The Road to Runes

May, 2018

The Road to Runes: Hagalaz, the Coming of Hail

So, it was the turn of a different friend to pull a rune this time, and I wasn’t expecting it. On the spot divination, she pulled out the polished, burnt piece of hazel and looked at me quizzically. I had to admit to her that my studies had not taken me this far, and thus, my latest article was born. Pictured is the rune she pulled: Hagalaz, also known as Haglaz or Hagala. This rune literally means ‘hail’, and by what I have learnt, is a pretty fierce and somewhat scary rune to see in any divination.

The Elder Futhark (the group of runes I am working with and believed to be the oldest Germanic runic alphabet) is split into 3 Aett, or groups of 8 runes. Hagalaz is the first rune of the second Aett, or Aettir. There are so many variants of the terms used to describe the runes and their alphabetic structure, and while I am still learning I am keeping myself open to all of these words, so forgive me if I chop and change. The second Aettir is sometimes known as Hel’s Aetirr, which sounds pretty ominous. Hel is the daughter of Loki, and therefore at least part giant, and she reigns over the realm of Hel, one of the dwelling places of the dead in Norse mythology. She is fairly indifferent to the trials and sufferings of humankind, if not actually cruel, and that aspect seems to be reflected in the hail rune. Hail is out of our control. It doesn’t care if we get cold, or wet, or stung. It has no pity for our misery; it simply is, and it is up to us to deal with it; get out of the cold or battle on through the storm.

Hail is the coldest of seeds… (Viking Rune Poem)

Hail is often described in runic inscriptions as a seed, and perhaps this is simply due to its appearance, as if someone high above was casting ice cold grain onto the earth, in the vain hope of it sprouting into some bizarre crop. However, there is more to the seed aspect than simple appearances. If we are tested, and we follow through with the test, whether we pass or fail, we grow as people. Each new challenge we face changes us in some way, usually for the better. Even bad experiences teach us something. Hagalaz is a seed rune because although hard times may be coming, there is the chance for great personal transformation; to be the sprouting wheat after the grain is cast.

Hail is whitest of grains. It whirls from the sky

whipped by the wind, then as water it trickles away. (Old English Rune Poem, translation Marijane Osborn)

This is a reminder that hard times don’t last forever; just as the icy hail turns to water and trickles away, so will our hardships eventually come to an end. We may be whipped into shape by the storms that buffet us, by the challenges that are sent to test us, but ultimately, calm will come, and a time to take stock and see what we have learnt, gained, or been left with. Also, it could be that we are about to lose something, but perhaps that is something we should have let go of long ago. Are we holding on to something that does not help us achieve our highest goals? Are we clinging to a relationship that prevents us being the best we can be? Hagalaz warns that it may be a tough time, but something different is coming, and it’s up to us to make the best of the new situation.

Hagala who breaks helmets… (Runic Inscription on the Kragehul Lance)

So far, I’ve concentrated on the more positive aspects of Hagalaz, but I can’t avoid the simple fact that this is a rune associated with destruction, turmoil, conflict and crisis. Hail is coming and you’re going to be caught out in the storm. If you’re already having a tough time, it’s possible it could get worse before it gets better. Are you ready to be tested? Be prepared, have your wits sharp, don’t be complacent about any potentially upsetting or risky situation and muster your inner strength. Yes, transformation and growth might be just around the corner, but you’re going to have to turn your face into the cold wind and really push hard before you feel the benefits.

The ninth rune in the Elder Futhark, just as Yggdrasil holds nine worlds, Hagalaz is a powerful and crucial rune in any reading. I think it’s important not to panic if you do pull this rune for a client. I’ll admit, when my friend pulled the rune and I read the meaning, I was startled and worried at first, but thinking about her personal situation (private, sorry!) it makes sense. She’s been through a tough time, it’s not over yet, and we’d already spoken about certain things probably not being resolved to satisfaction until Samhain. A gifted practitioner herself, it doesn’t surprise me that she pulled the rune that almost exactly describes the situation she is in and where she appears to be going. And it gave me the chance to learn about a formidable rune; one more step along the road.


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

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April, 2017

Meet the Gods: Tricksters

Merry meet.

Given the tradition of April Fool’s jokes, this month’s column is about tricksters – those who play tricks on others, pay no heed to rules or authority, and care not for conventional behavior. They are generally smart or possess knowledge others don’t. They can be playful or harsh – either way, they are disruptive. Some can change their appearance.

Tricksters are often characters in stories and myths originating in many cultures, including Coyote, Raven, Crow, Rabbit, Spider, Bear and Raccoon. They often serve as messengers between the earth plane and other realms.

Some of them, however, are gods.

Loki is one of the most notable. In Norse mythology, he is a shapeshifter, appearing as a falcon and as a mare who gives birth to Odin’s shamanic horse with eight legs, Sleipnir. Originally a friend of the gods, they grew to dislike him and his tricks.

In the Polynesian culture, M?ui’s exploits and trickery are famous – among them, pulling up islands from the ocean floor with his magical fish hook, rising the sky and making the sun shine longer.

Hermes, a god of transitions and boundaries, plays the trickster in some Greek myths. He is cunning, invented lying and is the patron of travelers and thieves. As a child, it’s said he was able to steal cattle from Apollo by putting tree bark on their hooves to disguise their tracks. Hermes moves easily between men and gods, so he is also the one who escorts the souls of the dead to the afterlife.


(This image appears in the lid of a wooden box I bought at a tag sale.)

In some Native American cultures, Kokopelli not only represents the spirit of music and dance, as a fertility god, he rules over agriculture and presides over childbirth. The hunched-over flute player is known for his mischief. One story tells of him playing his flute while everyone in the village sang and danced all night; then, in the morning, every maiden was pregnant.

For help shifting your reality, try calling on a trickster god. He can help change the thoughts and words in the story you tell so that you create something that has been eluding you.

Tricksters can be great teachers – one lesson might be that laughter can defuse a tense situation.

And, if you believe it takes a thief to catch a thief, a trickster might make a good ally if someone is stealing from you.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

Myths and Legends: Journeys Through Time

June, 2010



Mischief, jokes, puns, trickery, buffoonery, clownish, childish, foolish antics. All these words

and more are used to describe somebody who’s acting goofy or silly. These words also

describe the sort of actions that fall under the realm of the Trickster Gods.  In every

mythology there is at least one god, goddess or being that is considered a trickster.

For the Native Americans it was the Coyote and the Raven, for the Greeks it was Prometheus,

Hermes, Sisyphus and others, the Celtics had leprechauns, fairies, and beings of that nature.

The Norse pantheon however had Loki. In fact..mention the words Trickster God and the first

person most people name is Loki. Norse mythology was the mythos of the vikings. Beings

like Thor; god of thunder and lightning also wielded the hammer Mjollnir, Odin; ruler of the

universe and ruler of all the deities, Heimdall; creator of mankind and watcher of the Bifrost

Bridge, Asgard which was home of the gods, Valhalla home of the fallen warriors and

Valkryies who were the battle angels and ALWAYS female.  Loki however was a special

case. He’s considered a god but his origin is that of a frost giant. The giants and the gods

differed much like the Greek Titans and Gods. He starts out as a mischief causing, joke

pulling, prank loving misfit. Somebody that was good for entertainment….no so good

for when serious work needed to be done.  Although connected with fire and magic, Loki

is better known for his mischief, shape changing ability. He’s also known for fathering (in one

case mothering) with the giantess Angerboda; Hel the goddess of death, Fenrir the giant wolf

that would eventually kill and devour Odin at Ragnarok and Jourmungand the midgard

serpent. In the case of being a mother, Loki helped the Gods of Asgard out. The giant

Hrimthurs boasted that he could construct the walls around Asgard in a single winter and if he

finished he would gain the sun and moon as payment. He would also gain Odin’s wife Frigg

too. The god were sure they would lose so they chose not to accept Hrimthurs’ wager but Loki

was quite confident that Hrimthurs couldn’t finish in a single winter, so he goaded the gods

into accepting the bet. With his stallion Svadilfari, who was able to haul the heavy rocks

quickly, Hrimthurs was making good on his wager. Seeing this, the gods forced Loki to

sabotage the bet. Loki turned himself into a mare and led Svadilfari away into the forest.

Without his stallion, Hrimthurs lost the bet. As a  result of the forest frolick with Svadilfari,

Loki ended up prengant and gave birth to Sleipnir, an eight legged colt who would become

Odin’s magical steed.  Although Loki’s pranks and mischief were generally lighthearted, they

became darker as time went on. The darkest being when he became responsible for the

death of Balder.  Balder was the god of beauty and was loved by everyone and everything.

However it was foretold that he would die and that his death was one of the signs that

Ragnarok was coming.  To prevent this, Frigg went around to every animal, god, goddess,

creature, and plant making them promise to not harm Balder. The only plant she did not get

this promise from was mistletoe as she believed it to be too young to be held to such a

promise. Loki tricked Frigg into revealing the only thing that could kill Balder and upon

finding out, Loki coaxed the blind god Hod, into joining in a game of throwning things at

Balder. This was a favorite pastime of the deities as Balder could not be harmed. Loki handed

Hod a sprig of mistletoe and directed his aim. Hod threw the sprig as hard as he could and

everyone watched in horror as it pierced Balder who died instantly. For this crime Loki was

punished severly. He was bound by three rocks, one between his shoulders, another under

his loins and the last beneath his knees. A venomous snake was placed above his head and

dripped venom on him for eternity. His wife Sigyn, who  remained faithful to him despite his

fathering beings with the giantess Angerboda, lovingly collected the venom in a bowl so that

it would not drip upon Loki. However  when the bowl filled, she had to leave to empty it and

this left Loki unprotected. When the venom hit his bare skin, he would writhe about in pain

and cause earthquakes. Ragnarok was the end of days for the gods, the day they would go to

war and fight amongst themselves. When Loki’s chains broke and he was freed, it was he who

lead the giants into battle. Loki killed Heimdall but also died at Heimdall’s hand.  As much

fun as mischief and pranks are they can be taken too far. Not even Gods are immune to the

allure and excitement of pulling a prank on somebody or acting foolish, nor are they immune

to the consequences that come from causing such foolish acts.