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.

Patreon Topic 23: Found Offerings

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Would you discuss found offerings to the Gods and wights in the Viking age and before, such as bog offerings?”

It’s important to note that not all found offerings were found in bogs, though that is certainly one place they were found. Other places, as noted by Claude Lecouteux in his book The Traditions of Household Spirits, were beneath the threshold and beneath the home otherwise. These sacrifices would be snakes, cats, roosters, and the like and were likely to be understood as guardians of the home.

Some found offerings, such as bog people who were clearly strangled or had their head bashed in may have been outlaws or even willingly made offering of themselves, while whole ships and their contents may have been offered along coastlines and interred for high-ranking people. It is not known for certain if the bog people were human sacrifices, as this article from The Atlantic covering the subject states, though my inclination is towards that being the case. This paper, At the threshold of the Viking Age by Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide, Niels Bonde, and Terje Thun, explores the ship offerings in a particular case in Kvalsund, Norway. Boat parts and whole boats put into the bog would have been known as bog offerings. The famous Oseberg ship is another example of a ship offering.

Why would this have been done? In the case of the Kvalsund bog offering the authors posit that “Because vessels and water are at the core of the activity at this particular locality, and because there is a high risk of shipwrecking in this area, the vessel offerings may have been related to this danger in order to prevent shipwrecks, and therefore save or bring back lives, which is an element of fertility rituals in the widest sense.” The  Oseberg ship, meanwhile, was a burial site. In the case of coastal offerings we could see non-burial ship offerings as made to Norðr, or perhaps to Rán and Ægir. We can speculate that ship burials on land were likely started with elaborate ceremonies that, when finished, would continue to celebrate the lives of those ‘aboard’. The ship itself was a way of securing good passage to the afterlife.

What does all this mean for the modern Heathen? We have a wide variety of ways to take care of our offerings, and that some of these methods of offerings are as old as time. It also points to some interesting ideas about setting up a household guardian. Now, I am not saying every Heathen should go out and bring home a snake, cat, etc to sacrifice to put under their theshold. However, it is important to think about why these sacrifices were made. These were invitations to the vaettr to take up residence inside the house, to guard and care for it. I am all for reclaiming our traditions of sacrifice, though I do not think folks would sacrifice what we now think of as pet animals like a cat or snake.

So, what can we do instead? We could ask the vaettr of a given animal to inhabit a substitute offering, such as one made of bread that we ritually slaughter and place beneath the threshold. Modern vulture culture provides us another way to bring this idea into modern Heathenry. Most of us work with found remains or those that result from a hunt. We could work with the skeleton or other remains of a willing animal or group of animals, and make offerings to them prior to deposition beneath the threshold. While these methods do not have the potency of a ritual sacrifice, for those who lack the skill or desire to these are important modern ways of engaging in practices alike to the old ways.

What about modern boat offerings? Given the proliferation of trash and waste in our oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds, it is probably not the best idea to mimic our Ancestors in this way. Besides, as noted in the At the threshold paper, “Kvalsund was a bog at the time, not a lake, but the site was turned into a pond due to ritual construction and deposition.” Our offerings literally have the power to radically alter the environment. Taking care as to what and how we offer is important. So, should we carry on ship offerings? No, I would not. Besides, while the boats were made of materials that could decay over time modern boats do not.

Taking into consideration local needs for trees, including the need to retain old growth forest, to keep soil from eroding, and to reduce habitat loss, the use of whole logs to make a ship for the use of an offering, regardless of how impressive or potent it is, cannot be justified. Even seemingly benign rearrangement of stones in rivers to make cairns can have detrimental effects on the local environment, so here too we should be care what, if anything, we leave behind. If we are to leave offerings they should be compostable, or otherwise able to break down wherever we leave the offering without detrimental effect. Consider how much of the Oseberg ship was left intact despite burial and the composition of materials in it.

So does this mean we Heathens should not leave physical offerings? Of course not. It means that we need to be careful in regards to what we offer, where we offer it, and how we offer things. This honors the thing we offer and the Beings we offer it to. This honors and respects the life of the Beings we make offerings of, the Beings we offer it to, the Beings (such as Fire, Water, etc) that we offer through, and the landvaettir from which the offerings came and where those offerings will be laid down.

The Jaguar and the Owl

I have been a co-host on The Jaguar and the Owl for the last year, but it did not occur to me that I had not been providing updates about it to my blog.

Introducing The Jaguar and the Owl:

This is a show and podcast about shamanism in it’s living form. We will explore it’s history, but also what it is like to be a shaman here and now. The challenges you will face, the advice and techniques that I and others use. Join me around the virtual sacred fire as I and other shaman talk about what the Spirits ask us to talk about. Are you the one the message is meant for?

We are on every other Tuesday on’s Live Broadcast at 8pm.  Our next broadcast is tomorrow, 9/29/2014 at 8pm.

Our most recent podcast is here, where we interviewed Galina Krasskova and talked on Ancestors and leadership in the communities we share.



The link to the Jaguar and the Owl WordPress is here, where you can download and share the archived episodes of the show.

The link to the iTunes podcast archives for the show are here.