Are Runes Magickal?

The Elder Futhark are the most common set of runes. They’re widely recognized for being used as tools for divination and heathen sorcery/spells. But are they symbols with some inherent mystical power attached to them?

The answer is simply, no. Runes are an early writing style that allowed people to send basic communications and were also inscribed on objects to identify ownership. Runes are a type of alphabet used by the Germanic people prior to the introduction of the Latin alphabet.

That being said, runes can be used for divination and other magickal purposes in the same manner as any alphabet or set of symbols. Meanings can be applied to each rune just like meanings can be applied to a tarot card. In this manner, runes are a tool to focus the intent of the person working with them.

Divination tools allow a person to look at a situation without personal bias. Personal bias is a distraction, a noise that can interfere with perception. Divination is a process of perceiving something that is often “unseen”. Many people have experienced it at one or more times in their lives. These glimpses may come across as an unsettled feeling that something bad is going to happen, or even a very specific look at an event that has not yet occured.

Runic magick is using runes as the tool to shape energies for a specific purpose, such as protection. Runes are sometimes combined to make a sigil, called a bind rune, and then inscribed upon a surface such as paper, wood, bone or stone. The influence of bind runes comes from the one who makes it, not from the runes themselves.

The modern use of runes for occult knowledge or direction is nothing more than a personal choice of the practitioner. Runes have no intrinsic “power” or mystic properties. Their meanings are entirely assigned by those who use them. Some people feel more “attuned” to one set of symbols in their spiritual practices. An archaic alphabet, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs or Germanic runes are useful because they aren’t part of the modern alphabet. We use the modern alphabet for everyday communication and thus these letters, and the many combinations of them, already have common meanings. Using arcane symbols is often more effective in providing a separate focus to a practitioner.

When studying runes, I suggest first understanding their original purposes. Do not consider them as having any special properties or power. First read historical research. Understand how they were used by the Germanic people. Runes were often inscribed into bark and bone not for magickal use, but for short messages. These were more like early tweets describing ideas and memories rather than spells.

Once you understand the original purpose of runes, you will be better prepared to see them as a specialized tool if your goal is to incorporate them into a personal esoteric practice.

What is magick?

As a heathen shaman who practices rune-based magick and divination, I am sometimes asked to explain what I mean by the term “magick”. First, I will address the spelling choice. This is simply a way to discern between magic as an illusionary trick and magick as a means to alter the flow of energies outside of our physical self in congruence with our will. I believe this secondary spelling started with Aleister Crowley for the same purpose, and for me, it’s reasonable. I would use the term seiðr, which is the old Norse term for the practice of telling and shaping the future. But in English, Crowley’s magick is more readily understood.

The definition of magick I use is: “influencing the course of events through some mysterious or supernatural power.”

Many religions incorporate it in their practices. Christians call it “prayer”. A skeptical person might counter that there is no scientific evidence of the power of magick and it should be relegated to the domains of faith and fantasy. I disagree with this conclusion. The scientific term used for observable magick is the placebo effect.

A placebo is any treatment that, for the receiver, appears to be real but in fact is not. For example, in a clinical trial of a medication to reduce blood pressure, someone could be given a gel tablet filled with water instead of the medication. This is a placebo pill. The purpose is try and measure just how effective the medicine is.

But some people who receive the placebo pill will have a response to it as if they had received the actual medication. These responses can include the benefits as well as the side effects. There are even conditions where a person can have results from a placebo despite knowing they are taking a placebo.

“Research on the placebo effect has focused on the relationship of mind and body. One of the most common theories is that the placebo effect is due to a person’s expectations. If a person expects a pill to do something, then it’s possible that the body’s own chemistry can cause effects similar to what a medication might have caused.”WebMD

This theory is a scientific correlation between mind/will and measurable effects. There is no concrete explanation for how mere expectations can cause the exact same effects as actual chemical medications. This means that for now, it is a mystery. The term supernatural means “attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding“. Thus the placebo effect describes the influence of an event through some mysterious or supernatural power.

I’ve also heard the term “power of suggestion” used, although that’s not as scientific. This too correlates words and ideas with actual physical changes in one or more people.

There is much in our universe that remains a mystery and is, by definition, supernatural. We cannot discount the existence of any process or manipulation based solely on our lack of scientific understanding of it. We cannot say that, since we don’t understand something scientifically, it cannot be implemented by anyone.

The methods I use as a seiðrmann to aid, influence and protect others are not rational and scientific. Their origins are a mixture of belief, will, intent and expectation. I trust science. I’m also a firm believer in things that are still beyond what we can explain scientifically. I believe spirits and various energetic flows exist but cannot yet be quantified or measured by our scientific tools. Perhaps one day they will. But for now, they are magick.

Your Wyrd

Wyrd is one of the more complex ideas from Heathenry. Some may define it simply as fate, but it’s much more than that.

Wyrd is the life-tapestry you weave. This begins with being born. There are three wise women who live at a well under the great ash tree Yggdrasil. They define the life of every person. Urth bestows the threads inherited from your ancestors: such as your socio-economic position, where you were born, race, etc. The other two, Verthandi and Skuld determine things such as you allotment of time and the experiences you will face as well as how you will die. This starting pattern is known as our orlog, or orlæg.

We each carry a thread with us throughout our lives. Our choices with how we deal with the experiences fated for us and our interactions with others are how we create our unique personal tapestry, our wyrd. Each pattern, once woven, cannot be changed. The wyrd we weave affects our luck, the luck of our children and our tribe. That’s why it’s important to be honorable, because our choices are far reaching. While there is certainly room for personal honor and glory, in heathenry there is also a core focus on community and family. Bringing honor to yourself is also bringing honor to your tribe and to your descendants, possibly for generations.

This behavioral motivation is one of the primary differences between heathenry and many other religious belief systems. For example: in Christianity, people are motivated to “do good” because God is watching and will judge you based on your actions. You do good out of fear of damnation, and are required to beg forgiveness for your transgressions. In heathenry, a significant factor governing your choices is the mark you make on your family and community.

Interpersonal relationships are a central focus throughout heathenry. It’s why personal virtues are so important: keeping your oaths, never breaking bonds, coming to the aid and defense of those in your tribe. You are held accountable for your choices. There is no asking forgiveness and having your actions forgotten. They are always a part of your tapestry.

But like a good saga, you overcome your mistakes with great deeds!

It’s Not a Matter of Faith

In the modern world, the concept of a religion is often understood to be a belief system. We are taught that the deities must be believed in without the need for evidence. This is referred to as “having faith” and it’s core to most major religions.

I’m not trying to persuade you that Heathens don’t have a religion (in fact, as of March 31st, 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense even began to recognize Shamans, Heathens and Pagans as faith groups). Ásatrú (pronounced OW-suh-true) is the revived religious belief in the Norse gods. But unlike other religions, faith is not a central component to heathenry.

Heathenry is a spirituality whose primary focus is community. There are no rules that tell you who to worship or that you must worship any gods at all. We strive to live by community based ethics such as: honor, honesty, compassion and sacrifice. These ethics are applied to our interactions with family, friend and neighbors and our greater community.

Heathens will often invoke the names of gods such as Odin, Thor or Freya. They will also invoke the names of their ancestors. Some do this with a belief in the existence of the gods in the same manner that Christians believe in the literal existence of their God. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, either.

The take away is this: faith in the existence of gods is not an essential trait of heathenry. Some of us have faith, some may not. What we all have is a bond with our brothers and sisters. This is not a bond of blood or race. It is a bond of community. It’s a personal conviction to the sanctity of our words and deeds first and foremost.

Gifts, Debt and Bond Building

In Heathenry, a primary method for building strong interpersonal and community bonds is the custom of the gift cycle. The idea is simple: you give a gift to your friend which creates a gift debt to you. Your friend will repay that gift with one that in turn creates a debt to them.

In most of the modern world, the idea of debt describes a negative situation: credit card debt, student loan debt, etc. Sometimes people see debt forgiveness, further implying that being in debt is a transgression. It’s something we want to avoid or work to pay off so we are no longer in debt. In Heathen tradition, debt between two people represents a positive relationship. A debt between two people is one way they establish frith.

The idea is for the debt to be perpetually passed back and forth between each other, becoming a perpetual cycle.

There are rules for this:

First, gifts are not judged by their monetary value. Their value is based on the personal significance to the receiver.

Second, the gift does not have to be an item. It can be any service: inviting them to a meal at your home, giving them a bed if they need a place to sleep for the night, helping them out when they are sick, and so on.

Third, the gift must be significant enough that the other one feels they are now in debt to you. Your goal is to maintain the cycle, not cancel it out. This isn’t like a modern day business transaction.

Finally, the gift must not be so great that the other one is unable to do something to exceed it. This is extremely important. It’s a damaging insult to give a gift that will create an insurmountable debt. The gift cycle is not a competition. It’s a tradition that encourages good friends to maintain their relationships.

If a Heathen gives you a gift, it’s because they respect you and want to build a strong bond of trust and friendship with you. The debt between the two of you is a physical representation of that bond and should be perpetually maintained.

The Frith Bond in the Modern World

In historical times, those who are frith-bound were sworn to cause no harm to each other, no matter what argument or disagreement there was between them. Typically this was between those related by blood and marriage, but often extended to close neighbors. It meant they are in your “inner yard” which is generally considered the closest two to four homes in your village.

This was a reciprocal agreement, and fostered peace within the community and provided a sense of security.

To violate the frith bond was a serious crime and would, at a minimum, bring exile to the frith-breaker.

Of course, today’s world is very different. Many of us now live in large metro areas and sprawling suburbs. The frith bond is something almost forgotten. In smaller towns, we may see a “neighborhood watch”, which is probably the closest thing to being “frith-like”. However, there’s no oath, no actual commitment or penalty for not looking out for your neighbor.

The frith bond isn’t something people in today’s world broadly value, or is even a concept of which they’re aware. That being said, there’s no reason it can’t be. You can commit this to your close family and friends and they can offer the same to you. It would simply be an agreement, a spoken bond. It might look something like this:

“We mutually agree to avoid causing each other physical, emotional, and mental harm; and to avoid negatively affecting each other’s honor, worth, and luck.”

In modern times, there’s no need for this to be restricted to only your close family and neighbors. It could be between any people, at any distance, as long as it’s not done lightly and it’s given with all honesty and intent to never break that bond.

What is a Poly Kindred?

Polyamory is a word formed by the Greek prefix poly meaning “many” or “multiple” and the Latin word amor which means “love”. Polyamory is “loving many”. There are many variations of polyamorous relationships: solo-poly, triads, quads, open with metamours, and any other number of configurations that fit every different dynamic.

Ours is a poly kindred. This means we live communally with other poly people and those who may be in committed relationships with poly kindred members.

What exactly does that mean? It means that not all members of the kindred are romantically involved with each other. One person could have three loves in the kindred, but one of those three might be exclusive with only that one partner. Just as it is our choice to love more than one, it is also our choice as to who we are romantically and/or sexually involved with. Some members are non-monogamous while others may choose to remain monogamous. Being polyamorous doesn’t always exclude monogamy. Not all loving relationships include sex. An asexual person can still be poly.

Every member of the kindred supports all other members. We are all friends. We all share a common bond of trust and companionship. The key takeaway here is that everyone is ethical, open, and non-judgmental about each other’s consensual, honest and healthy relationship choices.

What heathens Are We?

Very simply, we’re spiritual people who fall under the broad umbrella of pagans. We don’t follow any one specific religion, but rather pick and choose what gods we choose to venerate. We are not anti-Christian, or against any other religion as we believe everyone has the right to worships who they want and in the manner of their own choosing.

We do not try to convert anyone. We will openly share our beliefs, but do not need you to subscribe to them.

Our tribe is heavily influenced by the Germanic mythologies of the Norse and Celts. We are earth spiritual, and live by a specific set of principles and virtues.

Our goals are also simple:

  • Live a good, honest and honorable life
  • Enjoy the world and the pleasures we find here
  • Respect nature, and be thankful for its gifts
  • Love those who seek it
  • Defend ourselves from those who would cause us harm

We embrace all races, all sexualities, all genders. We have no hate for those who are different from us in any manner. We are in no way associated with any group that espouses elitism or hatred for any other people.

Our Spiritual practice

Spirituality is one of the Eight Virtues that guide our tribe. Our practice is heathen pagan. We focus on health, having our needs met, love and guidance. We maintain shrines to the Virtues, are thankful for our good fortunes and seek divination through rune-casting. While we do not outright reject modern medicine, we tend to choose more natural herbal cures rather than relying heavily upon over-the-counter drugs for common ailments. We also provide shamanic mending for our souls.

Remaining connected to nature and each other is vital in maintaining a strong tribal spirit. We honor and are grateful for all aspects of our life: from the food we eat to the friends we have. Ceremonies can range from quiet and contemplative to passionate and hedonistic. We celebrate life. We celebrate each other. Our spiritual practice is our energetic bond to our world, our home and our tribe.

Your Book of Truth

How to Better Live By The Virtues Through Keeping a Journal

Keeping a journal is a useful habit. It allows us to record the small things in our day to day lives that will be lost to time. Very few people are able to recall every detail from a specific day ten years ago, or even one year ago. The symbol for the Principle of Truth is a book. To give this symbol a more material connection to you, keep a special Virtue journal that will become your personal Book of Truth.

I know we’re in the digital age, and I’m usually the first person to say use the cloud to store documents. But for this, I suggest an actual, quality journal that you physically write in. Your choice of writing instrument or instruments is totally up to you. I use black ink and colored pencils.

This is not like a typical diary or journal where you just write about your day. The entries here should be specifically about one or more choices you made that day that were the result of following the Virtues or even poor choices that you want to learn from and improve for the future. Writing is a powerful too for both expression and self-reflection.

This doesn’t have to be a time consuming process. Entries can be a couple of sentences: I was faced with this situation. I considered this Virtue, and I made this choice. Of course, the more details you offer, the more benefit you will receive from both the introspection during the writing, as well as insight gained through later reflection.

You are not limited to words. Draw images if you like. Color them. Be creative. The only rule is to focus on your thoughts and actions as they relate to the Virtues. This book should be the centerpiece for your shrine to the three Principles.