memory triggers for learning the runes

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Learning the names, meanings, and other association of the elder futhark runes can be a very daunting task. The ability to memorize things is definitely not one of my strong points. That’s probably why I procrastinated so long on learning the runes. And actually main motivator in doing so was to be able to give the omen at rituals without having to fumble with a “cheat sheet” of rune meanings. Casting the omen at ritual was one of those things I couldn’t really get out of; I’m the organizer of our small ADF Protogrove, and any ritual parts that no one wanted to take, I ended up doing. I didn’t have much faith that I would be able to memorize all the symbols, names and basic meanings, but I figured I’d better try. Turns out, I was much more successful than I thought I would be.

I started by associating the shape of each rune with it’s meaning. Here are some associations I used for initial memorization of a very basic meaning and other information for each rune:

fehu – means cattle and cattle equates to moveable wealth. Two lines jutting out from the vertical line remind me of cow horns. This rune looks like an F, and represents the letter F.

uruz – means auroch, a wild European ox that is now extinct. It represents primal power. I thought that the shape of this rune looked like what I imagined the profile of a ox’s body would look like; broad in the shoulders but tapering down at the hind quarters. It’s also an upside down U, and this rune represents the letter U.

thurisaz – means thorn or thurs (giant). It represents danger or a warning. It looks like a thorn and represents the sound “th”.

ansuz – means ás (a god), in particular; Odin. It represents communication, which is Odin’s domain. This rune almost looks like the letter A (if you were to extend some of the lines), and it represents the letter A. I think “A for answers”, to remember its meaning.

raido – means riding and this rune has to do with travel. It looks like an R, and represents the letter R. R for riding.

kenaz – means torch. It represents illumination and knowledge. Imagine a flashlight on the left of it, and it looks like a drawn image of light shining forth. It looks like the letter C, and represents C or K.

gebo – means gift. This rune has connotations of hospitality and relationship. The X reminds me of the criss-cross over the top of a round loaf of bread, or ribbons on a present. Gebo and gift both start with G, the letter this rune represents.

wunjo – means joy. It looks like a banner on a stick, something someone might wave in a joyous parade, or a balloon on the end of a string. The first part of it’s name reminds me of the word “win” (though it’s not pronounced like it). Both words start with W, and this rune represents that letter.

Thus ends the first aett (eight). I wanted to remember the sequence of the runes, so that I could recite them to myself as a memorization practice. So to remember this first aett, I thought;

“The futhark is a gift of joy.”

The first seven runes spell out the name given to the runes, “futhark”. Gift and joy are the meanings of the last two runes in the sequence.

hagalaz – means hail or hailstone. It is taken to mean a big change or crisis, much like the destruction of a hailstorm. It could be thought to resemble hail ricocheting between two walls. It’s often regarded as Hella’s rune. It looks like an H and represents the letter H.

nauthiz – means need. It looks like the way someone would rub two sticks together to make a need-fire, or the whittling sign an old granny would make with her fingers as she says “tsk tsk, naughty naughty”. This rune represents the letter N and has needful or negative connotations.

isa – means ice. It represents stasis, the way everything is still and immobilized in the winter when all is frozen. It looks like an icicle. It looks like the letter I and represents the letter I.

jera – means year (the J is pronounced like Y) and may represent a year’s work or harvest; an earned reward. It looks like two cupped hands coming together to do work. This rune represents the letters J and Y.

eihwaz – means yew, the world tree. It represents initiation and mysteries of life and death. It could be seen as a sparse tree, with one branch at the top, and one root at the bottom. This rune represents the sound “ei”, pronounced “eye”, so I think of Odin the one-eyed and his sacrifice on the world tree.

perthro – means dice cup. This has been interpreted to mean gambling or divination, which are things you might do with a dice cup. Casting lots have to do with fate (destiny) and mystery. The shape of this rune is like an overturned cup or pouch. The name has the sound “throw” in it, and you throw dice.

algiz – means elk sedge. It is a protective rune, shaped like the plant it’s named for. It’s shape also reminds me of a pitchfork or trident, which are protective implements. It represents the letter Z.

sowilo –  means sun. It represents energy and success. It looks like a sunray or the letter S.

So now we’ve come to the end of the second aett. The phrase I used to remember this rune sequence was:

“Hella needs an ice harvest. I was destined to protect the sun.”

The first sentence is made up of meanings and associations of the first four runes of this aett. In the second sentence, “I was” is one possible pronunciation of eihwaz. The rest of the sentence goes along with associations of the last three runes in the aett.

tiwaz – is named for the god Tyr, god of justice. It represents honor and fairness. This symbol points up toward the sky, and Tyr was a sky god. I also think of it as a ‘spear of justice’.

berkano – means birch goddess. It is a rune of blessing and fertility. It looks like a B, and represents the letter B. B for blessing. It also looks like a pregnant woman in profile.

ehwaz – means horse. It represents transportation, teamwork, trust and harmony. To remember the meaning of this one, I considered that it looks a bit like a horse, and the part that dips down in the middle could be a saddle. If this rune is turned on its side, it resembles an E, which is the letter it represents.

mannaz – means mankind. It is a rune of awareness and social order. This one looks like two stick figures embracing in a side hug. The letter is represents is M.

laguz – means water. People have associated this one with things already having to do with water in esoterica; emotions, dreams, mystery, the subconscious. The rune looks like an ocean wave or a ship’s sail. The name of the rune makes me think of the word lagoon. It kind of looks like an upside down L, and represents that letter.

ingwaz – means the god Ing (Frey), or seed. This rune contains the meanings and attributes of Lord Ing; fertility, agriculture, growth. There are two ways this rune is represented. One is an X stacked on another X, which looks like a plant springing up. The other is the shape the two Xs make in the middle- a diamond shape which could represent a seed. The sound this rune represents is “ng” as in Spring.

dagaz – means day. It is generally interpreted as awareness or awakening. It kind of looks like daybreak through a window or between two walls. The letter it represents is D.

othala – means home. It generally means an inheritance or belonging. Looking at the rune, you’ll notice two other runes in it: gebo (gift), and Ingwaz (Frey). So othala is a gift of Frey. The rune itself looks a bit like a house. The letter it represents is O.

So now we’ve come to the end of the last aett. This is what I used to remember the sequence:

“Tyr blesses horses and men, sail-ing all day to home.”

So those are the memory tricks I used to get started. Once I got those basic connections, I knew I would be able learn more and retain it. Soon I was able to practice retaining this knowledge by writing down the runes on a scrap of paper, in the right order, reciting their names and recalling their bare-bones meanings as I went along. Knowing this much encouraged me to continue studying the runes in depth. I hope some of these memory triggers help others get started as well.

memory triggers for learning the runes

 

 

The Nature and Character of Lugh

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It seems like every year around this time, I’m fighting misinformation on the god Lúgh. Everywhere one looks on the internet, people are perpetuating the same outdated stuff; that Lúgh is a sun god, and/or a god of the grain. The origin of such notions is from new age books that never bothered to research beyond outdated Victorian-era anthropology.

I mean, you only have look it up on wikipedia to know that his name doesn’t link him to the sun: “The exact etymology of Lugus is unknown and contested. The Proto-Celtic root of the name, *lug-, is generally believed to have been derived from one of several different Proto-Indo-European roots, such as *leug- “black”, *leuǵ- “to break”, and *leugʰ- “to swear an oath”. It was once thought that the root may be derived from Proto-Indo-European *leuk- “to shine”, but there are difficulties with this etymology and few modern scholars accept it as being possible (notably because Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produced Proto-Celtic *-g-).”

Some of the later new age publications actually acknowledge that modern scholars say Lúgh isn’t a sun god, but word it so as to not step on the toes of the die-hard sun theorists. The main passage that comes to mind is one published in Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of First Harvest by Anna Franklin & Paul Mason, and has been copied onto Lúgh articles all over the internet. It states: “While some writers state, without hesitation, that Lugh was a sun god, others, with equal force, argue that he was neither a god of the sun nor harvest.” What the author seems to be doing here, is giving both ideas equal merit. However, they don’t have equal merit. The actual historical record speaks for itself.

There is no record of Lúgh being worshiped as a sun god, but ample evidence that both his name meaning and his roles in Celtic religion were something else entirely.

“…helped along by Victorian scholars’ obsession with “solar myths”, it was taken for granted that Lúgh was a solar god… However, traditional, ritual-associated ideas about Lúgh show no trace of this… Lugus has his domain in storm rather than in sunlight, and that if his name has any relation to “light” it more properly means “lightning-flash”… This is the principal function of his invincible spear…”Lugus: The Many-Gifted Lord by Alexei Kondratiev

Why does it irk me so that the misinformation persists? Because people who think Lúgh is a sun god are getting the story wrong. Because if you’re getting the story wrong, then you’re also misunderstanding the meaning of an entire holiday; Lughnasadh. Because if you think Lúgh is a sun god, you do not know the real Lúgh. The real Lúgh is much more interesting and complex.

So that is why I’m writing this. It’s time to go beyond calling out the sun myth debacle, and move on to telling folks about his true character.

Excuse me, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and hero, Lúgh?

He was known by the continental Celts as Lugus, by the Welsh as Lleu, and by the Irish as Lúgh. We must look to all these cultures to get a complete picture of who Lúgh is. When Romans encountered Lugus, they equated him with their god Mercury, patron of travelers, commerce, trickery, and eloquence.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Early depictions of Lugus show him with a Tree of Life, twin serpents, dogs or wolves, birds (especially two ravens), horses, and mistletoe. He has similarities with Cernunnos, as they are both threshold gods, psychopomps, have a triple form, and a magical bag.

He has much in common with, and may actually be the prototype for- Odin. Like Odin, he wields a spear and is associated with two ravens. They are both psychopomp deities (again, like Cernunnos and Mercury). Both are travelers and magicians. Odin is god of wisdom, Lúgh of intellect and of every skill. Odin is one-eyed. Lúgh closes one eye to do magic on the battlefield. Odin was hung on a tree, pierced by his own spear, died and was reborn. So was Lleu. There are a few similarities with Loki as well, as they are both tricksters and associated with the mistletoe, however Lúgh is seen in a much more positive light than Loki. (For more of such comparisons, read The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts by Thor Ewing, and Of Norse Loki and the Celtic Lugh.)

Lugus

Archaeological Museum of Dijon

So if you know a little about Norse mythology, you may be starting to form a picture in your mind of some of the aspects of Lúgh’s character; imagine a younger, smaller, Celtic Odin (especially in his traveler guise), with a fair bit of the trickiness of Loki. Now imagine that like Thor, he can also wield lightning. He shares some strikingly similar characteristics and powers with these gods.

I think of all the modern day depictions of Lúgh in art, the Magician in Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot captures his spirit the best; the slender wiry god sits perched in his sacred oak (a tree sacred to several Indo-European thunder gods), a floppy red Odin-eske hat covering one eye, and his magic bag slung over his shoulder. The torc around his neck is huge (or is it the god that’s small?). He is surrounded by some of his symbolic animals (serpent, horse…). Torcs and rings of gold hang from the trees. A fidchell board (Celtic chess- his invention) lies at his knee.

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

In Irish lore, Lúgh was born of a Fomorian mother (Ethniu), and a Tuatha Dé Danann father (Cian). The Fomorians were an earlier race of beings that inhabited Ireland, sometimes depicted as monstrous giants, sometimes from under the sea. They represent wild chaotic nature. The Tuatha Dé were the race of divine beings that would later become the Sídhe, and were often represented as the gods of humanity and civilization.

Lúgh was born of both races, and so has a mastery of both nature and civilization, of the below and the above, of humankind and the divine. It is no wonder then, that his traditional places of worship are high hills with a nearby water source.

In the Battle of Mag Tured, Lúgh goes up against his own grandfather, the evil Fomorian king Balor. With his swift sling (or in folk tradition, his spear), he pierces Balor through his fiery poisonous eye (which represents the harsh summer sun). In winning this battle, he gains control of the land for the Tuatha Dé (and metaphorically saves the crops from scorching in the fields from Balor’s evil sun-eye).

He was fostered by Manannán mac Lir, the sea god and gatekeeper to the Otherworld, and so has many water associations and inherited much of Manannán’s magic. He was also fostered by Tailtiu, a Fir Bolg queen who died clearing land for agriculture. And it was in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu that Lúgh instituted the first Lughnasadh festival and funeral games.

I have just hit a very few of the highlights here, describing some of the points in the mythology that tie in with the season of Lughnasadh, and describing some of Lúgh’s traits that I find especially interesting. I know I have left out a lot of important parts of his lore. Find more of the story of Lugh in Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), and The Second Battle of Mag Tured (Moytura). Read about Lleu in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion.

He is god of Land, Sky, and Sea. God to kings, warriors, and farmers. He is the quintessential underdog, surviving and winning despite the odds and with intellect and magic rather than brute force only. He is both hero and trickster and sovereign protector of the land. He is patron of travelers, for he travels with the lightning, small and swift, many places at once. He traverses worlds.

As Alexei said, “His many gifts remain at the disposal of those who trouble to seek him out.” Indeed, I hope you do.

The Nature and Character of Lugh | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Harvest Dollies for Modern Pagans

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Historically, grain dollies were made from the last sheaf harvested, and either left in the field or placed wherever grains were stored. It was often tied or plaited to be roughly human shaped, but in some places shaped like an animal. It was representative of the Spirit of the Harvest, or the Corn Mother. In Ireland, the grain harvest is associated with Lughnasadh. But the god Lugh is not a grain god or earth god. He’s not John Barleycorn (who is English, and more about the production of beer). Lugh isn’t a sun god either, but I’ll get to that later.

The grain dolly from the previous harvest would be ploughed into the first furrow of the new season in the spring, or else otherwise destroyed in some way to release the spirit of the previous year’s grain. Another tradition, the one that most Pagans follow (and I don’t know the origin), states that it is to be kept to insure a bountiful crop through the next harvest season and burned around the time that a new one is made from the last sheaf.

Since Neopagans have three harvest holidays (Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain) in the widely observed “wheel of the year”, there is some debate over which holiday to burn a grain dolly. I would think the answer would be to make it close to one’s local grain harvest date. Arkansas grows soft red winter wheat as a commercial crop. Harvest begins in May and ends as late as the first week of July. So, for our locality, if you want to burn your grain dolly at the end of harvest, it makes sense to do so at Lughnasadh, rather than at any of the later harvest holidays. That, and because it’s the harvest holiday that a strong grain theme.

Note that I’m calling them grain dollies instead of the more traditional “corn dolly”. This is because Americans have confused traditional use of the word corn to exclusively mean maize. To the Europeans, corn meant grain. Corn dollies were not corn husk dolls. They didn’t have maize back then. Corn dollies were made of whatever grain various European cultures predominantly ate, like wheat or oats.

But we do live in the modern western world, and many would say that we need to adapt traditions to where we are and the way we live now. Americans in general do eat a lot of corn, both as a vegetable and as a grain, and as a sweetener (although Arkansas doesn’t grow much maize commercially). Corn husk dolls are easier to make than wheat dolls, which is probably a big part of why most American Pagans make corn husk dolls instead of the more traditional grain dollies for harvest holidays. The materials are also easier to find. Not many people grow wheat in their backyard garden but plenty grow corn, or could get corn in the husk at any farmer’s market or grocery store. Maize harvest starts mid August in Arkansas and can last late into September or even October, so it would make sense to burn your cornhusk harvest dolls at the Autumnal Equinox or Samhain if you are so inclined.

Unless you are a farmer or a gardener who grows grains, your harvest doll is purely symbolic anyway, not made from the last sheaf of anything, but symbolic of the harvest for you personally. So make it of whatever materials represent the harvest for you (you’ll notice that one of the dollies in the picture below is make of both cornhusks and wheat), and burn or bury it at whichever of the harvest (or spring) High Days that you feel drawn to do so.

Harvest Dollies | Ozark Pagan Mamma

egg carton sun crown

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A while back I noticed that some of the egg cartons are made differently these days. There’s a middle row of spikes in brands like 365 and farmer’s hen house. Lately it occurred to me that these could be made into a cute little sun crown for Solstice celebrations.

They’re easy enough to make. All you need is two egg cartons that have a spiky row in the middle, scissors, string, yellow or gold paint, and a paintbrush.

making a sun crown | Ozark Pagan Mamma

First, cut out the middle row of spikes from each carton. Paint, let dry (I used the lid of the carton as a drying surface), and use the scissors (or a pen/pencil) to carefully poke holes in both ends of each of the spike rows. String the two spike rows together. Measure the sun crown around your child’s head to determine the length of the string for connecting in the back.

There you have it- an easy way to make a festive costume accessory for either Summer Solstice or Winter Solstice! You can vary it up a bit by adding glitter or greenery.

egg carton sun crown | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Solstice Sun Shirt

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All you need to make this festive sunny attire is a sun-colored shirt (perhaps one you’ve tie-dyed in light sunny colors), contact paper, scissors, an iron, a piece of cardboard the width of your shirt, and fabric crayons.

Prewash the t-shirt and iron out any wrinkles, if necessary. Insert the cardboard inside the shirt to give you a hard surface to work on. See my tutorial for making tissue paper sun faces, and use that method to cut out a design with the contact paper, keeping the design simple.

Next comes the tricky part– peel off the back of the contact paper and lay your resulting sticky stencil on the front of the shirt. Use your fabric crayons to color in the features of the sun face and other details, and along the edges, fading as you go out from your design. For best results, use colors that contrast the colors of your shirt, so the design will show up. When finished coloring, peel off the stencil. Follow the directions that came with your fabric crayons for setting your design permanently into the fabric.

Solstice Sun Shirt

For more Summer Solstice fun, see Kids’ Activities for Midsummer / Summer Solstice.

home and hörgr

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Earlier this year I posted an article about moving and settling into the new place. Lately, I’ve been feeling a renewed sense of contentedness and belonging, of gratefulness.

Last year, we spent several months house hunting. Each time we found a house in our price range that we liked, it either had too many repairs, or it was bought up before we could make a bid. We began to get very discouraged. At one point, I planned out a home-finding spell to do at the next full moon: I was to make house-shaped cinnamon ginger cookies and mark them with the rune othala, making them with intention and sharing them with my family. If any of you readers are house hunting, you can use that spell and let me know how it works, because I didn’t quite make it to the full moon…

One day, I was inspired out of the blue to just pray to Odin and Frigga that they would lead us to our true home- not a fancy shiny new home, but our true home, one that suits us, a place where we belong. A few days later, I got onto one of the real estate websites that I frequented, and saw a new listing, one in our price range and with the main things I wanted (a fireplace, wood floors, and a porch)- and it was in our son’s school district. Looking at the pictures, my heart leapt. This may sound a little crazy, but I marked an othala rune over the computer screen with a saliva dampened finger and said some spontaneous spoken charm that I no longer remember. We went to see it that day, it’s first day on the market. It didn’t even have a real estate sign in the yard yet. We made an offer and had the house inspected. As the house is over 50 years old, it had some issues. We negotiated an allowance for certain things to be fixed. We moved in at the turn of the year.

It felt like home right away and I wasted no time in unpacking and getting everything set up. As time goes on, I’ve developed a rhythm to my days and a feel for the rooms. I love the way the wood floors feel under my feet, and the way some of the boards creak. I love the old stone fireplace. It has a (non-functional) gas starter, installed when such things were popular; the inspector thought it was a gas fireplace, so I was very disappointed until I learned that it actually burns real wood and is no longer linked to a gas line. I’ve placed Three Hallows symbols on the fireplace mantle and set up altar items on shelves next to it. The house is old and patched up strangely in places. It has the original roomy hardwood kitchen cabinets with old fashioned handles, and extra large utility room that doubles as my craft room. It is quirky and imperfect like us. It is our true home and I thank the gods for it.

stalli

Now, as the weather is turning warmer, we are becoming more familiar with the yard and starting a garden, an herb patch, and a flower bed. One day after gardening, I had noticed a lot of large stones laying in various places. Before we moved in, I had decided that when the weather was warmer, I was going to find a large stone to use as a small hörgr to place offerings. But I was finding many large stones, so I figured I could make a proper sized hörgr. I built it on a hilly place in the yard close to the garden and close to a line of tall pine trees. I found the large square stone last. A hörgr doesn’t usually require a flat top (as libations are usually just poured over the top to trickle down over all the rocks), but I was delighted to find it, as now I can use it as an altar surface. Through touching each stone and balancing them with each other, I feel that I have come closer to the land. In shaping this hörgr, I have crafted a deeper level of belonging.

hörgr

offerings

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In ADF Druidry, giving offering is a big component of our rituals. In this very tangible way we establish and maintain a give and take relationship with the Three Kindreds (collectively; the deities, ancestors and nature spirits). It is spiritual hospitality. It is ghosti, the Proto-Indo-European word from which we get the English words guest and host.

offerings of oats, cornmeal, and seeds

In our protogrove, we like to include a time for “group offerings” in every ritual. This is a time for folks (anyone who wants to, that is), to come up the the altar, one at a time, and place their own offerings into the offering bowl (or fire, if we’re outside). They can say something if they like, but that’s optional. They can use the basic offerings we provide (which is usually oats, cornmeal, and birdseed), or bring their own biodegradable/burnable offering.

When creating a personalized offering, there are so many options. There are several things you will want to keep in mind, however. First of all, your offering needs to be of natural materials that will degrade and not pollute the environment. How will you deliver (disperse) your offering? Fresh green offerings such as herbs and flowers will degrade quickly, but other food offerings may need to be finely crumbled. If an offering can’t be crumbled into tiny pieces, it will need to be either buried or burned. If your ritual is taking place on your own land, it may not be so important to you that the offering return quickly to the natural elements. However, it has been my experience that burning is preferable as a quick and satisfying mode of delivery in a ritual setting. The following are a few ideas are for burnable offerings…

offering cakes
An offering cake can be made of any kind of of bread or biscuit dough, or even salt dough. (Although salt dough is not edible, the salt in it is an excellent offering, and salt dough can be a bit easier to shape into creative forms than other doughs, making it an offering of art rather than food.)

spiced salt dough offering cakes
To personalize an offering cake, mix items into the batter before baking (or in the case of salt dough, drying), such as herbs, flavorings or spices associated with the holiday you are celebrating or spirit/deity you are honoring. A biscuit shaped circle is a classic shape for an offering cake, but you can make them in any shape. Try using cookie cutters, molds, stamps, or shaping with your hands. You can shape the cakes into a symbol associated with the deity/spirit/occasion you are honoring. The tops can be decorated with diluted food coloring or garnished with herbs or flowers.

offering bundles
One way to make several small offerings at once is to use an offering bundle. Place items inside a scrap of natural fabric (a seven inch square seems to work well). Gather up the edges, and tie off the end with a string or cord. You could also use a large pliable leaf or piece of brown paper and fold your bundle. Some ideas for items to place in the bundle are: a written prayer or devotional poem, herbs, flowers, dried fruit/nuts, grains, and loose incense.

offering bundle

Another option for an offering bundle is to skip the container and just tie items on a stick (this will however limit what can be used to what will stay tied on) . You may even want to carve runes or symbols onto the stick itself, and anoint the entire bundle with an appropriate tincture or oil.

offering stick