Patreon Topic 45: On Runes, Color, and Activation

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From Emily comes this topic:

“I’m curious why you associate runes as being activated in red. Is there historical precedent? Also, have you found any use for using runes in other colors?”

I want to first point out the Hávamál stanza 143:

Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?

translated by Olive Bray and edited by D. L. Ashliman

The way that I understand ‘paint’, ‘tint’, ‘stain’, or ‘colour’ as it is referred to in other sources, eg this translation by Henry Adam Bellows here, and Carolyne Larrington’s translation reprinted here, stanza 145 in this version, is that it is referring to this act with blood. The reference to ‘offer’, or ‘sacrifice’ bears this out in my mind, as does this passage in my understanding of the Runes as vaettir. This is passage is not referring to Gods, Ancestors, or anything other than the Runes here, so anyone applying the passage directly after this to ‘not offering too much’ to Them is doing themselves and the relationships They carry a disservice.

Is there a historical precedent for Runes being activated by the color red? Not that I have found. Runes were etched into bractiates, wood, and stones, and so far as I have read specific pigments were not associated with them. Serje Spurkland in his excellent book Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions, to whit I remember, does not mention anything like that.

It is really important to remember that my work with the Runes, despite really liking and digging into what academic work I can get my hands on and afford, is much more based in spiritwork with Them. It is modern so far as I know. That does not make it less valid, it just bears putting out there.

So what is ‘activating’ a Rune?

It is empowering a surface, item, person, place, thing etc that a Rune is put/carved/painted onto to carry that vaettir and/or Their megin or might. This can take a number of forms. You might paint a Rune tile with blood and so, both feed the Rune and give the Rune the form on a surface in blood. You may carve or scratch Runes into a piece of wood, and then fill the carved wooden Rune space with ochre or acrylic red paint. You might take some of your spit or sweat and mark the inside of a coat with a Rune. You might sing the name of the Rune or write and perform a galdralag to bring the Rune’s power onto a carved candle. Perhaps instead of carving you trace the image of a Rune over yourself or another, and galdr the Rune. Perhaps you use the carrier of your önd, breath, to sing a Rune over/into something/someone. However you make the physical body or whatever carries the Rune, the Rune is activated when the Runevaettr enters the Rune or puts Their megin into Their representation.

I generally look at red as an activating color because it is the color of blood. That’s the long and short of it. I had the option of filling the Rune tattoos on my arms with red and chose not to because, at least to how I relate to Them, I did not want Them to be ‘on’ and working all the time. Not everyone is going to have this association, and that is fine.

When it comes to working with colors and Runework, I think really the sky is the limit. Given we are completely off the historical map and talking spiritwork here, you could look at how you relate to the main colors you can see. Then, get a color wheel, and start building the associations you have with the Runes. Does this color outline put you more in mind of, say, the Icelandic or Anglo-Saxon Rune poem? Does this color with a black outline speak more to you with the Rune’s ability to heal or harm? Do you like clean lines? How about spelling words or writing sentences with Them? If you make a Sowilo with a rainbow gradient in it, does that speak differently to you from a solid yellow or red?

What about bindrunes? If you combined an icy blue Isa with a deep green Jera what does that say to you? How about contrasting with bindrunes that have obvious opposites in them? What about working with complementary colors that speak ‘healing’ or ‘grounding’ to you?

Generally, I do not work with many colors and the Runes outside of black and red. I’m not a great painter by any stretch, and most of the mediums I work in, namely wood, leather, and woodburning in both of those, I tend to work with outlines or black fill more than painting.

What works with me matters far less than what works with you. After all, I have my own relationship with the Runes, my own color associations, and my own understanding with ‘what works’ when it comes to spiritwork, Runework, and being a Rýnstr. So will you. So, enjoy, experiment, and explore.

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