Tuesday, December 8, 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.

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