The Road to Runes

March, 2019

The Road to Runes: Tiwaz

Tiwaz, Elder Futhark Rune of Norse God Tyr, Sacrifice and Law.

Last month I pulled the rune Dagaz, a rune all about breakthroughs and new beginnings. This coincided with a major life change for me and certainly reinforced my confidence in the runes and my journey with them.

The next rune I pulled was Tiwaz, the rune of the god Tyr. Tyr is a god of war, but also of law and justice. Tyr was invoked when victory was needed in battle. He gives the day ‘Tuesday’ its name, and has been conflated with the Roman god Mars.

Tyr’s primary myth is the story of the Binding of Fenrir, the great wolf who inspired fear, even in the Gods. Fenrir did not trust the Norse Gods, so when they wanted to place fetters upon him, he wanted a guarantee he would be released again. He asked one of the gods to place their arm within his jaws. Only Tyr would do this, knowing full well Fenrir would bite once they refused to release him. Sure enough, the fetters securely bound the wolf, and Fenrir bit down as promised, severing Tyr’s arm from his body.


This willing sacrifice for the greater good is a key aspect of Tiwaz. Giving up something which is important to us for the benefit of others is noble, but often extremely difficult to do. We don’t need to lose an arm, like Tyr; Tiwaz can indicate that we need to give up our time, by volunteering, perhaps, or spending more time with the kids. Tiwaz could also mean we need to give up something physical. Maybe you’re in financial difficulties, and selling your beloved collection of [insert favourite obsession here] could give you the money you need to see you through to the next pay-cheque.

Tiwaz can also mean sacrificing something we feel is important about ourselves. Maybe you see yourself as entirely self-reliant but are struggling on your own with a particular situation. It’s hard to ask for help when your ego demands that you stand on your own two feet. Tiwaz dares you to put the arm of your ego in the jaws of the wolf, and not to flinch as it bites down. You will not be harmed by the change in your perception of yourself. You might feel too proud to ask for help, but in this situation, you would learn to have pride in your friends and family and eventually in yourself for being willing to change and adapt.

My Situation

In my situation, just having become freelance and working to build a new schedule and routine, it’s not immediately evident what Tiwaz represents for me. I have sacrificed my day job in order to support my family better, but that was a sacrifice I was happy to make- delighted, in fact! What I have struggled with since the change is being my own boss. I’ve been so used to having someone else dictate my schedule, doing it for myself is tricky and slightly alien to me.

Maybe Tiwaz is telling me I need to sacrifice my self-image as a routine-hating rebel. I’ve always seen myself this way; not chained or fettered to the clock, except when I have to be, due to the demands of others. Well, now those demands need to come from within. There’s no boss breathing down my neck, only clients and my own sense of drive and ambition.

Tiwaz also represents the reign of law and order over chaos, and I hope that this aspect of the rune is telling me that peace will soon descend. Chaos has started to blur the edges of my life lately, with some deep loss and grief, and severe mental health difficulties. Perhaps, by remaining confident in my decisions and having faith in my own abilities, order will resume some claim over events, and life will start to settle back into the routine I so desperately don’t want, but clearly need.

Tiwaz is a complex rune, and I have no doubt I will find it again in a future reading. For now, I feel like the rune is telling me not to grip so strongly to ideas of self-image, and be willing to change myself for my own benefit, the benefit of others, and for some peace and calm within my life. Don’t forget, you can tweet me @Mabherick if you want me to focus on a particular rune for this column. Until next time!


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 Ancestorsand Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon

ÁLFABLÓT (The Sacrifice to the Elves)

November, 2018

Brief description

International teacher of sacred art and Northern European Tradition shamanism Imelda Almqvist describes the small Álfablót (Sacrifice to the Elves) Ceremony she performed on her land in Sweden on October 31st in 2018. This is the indigenous Scandinavian version of (or closest thing to) Samhain/Halloween.



One day even our children (and their children) will be ancestors…

Today Halloween is celebrated in many English-speaking countries. It originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain.

I was in a large supermarket, here in Sweden, yesterday and the first thing I saw upon entering the shop, was an abundance of shelves stacked with Halloween decorations and sweets. That is a relatively new development!  Halloween is not indigenous to Sweden and the phenomenon only arrived in the 1990s. For good for bad, we live in a global village…

In the car on the way home there was a story on Swedish radio titled “Bus eller frukt” (meaning “trick-or-fruit”) Apparently some children had gone trick-or-treating over the weekend (a bit early by British standards!) and received mandarins for their efforts – they were not at all pleased and they had responded with trickery!

As a mother of three I understand that children yearn for scary costumes and collecting candy but, actually, Scandinavia has a perfect valid tradition of its own, for this period. It is shame that this has (largely) dropped into collective oblivion – though Heathen people have always kept the tradition alive and many Pagan people have rediscovered it today).

My students of Norse Shamanism often ask: “Did the Old Norse people have a festival or ritual comparable to the Day of the Dead, at this time of year?” The answer is yes, the Álfablót, The name literally means “The Sacrifice (or offerings) to the Elves”. This requires a bit of explanation.

The Elves (or Alfar) in the Northern European Tradition are not “fairies” but the souls of male dead ancestors who live on as nature spirits. They often live in burial mounds, though we also find them under big rocks, in caves or in the mountains. We can still communicate with them and making offerings is a respectful way of doing so.

By making offerings we acknowledge that they too once walked the land and that they have now become part of the spiritual Weave of the land. They do not (necessarily or automatically) fit a term often heard in core shamanism: “helping spirits”, though they can choose to be helpful. By honouring them we ensure that they are “on our side” and that we have their cooperation and protection during the harsh winter months (remember that Scandinavian winters are harsh and severe).

In the Old Norse way of thinking every gift (gåva) required a return gift (gengåva). There is nothing cynical about this, it follows the spiritual law of keeping all exchanges balanced. (Today we often speak of the principle of fair energy exchange).

In the past on farms animals would have been sacrificed and their blood poured out as a sacred offering (the word blót is the old Old Norse word for blood) but today many practitioners feel that alternative offerings are acceptable (seasonal foods, drink, the favourite food or drink of ancestors we used to know in real life, or other – as guided by the gods and spirits).

Let me also explain that the Alfar are the male ancestors. The female ancestors (Disir) have their own special day in the Yule period (Modranatt or Ancestral Mothers’ Night) as well as a Disablott (Offering ritual to the female ancestors) in the Spring.

The fertility god Freyr (twin brother of the goddess Freyja) is known as the Lord of the Elves and his otherworld domain is called Alfheimr (the Realm of the Elves)

When we bought our house in Sweden I promised the landvaettir (spirits of the land) and the “tomte of our tomt ” (the spirit of our property, not to be confused with Father Christmas – who also goes by the name of Tomte in Sweden!) that I would observe the ancient festivals and traditions as faithfully as my own understanding allows.

Over the summer I was guided to build a small cairn on our property. I carved a Bone Woman from antler bone and dedicated the cairn to her. (This was inspired by the Icelandic phenomenon of the Beinakerling

Today I waited for nightfall (which came at 4 p.m.) and made a small pilgrimage to this cairn. I brought my Rune Drum, a candle and offerings of ale and meat (the traditional offerings for an Alfablót).

I drummed and called in the Deep Ancestors (whose names we do not remember), the Ancestors of Place, the Landvaettir, the animals ancestors of all local animal species and the ancestors that live on in local memory and stories.

As a teacher (and lifelong student) of Norse Cosmology I also called in the great skalds and the writers of the Eddic poetry (including Snorri Sturlason, who gave us the Prose Edda!)

I drummed and chanted. I poured ale over the cairn and offered the food.

Odinn’s name literally means “The Spirit” (Odr + the definite article “inn”) and he is associated with the wind, sacred breath and The Wild Hunt.

The most powerful thing about my small blót was that every time I called in a round of ancestors – the wind responded by making a howling noise and curling around me.

I felt that my Álfablót was well-received!

Imelda Almqvist, Kärrshagen, Sweden 31 October 2018


About the Author:

Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. Her book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon in 2016 and her second book Sacred art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where art Meets Shamanism) will be published in March 2019.  She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and is a presenter on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She is currently in the editing stages of her third book “Medicine of the Imagination” and has started her fourth book “Evolving Gods: The Sacred Marriage of Tradition and Innovation”  (website)  (blog) (YouTube Channel with art videos and Rune Drum videos)

Natural Born Shamans – A Spiritual Toolkit for Life: Using Shamanism Creatively with Young People of All Ages on Amazon



The Bad Witch’s Guide

September, 2018

The Bad Witch’s Guide Autumn Equinox

I have always enjoyed the light around this time of year. The beginning of mists at sunset and dawn. The first tinges of frost and the spider webs like diamond nets over the leaves that were beginning to turn. The dead summer grass rattling in a wind with a distinctly crisp edge.

The light and dark are in perfect balance. The Veil between this world and others is thin

Mabon has his name attached to this festival and I like that. I like Mabon in general. I like a seeker. I also like balance so equinoxes feel really good for me. It is neither thing, light and dark, hopeful and guarded, plenty and want. Perhaps that is why Pryderi, Rhiannon’s sacred son is often associated with Mabon for this reason.

Pryderi (or Prederin) is born of a Goddess (like Mabon). He enters the forest, the world between. His manners are rough and he insults a great King, Arawn. King Arawn switches places with him and during his quest into Awen learns to “dwell with desire” but to not act on it. He learns great self-control and in so doing wins a great battle. In learning mercy and abstinence (not sleeping with another’s wife) becomes a Great Leader. It is a great lesson. To not give into lust or vengeance, even you can “get away with it”.

Of course I love the food and while apples and pork are more Samhain for me, Mabon is full of cobnuts (fresh hazelnut), damsons, wild game like pheasant and venison and this year’s lamb tend to be fresh seasonal and excellent. In fact Mabon is the peak of vegetable harvest, from the last of the fresh garden herbs to runner beans and early potatoes. The sea also is full of wonders, oysters and mackerel, sardines and sea bass are plump and delicious.

It is pickling season. From Yule onions (the ones you break out with your cold cuts) to some kimchi because the cabbages are amazing this year, preserving your own food is fun and relatively simple. Part of me wonders if Mabon isn’t a pickling party that got out of hand so marvellously they did it every year! That is the light in the dark; planning the plenty in a time of ice and snow. It is in the wine and vinegar, the syrups and treats, the medicine and the merriment.

The dark is something else. The dark is in the journey work, the intoxication*, the self-exploration and releasing of our leaves to feed our next year’s growth. This is not ancestor work or work with the dead. This is honouring our deaths. All of the people we have been that are no longer. It is letting go of all we have been carrying, good and bad, at least for a while.

Many traditional wiccan rites around this time of year feel like hollow reflections of Lughnasadh or Samhain. Yet this is as powerful as midsummer or Yule to me. A time of beginnings and endings, of big and small changes. It is the bloom of mushrooms, the food of the Gods after all. *While I don’t condone their use it is an ancient part of ritual practice. It is a time of sacrifice and plenty.


What you will need:

A fire (or safe heat source)

A large pan or cauldron.

A sterilised bottle or jar


Caraway seeds (a pinch)

White rose petals (13)

Elder leaves (13)


Sugar (to make a syrup)

A sieve or strainer

If you are using freshly picked seasonal berries you will need to double what you would be using for dried and make sure they are well washed and dried.

Heat your water and add your sugar. When up to a simmer, bless your pot or cauldron with a seven pointed star. Make sure your sugar is dissolved.

Add your leaves one at a time with the following charm.

Dark mother, Matrona,


Sweet Moon:

I call you

I evoke

For your healing and protection,

The Birch, the Rowan, the Ash, the Alder, the Willow, the Hawthorn, the Oak, the Holly, the Hazel, the Vine, the Ivy, the Reed, and the Elder Moons.”

Add the elderberries and stir it gently in a figure of eight pattern.

Add your caraway seeds and then a rose petal at a time saying the following

Light mother, Matrona,


Bitter Goddess:

I call you

I evoke your healing and protection.

By blood and thorn, by your magick and power

The charm is made by seed and flower.”

Remove the cauldron from the heat and let it sit for about five minutes before you carefully strain it, mashing the berries a little to get as much juice as you can and bottle it and seal it.

This syrup is good for flus, and colds it can also be used as a blood substitute or made into a tea to replace wine in most other rituals.

Standing at the Crossroads

October, 2008

This month’s column is a subject that some of you might find disturbing or just plain “icky”. If you stick with me, though, I promise I am not advocating wholesale slaughter and random killing of sweet brown-eyed critters. <g>. I also promise that I won’t get graphic.

It’s butchering time out where I live. Folks are getting ready to fill their freezers and smokehouses with hogs, cows, and chickens. A lot of the folks in my area are either Amish or they simply do things the way their parents, grandparents, etc… down the line did things. Yes, they add in a lot of technology to help them do it, but when it comes to living simply and frugally – well, I live in farm country, and “that’s just the way it’s done”.

Now, I understand that for many of you, and perhaps most of you, butchering time is a foreign concept. You’ve never had to go out and kill your own dinner. Unless you are vegetarian, your meats come in nicely packaged or shrink wrapped parcels from the store. If you are into more gourmet foods, it might come from a butcher in your city – but still, you never have to “do the deed” yourself.

This is a good thing
Most of us have not got the skills to properly or humanely kill a creature, and I in no way advocate trying it for the first time alone. However, if you do live on a farm, or have recently moved to one, and wish to “get back to basics” and try this for yourself, then by all means, do so – with a little help that first time from someone more experienced and able to teach you the proper way of it.

So what does this POSSIBLY have to do with spirituality? Well, with Vodou, the main problem many folks have with following or even considering the religion is Sacrifice. Now I understand totally if you are vegetarian, and if you are, then that does not mean that Vodou is totally out of the picture for you. There are many groups in the United States who practice “vegetarian” forms of Vodou. Instead of sacrificing a living animal they will use bread shaped as such, or they will offer other foods instead of meat. The Lwa gain nourishment from many things, you do not have to offer them blood to have them work with you.

Truth be told, I have sacrificed ONE chicken to a spirit in my entire life – and those were, in my opinion at the time, dire straits. Options for foods or other items offered other than blood or killing will be discussed with entries for each Lwa as I get into those. I have practiced Vodou for 10 years without regular bloodletting, and I have thrived in my religion the entire time.

In Haiti and many other countries, however, people are starving. They do not have the luxury of choosing to eat meat or not – if it is food, if it is available, they eat it. This is where the sacrifice of animals comes into play. Yes, they are offering the blood and certain parts to the spirits, but the animal is then cooked and everyone participating eats it later. It is not wasted, it is not thrown away, and it is not cruelly tortured for sport. Hollywood and the various Anti-Superstition Campaigns have done a lot to give sacrifice a bad rap.

Now, here on my farm, I have chickens, lots of them <g>. I also have donkeys, a horse, and a cow. I have killed chickens for dinner before, I intend to have the cow butchered for meat. Most of my chickens, however, will never see the dinner table, they are too spoiled and pretty. For instance, I have two spare roosters – ones I do not need for breeding, and they free range with the guineas. They serve no “farm purpose” they are just “there”.
They are both beautiful roosters, and very nice tempered, so they are not aggressive or mean – this is their saving grace. I have named them Attila and Blue. I raised these two roosters from day old chicks I had gotten this last spring at the feed store. They were so cute and fluffy and very sweet to play with. Now, they are big and colorful and spoiled rotten <g>.

Attila will come every day (at least twice) to my front porch and look up for treats. If I do not notice him, he’ll crow to me, to get my attention. I fully expect one day to find him in the house, looking for bread ends to munch on. I leave my door open, usually, for the dogs to run in and out, so it is small matter for a rooster to come up the stairs and into the kitchen. He is not afraid of the dogs, nor most anything – hence his name <g>. Blue is a bit more timid, but he is not afraid of me, just the dogs get to playing rough with each other and he runs the other way.

Now, these two chickens are not really good for eating anyway, even if I were so inclined. They are smaller and skinnier than chickens grown for meat production, and they would be pretty tough and stringy. If I were in Haiti, and starving – they would look like pretty good eats, perhaps, but I am living in America, and I am not starving, and I have the option of letting them live happy, bug eating, carefree lives.

I do eat meat, and I do kill my own when possible – because I feel it is kinder to them to be raised happy and healthy and to be killed humanely.

The factory farms that cut the beaks off chickens, to keep them from pecking each other bald; that stuff as many birds as possible into a smaller space to get the most yield; that feed them growth hormones and antibiotics to keep disease away (disease caused by their living conditions) – THAT, in my not so humble opinion, is cruel torture.

I do plan to raise some meat chickens, simply for the reasons stated previously about factory farms. Will they be offered as sacrifice before they become dinner? Perhaps, but probably not. I find that blood sacrifice is seldom as necessary as Hollywood makes it out to be.

If, by chance, I do choose to kill them in a sanctified manner – i.e.: offering their blood to a spirit, then so much the better. Many ethnic and religious groups have protocols for how their meat is raised, handled and killed for eating, why not mine also?

If you have stuck with me this far, then kudos to you <g>. I realize the subject can get pretty badly handled at times, and I’ve tried to be as politically correct as possible with this column (which is new for me, LOL I usually just speak my mind).

My intention when I began this article was to broach the subject of Sacrifice and make it seem less like the blood orgy it is often portrayed as. My intention was also to let folks know that there are options other than blood letting to “feed the spirits”. I hope I have succeeded and not simply confused the issue further.