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Runes Language of the old gods Author: Bruce CoetzeeWe communicate through a well-organised and specific set of structures developed partly by the unification of diverse cultural influences and the war-laden history of man The detailed definitions afforded to words and the sounds used to signify the words we use in everyday life have come as another testament to modern man's disengagement from the natural world. Phonosemantics is a concept that suggests a complex relationship between the sounds verbalised physically and the definition of words. In truth, it is the foundation of runes or, by its own definition, letters. Two opposing theories exist concerning the origin of runes. However, evidence on both sides of the argument underpins a definitive commonality. Many historians and runoligists have attributed the origins to Old Italic alphabets in everyday use among tribes who occupied regions to the south of established Germanic territory and existed during the 1st century CE. Germanic tribes and the influence their warring campaign's had in both the assimilation of cultures and a simple need to better understand the lands they were invading, in particular south of established Germanic territories, has shifted several scholars in opinion as to the derivations afforded to this mysterious and intricate tool of communication.
In the Germanic culture that stretched through a number of conquered European regions, there is the mystical reasoning that gave relation to runes and humankind's ability to use them that stems from a deeply rich tapestry woven in detailed and complex lore, essentially a polytheist belief system. Paganism, as we now refer to it, pre-dates Christianity by thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. The moment our ancestors sought reverence in unexplained phenomena, according to their understanding of the world, belief and paganism took root. The precipice of servitude to the All Father, Odin or 'Wooanaz' inspired a faceted and critically ingrained view that not only gave tribute to Odin's rights as a keeper and master of the Germanic war band but also fielded the gift of runes to him and humankind. Norse mythology has provided a plethora of references in poetry and stories of Odin's discovery of runes, seen as eternal and ever-present forces that came to him whilst enduring great tribulation. Two significant poems, both of Norse origin, namely, "The sayings of the higher one" and "Insight of the seeress", provide an explanatory reference to how Odin came to find the runes.
In the accounts, Odin self-sacrifices himself to none other than himself by proceeding to hang from the branches of 'Yggdrasil', otherwise referred to as the centre of all things or 'World tree'. The 'World tree' is significant as it is the structure whose roots and branches hold the 'Nine Worlds' in place. Situated beneath the tree is 'The Well of Urd', and according to North mythology, it is the culmination of 'all knowing and infinite wisdom'. The maidens emerge and carve into the 'World tree the lives and fates of all children.
Odin's sacrifice and nine-day test, which sees him fasting while staring into the waters of the 'Well of Urd', tells of him 'discovering' the runes and subsequently imparting this gift to humankind. The irony of living in a modern world where we can explain all that previously bonded us in this physical phase to a world of magic has, in effect, destroyed an integral aspect of our humanity. A resurgence of new religious freedom has seen these 'old ways' slowly return through the exposure of new age Norse music, performed in dramatic authenticity by performers, notably Wardruna and Heilung. The popularity of the television series Vikings and Norsemen has also helped to inspire a new following who have endeavoured to reignite the cultural identity associated with runes. The origins of runes, and subsequently the contemporary view adopted by many in respect to the influences that swayed development thereof, is an ongoing dialogue shifted continuously by new archaeological evidence; however, one cannot deny the deep spiritual and intense sense of energy one experiences when delving into the diverse history of Norse lore and mythology. Perhaps they are eternal bridges that allowed our ancestors a glimpse at a world that remains beyond mortal man's comprehension, the world of the old gods!
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