Monday, November 26, 2012

Runes 102 - Book Review - The Book of Runes

Today, I begin a new series, Runes 102.  In this series, I will  review both books about Runes and the culture from which the Runes originated.  Before I begin today's book review of Ralph Blum's The Book of Runes, I ask that, if there is a book you would like to suggest for review, please add a comment to this post or contact me with your recommendations.  I will be reviewing books about Runes, the Viking Age, and Norse Mythology.

I chose to review Ralph Blum's book for a couple of reasons.  First, there are a number of controversies around this book, which adds to its intrigue.  Second, it was the first book about Runes that I used.  I'll begin with the latter, then move on to the more interesting first aspect.

While I was doing research for my novel (The Son of Nine Sisters), a couple of my sources referenced Blum's book, so I decided to take a look at it.  Now, it didn't hurt that the book came with its own set of ceramic Runes in a velvety gray pouch.  I bought the book and started to memorize the Runes and their meanings.  For me, this was a huge step into a new area, because I was never much of a believer in Tarot or things like that.  But, the Runes spoke to me.  Shortly after I launched this blog, people started to recommend other books to me, books that were more traditional in their Rune interpretations.  While I recognized immediately the differences, I also noticed some similarities and some complements in those interpretations.  That's the next step.

Yes, there are differences, which I will discuss next, but for now, I want to look at the similarities and complements.  Many of the meanings of individual Runes are the same in Blum's book as they are in traditional interpretations.  In fact, Blum states these one-word meanings first.  Although many of his detailed explanations for each Rune differs somewhat from the original meanings, I find that he has taken a specific idea and made it more abstract.  Perhaps this makes it easier for people today to relate to them?  For example, Hagalaz is the Rune of Hail, but he calls it elemental disruption.  Just as a hail storm can ruin a year's crop, the idea can be transferred to present day lives where, instead of hail destroying a crop, maybe an event happens that causes the loss of a job or the end of a relationship.  In this way, Blum makes each Rune more relatable to our times.

Don't get me wrong, I am not tooting his horn by any means.  Blum's book also has several issues, especially if you are looking for the true meaning of the Runes.  The biggest issues include the blank Rune, the order in which he places the Runes, and having meanings for the Rune in upright and reversed positions.  To me, these are the most obvious and biggest differences.  Let's look at them in order.

The Blank Rune.  The simple answer to this is that there isn't one.  There is absolutely no evidence pointing to the existence of a blank Rune.  It is probable that Blum made this up.  I think he did it, in part, due to the way he organized the letters.  He put them in rows of five, which means that he had an extra space in his last line.  So, he created the blank Rune to fill it and referred to it as Odin's Rune, the Rune of the unknowable.  If a Rune is related to Odin, it is Ansuz, not a newly created blank Rune.

Rune Order.  The Runic Alphabet is called the Futhark, because of the first six letters in the alphabet.  Blum's first letters are - MGAQUP.  He also lays them out from right to left.  While some Runestones are carved this way, many also read from left to right, while others are boustrophedon.  However, the standard or Elder Futhark comes in three aetts, three lines of eight.  As Blum himself says, he established his own order and, the final chapter of his book is an amusing, albeit self-serving, justification for it.  Nonetheless, his order does not follow the traditional order of the Futhark, rather ignores it.

Reversed Rune Position.  Another major factor differentiating Blum's study of Runes with the historic understanding of Runes is the idea that the Rune's interpretation changes based on whether it is upside right or upside down.  This is another one of his creations.  If for no other reason, this is called into question, because not every Rune has a reversed position.  Isa is Isa, either way, though Algiz does look different when it is upside down.  It creates an inconsistency.  Moreover, the Rune Poems, on which the meanings of the Runes are based, do not offer different poems for inverted Runes.

Given these blatant inconsistencies with the Rune Poems and the Futhark, am I suggesting that you not use or reference Blum?  No.  What I recommend instead is that, if you use his book for your readings, that it be part of a larger library of sources, because it will give you a fuller, richer picture of what the Runes are saying.  Don't let Blum serve as your only source for Runes.  I say this from experience.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Rune for Time

I know I am not alone when I say that I don't have enough time in my week to accomplish everything that needs to get done.  Something unexpected always seems to arise at some point and throws me off - the kids get sick, the car breaks down, I get sick.  The list, I'm sure, goes on.  Even when I try to set fewer weekly goals to compensate for these "unexpecteds", time still slips away.

When I realized all of the things I need to get done this week and looked at the "unusuals" (not unexpected, but something that doesn't happen very often) happening this week too, I started to make that age old remark - if only I had more time... But, I caught myself and decided, instead, to ask the Runes to give me a Rune for time.  When they gave me Raido, I asked how to use it effectively.

Raido is the Rune of riding or a carriage and signifies a journey, positive progress from where we are now to where we want to be.  That sounds about right to me.  Now for the second part - how to use it wisely.  What shall we do on this journey to be more effective with our time and accomplish the tasks we set for ourselves?  To answer this, we get Algiz, Tiwaz, and Kenaz.  (As an interesting side note, Raido, Algiz, and Tiwaz showed up together earlier this year, when I asked about A Healing Rune.)

Algiz is the Rune of protection and self-defense.  This Rune is appropriate here, because we are attempting to get ourselves into a better place.  When we don't accomplish the things we set out to do, we get frustrated and frustration can turn to anger.  Worse still, if we don't finish the goals we set in the time we've allotted for them, our tendency is not to say, "Okay, I need to slow down and get this done before I move on to other things."  Instead, we pile more stuff on top of our already uncompleted list until we overwhelm ourselves with a list of incomplete tasks and we start to fee like we are failing.  While on some level that may be true, what we fail to realize is why we are failing.  That is why Algiz is our first. Rune.  It reminds us that we need to take care of ourselves, if we are going to be successful in our endeavors.  So, maybe the Runes are asking us what we are going to do to protect ourselves from situations like this.  In other words, as we embark on this journey to be more effective, the first thing we must do is take care of ourselves.

The warrior Rune, Tiwaz, supports the requirements of Algiz.  To take care of ourselves, we must remember that we are warriors and part of being a good warrior requires some sacrifice.  I know what you're thinking - aren't these opposing Runes?  How can taking care of ourselves require self-sacrifice?  Excellent question!  What is the answer?  Self-sacrifice does not necessarily mean sacrificing our well-being; it means sacrificing some part of our life that we have grown accustomed to, but doesn't really provide us with benefit or well-being.  In essence, Tiwaz is saying look at your life, prioritize it, find balance.  I can use myself as an example here.  I am a writer.  I haven't always viewed myself this way, but it wasn't until I stopped spending time on so many things unrelated to writing that I became a writer.  Now, I have specific time set aside each week for my own writing and much of the work I do for others is writing and editing.  I would like to spend Mondays mornings doing pilates and socializing with my friends, but that is the sacrifice I have made for my writing.  Not only was it the right choice, but once I made it, I felt empowered.  By making it okay for myself to spend Mondays writing instead of hanging out with a few friends, I made it okay for myself to make other choices in the same vein and it feels really good.  Challenge yourself to make a sacrifice to get the time you need for your goals, tasks, and ambitions.

Our final Rune for dealing with our Raido-inspired journey, is Kenaz.  Kenaz is an interesting Rune, because it has two potential meanings, which I believe are both useful in this instance.  First is the idea of a child's illness.  In this case, I would say that childhood is full of challenges.  We are growing and learning and there are plenty of illnesses that can afflict children and make life even more difficult.  As adults, we are better equipped to deal with life's "unexpecteds", due in fact, to the things we've learned and the experiences we had as children.  Perhaps, as we try to find more time for the things we need to do as adults, we can think back to our childhood and remember the things we learned as well as the happiness we felt.  Because childhood (these days) is about having fun and being happy, which we did in spite of everything else happening around and to us.  The other aspect of Kenaz is that of a torch or light, which signifies creativity.  Can we take what we've learned and experienced in our lives and apply it to this?  This would demonstrate the crossover from childhood to adult, applying what we've learned in an effective and creative way.  You may even want to call it wisdom.

For those of us looking for more time, the solution is as easy as we make it.  Our goal is to be happy, to protect ourselves from stress and anger and frustration.  How can we, as warriors, do that?  We must make sacrifices and focus on our priorities, placing everything else on a shelf for another time.  We make those determinations through a combination of life's lessons to this point and our own creativity.  Once this journey is complete, we will find we have the time we need.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Theban Alphabet

A few days ago, someone asked me what I knew about the Runes of Honorius, to which I replied honestly that I had never heard of them, but I would look into it and see what I could find.  To help me with my search, this person showed me a picture of the Runes.  Here is what they look like:

 I have to confess, my first thought when I saw them was, "These are not Runes."  After doing a few online searches, my suspicions were confirmed.  Virtually every site I visited agreed that this alphabet is not runic.  They are not Runes.  Remember, Runes are angular shapes, because they were carved primarily on objects made of wood, bone or antler.  Making straight lines on such objects was easier than trying to form curves.  In looking at Honorius' Runes, the only letters that resemble the Futhark are the ones for U, V and W, which look like slanted versions of Wunjo, which serves as V and W in Runes.  Uruz would be U.  The origins of the the Runes of Honorius or the Theban alphabet in form appear to be related to the Latin or possibly Hebrew alphabet.

Honorius of Thebes, whose own origin is cloaked with mystery, is said to be the creator of this alphabet.  There is no information on his life or when he lived, only that he was from Thebes and apparently authored a book called The Sworn Book of Honorius.  (I feel it is very important to distinguish this book from The Grimoire of Pope Honorius, which dealt with very dark, black magic.)  The Sworn Book of Honorius is also where the mystery intensifies, because the book appears not to use the Theban alphabet (though I cannot confirm that to be the case).  Moreover, the earliest extant copy of this book is from the 14th century and, I believe, attributed to someone named Heinrich Agrippa, who was the student of an Italian named Pietro D'Abano, who was tried for heresy.  This last point brings us to the next interesting aspect related to the Theban Alphabet - its magical properties - and its potential link to Runes.

Although none of the extant writings by D'Abano contain the Theban alphabet, D'Abano was a professor of medicine, an astrologer, and philosopher in Italy.  He was accused of heresy and atheism by the Inquisition and tried - twice.  Given his background and the charges against him, it is likely that he was, at the very least, familiar with magical spells and, according to Johannes Trithemius, the man who first published the alphabet in the early 1500s, D'Abano knew of the Theban alphabet.  In addition, we know that the Sworn Book of Honorius was a grimoire, a magic textbook, and the oldest extant copy of the book is attributed to one of his students.  Somewhere therein probably lies the real story of the book and alphabet's origin.  Regardless, this book forms the foundation for the use of the Theban alphabet by many modern-day Wicca for spell-casting, wearing on amulets, and carving into wood or stone.

Having said that, I tried to find out the meaning for each of the shapes, such as the Runes have, but had no luck (though downloading a Theban font is quite easy).  The closest I came was finding a suggestion to write whatever you wanted to rid yourself of, jealously, for example, in Theban script and sewing it shut in a poppet with certain herbs, and burning it.  So, I don't know if one can do readings using the Theban letters.  If anyone has insight into this, I would love to have you share with those of us who have no experience with this alphabet.

Well, there it is.  The Theban alphabet (a.k.. Honorius' Runes) has a mysterious and intriguing origin, and, although it is not a member of the Runic family, its letters are linked to Runes through magic.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fair, Just, and Honest

This week, I wasn't sure what I would write about.  I know I need to finish making my own set of Runes, so the 301 series is nagging at me, but I haven't found the right moment to complete them.  I didn't want to do anything political, because that is not what this blog is for.  This morning, I got a clear signal about what today's subject needs to be and it deals with leadership.

Sadly, these days, true leaders are a declining breed.  To me, a true leader possesses characteristics of fairness and honesty and they should be just.  This is what the world needs today.  So, this week, I ask the Runes how can we all work to make this world a more accepting and peaceful place by working everyday to be fair, just, and honest.

The Runes ring true - Sowilo, Algiz, and Kenaz.

Sowilo is the Rune of the sun, of victory or good fortune.  This is a symbol to lift spirits, which can be seen in a couple of ways.  First, it can be sign of encouragement, something that makes us feel better.  Think about this.  After a day or two of rain and clouds, how do you feel when the sun rises on the third morning and the sky is clear?  It's that feeling, that sense of hopefulness, that we stand to gain by working to be as fair and honest as we can be.  Second, once we begin to feel that way, we empower ourselves to experience it more often.  Imagine what could happen if we share that feeling with others.  It feels good to do something for someone else, no matter how small.  It feels even better to do it just to do it, without expectation of reward.  In fact, I challenge you to do one nice thing for someone, someone you don't know, every day this week.  Open a door, let a car merge in front of you, buy food for the local food bank... just do something.  It doesn't even have to be directly for another person.  Do something for an animal or for the planet.  Doing things that are good for the planet is good for everyone.  It doesn't have to be altruistic; it's okay if it makes you feel good.  That's kind of the point.

How does this play into being fair, just or honest?  In at least one very important way.  If you begin doing nice things for people or the planet, you will feel better.  When others reciprocate, the positive feedback loop will be in place.  That is also why Algiz, the Rune of self-defense and protection challenges us this week.  When we feel threatened, it is our natural instinct to protect ourselves and become defensive.  What if we never find ourselves in a position where we have to defend what we believe, who we love, how we dress... in essence, who we are?  That is our greatest challenge; we have been led to believe that one way of thinking or doing is better than another, simply because it's our belief.  What if we challenge each other to change that perspective of better and worse or right and wrong (in the sense of incorrect) and just acknowledge the differences.  What if we stand up for other people's right to believe what they choose to believe instead of trying to force our beliefs or way of doing things onto others?  By beliefs, I mean all beliefs, not just those related to religion.  What if we respect the differences and work together on the similarities?

At last, we reach Kenaz, the Rune of the torch.  This Rune has been likened to enlightenment and creativity.  This is our call to action, to build an enlightened world, to realize our positive creative potential.  This is the light at the end of our collective tunnel.  We can do it.  Once we begin to be kinder to others and reciprocate when others are kind to us, we create a more fair and just world.  If we are honest with ourselves, isn't that the place we all want to be?

Some may think my comments around today's reading are naive or too simplistic.  We've been trying this for millennia, right?  My response to you nay-sayers is that you are part of the problem perpetuating negative views.  Look, simply by virtue of our numbers, we have made the world a smaller place.  Because of this, we cannot help but come into contact with people who disagree with our perspectives on life.  It is at this level where we must begin to seek change, where we can actually affect change.  If we want to live in a fair, just, and honest world, the solution starts with us.  This is how we serve the public, how we lead; by being kind and fair; by example.