Fehu is both the day-to-day reality of our lives and the catalyst that awakens us to what lies beyond. It is whatever we think we are seeking, which frequently bears no resemblance to what we will eventually find. It is also our home, for after all our wanderings we will still need to attend to our physical needs and ground ourselves in the simple pleasures of home, family, and good work.
Oz might be a fun place to visit, but after a while all you really want to do is go back to Kansas. Fehu reminds us that we must be secure in our physical situation before embarking upon any spiritual journey. We all must begin with the mundane reality of our lives, although many people never get beyond this.
In many ways, we have become as domesticated as the cattle, living our day to day existence without wanting or even being aware of anything more being possible.
The first step in breaking away from this situation is to catch a glimpse of what is possible, without dwelling on what security we may lose to attain it. The aurochs was a species of wild ox, similar to a longhorn bull, that was once found all over Europe, but which became extinct sometime in the 17th Century. They were said to be slightly smaller than elephants, and had horns as long as six feet, which were highly prized by the Germanic as drinking horns.
This may or may not have been an exaggeration. Paintings of aurochs have been found in Neolithic caves, and it is believed that the aurochs hunt had some significance as a rite of passage for a boy entering manhood. The aurochs is the epitome of the wild animal, as opposed to the domesticated cattle represented by fehu. Following the kind of mundane, day to day survival represented by fehu, it is the first recognition by mankind of the divine in nature, and his first attempt to control it through the use of sympathetic magic.
It also represents an awareness of death and our own mortality, which may well be the only thing which truly distinguishes us from other animals. The energy of this rune is raw, powerful, and distinctly masculine, in the sense that it is pure, elemental fire. The boy who has killed the aurochs has just entered manhood, and has therefore been initiated into the first level of the mysteries - the awareness that the source of life is death. Thurisaz is the first of the 'obstacle' runes.
These obstacles are not necessarily destructive things, but are placed in our path to strengthen and teach us.
After all, you can't have a mythic hero without dragons to slay or giants to fight! The lesson of this rune is 'to learn you must suffer', meaning not only literal suffering, but also in the biblical sense of 'allowing' - allowing one's destiny to unfold as it should, and allowing one's self to experience all that life offers us.
What may at first appear to be a negative, destructive event, may well turn out to contain an important lesson. The Giants may seem to be evil and destructive to the Aesir, but they bring about change, and eventually clear the way for a new age. This rune represents the instinctive, primal energy of uruz tempered with the discipline and experience of thurisaz.
These elements are combined in the personage of Odin, who exhibits the characteristics of both chieftain and shaman - a god of wisdom as well as war. Odin is also a shaman, travelling between the worlds on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Ansuz is a balanced rune. As with fehu, many people choose to remain at this point in their journey.
It represents power, both secular and magical, and this power can be quite seductive. Odin has learned the lessons of the first three runes, thus gaining the wisdom to rule wisely, but this is really only another beginning.
He has only gained temporal power, and has only a few of the tools he will need to perfect himself spiritually. There is a certain lack of compassion and perspective in this rune. Odin sits high above his world, looking down and making decisions, but he doesn't yet have the capacity to really care about or understand his people or himself.
Raido represents the path of a person's life and how it intersects and interacts with other paths. In Norse mythology, these paths are seen as threads of fate, and are regulated by the Norns. The Norns are three sisters who live near the first root of Yggdrasil, which they tend with the water from the well of Wyrd. They also spin the fates of Gods and men, which is important when understanding the mechanism of runic divination and magic. The complex network of relationships formed by these threads of fate can be thought of as a web.
Every chance encounter forms another connection in the web, and by tugging on one thread you affect everything else in the system. Most people do this completely unconsciously, but by becoming aware of the pattern of the threads surrounding you, it becomes possible to recognize and follow up on the kind of catalytic events that seemed to happen to us randomly back at fehu. In this way, we can find our way more easily along the path of our own journey, thus deriving the greatest benefit from its lessons.
Otherwise we tend to get distracted and end up on detours and dead ends. Raido reminds us that, although it may seem that we have accomplished our goals at ansuz, life and change continue and we must always go on. We will eventually end up where we began, but on a higher level and with a better perspective. The journey never really ends. In modern usage, the Scottish 'ken' means to know or understand, and this is the sense in which the rune should interpreted. Today, light, inspiration and knowledge are often associated, as in 'gaining enlightenment' and 'shedding light on the problem', and even in the image of a light bulb going on over someone's head when they get an idea.
To bring light is to make the invisible visible. Unlike the wisdom gained at thurisaz, kenaz only allows us to take bits and pieces of this knowledge away with us as we need it, usually at the discretion of the Gods. This knowledge will generally come in the form of a sudden inspiration, and we will be able to see clearly the answer that was once hidden from us. This form of wisdom is more closely associated with the right half of the brain than the left, since it does not come through conscious effort but rather through passively opening one's self to it.
Thus, a more feminine element is added to our journeyer's experience. The act of bringing light into the darkness is also a creative one. Again consider the image of the person carrying a torch, representing the masculine elements of fire and air, entering the cave and penetrating the feminine realm of earth and water.
This joining of masculine and feminine elements results in the creation of new ideas. In physical terms, this can be correlated to the application of fire to mold and shape matter - the art of the smith.
Gebo is a rune of connection, particularly the connections between people. Up until now, our journey has been a solitary one. This rune represents those places where our path intersects with others, and allows us to begin to form conscious relationships. Such relationships are strengthened and sanctified by the exchange of gifts.
The use of the gift as a symbol of an oath or a bond is an ancient one. When a lord wanted to ensure the loyalty of one of his subjects, he would give that person a gift. The gift would create a debt on the part of the person receiving it, and this debt would ensure his readiness to serve his lord.
Similarly, a gift given between lovers, especially that of the ring, symbolizes the bond between them. Originally, only the man gave the ring in a marriage for much the same reason as the lord giving gifts to his vassals, but today the arrangement is usually more equitable. Gifts or offerings given to the Gods often carry the same meaning, representing the giver's love for or loyalty to their Gods.
For success in any endeavor, to motivate, to complete a task. Wunjo is the last rune of the first aett, and thus represents both the end of one cycle and preparation for the next.
It is a very positive, stable rune, and is another place where people tend to get stalled along their journey. Christian poets related it to heaven, but in fact it more closely resembles the Pagan Valhalla, since this particular paradise is not a permanent one.
Like the wealth of fehu, the glory of wunjo is only an illusion. We have achieved success on one level only, and there are many more lessons to be learned. It is, however, a welcome respite which allows us to rest, re-charge our batteries and prepare ourselves for the rest of the journey. It also gives us some perspective, allowing us to look back and reflect on the road thus far. Wunjo gives us a glimpse of what is possible, but if we try too soon to reach out and grab it, like the Grail it will disappear between our fingers.
Sudden loss, ordeal, destruction, disaster, clearance, testing, karmic lesson, drastic change. The idea of the destruction of the old being necessary to the growth of the new, as contained in the Norse myth of Ragnarok, is essential to our understanding of this rune.
Interestingly enough, hagalaz lies between kenaz fire and isa ice , reminding us of the Norse creation myth and the creative potential that lies between these two opposites, even though their meeting may seem at first to be destructive. Like the Tower in the Tarot, hagalaz is only a negative rune if we choose to view it in that way, and refuse to learn its lessons.
Appearing as it does at the beginning of the second aett, it marks both a beginning and an end, and knocks us out of the safety and complacency of wunjo. It represents what a friend of mine used to refer to as the 'flying ladle syndrome' - that whenever things appear to be going too well, you can expect a good, healthy whack in the head from the Fates, just to make sure you're paying attention.
These sorts of 'wake-up calls' from the Gods will happen frequently throughout a person's life, but are often misinterpreted as divine punishment for some imagined wrong when in fact they are merely a way of drawing your attention to a recurrent pattern in your life. Unfortunately, these types of events have a tendency to repeat themselves with greater and greater severity until the lesson is learned and the pattern is broken.
For example, someone who needs to break their dependency on a certain type of person will find themselves in relationships with such people over and over again with more and more disastrous results until they recognize the pattern as emanating from them and break it willingly.
If hagalaz is a flying ladle, then nauthiz is the empty pot. It is a gentle, nudging reminder that all is not as it should be. Life appears to be out of synch, and nothing seems to be going right. No matter how much you have, it is never enough, and there is an ever present desire for something more, something better. On the positive side, this dissatisfaction with the status quo can serve to draw one away from the relative safety of wunjo and motivate towards change.
Nauthiz represents an imbalance between one's desires and one's assets. How you resolve this situation will influence the rest of the journey, but the awareness of the imbalance itself can also be illuminating. It causes you to closely examine and perhaps reassess your values and priorities, and forces you back onto the path of your own happiness.
Perhaps mythologist Joseph Campbell said it best when he enjoined us to 'follow our bliss'; in other words, that we will know that we are on the right track spiritually when we are doing those things which make us the most happy and fulfilled. Nauthiz helps us to take the first step on that path by letting us know when we have strayed from it.
In modern symbolism, fire is generally masculine and ice or earth is feminine, but it is unknown whether the Norse shared this association. Certainly, ice was a constant factor in their day to day lives. It threatened their crops and their ships almost throughout the year, but it also served as a symbol of creation, from which all life will eventually spring.
It says something about the Norse mind that they could recognize the need to have such a seemingly destructive joining of elements in order to create and maintain life. Fire may be warm and pleasant, but it must be balanced by the freezing of winter just as birth must be balanced by death.