Meditations on the Anglo Saxon Rune Poem
The aim of this section is to present a series of mediations based around the old Anglo Saxon Rune Poem.
This is a very interesting and powerful poem, with many different aspects to it. Firstly, it is based around the old FUÐORC or Germanic alphabet and at one level simply records this alphabet with a short verse for each letter. As with our modern alphabet, each letter represents a specific sound of the language. However, unlike our modern alphabet, each letter also has a specific meaning. At one level, this is something simple such as a plant, animal or an action such as riding. However, embedded into this is a much deeper symbology that speaks of ancient wisdom and knowledge.
Whilst the ideas inherent in this poem undoubtedly have pre-Christian origins, the poem itself is thought to have been written down in the eighth or ninth centuries AD, placing it well into the Christian era. Indeed, it was rediscovered in a monastery and the written version we have has been Christianised. As such, it is an extremely valuable resource to the English Folk Christian wishing to connect with his or her distant ancestors and with the culture they lived in – yet doing so in a Christian context.
The poem is organised into three sets of eight verses, or aetts, with letters derived from the elder FUÐORC held in common with other Germanic ‘alphabets’. In addition to these, are a further five characters added into the Anglo Saxon language to accommodate new sounds resulting from greater contact with other peoples and especially the Latin tongue.
It is suggested that a Rosary could be used to help in this meditation. Remember that the Old English word for prayer is ‘bede’ – each rosary bede is therefore a prayer offered to God. The rosary would be divided into three sets of eight beads, each with an appropriate Runic inscription. As you pass each bead through your fingers, you should say the sound of the Rune (either mentally to yourself or out aloud as you prefer) and between each bead ponder on its meaning. A meditation is given below for each runic character.
Tony Linsell’s ‘Anglo Saxon Mythology, Migration & Magic’ is specifically acknowledged as a source of inspiration for this project.
feoh byð frofur fira gehwylcum
sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan
gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan.
wealth is a comfort to all men
yet everyone should freely give it
to win glory and honour before God in heaven.
In its most literal sense feoh, means money or wealth and is related to our modern word 'fee'. Traditionally it is associated with cattle, as this is how our ancestors often saved and increased their wealth, much as today we put it into a bank. At face value, we may think it is about wealth, perhaps about saving it up or the importance of having and not having it. But it is actually telling us much more. The verse is composed of two different statements:
Firstly, "wealth is a comfort to all men". Here we have a clear statement that wealth is not in itself bad. It is a 'comfort'. This does not mean "comfort" in the lazy, luxurious sense, but rather 'security'. It is the ability to not have to worry where your next meal is coming from, where you might live, how you will keep warm in winter and so on. We still say "I'm not rich, but I'm comfortable". With the security of a degree of wealth behind us, we can actually become less concerned with material things and turn our attention to more spiritual matters.
Secondly, "yet each must give freely to win glory in heaven". This is both advice and a warning. The warning is that whilst wealth in itself is not a bad thing, we should not become obsessive about it. In particular, we should not become obsessive about acquiring it and hoarding it. It is what we do with our wealth that is important, not what we have. There are many myths and stories about dragons guarding great hoards of treasure. Indeed, the dragon in this sense can be seen as the greedy and avaricious side of our nature. Anglo Saxon Christians associated dragons with evil and the devil. Unnecessary hoarding of our wealth will invoke a greedy and mean spirit within us.
The type wealth embodied in feoh does not have to be money. It can be happiness or contentedness. But it also refers to spiritual wealth. Our spiritual journey is to learn and to develop and to move closer to God. Our Lord guides us on this journey and as we progress we become more whole or holy; literally more spiritually healthy.
The final part of the verse tells of winning dom, or glory and honour before God in heaven. At one level, dom refers to how we are remembered in this world. Glory, in this sense, is the outward manifestation of our earthly courage and fame. But it is much more than this. The poem does not refer to winning glory on earth, but rather in heaven. In the Christian tradition, glory actually refers to the transcending of our earthly bodies into a higher plane as we enter heaven. Earthly wealth can provide comfort for us in this world. But it can also tie us to this world. The poem here is not just telling us how we can be remembered in this world, but is telling us that our true ‘doom’, or destiny, is to transcend this earthly life, and earthly material, in order to advance towards a higher state of spiritual existence in heaven.
felafrecne deor feohteþ mid hornum
mære morstapa þæt is modig wuht
The aurochs is determined and horned above
Fierce and bold this beast fights with horns
A mighty stepper over moors, it is a courageous creature.
The Aurochs was a primitive ancestor of the wild ox which is now extinct. This sense of primitiveness is embodied in the word 'Ur' which means 'primal' or 'ancient' in Germanic languages.
An initiation rite for young Germanic warriors involved hunting and killing an Aurochs armed only with basic weapons such as spear and knife. The Aurochs was a formidable foe and victory in the hunt was by no means assured. Hunting it required courage, stamina and patience.
Ur teaches us about facing life with courage and determination. It encourages us to never give up when the going gets tough. It also teaches us that to achieve our goals we may need to put much effort into it and be patient rather than expecting quick results. A 'quick fix' is not always possible and that greater rewards can be achieved by doing something properly and carefully. The old English saying goes "if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well"!
Ur also teaches us to be firm in the face of adversity.
"Fight the good fight with all thy might".
Our Lord showed courage and determination. Allowing himself to be crucified was not the act of a meek victim, but one of great courage in meeting great adversity head on. He did not cower on the Cross, but faced this cruel test with dignity and strength. This is an important facet of Germanic Christianity and one that is strongly reflected through our early literature and mythology. Our folk faith does not teach us to cower in the face of hostility or turn the other cheek and let people walk over us. Our ancient warrior tradition has been absorbed into biblical Christianity and we know when we must stand firm and fight against that which would do us harm. We still value the characteristics of strength used to a good purpose, of honest toil and endurance in the face of all sorts of difficulties. These characteristics were clearly shown by Our Lord on the cross. Yet through this dreadful trial of courage, strength and endurance, he has emerged the victor over death - the victor over darkness.
þorn bið þearle scearp þegna gehwylcum
anfengys yfyl ungemetum reþe
manna gehwylcum ðe mid him resteð
Thorn is very sharp for everyone
Evil to take hold of immeasurably severe
To everyone who reside with him.
In mythology, the 'Thurs' are giants, representing the forces of chaos; the raw uncontrolled energy that existed before the cosmos was brought into being. It was these energies that the gods used to bring about the creation of the cosmos. The actual act of creation could be described as a sudden burst of cosmic energy, akin to the theory of the 'big bang' or a clap of thunder. This is expressed mythologically as the slaying of the 'primal matter' (Ymir) by Woden, Will and Weoh. Thorn represents the cosmic energy unleashed by this creative and protective power. Our ancestors called this power Thunder and attributed the personality of Thunnor or Thor to it. Left uncontrolled, these destructive energies continue to work against the order of creation and would ultimately return it back to the nothingness of the Ginnungagap. Thunnor is depicted in the mythology as constantly battling these forces in order to hold them in check and maintain the order of creation.
Thorn therefore reminds us of Christ the Pantokreter, or the Cosmic Christ. This title signifies his all-powerful rule over all things and his role of holding all creation together. The Gospels teach that it is Christ who brought about creation and it is he who holds it together against the forces that would return it to the void. In Thorn, we therefore see a powerful foreshadowing of a central part of Christian theology and in Thor a foreshadowing of the role of the Cosmic Christ as Pantokreter.
St Paul teaches that through the Pantokreter, God not only holds all things together, but also draws the created universe back to himself. We are thus reminded of the mystical body of Christ.
os byþ ordfruma ælcere spræce
wisdomes wraþu and witena frofur
and eorla gehwam eaddnys and tohiht
God is the source of all speech
Wisdom’s support and comfort to councillors
And for everyone a blessing and hope
Originally meaning God, 'Os' came to be translated in Christian times by its Latin meaning, 'mouth'. However, this could have been a deliberate play on words as we shall see. Infact, the word is derived from the proto-Germanic word 'Ansus' meaning ancestor and the Rune is still called Anzuz in the Germanic Fuþarc.
The connection between God, ancestors and mouth is an important one and is most unlikely to be coincidental. Our pre-Christian ancestors saw their gods as literally their own ancestors. They were created by them and were part of the same family.
Os also reminds us of God as the Word - the mouth piece. It was the divine Word, or Logos, that brought everything into existence out of the void of chaos or Ginnungagap. Through Os, we can start to understand the nature of the Word, who is the source of not just all speech, but of all creative thought and expression. The Word is the means by which the thoughts and the will of God are expressed in a tangible form.
Os is therefore about the ability to communicate, but it also represents the hidden body of ancestral wisdom - ancient knowledge stored up for us to explore. It encourages us to think about the way Our Lord teaches us about God, how we come to know God by learning from him. The Word is a blessing and inspiration to us because He shows us the way through the spiritual darkness along the path of light towards an ever closer union with God.
But Os also teaches us about the Word as our ancestor. Our folk religion teaches that different peoples develop different relationships with God and that the Word has been made known to them in different ways over the years. Although fulfilled through the incarnation as Jesus Christ, the Word has been revealed to our folk before this. Our mythology teaches us of how God, in the form of Woden (wisdom), Will (will) and Weoh (holiness) breathed the spirit of life into us; gave us a will and blessed us with holiness.
Our mythology associates Woden with wisdom, speech, communication and inspired word craft such as poetry. It is Woden who hung nine long nights from the world tree and passed through to the very depths of the cosmos to receive the knowledge of all things which is locked in the Runes. In this story, lies a very powerful reflection of Christ crucified – not simply to wash away our sins, but to take us with him into a journey of greater wisdom and knowledge of God and eventual union with the Godhead.
rad byð on recyde rinca gewhwlcum
sefte and swiþhwæt ðam ðe sitteþ on ufan
meare mægenheardum ofer milpaþas
Travelling seems easy to a warrior in his
For those who cover the mile-paths on a sturdy steed.
When we are undertaking a long and difficult journey, it often seems that it would be so much easier if we were able to do it from the comfort of our own homes. We long to be back in familiar and comfortable surroundings. Conversely, a long and difficult journey can seem easy when we are just thinking about it at home!
We make plans at home, but actually carrying these plans out is much more difficult. It is easier to make plans than to take action. It is easier to think than to do. And yet both are necessary. There is no point in a well planned course of action if we do nothing to bring it about. But it is better to make sure that our actions are well planned and difficulties thought through and prepared for as best we can.
Rad represents the point at which we translate thought into action, the point at which thinking becomes doing. It seems to be too much of a coincidence that this Rune comes immediately after Os which embodies the power of thought and expression. After the thinking comes the doing!
But the message carries a deeper meaning. There is a tension in the verse between our home - our comfort zone - and the hard ride in the wilderness. To achieve real results we often have to move beyond the comfortable and familiar and stretch ourselves somewhat. When we are hard pressed in the outside world though, we can draw comfort from our familiar world and the thought of returning to it.
Another interesting thought on the relationship between Rad and Os is that Os (God or mouth) is often associated with God as Woden. In mythology, he rides on an eight legged horse called Sleipnir; symbolising his shamanic journey to the depths of the cosmos to recover the Runes themselves. Thus not only does thought lead to expression and action, but action leads to further thought and learning. Woden is strongly connected to the quest for knowledge and understanding. He is the embodiment of divine wisdom. His journey brought us the Runes, which are sacred windows into the wisdom of God. Christ as the Logos, or Word of God, draws us closer to the Godhead through the wisdom and knowledge embodied in the Runes.
At the heart of this journey and at the heart of the Runes is the mystical body of Christ.
cen byð cwicera gehwam cuþ on fyre
blac and beorhtlic byrneð oftust
ðær hi æþelingas inne restað
the torch is known to all living creatures by its fire
pale and bright it burns most often
where princes rest within
Cen is usually translated as 'torch'; but is related to our modern words 'ken', 'canny' or even 'cunning', which imply a sense of 'knowing', sometimes through a sixth sense or intuition. The torch represented by Cen is the inner light that burns within and enlightens and informs us. It is part of our intuitive skills and suggests divine guidance and enlightenment. Our Lord is described as 'the light'. It is this light that breaks through the darkness and leads us to a greater understanding of God and ultimately to wholeness in the unity of the Godhead. The inner light within us is a spark of the divine flame or energies. It is this spiritual part of ourselves that is instinctively attracted to the Godhead and which seeks to transform the limitations of our earthly human condition. It is the light that is the way, the truth and the life. As this suggests; Christ lies within us, just as much as he is around us.
Cen also implies the gift of being able to think clearly and to focus on information we need to solve a certain problem or make a certain decision. It is the power to be able to use the information we have, relate it to what we know and thereby to learn. We see this most clearly expressed in mythology through Woden who is driven by this flame.
But the torch is also the divine flame around which we can unite with our kith and kin. It can form the basis of community or common action. It can be the burning passion of common goals or a collective course of action to meet our needs. In Cen, we know God is with us when we struggle for what is right.
gyfu gumena byð gleng and herenys
wraþu and weorþscype and wræcna gehwam
ar and ætwist ðe byð oþra leas
Giving is for everyone glorious and praiseworthy
A measure of worthiness
And for the needy
Help and sustenance they would not otherwise have
Giving is a good thing to do. Giving is better than receiving. Our culture places much emphasis on the act of giving, be it charity or exchanging presents.
Those of us with sufficient wealth can help those without. This is the basis of community and civilised society. But people have different things to give and have different needs. One person may be rich in one thing, perhaps money, and can give to those who are not materially well off. Another person may be poor in terms of wealth, but be endowed with gifts of being able to sing, or make us laugh or offer spiritual comfort. Thus the act of giving can be reciprocal. That a gift should be returned by a gift is a very old North European maxim. Thus we have the basis for exchanging presents at Yuletide, 'returning a favour', or being indebted to someone.
Giving is at the heart of sacrifice, which really means giving up something we value for the sake of something more important. This lies at the heart of the Christian faith. God offered himself as a sacrifice in order to show us that there is life after death. As Christ's earthly body died on the cross, he was reborn in a new form - his glorified body. The resurrected Christ continues to show us the way to God and gently draws us in.
In Havamal, we read a similar story of how Woden (Odin) offers himself as a sacrifice for the benefit of humankind.
"wounded with a spear, dedicated to Woden, myself to myself".
Though Woden did not physically die on the Irminsul, he did give up an eye in return for inner sight or a knowledge of the mysteries of the Cosmos as contained in the Runes. In other words, he offered his old self as a sacrifice and was changed into a higher state through this act. This is what 'glorification' means. Gifu is therefore a symbol of the holy Eucharist itself. It is the means by which God has shown us humans how to reach our own ultimate journey of glorification. God has offered himself as a sacrifice to present us with this gift. In return, we offer ourselves, our loyalty and love, as a sacrifice and gift to God. This is why we call this a communion. It is a two way process, reflecting this wonderful mystery of the ultimate gift God offers us. The Runes themselves offer us a unique insight into the way of light we must walk to reach our journeys end.
wen ne bruceþ ðe can weana lyt
sares and forge and him sylfa hæfð
blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht
Joyful is he who does not know suffering
Pain and sorrow
But has for himself wealth and happiness
And a nice home
At face value, Wen is telling us that those of us who have everything we need and do not know pain and sorrow are, or should be, full of joy. Conversely, although it is not spelt out, those of us who know poverty, pain and sorrow are less likely to be full of joy. We are being taught that we should be joyful when we recognise our good fortune and be thankful of it. This applies to spiritual good fortune as much as to material things. We should recognise and rejoice in our friends and family, our happiness and health just as much as in being able to live a comfortable life.
To have wealth and happiness is a good thing, but we should recognise our good fortune. It is something to strive for, to work towards - not just for us but for others. Conversely, pain and sorrow is something we should not strive for! We may have to deal with pain and sorrow, and should do so with courage, but it is not something we should seek out - either for ourselves or for others.
But Wen has much more to teach us than this. The actual word in Old English is Wenn (Wenn) which also means hope and expectation, or 'wish'. It is related to the German 'Wonne' and proto-Germanic 'Wunjo'. Thus 'joyfulness' is related to our ability to hope or wish. Happiness can be attained by a belief that we can improve our lot and that things will get better. In a spiritual sense, joy comes about through the hope that we will attain everlasting life through being closer to God. Indeed, 'Wunjo' can mean 'fulfilment' or 'perfection'.
In mythology, Woden is sometimes called Oski - the fulfiller of wishes. The mythological stories tell of him granting wishes to people, sometimes ensuring they get precisely what they ask for rather than what they meant! The moral in these tales is not so much that we should be clear about what we request, but that God is telling us that often what we think we want is not what we really want or need.
This is our hope and our joy.
hægl byþ hwitust corna
hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte
wealcaþ hit windes scura
weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan
Hail is the whitest of grains
It swirls down from the heavens above
It is tossed about by stormy winds
And then turns into water
A hailstorm can be extremely destructive. Rather than giving much needed water to thirsty plants, it can destroy them. But then the hail will itself turn into the very water they need!
In mythology, Hail embodies the power of eternal ice and reaches through the primal world into Nifelham, or the land of eternal cold and darkness. It is a window into the underworld, the world of shadows, the place where souls reside who have gone backwards in terms of spiritual evolution. It can be frightening and dangerous and warns us of what that world of Nifelham is like.
But it also returns to its original state of water, the source of life and the mixing of eternal ice with primal fire. As such, it teaches us that the coldness of Nifelham can be overcome and warmed through. Souls residing there can be lifted back towards heaven through the unconditional love of Our Lord.
As a consequence of this, Hail is associated with protection against bad weather and the potentially destructive forces of nature. It was placed on people's front doors as a sign of welcome and that the home was a shelter from the elements. The word 'hail' implies a greeting, a warm welcome. It also implies a blessing and is linked to words such as whole, holy and health. Outwardly representing the dark and frightening force of the worst part of the underworld, it also offers protection and eventual release from that world. It is therefore a symbol of the ultimate place of safety and shelter - that of heaven itself. Heaven means 'haven', a place of safety. In Christ we have the eternal hope that we will be raised out of the darkness and cold up into the shelter of heaven. Christ, through his passion on the cross, reaches down into the very depths of the cold underworld of Nifelham and gathers us up to heaven.
We too can display the Hægl rune as a sign of welcome and safety. We can place it at the entrance to our home, Church or anywhere else we feel appropriate. As a sign, it represents more than just a shelter though. It is a symbol of our journey to heaven and our trust in Christ.
nyd byþ nearu on breostan
niþa bearnum weorþeþ hi ðeah
oft to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre
gif hi his hlystaþ æror
Necessity grips the heart
And yet it can often be a help and salvation
To the children of men
If they address it soon enough
Nyd (Need) is one of our most basic human instincts. We know that we need food and drink to survive and that we need to keep warm in the winter. It is an instinct that drives us on and keeps us going. Necessity and hardship can be very difficult and depressing, but it is often when the going gets tough that our survival instincts are at their strongest. 'Necessity is the mother of invention', they say.
One of our primal needs, especially in northern climes, is fire.
Primal fire represents one of the two equal and opposite forces that permeate the cosmos from which all matter is derived. Thus fire is not just a basic need, it is a part of the primal cosmos. Unlike the other primal energy, represented by ice, it is vibrant, active and full of energy. Potentially dangerous, it can be harnessed to bring warmth and life. On its own, unpredictable and powerful. But when controlled properly, absolutely essential to life and evolution.
Fire represents the spark of divinity that courses through all things. The fire that gives rise to the light, the Word of God who leads us out of the darkness to the Godhead. It is the spark of divinity that came amongst us in human form.
In the olden days, our ancestors used to make a Nyd Fyr (Need Fire) by rubbing two pieces of wood together and the runic character represents this action. The Nyd Fyr ritual involved two children creating a fire at opposite ends of a sacred enclosure. This would be the first act of a religious ritual and symbolically cleansed the area. Cattle would sometimes be driven between the two fires in order to ensure their health and fertility; a practice we know about because it was expressly banned by the Anglo-Saxon Church! Traditions of jumping over fires have survived into the present day.
The Need Rune also teaches us the importance of friction as a means of turning needs into positive outcomes and weaknesses into strengths. It teaches us about the need for self sufficiency and self preservation; the strength of resistance and defiance. It teaches us how to overcome stress through developing our inner strengths or inner fire.
Hardship and necessity can come about through the random acts of chaos depicted in our mythology as the work of Giants. People often refer to these as 'acts' of God, although they are no such thing. They are just random occurrences brought about by the forces of chaos that God constantly battles to keep under control.
is byþ oferceald ungemetum slidor
glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust
flor forste geworuht fæger ansyne
Ice is very cold immeasurably slippery
It glistens as bright as glass as though it were gems
A floor wrought with frost fair to behold
Ice is cold and solid. It is the opposite of fire, which is hot and lively. It can represent inertia, the tendency not to do anything and to resist change. Yet when brought into contact with fire, it melts and produces water - the very basis of life itself. Fire and ice represent the cosmic opposites that come together to produce the basic material of existence as we know it.
Ice is a binding force; it holds things together. It holds things tight as it freezes water solid. It appears to be still, calm and has an inner strength of solidity.
Yet it is not static. There is movement within it that we cannot see. Icebergs move, but very slowly. The force of these movements is irresistible and can create huge natural features such as valleys. This is not the quick force of fire that can flare up without notice and be extinguished almost as fast. This is the slow, constant movement of change that we may not at first notice, but which will eventually have profound effects upon our lives.
And so it is with our relationship with God. The relationship is a little distant, perhaps a little cold. We do not know God as well as we should and as well as we would like. The Ice Rune reflects the natural tendency to stick with what we know. What we know is often not what leads to spiritual evolution. Inertia in our everyday lives slows down our spiritual progress and reflects the wastelands of Nifelham.
We need the light and the fire of Our Lord to break through this inertia and use its properties to help our spiritual evolution. Warmth is what makes Ice dynamic – the slow but solid growth of faith.
Ice glistens bright as though it were precious gems. It can be beautiful to behold, but very dangerous. It looks very solid and yet will easily slip out of your hands. That which may look alluring can be very dangerous. It reminds us to be wary of false promises and easy paths to God. These may seem alluring on the outside, but they are cold and sterile within. The Kingdom is revealed through the light - the fire of Nyd - the Word of God. The light dispels the cold and the dark.
Ice also represents the slow, but sure advancement of the kingdom of heaven and of our own steady spiritual growth. Outwardly, it may gleam with bright symbols. We may misunderstand the importance of these - attaching an overtly worldly value to them. But inwardly, it remains solid and firm and provides the basis for true spiritual development.
The Ice Rune therefore teaches us to be wary of what might seem bright and alluring. It teaches that superficial beauty and allure may mask a cold interior. A bright surface does not always mean a warm interior. But, it also teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is a solid reality behind all the glitz and glamour we may build up around it. We need to focus on this solid reality and not the shiny surface that so easily slips away when we try to hold it.
ger byþ gumena hiht ðonne god læteþ
halig heofones cyning hrusan syllan
beorhte blæda beornum and þearfum
A fruitful year is joyful to everyone
When God, the holy king of Heaven,
Brings forth the gifts of our mother earth
Bright crops for both rich and poor
Sometimes, this Rune is translated as 'harvest', but is more literally 'year'. The term ' a fruitful' year' recognises the yearly cycle of planting and tending crops, then eventually harvesting them. God brings forth the gifts of our mother earth. This verse reflects the Ercebot, an early eleventh century charm for unfruitful land, which contains the following words:
Erce, Erce, Erce, Earth Mother,
May the Almighty Eternal Lord grant you fields to increase and flourish
Fields sprouting and thriving, flourishing and bountiful
Bright shafts of millet crops, broad barley crops and white wheat crops
And all the fruits of the earth
May you be well, earth, mother of men,
May you grow in the embrace of God, filled with food for the benefit of men
These are both Christian poems, yet both contain the seeds of an earlier understanding. The spirit of God interacts with the material of our mother the earth to produce the new life - the gifts of our mother. In some respects, it is hard to think of a Christian verse that better encapsulates the spiritual thinking of the older faith our ancestor's held before their conversion.
These gifts include the birth of Our Lord. The spirit of God comes together with the earthly mother to produce the son who is both fully God and fully human. He embodies the fruit of the earth; our spiritual and physical nourishment. He is our guide to a deeper spirituality and to progress towards God. In the Eucharist, we offer back to God the fruits of the earth and in turn are nourished by the very body and blood of Christ. Through this sacramental process, we are brought to God through Christ.
We are reminded that the various activities of the agricultural year are intended to achieve a specific goal. We fertilise and prepare the fields, plant the crops, water and nurture them before we harvest. In the same way, there is a Church year, one that plots the main events of the life of Our Lord. This also leads to a specific goal; the glorification of Christ, his conquest of death and ascension into heaven. The Church celebrates this cycle of events each year and looks to the risen Christ to raise each one of us up to glory in God through his own body and blood.
In the olden days, our ancestors honoured the god Ing Frey (Ingeld) as the god of peace and plentiful harvests. He was born of the spirit father and earth mother and in mythology ‘died’ in winter and was reborn each spring to represent the new life and he victory of life over death. He was also the protector and progenitor of the Western Germanic people and was believed to have dwelt among us. He was seen as a friend of the people, a beacon of light pointing towards his father.
Through Ing, our ancestors therefore had a foreshadowing of Christ – to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus.
eoh byð utan unsmeþe treow
heard hrusan fæst hyrde fyres
wyrtrumun underwreþyd wyn on eþle
The yew is an unsmooth tree on the outside
Held firm in the earth, roots twisting beneath
Guardian of fire and a joy on the land
Yew is one of the trees used to symbolise the mystical Irminsul, the world tree our ancestors saw as a metaphor for the cosmos. On its surface, it is just a rough tree. But in its upper branches lies the kingdom of Heaven; the realm of God, the Ælfe or Angels and the Saints. Situated at the top of the tree, this is the highest spiritual level - the place we all aspire to as we make our spiritual journey.
In the lower branches of the tree lies the kingdom of Middengeard or middle earth, our own mortal realm.
The three roots of this great tree pass through the earth, down through the primal world of Hel which our ancestors saw as a land of brightness and healing rather than of eternal damnation and torment. Within the realm, lay the place of eternal cold and darkness. This is the place that our ancestors saw as the realm of darkness and shadows. But we can live in confidence that Christ will lift those souls out of Nifelham into the light and indeed raise them up into Heaven itself.
Yew is an evergreen. As such, it symbolises longevity and the concept of eternal life and salvation. Interestingly, its leaves and berries are poisonous and can lead to death. Yet, it is also said that a powerful herbal remedy can be made from these same leaves.
It was from the Irminsul that Woden hung for nine long nights, passing through the primal world of Hel into the very core of the cosmos. From here, he retrieved the Runes, the sacred windows into the meaning of all things. The Christian Cross became for our ancestors another way of looking at the Irminsul. Through the Cross, Our Lord died to this world, descended into the land of shadows and the cold of Nifelham to raise up the dead. Through the Cross, and the passion of Our Lord, we are all heirs to this promise of rebirth and everlasting life in Heaven.
peorþ byð symble plega and hlehter
wlancum ðær wigan sittaþ
on beorsele bliðe æt somne
Peorth is always play and laughter
Where proud warriors sit
In the feast hall cheerfully together
Peorth may have been some form of game we no longer know. Or it may have been just a term used for general merriment, story telling, joking and riddle making in the feast hall. The Anglo Saxon English loved feasting and used the event as a means of binding together their communities as well as discussing serious events. Most of the time, they just enjoyed themselves, toasting successes and making resolutions (called boasts) about what they would do next. Interestingly, the word for such ritualised feasting was 'Symbel' (pronounced sumbel), which is the third word of this verse.
Symbel is more than just a ritualised feast and the practice continued after the conversion. Drink and sometimes food is consumed and toasts and boasts offered to God, the holy Angels and to comrades. As such, it mirrors the Eucharist in many ways and may have followed on from it – or even have been an integral part of it. It certainly provides an opportunity to integrate our religious and communal life in a way that reflects our ancient folk ways.
Peorth can be seen as symbolising the benefits of strong communities, of bonding and comradeship. This spirit of communal activity lies at the heart of strong societies. It is something that our modern society tends not to do well, placing more emphasis on individualism. But Peorth teaches us the importance of working as a team - more than a team - a tribe. Strong, well bonded communities work better together and will be more successful.
Peorth also teaches us the importance of looking for the positive wherever we can. Sometimes, Symbel would have been held at difficult times. Serious matters would have been discussed and serious oaths made in support of the extended family or clan. But even these events should as far as possible be undertaken cheerfully. This is a fundamental Christian message - to do what needs to be done cheerfully.
The poem 'Dream of the Rood' tells of how Christ cheerfully strode up to the Cross to battle with evil and to overcome death. This is the way of the warrior, the way of our ancestors’ society - even when they were not feeling particularly cheerful! It lies at the heart of the English character - laughing and joking in the face of adversity. Not because a person is over confident. But as a means of belittling the adversity; reducing it to something less frightening. Peorth tells us of the importance of communal activities to reinforce this, build up our confidence to face the enemy more confidently than we might otherwise do. But, most of all it tells us to do this as a strong community, a band of comrades supporting each other.
eolhx secg eardað hæfþ oftust on fenne
wexeþ on wætere wundaþ grimme
blode brendeðþ beorna gehwylcne
þe him ænigne onfeng gedeð
Elkgrass usually makes its home on the fen
Growing in water it can inflict grim wounds
Burning with the blood of all
Those who in anyway dare grasp it
Eolhx actually refers to Elk rather than to a type of marsh grass used in the poem. Its shape resembles the antlers of an Elk, which are a symbol of protection and defence. Elks were important to our ancestors because they were a principle source of food and clothing; basic elements of survival.
Survival is a primal human instinct and defensive action is a tried and tested means of protecting ourselves. Eolhx is a symbol of life and divine protection. It represents a focus through which the loving embrace of God can offer us safety and comfort. It has the power to ward off evil and concentrate our energy on a positive pathway to the upper world of Heaven.
The shape of Eolhx can be seen as a representation of a human figure stretching their arms upwards towards Heaven, reaching out to God. It is also a symbol of the world tree or Irminsul, its branches pointing upwards to Heaven. As such, it reminds us of our spiritual journey towards an ever closer relationship with God. It is infact an extremely holy symbol, representing life, the world tree, the upper world, our spiritual quest to become like God and the protective powers that emanate from it.
Turned upside down, the Eolhx Rune represents the opposite of life – death. It was often engraved on tombstones, even in Christian times; the right way up z to indicate the date of birth (life) and upside down k to indicate the date of death.
Although the author of the poem has for some reason chosen to substitute the older meaning of Eolhx for a reference to Elkgrass, the underlying meaning in the verse remains much the same.
Elkgrass is a tough marsh plant that survives in harsh conditions and has razor sharp edges to its leaves. It represents a stubborn and tenacious spirit that guards its secrets with great strength. It too is a symbol of defence and protection. Furthermore, the grass is inextricably connected to the marsh, binding it and protecting all manner of life forms from the dangers of their environment.
It must be treated with great care. It may seem to offer a firm hold in otherwise treacherous waters, but it can cause a serious injury if not handled correctly. Our Lord himself tells us that the road to Heaven will not be easy and many will fall by the wayside. It is through him that we learn this path and through him we learn how to walk through the marsh to eternal life in Heaven.
sigel sæmannum symble biþ on hihte
ðonne hi hine feriað ofer fisces bæþ
oþ hi brimhengest bringeð to lande
The sun always brings hopeful joy to seafarers
When they journey over the great fish-bath
Until the sea stallion brings them to land
Sigel (pronounced sail) is a symbol of the sun, its warming light and energy. The sun allows growth and healing. It is essential to agriculture and its annual cycles formed the basis of our ancestor's earliest religion. Our northern sun is one of gentle, welcome warmth; not one of harsh, scorching heat – usually!
Sunlight brings joy and hope. In the depths of winter, we await its return with eager anticipation. A lack of sunlight for long periods of time can lead to depression and illness. Upon its return in spring, we see the land spring back to life. It is a powerful symbol of regeneration, rebirth and of hope. It reminds us that whatever darkness or shadows befall us, through the passing cycles of life, there is always light and hope waiting for us - whether in this world or another one.
Sunlight also allows us to see where we are going, whether we are crossing the sea or just walking along a road. As such, s is associated with seeing clearly, both in the sense of seeing what we are doing and in the sense of understanding things more clearly. It represents an ability to see through things to identify what is really there - or what is really meant.
It also represents an 'inner light', the radiant energy of our souls known as our Scima in Old English. This is a divine energy, literally the spark of divinity that lies within us.
Christ is this light. He shows us the way to God. He enables us to see things clearly and to understand. He is also our hope - the hope we all have to lead fulfilled lives and to advance spiritually towards God. We can strengthen our relationship with him by meditation and reflective prayer. Each Rune shows us a way to Christ and is a means by which Christ speaks to us.
Sigel resembles a bolt of lightening, which is associated with thunder. Traditionally, this is associated with Þunnor (Thor) and his magical hammer Mjolmir (which probably means lightening). In this sense the Sigel Rune is related to the Thorn Rune T, representing the power of Christ battling the forces of evil and chaos - depicted in mythology as Giants seeking to undo the work of creation. This is particularly understood in Christian terms as Christ the Pantokreter.
Sigel also means victory. This can be considered as the victory of summer over winter or light over darkness, as the sun always returns. Again, it is a powerful symbol of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. It represents the victory of Christ over death, the victory of the light of Christ over the powers of darkness. The victory of order over chaos. It is a very potent symbol because it acknowledges that this victory involves the use of forceful energy, symbolised by the lightening bolt and Þunnor's hammer.
Through Sigel, our folk religion gives us a very important understanding of the nature of Christ as the Word of God. It was the Word who brought about creation. And it is the Word who fights against evil powers that would seek to return it to the chaos of the Ginnungagap. In this, we see Christ as a powerful warrior for order and creation, a powerful warrior for righteousness and protection. His warming embrace is full of light and love. But he can strike forcefully at his enemies and those powers of darkness that would seek to return us to the night.
Some authors translate Sigel as Sail rather than sun, mainly for reasons associated with the grammatical construction of the verse. Whilst there may be a point on the grammar issue, this view is not generally accepted by modern scholars. It may be that the author of the poem sought to disguise its real meaning as it was too strongly associated with sun worship. Other sources quite clearly associate it with the sun, lightening and victory.
The energy of Sigel should be carefully guided, through the love of Christ to do the work of God. It is a great pity that such a potent symbol of light was misused during the last great war so that now it is most often associated with death and savagery - the very opposite of its true meaning. In time, its true meaning will hopefully be restored, though clearly great sensitivity is needed.
wið æðelingas a byð on færylde
ofer nihta genipu
Tir is a sure guide
Keeping troth with princes
Keeping watch above
Over the mists of night
Tir is the earliest known name for God used by Anglo Saxon English people. It is derived from the Germanic name Tiwaz and is related to the Latin Deus and the Indo European word Dayaus and the Greek Theos, simply meaning 'God'. Our ancestors saw Tir as the original Sky Father, possibly going back to a time when our ancestral religion was actually more monotheistic than polytheistic.
Tir is a warrior. The shape of this Rune is that of a spear, an arrow or the sharp point of a sword. He embodies the qualities of bravery and self sacrifice. He teaches us to act with courage and honour in all our affairs; being just and decent - but standing firm for what is right. He was looked to for inspiration in negotiations and arbitration at tribal assemblies. His inspiration is to find a just and peaceful solution to disputes wherever this is possible. As such, Tir is strongly associated with law and order.
The modern Judaic Christ is often portrayed as a pacifist and a passive victim. But this is not how our ancestors saw him. It is unlikely that they would have converted if that was the only vision of Christ that was on offer. Christ to them was a just warrior and tribal king, reflecting their understanding of God developed over many generations. Yet the biblical stories of Christ's life and teachings have helped us to develop the concept of the 'ethical warrior', embodied in Tir. We understand our ancestral religion better through an appreciation of the earthly life of Our Lord. This fusion of the two traditions led to the development of our folk Christianity and ultimately to the development of the medieval tradition of chivalry. Tir is very much the patron of the ethical warrior - or Knight.
Christ emphasised the futility of the Old Testament 'tit for tat', 'eye for an eye' response which only tends to escalate the cycle of violence. This was the point of Christ's message to turn the other cheek. Where possible, the situation should be defused peacefully, which is precisely the real message of Tir.
There are, however, times when physical force is needed to defend ourselves and our property; when negotiation and arbitration are not enough. Only a fool would stand aside whilst their wife and children are being murdered. Sometimes, it is better to act decisively sooner rather than later. Tir, then, embodies the concept of a 'Just War' - one that can be morally and ethically justified as being necessary to prevent a worse evil and where other options are not available or unlikely to work.
Tir is not only associated with the warrior spirit in the sense of someone who physically fights battles. He shows us to act as an ethical warrior in all our doings. We should stand firm for what we believe in; act justly and face the world bravely and with honour. The way of the warrior is not an easy one. Again, this code became part of our folk Christian culture as the basis of the chivalric orders.
Tir is portrayed as a father figure in mythology. He looks over us from the heavens as our heavenly Father. He sacrificed his hand to the Fenris wolf as part of a deception to overcome the power of evil. This reflects the sacrifice a father will make for the sake of his children.
Tir is a sure guide, because he is our heavenly Father. He is even handed, fair and just. He keeps his word, not just with princes, but with everyone. His judgement is binding and he is sometimes called the binding God. The phrase 'keeping watch above' is not an exact translation of the Old English, which refers more to a sense of moving over something. But keeping watch is intended to portray the sense of this meaning. It is the sense of the Sky Father, moving over the earth and watching over us from 'somewhere up there'. Again, the phrase 'never failing' reinforces the traditional view of Tir as the dependable sky Father, one who looks after his children and acts in their best interests.
beorc byð blæda leas bereð efne swa ðeah
tanas butan tuddre byð on telgum wlitig
byð ðeah on helme hyrsted fægere
geloden leafum lyfte getenge
Birch is without fruit it sends out shoots rather than seed
Splendid are its branches and its crown richly adorned
Laden with leaves reaching to heaven
Despite the obvious similarity of the Old English beorc with the modern word birch, this verse is most often translated as poplar. The reason for this is uncertain, yet the reference to the tree sending out suckers seems to suggest a reference to poplar rather than birch. Yet, in other Runic systems, it is clearly linked to the birch tree and this association is maintained in the translation above.
It is usually seen as a feminine Rune, of child bearing and motherhood. It has been associated with the Goddess Berchta who was venerated in parts of what is now Germany and was seen as a patron of children. She is said to appear as a ghost known as the white lady when a person of royal birth is about to die. Indeed in folklore, Birch is associated with any of the Goddesses associated with motherhood. It reminds us of how our mother brings us into being, feeds us, clothes us and protects us. It is a quality of fertility and fruitfulness.
And yet, the verse makes the point that the tree is without fruit' and 'sends out shoots' rather than seed. Poplars certainly send out shoots. Furthermore, neither poplar nor birch produce fruit in the sense of apples or pears. Yet they do produce small catkins containing seeds that detach themselves from the tree and float away in the breeze to land in the earth nearby.
Perhaps the author was trying to symbolise the blessed virgin who brought forth Our Lord without the more obvious aspects of fruitfulness! The poem goes on to describe the beauty of the tree's branches and its richly adorned crown rising to heaven. This could be a hidden reference to the world tree or Irminsul. The richly adorned crown of the tree is not just reaching to heaven but actually represents heaven - the golden crown being that of Our Lord himself. Associated with femininity and motherhood we are reminded that he crowned Our Lady as Queen of Heaven. As Our Lord's earthly mother, she embodies all the qualities of motherhood and nurturing traditionally associated with this Rune.
Eh bið for eorlum æðelinga wyn
hors hofum wlanc ðær him hæleðas ymb
welege on wicgum wrixlað spræce
and byð unstyllum æfre frofur
The horse riden by warriors is the joy of princes
A hoof proud steed where heroes abound
Rich men on horseback exchange speech
To the restless, ever a comfort
Horses have always been sacred to the Germanic peoples. Tacitus tells us they believed that the behaviour of horses before a battle could predict its outcome. Bede also tells us that Germanic priests of the old religion were only allowed to ride a mare and not a stallion. Indeed, when the High Priest Coifi decided to profane the heathen shrine of his own faith in Northumberland, he did so partly by riding a stallion into it.
Horses were used as a means of travelling around the land. They were the main mode of transport and communication of their day. They were also ridden into battle, though they were not usually used by the Anglo Saxons as cavalry. A mounted prince or House Carl would be an impressive sight and the horse a prized possession. A 'hoof proud steed' would carry his rider mile after mile, at an impressive pace, without tiring. There would be a strong bond between the warrior and his steed. Horses, like people, are capable of forming relationships; likes and dislikes. The two would get to know each other well, forming a partnership based on mutual loyalty, trust and understanding.
These are the two great mystical principles behind Eh, communication and partnership.
Eh symbolises the need and ability to communicate ideas, thoughts and information. 'Rich men on horse back exchange speech'. This is one of the corner stones of our ability to learn, understand and develop. At one level, it can be simply exchanging news or giving an instruction. At a deeper level it is part of the process by which we evaluate new information in the context of what we already know to produce new knowledge. This is the basis of learning and learning is the basis of development. We cannot underestimate the importance of communication!
The horse has long been a symbol of shamanic journeys between this world and others in the Germanic tradition. Sleipnir, Odin's famous eight legged horse is perhaps the best known metaphor for this. Yggdrasil, the Norse name for the Irminsul or world tree, is made up of two words meaning awesome (Ygg), a name for Odin himself, and horse (drasil from which we get our modern word dray). The horse is a symbol of our ability to travel to other worlds, to learn through meditation and prophecy and to develop spirituality here in this middle world.
Partnership is an underlying principle of early Germanic culture; being based on principles such as leof (pronounced love, but meaning something more like respect), treow (meaning faith or troth as well as tree) - 'my word is my bond' and the unswerving two way loyalty that existed between a King and his gesiðas or companions. This mutual partnership is symbolised in e by the unique bond between a warrior and his horse. Together they can achieve things that neither could do alone. It symbolises a strong community, the very basis of a successful society - one that the modern world can learn much from.
As a metaphor for partnership, Eh also reminds us of the powerful partnership between man and wife; the basis of family and the building blocks of a strong community. e can be seen as two Lagu Runes back to back - symbolising the partnership of equal and opposites - male and female which in turn create a new whole.
Good communication is vital to successful partnership. This is also true the other way round, good partnership is vital to successful communication. Working together, these two principles allow us to interact with each other, ensure that we can be properly understood, that good ideas are taken on board and that bad ideas are collectively recognised and discarded.
Man byð on myrgðe his magan leof
sceal ðeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican
forðam dryhten wile dome sinum
þæt earme flæsc eorðan betæcan
Man in his joy is dear to his kin
And yet each is fated to let others down
Because the Lord's will, his final judgement
Returns the poor flesh back to the earth
Man is the Rune of the human condition, of folk communities and what we call society. As with other Germanic languages, man actually means 'human' in general and is not referring specifically to a male person.
It encourages us to meditate on human relationships and how these can affect communities. It symbolises the perfection of those relationships. It recognises that simple pleasures like laughter and happiness are desirable and valued by humankind. It is telling us that life should be joyful and is to be enjoyed. It is no coincidence that the Rune is formed by two w Runes back to back.
But it also telling us that we must not forget that all these things will ultimately pass away, returning to the earth from which they come. Life, whilst it is to be enjoyed, should not be frittered away. There are higher things to be pursued and the highest thing to attain in closeness to God. Furthermore, we should not trust in our mortal flesh, as it is weak and will ultimately let us down.
Whilst the previous Rune e symbolises communication and partnership, Man symbolises the intelligence behind these attributes. It is our intelligence, our ability to reason and invent, that separates us from the animal world. In this sense, it is linked to the mythological two ravens Huginn (mind) and Muninn (memory) who sit on Odin's shoulders and travel the world for news and information. These two ravens symbolise our ability to think and reason (mind) and our ability to remember (memory). Together, these are the attributes that enable us to learn - the basis of our ability to develop and create what we call civilization.
Mannus is one of the three earth born gods Tacitus tells us our ancestor's believed in. Mannus brought civilization to our folk and is generally recognised as the Germanic name for the Norse god Heimdal. He is said to have visited the earth and lived amongst men as a man, hence the Germanic word for him. He visited three families, representing the three social classes of the Germanic world; the warrior elite, the free born farmer and the thrall. To each of these families he fathered a child, a symbolic expression of how 'culture' was brought into the world of men by a god who became man.
The myth is reflected in the English tradition of Scyld Scefing, who can be seen as the bringer of agriculture (the sheaf) and technology (the shield).
These ancient myths of gods becoming man to give us culture and civilization are like a fore shadowing of the incarnation itself, a recognition of God's interaction with our folk which has been fulfilled through the birth and life of Christ in human form. This helps us to understand the context of how the early Germanic converts to Christianity would have understood the mysteries of the incarnation.
lagu byþ leodum langsum geþuht
gif hi sculan neðan on nacan tealtum
and hi sæ yþa swyðe bregað
and se brimhengest bridles ne gymþ
The mighty meer seems unending to folk
Who have to travel on an unsteady ship
Where mighty waves smash into them
And the sea stallion heeds not the bridle
Lagu refers to a large lake, meer or the sea. The sea has always been an important feature in the lives of the northern and western Germanic peoples. It is a source of food and a major means of communication. It is a vast area with long horizons and endless, often tedious days. The sea faring life can be extremely dangerous and many good people have lost their life to it. It is no surprise that the sea holds such an important position in our folklore.
Water is an absolute essential to life. Our bodies are mostly made of water and we will die of lack of water long before we do of food. It has therefore often been used to symbolise life. Given its fluid nature and the running waters of rivers and streams, it represents not just life in general, but the transition from one form of life to another - death to rebirth.
Mythologically, Lagu represents the Hevergelmere, the great body of water that nourishes the roots of the World Tree or Irminsul. It is the source of all rivers, seas and water. It is the water of life and symbol of the new life we can expect as we transcend one world to another. Mythically, we can see Christ walking on the waters of Hevergelmere demonstrating that this new life comes through him.
Lagu therefore represents the waters of baptism through which we enter into the body of Christ and of his Church. An outward symbol of the inner life in Christ.
Our journey through Christ is not always plain sailing! The seas around us can be rough and seem never ending. Mighty waves crash around us from time to time, whilst at other times our journey can falter in a calm with no apparent wind sending us on our way. Yet through all of this, Our Lord will be there for us, guiding us to our destination which is the haven of God.
The imagery of this verse is captured in Song 35 of the Saxon poem, Heliand, dealing with the miracle of Christ walking on water. This well known story is transferred to a northern sea and the ship is of the 'high horned' variety used by Germanic and Norse peoples of that time.
Ing wæs ærest mid East Denum
gesewen secgum oð he siððan eft
ofer wæg gewat wæn æfter ran.
ðus heardingas ðone hæle nemdon
Ing was first seen by men amongst the East Danes
Until he departed again
Over the waves, his wagon behind him
Thus the warriors named the Saviour
N is a Rune of rebirth and renewal.
Tacitus tells us that the North Western Germanic peoples saw themselves as the physical descendents of the god Ingeld or Ing, calling themselves the Ingævones - followers of Ing. Old English writings refer to the 'Ingefolc' - people of Ing. Indeed, the word 'English' is derived from this name.
Ingeld is better known by his title, Frey in English and FreyR or Yng FreyR in Norse. Frey and FreyR simply mean 'the Lord'.
Ing is the Lord of agriculture, peace, plenty and fertility. As Lord of the harvest, he is strongly associated with Lammas tide or the Loaf Mass (Hlæfmæse). He is patron of fertility and prosperity, of marriage and the family. In mythological terms, he is the son of the Sky Father and the Earth Mother, the bringing together of spirit and earthly matter to produce the new life. Each year he dies to the cold harsh winter (symbolised by him crossing the sea) and is reborn the following spring as the earth springs back to life.
This reflects the human birth of Our Lord in the Christian stories. Ing was particularly important to the Anglo Saxon English and it seems as though the Church was able to use much of the people’s understanding of him to introduce the new faith. Conversely, people’s understanding of Christ must have been heavily influenced by that of Ing. It is an early folk understanding of the mystery of Christ's passion and resurrection, of his ministry and underlying message. This view is reinforced by the reference to him as ‘Saviour’ in the final sentence of the verse.
eðel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men
gif he mot þær rihtes and gerysena
onbrucan on blode blædum oftast
A homeland is precious to all people
If they can live in rightness and honour
Fulfilled through their blood, eternal riches
Our homeland is very dear to us. It was won and defended by our forebears. It is our duty to treasure it, defend it and pass it on to our own descendents.
We can be secure as a people within it, able to live our lives in peace according to our ways and traditions. Each folk group has a right to such a homeland, somewhere they can survive and prosper. Each folk group has a right to exist and maintain its individual identity. A homeland is an essential part of this right. Also known as Othala or the Odal Rune, E is a powerful symbol of our links with our homeland. Odalism is a movement that springs from this, a movement which values our native folk ways, traditions and links to our native soil.
We enjoy its riches, the security and fulfilment it gives us. But we should treat our folklands with respect and not exploit them for greed or selfishness.
It is interesting that Ethel is very similar to the Ing Rune and that it immediately follows it. This seems to reinforce the bonds of common blood and soil that exist between our folk, our homeland and Ing Frey as our progenitor and patron of fertility and prosperity. The fact that both Runes contain g (Gifu) emphasises that these are gifts to us.
We should respect and honour the land wights that dwell within it, remembering that they too can be our spiritual ancestors.
In this sense, we should see E as representing more than just our homeland. It also represents our spiritual ancestry, those sacred bonds between us and our forebears - and those who will come after us. They walk with the gods, but are still with us in a spiritual sense. They can help us and give us strength. It is our duty to protect these bonds. This means ensuring the survival and prosperity of our folk group. Maintaining a viable homeland is an important part of this.
dæg byþ drihtnes sond deore mannum
mære metodes leoht myrgð and tohiht
eadgum and earmum eallum brice
Day is the Lord's messenger dear to mankind
The creator's glorious light
A joy and comfort to both rich and poor
Useful to all
"O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant us this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
This is the Third Collect (for grace) taken from the Morning Prayer liturgy of the Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Dæg represents the dawn of a new day, a new beginning and awakening. It is the coming of the light that shines through the darkness and banishes the night. We are reminded that Christ himself is this 'light' and that he leads us towards God.
Christ is the power of light, the light that came into the world. It is he who brought light out of the darkness in the act of creation. It is he who chases away the power of night, the fear and ignorance that this represents. It is he who brings order out of chaos.
Through Christ we are made more fully aware of the world around us and of the will of God. Daylight means that we can see. By seeing, we can understand and by understanding we can learn and grow. Through Christ we can learn how to become more whole and how to walk the path to God. It is Christ who lights the way of this path and Christ who is the beacon that draws us to God.
Christ is not simply the Ruler's messenger, but rather the message. He is the Word of God, the Logos. He brings joy and comfort to all people. Through Christ we are reborn into a new day and through Him we have a fresh start. We do not need to live in the fear of the night, but can live in the light.
This Rune is linked to that of N (Ing). From that verse we understand not only a reference to the cycle of the year, but also the cycle of the day. Ing mythologically rises in the east moves in his chariot across our lands and then disappears westwards over the sea. This story itself has parallels with the myth of Sunna, (Sun) who rides across the sky in a chariot bringing daylight. Ing and Sunna both anticipate the Risen Christ. They are indeed a joy and comfort to all.
The Additional Anglo Saxon Runes
Oak is the symbolic tree of England. It represents a sturdy, reliant product of the earth that we can trust and use to good effect. It forms a vital part of our English landscape. It provided food and forage for the wild boars that used to roam our land and which were held to be a sacred symbol of Ingeld. It was used to build sturdy houses and quality English furniture. It is the nourisher of our land and its inhabitants.
In years gone by, it was used to build the great ships of the English navy that beat the Norsemen, the Spanish Armada and the French. We have placed our trust in oak to defend and protect us. It did not let us down in the past and we should place our trust in its symbolic protection today.
We use the phrase, ‘from tiny acorns do mighty oaks grow’. In this we recognise that if we place our trust in what we believe to be right and honourable, we will be successful and our cause will prosper. It might seem that we are fighting an uphill battle, but small advances in the beginning will lead to major victories in the future.
In short, the mighty oak is a symbol of the true English spirit; solid, dependable, honourable and trustworthy.
æsc bið oferheah eldum dyre
stiþ on staðule stede rihte hylt
ðeah him feohtan on
The ash is very tall and dear to men,
Firmly rooted, it holds its place,
Though many attack it
Æsc, or Ash, symbolises the will to stand tall and proud against all the odds and to withstand everything that tries to destroy us. It represents endurance, perseverance and determination.
In mythology, the first man was formed from an Ash tree. This represents man as the protector of and provider for the family, standing firm in defending his family and community. It represents the will to remain rooted to our native land, not to give in to those who would take it away or try to up-root us. It represents the stubborn will to survive and to stay where we are!
Ash has a secondary meaning of ‘spear’. The spear also stands firm in battle and protects the man who shelters behind it. The spear was a more important weapon to our ancestors than the sword.
Although the Rune poem does not include a verse for Elm, this is an appropriate place to comment on it. As the first primal man was fashioned from an Ash tree, so the first primal woman was fashioned out of an Elm tree. Elm should be seen as representing the life bearing and nurturing characteristics of women, the whole basis of family and community life.
yr byð æþelinga and eorla gehwæs
wyn and wyrðmynd
byð on wicge fæger
fæstlic on færelde fyrdgearewa sum
The bow is a joy and honour
To nobles and all men alike
It looks splendid on horse
Reliable when travelling
Part of war gear
The bow is an important part of the warrior's war gear. It allows him to fight at a much longer range than the sword or axe and gave the sort of advantage that modern day missiles and long range rifles do today. The English long bow wrought havoc with French forces in the middle ages as they could hit the enemy whilst being out of range themselves. Archery became an important skill and every Englishman was required by law to practice it at least once a week - a law which technically remains in force to this day!
The bow represents the ability to remain one step ahead of the game. An in born advantage born from superior equipment, knowledge or skill. We are reminded that our ability to survive and prosper is dependent on creating and keeping this advantage.
ior byð eafixa and ðeah a bruceð
fodres on faldan hafað fægerne eard
wætre beworpen þær he wynnum leofaþ
The beaver is a river fish
Although it eats its food on land
It has a fair home, surrounded by water
Where it lives joyfully
The beaver was declared a fish by the early church because of its scaly tail. This may have helped overcome Old Testament dietary laws and allowed the animal to be eaten. Although there is little or no evidence it formed a regular part of the English diet, its classification as a fish may have been important in times of famine and hardship.
The beaver swims like a fish but feeds on dry land. It is industrious and works hard building and maintaining its home, creating river dams and generally beavering away! It is happy in its work.
Sometimes the river breaks through the dam and destroys its home, but the persistent beaver just picks itself up and rebuilds.
We need to stand firm against the odds and not give in when things get tough. Our Lord reminds us to be joyful in our work - dedicate it to the glory of God. We should be content with this and we will be happy.
The beaver reminds us of the importance of hard work and self reliance. Things rarely come to us for nothing and hard work is usually needed. We should be self reliant wherever possible and not become dependent on others who may seek to take what is ours.
Like the beaver, we need to learn to survive in different environments; living in this world but living apart from it too. We need to learn to live in the wider community, but also to build and strengthen our own communities within it. To live contented, joyful lives in our own communities, we need to work like the beaver and never give up.
ear byð egle eorla gehwylcun
ðonn fæstlice flæsc onginneð
hraw colian hrusan ceosan
blac to gebeddan bleda gedreosaþ
wynna gewitaþ wera geswicaþ
The grave is a terror to all men
When the flesh grows cold
And the pale corpse
Chooses the earth as its companion
Wealth comes to an end, joy fades away
The grave is a cold, dark and lifeless place. The verse is stark and a little morbid, reflecting the realistic and somewhat fatalistic character of our ancestors. It is fitting that it appears as the last Rune.
But it is not the end of a linear sequence, but rather part of a cycle that represents the cycle of birth, death and rebirth in Christ. This is reinforced by the resemblance of Ear q to Eh z which represents life, rather than k which represents death. So Ear is not simply about the grave. It is another lesson that whilst our earthly death must come to pass, we have the promise of being reborn to eternal life in Christ.
Even as the joys, hopes and friendships of this world pass away, so does pain, hurt and loneliness. Whilst our souls are reborn, our earthly body returns to the earth from which it came. But our accomplishments live on within this world.
Our dom (doom) is the fame and glory we are remembered by. It is good to lead a decent, honourable life and to have achieved positive things for which we can be remembered. These do not have to be on a grandiose scale like the Saints, but can be small scale and may even be known only to God. As St Matthew says:
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven."
Anglo Saxons called death forþferan or faring forth - recognising a journey from this world to the next. The wealth and joys of this world are of no more consequence as they are replaced with a different type of wealth and joy as we anticipate the kingdom of heaven.
Life is a precious gift of God. We should use our lives wisely and positively to His glory. And we should have faith in the promise that Christ will raise us out of the cold grave and draw us into the light of eternal life through him. This is the doom we should all yearn for, our Christian Domgeorn (pronounced doom yorn).