Articles/Essays From Pagans
May 12th. 2013 ...
Pagan Studies I: How Should We Define Modern Paganism?
Nothing Special... Part Two
The Third Path
May 5th. 2013 ...
The Value of Multicultural Awareness
Put Your Back Into It (Our Lady of the Sacred Honey Badger)
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances and Red Lipped Bat Fish
April 28th. 2013 ...
Lessons from the Lessers: Iris
April 21st. 2013 ...
Taken By The Goddess: The Crescent Moon Tattoo
The Gods/Being Godbothered
To Be A Witch
The Archetypes are Gods: Re-godding the Archetypes
April 14th. 2013 ...
On The Inclusion of Children
'Wand Fun' With Grandson
Lessons from a Baby
Lessons of Freedom: On Divinity and Healing
April 7th. 2013 ...
Out of the Broom Closet... Sorta
A Journey Through the Witches Tarot
History and Science Behind Numerology
March 31st. 2013 ...
What is the Magickal Self?
Ethics and Numerology
March 24th. 2013 ...
Keystones of the Sacred Land
March 17th. 2013 ...
Why Some Pagans and Witches Still Hide
Witch Heritage 101: What Happens When Witch Haters Joke about anti-Witch Films
I'm Not a Broom. So What's with the Closet?
March 10th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Things I Did as a New Pagan: Part 3
Hunting for the Real Witch in Film
The Collective Shadow
Lies - The Opposite of Truth
March 3rd. 2013 ...
Grounding and Releasing Negative Energy
A Patchwork of Magick
February 24th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I Made as a New Pagan (Part Two)
February 17th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I made as a New Pagan... Part One
Gardening with Crystal Energies
A Call from the Ancestors
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances and Black Water Snakes
February 10th. 2013 ...
We Are the Weirdos, Mister: A Completely Uncool Story of Origin
February 3rd. 2013 ...
"I'll Grind Your Bones to Make my Bread": Pagans and Animal Husbandry
The Role of Contemporary Culture in Magic
A Pagan Response to Endangered Earth
The Great Mother's Gift, Heinlein, and the Nature of Squirrels
13 Keys: The Glory of Hod
January 27th. 2013 ...
Why We Do Need Wicca
The Cosmos In the Coffee Shop
On Travel Spirituality and Magick
January 20th. 2013 ...
Beloved Backs and How to Save Them
Building or Burning Bridges?
Plants, Magic and Intuition
Plagiarism - How It Harms Our Community
January 13th. 2013 ...
Ramblings of a Pagan Guy: Stupid Clichés
The Magick and Power of Words
Aging Is Not Easy
The Riddle of Who We Are?
January 6th. 2013 ...
Wicca v Witchcraft
A Witch in the Closet
How Many People Can You Fit Under An Umbrella?
Gut Hunches, Mouse Dreams, and Pinkie Sense
December 30th. 2012 ...
Ritual "Cheat Sheet" Bracelet
Magick is All Around Us
Confessions of a Living Satyr
A Tiny Bit of Belly Dance History
December 23rd. 2012 ...
The Warrior Goddess and You.
World Change: A Message from Greece
What's the Meaning of Life, Anyway?
My Brother's Keeper
December 16th. 2012 ...
Keeping Christ in Xmas
Love is the Law
Listen to Your Heart's Wisdom
Reading the Book of Nature
A Plea Against Religious Discrimination
December 9th. 2012 ...
The Elephant in the Room: Physical Fitness In Pagan Spirituality
Magic Is Not for Free (Sometimes)
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
The Origin of Runes
Article ID: 13130
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Brunhilde [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: July 5th. 2009
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The term rune comes from ancient European dialects. It means mystery or secret. Each rune symbol represents a concept, like wealth or fertility. Runes were not originally used as letters in an alphabet. Ancient shamans used them in a variety of ways: to focus their thoughts, as an aid to meditation, as a means to communicate with the spirit world, for divination, etc. By necessity, much of this activity took place in the mind of the shaman. The inhabitants of the spirit world did not have physical bodies, so they communicated with the shamans through their thoughts, by using symbols such as runes.
Often, the shaman would enter into a sacred cave and draw images on the cave wall. We have numerous examples of ancient cave paintings still intact today. We call this type of display imitative magick. On behalf of the tribe, the shaman would dance, chant, and meditate in this sacred space. Some of these cave walls also feature early runes. These symbols may be messages sent from the shamans to the spirits, or images sent from the spirits to the shamans.
For ancient peoples, these paintings and runes were not mere decoration. They were powerful, energized glyphs that held great potential for action when utilized by the trained mind of the shaman.
Runes and Phosphenes
The origin of rune symbols is the topic of much debate. Just how were these symbols impressed upon the minds of the shamans? One theory is proposed by author Nigel Pennick in his book Magical Alphabets (1992) . The author discusses the effects of various stimuli on the visual cortex of the brain.
"Modern neurophysiology has identified phosphenes, geometrical shapes and images that are present subconsciously in the visual cortex and neural system. These are present in all humans. They are described as entopic, being visible when the eyes are shut. They can also be seen when the consciousness is altered by some means: during meditation, in trance, or in hallucinations induced by fatigue, illness or drugs."
Mr. Pennick’s analysis seems to agree with one modern belief on the possible origin of runes. One can imagine an early shaman entering into a trance state in order to communicate with the spirit world, and perceiving phosphene patterns as part of the process. The shaman would naturally identify these patterns, or runes, as images sent to him from the spirit world.
Odin’s Shamanic Experience
Taken further, this neurophysiologic origin of runes may explain the myth of the god Odin receiving the Norse runes. We find his statements in The Poetic Edda where he describes his own personal shamanic experience. He speaks of a self-inflicted wound, followed by nine days and nights of severe deprivation. He willingly endures this torment in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. And he is handsomely rewarded—he receives the first rune symbols, which he later gives to mankind.
So Where Is the Magick?
If we accept the idea that some of our modern runes are the result of normal neurophysiologic changes in the human brain, a question arises. If rune symbols are simply the product of phosphene production, how meaningful are they? Are runes the result of contact with the spirit world or are they merely the result of chemical changes in the brain? Does their mundane neural origin discredit their spiritual importance? Are they indeed magickal?
Yes. Why? Because with our human brain and its ability to produce phosphenes, it seems that Nature has deliberately provided us with a ready-made vehicle to access the spirit world. First of all, our spirit vehicle is our brain—a preprogrammed cerebral system that is hard-wired to allow for altered states of consciousness.
Transitions to altered states can be tracked by analyzing brain wave functions. Profound changes in human brain wave activity have been reliably documented. Secondly, we now find that our brain vehicle is equipped with signal lights—our sojourn in these altered states can be accompanied by phosphene production.
Rather than discrediting our spiritual journey, and our acquisition of rune symbols, our human neurophysiology validates it. Our brains are uniquely configured to achieve access to other planes, and then signal us when we arrive. If you believe that Spirit deliberately created our human physiology, then our mental abilities are also deliberate. The sentient, guiding hand of Nature has designed us this way. And if some of our rune symbols are derived from meditative states, they those symbols do indeed come from a spiritual source after all.
One Size Fits All
There is another intriguing question about runes that may be answered by phosphene production. Some runes systems from diverse cultures have many symbols in common. Their similarity may indicate that a single “source culture” or progenitor originally produced the runes. Sometime later, those first symbols were adopted by neighboring cultures. The debate continues over which source culture that may have been. Many scripts and cultures have been proposed.
Perhaps the common source for similar runes was not a single source culture. It may have been shamans of several cultures who engaged in similar meditation practices and trance states. Since they all had similar neurophysiology, they all produced similar phosphene patterns, with the result that their visions produced similar rune symbols.
As modern users of runes can attest, there is definitely something ethereal and powerful about these symbols, even today. It may be their origins in the subconscious mind of all humanity. They possess a resonance with each of us.
People from widely diverse cultures can use the same rune symbols to focus their thoughts in meditation and prayer. They also make powerful conduits for our magickal work. And several symbols can be combined into one single glyph to concentrate their power, called a bind rune.
Finally, they are extremely useful as tools for divination, used in the same way as one would use Tarot cards. The interpretation of rune symbols during divination requires us to utilize our intuition, our sixth sense. These esoteric symbols can often help us to express our thoughts better than words.
They will continue to intrigue and fascinate those of us who follow the old ways.
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