Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Mystical Origins of the Runes

If you follow the strictly historical/academic understanding of the runes and where they came from, you will hear that they were derived from Greek or other Near Eastern writing systems over many thousands of years and transferred to Germanic tribes. However this claim is tenuous and weak at best. There isn't any hard evidence that Norse or Germanic tribes had extensive contact with Greeks, and by the time the Romans had come into conflict with Germania, these tribes already had been using runes, according to Tacitus. Aside from the primitive similarity between the Sig rune and "Sigma" in Greek, there's little that can be called a resemblance.

Equally perplexing is the presence of systems similar to Nordic/Germanic runes among the Magyars (Hungarians) and the ancient Turks of Central Asia, who may have adopted them from the Scythians. Evidently there was an ancient proto-Indo-European writing system which gave rise to the runes.

However, in the mystical esoteric sense of the Runic Journey, it was Odin himself who discovered the runes, at great personal pain and cost. All rune magick must take into account this most traditional account of rune origins. All rune students would do well to meditate on its meanings. The runes are not simply letters or symbols, but powerful energies, keys to the very soul of the universe, the Realms of Creation. Thus they must be understood as wisdom that even Odin and the Aesir could only obtain with great difficulty, and mankind should be careful in learning their correct uses. The mystical words of Odin apply even when using the modern rune system of Armanen; indeed, its 18 runes were specifically designed to correspond with the 18 songs or spells of Odin.

Odin's Quest after the Runes (from the Hávamál)

Wounded I hung on that wind-cold Tree
nine whole days and nights,
stabbed with a spear, sacrificed to Odin,
myself to myself given,
high on that Tree, which the wisest know not
from where its roots spring.
None refreshed me ever with food or drink,
I peered right down in the deep;
screaming aloud I picked up the Runes
then I fell back down from there.
Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
son of Bale-thorn, Bestla's sire;
I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
with the Soulstirrer's drops I was showered.
Ere long I bore fruit, and thrived full well,
I grew and waxed in wisdom;
word building on word, I found me words,
deed building on deed, I wrought deeds.
Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,
many symbols of might and power,
by the great Singer [Bale-thorn] painted, by the high Powers fashioned,
carved by the Utterer of gods. 
For gods carved Odin, for elves carved Daïn,
Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,
All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,
carved some for the sons of men. 
Dost thou know how to write, dost know how to read?
dost thou know how to paint, dost know how to prove?
dost thou know how to ask, dost know how to offer?
dost thou know how to send, dost know how to spend? 
Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.
Thus Odin graved ere the world began;
Then he rose from the deep, and came again.

The Song of Spells (Runes)

Those songs I know, which neither sons of men
nor queen in a king's court knows;
the first is Help which will bring thee help
in all woes and in sorrow and strife. 
A second I know, which the son of men
must sing, who would heal the sick.

[It chases disease and all pain,
It cures hurts and all wounds.]
A third I know: if sore need should come
of a spell to stay my foes;
when I sing that song, which shall blunt their swords,
nor their weapons nor staves can wound.
A fourth I know: if men make fast
in chains the joints of my limbs,
when I sing that song which shall set me free,
spring the fetters from hands and feet.
A fifth I know: when I see, by foes shot,
speeding a shaft through the host,
flies it never so strongly I still can stay it,
if I get but a glimpse of its flight.
A sixth I know: when some thane would harm me
in runes on a moist tree's root,
on his head alone shall light the ills
of the curse that he called upon mine.
A seventh I know: if I see a hall
high o'er the bench-mates blazing,
flame it ne'er so fiercely I still can save it, --
I know how to sing that song.
An eighth I know: which all can sing
for their weal if they learn it well;
where hate shall wax 'mid the warrior sons,
I can calm it soon with that song.
A ninth I know: when need befalls me
to save my vessel afloat,
I hush the wind on the stormy wave,
and soothe all the sea to rest.
A tenth I know: when at night the witches
ride and sport in the air,
such spells I weave that they wander home
out of skins and wits bewildered.
An eleventh I know: if haply I lead
my old comrades out to war,
I sing 'neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily
safe into battle,
safe out of battle,
and safe return from the strife
A twelfth I know: if I see in a tree
a corpse from a halter hanging,
such spells I write, and paint in runes,
that the being descends and speaks.
A thirteenth I know: if the new-born son
of a warrior I sprinkle with water,
that youth will not fail when he fares to war,
never slain shall he bow before sword.
A fourteenth I know: if I needs must number
the Powers to the people of men,
I know all the nature of gods and of elves
which none can know untaught.
A fifteenth I know, which Folk-stirrer sang,
the dwarf, at the gates of Dawn;
he sang strength to the gods, and skill to the elves,
and wisdom to Odin who utters.
A sixteenth I know: when all sweetness and love
I would win from some artful wench,
her heart I turn, and the whole mind change
of that fair-armed lady I love.
A seventeenth I know: [if the fair maid's love
I have, and hold her to me:
that song I sing] so that e'en the shy maiden
is slow to shun my love. 
These songs, Stray-Singer, which man's son knows not,
long shalt thou lack in life,
though thy weal if thou win'st them, thy boon if thou obey'st them
thy good if haply thou gain'st them.
An eighteenth I know: which I ne'er shall tell
to maiden or wife of man
save alone to my sister, or haply to her
who folds me fast in her arms;
most safe are secrets known to but one-
Thus comes the end of the songs.
Now the sayings of the High One are uttered in the hall
for the weal of men, for the woe of Jötuns,
Hail, thou who hast spoken! Hail, thou that knowest!
Hail, ye that have hearkened! Use, thou who hast learned!

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