Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Norns, the Matrons and the Runes

In Tacitus` Germania he refers to Germanic priests drawing "lots" with "certain signs" being marked upon them:

"They attend to auspices and lots like no one else. Their practice with lots is straightforward. Cutting a branch from a fruit tree, they chop it into slips and, after marking these out with certain signs, cast them completely at random over a white cloth. Then a civic priest, if the consultation is official, or the head of the family, if private, prays to the gods and, gazing up at the heavens, draws three seperate slips: these he interprets by the previously inscribed mark. If the lots are opposed, consultation on the matter is over for that day; but if they allow, the confirmation of the auspices is still required."[Section 10.1]

Although Tacitus does not refer to these marks as runes, given that we have surviving runic inscriptions dating back to about 150CE and we should remember that most inscriptions if they were made on materials such as wood would have perished anyway.Tacitus would not have known that these marks were runes or letters as such as they would have been unfamiliar to him. He wrote his Germania around 98CE, around or shortly after their appearance in the historical or archaeological record.

It is significant that Tacitus refers to the drawing of three slips or rune staves. This is a practice that is in common use today by Rune Masters in divination and reflects the activities of the three Norns or Nornir, Urd[that which has become], Verdandi[that which is becoming] and Skuld[that which should occur]; in simplistic terms, past, present and future. It is after the one rune reading one of the simplest methods that can be used but at the same time gives great insight into the root cause of a condition or set of circumstances as well as the present issue and likely outcome.

We should not view the future as fixed. By interacting with the Norns via the rune staves we can help shape the future as this is largely dependant on current action and past circumstances. To a large extent each man can help to shape his own wyrd.

The Norns remind me of the the female deities that are attested to on votive stones in the western Rhein region in present day Germany and France. The Matronae or matrons/mothers were fertility Goddesses who are presented in groups of three, two usually wearing some form of female head attire and the third bare headed, representing a young girl, possibly a virgin. This in particular reminds me of the Norn Skuld, who is presented as the youngest of the three. We should assume that the Matrons are Germanic or at least Celto-Germanic as they are featured wearing indigenous styles of clothing, not Roman as one would have expected if the cult originated with them.