Monday, February 10, 2014

Crafting the Runes: Is

From Ralph Blum's Rune Deck

Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;
it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;
it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

The rune Is is translated to mean 'ice'.  It is one of my favorite stanzas in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, with such striking imagery I always imagine an ice castle or how magical icicles looked when I was younger.  Ice is almost always so very beautiful; sometimes here on the prairie it comes as a freezing rain blown about by fierce winds, which leaves the bare tree branches coated - in the morning when the sun shines, everything sparkles like rainbow fire.  Something the Anglo-Saxon poem does not address, though, is the danger of ice.

The Icelandic rune poem describes Is as "bark of rivers, and roof of the wave, and destruction of the doomed".  It's easy to see which land had more experience of ice, and of severe cold.  In Iceland, ice covered the rivers like bark on a tree, even froze over the ocean.  It was inherently dangerous, because those who were killed by ice were considered "doomed" - there was no way they could have escaped the ice, their fate.

There is also the idea, not touched upon in either rune poem, that ice is one of the building blocks of all life.  In the Norse creation myth written down by Snorri Sturlson, he two contrasting elements, ice and fire, came together: the heat of Muspell met the great ice of Niflheim, and the fire thawed a few drops of the ice.  Fire and Ice come together to make Water, which grew into the frost giant Ymir.  Ymir is later slain by Odin and His brothers, and his body is used to make the world.

Though I try to stick with Anglo-Saxon ideas over those of other branches of the Germanic peoples, in this case I think climate dictates I look farther afield.  In the middle of the United States, we don't have the rather temperate climate that England experiences.  The weather ranges from -20 to -30 degree Fahrenheit wind chills like we had this morning, to over 100 degrees in the summer.  Our cold is intense, and often it lasts for four or more months of the year.  When ice comes in December, it tends to stick around until the first big thaw in March (unless we're lucky and global warming comes up with an unseasonably warm day).  I remember growing up, my neighbors never cleaned out their gutters, and an amazing icicle would form over the course of the winter months, as the sun warmed the ice in the gutters by day just enough for it to drip and freeze it into more icicle by night - some winters it reached all the way to the ground by the time spring rolled around!  It can be so beautiful; but also very dangerous.  It makes roads difficult to navigate, walking becomes hazardous; and one particularly memorable year, when everything froze early in October, the leaves of the trees were weighted down so much that many trees lost big branches.

In divination, I tend to think of Ice in all three ways - a dangerous force, a conduit for creation, and a beautiful art piece.  Sometimes the things that hurt us are beautiful and alluring, and sometimes out of our destruction, old pieces can be picked up and a new life made.  I attended a class on bindrunes by the local Heathen group, and one thing the teacher said has stuck with me: Ice, as that single upright stave, is the basis of all the runes.  It underlies everything.

1 comment:

  1. So very true. I feel for you!
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