Heathen’s Journey: An initiation ritual for learning the runes

The ancestors are calling.

It’s time to commit to runic practice; it’s time to initiate ourselves into this beautiful practice. The Runes are more than just a system of divination – they are a system of magic in their own right. Learning the runes is the first step toward understanding heathenism. They are a dynamic, evolving tool.

An initiation to learning the runes

In Norse myth, Odin must go through a ritual sacrifice to learn the runes from the Norns. He trekked to the great tree Yggdrasil to find and speak with the three Norns – the Norse version of the three fates. They watch over the Well of Urdh or the Well of Wyrd, which is said to show fate. The well is nestled deep underneath the great tree Yggdrasil. Odin hung for nine days and nine nights on the great tree, and in a fever, the runes came to him and revealed their secrets.

So we must initiate ourselves into the practice of rune casting.

Materials

  • A set of runes (This is extremely important. If you don’t have a set of runes, write out your rune set on slips of paper.)
  • A knife or wand
  • Cleansing herbs/method of your choice (I find bells to be highly effective in working with the runes.)
  • Objects to represent the four elements
    • Incense or a feather for Air
    • A candle for Fire
    • A bowl, cup, or mug with water for Water
    • Some dirt, taken from outside for Earth, or a plain rock
  • Any items from your regular altar that will support you (amethyst, altar cloth, a photo of family, fresh flowers, etc.)
  • A glass of mead, wine, sparkling juice, or any special libation
  • An image to represent Odin: ravens, a well, an image of a traveling hermit (like Gandalf), anything else that speaks to you
  • If you read tarot, pull out the Hanged Man from your favorite deck
  • A mirror

Note: I find that dressing for ritual can be really powerful in putting me in the right mindset. For this ritual, dress up in whatever outfit makes you feel the most powerful. For me, this looks like badass lingerie + robe.

Initiation

Find a comfortable space. A place where you can both sit in stillness and where you can dance.

Cleanse and charge the area. If using bells, I suggest first cleansing the space with incense, and then dancing over your circle while ringing the bells.

Once you have thoroughly set up your sacred space, take up your knife. Starting at the head of your altar, trace the rune outline for FEHU. Boldly call the rune. Continue throughout the circle, calling each rune as you move clockwise.

f fehu u uruz th,þ thurisaz a ansuz r raidho k kenaz g gefu w wunjo
h hagalaz n naudhiz i isa j jera ï,ei eihwaz p perthro z elhaz s sowilo
t tiwaz b berkano e ehwaz m mannaz l laguz ? ingwaz d dagaz o othala

Once you have completed the circle, return to your altar and sing the runes into being. Sing through the futhark three times. There is no right way to do this – sing the runes the way they call to you.

Now we will call the elements into the circle for balance.

Start in the East for Air. Pick up your feather, or light your incense.
“I invite the powers of Air, who bring both the relief of a cool breeze on a summer’s day and the clarity of an ice cold morning.”
When you feel that Air has joined you, say: “Hail, and welcome.”

Light your candle in the South for fire.
“I invite the powers of Fire, whose creative spark brings light to the darkness of the long winter.”
When you feel that Fire has joined you, say: “Hail, and welcome.”

Dip your fingers in the water in the West, and anoint your face.
“I invite the powers of Water, from the deep sea storm of feeling to the healing of a babbling brook.”
When you feel that Water has joined you, say: “Hail, and welcome.”

Take up your stone, or take a pinch of dirt into your hands.
“I invite the powers of Earth, who teach us constantly to nurture and grow.”
When you feel that Earth has joined you, say: “Hail, and welcome.”

Take another pass around the circle with bells or your incense. Dance. Invoke the lightness of the elements in your body. Return to the top of your altar. Check in with each of the items you have brought. Meditate on the photos of family, the mementos, and take up anything which you have brought to be a comfort.

Now it’s time to call the Gods.

Recite:

“Hail to thee Day, and Day’s bright boy,
Hail to the Night and her daughter’s joy.
With eyes that bless us may you see
And grant to those here, victory.
The goddesses and gods we call
And holy earth, who gives to all –
Give us here wise words and weal,
And in this life, the hands that heal!”
(“Sigdrifumal”: 2, translated by Diana Paxson in Taking Up The Runes.)

Raise your glass of libation in a toast, and take one sip.

Recite:

“Odin, High One, hear my cry –
You who have made great sacrifices
To bring light to our Highest riddles,
Let me be a student of your runes,
The language of magick itself.
With power to rend and to mend,
Through your guidance I seek to learn, and learn to seek.
Hail, All Father! Hail, High One! Hail, Odin!”

Pause.

Has Odin joined you in your circle? Can you feel his presence? Focus on the altar item that you have brought to your circle to represent the All Father. Concentrate your energy here, feel his presence, feel his affinity and connection with this item. Feel the wings of the ravens, Thought and Memory, one on each shoulder.

Raise your glass of libation in greeting, and take another sip.

Now we must find the Norns.

It may help if you record the following guided meditation, then play the recording during the ritual. Allow yourself ample time to pause as you go through the meditation. During the meditation, have your mirror handy or stand in front of your bathroom mirror.

***

Close your eyes. Picture yourself in your favorite natural space – the woods near your home, the lakeshore, the seaside, your favorite mountain hike, or just a quiet spot in your local park. In the distance, you see a tree. You begin to walk toward it. As you approach the tree, you study it. What does it look like? Is the bark scraggly or smooth? Are the leaves budding, full, turning fire autumn colors, or fallen? Is it a pine tree? Does the tree feel out of place to you?

Behind you, you hear a flutter of wings. Ravens fly past you – they are curiously silent, determined. The flock swells – you feel their wings beating deep in your heart. It feels as if the whole world flies past you. They draw you in to the tree, swirling around it as they ascend to the heavens. You know that you must climb the tree.

As you move closer to the tree, it feels as if the ground stretches out further from you. Each step you take closer to the tree whispers – “are you sure?” Pause if you need to. Are you sure?

Finally, you reach the base of the tree. You begin to climb. The branches feel far apart, At first you struggle, but then you find the pattern. You become one with the tree as you ascend.

And soon, you begin to lose your balance. Not because you have lost your footing – no. You become dizzy. You feel strange. But you still have the strength to keep climbing.

Then you realize what it is that has you off balance. The world has flipped. You are climbing upside down now.

The ravens have returned. The full flock, the full conspiracy, has come, and this time they’re flying straight for you. One of the ravens clips your shoulder, another runs into your leg, and you’re knocked off balance. You feel a lurch in your stomach, and begin to fall. You reach out for the tree with your limbs. With a bump, the tree catches you – but you can’t move. You hear the flap of wings, and feel the cold, dank air on your skin.

It is all darkness.

From the darkness comes a voice. You can make out, flickering there in the darkness, a small fire. You know you have somehow reached the Norns. You can see they take care of a deep well – it is just out of reach, but you can hear the cold water lapping in its depths.

Open your eyes. Stare into the mirror in front of you. It is not a mirror, but a well – still waters that are somehow opaque. Does mist rise from this well? Does the water seem warm, or cold? Can you see anything moving beneath the surface of the well?

Slowly, the Norns move toward you.

You cannot speak directly to them – for they are a part of you. Allow your eyes to soften. See the flickering candle. You know she’s close. The women – are they three distinct women, or do they sometimes blend together? What do they look like? What do they sound like?

Stare into the well.

As you stare, the runes begin to take shape for you. They dance, they take form, they fly toward you, they embrace you. FEHU for wealth; URUZ shapes creation; THURISAZ for Thor and giants; ANSUZ is Odin’s speech; RAIDHO, the road and journey, KENAZ for wisdom, GEBO the gift, WUNJO for bliss and abundance. HAGALAZ shows harm is on the way; NAUDHIZ shows necessity; ISA brings icy peril to the land; JERA brings wisdom of year and harvest; EIHWAZ, the circle of life and death, Yggdrasil; PERTHRO brings creation; ELHAZ provides protection; and SOWILO warms us as the sun. TIWAZ shows the way to justice; BERKANO is earth energy; EHWAZ the horse, brings people together; MANNAZ means we are all related; LAGUZ, the lake for mother-healing; INGWAZ is creative power; DAGAZ bright as day; and OTHALA of heart and family.

Allow the runes to wash over you. When you are ready, signal to the Norns. The Norns see you, they nod. They know you. The three work together to untangle you. Your legs buckle as the world turns right side up. Without speaking, you know that they will take you back to your body.

But first: You must leave something. It must be something precious, but something that is not yours to hold on to. It must be something that has held you back. It must be something near and dear to you, some old habit or belief about your destiny that you need to let go.

What will you leave?

Close your eyes, and make your choice. Take your time. What you leave is never truly gone, but what you leave reveals much about yourself. Whatever it is that you leave, you know the Norns will take and transform into something useful.

Thank the Norns for their assistance. They gently guide you back to your body. You step further from the tree, and the mist begins to clear. There is a grove of trees, with friendly creatures there to encourage you. You realize that the Norns may be with you in spirit, but they are not with you materially. You place one foot in front of another, and soon the trees begin to clear. Soon, the land feels familiar. You have returned to your familiar sacred space.

Come back to yourself, to your altar, to your ritual. Your body feels stiff, but well – get up, stretch, and come back to yourself.

Come back to yourself

Come back to your altar. Thank the Norns for their time with you. Thank Odin for his wisdom. Thank the powers of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.

Raise your cup. Drink the last of your libation.

“HAIL!”

Clap your hands or ring your bells to scatter the energy of the circle. Feast, to regain your strength from your inner journey.

Journal prompts:

In what ways have you had to sacrifice to gain knowledge?
Are you in the Hanged Man energy now?
What must you release to fully submit to the runic practice?
Did anything from the meditation surprise you?

Add your comments...