The Runes are not merely alphabetical symbols, used in ancient
Germanic alphabets. The history of the Runes stretches back
quite a distance and while it is true that the symbols themselves
likely find their origin in many cultural sources, the inner
essence of the Runes is something truly arcane and Otherworldly.
The first hint to the true nature of the Runes is in the
name itself- "Rune". It comes from the word "Runa",
which means "Mystery". Most people are not aware
of even this basic fact. The Runes are not merely letters,
but manifestations of Mysteries- mysteries that deal with
the foundation of the cosmos, and every force or event that
occurs in or around you.
One cannot consider the inner meaning of the Runes without
understanding their relationship to the great Allfather
Woden, who was the Master of the Runes or Mysteries- and
the teacher of their recondite wisdom to mankind.
Woden won the inner knowledge of all Mysteries or all Runes
through a powerful act of sorcery, an act of self-sacrifice,
a "vision quest" of types in which he hung himself
from a tree for nine nights, wounded by his spear, and without
touching food or drink. This very shamanic, seid-like working
brought about his death, and he plunged into the dark void
of Hel, the realm of the dead at the roots of the World-Tree.
There, beyond the darkness of that mysterious place, he
saw what not even the wisest can see or know- the Mysteries
that the World Tree itself grew from. When he was returned
to life, his Godly mind was able to "crystallize"
the unspeakable mysteries he had mystically come to know
in that deep state, and reveal them in the form of the intelligible
Runic symbols. Through these symbols, human beings (themselves
endowed with Spiritual understanding from Woden) can also
share in his deep mystical knowledge.
Naturally, this tale of Woden's ordeal is full of sacred
metaphors- the World Tree is of course a symbol of Reality
as a whole; all nine worlds rest within it, and it is the
great manifest reality that all things are a part of. "hanging
on the World Tree" has a deeper meaning when you consider
it in this manner. Woden sacrificed himself to "Him
Self", or his greater self- for indeed, his greater
Self was part of all things.
Interestingly enough, the World Tree is seen as his "Steed"-
He literally "rode" the body of reality from its
manifest form into its deep and dark roots, penetrating
all appearances and reaching the Great Runa or Mystery that
it all springs from. This is why his other "steed"
or Horse Sleipnir is often seen as the same as The World
Tree; and interestingly, his horse has Eight legs, each
representing a world, with the Rider or Woden representing
the ninth or Godly world of Asgard. By this steed, be it
a Tree or a Horse, he is able to access all worlds, but
more than that, to access the roots of all Reality.
In many Central Asian Shamanic societies, the spirit of
horses are seen as "steeds" for shamans to access
other realities and worlds; this area of the world was probably
near to the original homelands of the Proto-Indo Europeans,
and gave rise to the common mystical traditions and themes
that were found worldwide at one time.
Havamal says that Reality, symbolized by the World Tree,
springs from a place that none can know- none living or
dead, that is. But Woden went beyond life and death to access
the Great Mysteries; he plunged consciously into the deep
realm of Hel or the Dead, and remembered what he saw there,
and beyond. He was able to undergo "death" consciously,
and reconstitute the lore and wisdom he gained from the
depths into a consciously tangible form, or the Rune symbols
and the lore that accompanies them. He stands in the "Odinic
Paradox" condition which interacts with the living
realm and the dead realm, but also with a greater understanding
that contains them both and transcends them.
the Runes, enough cannot be said, for they are each expressions
of an infinite mystery, and each of the 24 Runic powers
represents a true "seed" that reality itself springs
from- all manifest forces, all appearances and phenomenon,
from men to animals to giants and gods, from this world
or any of the other eight worlds, and the destiny of all
beings, are ruled by the forces of the Runes or the Mysteries.
A wise man or woman who penetrates the mysteries of the
Runes can access an inexhaustible well of knowledge just
as the All-Father did, and gain a new destiny beyond life
and death, just as he did.
In the so-called "beginning", only the great void
of Ginnungagap existed- and this void was charged with all
the latent possibilities of all that would emerge one day.
It was charged with the essence of Wyrd, and the Runic powers
are precisely that- the root-powers of Wyrd. The Runic powers
were unexpressed, but latent in Ginnungagap. They were everywhere
in the Void, but undifferentiated, and thus incomprehensible.
The Void's first two expressions were pure energy and radiating
heat (itself a manifestation of the Fehu Rune mystery),
and deep contraction and cold, or Fire and Ice. These were
the first two worlds of Muspelheim and Niflheim, pregnant
with their Giantish, unconscious forces of pure raging energy
and fire and dark contracting crystalization. Because of
the dualistic first manifestation of Fire and Ice, the latent
24 Runic forces become polarized as well, into the "Shining
Runes" (Heidrunes) and the "Dark Runes" (Myrkrunes).
In this condition, there is conflict and attraction- and
the polarity exists so that it might be rejoined and re-assimilated
in a manner capable of the full manifestation in the cosmos.
In the creative conflict engendered between Fire and Ice,
between the great polar forces, the primordial life-material
is created, the yeasty rime and slime that becomes Ymir.
Within Ymir, the great living and giantish bulk of primordial
life, all of the 24 Rune forces exist, though still unexpressed.
Within Ymir's body is the "salt block" or the
crystal-pattern (represented by the ninth Rune) that will
act as the underlying pattern of all forms to come.
The Void itself expresses Audhumla (herself an early manifestation
of the Uruz Rune Mystery), through a natural and spontaneous
organic act of expression- and Audhumla represents the force
of cosmic nourishment and heat, of growth and sustenance.
She is aptly symbolized by a Cow, with udders full of warm
milk, which nourish Ymir, and her presence causes this strange
primal condition to begin to change slowly, towards manifestation.
Audhumla licks the "salt block" that she finds
in the primordial mass of living matter or Ymir, and as
she does so, the underlying forces begin to take a new phase
of manifestation. While Ymir engenders more and more giantish
forces or children from his body (themselves manifestations
of the Thurs Rune mystery), Audhumla gradually aids the
salt-block into giving forth another form of life- a truly
conscious form of life, Buri, the first being we can call
a "God", for his consciousness was full and complete,
not like the dim oafish unconsciousness or semi-consciousness
of the Giants, nor the other violent natural forces surging
through this strange proto-world condition.
Buri is described as "beautiful" compared to the
giants, of course! He is a being of the light of consciousness,
a first manifestation of the Ansuz Rune mystery.
But nothing is able to come to complete manifestation yet-
until Buri "mates" with Giantish maidens and has
a son, who likewise mates with the giants (see in this the
forces of light and darkness engendering further forms,
or the powers of consciousness and unconsciousness interacting)
and finally, Buri's grandson, Woden, is born, a fully evolved
conscious being of great power, drawn from godly and giantish
roots, or from the totality of forces.
Woden appears in a trinitary form, with his two "brothers"
Vili and Ve- but this trinitary form is still the singular
power of the All-Father. He completes the task of primordial
manifestation by slaying Ymir- sacrificing him- and then
taking the 24 latent rune powers that were present in Ymir
or the Body of Primal Matter, and arranging them into the
World Order- creating all the Nine Worlds, and bringing
forth all life-manifestation. The World Tree or the Manifest
Web of Wyrd now appears in its complete expression, and
now exists in the form we can experience it in our everyday
lives, all after this cosmogonic sacrifice.
Woden doesn't stop there- with the other Gods who emerge,
and some that he fathers, he builds his Godly "hall"
in the super-conscious heights of reality, the Godly world
of Asgard, and they take it upon themselves to protect the
world-order that they created from the Giantish forces that
survived the world-shaping- and those giantish forces still
exist, and strain daily against the order established by
Eventually, one day, they will overwhelm the world-order
at Ragnarok, and all things will collapse back into the
basic embers and fires of the Void (the Fehu Rune, the first
rune in the rune-row, represents the Fire of the Beginning,
which is also the fire which will consume all at the End
of the cycle of manifestation) and all things will collapse
back to the ice, all things reduced back to the basic polarity
that engendered the creation to begin with. All that will
remain then will be what was- the yawning Void, charged
as it still will be with all the Latent powers of the Runes,
and the Fire and Ice. And then, the great process will repeat,
and new worlds will be born.
back to this world- for the world of this cycle still exists.
Woden found two organic lumps of matter floating on the
shores of a primordial ocean, and bestowed form and spirit
upon them- his Godly mind gave them shape and vitality,
and breathed into them the Ond, the Spirit of the Gods,
making these beings his Kin, and Kin to all the Gods. This
was the first man and woman, Ask and Embla, who represent
the ancestors of all humanity.
Because we humans have the gift of spirit, that deathless
mystery about us, we can access the Runes or Mysteries by
following Allfather Woden's lead, and following his example,
in our particularly human manner, but still using the same
"mind" he did- a mind in conjunction with Ond
or the Godly immortal spirit. Like him, we can access great
wisdom and even overcome death, in a strange, occult manner,
but in a very real manner.
When Woden sacrificed and chopped apart Ymir's Body, the
24 Runes became "arranged" into the Rune Row,
the sacred order that we know them in, and that order is
very important, for in that order, we see the "pattern"
of manifestation, and we can see what was, what is, and
what will be. The Rune Row is a complete expression, in
24 symbols, of the 24 underlying mysteries that act as the
unseen "blueprint" of all things that manifest,
and of all the forces that flow and cause the universal
cycle to start, to manifest, to die, and to re-manifest.
You can see, just by looking at the first five Runes in
the Rune Row, what I am talking about- they are not arbitrarily
arranged in that order of 24, but arranged according to
an underlying cosmic pattern. The first five Runes are FEHU,
URUZ, THURS, ANSUZ, and RAIDO- F... U... TH... A... R.
FEHU is the rune of the impelling Fire, transformative,
and ultimately destructive. It is the Fire of Muspel, which
acts as the "active" power that starts the system.
URUZ is the drizzle or rain that occurred between the primordial
fire and ice, which gave rise to the primordial powerful
mass of life, And the cosmic Ox/bovine Audhumla; URUZ is
the mother of manifestation, the patterning, growing power.
THURS represents the appearance of the primal Giantish forces,
and ANSUZ the appearance of the conscious Godly forces,
leading up to Woden. RAIDO is the Mystery of Universal Order,
of Right Cosmic Order, which is the Order that Woden arranged
the Runes in, which also is simultaneously the order he
"shaped" the entire Cosmos into. FUTHAR is a Runic
formula, a Rune-Row, which speaks of the entire Cosmic Creation.
All 24 Runes represent the total pattern- you could keep
going from FUTHAR, into the entire row; the 24 properly
arranged Runes tell the entire story of creation, starting
from the shaping and formation, moving through the emergence
of the Norns and expressed Fate and Time, to the rise of
humans and their cultures, to the war of the world's End,
and to the rebirth.
I said before, the Runes in their pure form are unknowable
mysteries. But in this world of manifestation, they manifest
AS forces we experience- and they also manifest in the chain
of cause and effect that led them to be symbolized by letters.
To make an example, Beorc, the Birch Rune, is a great mystery
beyond words. But this mystery manifests itself as what
we see as Birch Trees, in the Lady's Mantle herb, but also
in the symbol Beorc itself, the form of the rune you see
drawn or carved- and also in the "B" sound. It
doesn't stop there- this mystery also "appears"
in the color of dark green, and in the qualities of motherly
fertility and giving, the earth itself, and most esoterically,
in the Containment of all things in this very moment. The
Goddess Freya, or Berchta, is likewise part of this Mystery-
though she is NOT this mystery; she is a Goddess all on
her own, but she manifests something of this Mystery, along
with Hel and Nerthus or Ertha.
The human body can get into certain sacred postures- called
Stodhur, which are also manifestations of the various Rune-Mysteries.
Each Rune Mystery has a Galdor or a Sacred Chant associated
with it's sacred Sound. If a person were to assume the Stodhur
of a Rune, and chant its sacred Galdor, while seeing nothing
but the symbol form of the Rune in their mind's eye, or
by fixing their eyes on an actual carving or picture of
it, and if that person chanted the Galdor over and over,
filling the body and senses with the various manifestations
of the Rune Mystery, they would become VeHailig- "Very
Holy"- and wordlessly, indescribably "penetrate"
into the inner essence of the Rune or the Mystery itself,
of which these other things are only appearances.
This is a great key and basic of Rune Sorcery. Through penetrating
the Mysteries, one can go into the direct company of the
Gods, connect to them, or cause any change imaginable within
the mind or body or world. By merging with the Rune power
invoked through the Galdor or sounds sacred to it, one becomes
"one" with the Rune Mystery, and unlocks its powers
within their Body and Mindstream. By meditating on the Rune-form,
and by other esoteric practices, the Rune-Sorcerer is capable
of many amazing feats of mystical ability.
is another example I am very fond of- if you wish to see
the World, all manifestation, as a great "Web"-
the Web of Wyrd, you must think of the Web as having 24
endpoints, and a Runic Mystery at each end-point. Each mystery
would have a thread running to the center of the web. "You"
and all things would be at the center of the Web, no matter
where you go, you are always mysteriously at the "center",
being acted upon by all the forces in the Cosmos, to a lesser
or greater amount.
The 24 strands would have "cross strands" of course,
horizontally-running web-strands, making a true web, and
linking them all together; the Rune Forces do not only act
on the "present moment", but they blend and affect
each other, causing more combinations of force and reality.
This is the notion behind the "bindrune" or the
"rune row"- an arrangement of two or more runes
or powers, mixed together to create a "formula"
of power- any situation or force or phenomenon can be esoterically
"described" by a mixture of two or more runes.
This is an important understanding to Rune Sorcery, which
is itself the craft of conscious beings utilizing the great
Mysteries or Forces of the Cosmos in their manifest form,
to weave new patterns of Force and bring about needed changes.
In this great Web, man, Gods, trees, worlds, and destiny
all arise. At any moment, a person wise in the Lore could
"see" or "come to know" the configuration
of runic forces which act on any part of the web or which
act directly on the present moment, on the center, and from
that knowledge, come to know "what will be", as
the forces make a linear "cause and effect" progression,
on one level. This is the theory behind Rune divination;
when you make a Rune Cast, or divine using the Runes, the
Gods or your own Guiding Fylgja (personal spirit) are "revealing"
to you what underlying forces (runes) exist at the present
moment, "within" or underneath each situation,
affecting the situation.
The Runic Cosmology is the finest and most subtle, penetrating
cosmology to ever manifest through the minds of Gods or
Human beings. The Runes, the Mysteries, the Seed-Mysteries
of Creation, are not conscious entities; they are forces
that conscious entities can discover, and which the greatest
of Conscious entities- the Allfather Woden- had to "use"
or "arrange" or act upon to bring forth the manifestation
of the Cosmos. The World Tree Grows from 24 seeds; 24 hidden
forces underly all of the manifestation of Reality. The
Rune-Forces can be accessed and used by Conscious human
beings as well, and manipulated, and this is the work of
the Erulian or the Rune-Sorcerer.
The Two Great "houses" of Germanic esoteric sorcery
or mysticism are found in Rune Sorcery, and Seid. Seid is
a more intuitive form of sorcerous art, a shamanic form
of dealing with the powers of the natural world in a direct,
intuitive manner; instead of dealing with the underlying
Runes, the Seid-worker deals with the manifestations, such
as animals, trees, and the like; by doing so, in strange,
intuitive ways, they ARE manipulating the same forces represented
by the Runes.
This art, Seid, deals with the biological realities of life,
and the human body, and vital sexual forces, as well as
natural forces in their expressed form. Freya, the Mistress
of Seid, was the great Mistress of this Art and its mysteries;
they are more feminine mysteries, requiring men to become
mentally, physically, and spiritually receptive and passive
in a manner that was considered shameful or unmanly by the
mainstream of Germanic societies. The sorcerous methods
of Seid also included underhanded methods of manipulating
other beings, another thing that would be seen as "unmanly".
But it is still a powerful art.
Rune Sorcery, on the other hand, is ruled by Woden, and
is a more intellectual craft, dealing with the direct underlying
realities that we see all around us expressed as nature
and the mind and body. It is a more "masculine"
craft, say some, and it forms a perfect harmonious polarity
with the more biological, intuitive arts of Seid. Woden
and Freya became lovers, and she initiated him into the
mysteries of Seid, teaching him that Art. This union of
the masculine and feminine, the intellectual and intuitive
approach to the Mysteries, teaches us much.
The final mystery of the Story of Woden's death on the tree
is curious indeed- you may have noticed that the story of
Woden's vision-death on the World Tree has a strange catch;
if Woden was the Rune-Master that shaped all the worlds
and gave rise to expressed reality symbolized by the World
Tree, why did he need to then hang from it and die to come
to gain knowledge of the Runes? This is not hard to answer;
the story of Woden's hanging sacrifice is not only a story
about a God; it is the story of a human sorcerer and wisdom-seeker
hanging himself to achieve wisdom. This human myth is no
doubt based on a historical event or a very ancient historical
practice of ordeal by which sorcerers or shamanic practicioners
hoped to achieve wisdom through mystical self-sacrifice.
Woden's spirit or Ond is within all people; when a mystic
hangs himself on a tree and undergoes an ego-death, to consciously
plunge into the depths of Hel, Woden undergoes this experience
as well, in a manner of speaking. The God's myth-story sets
a universal pattern of initiation, and thus we can see that
Woden's "hanging" speaks to a timeless, otherworldly
ordeal-sacrifice which becomes actualized in the time/space
"historical" sense through the mystery of his
spirit in manifestation and in mankind.
Woden's own realization, his own archetypal "sacrifice
on the Tree", took place in a "time before time",
in the timeless space before the advent of Nornic Laws and
the gifting of mankind with Ond or Spirit. In some way,
the "birth" of Woden and his own Sacrifice/Realization
The story of the Man/God hanging from the World Tree is
an expression of the bond or two-way relationship between
humans and the All-Father. Without mortal men and women
(beings who share the consciousness of the Gods) to gain
knowledge of the Runes, the manifestation and creation of
the World would not be complete; human consciousness is
not complete until it comes to directly understand its source
in the Runes or mysteries.
story of the hanging sacrifice is therefore a story of the
completion of the world through a human mind and body, the
completion and exaltation of consciousness, the great realization
of the Mysteries that unites the Godly and the Human. It
is Woden's great mind that undergoes this realization as
much as a human mind, and he 'undergoes' it every time a
human successfully comes to the great realization of the
In the mystical understandings of Northern Heathenism, we
must never forget that the Gods and human beings need one
another; they interact and affect one another, in the great
Web of Wyrd. The mythologies are not merely stories of the
Gods; they are stories of Wyrd-relationship. All worlds
affect each other, and what happens in this world does have
an affect in the others. The seen and the Unseen are related
because they are both manifestations of Wyrd. An understanding
of the Myth of the Tree-Hanging Sacrifice cannot be found
if you make a hard division between temporal human realizations
and the timeless realizations of the Allfather.