So the topic for this post is the Aettir.
What, you may be asking, is an Aettir?? And that would be a perfectly legitimate question. The first part of the answer is that Aettir is actually a plural word…so the question would more accurately be “What are Aettir?” The singular is “Aett,” by the way, for future reference…
But to answer the question, you may recall my earlier mention of the fact that the Elder Futhark of Runes that we’re using here is an ancient alphabet made up of 24 letters…? Well, Rune scholars will happily inform you that the few surviving Runic texts from those old seagoing, Asgardian-worshipping days make note of the fact that the Futhark can be subdivided into three equal-sized groupings of eight Runes apiece. Each Aett is then designated by its opening Rune, and by a Norse Deity whose name begins with that Rune.
So, for instance, the first Aett begins with the “F”-Rune, Fehu, and that Aett is said to be presided over by either the Goddess of Love, Beauty, and Magic — Freyja — or by her brother, the fertility God, Frey (depending on which school of thought you prefer…and for whatever it’s worth, I belong to Camp Freyja, with no disrespect to Frey intended).
The second Aett launches with the “H”-Rune, Hagalaz, and again, two main viewpoints have evolved here, associating this Aett with either Hela, the Goddess of the Underworld, or Heimdall, the ever-vigilant sentry-God who stands watch on the Rainbow Bridge, Bifrost, which links our earthly realm with that of the Asgardian Deities (I lean toward Hela here, as the second Aett is, for the most part, suitably gloomy for that dark lady…although Heimdall is quite the impressive character!).
The final Aett is the only one that doesn’t seem to generate dissension as to whom it should be accorded: it begins with the “T”-Rune, Tiwaz (which we’ve already examined previously), and this Aett is lorded over by Tyr, the noble Warrior-God who gave up his own hand in order to buy his people a few ages of peace and security from a certain fearsome Wolf… These three groupings, then, are the aforementioned Aettir — mystery solved!
But so, okay, sure…but then what exactly do we do with these Aettir…? That’s actually another good question — a really good one. This one isn’t so easily answered, though… While Ye Olde Runic Gospel establishes the existence of the Aettir, we’re not really left with any specific guidance regarding how we might then apply that existence to a Rune reading. A panoply of theories exists, spread across the length and breadth of the internet, but it’s all essentially guesswork.
I actually have a few distinct theories that I’m cooking up here myself, which, when finalized, may allow for some useful employment of the Aettir. Sadly, though, these remain at present still only about half-baked (or…okay, maybe a third-baked…). The only one that I’ll mention here now, just so you can get some feel for how various Rune-users are approaching this issue is this:
I’m comfortable enough proceeding on the theory that the three Aettir might each represent stages in the initiatory process.
That is, Freyja’s Aett speaks of the phase during which someone matures enough to be off on their own adventures in the world, and they begin to reach a certain level of skill and power, amassing a legitimate storehouse of knowledge and tools along the way — think of young Odin, rising in might when the Universe was equally young, reworking the world with the help of his brothers, and establishing a new order in the Cosmos…
Hela’s Aett, though, is where the real challenges appear — this can be the phase of heroic trials, such as face-offs with monsters of whatever stripe, journeys into the underworld or other dark and terrifying places, and the confrontation with the grimmest parts of one’s own soul. Now picture Odin imposing that famous nine-day ordeal upon himself, in which he skewers himself with his magic spear and then hangs himself without food or water on the great World-Tree, Yggdrasil, until something meaningful might come of it all (and as we learned in a previous post, this is how Odin first encountered the Runes themselves).
And then Tyr’s Aett speaks to the final phase, that which follows all of the tests and tempering. This is what manifests after the monsters have been slain, and after the subject has re-emerged from out of the underworld — what will she or he do with their newfound wisdom and strength…? What did Odin do after successfully passing through his great trial, wiser and more powerful than ever…?
This may be oversimplified, as the Runes don’t make it easy for us to group them into completely unified categories, and there always seem to be at least one or two exceptions hiding in each Aett to foil a Rune-user’s attempts at creating a smooth system of labels…but so far, this is the best fit I’ve yet come up with myself, or encountered out there on the interwebs, even if this theory is still a bit rudimentary at present…
But anyway, the point of all this is to say that while worrying about the Aettir is probably not going to be one of the most primary components of a Rune reading, it is worth keeping the concept in the back of your mind during the process. I often check a given Rune-cast to see if any one Aett is either over-represented in the results, or is left out of the mix as compared with the others. Here in our ongoing example, it turns out that we have two Runes from Freyja’s Aett (Ansuz and Gebo), one from Hela’s Aett (Nauthiz), and two from Tyr’s Aett (Tiwaz and Ehwaz). This is about as even a distribution as you can probably hope for when analyzing a total of five Runes, so this says to me that the overall scatter spreads its meaning across all three Aettir, and across all three phases of the initiatory process. In other words, the qualities necessary for a Rune-reader to attain a sufficient level of worthiness should be seen as remaining present through all three stages of experience: beginning, middle, and end…beginner, intermediate, and advanced…neophyte adventurer, initiate under siege, and seasoned veteran.
At any rate, you needn’t stress too much about this concept — I just wanted to be sure I made mention of it, because if you do decide to get into further study of the Runes, you might see the terms “Aett” and “Aettir” sprinkled around, and I figured a bit of advance notice might be helpful. This is a more difficult and nebulous concept, though, and even people who will tell you with great authority that they know how to utilize the Aettir…probably don’t have such great authority about how to utilize the Aettir. So don’t be intimidated by this topic! As you explore the Runes, and get more familiar with the individual meanings of each, you can start to formulate your own working theories about what the three Aettir might really signify.
We’ll pause here for now, and next time, I’ll introduce some brain-exercises I like to use, which can be both fun and illuminating in closing out a reading…
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