Volume 1, Number 1
When Runes Thou Ask

The word "rune" had the meanings anciently of "whisper," "secret" and "mystery." To "rown in the ear" meaning "to whisper" was common in English usage in the Middle Ages, and longer in poetic usage. Rune was adopted into the Finnish language as "runo" a word meaning "song" similar to the meaning of galder, which is also associated with the runes and magic. The Hvaml is also referred to as the Galder of Odin, or the Songs of Odin. That the ancients also saw a relationship between magical song and the written figures of the fuark is clear in the following lines from the Hvaml, (translated by Lee M. Hollander).
at er reynt
'Tis readily found
er at rnum spyrr
when the runes thou ask,
inum reginkunnum
made by mighty gods,
eim er geru ginnregin
known to holy hosts,
ok fi fimbululr
and dyed deep red by thin,
hefir hann bazt ef hann egir
that it is wise to waste no words.
The translation is more poetic then literal for obviously Odin is not named in the lines, but referred to as the Great ul or Singer who paints the runes, and who sings them having gained them from the highest powers through sacrifice and great effort. This divine origin of the runes is echoed on the Noleby and Sparlsa stones, which also refer to "runes derived from the gods" and again in lines of the Hvaml in stanza 142:
Rnar munt finna
Runes wilt thou find,
ok rna stafi
and rightly read,
mjk stra stafi
of wondrous weight,
mjk stinna stafi
of mighty magic,
er fi fimbululr
which that dyed the dread god
ok gru ginnregin
and which that made the holy hosts,
ok reist Hroptr rgna
and were etched by Odin.
Repeated twice, it becomes clear that the runes are a deep mystery and something to approach with awe and respect. They can be used against misfortune as Loddffnir is advised to do, but how? How do we learn the answers to the questions that Odin poses, or undertake to learn these ancient secrets born of the gods? What are the dangers? What are the rewards? These are among the secrets that Odin speaks of in the poem as he chants his magic songs and writes out the advice that speaks to us across the silence of centuries. "'Tis better unasked than offered overmuch; for ay doth a gift look for gain; 'tis better unasked than offered overmuch, thus did Othinn write..."

From experience he tells us to not ask if we are not willing to pay the price of knowledge, already having wryly observed that "Middling wise every man should be: beware of being too wise; happiest in life most likely is he who knows not more than is needful. Middling wise every man should be: beware of being too wise; his fate let no one beforehand know who would keep his heart from care."

If we ask the runes we should carefully consider if we want to know the answer. If we decide we need an answer, we should, perhaps, consider even more carefully the question we will ask. Do we really want to know our fate as Odin knows his?

Tacitus speaks of the use of divination among the Germanic people as done to ascertain the outcome of a particular action, refusing to act if the outcome is unfavorable. Here, perhaps, is the best use of the runes as we seek to understand the consequences of our actions as the past and the present grow into the future. Little by little we grow in knowledge of ourselves, and of how we effect the world about us, but being careful to acknowledge the powers and the gifts by sacrifice to those powers that created them.

2001 Susan Granquist - Published by the Irminsul ttir - All rights reserved.

Irminsul ttir