As Yule approaches, you might be thinking of which decks you would like to buy to give to loved ones as gifts- and you might be thinking of which decks you hope to get as Yule gifts yourself! Instead of focusing on cards this time, let’s set them aside and discuss the runes. Yule, is after all, named after Odin, and Odin was the one who gave mankind the runes.
Some people say the runes are just letters of the alphabet some smart Heathen incorporated into a new form of divination at some point. Others say that Odin intended the runes for people to use to get messages specifically from him, and you can’t read runes unless you have a relationship with Odin. The runes are also worn as jewelry by people who want to absorb the magic of a particular rune, and I even knew one woman who made soap with runes printed into each piece of soap, and she told people to wash with the soap that had the rune whose magic they wanted to bless themselves with. So, just how did Odin get those versatile runes anyways?
The lore tells us Odin is a god of many things who has many names. He is the father of the Aesir gods, but also a god of war. He is the patron god of the slain of the battlefield, and entire armies of warriors throughout history have dedicated each life they took on the battlefield to Odin. He is a god of wisdom, and he travels all the Nine Realms seeking more knowledge and wisdom. He can’t be everywhere at once, so he sends two ravens out at dawn, named Huginn and Muninn, to gather all the information they can, and when they return from their travels, they sit on his shoulder and tell him everything they have learned. He is the god who have poetry to humanity, and he is a god of magic and divination.
He knew of the runes, which the Norns carved on the world tree, Yggdrasil. This tree is the tree that cradles all of the Nine Worlds, including Earth, which is called Midgard, in its branches. Yggdrasil grows from the Well of Urd. This well is one of three water sources the tree grows above, and the Well of Urd is said to have such holy water that anything this water touches will become as pure as the membrane inside an eggshell. Some scholars have associated the Well of Urd with a water source from the old Temple at Uppsala, which was one of the main temples to the gods. The Norns used the trunk of Yggdrasil to carve the runes into and this sent the fates of all people throughout the Nine Worlds.
Odin saw them doing this and always thirsting for more knowledge, he desired the wisdom of the runes. The runes did not reveal themselves to anybody who had not proven themselves worthy, so he did a physical sacrifice. Odin hanged himself from the World Tree, pierced himself with his spear thus giving a blood offering, and after nine days and nights, deep in trance state, he saw the runes. He let out a scream of victory, and reached down and got them. He did not just use the runes for divination. He used them to make magic. He could put out fires, protect his loved ones in battle, and slay enemies with the runes. He could do bindings and expose evil magical practitioners. He could heal and wake the dead. He could do so many things with the runes once he gained knowledge of them, and he allows human beings to do all these things as well.
So, aside from nine days of no food or water, and hanging from the World Tree, how can we mere mortals prove ourselves worthy of the runes? I think this is why some Heathens say you need to have a relationship with Odin to read the runes. No one way to know the runes exists, but communication with Odin will teach how to use them. Some of today’s people do a lot of reading, thinking study will help them to know everything that every last rune symbolizes. Each rune has a meaning like strength, or the dice cup, for example, but just reading won’t give you all the knowledge you need. It is necessary to read and research, but what we read is things that somebody else has written. Each of us needs to sit with the runes, and quietly listen, and one way this can be accomplished is through prayer to Odin, and also through meditation.
Prayers can be offered to Odin in many forms, but one way to do this is with a gift. A lot of modern pagans want to offer things they like to a deity, but that’s a bad idea. The excuse I have heard is “Well, I think they will be happy to get SOMETHING from me rather than nothing at all” when somebody balks at the type of offering a god is known for taking. Odin is not going to love a bouquet of roses or some milk and honey. He consumes wine, and people gave him offerings of live animals, the souls of their enemies, and blood slathering the feet of his statues. Other fitting offerings are mead or other good quality alcohol besides just wine, poetry, singing for him, and spears. You can also volunteer time or give donations to causes you believe will please him. Support of ravens, military organizations, donations of copies of Eddas or Sagas, and donations in support of wolves, because he has two wolves named Geri and Freki. If you don’t want to give Odin any of these type of things that are consistent with what lore tells us of him, you may as well not give him anything. But in return, don’t expect him to do anything for you.
The gods do not exist to serve humanity and they don’t answer all prayers. They answer prayers they deem worthy. A gift is not like money you put in a gumball machine that always results in a piece of merchandise, but a gift is respectful. If you pray to Odin, asking him to help you to understand the runes, give your offering, and then wait patiently. When he grants this wish, he does so on his own time-frame and in his own way. The answer might be a book given to you by a friend, or a video that pops up unexpectedly.
Even if he grants an answer, meditating on the runes is still very helpful, and this is to be done after research. Do as much reading as you can, and then sit silently, contemplating all you have learned with one rune at a time. For example, the rune Gebo, looks like a big ex, means “gift” and it represents exchange, generosity, sacrifice, and a gift for a gift. It can also stand for giving only as much as you are given, and not accepting less than you feel you deserve. It can point out you are being overly generous with your time to others, and selfish with yourself, depriving yourself of sleep. It can represent a new partnership forming, and it can also represent a truce. It can represent embracing your own gifts, and giving generously, expecting nothing in return.
Just keep one very important thing in mind with runes- they are not for fun or entertainment. They will not foretell every aspect of your destiny or give an exciting thrill with their uncanny accuracy. They sometimes answer questions in the form of riddles- because Odin wants us to think. A rune may appear to you in the clouds or in the shape of some twigs on the trail at the park take. You may see the same rune over and over until you complete something, and the runes, and Odin fall silent sometimes when they want you to figure things out for yourself.
The runes are mistaken for a tool by some, but they are more than that. They become a part of your personal spiritual practice, and they share their magic and wisdom. For Yule, give yourself a set of runes, and plan to spend years working with them if they speak to you. Give a gift of thanks to Odin, and remember, he has magic and power to bestow, but he wants us to unlock our own magic.
May the spirit of Odin, the Alfather be with you if you are his child.
When he falls silent, may you draw from your inner wisdom he trusts you with.
May the runes guide you and share their magic with you.
May your walk as a child of the old gods, and the ways of magic
bring you ever closer to your gods and guides,
And may your magic be powerful.
About the Author:
Saoirse is a practicing witch, and initiated Wiccan of an Eclectic Tradition.
A recovered Catholic, she was raised to believe in heaven and hell, that there is only one god, and only one way to believe. As she approached her late 20’s, little things started to show her this was all wrong. She was most inspired by the saying “God is too big to fit into one religion” and after a heated exchange with the then associate pastor of the last Xtian church she attended, she finally realized she was in no way Xtian, and decided to move on to see where she could find her spiritual home.
Her homecoming to her Path was after many years of being called to The Old Ways and the Goddess, and happened in Phoenix, Arizona. She really did rise from her own ashes!
Upon returning to Ohio, she thought Chaos Magic was the answer, and soon discovered it was actually Wicca. She was blessed with a marvelous mentor, Lord Shadow, and started a Magical Discussion Group at local Metaphysical Shop Fly By Night. The group was later dubbed A Gathering of Paths. For a few years, this group met, discussed, did rituals, fellowship, and volunteering together, and even marched as a Pagan group with members of other groups at the local gay Pride Parade for eight years.
All the while, she continued studying with her mentor, Lord Shadow, and she became a Third Degree High priestess in 2022. She belongs to the Black Dragon Clan.