Here’s a video describing a Winternights blot, a heathen ritual to welcome in winter. I honour my Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian ancestry at this time of year, as well as the growing darkness and the cold north winds.
In this series of blog posts, I will be looking at the runes in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, known as the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Futhorc. As I have been studying various forms of Heathenry for quite a few years now, I have felt a calling to connect more fully with my ancestry and a real pull towards learning more and experiencing the ways of Anglo-Saxon, or English magical and religious traditions.
The runes have always appealed to me more than the Druidic ogham. I tried for years to get on with the ogham, but it never took. However, the runes come naturally to me, and seem a lot less abstract, for their shapes vary much more than the ogham, and settle much more easily in my mind. When I visited Sweden a couple of times, finding the runic standing stones just outside a village or on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere was fascinating. Though I couldn’t quite read it fully, when I ran my fingers down the markings the stories came alive within me. Similarly, I am surrounded by the heritage of my Anglo-Saxon ancestors, living as I do so very close to the Sutton Hoo ship burial site here in the East of England, and with the Saxon recreated village of West Stow nearby.
Runes are so much more than an alphabet, as they are also used in magical workings. Alphabets the world over have been used in this way, not merely to communicate information on a mundane level, but also to boost and support magical workings in various formats. I have used runes for many, many years in my magical work, and it’s always been successful.
In Scandinavian texts, the runes are won by Odin, who hung himself on the world tree for nine days and nine nights in order to gain the insight and wisdom of their mystery. Indeed, the word rún in Old Norse means mystery or a magical symbol. In Old English, rún means a learning, a consultation or even a whisper or confidence. Though the continental traditions viewed the connection of Odin and the runes as paramount, it seems less likely that the Anglo-Saxons associated their Woden with the script, as their runes developed much later, without the attached story concerning Woden. This is interesting, because the translations of the eldest runic alphabet, the Elder Futhark, depend on the Old English Rune Poem, the Norwegian and Icelandic poems. The Elder Futhark stems from the Common Germanic language, whereas the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc contains the sounds we hear in the Old English language. So, we are using poems from similar languages in order to understand the eldest version of the runes, the Elder Futhark, because we have no original Germanic Rune Poem to help with translation.
Were the stories made to fit with regards to Odin, or was the original story simply not remembered by the time the Anglo-Saxons developed them for their own use? Was the story left out by the Christian monks who recorded it? We may never know, so we look to the Norse, Icelandic and Old English poems to help understand and translate the eldest runic script. Those who work from an Anglo-Saxon context may or may not place an emphasis on working or connecting to Woden when working with the runes.
The Norse Elder Futhark consists of twenty-four runes. This is the most common form of runes you will see today, sold at many Pagan marketplaces, and with many books written about their meaning. The Icelandic Younger Futhark developed around CE 800, and has sixteen runes. The Anglo-Saxon runes date to CE 400, and so lie in the “middle” historically of the Germanic and Icelandic versions, containing 29 runes. Though the dating of the Old English runes land in a definitively Pagan era, it was only recorded for posterity in the tenth century by Christian monks, and so we have to bear a possible bias in mind in the translation and interpretation of the Old English Rune Poem, with information possibly left out for various reasons.
It is called the Futhorc (or Futhark in Norse and Icelandic) because that is what the first runic letters spell out. Each rune has a verse attached to it, which describes or alludes to the mystery of the rune itself. My favourite translation is Stephen Pollington’s version, from The Rudiments of Runelore (Anglo-Saxon Books, 1995). I highly recommend picking up this work, as well as Suzanne Rance’s The English Runes, which uses Pollington’s translation. It’s also important to understand the context in which the runes were used, and better understand the mindset and pagan practices of the Anglo-Saxon. For this, I recommend Alaric Albertsson’s works Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer and Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan.
The Old English Rune Poem is a beautiful work, which sometimes speaks in riddles and is a joy to try and figure out on your own before looking up each definition and interpretation from learned sources. Much like the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum in The Hobbit (and we all know Tolkein was a big fan of Old English culture and society, let alone the runes) it is fun to tease out just what is meant by a “gannet’s bath”, or which rune is referred to as “cold and slippery, glass clear and glistening like gems”. Simply leave out the name of the rune and read the poem, and it’s all a riddle.
The Old English Rune Poem is the eldest recorded rune poem, as the Norwegian Rune Poem dates to the 13th century, and the Icelandic Rune Poem two hundred years later. I have found very few copies of the Old English Rune Poem in actual runic script, however, here is one that may help you get an idea as to what it would have originally looked like, from the website All Things Linguistic.
Here is the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, or Old English Rune Poem, in full, translated online by Dr Aaron K Hostetter:
The Rune Poem
Wealth is a comfort to every man,
although every man must share it out greatly
if he would obtain a portion of the Lord’s glory.
The ox is single-minded and over-horned,
most savage beast, fighting with his horns,
well-known moor-stepper. That is a proud creature.
Thorns are severely sharp. To any thane
seizing it is an evil, measurelessly cruel
to every man who comes to rest upon it.
The mouth is the beginning of all speech,
a support to wisdom and a comfort to the wise,
and a prosperity and trust to every earl.
Riding is a comfort to every warrior
in the hall, and very trying to those who sit upon
a powerful courser over the mile-paths.
A torch is known by every living being to be on fire,
white and bright, most often burning
where the nobles rest themselves within.
Gifts are an honor and praise of men,
a support and a distinction, and to every wretch
mercy and meat to those who are free from other possessions.
Joy is enjoyed by those who little know of woe,
pains and sorrow, and to those who have of themselves
profit and bliss and also many citadels.
Hail is the whitest of grains. It comes down from heaven’s breeze,
the wind’s showers rolls it down, and after it becomes water.
Need is a constraint on the breast, although it often comes to the sons of men
a help and a healing of every one, if they hearken to his demands before.
Ice is really cold, measurelessly slippery
glistening clear as glass, most like gemstones
a floor created by frost, and a fair face.
The new year is the hope of men, when God allows,
the Holy Heaven’s King, the earth to give
her bright fruits to rich and poor alike.
The yew is an unsmooth tree without,
hard, fixed to the earth, a warden of fires,
supported by its roots, a joy in the home.
Peorth is always a play and laughter
to the proud where warriors sit
in the beer-hall, happy together.
Elk-sedge keeps its home most often in the swamps,
it grows in the water, and grimly wounds,
it burns the blood of any man who grasps it.
The sun is ever a hope to seamen,
when they carry themselves over the fishes’ bath,
until their brine-horses bring them to shore.
Tir is a certain token, it keeps its troth well
with noble men. It is always on its journey
over the clouds of night, never wandering.
Birch lacks fruit, even though it bears
shoots without seed. It is lovely in its branches,
high in its crown and fairly adorned,
laden with leaves, pressing into the breeze.
Horses are for earls the joy of noblemen,
a steed proud in its hooves, where the heroes about him,
prosperous on horseback, weave their speech,
and ever a comfort to those on the move.
Man is in mirth, dear to his brother;
though every one must depart to another place,
because the Lord wishes, through his own doom,
that our wretched flesh be commended to the earth.
The waters seem to men to be broad,
if they should venture upon an unstable ship,
and the sea-waves terrify them so,
and the brine-horse cares not for his bridle.
Ing was first among the Eastern Danes
seen by men, until he soon afterwards
departed over the ways, a wagon running after him.
Thus bold men named this hero.
A homeland is very dear to every man,
if there he may enjoy in his household
what is right and fitting, very often with its fruits.
The day is the Lord’s message, dear to men,
the renowned light of the Measurer, a mirth and troth
to the prosperous and the wretched, useful to all.
The oak is fodder for flesh on earth
for the sons of men. It frequently ferries
over the gannet’s bath. The spear-waves test
whether the oak possesses reliability for noble men.
The ash is very tall, dear to men,
stout in its trunk, its hilt is rightfully fixed,
although it fights against many men.
A bow is for every noble and earl
a joy and an honor. It is fair on horseback,
support on a journey, some part of a warrior’s tackle.
The gar is a river-fish, and though he takes
his food on land, he owns a lovely home
surrounded by water, where he lives in joy.
The grave is terrible to every earl,
when the fixed flesh begins,
the corpse cooling, to choose the earth
paleness as its bedmate. Fruits fail,
joys depart, mankind ceases to be.
With each blog post, I shall write about the rune in turn, its connection and interpretation through the Old English Rune Poem, and my own understandings and working with this rune. I hope that you enjoy this blog series!
 Pollington, S. The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England, Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011, p.422
 Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination, Dragon House 2017, p. 8
 Pollington, S. The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England, Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011, p.422
 Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination, Dragon House 2017, p. 9
 Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, 2011
 Hostetter, A. The Rune Poem, from the Old English Poetry Project, https://oldenglishpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/the-rune-poem/ (accessed 14 Aug 2020)
This time of year always makes me think of my family: my relatives, my extended family, and my ancestors. It’s a difficult time of year to be separate from them, as during this season it is all about being with family. As I won’t be going back to Canada for the holidays this year (I was back in the summer, and will be going back next summer for a big wedding anniversary) this winter will be a hard one, mentally and emotionally. Thank goodness for the blessings of Skype!
So how do I cope? Well, first and foremost, if I can’t be with my blood family, I’ll be with my chosen family: my friends. We’re organising a Yule ritual and feast, and it will be good to be with others, laughing and sharing food and drink, a warm fire and toasting the past year, and looking forward to the coming year.
As always at this time of year, my spiritual path shifts to honour my ancestors. My practice takes on more of a Heathen focus, working with the old ways of Germanic customs, deities, ethics and lore. If I can’t be out walking the snow-covered hills and deep, silent forests of my native Canada, then I will work with the ancestors and spirits of place here in England that still remember and resonate with a similar landscape from their past, and also a similar ideal. It runs through my veins, the yearning to be with family, to deepen those bonds with gifts and storytelling, to be out in the winter air and honouring the world around me.
I feel a close connection to Frigge, the Allmother, especially during the winter months. She is the lady of right order, a lady of sovereignty, she who sees the wyrd of all. She is a great weaver, and she knows the bonds of friendship and family are the strongest ones we can have in our lives. I say a daily prayer to her every morning, and light a candle in her name.
There is also a special place in my heart for Ullr, who is mostly associated with hunting but, as with all the northern traditions’ deities, they cannot be pigeon-holed into a specific “god of such and such” for their functions, their talents, their skills and their passions often overlap, just as ours do here in Midgarth. I also honour the Etin-bride Skadhi, she of the snowshoes, an independent and strong warrior woman who is not afraid to ask for what she wants in life. If I can’t be out on my cross-country skis back in Canada, then I can still feel the presence of the gods in the awesome winter skies of East Anglia, with frost on the ground and the deer in their large winter herds before me on the heath.
I honour Freya (who may or may not be separate from Frigga – the debate still rages) as a lady of seidr, the magic and trancework of the northern peoples. With my staff I sit, indoors or out, and connect to my guides, singing the songs that take me between the worlds.
I also have a great love and respect for Tyr, who befriended Fenris the Wolf who will slay many at the end of days, at Ragnarok. When Fenris came to live with the gods, Tyr was kind enough to take care of him, to feed him and keep him company. When the gods decided that Fenris should be bound, in an attempt to stop the aforementioned fate from coming to pass, the wolf knew something was up, and demanded that someone’s hand be put in his mouth while the magical fetter was being laid upon him. No god or goddess was willing to do so, apart from Tyr, who knew his duty, both to the wolf and the gods and goddesses of Asgard. And so he lost his hand when Fenris bit down after realising he had been tricked. Tyr knows the price to be paid, as well as duty and the kindness that is compassion.
I work with the runes, and am studying them in more depth this year. I’m also going to be part of a study group with a kindred that lives a few rivers down the coast, who have kindly invited me to several blots over this past year (rituals where blessings are offered and given). There is the special sumble (ritual where words are spoken over the ritual cup/horn, to fall into the well of wyrd) near the winter solstice, and of course, the entire festival of Yule which I will celebrate, spanning the 12 days of Christmas in the modern calendar.
All in all, this winter will be a quiet one, where I turn to my ancestors and work with my heritage, learning new things and becoming a student once again. I’m very much looking forward to it, and to the new discoveries along the way. May the blessings of winter’s might and reflection be with you all!
The Wild Hunt has been riding most evenings here around my home by the North Sea. The wind whips around the house and the rain pelts against the window panes. One night it comes from the north, the next from the south, then the east followed by the west. Each wind brings different scents and different temperatures but all are certainly wild at this time of year. You don’t want to go out in it, that’s for sure.
It’s at this time of year that I feel closest to my ancestors, my blood ancestors from Western Europe and Scandinavia. Their voices and stories are whispered in the dark mornings and early evenings, sometimes howled down my chimney in the evenings and every morning as I sit by my hearth altar, lighting a candle and praying to the gods, the land spirits and the ancestors. They call me to honour them, to know them once again, to say their names. And so each year I do, though this year feels different.
This winter I feel called to explore the spiritual traditions of my ancestors in greater depth. Though I’ve lived here in Britain for twenty years, all of my blood relatives come from Western Europe and Scandinavia. DNA testing has revealed some fascinating stories, and the picture is growing of my blood ancestors, changing as more information and DNA is submitted. I’m finding family from all walks of life, from all over Europe, gradually adding to my own family tree as records become electronically available and I am able to fill in the gaps where personal records have gone missing. It’s been a great exploration this year and looks to continue for many years to come.
So for these winter months I shall be exploring fully the pre-Christian religious and spiritual traditions of my ancestors. These are Germanic, Danish, Frisian, Belgian, Norwegian and more, which fall under the modern category of “Heathenry”. I’ve studied Heathenry for many years, but never developed a full practice; it’s always been more of an academic exercise. And so, this winter I shall bring it to life within my life, honouring the land wights and house wights, the ancestors, the gods and the goddesses. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the goddess Frigge, the lady of right order, whose nature I feel is close to my own. As well, Skadhi and Ullr I have honoured many times while out snowshoeing and skiing in Canada and Norway. Tyr’s justice and compassion hold great meaning for me, and Freya’s seidr magic speaks of mystery, beckoning me further. It is with these gods that I shall be working over the winter, as well as the tomte and nisse of the household, and the land wights of the heathland and forest where I live. (I have already, obviously, done so in a Druid sense, so I will see if this changes slightly).
Already, I have found many similarities between Druidry and Heathenry. They almost seem to be talking and doing the same thing, just in different languages. The groves they worshipped in, the poetry and art, the warrior and the wise cunning folk, all of these seem to have resonance with each other, but expressed slightly differently. As well, much of the magical lore and tradition found in East Anglia I have found stems from Northern European magic, such as seidr.
It will be exciting to explore these traditions and heritage in practice. It will be interesting to connect to my blood ancestors more fully, exploring and expanding upon my family tree and widening my practice even more. And so, here on the coast of the North Sea, I will call to my ancestors, to the gods and goddesses of the North, to the land wights and house wights and see who answers.
I wish you all a very blessed Yuletide! May the longest night bring you peace, may you find strength and courage in the darkness, and hope in the growing light of the sun.
Tonight I honour my European ancestry, and the female lineage from which I am descended. I honour the disir, all the women, past and present, and am thankful for their presence in my life.
Yes, this is troll country. I am currently in Norway, having a cross-country ski holiday – a week of skiing the forests and fells around Sjusjoen. Today, we got halfway up the fells before the blizzard kicked in – there was such a wildness in the air, nothing like the softness of the habitated places of the UK. Here in Norway, there is such a difference between the “human” places and the “wild” places. You can distinctly feel when you step from one into the other.
We were skiing out from the village, through the woods until suddenly we came across the open, frozen marshland of the lower fells. The wind howled – nothing to break it. You couldn’t see the mountains, for the snow was coming down too heavily. Leaving the wooded area around the town, and out onto the fells – you could feel that shift. This was the place of the wild things. This was troll country.
There is actually a place for these giants here in Norway, not too far away – Jotunheim (National Park). In the Northern Tradition (Heathenry) Jotunheim is the realm of the giants – and when you see landscape like this, you can believe it. This is not a place for human habitation – the wind howls too fiercely, there is no cover. The mountains loom high, and the marshlands can be treacherous. This is a place for those who are not so soft – this is a place for ettins, jotuns and giants.
One of my favourite goddesses is Skadhi, an ettin who married into the Northern God clan. She is wild and she is free – there is no bossing her about. She is the snowshoe goddess, the hunter, the goddess of skiing. She walks into the hall of the gods and demands reparation for the death of her father. She means business. She lives high in the mountains, listening to the howl of wolves and wind. I say a prayer to her each time before we embark on our ski journey for the day:
Skadhi, Lady of Winter, know that you are honoured.
May my skis never break,
May my poles never bend,
May my eyes always remain on the beauty that is you.
This wild country tests you – with the wind stinging your face, tiny shards of snow and ice in your eyes, your eyelashes frozen and the howling all around you – you soon learn what you are made of. I kept looking ahead, peering through the blizzard, almost expecting to see an enormous rock coloured ettin strolling through the snowy fells, enjoying the blizzard and not even noticing the tiny, insect-like creatures on the ground with their snowpants and ski jackets.
Sometimes you win – sometimes you make it through the storm and reach your destination. Sometimes, like today, you accept defeat at the hands of the ettins, and turn back before you lose your way. We couldn’t see the tracks, we could barely make out the trail markers – it was time to turn back. So, with a smile and a bow of defeat and in reverence, we turned back.
Once back in the treeline, the snow that had stung so much fell softly, almost like a blessing. The quiet that only a heavily snow-shrouded landscape can bring was all around us – like the sanctity of a cathedral. We were back in a human place, and behind us the trolls and ettins laughed in the winter’s rages, throwing snowballs and doing whatever is it that the jotuns do.
Coming back to the hotel, with a sauna and a fireplace, was such a relief. However, we’re still going out again tomorrow, whatever the weather, to see what we can face. This is what this beautiful country is all about. This is troll country.