The Anglo-Saxon Runes: A new blog series

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[1]. 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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[6]:

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!

 

[1] Pollington, S. The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England, Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011, p.422

[2] Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination, Dragon House 2017, p. 8

[3] Pollington, S. The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England, Anglo-Saxon Books, 2011, p.422

[4] Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination, Dragon House 2017, p. 9

[5] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, 2011

[6] Hostetter, A. The Rune Poem, from the Old English Poetry Project, https://oldenglishpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/the-rune-poem/ (accessed 14 Aug 2020)

Today is the Day!!!

hedge-druid-cover

The Book of Hedge Druidry is out in the UK and worldwide! I’m so pleased with how this book came out; it contains everything you need to know about the fundamentals of walking the Druid path, and hopefully opens the doors to new insights and new ways of being in the world. It’s been a labour of love, and I hope the gods, ancestors and all my readers are pleased with it!

The Law of Attraction

dfp1Many within Western Paganism have heard of the Law of Attraction, especially if you have been working magic. However, I often see this oversimplified in books, stating that “if you put good energy out there, good energy will return” and vice versa. Not only is this trying to oversimplify the law of attraction, but it’s actually incorrect as well, in my opinion. I know plenty of good people who have bad things happen to them, and some bad people who have good things happen. I know,  not all people are good or bad all the time, but it’s just a thing: we live in a shared reality, where we can’t control the actions or behaviour of others  and so sometimes, no matter what energy we are putting “out there”, things will happen that will be contradictory to what we are attempting.

It’s similar to the notion that posits “we create our world, that we create our reality”. To an extent, this is certainly true, but then we have to realise that this is also a shared reality, and so will be influenced by other people. As such, there is war, racism, sexism, etc. and people, no matter how lovely, compassionate and beautiful, will fall prey to these circumstances, despite what they are trying to create in their own world/reality.

There is, however, an aspect of this which is very significant, and which is the most important to work with, in my opinion. It’s all about focus. Now, this may not be applicable to the horrendous examples in the previous paragraph, but in a less extreme circumstance, what we choose to focus on can and will determine how we work with energy, and what the resulting reality will be for us.

Say we stubbed our toe getting out of bed. Ouch. It’s pretty bad, and we’re limping around, swearing or just trying to breathe through the pain (or both). Finally we make it downstairs, and taking the orange juice carton out of the fridge, we drop it and it goes all over the floor, giving us a nice, sticky mess to deal with while we’re already late for work. Then our train gets cancelled, and we’re over an hour late, and the battery in our phone is dead so we can’t even call in. We get to work and tell everyone what a shitty day we’re having, wondering what awful thing will happen next. You get the picture.

But what if we changed our focus? Okay, all the crappy things that happened before work still happen. We get to work, but instead of telling everyone how we’re having a really, really bad day, we just get on with it, turn our focus to our work and our colleagues, and at lunch go outside and see the first daffodils of the season? In the previous example, I doubt one would even notice the daffodils, or even go outside if they were set on the theory that this day was, indeed, terrible. Things can snowball, depending on our perspective, and a lot of it has to do with our choice of reactions to things. Because we chose not to focus on the negative that happened during the day, we were able to see the positive, the beautiful, and be inspired.

Because with things like this, it is a choice in how we react. We can continue to focus on all the bad, negative things that have happened to us in our day, or we can choose to focus on the daffodils, the colleague that helped us out, the boss that understood the trains were cancelled and said it was okay, etc. Our focus in all important. And when our focus shifts, we bring into our lives and notice more that which we are focusing on. So, in this regard, the law of attraction does, indeed work.

Remember that, for the most part, it is a choice. Some bad things happen that we cannot choose to settle our focus on elsewhere – some things are just really, really bad. But we cannot allow ourselves to stay drowning in the negativity when we have the option of choice. Use the law of attraction to your benefit, and to the benefit of the world.

New Druid College Correspondence Course in the making!

New Druid College Correspondence Course in the making!

Druid College UK logo (194x114)We will be postponing our next Year 1 session in Essex, as we have something very exciting brewing in the cauldron of inspiration! Starting in January 2019, we will be preparing our new online correspondence course, a full Year 1 programme, which will consist of online meetings, pre-recorded video and audio lectures, booklets to download and more. We have had so many people get in touch wanting to know if we could offer a correspondence course, as they were physically unable to attend our in-house sessions. And so, we aim to provide this for 2020, alongside our next Year 1 in-house programme. Stay tuned for more updates and info!

The Magic of Nature Oracle

Magic of Nature OracleSheena Cundy and Tania Copsey created the most wonderful set of oracle cards, called The Magic of Nature Oracle. I have a few oracle decks that I work with – Brian Froud’s The Heart of Faerie is brilliant for specific questions that I may be looking for insight into. I use the Magic of Nature oracle cards for general interpretation and insight, to confirm and affirm actions and experiences and they are always spot on.

Yesterday I had a lovely little ritual with my friend out on the heath, beneath a copse of silver birch trees. We lay down on the ground and opened our hearts and souls to our respective goddesses, feeling the energy of the earth rising towards the surface, to lengthening sun, Her energies stirring our souls into action, re-awakening our spirit even as the snowdrops appear on the forest floor. As I lay on the earth my heart was filled with such love for the earth, for my goddess and all that she represents. It re-awakened a love that had lain dormant for a time this winter. That love flowed between us, inspiring us to action. We left our offerings and prayers, and made our way back home.

Later that evening after I meditated at my altar, I took down the Magic of Nature Oracle and asked for a general reading. What card came up? Love, with two beautiful swans. We had discussed swans in our ritual earlier, and it was simply the perfect card to represent all that had happened that day, and all that inspires me on my path, as well as reminding me of my beautiful sisters who walk this path with me.

The cards are so very different from any other oracle deck. With animals, trees and seasons it covers a lot of life in beautiful representations both in the word translation of the cards and the artwork itself. If you are looking for a deck with a difference, something that isn’t simply replicating other decks available, then the Magic of Nature Oracle cards is for you.

You can find out more about Crafty Crones, Sheeny and Tania’s company, as well as the Magic of Nature Oracle deck HERE.

 

The Awen Alone is now available!

The Awen Alone Joanna van der Hoeven

 

Today is the day!!! The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid is now available in stores!

Throughout the ages, people have withdrawn from the world in order to connect more fully with it. This book is an introductory guide for those who wish to walk the Druid path alone, for however long a time. It is about exploration and connection with the natural world, and finding our place within it. It covers the basics of Druidry and how, when applied to the everyday life, enriches it with a sense of beauty, magic and mystery.

This book is for those people who feel called to seek their own path, to use their wit and intelligence, compassion and honour to create their own tradition within Druidry.

The Druid and the Deer

P1020784 I went out seeking Elen today. I put on my thermal trousers, got on my ski jacket, slipped on my handwarmers and proudly placed my Winnie the Pooh earmuffs upon my head. Grabbing my bag, I opened the front door with excitement and stepped out into the cold January air.

What a beautiful, cold scent! I love the smell of winter, of snow – there’s nothing quite like it. It reminds me of home, in Canada, where that scent stays for longer than a couple of weeks like it does here in Suffolk. The snows were melting – the pavement was now showing and bits of grass here and there.

Walking down the bridleway, more and more mud started appearing, but I knew that wouldn’t last long. Out on the heath the snows, though they were settling, were still enough to cover everything with a mantle of white. I crossed the track to the riding stables and set out upon the heath with a light heart.

I looked in the first usual spot for the fallow deer – they weren’t there. I went to the second, and again, they weren’t there. I could count on one hand the amount of times I’d been out in the heath and woods and not seen deer, and yet was afraid that this would be another one of those times. A minute later, I knew that it wasn’t.

Straight in my path was the first herd – about 10-15 strong. I saw no stag, but lots of lovely does in all colours, from nearly black to a light fawn colour. They raised their heads, their large ears listening. I took a step forward for a closer look, and they turned and began walking away. I stopped, not wanting to frighten them, but then one doe that very distinct “Eeep!” and then they all turned tail and ran a few hundred yards further down the path.

I continued, watching them melt into the gorse bushes without a sound. I considered following them, but then knew that I should leave them alone and not hassle them. I had a plan – I was going to find one of their spots and sit there, feeling their energy, and hoping that would bring me closer to Elen.

I crossed along the trail to a smaller side track, along the edge of the wood. I knew they often gathered beneath the pines in a small section to the left and all the tracks confirmed my path. I followed, a lone doe under a pine tree about three hundred yards away watching me intently. I stepped on a dried twig, which snapped audibly, and out of hiding another herd ran out to find another shelter.

Again, I felt bad for disturbing the deer, but at least the way was now clear for me to enter into Elen’s realm. I got to the edge of the pine trees and silently asked permission to enter the space. A voice in my head said, “Go quietly,” and so I did.

I shook out my blanket and laid it upon a bare patch of ground where many deer had been under the pine trees. I sat down cross-legged for a few minutes, simply looking around. I realised that I might be here some time, and so I sat with my back against a pine tree, simply listening and looking. The musky scent of deer was heavy in here, mingling with the sharp scent of pine. I breathed deeply, and quieted myself down.

I simply listened, first with eyes shut and then opening my senses, one at a time, to the world around me. The first thing I noticed was the sound of traffic from the road to the village – some days when the air is still, or the breeze blowing in the right direction, the sound is quite loud. This was one of those days. I then heard a plane overhead, a small craft with a growling engine slowly making its way out towards the North Sea. More traffic. My own breathing. I then realised that the birds had stopped chirping. The only sounds I could hear in the middle of the heathland were human sounds.

“You have pushed us further and further,” a voice said in my head. “Our territory is smaller and smaller, and still you encroach upon us, further and further.” I suddenly felt ashamed, not only for my species but also for myself – this was a place for the deer, this was one of their spots. I was intruding upon their space. It was like being found in another person’s front room, making yourself comfortable. I whispered my apology and, scattering some seeds and grains in thanks, packed up my blanket and quickly left that place.

As I made my way back to the path, I saw more deer deep in the wood, shadows flashing between the light spaces behind the tree trunks. “Where is my place?” I asked the heathland, silently. There was no answer.

More deer came out and stood on the path in front of me, leaving the wood. They were curious, and I asked them “Where is my place?” They did not answer. Instead, they melted into the brush once more. I continued down the path, watching more and more deer leave the wood and go out into the heath once more. I saw the white doe, watching me intently from the edge of the gorse, and I whispered softly, “Hail, Elen”. After a moment of watching me, the rest of her herd began to run around the perimeter of the wood, and she eventually joined them. I wished with all my heart that I too could run with the herd, to see what it felt like to be so powerful and yet so light. Without a sound they ran. “Where is my place?” I asked once again, feeling a hint of despair creeping in.

I walked on for ten minutes, and came out to where my path normally would turn out into the open heath. Yet even more deer here, a darker herd with pale underbellies, standing in the snow. The saw me, and sproinged off in the way that only those of the deer persuasion could – bounce bounce bounce. I smiled, realising that everywhere I had turned today, there had been deer.

But still the question remained, “Where is my place?” Walking now in the open heathland, the snow crunching beneath my feet, I pondered the question with a heavy heart. I was not the deer, I was not wild, this was not my place. I was human. Were human places to be my places? I always connected with the wild places before, but knew that this was not my place. So where was my place? A crow laughed from the wood behind me, as I pondered and continued on.

That is the question that is most important to Druids, and what they seek to find most in their spirituality. Where is their place in the wide world? I trudged on, feeling the wind across my cheeks and feeling my bum getting cold. I was living here in the UK, is that where my place was? I was Canadian, is that where my place was? Yet I was out here – where was my place?

My path still followed the deer tracks left in the snow. Everywhere I wanted to go, it seemed I was following deer, lots of them, their little imprints in the snow going in exactly the same direction. I crossed the heath and made my way to the lesser travelled part of the heath, on which I had never seen any humans. This was my special place, where I came to connect with nature and the spirits of place many times before. I hoped that I would not disturb anymore deer, that indeed this was where my place was.

There were no deer to be seen, and yet the path was marked by deer tracks yet again. Less now, but still one or two had followed this way before. I found my footprints from a few days ago, and followed them – they mingled in with deer tracks now. On the edge of the open space, I saw the two lovely oak trees that I had often sat beneath, looking out over the heather and the clear blue sky. I walked to the edge of the bare canopy of the first, and asked permission to share that space. I was welcomed in with warmth. I literally sat within the arms of the oak tree upon my blanket, my back resting upon the trunk, my feet tucked up beneath me.

I closed my eyes for a while, simply listening. I couldn’t hear the traffic so much anymore – I was further away from the road. I distantly heard the church bells chime the hour, though the wind was in the wrong direction and I could not count the bells well enough to tell the time. It did not matter anyway. A stag coughed from the woodland down the way and to the right, and then again. I simply let myself be, opening my nemeton to the world around me, and asked the question once more, “Where is my place?”

I opened my eyes, and an answer came. “Not where is my place,” the oak tree said. “What is my place?” A wave of understanding washed over me – that was it! And here, beneath the boughs of the oak, I knew what my place was – I was a Druid. That was where I fit into the world. It didn’t have a physical space – I could be anywhere in the world and still be a Druid. It was what I was that mattered. The wisdom of the oak once again to the Druid’s rescue.

I lifted my eyes to my footprints just before me, leading to the edge of my blanket, and saw a single set of deer tracks right next to them, leading to this very spot. Not occupying the same place, or even the same time, still they walked the same path. This was the key. Elen of the Ways. Walking the paths, along with others, with respect, compassion and honour – this was what it was all about. Footprints mingling, trodding the same ways, in the same direction, going towards the same thing, branching off to other things, it was the path that was the key. It was The Way that mattered.

I smiled. I got up and thanked the oak for his wisdom, and Elen for showing the the Way. My bum thoroughly cold now, I sat up and the kneeled to leave my offerings of seeds, grain and home baked banana bread beneath the oak’s branches. I replaced my blanket within my bag and headed down the path I had previously trodden.

Again, my footprints were mingled with deer – a minute later new prints emerged, which lead to a dark, sandy patch that showed up through the snow. I followed the prints and found a fox den, to my delight. Recently excavated, they had come out after a long sleep, avoiding the worst of the snow. I could see their sandy pawprints slowly washing clean in the snow as they ventured out from the den. How lovely!

I continued on my way, and eventually came out onto the heath again. I saw the herd once again, with the white doe. She again watched me intently. This time, they made no move to run. I slowly continued on my way and felt a hundred eyes watching me behind the white doe. I turned around and waved a farewell, seeing their inquisitive faces and long necks following my every movement. This time, they did not run.

I made my way home, following horse tracks and deer tracks, rabbit, fox and blackbird tracks. All these Ways, all these paths, all these markers that were left behind in the snow to remind me of the shared path.
I honour you, Elen of the Ways.