Reprinted from "Rainbow Wind" Magazine
I can't believe I'm now starting on the Second Aett of the Elder Futhark. Time is indeed flying by! Looks like this is a highly auspicious, or at least a very fitting time for me to write this article! While Hagalaz literally means "hail" as in ice balls falling from the sky, its secondary meanings include snowflake, bad weather, and storms. Even as I am writing this, I'm sitting here surrounded on all sides by about some 18 inches of snow.
For Central Kentucky, this is quite unusual. The place has been virtually shut down for days! I'm blaming "El Nino", that weather phenomenon which was named quite fittingly in this Heathen's biased and perhaps somewhat jaundiced opinion, on the "Christ Child." Floods! Landslides! Or, in the words of Bugs Bunny's nemesis, the cartoon character Elmer Fudd (wearing a horned helmet, no less): "Awise, Stowm! Nowf Wind bwow! West Wind bwow! Typhoon! Huwwicane! Eawfquake! Smog!" El Nino is Hagalaz in action, in other words. [ed. note: Cartoon title - "What's Opera, Doc"]
The phonetic value of this first rune of the Second Aett is the same as the modern English "H." Most Germanic languages kept this word in something fairly close to its original form, while dropping the -az noun ending. The Old English Rune Poem, the Old Norse Rune Rhyme, and the Old Icelandic Rune Poem all contain verses for this rune, since unlike a number of others, it carried over into the Younger Futhark. All three poems refer to hail as a grain, either white grain or cold grain, both of which are apt descriptions as the roundish to oval hailstones, especially the smaller ones, do indeed resemble seeds! The Old English Rune Poem refers to how hail melts away. This happens quite quickly in warm Summer weather, which is when most hailstorms occur. The Old Icelandic Rune Poem talks about how hail makes snakes ill or destroys them, even though there are not, nor have there ever been, snakes in Iceland! This bit of wisdom no doubt was brought over from Norway, which amazingly does actually have a few snakes and from whence most of the first Icelanders came, either directly or by way of Ireland (another snakeless place!) Cold weather is indeed rough on cold-blooded reptiles, and a snake caught out in an open field could easily be killed by hail. This rune has some ties with Asa-Thorr. Thor is very swift to act, whether for our good or Jotuns' ill. Hail seems to come out of nowhere: big chunks of ice, out of the sky, usually in hot weather. Thor is associated with storms, not just thunder and lightning, and the myths refer to hail coming from the wheels of Thor's chariot. Think of a speeding car on a dirt road kicking up gravel, or in this case, hail. Hail kills snakes, and Thor kills big snakes, like the Midgard Serpent!
This rune also is related to accidents, sudden change, unexpected disaster, rain, and even windfall (unexpected good). Think of hail knocking apples off trees (the origin of the term "windfall"; that is, stuff knocked down by wind) and onto the ground where you can get them. "Windfall" in Icelandic is "hvalreki" or "whale-beaching" (Whale on the beach? Ouch, Jordsvin, it's diet time!). Apples don't grow in Iceland, but storms (a manifestation of Hagalaz) do wash whales ashore there, and they were and perhaps still are eaten. That's how the whalebone for the Northumbrian "Franks Casket" (named for the guy who found it, not the Frankish tribe) was obtained (in England, not Iceland).
In Vinland, a Heathen prayed to Thor and a whale washed up when the doughty and unfortunately mostly Christianized Greenland Viking explorers were starving. Everyone was feasting happily on this "hvalreki" until the Heathen reminded them Thor delivered the goods when Jesus couldn't. Then the Christians got sick and threw their meat over a cliff. Betcha a whaleburger that the meat was perfectly fine and it was their fear of their newly-imported and highly jealous Deity that gave them upset tummies!
Hagalaz ties in with Nauthiz. Hail can ruin crops. Even after it melts away, the damage is still there. Ruined crops, for an agricultural people, can quickly lead to need and poverty (meanings of Nauthiz, next month's rune) or worse. They didn't have the emergency resources available today. Still, Hagalaz can be difficult to deal with, whether you wreck your car in bad weather or just lose a couple of days' pay because you are snowed in, as my life parter just did. Fortunately, I'm on salary!
However, Hagalaz, like Thurisaz, can be used magickally to break Nauthiz. If Thurisaz is a rifle, shooting bullets right on target, then Hagalaz is a shotgun, shooting many tiny but dangerous pellets which can scatter widely. Shrapnel from a grenade works on a similar principle. You get the point: aim Hagalaz with the greatest of care. Like Thurisaz, it is a difficult rune in magickal workings.
Hagalaz can really upset the applecart. Things are often never the same again. This can be good and/or bad, depending on how YOU react to it!
Sometimes you can turn apparent disaster into a new opportunity, even one with vast horizons. Wind often accompanies hailstorms, and "it's an ill wind that blows no good" to someone, somewhere. For example, the decay of Christianity has in some ways destabilized Western society, and brought about a decline in morals. However, it has also given folks much more freedom, which has in many but unfortunately not all cases been wisely used, and has even made possible the public Pagan/Heathen revival!
If Hagalaz is moving ice, then Isa (which comes after Nauthiz in the Futhark, or runic alphabet) is stationary ice, blocking your way. This is another polarity worth meditating on. Thorr Sheil associates Hagalaz with mass advertising (distributed randomly, think of junk mail and even worse, junk e-mail for porno web sites), bombings (out of the sky, like hail), and even ambulances (swift aid to the victim of an unexpected disaster).
Directionally, Thorr Sheil associates Hagalaz with the East. (I'm guessing that this is due to East being the direction of Elemental Air, an important ingredient of storms. Storms themselves usually come out of the West, due to the Earth's rotation, or so my life partner, an amateur meteorologist, assures me) . By the way, the other "directional" runes are Thurisaz (South, Elemental Fire), Ansuz (North, the holy direction in our Tradition, I've noticed most Heathens face North when praying; Ansuz means a Heathen God; this is the rune for Elemental Earth), and Laguz (West, Elemental Water). These "directional" interpretations are probably influenced by non-Norse magickal systems but I have still found them useful. Thorr Sheil was trained in an oral tradition, and in most cases, his material is LESS influenced by "other" magickal systems than are the writings of "those other" Heathen writers; the "directional" runes being a rather rare exception.
I'll close this article with a few more observations from Thorr Sheil. He has noticed, as I have also, that the Younger Futhark form of the rune Hagalaz is shaped like a snowflake in that it has six rays. For those unfamiliar with the Younger Futhark, think of Gebo superimposed over Isa. Thorr Sheil says this design is in Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs as a protective symbol. The Hex signs evidently contain hidden runic elements. What better way to hide Heathen runework than as quaint, harmless "folk art"? By the way, that six-armed whatchamacallit is also on ambulances....
However, Sheil warns us that seed-like appearance to the contrary, Hagalaz is NOT a "cosmic seed" as some modern Runesters assert. I've done some dirt-farming in my day and I can back Sheil up on this one: hailstones DON'T sprout! They just smash your prize crops and then melt quietly away.
May you always be able to turn this rune's often difficult aspects to your favor, or at least deflect the worst of their force! Hagalaz is deeper than it looks! The runes are like that. If you ever become bored by them, it's your fault, not theirs!
My friend Pam C. has this to say about the Rune Hagalaz. She refers to the Rune by its later name, and is right about dandelions. The sun never sets on the Kingdom of the Dandelion; but on the bright side, they're edible!:
"I remember Audrey (Sheil) getting very excited over Hagal one day as she was caught in a hail storm on her way home. But Hagal is there in the dandelion puff suddenly caught in a gust (to a gardener that IS destructive)."
Works consulted: The Road to Bifrost Volume III: The Runes and Holy Signs, by Thorr and Audrey Sheil. As I have mentioned before, my runework is based on Thorr Sheil's, supplemented with my own personal work and extensive reading. I also used At the Well of Wyrd: A Handbook of Runic Divination by Edred Thorsson for its translations of the Rune Poems. These alone are well worth the price of the book. You can order it from Samuel Weiser, Inc., the publisher, or directly from the author's own Runa-Raven Press, thus enabling Edred to profit more from his hard work. Runa-Raven can be reached at RUNO@aol.com, and has many other fine books for sale.
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Suggested Web Resources
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