In the Old Norse eddic poem, Hávamál (The sayings of the high one), Odin sacrificed himself for knowledge by hanging himself from the world tree, Yggdrasil. Read Odin’s own words about it:
I know that I hung On the wind-blasted tree All of nights nine, Pierced by my spear And given to Odin, Myself sacrificed to myself On that pole Of which none know Where its roots run. No aid I received, Not even a sip from the horn. Peering down, I took up the runes – Screaming I grasped them – Then I fell back from there.
Before I continue, it’s important to note just what the world tree represents. Around the world, cultures (past and present) have symbolic trees said to support or reach the heavens. Among shamans, the tree can be climbed to ascend there. To the ancient Norse, Yggdrasil is a symbol of the nine realms of existence–the roots in the lower realms, the crown in the upper realms, and the trunk where life as we know it exists.
To go after the knowledge flowing through the World Tree is quite the quest. To do this, Odin prepared himself fasting and thirsting for nine days. (Nine plays large in symbolism and I’ll cover it another day.) Odin often speared himself or starved himself in his quest to know, for no sacrifice is too great for knowledge. He even plucked out his own eye in exchange for water holding the wisdom of the ages. On this occasion he hung himself from the tree and, according to the edda, made a sacrifice of himself to himself.
In agonizing self-abuse, Odin grew mindless and parched. His suffering was made worse by the fact the Well of Urd lay below the tree. (The same well holding the water he sacrificed his eye for.) In his delirium, he began to notice repeating symbols where twigs crossed in the branches. Before long their meanings became clear. He had found the runes.
Mythology aside, the runes are very similar to old italic alphabets found throughout the Mediterranean such as Greek, Etruscan, and Roman. This makes sense. Able seamen, the Norse went everywhere and gleaned knowledge from their travels. They were also big on destiny, and believed the runes were an extremely potent means of redirecting one’s charted course. In such divination, each rune represents the forces of nature and the mind, and each has meaning and esoteric properties associated with it.
With slight variations, the oldest form of the runic alphabet is the Elder Futhark that was used by the Germanic tribes of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Northern Germany. The name futhark is derived from the first 6 letters in the runic sequence: F, U, Th, A, R and K. Just like we refer to our alphabet as the ABC’s. And like the alphabet, runes have phonetic values.
Just for fun:
Write your name in runes.
Tomorrow ~ More!
“This is the nature of genius, to be able to grasp the knowable even when no one else recognizes that it is present.”
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