Kenaz [pronounced ken-ahz] is another rune attributed different meanings and rich with symbolism, so there are quite a few cards to cover! The most widely accepted interpretation is torch, as attested in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem. At its heart, this rune speaks to the human discovery of fire, an event of pure elemental harnessing that empowered humankind and shaped our destiny and capacity for not only survival but also our ability as a species to thrive. As such, Kenaz is associated with spiritual revelation, enlightenment and the powerful wisdom of the gods. On a more mundane level, it speaks of a time of teaching or learning and opportunities for knowledge, clarity, understanding and utilising skills
One of the most visually obvious tarot comparisons with Kenaz is the Ace of Wands, which represents that spark of ingenuity we all carry, our eagerness and passion to strive and create – those lightening-bolt moments of bombastic vision and drive. Within this imagery, one can also easily imagine the fire of a forge, where the smith channels his passions into burning, melting and shaping matter according to his will, a similar scene to that of the Eight of Pentacles, where the skilled craftsman shapes his creations and hones his skills with a singular focus.
This idea can also be seen reflected in the Lovers, where two people forge their bond in the fires of desire, passion and love. In this aspect Kenaz speaks to the power of love and attraction to ignite our souls and open our eyes to the wonders of this world. There grows a sense of oneness with the universe and the feeling that this union creates something brighter, stronger, and more powerful and beautiful than the sum of its parts.
Another thing humankind is said to burn for is the illumination of knowledge, and some rune scholars have made the link between Kenaz and the still widely used term, to ken, meaning to know, in some Scottish dialects. Rather than meaning the attainment of enlightenment, however, Kenaz is a representation of the quest for knowledge; the drive to seek spiritual understanding and open ourselves to divine fulfilment. It is in this guise that we can see a reflection of the Hermit, one drawn inwards to secret knowledge like moth to a flame and shining a light into the darkest realms of life’s mysteries.
Kenaz also evokes imagery of young and eager torch-bearing initiates, gathering under moonlight to face tests and trials to gain access to the guarded secrets of their community’s ancestral lore, spiritual tradition and hereditary magick. Leading this ceremony is the high priest of collective wisdom, seen in the Hierophant, who passes along the flame of his knowledge to new generations of pledges.
Merksatve (reversed) or shadowed by other runes in a spread, it can take on quite a different meaning. According to the Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems, Kenaz means a “sore” or “ulcer” that is the bane of children, and while this interpretation is rarely used for the upright position, it is applied by some to the reverse. Within it we can see the implications of ill health and destitution seen in the Five of Pentacles. Some runologists have attempted to reconcile the two different interpretations of Kenaz as both a “torch” and the bane of children by viewing the fire as the fever that frequently accompanies childhood illnesses whose symptoms include pocks – like measles – where ones inner fire is attempting to burn disease out of the body and cleanse it. As a general divination this interpretation suggests an idea similar to the Death card – something is rotten and must be purified absolutely in order to be reborn anew.
More commonly, however, a merkstave Kenaz can hold a similar meaning to our first card, the Ace of Wands reversed, where the mind is dull with a lack of bright ideas and we feel a depletion of inspiration and creativity. The Moon here is also an apt comparison, if we can imagine the bright torch extinguished and only the light of the moon shining through the night, the dim light casts shadows of illusions in the darkness and it is difficult to tell what is true and what is false, what is spiritual knowledge and what is delusion.