Posts Tagged ‘divination’

Dickins, Bruce. Runic and Heroic Poems. London: Cambridge University Press, 1915. Print.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Druids. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1996. Print.

Paxson, Diana L. Taking up the Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Boston, MA: Weiser, 2005. Print.

The Poetic Edda. Trans. Carolyne Larrington. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

The Poetic Edda. Trans. Lee M Hollander. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1990. Print.

The Sagas of the Icelanders. Ed. Ornolfur Thorsson. New York: Leifur Eiriksson Publishing Ltd., 1997. Print.

Serith, Ceisiwr. Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Ancient Europeans. Tuscon, AZ: ADF Publishing, 2007. Print.

Tacitus. The Agricola and the Germania. Trans. H. Mattingly. New York: Penguin Books, 1970. Print.

Thorsson, Edred. Futhark, a Handbook of Rune Magic. York Beach, Me.: S. Weiser, 1984. Print.

Upanisads. Trans. Patrick Olivelle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

Virgil. Aeneid. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Print.

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7.    Discuss your view of the purpose of divination. (minimum 100 words)

Divination serves two interconnected purposes – to divine the will of the Kindreds, and to divine greater guidance about mundane situations. In the first instance, it is used to determine if offerings have been accepted, if gifts need to be given, and if a situation is seen as favorable or unfavorable. In the second, divination gives a human seer the ability to look beyond the obvious elements of a situation, to “see beneath the surface” and bring forth greater insights into how to act or respond to a situation. Obviously the second method, while not directly asking the will of the gods, can involve the intercession of one or more of the Kindreds, especially the ancestors. Both methods can be used in a religious sense, though I do not think divination is, itself, inherently religious. Religions whose practice involves direct communication with gods will be greatly enhanced by a divinatory practice of some form.

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Briefly describe the symbology of your chosen method of divination, and include a method of application for that system. (minimum 100 words overall description plus at least one sentence or line per symbol)

The runes are an alphabet, with each letter representing a sound in one of the Germanic languages. This particular set of runes is derived from the Anglo-Saxons, and is slightly different than the typically seen Elder Futhark, which contains 24 runes. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem describes 29 runes, though the actual number of Anglo-Saxon runes can vary, up to a possible 33. The rune poems give a description of the “meaning” of each rune, whether as a source for divination or simply as a mnemonic device for memorizing them I do not know. (It is certainly more sophisticated than A is for Alligator, B is for Bear.) The translation I’ve quoted below of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem is from Runic and Heroic Poems, by Bruce Dickins (13-23).

You can see the images of the runes here, but note that this includes 4 additional runes that are not part of the rune poem, so I have not included them as part of my rune set.

Feoh – Cattle – Movable Wealth, Generosity, Money, Exchange of Goods

Feoh is about having enough wealth to share it freely, about not being miserly, and about recognizing the inherent instability of wealth (especially wealth in cow-form).
Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

 Ur – Aurochs – Strength, savagery, bravery, courage, fortitude

Ur is bull’s strength, both in the sense of great physical strength and in having a great deal of courage or intestinal fortitude/mettle.
The aurochs is proud and has great horns;
it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;
a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

 Thorn – Thorn – A warning, caution, impending danger, potential hazard

Thorn is a prickly warning, a hazard coming your way, and it can be seen as particularly bad luck (especially if, as in the rune poem, you sit on one, yowch).
The thorn is exceedingly sharp,
an evil thing for any knight to touch,
uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

 Os – Woden – Language, wit, cunning, communication, inspiration, guidance, wisdom

Os is often translated as Woden, but I see it also as being about beginnings (the source) and wit and wisdom. Like Woden, that can come in many forms.
The mouth is the source of all language,
a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,
a blessing and a joy to every knight.

 Rad – Journey – A journey, movement from place to place

Rad is a journey, and not necessarily an easy one – it might look easy from the outside, but when you’re traveling it, it can be pretty challenging, even with a stout horse.
Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors
and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads
on the back of a stout horse.

 Cen – Torch – Light, fire, creation or, if uncontrolled, destruction

Torches light halls, and are the ancient equivalent of “We’ll keep the light on for you” – but they also represent fire which, if mishandled, can cause great destruction. (In the Icelandic poem, Kenaz is ‘ulcer’, which is distinctly more negative, so I try to read this rune with nuance. It should not be confused with “ken” or knowledge.)
The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame;
it always burns where princes sit within.

 Gyfu – Gift – Reciprocity, partnerships, friendships, social obligations

Gyfu is a gift, though whether it’s a gift that is coming to you, or a gift that you owe someone else will come out of the reading and context. In general, it’s a favorable rune.
Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

 Wynn – Joy – Delight, Contentment, Having enough, Having what you need

Wynn is contentment, in the sense of having enough of what you need to get by. To the Anglo-Saxons, this was true bliss – not knowing need.
Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety,
and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.

 Haegl – Hail – Destruction, transformation, a problem that might turn out to be beneficial in the end (but is definitely currently a problem)

Haegl is extremely destructive, and while something good might come out of it in the end, it takes the work of transformation (for it to be beneficial, it has to become water, instead of being ice), and in the here and now, it’s almost always negative. It does not, however, represent the end of a situation, merely the destruction of what is there now and the possibility of transformation into something different in the future.
Hail is the whitest of grain;
it is whirled from the vault of heaven
and is tossed about by gusts of wind
and then it melts into water.

 Nyd – Need – Hardship, Loss, Difficulty, Strife, Struggle, A need unmet, A problem that might be avoided with proper planning, a warning

Nyd is the experience of hardship and loss, but can be avoided or mitigated with quick action. This rune should always be examined closely.
Trouble is oppressive to the heart;
yet often it proves a source of help and salvation
to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.

 Is – Ice – All is not as it seems, A warning, Caution – tread carefully, lest you slip

Is is very beautiful, but also very dangerous; it is the personification of things not being as easy or as nice as they look. Take careful action.
Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;
it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;
it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

 Ger – Year – Fulfillment, Reward for hard work or actions, Plenty, Right Order

Ger is the time of plenty at the end of the year, when the harvest is fully in, and nobody is hungry. It represents all being right with the world, and the order of sowing and reaping.
Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven,
suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits
for rich and poor alike.

 Eoh – Yew – Reliability, Something overlooked, “All that is gold does not glitter”

Eoh’s bark is rough, and it might not be particularly beautiful, but it is strong, well rooted, and reliable. The yew is a very slow-growing tree and, due to its ability to live for literally thousands of years, can be seen as connected to the ancestors.
The yew is a tree with rough bark,
hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots,
a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.

 Peordh – Dice cup – Friendly competition, games of chance, an unpredictable outcome

Peordh is about the games of chance played frequently by idle warriors; as an outcome, it is as unpredictable as a game of dice.
Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great,
where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.

 Eolh – Elk-sedge – Protection, Defense, Careful action in the face of danger, Warning

Eolh is found in the liminal marshes and can dish out a nasty wound to someone who treads there without being careful. It is defensive, only wounding when touched, but may also represent a warning about the dangers of the marsh.
The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh;
it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,
covering with blood every warrior who touches it.

 Sigel – Sun – Guidance, Good advice, Good fortune

The sun was used as a source of navigation, and thus represents a sunny outcome and good advice or good bearings in difficult waters.
The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers
when they journey away over the fishes’ bath,
until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

 Tir/Tiw – The North Star – Order and Truth, Justice, Fairness, Keeping faith

Tiw is both the North Star and the God of Justice; as such, it represents order, truth, and fairness in all things, as well as keeping good faith and giving good guidance.
Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes;
it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.

 Beorc – Birch – An unexpected (but probably positive) outcome, creativity

Beorc trees reproduce in an unexpected way – they are internally strong and creative, and very beautiful.
The poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers,
for it is generated from its leaves.
Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned
its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.

 Eh – Horse – A strong ally, empowerment, strength

Eh is a great blessing and a strong ally, both to warriors and to rich men.
The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors.
A steed in the pride of its hoofs,
when rich men on horseback bandy words about it;
and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless.

 Mann – Man/Mankind – Relationships, community, tribe (Positive or negative interactions)

Man can be both kind and cruel to his fellow man. The social relationships will define how those interactions go, but ultimately ones wyrd determines the outcome.
The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen;
yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,
since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

 Lagu – Water, The Sea – Imbalance, Instability, Lack of preparation, Unreliability

Lagu is an unpredictable thing and must be treated with respect. While I instinctively want to read a “water” rune as overflowing and carrying blessings (because as a modern human, I have a deep love for the ocean), in the rune poem it is clearly negative.
The ocean seems interminable to men,
if they venture on the rolling bark
and the waves of the sea terrify them
and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.

 Ing – Ing Frea – Ancestor worship, Fertility, Divine connection

Ing was the progenitor of kings, and thus one of the mighty ancestors. He is also a god of fertility, and one who goes among men.
Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes,
till, followed by his chariot,
he departed eastwards over the waves.
So the Heardingas named the hero.

 Ethel – Estate, Home – Inherited wealth, Home, Family, Prosperity

Ethel is the kind of wealth you can count on – your estate. It represents true prosperity, possibly due to the value placed on owning land in ancient times.
An estate is very dear to every man,
if he can enjoy there in his house
whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

 Dæg – Day – Blessings, Good fortune, Hope, Happiness

Daeg brings the rising sun, which shines upon both the fortunate and the unfortunate. It is a source of hope and happiness in a very real sense.
Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord;
it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor,
and of service to all.

 Ac – Oak – Adequate resources, A potential challenge

Ac feeds livestock (with acorns) and provides the wood for ships – where it’s good faith is tested by the sea. It is an extremely useful tree.
The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men.
Often it traverses the gannet’s bath,
and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith
in honourable fashion.

 Æsc – Ash – Stability, Reliability, Defense, Stubbornness, Strength against Odds

Aesc is often used to make spears and tools as it’s extremely hard and durable wood. It sustains a beating against the odds and is stubborn in its resistance.
The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men.
With its sturdy trunk it offers a stubborn resistance,
though attacked by many a man.

 Yr – Longbow – Skill, Ability, Success, Craftsmanship, A practiced art

Yr represents the skill and craftsmanship of the longbow, and the art that is practiced by an archer. It is a positive rune, though it comes with hard work, and it represents a skill that is reliable.
Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight;
it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey.

 Ior – Beaver or Eel – Adaptability, Flexibility

Depending on the translation, Ior is either Beaver (which makes sense in the poem) or Eel (which makes less sense, as eels do not eat on land). However, both are good representations of adaptability and flexibility, and I think that is well expressed in the rune poem.
Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land;
it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.

 Ear – Grave – Endings, Death, Sadness, Loss

Ear is the grave that will take us all, and represents endings – not in the transformative sense (which is more to be seen with Haegl), but in the sense of finality, mortality, and loss. All things pass away, and though this loss is not necessarily catastrophic, it is still sad.
The grave is horrible to every knight,
when the corpse quickly begins to cool
and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth.
Prosperity declines, happiness passes away
and covenants are broken.

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Identify and describe one method of divination to which you find yourself attracted, and discuss its relationship to paleo-pagan divination. (minimum 300 words)

I have a fairly long relationship with divination, having been given my first set of runes when I turned approximately 12, by an uncle. (My parents did not know what they were, or I would not have been allowed to keep them, and they included the infamous “blank rune”.) I turned to tarot quickly though, finding that I couldn’t make heads or tails of my rune readings. This may or may not have been due to my using entirely New Age meanings for them, but we shall see how my relationship deepens now that I’m using more historically minded source material. Since joining ADF, I have rekindled my interest in runes, specifically in the Anglo-Saxon rune set, as part of my Anglo-Saxon hearth culture. While there are only very brief and vague mentions of runes being used for divination in Paleo-Pagan times, they are very clearly a Paleo-Pagan alphabet, and there is some (if scant) historical evidence of using alphabets as sortilege type divination throughout the Indo-European language group.

As an alphabet, the runes started in the northern part of the Germanic lands (probably Denmark-ish), and spread quickly. The Elder Futhark, with 24 symbols, was adapted for different languages and areas, which included Iceland and England (Angle-land), where the Anglo-Saxon rune poem dates from. While it contains elements that have been Christianized, the essential flavor of the runes remains, and (of course) the more overtly Christian elements can be translated out.

While there is no direct paleo-pagan source for using runes as a divination method, there is attested use of runes for magic and for writing, and in Tacitus Germania, there is a reference to divination by something which sounds a great deal like it would be runecasting. Small pieces of wood are carved with symbols and cast upon a cloth, where a seer chooses among them and reads them to divine the future (Germania 10). This sort of divination, at least in terms of the casting of lots inscribed with magically meaningful marks, is incredibly similar to the process I use for rune readings.

I am attracted to the runes as a source of wisdom and knowledge, both from a mythological standpoint and from a love of language and poetry. Woden is said to have sacrificed himself on the world tree to gain the knowledge of the runes, and then chose to share that knowledge with humanity. As a seeker of wisdom, I think it’s fairly smart to study things that are known to bring wisdom and knowledge, but also I greatly appreciate the sheer magic that is writing. Though most Anglo-Saxons were illiterate, most modern English-speakers are not, and I think we forget the magic that is inherent in language. I can read words that were written down by people hundreds of years ago, and they make sense. I can push some buttons on my desk, which makes little electric marks on this imaginary page, and you (my reviewer) can read and understand them (hopefully). Language is powerful, and using a language based divination system appeals to me greatly.

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Discuss both the role of seers within at least one Indo-European culture and the relationship of seers to other members of the society, including in that discussion how seers or visionaries would have supported themselves or how they would have been supported by their people. (minimum two paragraphs)

The implication in Scandinavian and Germanic societies is that seership is a woman’s art (born out by other references to seership, and by Loki’s calling Odin “unmanly” for practicing seidhr), and that even in the age of Christianity, women still knew and practiced the art of seeing. Leif Eriksson’s Saga (ch. 4) states that Thorbjorg was one of 10 sisters, all of whom had the gift of prophecy, and she traveled from farm to farm, looking into the spirit world and into the future for people. Clearly she is held in great esteem, and her position puts her “above” the rest – she sits on a high seat to see into the spirit world.

It was clearly highly valuable in the society, as the seeress was treated with great respect and given a place of honor at the farm. As well, Odin himself consults a seer (a volva) to find out what the fate of the Gods will be in the Voluspa. Most of these seeresses seem to be older women who are somewhat outside the bounds of society – they are no longer raising children or helping husbands – but the women who help them can be of any age. Freyja, who is said to be the one who teaches Odin the art of seidhr, is similarly a woman outside of society – her husband is gone, and she is clearly mistress of her own affairs. While the majority of women probably had mundane jobs and only occasionally helped with seeing, at least in Thorbjorg’s case she seems to spend a lot of time traveling from farm to farm, exchanging food and shelter for her skills in prophecy. This may be a purely practical concern (it would be hard for a woman with a house full of small children to devote any time to a practice that required trance work or substantial travel), and it makes some amount of sense that any woman who was devoted to spending a large amount of time on seership would need to be supported by her community, or she would quickly starve.

In other stories, seers get brought back from the dead in order to continue their work of seership (Odin with Baldr’s Dream, Odr’s Saga), which implies that they are valued for their gifts, and also that they are valued for being “outside” of society. If the best way to get a good seer is not to go to the one down the street, but to raise one from the dead, they are clearly a specialized group. (This does not take into account the possibility of them receiving greater knowledge from having passed into the Otherworld, or that their “otherworldliness” is part of what sets them apart as talented seeresses.)

According to Tacitus, divination of a more mundane sort (by casting of lots) was done by a priest or the father of the household (Germania 10), so there may be a division in the society by gender (or perhaps Tacitus’ bias is showing).

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Within the context of a single paleo-pagan Indo-European culture, discuss three different forms of divination or seership, and give an example of each. (minimum 100 words each)

Working from Tacitus, the Sagas, and the Poetic Edda, I’ve found three different forms of divination used by the Germanic culture group, which includes the Scandinavian and Icelandic cultures. While it could be argued that these three cultures are separated by both time and geography, their similar language, alphabet, cosmology and mythology is more than enough for me to be comfortable talking about them as a group together.

First, there’s a documented form of trance-like seership called seidhr. In Leif Eiriksson’s Saga (ch. 4) a seeress named Thorbjorg is featured who is highly honored by the farm she visits. She is brought there during a difficult time for the farm, and she spends a night there, honored by the various guests and given special food (milk porridge and animal hearts). After some reluctance (ostensibly due to being Christian) the women of the farm come and form a circle around her, and sing the ward songs, and she is visited by the spirits, who tell her that the hardship will last no longer. As well, she sees great reward for the woman who sang the ward songs. This type of divination is also seen in the Voluspa, and is perhaps the most formal and ritualistic type of seership among the Germanic and Norse cultures.

In Tacitus Germania, there is a reference to divination by something which sounds a great deal like it would be runecasting. A little bough is chopped off of a tree and cut into small pieces, which are given certain markings. They are thrown at random over a cloth, and then either the priest (or the head of the family) chooses three of them and finds meaning according to the marks. This is extremely similar to most modern practices of runecasting (Germania 10). Also, later sources (Egil’s Saga, Ch 44) show runes being used for magic, and Thorsson believes that runes were “born from a magical tradition, not a purely linguistic one” (5). Between the rune’s associations with magic and their predating Tacitus’ encountering them among the Germanic tribes (Thorsson states as early as 200 BCE (12)), I am comfortable considering runic divination, at least in terms of the casting of lots inscribed with magically meaningful marks, a divination tradition among the Germanic and related cultures.

In Svipdagsmal (Poetic Edda, Hollander) young Svipdag is given a terrible task by his evil step-mother (proving that Evil Stepmothers existed from quite a ways back). In order to get help and learn how he can complete his task, he goes and sits outside on his mother Groa’s grave, a practice called utiseta or “outsitting”. Groa comes through for Svipdag, and he not only learns how to complete his terrible task, but also is granted nine magical spells. This practice was also used in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, when Thorgeirr (who was chosen to moderate the conflict between the Pagan Icelanders and the Christian forces from Norway) sits out for a day and a night under a skin in order to determine the fate of religion in Iceland. This practice of outsitting is a way of getting information and help, often specifically from the ancestors, and divining the future with their aid.

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Name and briefly describe one method of divination or seership technique common to three paleo-pagan Indo-European cultures. (minimum 100 words each)

While there are several different types of divination methods that could be discussed in response to this question (watching bird flight, for example, or dream interpretation, or the use of seers/oracles), the one that most intrigues me is the wrapping of a priest or seer in the hide of an animal and sleeping, to receive a vision in a dream (either from a God or from the Ancestors).

In the Aeneid, Latinus goes to the Oracle of Faunus for advice on the marriage of his daughter, especially in the light of several strange portents which had happened recently. While at the oracle, Latinus performs divination by sleeping on the hides of a hundred sacrificed sheep. In response, he hears a voice from the grove of Faunus not to marry his daughter to a Latin suitor, but instead that she should be married to a man from abroad (Virgil 7.80). While this doesn’t speak much to the agency that Latinus grants to his daughter in her choice in a husband, it rather clearly shows this type of divination being successful.

In Peter Ellis’ The Druids, Ellis speaks of a ritual known in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as the taghairm (a word he says has Irish cognates). In particular, a seer is to wrap himself in the hide of a newly slain bull and lie down at a waterfall or at the foot of a precipice and meditate. The spirits would visit him and tell him what he needed to know. (Ellis 222) This method includes both the sacrifice of an animal (in this case the bull, which seems to have been sacred throughout the Celtic cultures) and then the meditation on a desired question or outcome. This particular iteration of this divination form says nothing about actually eating the ritual flesh of the bull, however. This is similar to the commonly told tale of an Irish seer wrapping himself in a bull’s hide, while Druids chant over him, so he may dream of the next king.

In the Chandogya Upanisad, there is a ritual to Savitr that a man should do if he desires to achieve greatness, which includes making offerings to a fire, reciting a Rg verse, and then going to sleep/rest on a skin by the fire, where if he sees a woman, he will know his rite is successful. “When a man sees a woman in his dreams/During a rite to obtain a wish;/ He should recognize its success,/In that dream vision” (5.2). While the exact content of the dream is specific (seeing a woman as a way to divine the success of the ritual), it is still a form of divination similar to the others in that the dream comes after eating in a particular way and then laying down on an animal skin near a fire to sleep/meditate.

These three examples are also very similar to Norse practice of outsitting (utiseta) – wrapping in a blanket or fur skin and sitting on an ancestral mound or crossroads to receive guidance from the ancestors (Sagas of the Icelanders 764). This is particularly noted in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, where Thorgeirr stays on a mound under a skin for a day and a night to determine the fate of Iceland’s religious future. According to Ceisiwr Serith, “the seer, identified with the dead animal, goes where it goes – to the ancestors. From them the seer acquires knowledge to benefit the community” (Serith 262). While not all of the original texts make clear that it is from the ancestors that the seer receives the knowledge (and in fact, in the Aeneid it is Faunus who gives the information), the three (or four, if you count utiseta) different ritual forms all have enough in common to be counted as one form of divination.

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