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loki

The role of runes

On one of the mailing lists I'm on, someone asked about the role of runes within Heathenry. I.e. is it necessary to really know the runes to be Heathen/Asatru. My thoughts on this follow below:


Are Runes part and parcel of our tradition? Yes.

Do they belong? Yes.

Is it necessary to know the Runes in a mystical way in order to be considered Heathen/Asatru? No. Though I do feel every Heathen should be able to at least recognize the runes.

The runes were outside of the obvious, a written means of language. The culture of the society was oral, so the most important and sacred items were most likely communicated and instructed orally, so between an oral prevalance and the fact that the very angular nature of the runes make them ideal for inscription on wood or stone (and not so much for paper) they tended to be used pre-Conversion (so far as archaelogical evidence shows) on very rare, and special items, and not the everyday.

Runes also number among several magicoreligious tools inherent in our tradition. These tools most likely would have been part and parcel of the shaman's craft or other liminal figures in ancient history. We have many references in the lore to them. Odin took them up from the tree and learned them. There is a reference to the Norn Goddess Skuld in the Voluspa as the "scorer of runes." Surviving references suggest runemal was used for protective magics such as amulets and may have been used in conjunction with healing.

Runes most likely were also incorporated to some extent with both galdr and leechcraft. I imagine our ancestors would have pooled from the resources they had and interwoven an appropriate charm or defense. They can become a bridge between the sacred & the profane, between midgard and the numinous. Just as today we honor our Gods, and we honor the vaettir/wights they did too, and the runes were a means to both communicate with these supernatural forces, and also a means to protect you from ill-intended wights too. Heck today folks still go talk to the elves before they do any construction in some Scandinavian areas, particularly Iceland. I'm sure some go under the cloak/spae for this or some equivalent, some others may read runes...

Again they are a tool, to be used if and when we need them, and most folks don't necessarily need them. And I always like to caution that they are a tool, and should not be the sum definition of one's spirituality or religious experience within our faith. And while the tools are available to all, just like we may all have some hammers in the house, doesn't mean we're all particularly good with a hammer, or care to use it, or even need it. For those really uncoordinated, they may just get someone else to do it entirely. :P (Wish I had a handyman around my household although I'm no stranger with a tool. :P). And if you hadn't figured it out, I was referring to the more mundane type of hammer, the kind you use in conjunction with nails.

My two cents, for what they're worth.

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