The Runes: Ūr (Aurochs)

In this blog series, we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem.

downloadWe now turn to the second rune in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, which is Ūr. This rune perfectly follows Feoh, the first rune, as Feoh’s literal translation is “cattle”, meaning wealth. Ūr means aurochs, the bovine precursor to our domesticated cattle.

Ūr is pronounced “ooor”, with an elongated “ooo” sound, as in Sutton “Hoo”, or the word “boo” and is followed by a rolled “r”. In the Old English Rune Poem, the translation reads thus:

Aurochs is fierce and high horned

the courageous beast fights with its horns

a well-known moor-treader, it is a brave creature.”[1]

I think it’s important to understand the animal that lies behind each of the animal-based runes in the Futhorc in detail. So, as such, I’ll go into quite a bit of detail regarding aurochs!

Auroch skeleton Copenhagen

Aurochs skeleton from Copenhagen

Our own “taurine cattle” stem from one of two subspecies of domesticated aurochs, the other being zebu cattle from an Indian subspecies[2]. Aurochs were a wild bovine breed, which stood at around 5.5 feet high at the shoulder, on average.[3]  The European bison is a cross-breed developed from aurochs.[4] They had long forward facing horns, which curled upwards at the tips, not too dissimilar to the Highland Cow. In fact, it is thought that they also had a long curly forelock, like the Highland  Cow (so cute!). In aurochs, both the male and female carry impressive horns, whereas in most other bovine it is simply the bull that has horns. The horns were particularly prized, as we will see later.

Auroch Cave Painting Lascaux, France

Aurochs cave painting, Lascaux, France

Aurochs were solitary creatures for the most part, who gathered in small herds (less than thirty) at certain points in the year. They grazed heavily in the autumn, fattening up to survive the long northern winters.[5] In the Paleolithic era, aurochs were hunted by our ancestors as evidenced in the cave paintings found as Lascaux and Livernon in France. When not being hunted, aurochs generally ignored humans unless aggravated, whereupon they could attack with their horns, even throwing a man up in the air.[6]

Extinct in Britain by the 1200’s, the last surviving cow died on the continent died in 1627, in Poland.[7] What we know of aurochs stems from two sources. The first, Anton Schneeberger, was the last known person to have studied the aurochs in person in the 16th century.[8] The second is Julius Caesar, who in his Gallic War Commentaries stated:

“…those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this sort of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise. But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments.” – Julius Caesar. Gallic War Commentaries, Chapter 6.28

Taking down an aurochs was a rite of passage for young men, as stated by Caesar.[9] He also raised the importance of the horns as drinking vessels. In the evolutionary sense, horns were developed in cattle as a means of defense as well as attack, and as a show of power. Perhaps this is why they were used as drinking vessels, often richly decorated with precious metal to be used among the nobility. To drink from an aurochs horn not only showed your power, but perhaps even bestowed it through the magical laws of contagion to the person who was imbibing the beverage.

sutton hoo reproduction drinking horns

Replicas of Sutton Hoo drinking horns

The symbol of the horns can be seen in the rune itself. While aurochs horns faced mostly forward, rolling upwards at the tips, in the rune it shows the horns facing downwards. This is the bull or cow’s lowered head, ready for battle or to defend its territory or young. It is both an aggressive and defensive position. Ūr could also be seen as an aurochs in profile, the torso and legs, with the classic shoulder higher than the hindquarters which distinguishes it from many other bovine breeds.

In divination, Ūr could mean power, strength, a rite of passage, courage, bravery, a need for some solitary time or just some time spent out in the wilderness (as referenced in the “moor-treader” aspect of the poem), re-wilding, combativeness, a challenge of power (which you either need to ignore or act upon, like an aurochs would), a aggressive or defensive act, nobility, hardiness and vitality.

Using the Ūr rune magically can empower many rites, rituals, spells and talismans. But be warned – aurochs were wild creatures, that were extremely difficult to tame. The power behind Ūr has a similar wildness behind its power.

You can create the rune of Ūr in trance posture in two ways, as I have found. You can stand with your left arm against your side, and your right arm away from the body, bent at the elbow with the fingertips pointing down to the ground. This emulates the rune as we see it, and instils a protective sense, almost as if you are putting your arm around someone or something to protect it. You can also do a more aggressive trance posture with the rune, by bending down to face the floor at the waist at a 45 degree angle (hold in your lower belly to protect your lower back) and hold your hands over your head, angled slightly downwards to form the downward shape of the rune, as if you are a bull or a cow ready to charge. This rune is also easy to emulate with your left hand held out in front of you, fingers together, thumb separate, all pointing downwards.

Sources

[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, (2011) Anglo Saxon Books

[2] Bollongino, R. et als, “Modern Taurine Cattle Descended from Small Number of Near-Eastern Founders” (PDF). Retrieved 25 Aug 2020

[3] Kysely, R. (2008). “Aurochs and potential crossbreeding with domestic cattle in Central Europe in the Eneolithic period. A metric analysis of bones from the archaeological site of Kutná Hora-Denemark (Czech Republic)”. Anthropozoologica

[4] Cooper, A. et als (19 October 2016), “The Higgs Bison – mystery species hidden in cave art”, The University of Adelaide, retrieved 13 January 2017

[5] van Vuure, T. (Cis) (2005). Retracing the Aurochs – History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft Publishers.

[6] van Vuure, T. (Cis) (2005). Retracing the Aurochs – History, Morphology and Ecology of an extinct wild Ox. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft Publishers

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

[8] Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination (2017) Anglo Saxon Books

[9] Rance, S. The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination (2017) Anglo Saxon Books

If you have enjoyed this and other blog posts, please do consider becoming a Patron on my Patreon page to support the work that I do, whether it is writing books, blogs, putting together videos, photography, music and more. 

 

The Runes: Feoh (Wealth)

feohIn this blog series, we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem. The first rune in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc is Feoh. Feoh translates as cattle, and in Anglo-Saxon culture cattle meant wealth, so this is the modern interpretation of the rune. It is the root of our word, “fee” with regards to money.[1] The segment of the Rune Poem reads thus:

Wealth (Feoh) is a comfort to any man

yet each person must share it out well

if he wants to win a good name before his lord.[2]

To pronounce the name of this rune, you’ll need to get a little continental in your throat. The first part is easy, fay. The second part uses a glottal stop at the end similar to the word loch pronounced with a Scottish accent, but much softer. Just slightly close off the back of your throat when you end saying och and you’ll have it. Fay-och. You can also bypass this, if it is troublesome, by pronouncing an “h” sound at the end. Fay-o-hhh, but this technically isn’t perfect.

Cattle, whether in the form of cows, sheep, goats, etc. were a major part of Anglo-Saxon economy. In a cash poor society, where few people had many gold or silver coins, your wealth was determined by how much you could sustain yourself and your community. If you had cattle, you had dairy and meat, as well as the offspring with which you could barter, trade or even sell for coin. Cattle is wealth that is moveable, as opposed to inherited wealth such as a building, home or farmland. Feoh’s meaning is deeper than simply wealth however, for it is wealth that has to be looked after, wealth that has to be managed. Cattle don’t just take care of themselves on the farm. Feoh is wealth that is earned from hard work. It is not a gift, like the rune gyfu which we will look at later in this series. Rance states that Feoh may have been the first rune in the Futhorc because of the importance between keeping cattle and agriculture, and the development of writing.[3]

Yet Feoh does not just mean wealth alone; wealth must move, it must be put for the benefit of everyone, and not hoarded solely for personal use. Wealth occurs when we have an excess of something, an abundance of a resource. If our needs are just being met, we are sustained and sustainable, but not wealthy. If we have an abundance, then sharing that excess helps everyone achieve a sustainable state. We see this happening in nature, where through underground networks of roots and funghi trees can help other trees to grow when they are placed in less favourable positions regarding sunlight or water. A community is stronger when wealth is shared, rather than the fewest having the most, (which sadly the latter is the norm for today’s society). The rune poem admonishes hoarding, and tells us that each person must share in their wealth if they want a good reputation in the eyes of others. In the class system that existed in Anglo-Saxon culture, a lord ruled over the land, and if he/she was a good lord, they demonstrated the Anglo-Saxon virtue of sharing with gifts, which then in turn help the barons and other nobles to be able to share their wealth with the common folk, who then shared their wealth in turn. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means, and we must remember that slavery was a thing back then, so it wasn’t all mead and roses. However, what we can take from Feoh today is that we must put back into whatever system we live in, or give back to our family, friends and community with the wealth or abundance that we have, in order for the ecosystem that we live in to thrive.

When meditating upon the shape of the rune, you can see both the meaning of cattle and the meaning of sharing wealth. The two upright branches can resemble cow or oxen horns in profile. It can also look like a person in profile, either giving or receiving something with arms outstretched. I have used the rune Feoh in trance posture, either sitting or standing with arms outstretched before me, palms facing each other. It provides a feeling of well-being, and brings energy to the head area especially, giving a sense of fullness and comfort, just like the Rune Poem states.

I’ve meditated upon the wealth in my life, while gazing or holding this rune in the palm of my hand. I look for ways to share that wealth, so that I am a contributing member of my community and ecosystem, rather than simply taking and consuming resources all the time. Feoh is giving with arms outstretched, and also learning to receive wealth with grace. All too often, we dismiss our many talents and what may come from them, and in doing so we do ourselves a disservice. The work that we do should provide benefit, and in that benefit we are hopefully able to share back.

At the end of harvest, here in England we celebrate Harvest Home, which is today a church service usually followed by a supper. In ancient times, the last grain of wheat or barley left at the end of harvest was left out for Woden’s steed. In East Anglia, there is the tradition of leaving a small portion or corner of the field unharvested, for the land/nature spirits, or for the Devil himself as it is now known as The Devil’s Plantation. Where do you have abundance in your life, and where can you give back? Where is the line between holding a good relationship with your family/friends/community/ecosystem, and martyrdom? Do you give too much? Remember, there is nothing wrong with comfort, as long as there is reciprocity. Wealth also takes many forms, and does not just mean monetary wealth.

Feoh is useful in spellcrafting for monetary purposes, but remember: you have to work for your wealth. It will not just land in your lap. In divination, it can mean all of the above, with the importance of sharing something underlying the outcome.[4] It may ask that you reassess what is valuable in your life, or what skills you have in abundance. Chanting the rune while standing in the posture which emulates this rune can help you do discover more about the wealth in your life, and what you need to do to achieve it and subsequently share it so that everyone benefits. There is an element of reputation with regards to this rune, which is something that our Anglo-Saxon forebears held highly in esteem. No one would want to be seen as miserly. Remember, wealth is an abundance of a skill or resource, and so share wisely.

 

[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books (2011), p.17

[2] Translation by Stephen Pollington, from Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books (2011), p.45

[3] Rance, S. The English Runes, Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination, Anglo Saxon Books (2017), p.19

[4] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of the Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn (2011), p.114