Runes, Koans and the nature of Mystery

When people inquire what we actually do during our hearth meetings, by the nature of our focus on Zen and receptive listening, the answer is largely that we “keep silent”. Often people associate quiet and silence as being passive states – often rightly so, but sometimes our silence can take a more active, wondering and exploratory quality.

As we come together to practice, the runes become a tool via which we seek to engage with the mystery of our life in the realm of Midgard. Life can be joyful, painful, meaningful or bewildering and these states are reflected in the Rune rows. When Odin took up the runes he did so roaring and screaming – to seek to grasp the fullness of life’s mystery is not the easiest of undertakings.

Much has been made of the difficulty of interpreting the runes and the danger of imposing ones existing world view or esoteric preoccupations. One of the primary sources of inspiration has understandably been the various rune poems in their Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic forms. However helpful the rune poems are in helping us interpret the mysteries, I’m guessing I’m not alone in finding them highly enigmatic! Now of course greater application in understanding the linguistic, cultural and historical contexts will undoubtedly bring greater insight, but I still find power in also using a more non-linear approach.

The runes seem to represent at an almost archetypal level the values and concerns of our ancestors. They are the mysterious and elegant summary of their drives and hopes. On one level they can be understood as Cattle, Fire, Transport etc but more deeply they are Runa-Mysteries. As we seek to live our lives and listen to competing demands of work, family and leisure, the runes continue to exert their force and ask us to become something more. For the Zen Odinist they act as koans that challenge our attempts to live tidy, knowable lives – the memetic dynamite of the Gods aiding the process of the awakening for which we secretly long.

Within most Zen traditions koans play an important role in helping loosen the student’s hold on linearity. These teaching sayings are sat with and worked with until their presence, like the expansion of water freezing, cracks open consciousness. Like the rune poems, koans are not meaningless riddles, rather they are tools whose potency can only truly be accessed through letting go of our left-brained attempts to problem solve.

Seek the Mysteries!


For the latest exploration of a Zen Runic Koan click here


One thought on “Runes, Koans and the nature of Mystery

  1. Mike Kay says:

    Ah, the Runir!
    After studying them for longer than I care to admit, I have no conclusions, only open ended searching.
    Yes, there are more than a few University scholars who stiffly assert that the Runes were nothing more than a Germanic alphabet, purely practical and concerned with what materialists today refer rather laughably to as “reality”. Of course, not one of them can explain exactly how the Havamal, for example, figures into this commerce driven model.
    Yes, the Runes are inscrutable, they span the manifestation of the dawn of ritual, where the breath of man fused with the natural rhythms of our living planet, to the jaded lust for sacrifice-that heavily disturbing paradigm of fascination with death-which still holds the ruling class spellbound.
    If we are to use the Runes, we are forced to face both our dark and our light. It can be both ecstatic and shattering to discover the existence of the dark side within. Such do we find with the nicknames of the High One…Bolthorn….Bolverk…and more. They do not exist by coincidence. It can be overwhelming.
    If I have learned anything, then it must be that the Runes defy simple categorization and compartmentalization. Someone once said that it would be a very dull world, were there no mysteries left!
    I agree.

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