Sunday, January 24, 2010

Runes and Reversals

As you might notice through my rune of the day posts, there are runes that come up expressed as reversed. This is a common technique among contemporary systems of sortilege, especially tarot. The reader themselves will often have a ready understanding of reversed meanings about their tool, which can range from the complex to the simple. In most cases that I have heard of, the reversed meaning is a negative indicator or expression of the meaning contained within that symbol.

While historically we don’t know how the runes were used for divination (or if they were used directly) in contemporary practice they are. Many books will give reversed meanings for some or all the runes. This is usually for the practice of Divination. However, if you look at any Futhark, there are runes that are not “reversible.” That is, if you turn them 180 degrees on a vertical axis, it is the same symbol. Some symbols like this are invertible (that is if you turn them on a horizontal axis, they will become mirrored to the original inscription) but I have yet to find a rune set that includes inverse runes, as they would require a separate inscription.

What is of interest to many, are the non-reversible runes. A simple example would be Sowelo/Sigil/Sol the rune of the Sun. It’s various forms in the futharks are all non reversible images. In essence, it’s meaning in a reading never changes. That is an excellent graphical metaphor for the sun. In a certain sense, the power of the sun never changes. It may leave our ability to perceive the sun, but where ever it is, it always shines, bringing warmth, hope, and joy. It never changes or varies in that power.

This is one of the striking differences of the runes vs the tarot. Every tarot card can be reversed. Not every rune can be reversed. Some things are unchangeable, enduring, and lasting within the cosmology of the runes.
In Thorsson’s work, the non-reversible runes are often interpreted as being the runes of the Nine Worlds. As he only uses the Elder Futhark, there are only 9 immutable runes. They are Gebo, Hagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa, Jera, Iehwaz, Sowilo, Inguz, and Dagaz. (if you want to know the Nine World equivalents, I suggest you acquire one of his books). The remaining runes are connected to paths connecting those worlds, much in the sense of the magical cabala associations with the tarot, with the major arcane forming paths between the sephira, which are associated with all the number units of the minor arcana. By adding in the Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian runes though, his cosmological map falls apart, as more non reversible runes are added. Ior, Qweorth, Shtan and Gar, bring the total count from nine to thirteen, and introduce additional concepts or repeated ones. However, they are suggestive of powers that are immutable as well, and maybe they are not symbolic of the nine worlds, but instead of powers manifested in all the worlds, powers that are constantly being expressed and at work in the deepest metaphysical levels.

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