So we’ve reached a new plateau of sorts in our ongoing example Rune reading: we evaluated the size and shape of the scatter of Runes that I cast, and we’ve tackled the heart of the reading, which would be the assessment of the individual Runes themselves. I find it’s most natural to first analyze the more obvious, face-up Runes, followed by turning over and weighing the meanings of the more subtle Runes that had landed face-down. We also got into the flow of the overall pattern of the scatter — in our example, there was a very strong, unified sense of flow in terms of which ways the different Runes were facing, although this won’t always be the case!
We also discussed how the Runes that presented themselves to us here would serve as answers to our initial question: specifically, they describe qualities that the compassionate and talented Rune-reader will bring into readings. These are exemplified by the four subtle Runes we examined:
–Tiwaz – showcasing integrity, altruism, strength of character
–Ehwaz – indicating strength, endurance, the willingness to work hard, and a symbiotic relationship between Runes and Rune-reader
–Gebo – spotlighting a need to view the Runes and interactions with them as sacred gifts, and ones that establish powerful bonds between the Runes and their users
–Ansuz – flagging for us the requirement to see the magic and might that are inherent in symbols and language
These are all critical steps, and I can’t think of any situations off the top of my head in which you wouldn’t want to run through them.
And so having traveled to this point, I want to now bring up a few additional checklist items to consider, as they can shed significant amounts of light on the work already performed…
The first thing here has to do again with that concept of orientation. That is, important information can usually be gleaned during a Rune-cast based on the orientations of the Runes. That part isn’t exactly a big revelation anymore, as we’ve already gotten into this notion a bit throughout this series of posts. What we haven’t touched upon yet, though — because it really didn’t come up in this particular example — is an orientation/facing concept called merkstave. As you study various Rune resources, you’ll bump into this term, so I wanted to cover it at least briefly here before moving on.
Merkstave literally means “dark stick,” and it refers to situations in which a Rune lands such that it seems to be rotated 180 degrees away from the Rune-caster who’s performing the reading. Put another way, the Rune appears to be “upside-down”…although I want to be very clear here that I’m not talking about a Rune that lands face-down, such that all you can see is its blank back-side. Merkstave indicates a Rune that, when face-up, seems to be rotated completely opposite to the reader, so that it would look perfectly rightside-up to someone sitting across the table from the Rune-reader.
Interpretations of a merkstave Rune will vary pretty seriously from one Rune-reader to the next. The concept is not unlike reversed cards in Tarot readings, which notion generates similar variances in treatment across any array of readers that you might poll. Probably the most commonly employed approach toward summing up the impact that a merkstave Rune has upon a reading would be to view that Rune not as opposite to its usual meaning, but more as bringing with it the more negative of the meanings and interpretations that are generally associated with that Rune.
Here’s an example… Consider the Rune called Algiz. It serves as the “Z”-Rune in the Elder Futhark (and sometimes gets tapped by people to stand in for “X,” as well). Algiz literally means “Elk,” and its primary interpretations revolve around the overall concept of “protection” (think of what an elk’s antlers do for that elk, and you’re on the right track). So to a practitioner who hails from this “merkstave = darkest meanings” school of thought, if Algiz lands merkstave in a Rune-cast, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person receiving the reading (who is referred to as the “querent” in divination, by the way) will experience a total lack of protection, which would be the polar opposite of the basic Algiz thrust…it will more likely mean that the querent will find herself/himself in a situation in which she/he will need protection — a subtle but definite distinction. It’s not a black/white flip-flopping of “protection/no protection” — it becomes more a case of “What kinds of bleak realities can springboard out of situations in which the generally prevailing theme is that of protection?” Having no protection at all arguably fits into that category, yes, but it’s also probably the most obvious and over-simplified way of reading the merkstave Algiz.
But let me pause here to say that just as with reversed cards in Tarot, you are the final judge as to what feels like the best approach in all this. You should definitely play around with various ways of handling merkstave Runes before you land on any one method for yourself (and you can even feel free to allow your methods to be a bit fluid, and to morph a bit from one reading to another if the Runes seem to be calling for that in a given scatter). None of the few hallowed texts surviving from the old days when the Germanic peoples sailed the northern seas offers any guidance on this matter, so take anyone’s opinions (mine included) with the requisite grains of salt, and work at determining what resonates most with you!
For whatever it’s worth, I personally don’t tend to do all that much with the merkstave concept (or with reversed cards in Tarot, for that matter) — I just stay aware of the entire range of meanings for a given Rune, and take them all into consideration. I feel that as the Runes that surface in a given cast interact, they’ll start to indicate which of their meanings need to be treated as primary, based in great part on which other Runes are present. And as we’ve covered a bit already, I also place more weight on the orientations of all of the Runes in a scatter on the whole: that is, I believe it’s important to examine whether they all line up consistently and agreeably with each other, versus whether they’re pointing in a chaotic mishmash of directions (which can indicate blockages or disruptions in the situation being explored). A single Rune can be merkstave from where I sit without that feeling like a big, blaring alarm-signal to me, as long as the rest of the Runes aren’t all swimming in the other direction. So, I tend to look at the forest when it comes to the Runes’ orientations, more than at each individual tree, if that makes sense…
And here’s one more reason why I don’t cling fanatically to the merkstave concept: 9 out of the 24 Runes in the Elder Futhark can’t be merkstave — they have no rightside-up or upside-down, and are exactly the same when you spin them a half-turn in either direction! It doesn’t sit right with me to accord this whole merkstave treatment to the majority of the Runes, but to refuse admittance to over a third of the Futhark to this particular party!
In our next post, I’ll get into the Aettir, a concept based on the structure of the Futhark…
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