Many years ago, while in a full time relationship, working a job I hated but needed, and helping to raise my sister’s eldest son, who was twelve, I took a year off from work to recoup from, well, all of that, and began to study and practice seriously as a Pagan.
I took that opportunity to study a set of ancient symbols which had always fascinated me, the Runes. What I learned about ancient magical ideas, Icelandic, Norse, German, and Anglo Saxon ancient cultures, the appropriation of the Elder Futhark (a set of runes originated by some Teutonic tribes in the area of Germany) into the Nazi regime and symbolism, were all fodder for my creative mind.
I found that Futhark stood for the first 6 runes in that system, (Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raido, Kenaz) just as Alphabet stands for the first two Greek characters that now make up our alphabet (Alpha Beta). I also learned that the generous images needed to be grounded in my own experiences, culture, language, and time.
To that end, I began to write some single stanza poems about each of the 24 Runes. My plan has always been to create some sort of collection with them.
My question about it has always been, does the poetry translate for anyone but me? Here are two of the first poems – not necessarily in the order in which they come in the Futhark – “Fehu,” which stands for “cattle or prosperity”, and Ansuz, which stands for “God or Word of God”.
Fehu, fussy calf, short pink tongue questing,
Prosperity, your cattle are huddle in the field,
Feoh, that fuzzy-at-the-horn-root calf
You know if you come close to the fence
I’ll offer my hand as a sloppy sacrifice,
Just to feel your slick tongue seeking.
Look upon me with your dark eyes. The fields
Are still wet with dew, and my head is full of dreams.
Ansuz, God, mouth of time,
Moth of words, wisdom of the Wyrd.
Inside that hole, we part, Grandmother.
God takes the tongue and roots it elsewhere, lights your bones
With eternal flame, sets them deep beneath my own skin.
Goddess slips her tongue over your buried bones,
Drills the cipher to my life deeply against my
Hip, and shin, breast and skull,
And the blessings burn.
Compelling? Confusing? Intriguing? What would you call these? I was reading a lot of old Icelandic poetry in translation while studying these, and I worked to try to follow the single stanza/syllabically-styled poetry, while giving the individual Rune name, followed by its definition, followed by my own interpretation of what the symbol meant, at least in my experience of modern Northern New England Culture. Oftentimes, what ended up coming from that was longer poetry with more of my own narrative. Poems like Green Mountain Runes, which is included in the Birchsong, Vol II that is out this month, and which incorporates the idea of Fehu/Cattle into the poem with the lines “…Fehu, prosperity/ which, first generation, meant sheep,/ more sheep than one woman could sheer/ and not go bleary-eyed, and bloody-handed, home…”
I will leave rest of this poem where it is (inside of the Birchsong collection) so you can read that when you grab yourself a copy of it from Northshire Books. or listen to it on April 14th, when I will be reading at the launch, at Northshire, in Manchester, VT.
Meanwhile, write on, McDuff!