I have been striving to find a way to describe the broad symbolism included in an alphabet. Trying to describe a letter that represents sounds and things; trees, animals, vines, herbs, weapons, tools; feelings, needs, wants, relationships, and emotions; earth, air, fire, water, ice; male, female, male and female; present, past, future; loving, fighting, working, needing, giving, striving, existing, being and doing. This is describing humanity within nature and nature within humanity. Since language is for expressing our selves, it makes sense that there must be something within language that mirrors us, something that is like us so that we relate to it and use it as a representation of us. There is such variety among us that we need the symbol to be objective and yet somehow alike. It then becomes so natural to use these symbols that we don’t give the practice another thought until one of them doesn’t make sense in context. We have bull and bear markets. Someone is a rock or a clinging vine. Something is fishy. A fighter is called “The Hammer”. A preacher is a firebrand. A woman has a willowy figure. Another is an earth mother. A bodybuilder is “The Austrian Oak”. Someone is yellow. Another is a “yaller dog”. She’s a cat, kitten, or tiger. We thunder and strike like lightening. When a term is used that is not on the mark it is obvious. All of these images conjure up vivid physical and spiritual images that pervade our lives, all of us. Once we know what the symbols mean, we intimately relate to them.
These are the planes of the physical and spiritual worlds that we move through, over time and through time, backward and forward. Different peoples have images that are drawn from the experiences of their cultures. An example of this is in the different types of astrology. There is the astrology that uses the planets and other heavenly bodies, reference points for people of the deserts and open places. China has the astrology using animal symbols. There is a tree astrology of the Celtoi that spread all across Europe and into the British Isles. Then we have the astrology of the Northern tradition that uses the stars with a maritime awareness of the tides and seasons. The symbols of language, like those of astrology, come from the experience of the people.
Every language represents a different family or tribe of humanity. We all have different stories and different sounds. We all try to find points of similarity at which we can connect. Those points at which we meet show us as much about ourselves as they do about those with whom we are connecting. When we have difficulty identifying with others, our language grows and acquires the sounds and words to express the new experience and to forge an understanding of some sort. This has definitely been the story of the English language. Much of our language has been formed and informed by words based on the myths and legends of Greece and Rome. We also acquired approximately ten thousand words from the Norman Invasion and the impress of the Norman culture remains. English, in its many dialects, contains and uses words from every culture we encounter from Arabic to Zulu. The different dialects of English are not composed of the same blends of cultures. South African, Australian, and East Indian all differ. Distinct variants occur within the same country, as in the U.S.A. and England, the birth country of English.
In watching BBC America it soon becomes clear that not every ‘Englishman’ speaks English the same way and that there is such a wide variety of dialects of English that some scarcely sound like English . Many of these dialects and accents are representative of the various people that have inhabited the British Isles from thousands of years ago to the present. There is ample evidence that the British Isles and the other northern lands were colonized six to eight thousand years ago. There were Celtic tribes that came through the Mediterranean area, across North Africa and down through Europe into the British Isles around six thousand years BCE. Several waves of Celtoi followed, bringing three dialects of Celtic languages, that we know of. The Teutonic tribes may have been related but appear to have had a more Asiatic origin. Every time I pick up another article there is more new information. So far, no one has abbreviated the length of either the Celtic or Teutonic habitation of the land; but rather new and even more ancient evidence emerges of their presence in these lands. Donald MacKenzie says that the Celts and Teutons were “blends of the same ancient races- the Alpine ‘broad-heads’ and the Northern ‘long-heads’[ref]“German Myths and Legends” p. xv MacKenzie, Donald A. He also says that the westward-moving Celts…absorbed the Mediterranean peoples of the late Stone Age.[/ref] Nigel Pennick, in his research of ancient alphabets, suggests a Crete-Minoan connection.
When the Celtoi and the Teutons arrived in the Btitish Isles those lands were already inhabited. We don’t know all of the peoples who were already indigenous to the area; but, many mythologies give substantial clues to two races of giants and at least two races of little people, tree-dwellers and mound-dwellers. The myths of Ireland indicate several more groups, including Milesians from Spain, before the Celtoi arrived. The Celtoi are the ones who brought Druidism with its Druids, Bards and Vates. The very mention of a class called ‘bards’ indicates the importance of language ‘Races’ arrived in Ireland from the south as well as from the north. More recently, I have been reading about traffic from the west. Granted that planes, trains and ships have expedited travel; but, humans traveled the globe long before they wrote home about it. I bring this up to illustrate the ancient history of language in the area.
Without even counting the mythic peoples of the oral tradition, we still had many inhabitants in the beautiful islands before the arrival of the historical peoples.. That still gives us two known historical groups, one with three sub groups, before the Saxons had arrived. The northern lands, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark also had several waves of settlers who in turn invaded Europe and the British Isles. This migration and invasion was way before the Romans first invaded Gaul in the year 58 BCE. The Romans brought the Latin languages (patrician and vulgate) and the Roman pantheon of gods. With man’s gods, he brings his observations, his ideals and fears and those basic principles on which he builds his life. The Romans also brought people from other conquered lands and their ideas. Then the Christian missionaries arrived with books in Greek and Aramaic. Some interesting melding occurrs when gods collide; the triple goddess Bridgit became a saint and the fertility god, Cernunnos, became the Christian devil. These changes make an impress on language. By the year 300 ACE, at least a million Jews lived west of Macedonia.[ref]“Ancient History Atlas 1700 BC to AD 565” p. 81 Grant, Michael[/ref] I counted twenty-five settlements in Gaul. The literature also places Jews in the islands. The year 622 ACE is year one in the Moslem calendar[ref]“Timetables of History” p. 54 Grun, Bernard[/ref] there was soon an Islamic influence in the British Isles. In 787 ACE, papal envoys were received in the hall of Offa, rex anglorum (King of Angles) who paid an annual tribute to the papacy. Some of the tribute was paid in gold dinars which were issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and which had a picture of King Offa on one side and on the other side, stamped “There is no God but one and Mahomet is his Prophet.”[ref]“The Birth of Britain” p. 63 Churchill, Winston[/ref]
The Anglo Saxon language used runes and those runes were based on the god concepts of various tribes. The myths and legends behind those runes are something about which we know very little and our language is showing that want. It is hard to imagine what a person means when we have no image in our minds of what the words mean. We do not have an image map of the greatest part of our language. We do not, as far as I have been able to discern, have an Ovid of the Northern tribes. The Roman poet Ovid, in his “Metamorphoses”, gave the geneaology of the Roman pantheon of gods and showed how those deities were representative of the many peoples that made up Roman history. In building an intimate relationship with their concept of god, peoples have always given it a shape and characteristics with which they can identify. Those characteristics give us an insight into customs, mores and beliefs of our ancestors. They are, more importantly, the key to the sense of the words that we use. “The mythology of a people is far more than a collection of pretty or terrifying fables to be retold… It is the comment of the men of one particular age or civilization on the mysteries of human existence and the human mind, their model for social behaviour, and their attempt to define in stories of gods and demons their perception of the inner realities.”[ref]“Gods and Myths of Northern Europe” p. 9 Davidson, H.R. Ellis[/ref] These inner realities are what we are referencing when we speak our minds. These inner realities are what we are referencing when we make up our minds. The myth structures that model these inner realities are what gives sense to our words and structure to our language. We need to revisit our myth structure to reacquaint ourselves with ourself.
Joseph Conrad, in his book “Heart of Darkness” drew a parallel between the Roman invasion of Britain and Britain’s invasion of Africa. A lot of us miss the point(s) that history repeats itself and that we are all creatures of various tribal groupings who are repeating those histories while trying to ‘do better the next time’. It is hard to do better when we erase embarassing history from the record or puff up history to distort all sense out of it. It is hard to do better and be better when we don’t know our own histories. When the Roman Empire was at its height, the Germanic tribes were at the edges of the empire. When Rome invaded Gaul the Germanic tribes were still small bands led by chieftains. According to historians of the time these bands did not have hereditary rulers, they had to earn their stripes, so to speak. When a tribe became too large for their territory, they splintered off. Groups of the young excess and expendable male population went in search of other territory. Thus, there were continuous waves of new tribes looking for land, wives and other mates
The different Germanic tribes sometimes allied themselves with Rome and sometimes fought against Rome. Julius Caesar’s “Conquest of Gaul” is an interesting read and gives his impressions of the tribes and their leaders. Granted Caesar was biased but he was there and was in a position to know what he was talking about. I’m bringing up this subject to make the point of how many different and diverse tribes of peoples were in that relatively small part of the world and were in intimate contact with one another for hundreds of years and, in some cases, thousands of years. There was continuous internecine warfare in what is now Europe and the British Isles. Warfare, the avoidance of war, and the negotiating of treaties regarding both, necessitated considerable communication among the parties involved. That communication took a great many forms, most of which required some symbolic representation. That means language. They may have supported their communication with some sign language or some kind of pictographic sketches;but, they were speaking in some way. Maintaining peace requires considerably more language sophistication than fighting wars does.
At the beginning of the Common Era, this land had been invaded repeatedly for at least six to eight thousand years that we know of. With Roman conquest there was relative stability, that is they fought bigger wars in a more orderly fashion, with uniforms, high tech war machines, and a dominant Caesar rather than a flock of minor warlords. A political power structure and a unifying religious[ref]Webster’s New 20th Century Unabridged p. 1527 Religion [L. religare to bind back; re- and ligare to bind, to bind together] conscientiousness, scrupulousness [/ref] network were imposed. There was the Roman Emperor Cult and the Greco-Roman Christ Cult. These were the new unifying myths op. cit. p. 1190 Myth [LL. Gr. mythos word, speech, story, legend][/ref] of the land. When Rome collapsed under it’s own excesses, with liberal assistance from barbarian invaders, the influence of both religious structures remained. Whether any and all of these belief systems are called religions, myths, beliefs, or some other appellation does not reflect on their reality, their validity or their value to humanity. The subject here is how these many diverse belief structures, including the new ones, influence and reflect on the people who cherish them and those who just endure them. The influences of all these cultures remains among the people and expresses itself in the composite language that develops. Europe went back to the dark ages of low tech killing with wise men of different tribes carving, writing, and singing ‘histories ‘ of who we are, what we believe, what we have done, and what matters to us. Now, among these wise men, we also had monks of the different sects who were competing with varying degrees of success with the tribal gods. It was in this crucible that the new English language took form. This period is known to history as “The Dark Ages”
The “Dark Ages”[ref]”Lessons of History” Durant, Will p.29 Durant gives the time period as c. 565 to c. 1065.[/ref] was a feudal time. It covered a period of approximately five hundred years of western history. The time was dark relative to the times preceding and following it. The area was not desolate. Much was taking place that left a significant impress on the future. Much of what happened during that time was conveyed to us through oral histories that were later written down. Some of that ‘history’ we have read in Shakespeare’s comedies and dramas, not realizing that it was history. We have often downplayed the importance of oral histories or doubted their validity because they weren’t in writing. I think we give short shrift to oral history. I submit that it is easier to edit and abridge written histories and give them the appearance of coherence.
It is more difficult to fudge[ref]Webster’s New 20th Century Unabridged Dictionary p.739 …to make or put together dishonestly or carelessly; to fake…in printing, a short piece of news or other matter, often printed in color, inserted in a newspaper page.. No etymology or other origin is given. Since this is also the name for a culinary confection, the general sense is that of something contrived.[/ref] an oral history because the spoken word is another way of singing. Every language has a rhythm, a beat, a measure, a pitch and when something is changed in the pattern the change is conspicuous. Changing the words alters the sound. Changing the storyline throws the entire story off key. When lies are spoken they jar, jangle, and grate whether it is personal talk or bardic wordcraft. When oral histories are edited, abridged, and otherwise distorted the changes are audible and visible. I add visible because we get mental images when we hear language. That picture in our mind is one more way that deception or error is conspicuous.
When those oral histories are committed to written form, those distortions and deceptions usually remain. There were, however, many scholars and scribes working to secure the record of our history and to keep it whole even during those times called ‘the dark ages’. Bards, runemasters, monks, and scholars of various ilk were recording histories, composing stories, translating works or copying them, whether in the oral form or the written, and this work continued through those dark ages. Each one was working from his particular position and perspective. Taken together they left a remarkably complete picture of the times and the peoples. It only remained for an indigenous scholar or scholars to arrive who would meld these stories into a multifaceted, panoramic history. There were also a great many monks; however, their perspective was the well-being of the church(s). Already, there was more than one form of Christianity. The strife between the Celtic version and the Roman version would last for centuries. Some of the editing of history came from the destruction of written works by invading Norsemen and some was the attempt to stamp out all signs of paganisn by destroying the runic writing and carving. The destruction of runes was accomplished by competing religions over many years. We still have those who assiduously omit any hint of lurking paganism or heathenism. Fortunately, that is not possible or our language would not have survived and flourished. Pagan and heathen are two more words for the common man and the common man keeps language alive and well. We also spread our language wherever we go.
That thought brings me back to Winston Churchill. Fifteen hundred years after the beginning of the “Dark Ages” one of the common men composed a succinct history of the British Isles that enables us to make our way through the saga of our history. About five-hundred years before him, William Shakespeare did the same thing with our histories and myth structures. He did it in a completely different way, with different language and entertaining stories and viewpoints. There will be many more and they will all have something new and different to add. And many will have something new to say, something to say for the very first time. This will give those of us who were not there, and who could not have been there, a chance to share in the stories.
We never know who this person is going to be and how he will speak his piece. To me, this is an important reason why access to education is essential. The best and most real ‘stories’ come from real people; and some of them are told in song, dance, poems, pictures, and plays. To this purpose, learning to read and write competently must be available to all of us. We will not all use language the same way any more than we will all use the same language. Some of us dance it, some sing it, rap it, rock it, and bop it. Many rhyme it and alliterate it.
The part of that great panorama that commands my interest now is the source of those pictographs those runes that form the infrastructure of English. I have approached their stories from several directions while trying to maintain the focus of my purpose. My purpose is to make English literacy more available by disinterring or unearthing the concrete images that give sense, sound and spelling to the words and the concepts that are the basis of our native tongue. To really grasp the meaning of something and be able to apply the process of thought to it, we must have some image in our mind’s eye of what it represents. We all have different ways of forming these mental images so there are a variety of ways of perceiving or seeing the representative image. Some relate with music, others with colors, others with shapes or movement. We all been given slightly different ways of seeing things and that is why we need so many points of view in order to see the whole picture. In the process of unearthing these runic concepts and images I have been finding some very interesting tribal participants in our story. I’m going to be analyzing and presenting the runic symbols and placing them in the context of words that we use and have used in the past. In that process I’ll be introducing some of the probable tribal sources.
Among these many tribes, one gave us the goddess Gefn, “the beautiful giver”. This is the goddess represented in the rune Gyfu. This means gift or giving and signifies the unification through exchange. This could be another way of looking at the giving of tribute, not as a sort of blackmail or extortion but as a mortal expression of what some tribe noticed about all of nature. We are given everything and it is a way of honoring the great goodness known as “the beautiful giver” that we also give gifts. It has been a custom since time immemorial that people give gifts. For that matter, so do many animals. Even when they give their life that we may eat and live, we have been given something. These are not always gifts that we want or like, just as we don’t like or want everything that is given to us by life. It is just a point of faith that some benefit must derive from a gift no matter how little we may like it or like having received it. Gefn is the Gracious Giver. I believe that the onus is on us to graciously receive what we are given and try to make the most of it, to turn it to purpose, to gain some insight or knowledge from it. Among many tribes there are Shamans who are given insights through very stressful or painful life experiences. This insight becomes a knowledge that is directed for the benefit of the people. This same experience is present in Christian sects in the form of the godhead making a personal sacrifice (of his only son) and of devotees giving their lives (martyrdom) for the faith. The pattern is then repeated in the followers who sacrifice material goods. This is the process of unification through exchange, a unifying with that great goodness which we recognize in the universe.
These gifts are what we all are given. Life is given. Food is given. Water is given. Challenges are given. We are constantly being given to. These gifts are often not wanted or asked for. They just are, and we figure out what to do with them. Life is a gift. We don’t make it happen. No matter how hard we try to control things and convince ourselves that we make our own world, the inner reality that brings fear and awe is that things are given to us no matter how much we pray (ask) and try to negotiate terms.
By the very definition, the meaning of gift is ‘to give’ or ‘what is given.’ We are all given gifts, our particular brand of genius is one of them, our knowledge, skills, aptitudes, even infirmaties. We can choose how we use the gift but we do not choose the gift or do anything to make it happen. The inner reality that is given to us with this rune is that all we have is ultimately given to us in some way. Giving is one of nature’s laws. This inner reality underlies the concept of tzedakah, the Hebrew word for “charity” that doesn’t really mean charity. It is more like “equity” or “justice”. It is our part of honoring the gracious giver that we also give. This law of nature is expressed in the rune of GYFU. “In ‘Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem’, Gyfu’s reading is: ‘To people, giving is an ornament of value, and to any outsider without any other, it is substance and honor’.[ref]”Runic Astrology” p. 56, Nigel Pennick)[/ref]
Don’t ever confuse this gift with an “Oh goody, look what I got” kind of gift. Think of the prophet Isiah railing, “God doesn’t want your bloody gifts, he wants you to love one another and deal justly with one another.” If Isiah is too much to handle, remember how much you do not appreciate it when your cat brings home a nice dead rat for your dinner. That thought reminds me of Iphigenia speaking in “Iphigenia at Taurus”. Upon being ordered to gift god with a human sacrifice, who turns out to be her long lost brother: “God is not bloodthirsty; man is and he blames his lust on the gods”. The Saxons had the same dichotomy that all tribes have had, that difficulty with appropriate giving. One of the historians said that the Saxons expected to lose a certain number of men on every foray so they picked that number and sacrificed them. – as what, God’s share? There was more than one tribe of Saxons so we don’t know which one or ones the historian was referencing. It is difficult for ‘moderns’ to identify with this process as gifting. Consider it as as what accrues to us or something that we have, possibly even were born with. Sometimes we think of these things as sacrifices; we all have, give and are relieved of things. This is a process that pervades all life, including life. This is one of those processes of nature that we can’t avoid noticing and wondering about and, in accord with human nature, trying to negotiate agreements with the powers that be- human or divine.
A trace of this runic concept can be found in words with ‘g’ or the sound of ‘g’, as in gift. It is more conspicuous in words with the sound or spelling of ief, ive, ift, ief, ieve, remembering that ‘v’ is a vocalized form of ‘f ‘. The ‘y’ in gyfu is sometimes written as ‘i’ and sometimes as ‘e’. Phonetic values are never spot-on in English. There is no exact value for each letter. That is why it is best to learn the name of a letter and it’s most common value, then start learning the sounds as they occur in patterns of usage. Some words that contain the gift concept follow. The image of the Gracious Giver is present whenever any form of the verbs to give and to have are used.
give, gave, gift
live, life, lift
In going over these words, you notice the senses of acceptance, of loss, of struggle against, of struggle for, and of acceptance that are within these words. These are all about what we have been given, ‘the hand we have been dealt’, so to speak, and how we respond and react to it. The idea of ‘giving’ brings us to it’s natural counterpart, ‘need’.
The rune of need is Nyd. Nyd is also known as Nott, the goddess of night. Need is another word for appetite. This is not just a craving for food. We have many needs or appetites. We have appetites for knowledge, for achievement, for recognition, for human contact. This is another inner reality that has been given us by our ancestors, and not just the Germanic ones. The Hebrew tribal equivalent of this goddess of the night is Lilith. This archetypal pattern that is expressed in the rune of Nyd is one that scares people senseless. In fact, in some cultures it is assigned the role of a demoness. In the Northern tradition there is ways of dealing with the fear of need. First there is Gyfu (giving). To get help there is the Need Fire. I don’t know from reading just how the use of the the need fire was implemented. I did hear a family story about ancestors who lived in the northern woods where they were snowed in part of the year. They kept a pile of timber near the shore, away from the woods, so that they could light the bonfire if they needed help. It was a custom to come if someone gave this signal for help. This was their need-fire. This is a recognition of another powerful inner reality: there is no one so powerful, self-sufficient, wealthy, or independent that they never have needs, that they never have needs that they can’t fill them by themselves. I suspect that this ancestral wisdom derived from a tribe that was well acquainted with times of cold, want, and famine.
The most conspicuous expression of NYD that I find in English is the use of ‘n’ to negate. This follows that a need is an absence of something, an emptiness, a lacking. It is an expression of the negative. “no, not, nay, neither, nor, none, never.” This would place NYD in any compound word containing ‘no’ or ‘not’ and at the end of a*ny word ending in ‘n’t’, as in won’t, didn’t, can’t, haven’t and so forth.
Compounding and Expanding of Runic Symbolism:
Nyd and Gyfu are used independently but they are also used as compounded symbols. The rune Ingwaz gives us the sense element -ing. Notice that this element contains both Nyd and Gyfu, which keep their meanings and yet have a fundamental principle that differs from either that of ‘Need’ or ‘Gifting’. Ing is the expression of ‘give and take’, ‘tension and tension release’, principles that are so pervasive that they rise to the level of fundamental principles of life. The more I analyze the runic symbols, the more I find compound and complex examples in our language. The runic symbols keep their sense and expand the sense, just as our words do. Ideas grow out of our symbols. Another example is -ign. When I analyze words with the -ign sense element, they have the Nyd/Gyfu sense expanded in different directions, whether the word is ignominy, ignoble, sign or signature.
Our language contains layers upon layers of meaning and of opportunity for sense expression. New ideas grow from working with word symbols. New sense comes to light in the old words when seen in these new perspectives.
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