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