May 05, 2019
According to legend, the Norse God Odin created the runes as a divine gift to mankind. These sacred symbols have been immortalised in carvings for centuries - on burial markers and amulets, scrolls and divinatory stones.
The runes were actually an alphabet system for the ancient Norse cultures, with each symbol having a communicative meaning. Runic artefacts can still be found in part of Scandinavia, in sites of important significance such as places of gathering, old roads, churches, water routes, and burial sites. They were essentially signs, used to convey important meaning, whether that be a warning or a celebration.
You might have come across the runes in modern life without even realising it. The little Bluetooth logo on your phone is actually a bind rune that merges the runic symbols for ‘H’ and ‘B’ together. ‘HB’ are the initials of Harald Bluetooth, a Scandinavian king famous for uniting the Danish tribes into one kingdom. As Bluetooth technology aims to ‘unite’ communication, its creators chose Bluetooth and his runic initials to represent their brand. The runes live on!
J.R.R. Tolkien was also heavily influenced by the runes when he constructed his own fantasy languages of Middle-earth, particularly Khuzdul, the language of the dwarves. Other fantasy worlds feature runes in their language and decor.
But perhaps the greatest intrigue of the runes is their use in divination and magic. For many, runes and runestones are more than a communicative language. Some believed that the runes have mystical significance and can be a powerful tool in your magical arsenal.
Runes and Magic
It’s long been believed that the runes engraved on historical artefacts had magical significance. Runic symbols found on swords and amulets were said to provide protection and strength in battle. Stories of Norse legend suggest that runes might have the ability to raise the dead. They can be used in magical ritual and spell-casting in much the same way as other ancient language systems - such as Latin and Greek - can be used to convey a higher meaning. And perhaps most significantly, runestones are used as a tool of divination.
Runes and Divination
Rune casting is the practice of using runestones for divination purposes, quite similar to the art of tarot reading. Like tarot reading, rune casting isn’t exactly “fortune-telling”. Rather, it links powerful symbols with the revelations of the subconscious mind. The aim is to help the querent better understand the past and present in order to inform the future.
While tarot uses a combination of archetypal symbols - like the High Priestess and the Hanged Man, Pentacles and Wands - to tell a divinatory story, rune casting uses runic symbols. The historical and spiritual significance of these symbols, as well as the intuitive abilities of the caster, come together to paint a picture of future possibilities.
The Elder Futhark is the name given to the runic system used in divinatory rune casting. It’s comprised of 24 runes, which are each inscribed on individual runestones. These ‘stones’ can be made of stone, gemstone, wood or glass, and they form the basis for the runecasting practice.
How to Cast Runestones
The first step is to familiarise yourself with the 24 runestones and their meanings (which we’ve outlined below). Once you have a holistic understanding of these meanings, you’ll be ready to start your casting or reading.
The second step is to understand the desired result of rune casting. As explained, it’s not about ‘telling the future’. The most effective way to read the runes is to focus on a specific life situation or important decision to be made - whether it’s related to work, money, love, family or otherwise - and let the runes guide you into the future, based on a deeper understanding of the past and the present.
The third step is to find the right environment for casting the runes - a quiet private place where you won’t be disturbed. Place a cloth in front of you to protect the runestones from scratches or dirt, and sit facing North if possible, as North was the direction that the Gods lived in North mythology. You’ll normally keep your runestones in a bag or pouch, and you’ll likely stir them around first with your hands in order to transfer your energy into the collection and connect with them. For most castings, you’ll draw the runestones intuitively from the bag.
Finally, choose a casting or spread that feels right to you. Like with the tarot, there are number of different ‘casts’ you can choose from.
A popular cast is the three-stone cast, where you draw three stone from your pouch and lay them in a row. The left-hand stone represents the past, the middle stone the present, and the right-hand stone the possible future. Another method of interpreting this cast is that the left-hand stone represents the problem or challenge, the middle stone the recommended course of action, and the right-hand stone the possible outcome.
Another cast is the five-stone or ‘cross’ cast, where you draw five stones and place three across - like the above - and two extra stones above and below the middle stone, creating a cross. The meanings of the horizontal three stones stays the same (past, present, future). The additional top stone represents help or guidance that might be available. While the additional bottom stone represents unchangeable forces that you need to accept in order to move forward.
Perhaps the most simple way of casting runes when you’re starting out is to simply do a single-stone casting, and select one runestone from your collection. This single stone sums up the key factor affecting your chosen situation.
There are also less structured, more intuitive ways of casting the runes. Some people select a handful of runestones and toss them onto the cloth, divining meaning from the runes that land face-up, or upside-down, or next to each other. This is a method you can explore when you’re more familiar with the runes and their meanings.
Like all ancient symbols and divinatory systems, runic meanings can have different interpretations, depending on whether you look at the strictly historical evidence, or incorporate esoteric or even personal symbolism. Below is a brief overview of the 24 runes of the Elder Futhhark, their corresponding alphabetic sound, and their symbolic meaning.
Fehu - F. Meaning: “cattle", wealth, material possession.
Uruz - U. Meaning: "a wild ox", strength, health.
Thurisaz - Th. Meaning: "giant", "thorn", danger, defence from attack.
Ansuz - A. Meaning: "a God", “mouth", communication, language, advice.
Raidho - R. Meaning: “journey", "wheel", movement, travel.
Kaunan - K. Meaning: “flame", "beacon", enlightenment, highest possibilities.
Gebo - G. Meaning: “gift", generosity, sacrifice, unity.
Wunjo - W. Meaning: “joy", happiness, pleasure.
Hagalaz - H. Meaning: “hail", destruction, chaos.
Naudhiz - N. Meaning: "needs", unfulfilled desire, survival.
Isaz - I. Meaning: "ice", pause, frozen or delayed action.
Jera - J. Meaning: “year", "harvest", rewards, results.
Eihwaz - I. Meaning: “yew", protection, stability.
Pertho - P. Meaning: unexplained/unknown, mystery.
Elhaz/Algiz - Z. Meaning: "elk", protection, defense.
Sowilo - S. Meaning: “sun", life, success.
Tiwaz - T. Meaning: "tyr", victory, war.
Berkanan - B. Meaning: "birch tree", new beginnings, fertility, growth.
Ehwaz - E. Meaning: "horse", travel, companionship.
Mannaz - M. Meaning: "mankind", support, humanity.
Laguz - L. Meaning: "water", formlessness, flexibility.
Ingwaz - Ng. Meaning: new beginnings, fertility
Othalan - O. Meaning: "inheritance", possession.
Dagaz - D. Meaning: "day", hope, happiness.
Rune casting is mysterious and intriguing practice, steeped in centuries of fascinating history. If you're interested in learning more about this, take a look at some of the books we currently have in stock on the subject. Or if you're ready to purchase a set of runestones for casting, choose from our beautiful gemstone rune collection below!
BOOKS ON RUNES
April 18, 2019
(Image: Eliphas Levi's Pentagram)
Celtic knots, pentagrams, Trees of Life...almost everywhere you turn here at Dragonspace, you come face to face with a sacred symbol that has a long history and manifold meaning. Symbols adorn pendants and trinket boxes, journals and athames, artwork and sculptures. When you see them, your mind immediately makes a connection between the symbol and its meaning, whether that’s spiritual, cultural, historical, or even purely aesthetic.
Language itself has its origins in symbology. Right now, you’re reading ‘words’ or markings on a page and deriving meaning from them. The human ability to condense huge concepts into a succinct visual form is remarkable. And sacred symbols are are beautiful example of that.
Here, we explore a few of the most prevalent symbols featured on our merchandise in the store.
Celtic knots are perhaps the most common symbol you’ll come across at Dragonspace. We’re very inspired by Celtic culture and mythology here at the store, and knots are one of the most recurring features of Celtic design. The interwoven nature of knots makes them a popular symbol of interconnectedness and unity. They often have no beginning or end - simply an infinite loop - making them signifiers of eternity, and perhaps the cycles of life itself. The triquetra or trinity knot is one of the most common Celtic knots, symbolising the three-fold nature of life and the earth. The Celtic Cross is another popular knot—a religious symbol often found in churches or burial sites. Spiral knots are another common Celtic motif, often believed to be inspired by the patterns found in nature. Celtic knots are found in heraldry and jewelry, architecture and textiles, and have come to have universal recognition.
Pentagram and Pentacle
The Pentagram is a five-pointed star with special significance in Wiccan and Neo-Pagan practice. The Pentacle is a pentagram encased in a circle. While the pentagram has long been associated with faith and spirituality, from Christianity to Judaism, it is now commonly associated with magical practice. The Pentacle is considered a talisman that can be used in a variety of ways, such as being worn on the chest for protection, or being used in spells and ritual. While some believe that pentacles represent all of the five elements of nature - earth, air, water, fire and ether/spirit - in perfect harmony, other schools of thought - like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn - see the pentacle as a symbol of earth only. In classic tarot symbology, pentacles are one of the four suits of the Minor Arcana, and are associated with money and the material world. In general, pentacles and pentagrams are strong symbols of protection and balance.
Thor’s Hammer is perhaps the most widely recognised of the Norse symbols. Thor was a powerful Norse God, and his hammer - also known as Mjölnir - was his key weapon. When Thor throws his hammer out to defeat an enemy, it always returns back to him, similar to the boomerang of the Indigenous Australians. However, Thor’s Hammer isn’t just a symbol of power and battle. It’s a symbol of protection and defense against wicked forces. In some Norse tales, Thor even uses his hammer to help heal and resurrect, causing it to also be known as a symbol of sacred healing and strength.
Tree of Life
We explored the beautiful Tree of Life symbol in a previous blog post, The Magic of Trees. This is another symbol that has its origins in several different cultures, from Norse legend to Islam. The Tree’s most obvious symbolism is that of nature and Mother Earth, but the meanings don’t stop there. In its depiction in Celtic artwork, the Tree’s branches rise high to the heavens, while its roots dig deep into the earth, symbolising the connection between heaven and earth. In Buddhist spirituality, the first Buddha achieved enlightenment under a Bodhi tree, which is also sometimes referred to as a ‘tree of life.’ The Tree is also referenced in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, symbolising knowledge. Fertility, interconnectedness, wisdom, enlightenment, stability - the Tree means many things to many different people.
The Ankh is an Ancient Egyptian symbol — a cross with a loop at the top instead of a straight line. The Ankh was actually a hieroglyphic symbol used to depict the concept of ‘life’. It was often featured in Egyptian artwork and sculpture being held in the hands of important deities. Some images show the ankh symbol being passed from the deity to the Pharaoh, showing the transference of life from the divine to the human. The Ancient Egyptians believed strongly in the afterlife, so the ‘ankh’ is more than merely a symbol of physical life—it signifies the complexity of existence, the beauty of life, spirituality, faith and much more.
These are just a few of the mystical symbols you'll find around Dragonspace. Whole books have been dedicated to the history behind these symbols, so this merely scratches the surface. And of course, symbols are deeply personal and come to take on new and unique meanings with every person who finds a connection to them. Do you have a particular symbol that you feel drawn to? Let us know in the comments.
April 04, 2019 1 Comment
Image: The Wheel of the Year at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, UK
The above ‘Wheel’ or calendar might look familiar to you. Maybe you celebrate some of these seasonal festivals yourself, or you might recognise them from popular culture or stories. Perhaps you’ve read about them in some of our previous blog posts, like Beltane Blessings and Sacred Samhain. Even if you don’t recognise these particular words, chances are that you’ve honoured these festivals in one way or another by different names - Christmas, Halloween, May Day, Diwali, Easter, Moon Festival and more.
The Wheel of the Year is the annual calendar of eight seasonal festivals (also known as sabbats) observed by Wiccans and other neo-Pagan groups. From the midwinter festival of Yule to the midsummer festival of Litha, these holidays are centered around celebrating the changing seasons and the cycles of the natural world.
ORIGINS OF THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR
Celebrating the solstices, planetary shifts and changing seasons is an ancient custom. Civilisations from prehistoric times recognised the cycles of the earth and created rituals to honour them. They adapted their lifestyles, their work and their eating habits to align with the changing seasons and the offerings of the natural world - e.g. autumn has long been a time for harvest and preparation for the winter, while spring has been a time for sowing seeds and celebrating new life. In this way, the concept of the Wheel of the Year is as old as the Earth herself.
However, this clear separation of the year into eight distinct festivals is actually quite a modern manifestation, commonly observed in Neo-Pagan and Wiccan groups. While the Wheel is heavily derived from the old traditions of Celtic, Germanic and Viking cultures, this neatly divided structure is evocative of a more modern trend towards order and organisation.
THE EIGHT SABBATS
The eight Wheel of the Year festivals, or sabbats, take place roughly one and a half months apart, splitting the year into defined eighths. There are two solstices (summer and winter), two equinoxes (autumn and spring) and four cross-quarter days that sit roughly in between the solstices and the equinoxes. The solstices and equinoxes are influenced by the sun’s position, and are sometimes referred to as ‘Lesser Sabbats’. The cross-quarter days are referred to as ‘Greater Sabbats’ or ‘the fire festivals’. While each sabbat has a long and rich history that could fill whole books, here’s a quick summary of what they symbolise and celebrate.
Note: Naturally, these festival dates are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Winter Solstice
Mid-end of December
The Promise of Spring
Beginning of February
Imbolc is a cross-quarter day that celebrates the first signs of spring. It actually aligns with the modern North American tradition of 'Groundhog Day', which is based on the belief that groundhog behavior on the 1st February can prophecy when spring will arrive. In Pagan tradition, Imbolc is a time for spring cleaning and purification in preparation for spring's impending arrival. It's also an ideal time for reaffirming one's intentions for the year ahead.
Varies between 19-22 March
Ostara is the spring equinox, celebrating the coming of the light. It's named after a Germanic goddess Ēostre, which is also where the word 'Easter' comes from. While Easter is traditionally considered a Christian holiday that honours the resurrection of Jesus Christ, both festivals are a time to celebrate new life and the reawakening of the natural world. Buds start to sprout, baby animals appear in the fields, and the days become warmer. It's a perfect time for planting seeds and spending time out in blossoming nature.
Beltane is another cross-quarter day, also known and celebrated as May Day. This is a festival of flowers and light, joy and fertility. Common traditions include dancing around the May Pole and crowning the May Queen, the personification of spring and summer. Homes are bedecked in flowers and greenery, and rituals relating to fertility and vitality are commonly performed.
The Summer Solstice
Varies between June 20-22
Litha is the summer solstice, or Midsummer festival. It marks the longest day of the year and the pinnacle of the sun's full power. As such, it's a festival to celebrate the sun. Bonfires are often lit to symbolise the sun's energy, and candle magic is strong at this time of the year. Summer fruits, flowers and plants are eaten and used around the home and in ceremonies. This is a time of abundance, growth and strength, before the days begin to shorten once more.
The First Harvest
Beginning of August
Lughnasadh, also known as Lammas, is the cross-quarter day celebrating the first harvest. While summer is still going strong, this is the time of year when the first peeks of autumn start to become visible - trees begin dropping their fruit, and the first grains of the season become ready to harvest. Bread is an important symbol at this time, and a common tradition to celebrate Lughnasadh is to bake bread from the season's first grains to eat or to use in ritual.
Varies between 21-24 September
Mabon is the Autumn Equinox, celebrating a time of harvest and the impending winter. It's a time of balance, just like the Spring Equinox, when light and dark are equal. Traditionally, days were spent working out in the fields, harvesting crops, feasting and preparing for winter. Rituals that help to protect and prepare for the colder months are also popular at this time, and talismans and amulets might be created to ward off the dark energies that might come knocking during winter.
October 31st/November 1st
Samhain is the cross-quarter day that celebrates the transition between autumn and winter, and also the thinning of the veil between worlds. It's traditionally observed as a time to honour those who have passed into the afterlife, which is where the popular holiday of Halloween comes from. It's common to perform ceremonies to celebrate the lives of the dead and honour one's ancestors. It's also the last chance to dry and preserve autumn's bounty for the winter ahead. Mischief and revelry are also common at this time, with parties and feasts being held. For some neo-Pagans, Samhain is considered the Witches' New Year and is the most important of the eight sabbats.