Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Runes for Transformation (book review)

by Kaedrich Olsen

I was so excited to get this book, I am always looking for ways to deepen my experience with runes. It feels like whenever I read a new perspective, it sort of takes over my thinking for a while before I merge it into my previous understanding. This book, however not only gave me a new perspective, but I feel like it changed my whole view of runes.

The book starts with some very non-rune-centric information, focusing instead on how the mind works. This is another subject that absolutely fascinates me, so I was pretty happy with this. It definitely introduces some deep thoughts, and I think will be something I reread many times. I also think this information is necessary to later parts of the books. That by looking at the nature of the world around us and how our minds interpret the word and influence our experience of it, we are able to grasp some of the ways in which the runes can bring change to our lives. 

Then we start to get into the information on runes. Kaedrich starts by giving us a brief history of the runes and their possible origins, both historic and mythic. I think this is a really great way of looking at their history, as I feel that both feed into how we understand runes today. I also really appreciated the point that he makes about how we have to look at the runes not only through our modern eyes, but also through a historic lens. If we only look at them in one way but not the other, we may not grasp them as fully as we can. This is a very important issue for me, as I find that sometimes Pagan authors either want to draw fully into the modern era and ignore the historical roots or they want to discount our modern life and go back to a previous time. My life may be inspired and influenced by the past, but I live a very modern life, and I need my practice to have application in that modern life.

Each rune is focused on in several different sections in the book, giving a slightly different perspective, though they all build on one another so by the end of the book you have a much broader understanding of each rune's energy and significance. Several runes that I had previously struggled with getting a good grasp on (like Eihwaz and Ansuz) I felt like I understand much better, even after a single read through. I definitely am looking forward to working through the many exercises in the book.

I loved how the book laid out a plan for working with the runes, and it is very personal. Kaedrich definitely supports the idea that runes may represent set energies, but we all may experience those energies in slightly different ways. I am a big believer of this idea, so I love that this book really pushes you to develop your own relationship with and understanding of the runes.

There is a three-fold method for learning the runes from this book. First, you look at the rune energies on their own. This is pretty standard, many books suggest meditating on runes and writing down your impressions, though Kaedrich encourages you to look not only with your conscious mind but first to get your subconscious impressions. Then, you look for the runic energies out in the world. I think this step is huge, and something I haven't seen explored in such detail. Many people may suggest looking for examples of the rune in the world around you, but I really like the approach of finding the runic energy of every rune in everyday objects. It reminds me of thought exercises I used to do in high school, finding a way to solve a problem with every type of energy (for example, if you wanted to shield, how would you shield with fire versus shielding with water, air or earth). I think looking for all the runes in the world around you pushes you to see more subtle manifestations of runic energy that often get overlooked. And then turning that attention inward and looking for the runes in yourself gives you an excellent diagnostic tool for not only self-improvement but also your personal relationship with runes. 

This personal connection is something I have struggled with. I sort of get stuck in my head a lot of times, trying to reconcile my own impressions with the universal impressions. Or I worry that I'm doing something wrong if my experiences aren't the same as the general experiences. This book challenges me to really dig deep and find my own connections and then work with them instead of just giving me the author's perceptions to do with as I would.

The final parts of the book focus on how the runes can be used. I have been doing personal rune divination for a while now, in a few different forms, and I really like the idea of drawing groups of runes and interpreting them as a single sentence. I think this is a very interesting take on divination, but also a good building block for working with bindrunes. 

Bindrunes are also something that are explored, and again, not in just the standard way. Kaedrich not only shows you how to tie runes together, but looks at order as being important. Two runes can be bound together to create different effects. That is one thing that has always appealed to me about runes. I feel they have a lot of innate flexibility. 

I am really excited to work with Kaedrich's approach to sounding the runes as well. I have looked into Galdr before, but this is the first method for rune sound work that I think really resonates with my personal practice. I love how he not only looks at the key sounds for each rune, but how to say the name of the runes themselves. I really like the thought of using the vowels in the words to create the tonal melody. I think this is definitely something I will do extensive work on uncovering my own melodies and tones.

In addition to all this, Kaedrich looks at prominent deities in the Norse pantheon and how they relate to runes, other runewords that are common on historical artifacts and how to incorporate those into your rune practice, and how to create personal statements with runes to be used in working on goals.

I found this book to be really thought provoking. It is full of exercises that I can't wait to start working on. I also feel like the exercises given in the book are not things that I will do only once. I can definitely see myself working through the meditations and exercises multiple times, to keep deepening my connection to the runes and incorporating the things I have learned over time. 

While I don't consider myself a beginner in regards to runes, I also don't consider myself an expert by any means. However, I think this book could be used by pretty much anyone who has an interest in runes, no matter what their level of personal experience is. Some sections (primarily the first parts that delve into how the mind works and universal theory) may be a bit wordy and deep, but overall the book was easy to digest though not lacking in content at all. I would definitely recommend this book to any student of the runes, or anyone wishing to learn about runes.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


This is a subject I am definitely not an expert on, but something that is somewhat dear to my heart.  Galdr is a form of verbal or chanted spell.  From what I understand, there is no real specific knowledge on what form Galdr took precisely, but I have encountered a few versions that I'd like to talk about.

One of the simplest explanations I've heard of Galdr is that it is 'singing the runes'.  I've seen this singing taken in two very different directions.  Either the name of the rune itself can be sung or the sound associated with the rune can be sung.  The examples I have heard of this is very melodic, definitely more aligned with singing than with a monotonic chant or spoken word.

Another completely different take on Galdr is a sort of spoken charm, linked to both the name and sound of the rune.  The example that sticks out most in my mind is the 'fe fi fo fum' that most of us know from the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale.  Some people consider this to be a Galdr for Fehu.  That theme, of chanting the base sound with different interpretations (often using the different vowels) can be used to Galdr any of the runes.

I've tried these different methods of Galdr, and had varying amounts of personal resonance with them.  Some runes I Galdr quite well by singing their names.  Others I feel quite strongly when I intone their sound.  The 'fe fi fo fum' method hearkens me back to my childhood and definitely has a strong sense of play to it.

What I find about all of these is that they remind me of other vocal methods of toning.  Many paths use spoken word or sounds as a form of sacred practice.  From my very first days, I don't speak in my normal voice when I cast or do ritual.  My voice either drops and gets deeper or softens and gets lighter.  To me, taking my own voice out of it's normal pitch in this way is a way of honoring the sacredness of the moment.

I've done some work with the Ceremonial method of intoning sacred names.  For me, this feels like I am speaking from a place that is bigger than me, like I am opening up and letting the words speak through me.  While not really uncomfortable, it never felt like me.

I was introduced to chanting years ago now, by the local Pagans I work with.  It is something that has definitely become a huge part of my own practice, and something that I absolutely love.  We also enjoy singing for pleasure, and working on other vocal related things.  Many of the chants I love are more song-like than simple chants (although I do love some very simple chants as well).  I have always found it interesting that chanting doesn't feel the same as singing, even when the chant is probably a song (aka: when it is many verses and little or no repeated lines).  Of course, I have been exposed to call style chants (like the Hawaiian ones) which are often non-repetitive.  But though many lyrical songs move me and bring emotions to me (and have been used in my practice because of the emotions they call in me), I still feel different chanting.  Chanting can bring me out of myself. 

One of the things I love about voice based work is that it is always there with me.  There is power in sound, and we can harness it almost without thought.  But I also feel that power words have resonance even when unsounded.  There are times that I 'speak' my words inside my own head.  They still have a voice, in fact my mind has many different voices.  The words I speak inside have a different energy than the ones I speak out loud, but they do have an energy.

Perhaps I haven't found my own Galdr voice yet.  But I tend to think about Galdr as a way of thinking about voice based working rather than a particular type of voice based work.  Just as there are many styles of music, perhaps there are also styles of Galdr.  When we open our mouths and create magic with our voice, I feel that is Galdr.  It can be whispered or shouted, sung or chanted, spoken or laughed.  It can be our way of speaking our truth to the world, or how the world speaks truth to us.  We can be the voice or we can open ourselves to the voice.  We each have a unique voice, and our words can quite literally change the world.  We just have to let ourselves speak.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I know it's been ages since I wrote, especially considering the original goal of two posts per letter (one a week), plus a monthly topic.  But for some reason, this year, I can't keep my focus, so I am way behind.

In thinking of the letter F and topics associated with F words, I though about a couple of things from Friendship and Fellowship to Fimbulwinter.  But one that I thought of I kept coming back to and that is the Fetch.

I remember reading about the Fetch (or Fylgja in Old Norse), and it was described as the part of your soul that manifested in other realms as an animal.  Other sources have suggested that your Fetch can be a human of the opposite gender than your physical form or even a symbolic form (like a shape).  I have also heard it referred to as some kind of totem or even as a representation of previous actions you have taken (sort of a reflection of your past). 

I really resonate with the idea of the Fetch.  I think that we tend to think of our soul-stuff like we think of gender:  binary and static.  And yet (if you've read my previous posts) you probably know I don't think of gender like that, and likewise I don't think of my soul as being 'human' per say.  I think that whatever it is that makes me who I am, that underlying 'Self' (with a capital S!) isn't human at all.  It is some thing that transcends my humanity, and it just is.  So it makes a lot of sense to me that my soul would manifest in ways that aren't human.

The source I originally read about the Fetch in (which sadly I can't remember where I read about it, I am thinking it was a website of some sort), had a ritual where you used Journeying to travel to an astral realm to meet your Fetch.  I really liked the idea that the Fetch was a part of you, but also was outside of you.  The ritual didn't have you become your Fetch, but called it to your view so you could meet it.  The further suggestion was that as you became more aware of your Fetch and strengthened your connection to it that it could act as guardian or be sent to do things for you.

It sort of reminds me of many of the things that Familiars are associated with.  Another concept I always loved the idea of.  But I think with the Fetch there is a depth that is unattainable through other magical means because it is a part of you and not a servant or companion in the traditional sense. 

Being a part of you also means that there is a lot of inner work that can be done by exploring your connection to your Fetch.  And much like the stereotypes about everyone having powerful, predatory Totems (you will run into at least 50 people claiming wolf or hawk as a totem before you talk to someone who recognizes ant or mouse), you will need to be really honest with your self when you approach your Fetch.  Let it be what it is, and don't try to force it to be what you think it is. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Honey in the River (book review)

Honey in the River(link to Amazon page)

This book wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be, and yet it was captivating in it's own way. From the description, I expected more of a look at polygamy and how it worked. Instead, this book shows a darker side: what happens when a polygamous relationship isn't built on honesty and trust.

Honey in the River reads in many ways like a soap opera. There is a lot of drama and heartbreak. Marsha opens herself up and shares all the highs and lows she went through during this time. I definitely found myself both wishing for things to work out for her and shaking my head at the things she and the other people involved were doing.

One thing that I think she does an excellent job of portraying is that the blame doesn't all fall with the other person. Marsha lays blame where it should fall, and takes up her own faults as well. At the beginning she wasn't as aware of this, but by the end of the tale, she definitely is owning her own actions and choices and realizing that she was just as culpable as he was. But at the same time, she was firm in stating, both to herself and others, that he was to blame as well.

I also think she did a good job showing how Oba (the man she was involved with) convinced himself that what he was doing was okay, and how he may not have been fully aware that he was being hurtful. My perception of Oba is that he had many child like mental qualities and was seeing the world from his own self-appointed victim status.

While I definitely don't think that the majority of spiritual figures are like this, there have been enough news stories about charismatic leaders who led their flock astray that I think this book offers a powerful warning. It shows the ways in which someone can be both very alluring and utterly deceitful at the same time. It also shows how easy it is to fall back into the same rhythms, even when you may know that what happened in the past wasn't desirable.

I also really enjoyed the stories Marsha told of the Orishas. There are myths sprinkled throughout the books, stories told about the Orishas that speak to what is going on in her life. And even more than that, both Oba and Marsha talk about the influence the Orishas have in their lives, and how they may be feeling and acting upon those influences. I found this to be a very lovely example of how to integrate spirituality into your everyday life.

But even here, there are warning signs to look for. Oba used the Orishas as excuses for several different things, including cheating behind his legal wife's back. He also used his cultural origins as further reasons why it was all right for him to do the things he did. Both excuses are, in my opinion, perversions of what they should be. I fully support embracing your culture and your spirituality, but I think that when you try to use these things to trick or coerce others into doing what you want, you are disgracing both yourself and your traditions and culture.

Ultimately, Honey in the River was a fantastic read, a very moving story, and a great teaching story, both about Ifa and about the potential dangers that can be found even in spiritual circles. I have quite a few highlighted passages about the Orishas and about other spiritual thoughts. I think I'll finish up with a quote that I think is both great and also sums up the theme of the book quite nicely: “Needing to be happy all the time is addiction. We need to be present with difficult emotions as well as joy. Otherwise, the joy is false.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


My dad was in the Army when I was little, and I grew up a "military brat".  We moved around a lot.  I got to see lots of interesting places, but changed schools a lot.  It also meant that I was raised with a pretty high opinion of soldiers, the military and a deep respect for the men and women who fight for the freedoms I enjoy every day.  When I was little, I wanted to grow up and follow in my father's footsteps, and when given the opportunity, I joined the JROTC in high school.  After 4 years, I realized that kind of structure was not something that I was well suited to live with, and I didn't end up walking further down that path.

But I still hold soldiers in high esteem.  They sacrifice so much, even when they come home safely...or don't get deployed to a combat zone at all.  Being raised in a military family, I understood some of that, from the eyes of the family of a soldier.  My father wasn't always home, and while a part of me enjoyed moving to new places, it was always hard socially.  Long time friends weren't something I had growing up, and it was hard to keep up long distance relationships when you're in grade school.

To me, it only makes sense to continue to honor the soldiers after they have passed from this life.  Einherjar are the dead warriors chosen by Odin to reside in Valhalla and to join him in the battle of Ragnarok.  But I also think that the ranks of the Einherjar include other types of people who have passed but were fighters in life.

This is very much my own UPG (unverified personal gnosis....aka my personal beliefs).  I feel that what makes someone a fighter isn't so much about dying in battle, but the spirit with which you life your life.  A firefighter who risks his life everyday going into burning buildings to save people has that spirit.  So does a mother who fights tooth and nail to defend her children...or to care for them when they are sick or injured.

In the US, we have two days to honor our soldiers:  Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.  Memorial day focus' on the soldiers who have passed on already, while Veteran's day honors those who are still alive (as well as those who have died).  Many Norse practitioners celebrate Einherjar day, choosing either Memorial day or Veteran's day to honor the Einherjar and feast in their honor.  I love the practice of making this honoring a part of my own traditions, and I actually think doing both is a viable alternative.

I have talked about beloved dead before, and I don't think that celebrating the Einherjar is the same as many of the other feasts and rituals for working with the dead simply because the focus of honoring the Einherjar is on their sacrifice.  More than just remembering and honoring them as people, I am honoring the choices they made in life, the things they gave up, to make the lives of those around them better.

I honor the Einherjar as a way of showing my gratitude for all thing things they did.  Many of the people I may remember or honor never knew me.  They may have been part of a different era, on the other side of the world, or they may have been family.  But they all stood up for what they believed in, and that example is one that should be remembered.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March and the changing seasons

So technically not March anymore..but still!

This month's topic was on how the seasons change.  I tend to feel very restless at this point in the year.  This year especially, I think the on and off heavy winter weather left me feeling very trapped in.  I am really enjoying the warmer days, the change to go outside and not feel like I am just rushing to get back inside (and not freeze!).  It always seems like the air is easier to breathe after winter...it doesn't burn as you inhale.

I also am rather enjoying the days being brighter.  It's light when I wake up (at 6:30 on weekdays...ugh) and it's light still after dinner.  And in part this is due to Daylight savings time..which I abhor.  The world is getting more global now, and it's hard enough to figure out all those different time zones, but add in DST and it becomes a real mess.  Not all countries change their clocks on the same days.  It's about a month offset, I think, from when we changed to when Europe changed.  I play online games with a very global set of people, and trying to organize anything for this month is an absolute mess.

And even within the US, there are some cities that don't participate in DST.  Honolulu is one.  Indianapolis used to be another, but I've been informed they have been doing DST for a few years now.  I personally think it would be less confusing to keep time the same and just have businesses perhaps run summer and winter hours.  Or just deal with the fact that the amount of daylight changes in the year.  Or finally realize that we have so many things that run on varying shifts (like factories that run 3 shifts and are open 24 hours....or stores/fast food that are open 24 hours) that we should start running more 24 hour things.  Imagine a world where you could go to your bank at 8p if you needed to...on a Sunday!  And now think of the number of jobs that would be created by doing this....

But enough about DST.  Another thing I really look forward to around this time of year is better produce.  Sadly, our stores never have good produce, but it's slightly less sad in the spring and summer.  Things could actually look decent instead of mostly yellow tomatoes and some wilted lettuce.

Of course, this also makes me a bit wistful.  As my husband likes to tease me, I am not very good at growing things (he says I have a black thumb!).  The one thing I have managed is some chives I planted probably 5 years ago....we swear they are like zombies, they come back every year, and have been covered in a foot of snow at times, and still they come back.  They are quite green right now!  Soon they will sprout these little lavender flowers (they look like clover flowers, but purple).  And the flowers are edible!  You can make a pretty vinegar with them, just wash them really good, and toss them into some white vinegar and you end up with a purple/pink chive vinegar.  They can also be tossed onto salads for a bit of chive flavor.

I wanted to grow herbs, both for cooking and magic.  In fact that's where the chives came from.  I got some little starter peat disks and several herbs:  parsley, rosemary, sage (I actually forget what all I got....I think there were six different things).  The peat disks were horrid.  They had this mesh around them once they were all expanded from watering, and that made everything rootbound.  I think the mesh was supposed to dissolve away, but it never did.  The chives were the only thing that lived past the first month, although everything sprouted.  I may try my hand again sometime...without the peat disks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drinking at ritual

It seems like a lot of public opinion about Heathen rituals is that they are just excuses to get drunk.  Given that many Heathen rituals do involved ritualized drinking, and more consumption than the sip of wine offered at other Pagan rituals, it is easy to see where this stereotype originates from. 

While I have no doubts that some groups use ritual as a reason to get sloshed (just as some neo-wicca groups use ritual as a reason to have orgies or partner-swap), I don't think that all groups do this.  I don't even feel like most groups treat drinking in ritual like this. 

I've read quite a few accounts of Symbel, which includes ritualized toasting with alcohol.  While it can get extensive, with many rounds of toasts (and if you have quite a few people, this could definitely lead to being tipsy), if you do less rounds or have a smaller group, it is definitely possible to participate without being wasted.  And I would be willing to bet that some groups allow non-alcoholic drinks (just like some Pagan groups have switched to sparkling juice or other beverages instead of wine).

I'm not a teetotaler.  I quite like to drink, and I enjoy the feeling of being tipsy.  I don't really enjoy being falling down drunk (and I definitely don't like loosing bits of time or being hungover in the morning).  For me, it's all about finding that pleasantly drunk place.. and staying there.  But even than, for me, is too much for ritual.

I've been at rituals, not Heathen ones but Pagan rituals, where there was alcohol, and where people partook enough that they were pretty drunk before the ritual even began.  I personally don't feel this to be the right way to approach ritual.  When I go to ritual, it is with the intent of connecting to something higher.  I don't feel that being drunk helps with this, in fact I find it to be more of a hindrance (I'm way more easily distracted and less focused when drunk).  Now, after the ritual, if there is a feast and socializing, I'm fine with getting freer with the alcohol.

Where I really have a problem with other people drinking at ritual is when their drinking effects the other people at ritual.  That is just as disrespectful in my eyes as bringing someone who thinks that Pagan ritual is a ridiculous idea and constantly feels the need to point this out to everyone there. 

Back to the idea of Symbel.  Perhaps it is because I am not part of an actual Heathen group, and have never participated in one, but the feeling I get from Symbel is not the traditional worship type of ritual, but more a group bonding type of ritual.  It seems like the focus is on sharing of the self, toasting (to recognize and honor) deities, heroes and ancestors that are important to you, and setting intentions for the future.  In this light, even if the drinking got a bit heavy handed (and as the rounds went on, it has that potential), I don't see it as being as disruptive as the same level of drinking at a traditional ritual. 

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what we feel is right in regards to intoxication at ritual.  And part of that decision should be the beliefs of the people you participate in ritual with.  As with any group gathering, sometimes your ideals will not mesh with those of the greater group.  If you are working with a group that prefers to take rituals to a place of drunken debauchery, and that is not something you feel is appropriate, you might need to look for a group that you fit better with.  Likewise, if you enjoy being a bit drunk at your celebrations, but your group doesn't seem to approve, you might want to talk with them.  You may not even realize that other people are uncomfortable with your level of intoxication.  Sometimes discussion can help clear the table, and compromise can be reached.  Sometimes you may need to seek out others who better fit with your own preferences.