | tree of battle,

Mingled of strength | and mighty fame;

Charms it holds | and healing signs,

Spells full good, | and gladness-runes.”

  1. Winning-runes learn, | if thou longest to win,

And the runes on thy sword-hilt write;

Some on the furrow, | and some on the flat,

And twice shalt thou call on Tyr.

  1. Ale-runes learn, | that with lies the wife

Of another betray not thy trust;

On the horn thou shalt write, | and the backs of thy hands,

And Need shalt mark on thy nails.

Thou shalt bless the draught, | and danger escape,

And cast a leek in the cup;

(For so I know | thou never shalt see

Thy mead with evil mixed.)

  1. Birth-runes learn, | if help thou wilt lend,

The babe from the mother to bring;

On thy palms shalt write them, | and round thy joints,

And ask the fates to aid.

  1. Wave-runes learn, | if well thou wouldst shelter

The sail-steeds out on the sea;

On the stem shalt thou write, | and the steering blade,

And burn them into the oars;

Though high be the breakers, | and black the waves,

Thou shalt safe the harbor seek.

  1. Branch-runes learn, | if a healer wouldst be,

And cure for wounds wouldst work;

On the bark shalt thou write, | and on trees that be

With boughs to the eastward bent.

  1. Speech-runes learn, | that none may seek

To answer harm with hate;

Well he winds | and weaves them all,

And sets them side by side,

At the judgment-place, | when justice there

The folk shall fairly win.

  1. Thought-runes learn, | if all shall think

Thou art keenest minded of men.[10]

 

Henry Adams Bellows Translation 1936

 

Of course this is not a comprehensive look at all references to runes in the Poetic Edda because I have omitted the creation of the runes and other verses. I am here focusing on one idea; if I were to boil both of these down it would give you the basic understanding of the runes are magical. Not even for divination or cleromancy but for magic in general. It further gives us the understanding that runes have particular magic meanings that they do not share with other runes. For instance there are runes for different purposes and there is not just one catchall magical sigil that is being put onto things. So the runes are magical. This is later than my other sources but it shows a continuity of magical thinking and that thinking being applied to the runes. I suggest you look more fully into runes referenced in the Poetic Edda on your own because it is really fascinating, I am just trying to be more brief here than it would allow to go deeper in depth on the Eddas beyond what I already have here.

 

The next piece of information to build on comes from a saga, in this case the Vita Ansgari by Rimbert.

 

“In reply to Anskar’s request that he might be allowed to preach the Christian faith to his people, the king decided that lots should be cast in the open air in order to discover whether it would be right to accede to his requests.” Introduction

————————————————–

“When the father saw that he had become bereft of all that he had possessed with the exception of one little son, he began, in his misery, to fear the anger of the gods and to imagine that he was suffering all these calamities because he had offended some god. Thereupon, following the local custom, he consulted a soothsayer and asked him to find out by, the casting of lots which god lie had offended and to explain how lie might appease him. After performing all the customary ceremonies, the soothsayer said that all their gods were well disposed towards him, but that the God of the Christians was much incensed against him.” Chapter XVIII

————————————————–

“Meanwhile the king proposed to the Danes that they should enquire by casting lots whether it was the will of the gods that this place should be ravaged by them. ‘There are there,’ he said, ‘many great and powerful gods, and in former time a church was built there, and there are many Christians there who worship Christ, who is the strongest of the gods and can aid those who hope in Him, in any way that He chooses. We must seek to ascertain therefore whether it is by the will of the gods that we are urged to make this attempt.’ As his words were in accord with their custom they could not refuse to adopt the suggestion. Accordingly they sought to discover the will of the gods by casting lots and they ascertained that it would be impossible to accomplish their purpose without endangering their own welfare and that God would not permit this place to be ravaged by them.”[11] Chapter XIX

Translation by Charles H. Robinson (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/anskar.asp)

 

This particular piece shows us that cleromancy is alive and well in the 800’s and still carried the vital importance that could be seen hundreds of years earlier in the time of Tacitus.

 

Now here is a word of caution. Tacitus does not describe the symbols in depth enough to know which ones were being used. Similarly Rimbert doesn’t describe the symbols being used. However, one of the important things to note is that as a reconstructionist we do not have to stop when we have a hole we simply try to note the best available solution and be willing to show how you reach your conclusions. In this case we have what appears to be a continuous thread in Germanic society in which importance is placed on the casting of lots for divination (cleromancy). We know that the set of symbols in the society should be almost universally recognizable and share common meanings. We also see the runes as magical symbols and mysteries. We also are provided with esoteric rune riddles which detail the meanings of each rune in the Old English Rune Poem. It does not take a genius to make that logical leap that in today’s world if we want to fulfill the important aspect of Germanic world view that was divination by lots with a universally understood symbol set then we should use this symbol set with prescribed meanings that we have available in the rune poems.

Now it is here that things went awry with the 80’s. They did not tell you any of this. They just plopped down a “perfect” and polished system and said have at it. They did not even give you the rune poems, probably to obfuscate the fact that they are then missing a bunch of runes from the poem that they used as their core meanings and that their probable desire for Germanic purity by turning to the relatively unknown but older Elder Futhark was misguided and founded in racism. They sold you on bold, stark lines with a stylistic look straight out of Nazi Germany with rigid form and function that could lose their meanings if altered or reversed. They lied.

 

Now the case for turning away from the Elder Futhark should now be pretty obvious. We do not truly know the Elder Futhark meanings. We can hazard a guess obviously but the variability of the runes between sets makes that a difficult issue. Those who were pushing the Elder Futhark were hiding the Futhorc from people and not sharing their sources. Those who were in early days pushing the Elder Futhark like Edred Thorsson / Stephen Flowers are known racists and were likely pushing the system because of antiquated and racist ideas about Germanic purity. There is no good reason to use a system we that have to break apart another system to glean information on when we can use the other source we are gleaning from.

 

The case for the Futhorc is this: you can turn directly to the original source material and see it and interact with it. You can puzzle through the riddles like they were meant to be puzzled through. Books do exist that can help you through the process; most notably Alaric Albertsson’s A Handbook of Saxon Sorcery and Magic, much of which is devoted to the runes and includes the original Old English and the English translations of the poems. You don’t have that same level of racist taint on the runes because you can return to the beginning and follow the primary sources rather than rely on racist secondary sources as a foundation or as the case today is tertiary sources founded on racist secondary sources. The Futhorc also actually fits the English language because it was linguistically made to be for English. And finally, you get thirty three runes, most of which have meanings that have survived, to work with that were intended to go with one another instead of losing several to please the purity sentiments of some racists decades ago.

 

There is a case to be made for the Younger Futhark as well because it too has rune poems and these are the runes that the Vikings would actually have used. The downside is that it only has sixteen symbols which does hinder the usefulness of the Younger Futhark runes for divination. Also the poems are shorter and less detailed which makes it far more difficult to behave in.

 

I use the runes, I use a set of Futhorc runes and I have opted, like Albertsson, to fill in the missing rune poems through personal pondering on the names themselves. I differ somewhat on one of the poem-less runes in my interpretation than the ones Albertsson provides, but I am mostly in line with his interpretations.

 

I hope you have gotten this far and that this has been thought provoking. I also hope this may have given you a slightly better understanding of the Runes.

[1] Stephen Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore (Cambridgeshire, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011), 80 and R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 12.

[2] R.I.Page,  Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 15-16

[3] Stephen Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore (Cambridgeshire, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011), 15.

[4] Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, trans. Harold Mattingly (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2009), 39.

[5] R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 9.

[6] Bruce Dickins, trans. Runic and Heroic Poems of the Old Teutonic Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915), 12-23. https://archive.org/details/runicandheroicpo00dickuoft and https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Rune_poems

[7] Frederick George Jones Jr., The Old English Rune Poem, An Edition (University of Florida, 1967),

[8] R.I.Page, Runes: Reading the Past (London: British Museum Press, 1994), 11, and Stephen Pollington, Rudiments of Runelore (Cambridgeshire, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011), 10.

[9] Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, editor The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), XLVI.

[10] Henry Adams Bellows, trans. The Poetic Edda: Translated from the Icelandic with an Introduction and Notes (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1936), available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe01.htm .

[11] Rimbert, Life of Anskar, the Apostle of the North, 801-865, trans. Charles. H. Robinson (London: 1921), available at: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/anskar.asp