Eihwaz is the thirteen rune of the Elder Futhark. Its name means Yew tree and like many of the runes that follow Eihwaz is shrouded in multilayered mystery. We have left the juvenile formative part of the Futhark and moved into the deeper mysteries of our existence.
There is a saying that Eihwaz holds a promise that is eternal. Indeed, the name giving yet tree holds two promises for us. Being an evergreen reminds us of the fact that life is truly immortal, that we only leave our physical bodies behind while the soul exists forever. On the other hand, all parts of the plant are poisonous, reminding us also of the fragility and finiteness of our physical existence. But true life will endure past the end of a mortal body. We will endure and even during our lifetime, Eihwaz can provide resilience and stamina. It can act as a counterpoint to the hardships that the previous runes Hagalaz, Nauthiz and sometimes Isa can throw at us.
The very shape of Eihwaz seems to connect the two apparently opposing concepts of life and death, the moment of our birth and the moment of our passing, the upper world(s), and the underworld(s). Indeed, in Norse mythology Eihwaz is known as “Odin´s steed” and it is another rune very closely connected to the Allfather. Odin is a shaman, a traveler between the worlds and Eihwaz stands for the world tree, the cosmic axis on which he travels from world to world.
Another name given to the yew tree in the old days is “keeper of fire”. I have used yew wood in ancestral rituals and when I burned candles on a slice of yew wood, they burned down completely and not just the wax. They burned down until nothing was left of the wick. Yet the yet wood barely showed a discoloration much less a scorching. Yew wood really keeps the fire as much as it seems to resist its power.
Based on that experience I came to believe that as much as the yew wood can contain the fire and its heat, the Eihwaz rune contain, preserve and transport the essence of our soul and our inner fire. Like many things concerning the runes, this is difficult to explain rationally. If you care, here is a little story I wrote about it a while ago, a piece of fiction that in my humble opinion reflects reality.
If you have experience with shamanism and shamanic journeys you may find Eihwaz a good companion to help you travel especially if you work within the Northern tradition and with the Norse deities.
Yew is on the exterior and unsmooth tree, Tough, firm in the ground, a keeper of the fire With roots intertwined, a joy (to have) on the estate.
That is one of the rune poems about Eihwaz that we still know of, translated from Old Norse by people much more knowledgeable about the finer points of the old languages than me. The estate speaks to me of what we create and leaves behind for our children and grandchildren. It is the power of Eihwaz to also preserve of very life force along with the memory and the objects we create.
Every time I work with Eihwaz I get a tiny glimpse – just a little one – and a moment of understanding what it truly means that some promises are kept forever.
Perthro the fourteenth rune of the Elder Futhark is an even greater mystery than Eihwaz.
Only one rune poem was preserved through the ages.
Perthro is ever playing and laughing to the proud…, where warriors sit in the beer-hall merrily together.
According to one commentary, the poem actually does not translate as “warriors in the beer hall” but as “women in the birthing hall”. The shape of the rune can be seen as both a beer tankard or a women giving birth. The rune has been liked to games of chance, personal luck, and fate. Once again I can only reflect on my very own, very visceral experiences when working with Perthro.
For me, Perthro is linked to fate, karma, luck, and the making of one´s own luck. I came to believe that we accrued good or bad luck – or karma if you prefer that term – that is stored for us in some energetic space until we have accrued so much that it physically manifests in our world. If correct, the idea of “giving birth” implied in that rune would be correct. We labor with our karma until we have enough of it to give birth to a tangible result in our material world. If we accrued good karma the result will be positive. If we accrue bad karma through bad deeds the result will be negative.
Our Norse ancestors had a word for that: Hamingja / personal luck.
Well, actually not quite so personal because Hamingja could be transferred to the family when a person passed on. It seems games of chance were important to our ancestors especially before a battle because of hamingja. The idea was that if someone would win a game of chance his hamingja was strong and the person would be victorious in battle and good to have around.
I see Perthro both as a store and incubator of hamingja and as a symbol of the fate we can actively create through our actions. Whether we like it or not we have responsibility for our life. However, the beautiful sister of responsibility is power. If we live our lives right and co-create our fate we stand a good chance to be happy because our hamingja manifests good luck. On my best days, I can tap into the reservoir of luck and bring some forth for my benefit. Even on less perfect days, Perthro has granted me insight into the web of my life, the things going on, and the best ways to steer my fate.
I believe there is a connection between Perthro and Verdhandi the Norse goddess of fate who governs the ever-changing present moment, the Now we live in where we create. Only now can we do something and that something being good or bad, wise or foolish influences or life. As we live from one Now to the next we fill the karmic storage of Perthro and at one point in the future the results come forth.
Now I guess we all want good luck and positive results, right?
But how do we know what is the right thing to do? That was one key question that drew me into a spiritual practice at a point that now feels like 500 years ago. Well, actually it´s been around fifteen years.
One source of insight to determine what is right or wrong to do is the fifteenth rune of the Elder Futhark. This rune is called Algiz (the swan) or alternatively Elhaz (the elk). No matter how different these two animals in real life may seem, when it comes to the runes of the Elder Futhark they share a lot of qualities. For one thing, they both connect to the “above”. The swan spreads its wings and the elk with its antlers that resemble a parabolic dish connect to heaven. They both pick up the messages coming down from the realm of the divine. Both animals are also very able to defend themselves when threatened or provoked.
So Algiz / Elhaz holds the power of connection and protection. It connects us to a divine source and provides protection both in the material and the physical world.
Here is another aspect of the protective power of the rune gleaned from an old rune poem:
Elk-sedge is native most often in the fen, it grows in water; it wounds grimly, burning with blood any warrior who, in any way, grabs it
If you carelessly grab a bundle f elk-sedge it hurts you. Today we fight different wars in our daily lives but Elhaz still protects us. In spiritual work, there is the concept of “creating space. You form a bubble of protective energy around you and possibly others so that you can perform your practice safely from all unwelcome energetic influences. Algiz / Elhaz is a very good rune to assist you with that and at the same time it can open the channels of communication for you.
As far as the connection to the divine goes, here´s a piece of personal experience.
I once appealed to three Norse deities with a request. My request was answered by the Algiz rune drawn out of my rune back. I asked for three deities and a rune with three beams coming from or going up to the above. Hardly a coincidence as I drew the rune without looking. And yes, the request came to pass shortly thereafter. On other occasions where Algiz showed its qualities less obviously I had a sudden insight, like flashes that guided me on the right path. This thing works. Like all the other runes by the way. I´m too much into them and I have experienced too much to doubt it anymore. As one of my teachers used to say: Once you´ve seen it you cannot unsee it again.
That is one reason why I write this stuff. I cannot bottle it all up inside anymore.