Friday, November 15, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Cen

The torch is known to every living man
by its pale, bright flame;
it always burns where princes sit within.

Today we have another rune with some linguistic confusion and a variety of interpretations.  The Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems named this rune Ulcer, and consequently their poems speak of a dangerous rune.  The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, called this rune Torch.

Though we don't have many extant Anglo-Saxon sources, we do know quite a bit about the mythology of their cousins, the Norse.  In Norse mythology, fire holds an exalted place - Muspelheim, the first of all worlds, has flames so hot that there are no visitors.  The place where the fires of Muspelheim came in contact with the ice of Niflheim was called Ginnungagap, and it was here that life came to be.  (Sturluson, The Prose Edda)

Fire also heralds the end of the world, also called Ragnarök; the Gods of Asgard are fated to fight the fire giants of Muspelheim (Sturluson).  It can be both destructive and creative.  The name Torch suggests to me the positive aspects of fire: it is fire contained, controlled by people, and used for the people's benefit.  "The torch is known to every living man," because who in those times could make do without a bit of light to see by or fire to cook on (or, in our times, who in this country could do without electricity?).

One thing this rune does not signify is knowledge!  This is based on a linguistic misunderstanding, where 'cen' or 'torch' is mistaken for 'ken' or 'knowing'.  Instead, we must look to the Germanic understanding of fire as participant in both creation and destruction to understand the torch - creation harnessed to give light and life to humanity.

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