Monthly Archives: December 2009

Trees and Runes

In the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc there are a few trees mentioned, mainly in the names of various runes. The most clearly mentioned are as follows.


In the poem itself, Birch is often understood to be a form of poplar tree found in British Isles, but for the sake of simplicity, lets just say Birch.

In a sense, all of these trees could be seen as a different aspect of Yggdrasil or the world tree, especially in the context of the runes and their qualities described. The quality that I perceive in these trees is as follow.

Thorn – I identity Thorn/Thurisaz with the challenging and destructive side of the World Tree. The main identification comes from the Rune Poem where it is described as “harmful” and “exceedingly cruel”. In some light studying of Thorn trees (of which the whole family has been named Hawthorn) one of their qualities is to grow a fruit. Most of the trees, the fruit is either bitter or very sour, and needs to be conditioned in someway to become more palatable to people. One entry even indicated that in most cases, it was the fruit eaten only during the winter, when most other food stores were low or gone. The rune Thurisaz is identified with the Thurse or Giants and particularly the oldest Giants i.e. the Frost Giants (winter). It also works nicely in understanding the nature of the Giants. You cannot just reach out and grab them. They need to be approached carefully; otherwise they can wound you, and are exceedingly dangerous.

Yew – Yew can be seen in two runes. The main one is Ihwaz/Eoh, The 2nd one is the wood of yew trees, worked into a tool, the bow. This rune is found at ýr. As that rune is more related to humanity, I will overlook it now. In the Rune Poem, the many virtues of yew is extolled, but in the last line, the author describes the “deep roots” of the yew tree. My own impression of Eoh is that it connects to the Underworld, but also connects all worlds. Most Trees have a root system that mirrors its branches. If you look at a picture of the yew, its branches are very twisting and bent, with a lot of complexities. The root system mirrors this. In my own revelations about this, it shows the twisting roads that exist and connect all of existence. They can also lead you down into the underworld, but sometimes the paths themselves are dark, deep and forgotten. They are secret paths that can lead you between worlds, and even between locations. Yet, at the same time, it is a mighty tree, a good fuel for fire, and a joy to the home. Those qualities suggest something about its protective nature, which is often mentioned by authors about the Runes

Birch – Birch (and Poplar) are often one of the first trees to come back to life after the cold of winter. In most information about the end of the Ice Age, the first trees to grow as the glaciers receded were Birch trees. It is known for its ability to quickly repopulate open areas of land, even after fires and other destruction of local flora. It was also used as a tool to write on in many countries, where the thinly peeled birch bark could be removed and written upon, and it would last for a long time, because of the high resinous oil content of birch bark. In Birch, I see the nurturing and regenerative aspect of the World Tree.

Oak – Oaks are some of the most recognized and celebrated trees in Western Culture. Often times they are noted for their Strength and Endurance, and this is a theme which is found in the rune poem, as well as a source of food, although not for people directly. Their endurance is also tested, as the oak is made into boats that men would use to travel across the sea and oceans. I see the Oak and the rune Ac (which is pronounced similarly) as relating to the Trunk of the World tree, and its connection to the Middle World or Midgard.

Ash – The most commonly held tree in Northern European native spirituality, Ash is most common held to be the World Tree itself. I also value that idea, but find that Ash itself has a particular connection to the top most branches of the World Tree. Up in the shining skies is what Ash and its rune Aesc relate to. The first man was said to be made from an Ash tree, and the ash itself has many folkloric uses, from repelling snakes, to curing warts and other diseases. While Oak and Birch also have uses as woods in musical instruments, Ash is generally considered to produce a brighter tone and a more sustaining quality to sound produced using Ash wood.
It is also these woods that figure best in creation runic talismans, to carve and redden the runes into them, and are often described in the Galdrabok as wood to be used, with Oak and Ash being mentioned the most.

shamanism and animal totems – a rant

This week, with a email group to which I belong, I was presented with an idea that really bothered me. The idea is that shamanism always has animal totems. I, personally, don’t agree. Why? Well, if you look at the actual shamans (tribal peoples of sub artic lands in Siberia, that is where the word “shaman” comes from) Yes, they do have animal spirits that they work with. They also have spirits of the dead, and Gods, and a whole multitude of spiritual entities, both benevolent and malevolent to deal with, pacify, respect and command. But somewhere, along the line, as this particular cultures practices were spread and discussed, everything became reduced down to animals. Everyone has animal spirit guides. You belong to an animal tribe. You need to speak with your inner animal. Personally, I have decided from study and a wee bit of personal experience, that is utter bullshit. But yet, great multitudes go off and “become shamans” (which, if you are familiar with shamanic lore, also doesn’t really happen, shamans are chosen by spiritual entities, and forced to become shamans, not the other way around, most of the time) and they also seem to walk away with animal guides. A great number of them seem to have animals guides like Eagle, or Bear, or Wolf. I can only think that those spirits must be EXHAUSTED beyond belief, always being contacted by these people, mostly strangers who seem to think they are buddies, asking for who knows what. But yet, all these people have them. I find it to be a thoroughly strange phenomenon. I also find it curious that it is always, ALWAYS must be “wild” animals. You think there would be a dog or cat, but no, it’s usually wolf, or maybe Lion or Tiger. Why? Is man’s best friend not good enough for you?

I, for one, don’t have animal guides. I have had people tell me they see animal spirits near me, but they aren’t guides, and I don’t belong to their tribes. I was trained in core shamanism (although it’s not a method that I work with, it just doesn’t resonate to me. I would rather get up and dance to the drum, then lay there. I just can’t open up that way, it seems). On the first core shamanic journey, we were told to go find out spirit guides, probably animals (which is what the instructor said) and while most people reported an animal of some kind ( I believe two had Eagle, of course) I sat there, with a thoroughly puzzled look on my face, because of what I saw. When the instructor asked me, What happened for me, I said I floated around in the dark, just kinda hanging there, and then I said “Hello, I am looking for a guide?” Part of the darkness cleared and came into focus and it was Sri Ganapate aka Lord Ganesh, holding a scroll in one hand and a large dip pen in the other (which turns out is a classic image of Ganesh, as he is the inventor of writing, the dip pen being his tusk that he broke off, because his first pen couldn’t withstand the speed and fervor of his writing). I felt really weird, but was told that it was perfectly fine, and actually a good sign. This continued for the whole month of Sunday training. When asked to go to a world besides the middle one, I went to the upper world, and ended up speaking with an angel looking being ( I don’t think it was an angel, it just looked like modern images of one, although with a sword in hand, and no, it wasn’t Michael). Once, to retrieve some power animal for another, I came back with chrysophase (a semi-precious stone) while the other guy had to force Badger to work with me (which was not a pleasant week following, and I think Badger left after that). So, maybe I am not an animal person. Which isn’t totally true, cause I love animals. But spiritually, no. No animals for me, at least not as guides. Lesser helpful spirits perhaps, but not guides.

Also, in perusing information about tribal spirit workers, animals also don’t seem to be the bread and butter of them either. Oh, sure, they might have an ally who is an animal, and maybe they can project their spiritual body and it will take on an animal shape, but that isn’t quite the same thing. I mean, if you needed to travel through some tough terrain, wouldn’t it be easier if you were in the form of an animal native to that terrain. I think so. It might also be beneficial to have a positive relationship with the main animal of your tribes diet. Keep the food coming along. But then, you could also have that relationship with plants as well, if your people grow food of some kind, or if a specific plant makes a good medicine for a common ailment. Yet, it seems while some modern people do consider plants as spiritual allies, it is not nearly as often as animals. Yet tribal spirit workers often do, and have more then just plants and animals.

So, why is there this difference between core shamanism, and culturally specific tribal spirit workers? Why do people in places that have never seen a Wolf, an Eagle or a Bear, get those as totems, when there is a multitude of native and local animals that could probably benefit them greater? Maybe, just maybe, they aren’t really communicating with the spirits of animals. Maybe, just maybe, they are speaking with sock puppets that look like animals in their heads. Which, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, they can become a better person if they straighten their head out first, but, does that really make them a “shaman” or spirit worker?