Introduction to Runes and Triads

Correlating the Elder Futhark Runes with John G. Bennett’s ‘Laws of World XXIV:’  an introduction   by Marnie Tunay

 I hope that, in making a connection here between those surviving fragments of runic lore and the ideas of John Bennett, new avenues of exploration with respect to both may be opened up for some.  The correlation between the 24 symbols of the Elder Futhark and the 24 ‘acts of will’ set out in Bennett’s schema for the ‘world of selves’ is my own work, and I consider it to be one of the few truly original thoughts I have ever had.

Introduction to the Elder Runic Futhark

Runes appear on many items created in Nordic cultures during the early Middle Ages. Runes are letters and fulfilled the same purpose as our commonly used alphabet, namely to write down words. They were used for various purposes, to indicate for example the ownership of objects such as jewellery, as engravings on memorial stones, or as carvings on sticks to list goods, such as many runic sticks from Bryggen in Bergen (Norway). Runes were associated with magic powers. Düwel (2001) stated that many runic inscriptions were created in order to gain protection against negative, or even evil, forces.”  [Hupfauf, Signs and Symbols, p. 160]

At the origin, and for quite a long time, the runes were essentially an epigraphical and non-utilitarian form of writing.  They seem not to have been used systematically for writing down law books, poetical texts, accounts, etc., or if they were, no convincing proof has come down of such usage.  Their main usefulness lay in other fields than in those of communication and recording.  It is usually assumed that they played a part in magic  :  they conveyed a special power to the inscribed object.  They protected against the evil eye, they acted as love-charms and brought victory or defeat, abundant crops or disease and misfortune.  It did not matter whether the inscription was read : as soon as it was carved, it became efficient.”  [Derolez, Runica, p. xxii – xxiii]

I would say that the runes of the Elder Futhark represent ordering agents.

The origins of the runes were associated in myths with the pagan god of magic, Óðinn.  “The origin of runes is described in Hávamál, stanzas 138 and 139. Here, Óðinn, the highest of the Æsir [gods], executes a sacrificial ritual by hanging himself on a tree (most scholars agree that this tree is meant to be Yggdrasill), in order to alter his state of mind. Through this process Óðinn gained the wisdom of the runes.”  [Hupfauf, Signs and Symbols, p. 161]   “With this in mind, ’Óðinn’s hanging may be interpreted as a shamanistic technique to alter consciousness. Stanza 140 of Hávamál explains that Óðinn learned nine mighty spells from his mother Bestla’s father, Bolthorn, Óðinn’s grandfather, described in Gylfaginning as a giant. These spells gave Óðinn wisdom.” [Hupfauf, Signs and Symbols, p. 161]

Bronze-Age rock carving in Tanumshede, Bohuslän, Sweden:   picture from:

All authors who have contributed to the genetic problem have been led sooner or later to postulate the intervention of an individual creator (or, alternately, of a small group).  (1)  It appears, indeed, that the runic alphabet is based on a careful phonological analysis of the OGmc. sounds, rather than on haphazard borrowing (2).  Such a creative act would of course be far less bound to external circumstances than the diffusion of an ornamental fashion.  This consideration also weakens the arguments founded on a comparison of the runes with their possible models.  If we have to admit a creative act on a number of points, why then rely on the ‘naturalness’ of certain transitions?” [Derolez, Runica, p. xvi]

The runic futharks are named after the first six letters in the runic ‘alphabet:’ ‘futhark,’ for the Scandinavian rune sets, and ‘futhorc’ for the later (expanded) Anglo-Saxon rune set.  The oldest of the rune sets is known as the Elder Futhark (c. 150 AD – 800 AD), and it consists of 24 runes.  The ordering of the runes in the various futharks makes them unique among alphabetic systems and has never been satisfactorily explained, nor the division into three aettir (‘families or ‘sets), although the latter trait was used rather extensively in medieval times on the European continent for codes.

Picture of a standardized Elder Futhark, from

Names of the runes                                                                                                                      The names of the runes, unlike those of the Roman and Greek alphabets, for instance, are meaningful and tied to the cultures in which they were used.  The earliest English name list is from the late eighth or ninth century [Page, IER, p. 66].  The earliest Scandinavian rune-name list is also ninth-century, but only lists sixteen names, because the Norse rune-row had become the shorter ‘Younger Futhark’ by that time [ibid].  All but two runes of the Elder Futhark, (and all of the medieval Norse ‘Younger Futhark’ runes) were named on the acrophonic principle:  the beginning sound of the name was also the sound of the letter, so, ‘fehu’ (all forms of portable wealth) for the F-rune, ‘raidu’ (riding, journey) for the R-rune, ‘dagaz,’ (day, daybreak) for the D-rune, and so on.  The two exceptions were the sounds which never appeared at the beginning of a word:  ‘eolhx’ (possibly meaning elk-sedge), for the Z/X-rune; and ‘Ingwaz,’ (an ancient Germanic mythical hero), for the NG-rune.

It is not known whether the names go back to the beginnings of runic writing.  The earliest ninth and tenth-century Continental and English manuscripts “give the Anglo-Saxon and/or Scandinavian younger-futhark runes together with the names by which they were then known to scribes.  Since the younger futhark contained just sixteen runes, there are eight for which we have only Anglo-Saxon designations.  There is, however, enough of a correspondence between the sixteen rune names that survive in both traditions for us to believe that the nomenclature as a whole shares a common origin in the Germanic past….”   [Barnes, Runes, p. 21]

For a third feature of the fuþark we have no direct epigraphical evidence at all.  Yet there can be no doubt that it goes back to the first centuries of runic writing.  Each rune had a name, usually a word (either a common noun or a proper name) beginning with the sound indicated by the name… The runes were not only abstract sound-symbols such as we are used to, but they had also something of ideograms.  They were learned and called by their names.  When the initial sound of such a name was affected by a phonetic change, the value of the rune itself was affected… Only two rune names make an exception to the acrostic principle, i.e. the principle that the rune-name begins with the sound indicated by the rune:  nos. 15 and 22…”  [Derolez, Runica, p. xviii]

Environmental and cultural changes led to changes in the names of runes:  so, for example, the U-rune, the original name of which had perhaps been “ūruz (?wild ox)” [Barnes, Runes, p. 22] became ‘aurochs’ in the Anglo-Saxon futhark, but, in medieval Iceland and Norway, where the aurochs had always been rather a rarity, the same rune was named úr ‘slag, dross,’ in Norway and úr ‘drizzle’ in Iceland.

The main sources of information on what those rune names may have actually meant to early northern medieval cultures are the three so-called ‘rune poems:’ one in Old Icelandic, 15th cent. [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 36]; one in Old Norse, 13th cent. or later [ibid, p. 35];  and one in Old English/Anglo-Saxon, probably from the latter half of the 10th century [ibid,  p. 32]

Additionally, although perhaps less reliably, are a number of 17th to 19th century-lists  of kenning-like  (1) periphrases of the rune names – including those of the Elder Futhark – which were compiled in the early 20th century from manuscripts in the National Library of Iceland as well as from private collections by the Icelander Jochum M. Magnusson, writing under the pseudonym ‘Skuggi.’  [Flowers, Rune Poem, p. 54 – 55; Page, Icelandic, p. 16]  (2)

In general (and despite the late date from which our records of the rune-names derive) it seems likely that most of the sixteen names we can check [with both the Anglo Saxon and the Scandinavian sources] go back to Germanic ones, and the same probably applies to the names we cannot check.  It seems therefore that some twenty rune-names represent aspects of early Germanic life important enough to be kept in mind when letters were named.”  [Page, IER, p. 76]


One likely play by the Anglo-Saxons on pagan myth involves the rune that stands for the soft ‘th’ sound:  /Þ/   (like ‘thorn,’ not that’).

Both of the Scandinavian rune poems, the Old Norse and the Old Icelandic, give the word ‘thurs,’ which is invariably translated as ‘giant,’ often with pejorative overtones.  Not just any ol’ giant, for which the pagans had other words, but, one fundamentally hostile to the gods, tended to be the context in which the word ‘thurs’ was used.  “In contrast to the predominantly neutral term jǫtunn, þurs [= thurs] and troll are both names for evil-minded giants with demonic tendencies.  This distinction does not only stem from Christian tendencies to demonize heathen elements, as it was already used in this way in heathen times.”  [Simek, Northern Myth, p. 333]

The Anglo-Saxon name for the same rune is ‘thorn.’  In connection with giants, the very word ‘thorn’ is a kenning (1) for them in the tenth-century skaldic poem Þórsdrápa (Thorsdrapa, Lay of Thor).  See the translation of the Lay of Thor, together with Old Norse text, and English-language commentaries by Eysteinn Bjornsson here:        and line 2:4: “they were eager to oppress Þorn’s descendants [giants]…

There is a reference, moreover, to a BölÞorn [Bolthorn] in the Eddic poem Hávamál, ‘Sayings of the High One,’ in the section dealing with the god Odin’s acquisition of runes, magic-songs and the mead of poetic inspiration:  “I caught up runes – crying out in triumph I caught them.  Back I fell from beyond.  Nine powerful lays I learned from the famous son of BolÞorn, Bestla’s father, and a drink I procured of the priceless mead…”  [Dronke, Edda Vol. III, 30 – 31] (See also note (3) below.)

The corresponding Icelandic rune-poem stanza is “/Þ/  is women’s torment and crag-dweller and Valrún’s* mate.”  [Page, IRP, p. 35]   *a giantess

Ann Sheffield points out that the Old Icelandic word for ‘torment,’ kvöl, ‘is “quite harsh,” basically connoting a form of torture, [Sheffield, Long Branches, p. 55], an interpretation that seems to be borne out by the definition ‘the home of torment, hell,’ given for ‘kvöl-heimr’ in the Cleasby/Vigfusson 1874 ‘Old Icelandic Dictionary:’

Relating Runes and Triads                                                                                                     John G. Bennett uses to numbers to symbolize the laws of “World 24,” the world of ‘self-hood,’ balanced between the material and the spiritual dimensions of existence:  1 – representing what he calls the ‘affirming’ impulse; 2 – representing the ‘receptive’ or ‘denying’ impulse; 3 – representing the ‘reconciling’ force.  The * character after one of the numbers indicates an impulse that is ‘conditioned’ by external exigencies, i.e. an impulse that is not wholly of the essence in its nature.

The triad is the simplest multi-term system in which mutuality and relatedness begin to show their deep significance for understanding ourselves and the world in which we live… Understanding has been defined, in Book I, as the subjective aspect of Will.  Whereas knowledge can described by the two-term system of ‘knower and known,’ understanding is a relationship that involves the exercise of a power that is distinct from the functional order.  Understanding is thus a three-term property, recognizable in such a system as ‘self – situation – decision,’ where the three terms are independent in nature and origin.  Understanding is manifested in such powers as attention, choice and decision… Understanding is a power, like those of attention and choice, but far more comprehensive than these in its range of application.  Every self has a power of understanding that, in the truest sense, determines who and what he is.  Our understanding does not fluctuate like our states of consciousness.  Our powers are the measure of our will, and our will is the ability possessed by each one of us to participate in the Will that is our source.”  [Bennett,  DU Vol. II, p. 100 – 101]

One practical advantage to be gained from the study of Will and Laws is to open our eyes to the conditions of our present existence.  A man who lacks understanding cannot experience voluntarily more than one of the forces acting on him at a given moment… The dawning of the possibility of acquiring understanding comes to the man who can open himself to the action of both the affirming and denying forces that are present in every situation.  He who can persist in this practice soon begins to acquire sensitivity to the action of the third force and ultimately to foresee its entry, and hence to ‘know the future.’

“We, as human selves, can exercise the powers latent in us for the development of understanding and, by doing so, learn that they are the powers of Will.  We can observe and verify that so long as they remain isolated from one another, we remain blind to the true character of the Will and are liable to mistake the automatic reactions of ‘our’ functions for acts of ‘our’ will.  Man can have no will of his own until, through understanding, he has brought his powers into an inner relationship that can respond to the various manifestations of the Triad.”  [ibid, p. 101 – 102]

If there are valid 24-term systems embedded in both the Elder Futhark and in John G. Bennett’s ‘Laws of World XXIV,’ then it should be possible to relate them in some fashion.  Two systems of the same order can’t be collapsed into each other; thus, they are never going to be exactly the same thing.  But the study of one should enhance the potential for understanding of the other, may even give a means of approaching the other or at least, of highlighting an aspect of the other system.

Some examples of suggested runic-triadic correspondences                                  Another example of a possible Anglo-Saxon elliptical allusion to the pagan mythic overtones surrounding a rune from the Elder Futhark is with respect to the rune known as kaun, ‘ulcer, sore’  in the Norse sources and as cen ‘torch’ in the Anglo-Saxon sources.  Michael Barnes thought the original early-Germanic name was probably kauna ‘boil.’  [Barnes, Runes, p. 22]  Scholarly translations of the Icelandic and Norse sentiments on the k-rune /</ don’t seem to vary much from the classic ones by Bruce Dickens in 1919; (all of his translations plus the original-language editions Dickens used are available online here:

Ulcer is disease fatal to children and painful spot and abode of mortification,” and the shadow of death is repeated in the Norse:  “Ulcer is fatal to children; death makes a corpse pale.

 In her exhaustively researched book, ‘Nature and Policy in Iceland 1400 – 1800,’ Kirsten Hastrup discusses at length the “remarkably high infant mortality rate” [ibid, p. 284], which, together with “a high ration of still births” [p. 175] and “compounded by a very high overall mortality” [ibid, p. 175] meant that “few” of the children in Iceland during that period “would grow up to maturity.”  [ibid, p. 180]

As for the Anglo-Saxon version of the K-rune, Ray Page translates the corresponding rune-poem verse as: “Cen is known to all living beings by its flame, pale and bright.  Most often it burns where princes are staying.’ and he goes on to say:  “From this is deduced a meaning ‘torch’ which is confirmed by the OHG cognate chien, ken, ken glossing Latin facula and perhaps meaning specifically ‘torch of pine-wood.’…” [Page, English Runes, p. 69]

However, the Anglo-Saxon word that Professor Page translated as ‘staying,’ is restaþ, which is the present-tense third-person form of the verb ‘restan;’    and it appears the root word ‘rest’ had already been linked with the concept of death well before the Anglo-Saxon rune poem was written in the second half of the tenth century.  In addition to the meanings ‘quiet,’ ‘repose,’ ‘sleep,’ ‘A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary’ also references the meaning ‘grave’ in a number of manuscripts, including:  Chr, [10th cent. Saxon Chronicles), Mtl (8th cent. Lindisfarne Gospels), MH (late 9th cent. Old English Martyrology), and VPs (mid-8th cent. Vespasian Psalter).  [Clark-Hall, Dictionary, p. 241]  The Bosworth-Toller ‘Anglo-Saxon Dictionary also links the word to the concept of death:’  “restan To rest.  to cease from toil, be at rest…..  to rest on a couch, to sleep……. to rest in death, lie dead, lie in the grave…..  and gives a number of examples from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts including:  “Augustinus on Brytene rest on Cantwarum” from ‘Menologium seu Calendarium Poeticum, ex Hickes-iano Thesauro,’ edited by S. Fox, London, 1830. Quoted by line.”

Those overtones of mortality are not lost on Ann Gróa Sheffield.  In her excellent book on the Younger Futhark runes, she translates the AS stanza as “[cēn] is, to everyone living, known by its fire, pale and clear; it most often burns where the nobles rest within;” and she says:  “This is a strangely apt description of hau-gældr,’ the unearthly “howe-fire” that burns over burial mounds at night…” [Sheffield, Long Branches, p. 89]  Sheffield also points out that, elsewhere in the Anglo-Saxon runic poem, sittan, not restan is used in verses where the author clearly means ‘sit;’ whereas he uses restanto describe lying painfully among thorns.”  [ibid, p. 89, n. 11]

The Gamla Uppsala burial mounds in Sweden, as they appeared in a 17th century book of engravings, the Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna; scanned by Erik Dahlberg, Svecia Antiqua et Hodierna, facsimile, 1983, courtesy of

There would not seem to be any inherent difficulty in relating significant aspects of the K-rune to the World 24 triad ‘Mortality.’

[In the Existence-dominated triad, 1 – 2* – 3* Mortality], the power of growth penetrates into Existence and wears itself out.  The Self is mortal.  The lower nature is subject to the laws of actualization in time.  Here, the determining-conditions [of space, time, eternity and hyparxis] are separated, and time takes its inevitable toll of Existence.  Through this triad of passive expansion, the Self can remain bound to Existence.  Its creative power is directed to the satisfaction of its own existential impulses.” [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 159]

  The Protestant Reformation   took an extra century to make its presence felt in distant Iceland [Hastrup, Nature and Policy, p. 215], which meanwhile retained the concept of the archaic rune-name ansuz‘(pagan) god,’ for the A-rune, even though phonetic changes necessitated an initial vowel change.  Thus, the rune-name became ‘óss’ and the 17th cent. Icelandic rune poem makes it very clear which god is being referenced:  aged Gautr, and prince of Ásgardr, and lord of Valhalla – all of which are epithets for the chief pagan god Óðinn.

Norway, on the other hand, opted for the safer homonym ‘óss’ meaning ‘estuary.’  Both cultures retained the Elder Futhark form of the A-rune:  ᚨ .

“The Norwegian poem has the name ‘óss,’ clearly ‘river-mouth.’  The Icelandic poem has óss = áss, ‘heathen god…’  Most scholars accept ‘god’ as the primary meaning… [Page, English Runes, p. 68]

 “…..the Icelandic rune poem refers clearly to the Ase [god] “par excellence – Óðinn – described as the old Gautr, the prince of Ásgarðr, the lord of Valhöll.  Undoubtedly, this must reflect the original meaning of the term, which designates the sovereign gods and is etymologically cognate with OInd. ásuraḥ ‘lord, sovereign god’ (literally:  ‘endowed with asu,’ i.e., ‘vital potency’) and Hitt. Ḫaššuš  ‘king’ (related with  ḫāš – ‘beget’)….  Reducing *ansuz to ‘a spirit favorable to man,’ as Jungandreas (1974:  369) does, by deriving *ansuz from the root of Gmc.  *unnan (pret *ann ‘grant’)  (*anstis ‘favor’) and referring to Jordanes’ translation of ansis by “demigods,” does not account for the importance of the Æsir in the Germanic pantheon and for the evidence that shows them as fully developed deities in Roman times under the interpretatio romana of Mercurius for *Wōđan(az) and Mars for *Tiwaz…”  [Polomé, Names, p. 430 – 431]

Anglo-Saxon Britain, which never knew from one century to the next who was going to be running the place – pagans or Christians – also opted for a word meaning ‘mouth,’ os, in deference both to religious as well as to linguistic changes, but nevertheless managed to retain by ellipsis the older pagan meaning, both linguistically and conceptually:  “…. Its Old English name, os (god or divinity) occurs virtually nowhere else.  Religious writers prefer the word god or traditional expressions for ‘lord’   (dryhten, frea, etc.), and os otherwise appears only in [Metrical Charms 4.23]…  The author of The Rune Poem, however, executes a neat linguistic sidestep here, turning to the unrelated Latin homonym os (mouth) to create a multilayered conceptual pun…”  [Di Napoli, Odd Characters, p. 149]

“The rune-name ‘os’ (originally = ‘god’), a word very rare in Old English… survives only in the personal name element ‘Ós…’ That rune-name is, however, identifiable by reference to its cognates, the common ON ‘áss’ and the Gothic acc. pl. ‘ansis.’” [Page, Runic Inscriptions, p. 74]

Nor does the corresponding verse in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem entirely dismiss the suspicion that it is Óðinn, the “god of poetry, wisdom, hosts, and the dead…” [Lindow, Norse Mythology, p. 247], who is being referenced in that verse.

As we have already seen, this is not the only instance of semiotic double-play in the Anglo-Saxon rune-naming tradition; and the point is so important in the consideration of just how seriously did rune-masters take the naming of the runes, that I will set out for comparison several scholarly translations of that particular rune-verse:

(i)    as translated by Robert E. Bjork“[os] The mouth is the origin of each language, the support of wisdom and consolation of the wise, and for each and every one, happiness and hope.”  [Bjork, Wisdom and Lyric, p. 127]

(ii)   as translated by Maureen Halsall“[ōs ] The mouth is the source of every utterance, the support of wisdom and a comfort to wise men and the joy and delight of every noble.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 87]

(iii)  as translated by Louis J. Rodrigues:  “(Os) The Mouth is the source of every speech, the mainstay of wisdom, and solace of sages, and the happiness and hope of every eorl.”  [Rodrigues, Verse Runes, p. 93]

The third translation is the most precisely accurate of the three, because the word eorl, ‘earl,’ actually appears in the text.  That’s important, because the pagan god Óðinn, in addition to being the god of speech, poetry and inspiration, was also the primary patron of pagan kings in Denmark and Norway [DuBois, Nordic Religions, p. 57] and of earls. (4)

Therefore, the reference to earls in the 10th century Anglo-Saxon rune-stanza that also just happens to utilize a homonym for an archaic word meaning ‘pagan god’ cannot be said to be without significance.

Óðinn is described in Völuspá stanza 28 as pledging one of his eyes in order to gain access to Mímir’s wisdom…. Óðinn’s remaining eye is regarded as holding extraordinary powers of a magical nature.”  [Hupfauf, Signs and Symbols, p. 126]

The eddic poem Völuspá also credits the god with the giving of souls to the first humans, ‘Ask’ and   ‘Embla:’   “Soul they had not, | sense they had not, Heat nor motion, | nor goodly hue; Soul gave Othin, | sense gave Hönir, Heat gave Lothur | and goodly hue.”   

 Moreover, even as late as the eight century A.D., the evident repute of the pagan god as being a creator-god was given an Anglo-Saxon nod, albeit in pious Christian rebuttal:

Of at least equal interest must be the provenance and dating of the composition of Maxims I itself. Krapp and Dobbie find no distinctively Anglian features in the poem, and so accept the view that the poem was probably of West-Saxon origin, composed at any time from the eighth century through to the writing of the manuscript. 82 The dating and localising of Old English verse on the basis of dialect and other linguistic characteristics is now recognised to be fraught with difficulties, and we would perhaps be wise not to rely too heavily on the text being of West-Saxon origin, just as we cannot establish a reliable date for the composition of the poem.”  [Shaw, Uses of Wodan, p. 160 – 161]  (But see note (5) in connection with a possible West-Saxon origin for the OE futhorc]

The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry, i, z56 (lines 59-67).  A shield necessarily goes with a soldier, an arrow with a poacher; a ring necessarily goes with a bride, books with a student, the eucharist with a holy man, and with a heathen sins. Woden fashioned idols; the Ruler of all fashioned heaven and the spacious skies. He is the mighty God, the very King of truth, the Saviour of souls, who gave us all that we live on and who at the end will again dispose over all mankind. He is himself the ordaining Lord. 9o   90 Anglo-Saxon Poetry, trans. by Bradley, p. 349.”  [Shaw, Uses of Wodan, p. 163]

How might an Anglo-Saxon audience have understood such a poem? The answer, of course, depends upon exactly which Anglo-Saxon audience one is talking about. A literate Anglo-Saxon audience is the easiest sort of audience for us to approach, for we simply have no idea what ideas and narratives were available in oral form only in Anglo-Saxon England.  Given that we know that Maxims I(B) was available in an ecclesiastical – and therefore literate – context in the late tenth and early eleventh century, when it was copied into the Exeter Book, and when the Exeter Book was in use, it is not unjustified to consider how the poem may have been understood in such a chronological and social context.”  [Shaw, Uses of Wodan, p. 163]

I have no trouble at all in linking the pagan god of creative inspiration, victory in battle and magical powers with the ‘World XXIV’ triad Bennett calls ‘Creativity.’

The wholly essential law 1 – 2 – 3, is that by which the Cosmic Affirmation is transmitted through all Worlds.  It reaches the Self as the affirmation of Individuality… When the Self finds that it is under the action of a creative power, the purity of which transcends its own understanding, it is awakened to the significance of its own existence…  In moments of awareness, the True Self realizes that the [Cosmic Involution] concerns its own existence and that it can come under the action of a Divine Affirmation  that can transform its own nature.  Through its ability to participate in this triad, that has its origin in [a higher World], the Self has a creative power of its own.  This is the triad of Creativity.” [Bennett, DU, p. 158]

 With respect to other runes, the Anglo-Saxon (aka Old English) Rune Poem retains cognate doubles of the Scandinavian rune-names and also manages to subtly reference to pagan mythic content as well.  For instance, the rune ᚾ is called Nauðr in the Scandinavian Rune Poems and Nȳð in the Old English [AS] Rune Poem.  The meanings, as given in the poems, are very similar:  hardship, necessity, hard work, constraint, and both names probably go back to an early Germanic Nauðiz ‘need, affliction,’ [Barnes, p. 22].  But the similarities do not end there.  The Icelandic Rune Poem says the ᚾ rune is “servant’s grief and rough conditions and soggy toil.”  [Page, TIRP, p. 36]  The Norwegian Rune Poem says it “leaves little choice; the naked man is chilled by the frost.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 182]  The Anglo Saxon poem starts out in the same vein:  “Need is confining for the heart” but then goes on to say:  “although often it turns into a help and a salvation for the children of men if they listen to it beforehand.”  [Bjork, Wisdom and Lyric, p. 129] (6)

The introduction of the concept of help, salvation and healing is interesting in connection with the N-rune because, as Karen Bek-Pedersen remarks in her peerless book on the norns (7), in the Old Norse cosmology there was an “apparently close connection between nornir [norns] and [the] nauð [rune]” which “seems to emphasise [sic] that these supernatural females were thought of primarily in relation to issues of distress, although this may have found positive as well as negative expression.”  [Bek-Pedersen, The Norns, p. 34]   In the “thoroughly heathen” Eddic poem ‘The Lay of Sigrdrifa,’ (ca. 1000) [Hollander, Edda, p. 233], the Nauðr rune is twice linked both to the Norns and to the concept of healing, protection. (8)

There is a clear connection in terms of context, between the N-rune and Bennett’s triad 1-3-2* Struggle“The establishment of the triad 1-3-2* in the heart of human Self-hood is accomplished through the unceasing struggle of affirmation and negation [denial/receptive force] between the higher and lower natures…  Hence we may describe the triad as the Law of Struggle.  This may be regarded as the search of the Self for its own fulfilment.  It is a search that does not yet look beyond Existence, for it is not the ‘I’ that struggles; the ‘I’ bears the reconciling impulse.  The entire situation represented by the triad is one of self-affirmation, wherein the ‘I’ learns how to maintain itself between the higher and lower natures of the Self.  For the achievement of the aim of union with the Complete Individuality, there must be ‘right effort;’ that is, a struggle that will harmonize Essence with Existence.” [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 171]

 Scant evidence exists for the meaning of the rune Ingwaz, the NG-rune; it disappeared from the Younger Futhark and is therefore only mentioned in the Old English rune poem:  “Ing among the East  Danes was first beheld by men, until that later time when to the east he made his departure over the wave, followed by his chariot; that was the name those stern warriors gave the hero.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 91]

This stanza makes the [Old English Rune] poem’s first and only unambiguous reference to a figure out of Germanic mythology (compare stanzas IV and XVII, where the references to Woden and Tiw are debatable.  Ing is clearly a man-like being, and his attributes belong to mythology rather than to history… Probably the information contained here owes its survival to the early anthropomorphism of a fertility deity into the legendary ancestor of the Swedes, since the curious details recorded find a parallel in the equally legendary attributes of Scyld Sceafing (the eponymous progenitor of the Scylding dynasty) who brought prosperity to the Danes and whose mysterious arrival and departure are recorded as historical facts and without any apparent religious qualms by the Christian author of Beowulf (lines 26 – 52).  Note, in support of this suggestion, that the only other appearance of the name ‘Ing’ in Old English  is as part of the compound Ingwine (friends of Ing), an epithet sometimes applied to the Danes in Beowulf  (lines 1044 and 1319).”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 146]

“Ample evidence has been gathered from outside England to document the widespread Germanic belief in a being called Ing from Tacitus’ reference in the first century to the Germanic tribe living nearest to the Baltic sea as Ingaevones….”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 146 – 147]

hæle ‘hero,’ a term that could be applied to a divine being, even to the Christian God (compare geong hæleð (the young hero) for Christ in The Dream of the Rood, ASPR II, p 62, line 39).”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 148]

According to the OE Runic Poem the name Ing was given to the (divine) hero by the Heardingas (˂Gmc.  *Hazdingōz “(those) with the feminine long hair – a feature of the priests of the divine twins among the East Germanic Naharvali, to which the royal dynasty of the Vandals owes its name… as well as the Lugian tribe of the Hasdingi… Germanic tradition, as reported by Tacitus (Germania, chap. 2) made *Iŋgu– the son of Mannus and the eponymic ancestor of the North Sea Germanic people…” [Polomé, Names, p. 431 – 432]

All we have to go on from that is the image of one, possibly two, legendary, perhaps semi-divine, hero-figures.  But perhaps this is enough, for, what marks a hero?  Is it not, in essence, an extraordinary capacity to respond to a critical situation in a manner that serves a higher purpose?

The… triad  2-1-3*… takes the form of responsiveness to the demand for the perfection or completion of the existing entity.  There is no guarantee that the direction taken will be that of the Cosmic  Concentration.  It may even lead the Self on the path of isolation from the Essence and to imprisonment in the bonds of Existence.  The hazards of Existence are nowhere so plain as in the uncertainty that surrounds the struggle for self-perfection.  The essential impulses of denial and affirmation are too subtle for the limited understanding of the Divided Self.  Unable to recognize their true relationship,  the Self is always in danger of losing its direction.  Consequently, the triad 2-1-3* can work rightly in man only when it is related to the action of the Complete Individuality, by way of the triad 1-2-3.  The two triads, working harmoniously together, can establish a direction that will coincide with that that of the Cosmic Evolution.

 “It must be recognized however, that there is an eternal as well as a temporal significance to the relationship of the impulses.  Therefore the Law of Responsiveness must not be understood only as a temporal process of actualization.  It is the condition of the sensitivity of Existence to the Plan of Creation.  This sensitivity gives the responsiveness that is needed to enable Individuality to make its appearance in the Self.  Whereas the Law of Order can maintain the general relationship of co-existence of all entities, it does not provide for the adjustment of the lower to the higher that could be called ‘sensitivity in the upward direction.’  The triad 2-1-3* can be looked upon as the projection of receptivity, but it has a general integrative influence that could be expressed in the phrase, ‘everything seeks its own place.’”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 162 – 163]

  Peorð:  About this rune, the renowned rune-scholar Ray Page said:  “peorð  This word is a mystery.  There is an equivalent ‘Gothic’ letter-name pertra but no recorded rune-name from Scandinavia.  Peorð  (or peord as it is also written) appears only as the name of an English rune, and its Runic Poem verse, as well as being defective* in one place, is too general to give much clue as to its precise meaning. ‘Peorð is a continual source of amusement and laughter for the great… where warriors sit cheerfully together in the beer-hall.’” [Page, IER, p. 70 – 71]

Rene Derolez does give another possible variation on the name, albeit an equally enigmatic one:  “[in the fuþorc of the 9th cent. Brussels MS 9311 – 9319] the name of the rune is much obscured by the old reagent, but no doubt seems possible:  we have to read pert.”   [Derolez, Runica, p. 70]

Professor Page also pointed out that the ‘p’ rune was not a late innovation.  It had been around long enough and accepted well enough by 670, that it was used in the “semi-official context” of a moneyer’s name on coins from that period.  [Page, Runes and Runic, p. 10]

Despite the objections of Edgar Polomé (9), I nevertheless accept, on contextual, historical and mythic grounds, the “best guess” put forward by Stephen Flowers [for ex. Rune Poems, p. 37] that, whatever the original rune name may have been for the P-rune, it was probably semantically related in some manner to a table game of some kind.

I don’t accept Ann Gróa Sheffield’s theory that the word ‘peorð’ together with its verse in the runic poem refers to a pledge or vow given in the context of a group drinking session.  (10)  For one thing, as Sheffield herself agrees, the OE word ‘symble’ means ‘always, continually,’ in this instance;  so,

‘always a source of amusement and laughter;’ and therefore cannot possibly be including that solemn ritual drinking feast known to the Anglo-Saxons as the ‘symbel.’  An Anglo-Saxon ‘symbel’ was:  I. a feast-day, Sabbath, a symbel-dóeg (-doeg); or:  II a. a solemn service, for ex. an Eáster-symbel.  [Toller, Supplement, p. 719]

Both in Viking Scandinavia (11) and in Anglo-Saxon England (12), the solemn ritual drinking feast might very well include wagers in the sense of pledges or oaths.

Therefore, by the very virtue of that single predicate, the Anglo Saxon rune-poem verse:

Peorð is a continual source of amusement and laughter for the great… where warriors sit cheerfully together in the beer-hall.’

Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter wlancum… ðar wigan sittaþ on beorsele bliþe æt somne’  cannot possibly refer to a drinking-toast, contest or wager, many of which were clearly done in circumstances that were dead serious, such as funerals.

However, with respect to the ‘dice-cup’ theory, if Ray Page was right in thinking that:  “…some twenty rune-names represent aspects of early Germanic life important enough to be kept in mind when letters were named.”  [Page, IER, p. 76], then it would be strange indeed if the ‘game of the gods and heroes’ was not mentioned among them.

Tafl’ board-games are mentioned twice in Völuspá in connection with the gods, in stanza 8:  “In their dwellings at peace they played at tables [literally, ‘tafl’], Of gold no lack | did the gods then know”   and in either stanza 61:   or in stanza 58, depending on which text of Völuspá is used:  “There will once more the miraculous golden chequers [töflor] be found, in the grass, those that in the old days, they [the gods] had owned.”  [Dronke, Edda Vol. II, p. 23]

From Ursula Dronke’s very extensive notes on the mythic importance of the tafl games: In choosing the game of tafl as the first conflict in the gods’ career, the poet draws on older tradition that represents the antagonism of gods and giants as a contest of tafl.  The fragment of evidence for this lies in the answer [given by a disguised Óðinn to King Heidrek] to one of the ‘Riddles of Heiðrekr…’Who are the thanes who… send their liegemen over the lands to settle in homesteads?’  ‘These are Itrekr [Óðinn] and Andaðr [‘Dead One,’ a giant-heiti*], sitting at their tafl game… in a perpetual match of winning and losing… 3.  In human affairs, it would seem, the board-board game was believed to have a remote control over happenings.  In the fiction of the Dream of Rhonabwy the fighting  between Arthur’s young knights and Owein’s ravens is governed by the chess play of each leader.  In a story preserved in Gmc historical traditional (Paulus Diaconus I, XX) Rodulfus, king of the Heroli (c. 500)  stays in his camp during a battle and ad tabulam Iudit.”  A watchman reports to him on the distant     battle from a treetop… Though for the Heroli the battle was disastrous, it would seem that Rodulfus had played a ritual game on their behalf…  (13)

*See                                                                                “For the association of gaming-board, heavens and divine power, see Blathmac** (c. 750) 65, quatrain 192:  “He [Christ] owns the extend that he marks out of the seven heavens about the kingly seat; it is his hand that has strewn in them the gaming board of beautiful stars.”  Carney notes that the Ballincherry board has seven roles of seven holes, and the central hole ringed for the ‘king’ (Blathmac 146)….   8/1 ‘teflði í túni:’ in Haraldskvæði 16 the warriors throw dice ‘í Haralds túni’ (i.e. in the enclosed home-field, which had fine, manured grass).”  [Dronke, Edda, Vol. II, p. 119 – 121]

** Blathmac, The Poems of Blathmac son of Cũ Brettan, ed. J. Carney.  Irish texts Society, 47.  Dublin, 1964    

***    ….and see also Hollander’s note 39                                                                                                          

The Ockelbo runestone, the original of which was perhaps dated to c. 1020 – c. 1050   “has several illustrations including matter from the Sigurd legends. One shows two men playing Hnefatafl, a form of the board game called tofl [sic]…”

 Taking into account then, the historical and mythical background for the tafl games, and the range of meanings given for the word ‘plega,’ given in Anglo-Saxon dictionary sources (14), this is my interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon P-rune stanza:

‘peorð’ is always a game (piece).  and laughter to the high and mighty, wherein the beer-tabernacle he sits.’

Tafl games, or ‘tables,’ were the medieval forerunner of backgammon, and in his book ‘Hazard:  the Risk of Realization,’ John G. Bennett discusses the game of backgammon at length in connection with mystical knowledge of how hazard operates in the universe.:

“[The game of backgammon] consists of moving a number of disks of wood or ivory from a starting point to a goal and depends upon finding a hole into which it is possible to move. The player is not permitted to move at will into the available holes; this is left to the arbitration of the dice, which in Sumerian times stood for the chance that enters into every natural process.  This game is really a representation of a cosmic doctrine that has been lost, rediscovered, and lost again…  The principle of the game of backgammon is that one has a certain path to traverse, and one traverses this path by moving from available hole to available hole; however, one does so under the control of an uncertain factor introduced by the throw of the dice.”   [J.G. Bennett, Hazard, p. 16]

“[In the evolutionary process] here again, the play of hazard is like this game [of backgammon] I am taking as a paradigm.  There are the holes that are made by the jumps or mutations.  Who will be able to get into the holes depends also upon how the conditions are being set up in that environment, resulting in the elimination of one strain and the reinforcement of another.  The strain that would have been eliminated under one set of conditions is strengthened and stabilized under another set.  This is in accordance with how the dice are thrown.

“[In the working of the law of hazard] there is this combination of the opening and closing of situations and the possibility of gaining or losing by one’s relationship to those changes.  The door opens, and he who can and does enter the door has made a step.  Opportunity and decision play together to make transformation possible.”  [ibid, p. 22]

Further in her extended commentary on the Old Norse mythic poem Völuspá, Ursula Dronke states that:  “When Norsemen drew lots, each man had a similar wooden piece which he marked with his own symbol; the pieces (hlutir) were tossed together on a cloth and picked out by hazard by one of the men  (cf [Heimskringla in Egils Saga Skalla-Grimssonar]).”  [Dronke, Edda Vol. II, p. 128]

“The Law of Hazard tells us that any process directed toward a definite aim is bound to be deflected by reactions it produces, and if these deflections are not compensated, the process will either come to a stop or change direction so completely as to ‘become its own opposite.’  It also tells us how the compensation can be achieved.  This is basically by the cooperation of processes of independent origin… [George Gurdjieff] formulated the Law of Hazard in terms of a musical octave that goes by tones and semitones from ‘do’ to ‘do.’  The semitones at mi-fa and si-do correspond to the points at which other processes must make their impact…” [Bennett, ‘Transformation,’ p. 87 – 88, as quoted in Bennett, Hazard, p. 28]

“set of gaming pieces from the late 6th century burial mound at Taplow, found next to a pair of (Aurochs) drinking horns;” picture © Trustees of the British Museum

“Hazard is not simple chance.  For instance, we do not know whether heads or tails will come up when we toss a coin.  This in itself has no significance.  It is only when the toss of the coin is linked to some important event, such as who will kick off in a football match, that hazard enters.

Hazard is the combination of uncertainty with significance.  If there is no significance with uncertainty, there is no hazard.”  [Bennet, Hazard, p. 29]

“No one who has observed human affairs and human history can doubt that uncertainty and hazard are as real as order and completeness.  No account of man and his world would be worth much that did not give full weight to the reality of uncertainty, and show the way beyond it.”  [ibid, p. 64]

It is probably true that without hazard there could be no experience of the presence of God – for faith is the work of the reconciling impulse in the core of man’s three-fold nature that enables the impossible to become possible.  Since existence is spiritualized by faith, hazard must be accepted as a fundamental necessity of existence – as the very condition of the transformation of existence.  Hazard is the condition of faith and, when we apprehend it rightly, this makes it also the precursor of freedom.  It is through hazard that death and resurrection are made possible.  The selfhood, by accepting the hazards of the essence, permits the birth in its own center of [an independent and complete will.]”  [Bennett, Hazard, p. 67]

The mythical and historical content embedded in the Elder Futhark P-rune resonate in Bennet’s description of Hyparxis:  “3-1-*2  Hyparxis  JGB:  “In the ordinary, or subjective, condition of human experience, there is no direct perception of the relation between inner and outer events… Only when there is mutual action between different levels, that brings the higher and lower parts of the Self into contact, does the ‘I’ awaken… One feature of this experience is the recognition of a special quality in space and time that the Reactional Self cannot perceive.  Becoming aware of the repetition of events, the ‘I’ begins to understand their meaning and to see the significance of its own position… A special property of the ‘I,’ acquired through its two-fold relationship to space and time, is that it can exercise the power of directed attention.  Through this power, the ‘I’ can overcome the limitations of the Lower Self that consists in being tied to a single actualization in time…”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 175 – 176]

    OIRP.  T/Dan Bray: “ỹr is a bent bow and brittle iron… [rest is indecipherable]. bow.   Yngling

OIRP.  T/YK: “ỹr is a stretched bow and iron ‘liable to rebel’ and Farbauti [‘striker,’ a kenning for ‘giant’] of the arrow. bow, rainbow.   ynglingr”

‘Farbauti of the arrow’ is not found in the oldest Old Icelandic Runic Manuscripts according to Ray Page [‘Old Icelandic Poem’], but it is found in a later manuscript version of the poem.

Perhaps yew was burned regularly in Anglo Saxon England, perhaps not; I found mixed reviews of its virtues as firewood.  All of those reviews mentioned its poisonous qualities.  The English yew wasn’t considered to be suitable for making bows, however, unlike its counterparts elsewhere in Europe, and the Anglo Saxons had to ship yew in from else-where, for the making of longbows.  Yew was used regularly in Northern Europe, along with elm, for making longbows, where it was highly regarded for its elastic properties.

What is clear about yew, is its association until the late heathen period in Northern Europe with the god ‘Ullr,’ possibly meaning ‘glory.’  The god of the longbow, shields, skis and oaths was mentioned in the two oldest lays of the ‘Poetic Edda,’ the Lay of Grimnir and the Lay of Atli.  His home was in the ‘yew dales.’

The name of the god Ullr (or the other form Ulinn) is found surprisingly often in place names in  Norway and Sweden, although this god appears hardly anywhere else and seems particularly insignificant in the literary sources.  This fact must lead to the supposition that Ullr must have played a much greater role at the time that the place-names were formed than in the late heathen period when our oldest literary sources were written.”  [Simek, Dictionary, p. 257]

In my opinion, the Old Icelandic verse for ‘yew-bow’ describes a context of tension – and a fairly dramatic one, at that…

2 – 3* – 1  Tension  JGB:  “In the second triad of identity, 2-3*-1, we see the ‘I’ turned away from the complete Individuality and facing the lower nature.  It is the essential aspect of Ego-ity.  Because it is formed by the conjunction of two opposing triads, the ‘I’ is in a state of perpetual tension.  It is not free, either outwardly or inwardly.  In one direction it is dependent upon the Higher Self for its power.  In the other direction, it needs the body and its functions for the exercise of its powers.  Its task is to reconcile the conflicting factors, and for this it must submit to the mutual action of the higher and the lower natures within the Selfhood… Tension differs from force inasmuch as it is triadic – a relationship – and not a dyad.  The ‘I’ experiences tension because it is between two opposing forces; it experiences force when it is itself identified with one of two forces… the ‘I’ can be defined as the reconciling power of the Self turned towards Existence.  this is a direct interpretation of the triad 2-*3-1… Each ‘I’ is a pattern of Will – that is, a type – and type determines fate.”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 166]

An illustration of the Norse god Ullr, from an Icelandic 17th century manuscript, courtesy of   via, public domain

A special property of the ‘I,’ acquired through its two-fold relationship to space and time, is that it can exercise the power of directed attention.  Through this power, the ‘I’ can overcome the limitation of the Lower Self that consists in being tied to a single actualization in time…”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 175 – 176]

  From the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, translated by Yves Kodratoff:  “Wealth (or cattle, or movable property) is for all a benefit, though each should share a lot if he wants to cast by lots (or obtain) a destiny (a “doom”) in front of the master.”

From the Old Icelandic Rune Poem (OIRP), translated by Dan Bray (from the (old) Northvegr Foundation, together with his notes:  “(Fé) is “wealth is kinsmen’s strife, and ocean’s beacon (1), and grave-fish’s (2) road.”  (1) a kenning, [poetic term standing in for the name of something], for ‘gold’    (2) ‘grave-fish’ is a kenning for ‘serpent,’ and ‘serpent’s road’ is a kenning for ‘gold.’”

From pretty much everyone’s translation of the Old Norse Rune Poem:  “(Fé) causes strife among kinsmen; the wolf feeds in the woods.

The central significance embedded in the themes connected to the rune of ‘portable wealth,’ is that of independence.  A man – or woman – for women could and did own property in their own right in Norway and Iceland – who had cattle or gold was not beholden to or a serf to anyone.  But, there is also a distinct recognition of the attendant hazards of having wealth, in particular, its tendencies to arouse an envy, all the more dangerous for oftentimes being hidden, in others, as well as a contumacious greed in its owners.

Ann Sheffield discusses at some length the need for Northern leaders to be generous in sharing out wealth if they wanted to keep followers and garner support.  [Sheffield, Long Branches, p. 26 – 29].  So, there is a fundamental dyad implicit in the significance of ‘wealth:’ the possibilities for personal independence – and the obligations entailed in the responsible management of it.  I would say the same also applies to ‘wealth’ in other respects, such as the ‘wealth’ of knowledge.  Ms. Sheffield goes on to draw upon numerous examples in Northern mythology and poetry, the Volsung cycle, for instance, to illustrate the Northern peoples’ sharp awareness of the potential wealth has to cause deadly divisions within a family or [social] group.  [ibid, p. 29 – 33].

“the wolf feeds in the woods.’  Ms. Sheffield discusses the phrase in connection with the status of  being an outlaw in Old Norse society.  [ibid, p. 34 – 36]

In a detailed discussion [Rune Poems, p. 29 – 30], Margaret Clunies Ross shows that all of the kennings for the rune found in both the Norwegian and the Icelandic ‘rune poems’ have close links with the legend of the Niflung hoard.   [See XXXIX passim here:   ]

In her notes to the heroic lay Atlakviða (see my note 15), Ursula Dronke states:  “From early Roman times and throughout the Middle Ages, gold was washed from the sands of the middle Rhine… This industry may have encouraged the myth of hidden treasure in other rivers… though the notion of gold as the causer of strife was no doubt a commonplace (cf. the Norw and Icel Runic Poems…), the association of gold and strife in kennings is not frequent and seems to spring from the legends of Andvari’s hoard  (and its subsequent owners)….  The ancient association between  rivers and gold is reflected in the pike-shape which the treasure-owning dwarf Andvari assumes (Reg 1 – 5 and prose prelude) …” [Dronke, Edda Vol. I, p. 61]

“Dra   Dragon Guarding His Treasure” by

The image of the dragon guarding his hoard brings to my mind the image of ‘The Enlightened Idiot’ from Gurdjieff’s ‘Science of Idiotism’ (16).

Maureen Halsall, on the other hand, translates the last line of the Anglo-Saxon rune-poem stanza for  the F-rune as “if he wishes to gain glory before the Lord,’ [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 87], and argues that “this pun [on the “earthly and heavenly dryhten,” ‘lord,’] on the two realms, mundane and spiritual, sets the tone and approach for the rest of the poem, which was designed, not merely as a hodge-podge of disparate mnemonic verses explicating the traditional rune names, but as one more attempt to extend the policy of pouring new wine into old bottles established for the mission to the English by Pope Gregory the Great…  Throughout the poem, we see its anonymous author deliberately imitating and refashioning traditional Germanic gnomic utterance so as to declare the glory of God and his works in the at best religiously neutral context of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 100 – 101]

2-3-1*  Independence  “The triad of Identity, 2-3-1*, is the power that resides in the Self-hood to unite with the Individuality.  It can be called the Law of Independence.  By the presence of an essential reconciling impulse within the triad, the ‘I’ has in posse the powers the Individuality has in esse.  The powers are not in the Self-hood ready-made, as it were, but require to be born and developed…”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 166]

   There are no significant differences between either the rune poems or the various translations that I’m aware of, for the Íss rune; all three I’ve given here were done by Dan Bray at the no-longer-extant (old) Northvegr Foundation:

ASRP:  “Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems; it is a floor wrought by the frost; fair to look upon.”

OIRP.  “Íss is river-bark, and wave’s thatch, and fated men’s bale. ice.    warrior-king*”  *DB:  “In non-Scandinavian Germanic languages, cognate forms refer to wild boar, so metaphorically it would seem to refer to a warrior with the ferocity of a boar or possibly wearing a boar-helm.

ONRP:  “Íss is called a broad bridge; the blind need to be led.”

Ann Sheffield dwells at length and very entertainingly on examples from Northern Literature of ‘fey’ men perishing on ice; however, what comes to my mind when I read the Old Norse and the Old Icelandic verses is the aptness of the descriptions for a peculiarly Northern kind of ice danger:  icebergs.  Of course the fate of the doomed Titanic was an exemplar of one kind of danger from icebergs:  the fact that we tend to think we’re seeing the whole picture of one when we are not.  But there is another kind of danger with respect to icebergs:  they can flip over on you, or take off when you least expect it… They are a pictorial metaphor for a fair-seeming situation that is inherently untrustworthy, hazardous.

On the other hand, John Haywood makes the point in ‘The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings’ that ice afforded the Northerners their best opportunity for overland travel, at least in Sweden, where “rivers and lakes offered the best routes into the densely forested country; long-distance travel overland mainly took place in winter, when the bogs and rivers were frozen.”  [Haywood, Atlas, p. 22]

In my opinion, the spiritual component to the fair-seeming frozen ‘slippery slope’ is Bennett’s Law of Separateness:  “2 – 3* – 1* :  “The fourth form of the Triad of Identity determines the lower nature of the Self.  Nothing essential remains except the denying or passive character of Self-hood.  The triad explains the isolation of the lower nature.  It is unable to enter into the experience of the Essence.  It can only know Existence and yet its own origin is essential.  For this reason the triad 2-3*-1* may be referred to as the Law of Separate-ness.  The identity of the Separated Self consists in its own existence and it is seized with anxiety, which is the simultaneous experience of hope as well as fear.  Not seeing beyond Existence, the Separated Self is fearful of perishing, but, since it is linked with the Higher Self through the ‘I,’ it is also aware of hope.  It is caught into temporal actualization.  For this reason, the Will subject to the triad 2-3*-1* is also sometimes called ’the denying part of the Self.’”  [Bennett,  DU Vol. II, p. 163]

Jökulsárlón, Iceland by  creative attribution license

 On the rune Tir or Týr [from *Tiwaz] from the Rune poems:

ASRP:  “Tir is one of the guiding marks (tacn).  It keeps its faith well toward princes.  Above nights’ clouds it is always on its path and never fails.”  [Page, IER, p. 72]

OIRP:  “Týr is the one-handed god and the wolf’s leavings and the temples’ ruler.”

DB’s Notes:  Mars.  tiggi (2) [king]  (2)  DB:  “from older ‘tyggi,’ ‘king,’ – derived from the verb ‘tju’ga,’ ‘to draw,’ also ‘toga,’ ’to draw’ (cognate with Mod. Eng. ’tow.’)

ONRP.  T/Dan Bray: “Týr is the one-handed god; often must a smith blow.”

Týr  The Old Scandinavian name for the Germanic god of the sky, war and council…  Snorri [Sturluson] names him repeatedly as one of the more important of the Æsir…  The idea that Týr was one-armed, which is only explained by Snorri in the myth of the fettering of Fenrir, is mentioned both in Norwegian and Icelandic folklore and appears to represent an old feature of the myth…”  [Rudolph Simek, Dictionary, p. 337]

Only one real story concerning the pagan god Týr has come down to us, and that’s the story of how he lost his hand:  he sacrificed it so that the gods would be able to restrain the forces of apocalyptic destruction, personified in the wolf called Fenris (or Fenrir), for a time.  (17)

  Motif from the Týr bracteate from Trollhättan, Västergötland, Sweden.  The bracteate shows the Norse god Týr with Fenrir biting his hand. The gold bracteate is dated to the Migration period. The bracteate was found together with another gold bracteate by the farmer Anders Larsson in Ladugården, Ladugårdsbyn, Naglum Parish, now Trollhättan Municipality, Västergötland, Sweden.  Picture from:  and explanation from:  

3 – 2* – 1 Submission:  “The second freedom, 3 – 2* – 1, is that which arises within the Self by its contact with the essential Reconciling Impulse, and issues as an essential affirmation.  This freedom is very similar in its manifestations to the freedom of Grace, and is often mistaken for it.  We call it inspiration, or enthusiasm, to indicate that it is the entry into the Self of the essential quality of the Individuality.  In the perfected Self, this freedom is always present.  It then operates as Submission to the Divine Will.  The Self in whom the second freedom is permanently established is a saint.”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 179]

With respect to the other two Týr-kennings in the Icelandic rune poem, ‘the leavings of wolves’ and ‘the ruler of temples,’ Margaret Clunies Ross points out that those are “of a kind not usually associated with the pagan deities.”  The first of those has “its closest parallel in eddic poetry, and specifically in a passage in the Second Lay of Guðrún, where Guðrún describes how she made her way to the woods to retrieve all that was left of Sigurðr’s body after the wolves had feasted on it:  ‘I went alone from there, from the talking, to the wood, to pick up the leavings of the wolves.‘”  [Clunies Ross, Rune Poems, p. 38]

And the remaining Týr-kenning “seems to have been modelled [sic] on kennings for the Christian deity, which in their turn are based on those for secular rulers in the pre-Christian poetry, as Meissner has observed.”  [ibid, p. 38]

Marijane Osborn makes a careful and to my mind persuasive argument that, in the Old English Rune Poem “… Tir refers to the planet Mars, but to Mars as a navigational planet only, not as a god”  [Osborn, Tir as Mars, p. 8] “as it holds dependably to its path along the ecliptic..” [ibid, p. 10]

   AS Rune-poem stanza for the R-rune:  “Riding is easy for warriors sitting in the hall, and very strenuous for one who bestrides a powerful horse travelling the long roads.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 87]

Maureen Halsall refers (noncommittally) to a number of sources with respect to the Northern pagan concept of “death as a journey” in her notes to the AS stanza for the R-rune [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 112 – 113];  she also points out that the phrase she’s translated as “long roads” means “literally mile-paths, meaning the open road which is measured in miles, as opposed to a by-way extending only a short distance; the term is designed to indicate a tedious and exhausting journey, hence translated ‘the long roads.’”  [ibid, p. 113]

René Derolez points out that the meaning of the R-rune may have shifted in continental Europe, to include the concepts inherent in L. ‘cons ilium,’ i.e. ‘a plan, taking advice, judgment,’ and so forth:  “The name rat, [in the 9th century St. Gall MS 270 as well as in other Continental runic manuscripts that also have the isruna tract], compared with OE. rad, shows an adaptation to Continental Germanic phonology.  The shift may imply a conscious or unconscious change of meaning:  OE. rad ‘riding’ :  OHG, rat ‘consilium’.  It may also help to localize the isruna tract, as the shift of final d to to t did not occur further North than the Rhine-Franconian area.”  [Derolez, Runica, p. 125]

The IRP stanza for R repeats the idea of the journey being an arduous one, and, possibly, suggests the secondary meaning of consilium in the Latin glosses which accompany some of the RP manuscripts.

OIRP.  T/Dan Bray: “[Reið] is seated bliss, and a swift journey, and the horse’s labour.”  journey.   host-captain

The Norwegian rune-poem stanza, on the other hand, explicitly refers to a pagan myth:  “[riding] is said to be worst for horses;  Reginn  forged the best sword.”  [T/Dan Bray]

The Old Norse mythological references to ‘Reginn’ and to ‘Regin’ are to one and the same being.  [Simek, Dictionary, p. 262]  Reginn, ‘the mighty one,’ [ibid], is the foster father of the legendary hero, Sigurð, for whom he forged the sword ‘Gram,’ with the agenda of having Sigurð kill Reginn’s brother, the dragon Fafnir for him, so that Reginn can get his gold back:

“One day, when he Sigurð came to Regin’s dwelling, he was kindly received, and Regin said:  ‘Hither is come to our hall the son of Sigmund… now of a conflict have I hope from the fierce wolf *…. I will nurture the bold-hearted prince:  now Yngvi’s  kinsman is to us come… Sigurd was thence forward constantly with Regin, who related to him how Fafnir lay on Gnítaheid** in the likeness of a serpent [where he terrorized everyone, according to Regin].  Regin forged a sword for Sigurd, that was named Gram, and was so sharp that immersing it in the Rhine, he let a piece of wool down the stream, when it clove the fleece asunder as water.  With that sword Sigurd clove in two Regin’s anvil.  After that Regin instigated Sigurd to kill Fafnir…”  [From ‘The Lay of Fafnir,’ translated by Benjamin Thorpe] (18)

* The ‘fierce wolf’ is Sigurð.

** ‘Gnita Heath’

Regin’s plot comes back to bite him however; for, although Sigurd does indeed kill Fafnir with the sword, he also soon thereafter whacks Regin’s head off with Gram, in terror that Regin is planning to kill him.

The Norwegian Rune Poem depends principally on one version of a set of rhetorical devices that rely on the juxtaposition of apparently disparate material in order to jolt its audience into an awareness of the factors that relate the yoked subjects….”  [Clunies Ross, Rune Poems, p. 31]

And this technique of “introducing apparently unrelated material to one’s main subject…” “was practiced by a number of Norwegian and Icelandic skalds of the Viking Age.  Their purpose was usually to introduce a wider, often cosmological perspective on their material…”  [ibid, p. 33]      

Moreover, the reference to “the smith Reginn” is to a subject “known to have formed part of a Norse extension of Christian typology to the heroic and mythic traditions of Scandinavia…”  [Clunies Ross, Rune Poems, p. 33]

Sigurd and Regin.  Artist: Josef Hoffman (1831–1904)[1]; Photographer: Viktor Angerer (1839–1894), scanned from a postcard; public domain, courtesy of

Further, according to Margaret Clunies-Ross, reið is “perhaps surprisingly, never used in extant Icelandic poetry of the Middle Ages in the sense, ‘riding, ride,’ though this sense occurs in prose and the meaning ‘vehicle, carriage’ is found in both eddic and skaldic verse.  However, all the Rune Poems use the word in the sense of ‘riding’ and other wisdom poems in English and Norse confirm the importance of the concept.”  [Clunies-Ross, Rune Poems, p. 36]

We could perhaps summarize the rune poem stanzas as saying in effect:  A long journey is easy to talk up but much harder to do, and much harder for the horse than it is for the rider.  And some of the people one meets along the way, even very special-seeming beings, may try to take us along on their trips, in furtherance of their own, quite possibly hidden, agendas.

I think the quintessential Triad of the Way must be the “pure form of Concentration” in Bennett’s    ‘World of XXIV,” which he calls 2 – 1 – 3 Self-Perfecting:  “Concentration is the participation of Self-hood in the universal striving of Existence towards Being.  It is experienced as a demand that is made upon the self to enter the way of evolution.  This demand produces the tension which is [a characteristic quality] of Existence.  It is experienced by the Self-hood as the yearning for self-perfecting.  Man has the impulse to assert and also to deny himself.  Between these two impulses, the Self is unable to rest, and must either succumb to inertia and disintegrate, or go on, by way of self-perfecting, to achieve unity with the Individuality… The hazards of Existence are nowhere so plain as in the uncertainty that surrounds the struggle for self-perfection…” [Bennett, DU Vol. II,  p. 161 – 162]

    Detail from a photo of a bronze statue of Siegfried (Sigurd) with Gram, in Upper Castle pond of Hohenbuchau in Georgenborn, in the Schlangenbad municipality of Germany; photo released into the public domain, via

    “The name of the Common Germanic rune that was used to represent all o sounds in early inscriptions can be reconstructed as *ōÞíla (landed property)…”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 148]

The rune “was normally the twenty-fourth rune, from the earliest Germanic futharks… to the latest Old English manuscript futhorcs…  Exceptions to this order are (probably) the sixth century Vadstena bracteate… and the futhorc in the ninth century Brussels ms 9311–9319 which, like the Old English Rune Poem, reverses the order ofand… It is noteworthy that, as if to mark the original ending of the futhark, the [Anglo-Saxon rune poem] stanza reverts here from four to three lines…”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 149]

The ōe rune did not survive in the Younger Futhark, so the only rune poem stanza describing it is that of the Anglo Saxon poem.  “eÞel, ‘land, ancestral home, landed property.’  Elsewhere the name appears with rounded initial vowel, as œÞil, œÞel.  The Scandinavian name is unrecorded.  ‘Gothic’ has a letter-name utal.  ‘The ancestral home is dear to every man, if in his house there he can enjoy what is right and decent in continual prosperity.’”  [Page, IER, p. 74]

In his article ‘Mythic Acts,’ the archaeologist Neil Price offers support for the “idea of the grave as dwelling, an old notion in early medieval studies, reinforced by saga accounts of the dead living in their mounds”  [Price, Mythic, p.30]; and he argues that the archaeological evidence for “most of the [Swedish ‘ship’ graves in] Valsgärde, [as well as for] a large part of [the East Anglian Sutton Hoo ship burial] may well have been “ship halls for the dead, for leading figures living on in their graves, continuing to exercise the same function in society even after death…”  [ibid]

 stone ship in Sweden, picture by Måns Hagberg [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons   

Furthermore, Price argues [Mythic, p. 31 – 333] that the 4th cent. – 11th cent. “carved stone memorials to the dead” in Gotland, Sweden, “typically shaped like a keyhole [ibid, p. 31], are “a proven link between stories and monuments to the dead.”  [ibid, p. 33]  “The stones’ ‘keyhole’ shape also resembles the doors preserved in later wooden stave churches;” and they “may have symbolized or even been thought to actually represent doorways to the otherworld beyond…”  [ibid]  “Thus we have people living on their farms, marking their possession with memorials to past landowners of the clan, each one merging into the family story as the property is ringed with points of entry to the realm of the dead.”  [ibid]

                                                     Picture stone from Smiss, Gotland, Sweden, 9th century.  Courtesy of

The rune is œ is used several times for the word for the word eþel: three times in Beowulf, once in 

Waldere and once in King Alfred’s translation of Orosius.  The Beowulf manuscript (2) [CottonMS. Vitellius A 15], consisting of two parts joined by a seventeenth-century binder, was written about the end of the tenth century…  [In the third folio, 167r], the rune is part of the compound eþelweard ‘guardian of the native land,’ ‘king.’”  [Derolez, Runica, p. 399]

We must assume that the society that produced the [5th cent. Norwegian runic] Tune inscription was ordered in such a way that there were common regulations that governed law in certain areas, such as land use and ownership rights and inheritance settlements.  They may also have had a concept of an allodial system, since the o-rune in the elder fuÞark appears to have had the name * õÞila, which is Proto-Scandinavian for ON õðal n. ‘property held under an allodial system.’  In Old Norse, the word can mean both ‘property’ pure and simple, and ‘family ownership rights to land.’  It is impossible to ascertain what õÞila meant, but we cannot get away from the fact that in this period it already may have been related to inheritance rights.”  [Spurkland, Norwegian, p. 41 – 42]

3 – 1* – 2 Space:  JGB:  “The possibilities of the Complete Individual are not limited by space and time.  This is allowed by the determining-condition 3-1-2.  When the condition is divided, there remains the non-fixation in time, but there is localization in space.  Thus, 3-1-2 becomes 3-1-2 as distinguished from 3-1*-2.  We thus have the proposition:  ‘Space stands to Eternity as Existence to Essence.’  They both share the quality of an essential receptivity, but space is existentially determined by its existential nature, whereas eternity is determined as to Essence alone; that is, the co-existence within one entity of multiple potentialities.

Eternity is the condition that characterizes the higher nature of the Self, whereas space is the field of action of the ‘I.’ This can be expressed in the formula: ‘Eternity is inner receptivity by which the Individuality can act upon the Self.  Space is outer receptivity by which the Self is exposed to the action of external influences.

As all potentialities are held in order by the conditions of eternity and space, so are their actualizations held in order by hyparxis and time.”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 174]

    On the meaning of the d-rune, dagaz, from the Anglo-Saxon poem, which is the only one of the three rune poems it appears in: “Dæg [day] is sent by the Lord, mankind beloved, glorious light of the creator, joy and hope for the rich and poor, useful for all.”  Yves Kodratoff’s translation captures the double meaning of AS ‘sond,’ meaning ‘gift’ or ‘messenger’ [cf Page, ‘IER’ p. 74], as does the next one by Alan Griffiths:  “(day) is sent by the Lord, beloved by mankind, the glorious light of the Creator, a source of joy and hope to the haves and the have-nots, of benefit to everyone.”  [Griffiths, Rune-Name, p. 103]

The Rune Poem focusses on the drihten and metod, the dominus and creator, with their obvious echoes of the opening verses of Genesis…”  [Griffiths, ibid, p. 103]

Stephen Flowers points out that:  “Words derived from the Proto-Germanic root dag- provide additional insight into the nuances of the name [dagaz].  There is a verb daga:  ‘to dawn,’ from which the word dagan, ‘dawn’ is derived… The term dægra-skipti denotes the twilight or both morning and evening…”  [Flowers, ALU, p. 118]

‘Dagr’ [ON ‘day’] is widely considered to have been a (supernatural) personification of the day.  [cf. Simek, Dictionary, p. 55]

In the “thoroughly heathen” Lay of Sigrdrífa, “ca. 1000,” the legendary hero Sigurd, fresh from the whacking of Fafnir and Reginn, stumbles upon the grove where the god Odin has punished the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa for disobedience, by casting her into an enchanted sleep.  Sigurd uses the sword Gram to slit the metal dress encasing Sigrdrífa.  “Then she awoke and sate up, and beheld Sigurd, and said:  “What slit my brynie?  How was broken my sleep?  Who lifted from me the leaden weight?  He answered:  Tis Sigmund’s bairn – on Fafnir’s body ravens batten – ‘tis Sigurd’s brand.”  (She said, by way of reply):  “Hail to thee, day!  Hail, ye day’s sons!  Hail, night and daughter of night!  With blithe eyes look on both of us:  send to those sitting here speed!  Hail to you, gods!  Hail, goddesses!  Hail, earth that givest to all!  Goodly spells and speech bespeak we from you, and healing hands, in this life.”  [Hollander, Edda, p. 233 – 234]

Sigurd and Sigrdrífa; painting by Charles Ernest Butler, courtesy of, public domain   

 And in stanza 6 of the Eddic poem Völuspá, it is said that day is the child of night:  “Then the powers all strode to their thrones of fate, sacrosanct gods, and gave thought to this:  “to night and her offspring allotted names, called them morning and midday, afternoon and evening, to count in years.”  [Dronke, Edda Vol. II, p. 8]  (19)

1 – 2- 3*  Awakening  JGB:  “The third triad [of Expansion], 1-2-3*, is the action of the Individuality upon the Self-hood.  It is the Awakening of the True Self that results from the affirmation of Complete Individuality.  The Individuality itself is the seat of Conscience.  The triad 1-2-3* is the voice that awakens the ‘I’ in the essence of man; even so, it must reach his existing Self in order to influence his understanding.  This triad thus produces results outside the True Self.  It finds expression in works of true or objective art; it is conveyed through all ideas and teachings that show man that he is destined to participate in the Cosmic Drama.  This form of Expansion is manifested through the Self-hood but issues in works that can themselves have a creative quality.  Among organic species we can recognize the operation of the law 1-2-3* in the extraordinary beauty and fitness of form and function that makes of animals and plants symbols of creative achievement.”  [Bennett, DU Vol. II, p. 158 – 159]


This concludes part one of my introduction to correspondences between the Elder Futhark runic system and that of John G. Bennett’s ‘triads of World XXIV.’  For more rune lore and a complete set of the correspondences, see my rune page:      It’s old and badly in need of updating, which I hope to get to early in 2016, but there it is, for what it’s worth.  I may be contacted directly with respect to any part of  the whole she-bang at:  marnietunay (at)

Notes:                                                                                                                                           (1)  kenning:  a figurative descriptive phrase in Old Norse, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry

(2)   To the best of my knowledge, the only person who has ever translated any of these later runic periphrases into English is Stephen Edred Flowers, a former professor of Germanic Studies in the University of Texas at Austin.  Unfortunately, his invaluable book, ‘The Rune Poems Volume I* Introduction, Texts, Translations and Glossary,’ published in 2002, went out of print when his private press, Rûna-Raven, went out of business in 2012;  and copies of that book are now extremely hard to find.  (I eventually found one on   which I can also highly recommend as a reliable  purveyor of hard-to-find books.  I’ve bought a number of books from alibris over the past two years, with no problems.  Knock on wood.  Heh.)

*No ‘Volume II’ of The Rune Poems was ever published as such, but, his book 2012 book ‘ALU An Advanced Guide to Operative Runology,’ written under his pen name Edred Thorsson, was probably intended to stand in for ‘Volume II,’ and it is an excellent source of traditional rune-related lore in its own right.

(3)  Rudolph Simek translates BölÞorn as “ON ‘thorn of misfortune.  [Simek, Northern Myth, p. 40]; however, in her notes to Hávamál, Ursula Dronke translates the name as being’ Tree-Trunk-Thorn, saying:  “Óðinn’s mother is named ‘Little Tree-Bark,’ Bestla, while her father is ‘Tree-Trunk-Thorn, BolÞorn, not BölÞorn as often printed [and which is] a later misreading of the name.”  [Dronke, Edda Vol. III, p. 62]  The tree references, if correct, may refer to the tree in Old Northern mythology, namely, Yggdrasil

(4)  “… More tempered is [sic] Hákon the Jarl’s actions when rejecting the faith that his ally King Haraldr has imposed upon him:  he simply strands the priests whom he has agreed to bring to Norway, leaving them to fend for themselves, while he renews his allegiance to Óðinn…”  [DuBois, Nordic Religions, p. 44]

(5)  “… there would appear to be no inherent possibility in assigning the composition of the Old English Rune Poem to the same West Saxon milieu [Winchester environs] at… a date indicated by the linguistic evidence to be some time in the latter half of the tenth century.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 32]

(6)  I quite like Robert Bjork’s translations, but his notes are next to non-existent, which I would find enormously frustrating if his was the only translation of the rune poem that I had at hand.  I selected his translation from several others, all similar, because his is both the most elegant and the most precisely accurate.  As Maureen Halsall says in her notes to the same stanza, the phrase that she herself translated as ‘heed it in time’ literally means “listen to it before.”  [Halsall, Rune Poem, p. 122]  In his excellent glossary to the Old English Rune Poem, Stephen E. Flowers agrees that the literal meaning of the Anglo Saxon adverb ǣror is ‘formerly, before (in time),’ [Flowers, Rune Poems, p. 28] although he too opts for a looser translation, preferring the phrase “early enough.”  [ibid, p. 15]

(7)   The fundamental nature of the norns that has come down to us from surviving mythic sources is that of “a shaping power…” fate working with a purpose:  “it is organising, shaping and arranging events in some coherent order or following some sort of pattern, even if the pattern is not discernible to human eyes.”  [Bek-Pedersen, Norns, p. 35]  Or, as Ursula Dronke drily observes in her notes to stanza 20 of the late-heathen Eddic poem Völuspá:  “They run nature’s lottery.”  [Dronke, Edda Vol. II, p. 128]  There is an excellent anonymous translation of Völuspá together with notes, available online:

(8)   In the Lindholm Amulet, ca. 500 [Flowers, Semiotic, p. 72] to 600 [Elliott, Runes, Plate VI, fig. 19], the Nauðr rune shows up several times in what is probably an invocatory formula.  [Flowers, Semiotic, p. 72 – 79]  With respect to the amulet’s possible mythic connections, Ralph Elliott makes the brilliant observation that  “… the sixth-century Lindholm amulet has a series of single runes, followed by the magic word alu… the sets of runes do not spell anything, but if we substitute their names, beginning with a = ansuz, ‘god’ and ending with t = Týr ‘god (of victory),’ we are close to a passage in the eddic poem Sigrdrífumál which enumerates victory-runes, ale-runes, birth-runes, surf runes, health-runes, speech-runes, and thought-runes…”  [Elliott, Runes, p. 81 – 82]  The amulet evidently sat in a Swedish bog for a few hundred years and the camera doesn’t love it, but, this web-page:  has an excellent graphic representation.

(9)   From Polomé’s extensive remarks on the P-rune:  “…Other attempts to explain Gmc. *perðō are equally unconvincing… (2)  Schneider’s assumption of an “unaspirated base *b(e)ret-  besides IE *bh(e)ret-  in terms like E pretty and Du. pret ‘fun’ to allow a comparison of Gmc.  *perðō  (interpreted as ‘dice-cup’ on account of the shape of the rune) with Lat. fritillus ‘dice-box’ is obviously ad hoc!  Consequently we have to resign ourselves to the fact that Gmc. *perðō remains etymologically unexplained.”  [Polomé, Names, p. 433 – 434]

(10)  Sheffield even summarizes her arguments that the word peorð means both ‘drinking]-vessel’ and a ‘drinking-toast’ by referring at the outset to “ceremonial occasions such as symbel and funerals” during the course of which “drinkers bound themselves to vows” “taken over the cup or horn,” [Sheffield, Long Branches, p. 212], without, evidently, considering the contradiction inherent in an interpretation of the p-rune stanza as meaning ‘a vessel and a toast is always amusement and laughter’ – to those medieval cultures within which solemn toasts and vows evidently played a regular and significant part.

(11)  For example, in Snorri Sturluson’s ‘Saga of the Ynglings,’ he says in Chapter 36:  “It was custom at that time,* when a funeral feast was prepared to honor a [departed] king or earl, that the one who prepared the feast and was to be inducted into the inheritance, was to sit on the step before the high-seat until the beaker called the bragafull was brought in; and then he was to stand up to receive it and make a vow, then quaff the beaker, whereupon he was to be inducted in the high-seat which his father had occupied…”  [Hollander, Heimskringla, p. 39]

*the time of the rule of “Ingjald, the son of King Onund,” at Uppsala, Sweden; possibly in the 7th century AD:

Furthermore, in Chapter 35 in the ‘Saga of Óláf Tryggvason,’ Snorri recounts the following story:  “King Svein arranged a great feast, requesting the presence of all the chieftains in his realm.  He intended to honor his father Harald with a funeral feast, and enter into his inheritance…  On the first day of the banquet, before King Svein ascended the high-seat of his father, he drank to his memory and made the vow that before three years had passed he would have invaded England with his army and  killed King Æthelred or driven him from his country.  All who were at the funeral feast were to drink that memorial toast. …  When that memorial horn had been emptied, then all were to drink a memorial toast to Christ…”   [Hollander, Heimskringla, p. 175]

(12)  For example, the English lawyer and historical writer John Thrupp, writing in 1862 and clearly no fan of the Anglo-Saxons, nonetheless gives a fairly detailed, (to say nothing of colorful), account of their drinking sessions, as well as how those sessions became modified by monks in sort-of-Christianised England:  “Excessive drinking,” says Malmesbury, speaking of the Saxons, “was one of the common vices of all ranks of people, in which they spent whole days and nights without interruption.”  The Danes were (if possible) still more desperate drunkards. In their own country they had carried this habit to so great an excess, that even their religious ceremonies were systematically concluded with drunken orgies. When their sacrifices were ended, they filled and emptied a stoop in honour of Odin, the god of victory and war; others to Njord, and to Frege, the goddess of love and fertility; and to Bragi, the god of eloquence; and then continued to drink in honour of their gods till they could drink no longer. 

 “On their conversion to Christianity, the clergy attempted to put an end to this system of pious intoxication, but finding it impossible to do so, they determined to give it a Christian sentiment. The converts were permitted to drink at the conclusion of religious services, as they had been accustomed to do, but were required in their toast-drinking [emphasis, mine] to substitute for the names of their false deities those of the true God and his saints. 

“Their drinking-meetings were conducted with great ceremony.  The guests being seated in rows opposite to one another, a slave filled a beaker for each guest, and, when every man was served, they all rose together, sang a verse in honour of St. Stephen, St. Eric, or their patron saint, and then emptied their beakers. The cans being refilled, they commenced drinking minnse, or memory cups, in reverence and honour of the dead. A verse was sung in worship of our Lord and Saviour, and the memory-cup reverentially emptied in His honour. Then followed a verse in praise of the Holy Virgin, and a beaker was emptied to her memory. When these toasts were disposed of, they drank brag-botes, or hero-cups, in honour of departed warriors, prefacing each with a verse or song in praise of his deeds. In the intervals between the toasts, it was customary for some one of the guests to rise, and after a speech in praise of himself, to make a vow to perform some act of desperate valour. The vows they made when drunk, we are quaintly told, they often repented when sober…”  [Thrupp, Homes, p. 294 – 295]  Clearly, the 10th century Christian author of the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem was not referring to drinking-toasts when he spoke of peorð as being ‘always a source of laughter and amusement.’

(13)  Here is a free online version of ‘The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise,’ translated from the Icelandic, with introduction, notes and Appendices, by Christopher Tolkien:

(14)   plega,’ “quick motion, movement, exercise;’ ‘play’ as in ‘festivity, drama, sport;’ ‘battle;’ ‘applause’

plega,’ play quick motion movement exercise play (athletic) sport game play festivity drama game sport battle gear for games an implement for a game clapping with the hands applause;  source:    The Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by John R. Clark Hall, Second Edition

gives “plega IV:  “an implement for a game,”  from AS dictionary, p. 680  the only meaning the compiler actually gives, outside of examples, all written in Anglo-Saxon,  of the word’s use.

(15)   Atlakviða:                               Andvari’s hoard:                                                   Reginsmal:

(16)  “The path of knowledge leads only to the stage of the Enlightened Idiot… he would have to descend all the way back to Ordinary Idiot and start afresh.  This was very difficult:  he would have to give up all that he had attained from so much labor…”  Bruno Martin, quoting from an unpublished manuscript on the ‘idiots’ written by John G. Bennett.  Martin’s book, ‘The Realized Idiot,’ recently reprinted and available from Amazon, is a peerless source of genuine Gurdjieff teachings on ‘the science of idiotism,’ as well as of Martin’s own thoughtful ideas and insights.  In addition, there is one other excellent source on the ‘idiots,’ and that is the appendix from the 2006 ‘All and Everything’ Conference, which has three papers:  ‘The Science of Idiotism,’ by John G. Bennett; ‘Toasts to the Idiots,’ by James Moore; and ‘The Science of Idiotism,’ by Nicholas Tereshchenko.

(17)   “Hárr said:Yet remains that one of the Æsir who is called Týr: he is most daring, and best in stoutness of heart, and he has much authority over victory in battle; it is good for men of valor to invoke him. It is a proverb, that he is Týr-valiant, who surpasses other men and does not waver. He is wise, so that it is also said, that he that is wisest is Týr-prudent. This is one token of his daring: when the Æsir enticed Fenris-Wolf to take upon him the fetter Gleipnir, the wolf did not believe them, that they would loose him, until they laid Týr’s hand into his mouth as a pledge. But when the Æsir would not loose him, then he bit off the hand at the place now called ‘the wolf’s joint;’ and Týr is one-handed, and is not called a reconciler of men.””  From ‘page 39’ here:

(18)   Download a free copy of Thorpe’s translation of the Poetic Edda here:

(19)  From Dronke’s notes on stanza 6 of Völuspá:  “ON poetic texts do not give more than fragments of the genealogy of Night and Day…Tacitus notes that among the Germani night is regarded as ushering in day… In Hesiod, Theogony 123 – 4, Night, child of Chaos, was mother of day…”  [Dronke, Edda, Vol. II, p. 117]

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Elliott, Ralph W.  Runes:  an introduction.  Second Edition.  Manchester University Press and St. Martin’s Press, 1989                                                                                                                   Flowers, Stephen E.  The Rune Poems Volume I:  Introduction, Texts, Translations and Glossary.  Rûna-Raven Press, 2002                                                                                                     Flowers, Stephen E.  ‘How to do things with runes:  a semiotic approach to operative communication,’ in Runes and Their Secrets:  Studies in Runology.  Edited by Marie Stokland et al.  Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2006, pages 65 – 81 Flowers, Stephen E. writing under his pen name Edred ThorssonALU:  An Advanced Guide to Operative Runology.  Weiser Books, 2012                                                                         Griffiths, Alan.  ‘Rune Names:  the Irish Connexion,’ in Runes and Their Secrets:  Studies in Runology.  Edited by Marie Stokland et al.  Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2006, pages 83 – 116                                                                                                       Gunnell, Terry.  The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia.  D.S. Brewer, 1995                                 Halsall, Maureen.  The Old English Rune Poem:  a critical edition.  University of Toronto Press, 1981                                                                                                                                                 Hastrup, Kirsten. Nature and Policy in Iceland 1400-1800: An Anthropological Analysis of History and Mentality.  Clarendon Press, 1999                                                                             Haywood, John.  The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. Penguin Group, 1995             Hollander, Lee M., translator.  Heimskringla:  History of the Kings of Norway, by Snorri Sturluson.  University of Texas Press, Austin, 2013                                                                         Hollander, Lee M., translator.  The Poetic Edda.  2nd Edition, revised.  University of Texas Press, Austin, 2011                                                                                                                                   Hupfauf, Peter R.  ‘Signs and symbols represented in Germanic, particularly early Scandinavian, iconography between the Migration Period and the end of the Viking Age,’ Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sydney, 2003

Kodratoff, Yves.                                          Lindow, John.  Norse Mythology:  A guide to the gods, heroes, rituals, and beliefs.  Oxford University Press, 2001                                                                                                                             Osborn, Marijane. ‘Tir as Mars in the Old English Rune Poem,’ pub. in ANQ. Winter2003, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p 3 – 13.                                                                                                                           Page, R.I. (Ray).  An Introduction to English Runes.  2nd ed. 1999, The Boydell Press, paperback ed. 2003, 2006                                                                                                                     Page, R.I.     The Icelandic Rune Poem.  Viking Society for Northern Research, 1999.  Available as a free download on Anthony Faulkes’ site here:                                                                                                                                Page, R.I.    Runes and Runic Inscriptions.   The Boydell Press, 1998                                 Polomé, Edgar. C. ‘The Names of the Runes,’ in Old English Runes and their Continental Background.  Edited by Alfred Bammesberger.  Heidelberg.  1991, pages 421 – 438

Price, Neil.  ‘Mythic Acts,’ in More than Mythology:  Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions. pages 13 – 46   Nordic Academic Press, 2012                                                                                                                            Rodrigues, Louis J.  Anglo-Saxon Verse Runes.  Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach, 1992           Sheffield, Ann Gróa.  Long Branches, Runes of the Younger Futhark.  Lulu, 2013                   Shaw, Philip Andrew.  ‘Uses of Wodan: The Development of his Cult and of Medieval Literary Responses to It,’ Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Leeds, Centre for Medieval Studies December 2002

Simek, Rudolf.  Dictionary of Northern Mythology.  Translated by Angela Hall.  D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2007                                                                                                                       Spurkland, Terje.  Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions.  Translated into English by Betsy van der Hoek.  The Boydell Press, 2005                                                                                   Toller, T. Northcote.  An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Supplement.  Oxford University Press, 1921                                                                                                                                                             Thrupp, John.  The Anglo-Saxon Home:  A History of the Domestic Institutions and Customs of England, From the Fifth to the Eleventh Century.   London:  Longman, Green, Longman, & Roberts, 1862

About Marnie Tunay

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2 Responses to Introduction to Runes and Triads

  1. Jona says:

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