Exploring Tarot and Runes: 14 – Perthro

Perthro [exact translation unknown] is one of the more mysterious runes in the Elder Futhark and its original meaning has been lost to time. Furthermore, the “P” sound was uncommon in old Germanic languages and this rune did not survive the culling of eight runes in the development of the Younger Futhark set. As such we only have the Anglo-Saxon rune poem to guide us to clues about the rune’s meaning.

perthro

There is some consensus amongst the educated guesses of Perthro’s meaning, and it is generally translated to mean “gaming piece” or “lot cup”, which is in keeping with rune’s shape and the sole surviving poem.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 13 – Eihwaz

Eihwaz [pronounced Ay-wahz and occasionally Yoo-wahz] translates to “Yew”, which was a spiritually and practically significant tree for a number of Northern European pagan tribes. There is much discussion as to whether or not the great World Tree is in fact a yew, rather than the ash attested to in lore. One of the main points of contention is that Yggrassil is spoken of as an evergreen tree, which the yew is but the ash is not. One of the most prolific (and controversial) writers on the subject of runes and Norse cosmology, Edred Thorsson, mentions that an ancient alternate name for the yew tree was “needle ash”. Yew trees can live for over one thousand years and are associated both with death and eternal life, in fact many old Christian churches were built amongst yews in sacred groves, appropriated from their Pagan ancestors.

Eiwaz

The Old English rune poem speaks of the yew in similar ways to interpretations of the Strength card: it has a “rough bark from without”, but is deep rooted, a guardian of fires, and a “joy to the home”, implying concepts of longevity, protection, strength and safety.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 12 – Jera

Jera [pronounced Yeh-ra] translates to (and is the root of) the English word “year”. A welcome rune after the trinity of challenges presented by the previous runes, Hagalaz, Nauthiz and Isa, Jera represents harvest-time, and more specifically, a good harvest season. The Norwegian rune poem speaks of the generosity of Frothi, a Danish king appearing in old sources who may or may not have been a real historic figure (we also find a similar character, Ing or Ingvi, amongst the Anglo-Saxons, who I will cover further in the rune Ingwaz). The details of his legend and the incredible prosperity of his reign strongly links him to the mythology of the Norse god Freyr, son of the sea god Njord and brother of the slightly more famous Freyja.

Jera

Freyr is a god of sexuality, fertility, fecundity, agriculture, harvest, frith and sacral kingship, said to rule over the sun and rain, and can be understood as the patron god of this warm and bountiful time of year. Among his many attributes, he was known as a beautiful, noble and generous god, who rules benevolently over the realm of humans. Likewise, according to lore, Frothi was the best of kings, said to reign over a time of unprecedented peace and plenty.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 11 – Isa

Isa [pronounced Ee-sa] means ‘Ice’ and is the final rune in the trinity of more challenging runes that make up the first three staves of the second aett. In a mythological context, ice is one of two primordial elements that shaped the creation of the world.

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According to Norse mythology, in the beginning, before Gods, giants or humankind, there were two realms – the land of ice, Niflheim, and the land of fire, Muspelheim. Between these realms lay the void of Ginnungagap [translation: The Open Mouth of the Sacred Descendants]. The freezing slush and lava of the two worlds mingled in this chasm, and from this alchemy the proto-giant Ymir and the primordial cow, Auðumbla, were formed. Ymir drank from her milk while she licked blocks of salty ice, from which the father of the Gods, Buri, emerged.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 10 – Nauthiz

Nauthiz [pronounced Now-theez] translates directly to ‘need’ in Old English with the same meaning in Old Norse, with the added nuance of ‘constriction’. This rune along with the preceding rune, Hagalaz, and the following rune, Isa, form a trinity of the most challenging runes.

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Although not attested to in any ancient sources, many scholars believe that these three runes relate to the Norns – Urd (became), Verdandi (becoming) and Skuld (become), similar to the Greek Morai – who carve the fate of each infant in runes at the time of their birth. In many ways they represent the inevitability of difficult times in human experience and the events that hold within them the potential to either destroy us or set us on a more enlightened and emboldened path. It is in this sense, the ups and downs of life and luck, that all three runes can be seen inextricably tied to the Wheel of Fortune.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 9 – Hagalaz

Hagalaz [pronounced HA-galaz] means ‘hail’. A less than welcome rune, Hagalaz refers to the ambivalent forces of nature. Not just an inconvenience from which shelter is sought, a hailstorm to the ancient Norse could spell the destruction of entire fields worth of crops and a destabilising of their homes and animal shelters or perilous trips at sea.

 

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In our modern times, this rune represents an outside power that disrupts your potential or assumed success. Plans or projects have been implemented and suddenly a big spanner is thrown into the works, grinding everything to a halt. In its most archetypal context, Hagalaz can be seen as the downturn of the Wheel of Fortune. Everything was going so well, until it suddenly wasn’t, and now nothing feels like it is going your way.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 8 – Wunjo

Wunjo [pronounced Vun-yo] is a very happy rune and one of the least complicated to unpack. Translated to English it simply means ‘joy’ or ‘bliss’. For me, it is a rune of success, contentment and happiness on the earthly plane rather than any sort of spiritual ecstasy or enlightenment (which we will see later in the rune Sowilo).

 

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Representing the more mundane joys of life, I see Wunjo represented in the happier cards of the tarot’s minor arcana such as the 6 of Wands, where will and sustained efforts have yielded success. There is a sense of joyous recognition for the things we have achieved and the acknowledgment that our successes positively impact not only ourselves, but also those closest to us.

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 7 – Gebo

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Gebo [pronounced Gay-bo] means “gift”. Far easier to unpack than previous runes, Gebo nonetheless carries a vital message about the importance of generosity, reciprocity and charity in maintaining friendships and happy communities. Amongst the Germanic peoples, practicing good hospitality and generosity were the glue that held communities together, and there were few insults to a person’s honour more serious than the accusation of being ungenerous. At its heart then, Gebo tells us that to build strong bonds of friendship, love and community we must be giving of our time, resources and compassion. Continue reading “Exploring Tarot and Runes: 7 – Gebo”

Exploring Tarot and Runes: 6 – Kenaz

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

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Exploring Tarot and Runes: 5 – Raidho

Raidho [pronounced Ride-ho] translates to ‘rider’ but is also commonly associated with numerous forms of travel, including by cart, wagon, chariot or even boat. It is the traveller’s rune of movement, rhythm, speed, action and purpose.

 

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The most obvious associated card related to this rune is the Chariot, where we see the harnessing of wild forces to speed us to our destination. Both Raidho and the Chariot conjure images of will and adventure, they are the tidal waves of momentum that keeps us moving, driving, ever onwards.

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