When I first learned about runes in the 80s, I learned to use them as a magical tool rather than a tool for divination. They remain one of the most useful tools in my arsenal. It’s easy to hang a rune sign out in the open without anyone asking any questions. I’ve made rune glyphs for my daughter’s saddle, for my front door, for a friend’s new abode, for well, just about everything.
I never really learned to “read” them until about a decade later. But despite the fact that I knew Vitki, the art of using runes within Seiðr, it wasn’t until last year that I really started making and using runes specifically for divination.
Let me tell you why.
Because I was a fool.
Plain and simple.
Runes were “too primitive” and “not esoteric enough” to strike my fancy. They were too simple and straightforward and made too much “common sense” for a sorceress who looked for “challenge.”
As I embarked on the prospect of learning Teutonic Shamanism, I learned that it’s the graceful simplicity of runes—not to mention the familiarity of the language—that reaches the subconscious of an English-speaker in the way that the intensely archetypal images of the Tarot do.
Here, let me show you. Keeping in mind that the “thorn” (þ) makes the “th” sound—not a “p” sound, can you make any sense of these sentences? (Courtesy of Bruce Mitchell’s An Invitation to Old English &Anglo-Saxon England, 1995.)
His linen socc feoll ofer bord in þæt wæter and scranc.
Hwær is his cþýþþ and cynn?
Se cniht is on þære bryge.
All you have to do is look at Jera to see the give-and-take of seed and harvest; Nauthiz to see “need” (as the two stick rub together to create need-fire) and friction; Pertho to see everything represented by the “chalice” of other traditions (‘cept Pertho has legs); Gebo to see fairness and equal-exchange—after all, we still use the X to symbolize a kiss; and Tiwaz, well—look for yourself: ↑.
So, I spent some time this week really thinking about why Uruz and Fehu look so different from one another on account of they both represent “cattle” of one sort or another. (I’m not the only one to compare these two runes; it seems a no brainer. Have a look: here and at Wandering Woman Wondering (she has some other great bits–you should go have a look for yourself). But let me break it down for you, “Ehsha style.”
Uruz—Aurochs (an extinct paleolithic wild ox, not unlike a bison)
The accepted meaning of Uruz is strength and Fehu is understood to indicate wealth and luck.
My meditations on Uruz have always revealed “survival” and “instinct” along with “strength” and “power”; whereas my meditations on Fehu have always revealed “transitory-ness” and “that-which-is-subject-to something outside itself.” To me, the latter is not unlike bondage. I keep going back to the difference between wolves and beagles. A different set of instincts, a different way of communicating, a different set of drives. The wolf is ferocious, strong, and free (and nearly extinct as a result—and more valuable as a subsequent result); the beagle brays at everything, is vulnerable, and wants nothing more than to get his belly rubbed by his owners. Yeah, they both bite—but you don’t bring a beagle to a wolf pack and expect it to fit in. You can prolly expect it to be eaten alive.
The same goes for the ox and cow. Wild ox are ferocious, strong, and free (also extinct as a result—and more valuable as a subsequent result); cows are, well, they are “mooish.” They are vulnerable, and tip-able. And well—ever meet a cow? Both are good for food, but one is a little harder to catch. Or was. It is, perhaps ironically to this post, the trials inherent in catching the ox that led our ancestors to domesticate cattle. Easy pickin’s.
Some of the things I have been thinking about in terms of “cattle-wealth” is that the herd is less mobile than a wild herd. When I’ve had to move a few horses from one farm to another, it took a team of people, special vehicles, and a day or two off from work. When Curly showed Billy Crystal how to move a herd of cattle, we all got to watch as he learned the Hermetic lesson of “just one thing” along the way. And we got to see that it takes a little more than moving a few horses.
Now imagine driving wild oxen.
So, by “wealth,” I think of domesticated, controllable, and fairly immobile. Wealth, yes—but limited. I also think of the skills set associated with wealth. I know that some people see Fehu as meaning a skills-set that can be applied across the board. Like—if I have the skills-set to be a cattle farmer, this doesn’t go away. If I move to another place, I will still know how to be a cattle farmer. Perhaps I can even apply what I know about cows to something else.
But then I started thinking—yes, you know how to be a cattle farmer; but how useful is this off the farm? There is little need for cattle farmers in the city. I best keep my nary’ass on my own farm and keep to my own bovine herd. Right?
But the wild ox. Hmmm. That’s a little different. No one can get rich off the wild ox because it can’t be tamed. Because it don’t make no nevermind to the ox whether it’s got humans to housebreak it or not. I take that back. A wild ox would impale someone who tried breaking its spirit in an effort to add to the wealth of a cattle farm.
So then what? The ox gets hunted for its pelts because it can’t be reined in—just like the wolf? Yup.
But, fortunately, the runes keep a sacred space for this animal in Uruz. Here, the Aurochs-ox is not extinct. In this rune, the Aurochs-ox runs free and is unyoked by the need of those that would domesticate him, tame him, limit him, make profit from him. And the Aurochs-ox is mobile; he goes where his instincts take him, rather than being fattened up for the slaughter.
See, when I compare these two runes in my mind, they are like comparing apples to oranges, wolves to beagles, heifers to bison. The cattle of Fehu applies to the owner of the herd whereas the ox of Uruz applies to the animal itself. (And as Dora told you, I always want to be “the thing itself.”)
Plus, there’s this linguistic thing. To cow someone is to intimidate, to coerce, to force them into service. That’s a way to wealth and transitory popularity—lots of property and an ability to coerce herds. (And the best way to coerce herd animals is to make them feel safe. Right up to the point where you slit their throats. Tell them all about the wolves outside the farm; tell them about the plentiful grain in the slop bucket. Hell, yea, domesticated beasts will sit down and set-a-spell for a full trough.) But it’s indicative of having others in a thralldom that’s so bound and unnatural to my Heathen soul.
Let me have the role of ox any day. Let me be a killer-wolf over a crated, fenced, processed kibble-eating beagle any day. I may have to forage and scrape for my sustenance. But I will be free. I know I will continually have to fight off the slings and arrows of the hunters who are after my hide. Likely they’d like to don it for a ritual in which they pretend to be me. But I will be free. And I am fortunate in that the hunters these days have poor eyesight—they are nearly blind. And their arrows come no nearer piercing my hide, made tough from my existence in the wild—made tough by the necessity of avoiding the hunters, than they are to being anything other than cattle themselves. But I will be free.
Today, I represent the enduring spirit of Uruz. And the cows out there can suck my sheath.
B, Q, 93,
This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . . The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).
 Some folks see Fehu and Uruz and “brains and brawn” respectively, but I have a problem with that interpretation.
 It likely has something to do with the Old English cu and Old Norse kyr being related to the Old Norse kuga—meaning “to oppress.” But no one knows f’sure.
 See the Catch 22? My hide wouldn’t be nearly as strong if hunters hadn’t made me that way.