Reprinted from "Rainbow Wind" Magazine
It's been less than two weeks since I wrote the article for Jera; so it looks like I'm back on track. This Rune is both fascinating and multifaceted! Both the Sheils and Edred Thorsson identify Eihwaz with Yggdrasil, the Norse World Tree or Cosmic Axis. The name of this Rune simply means "yew (tree)" in the various Germanic languages, hence Eihwaz or Iwaz in reconstructed Common Germanic later became Yr in Old Norse, Eoh in Anglo-Saxon (which became "Yew" in Modern English), and Aihus in Gothic. The sound represented is said to be variously "e," "i," "ei," some sound between "e" and "i" that has not survived in modern Germanic languages; for Anglo-Saxon, "ch," which probably is the "Ach-Laut" in "Bach" and "loch"; and for the Younger Futhark, "y" and "z." In any case, be sure to pronounce "Eihwaz" differently from Ehwaz, the "Horse-Rune."
While sometimes Yggdrasil was seen as an ash, other times it was called a yew. Students of mythology should remember that literal consistency is neither likely nor desirable in myths. The stories are used for many purposes: to entertain, to teach...but I digress. Suffice it to say that those who try to iron out every inconsistency in the surviving Norse mythological materials as Christian apologists have done with their sacred writings have missed the point entirely.
The wood of the yew is flexible and makes wonderful bows. Archery and flexibility are two meanings of this Rune. The Normans learned to make yew-bows from the Welsh after conquering Ing-land (a false but fun etymology). They used them with telling effect against the French at the battle of Agincourt. From this flexibility comes Eihwaz' meaning of rebound. The wood springs back into its original shape. Speaking of rebound, around 1990 it was discovered that the Pacific yew tree contains a powerful new anticancer drug. On a more everyday level, one must be ready to bounce back or rebound from life's setbacks. Flexibility is important for humans as well as yew trees! Note that I'm talking about dealing with life as it comes to us, not about abandoning ethical principles. It is not cowardice or wavering to step out of the way of a superior force. Each of us must choose our own battles. The matador kills the bull (Uruz) not by a head-on collision, which he would surely lose, but by stepping adroitly aside and THEN striking the fatal blow! Note that the bullfight in a sense is a hunt, and both hunting and the archer-God Ullr are related to Eihwaz. Yggdrasil is a Tree of (Eternal) Life; think of the yew's shiny, evergreen needles. Yew was used for magick wands as well as for bows; some yew wands have been found preserved in boggy soil in Frisia.
There are some scarier meanings too. Yggdrasil is also a Tree of Death. One of its roots penetrates into Hel. Yew trees (and the ubiquitous "Taxus" landscaping shrubs are also yews, by the way), are very poisonous, and their red berries can be quite appealing to children. Yews are said to give off narcotic or hallucinogenic vapors in warm weather. Nothing much grows under them. Their roots go deep into the soil, hence into the chthonic (underworld) realms. It is no coincidence that yews are often planted in graveyards, where their roots mingle with the bones of the Dead even as their branches stretch up into the realm of the Living. Some of the yew trees in European churchyards were planted there when the site was dedicated to Heathen or other Pagan worship.
There is a superstition that yews keep the Dead in their graves; Draug-control if you like. "Draug" is Norwegian and "Heathen" English (we borrow and/or adapt a lot of Scandinavian, mostly Old Norse or Icelandic terms due to lack of English equivalents) for "walking corpse" or "zombie." The Old Norse form is "draugr" and the Modern Icelandic is "draugur." Yew trees must not grow in Jerusalem! "Draug-drasil" (the main symbol of "that other religion") is not draug-control. Ygg-drasil means the "Horse of Ygg=Odin." Thus, Draugdrasil is the "zombie's horse," hence "cross." Draugdrasil is both a cruel execution device and a rootless, dead tree with morbid, macabre "fruit." The Heathen imagery is much more balanced and life-affirming. No wonder the old-time Heathens weren't eager for baptism! To their credit, however, the godhar (priests) of "that other religion" at least gave everyone fair warning via the symbol of their religion. By the way, Andrew Bentley, who taught me the Irish Seidhr-type technique on my main web page, is the one who coined the term "Draugdrasil." Ingeborg Svea Norden, my linguistic consultant, reminds me that "Draugdrasil" is grammatically incorrect; and she's right, but it's still a fun term!
The connection with death gives another series of meanings to Eihwaz: darkness, nightmares, ghosts, night, shadow realms, secrets, dreams. The Younger Futhark Yr Rune looks like Elhaz upside down and is sometimes used as a symbol of death. I have seen it in front of the date of a Heathen's death. Don't forget that death is not "evil" in Heathen thought. Life and death are intertwined. Together, they maintain an essential balance. The Sheils relate balance to the relationship to the eagle at the top of Yggdrasil and Nidhogg the snake/dragon at its roots. The eagle is the Ideal; the snake the Instinctive. Heathenism aims at a balance, a Golden Mean, as the Pagan Philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius called it. Christianity aims for the eagle but can't repress the snake, who comes out twisted and nasty in unexpected and destructive places (remember Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Baker, as well as clerical pedophiles). Too much snake leads to lawlessness and chaos, but there is still a certain "honor among thieves." Unlike the old song "Love and Marriage," even in this modern day "you can't have one without the other!"
All three Rune Poems have a verse for Eihwaz. The Old English Rune Poem reminds us that this is a hard-wooded tree, "firm in the earth" and a "joy on the estate." Remember the roots of Yggdrasil and the Worlds to which they penetrate. The Old Norse Rune Rhyme reminds us that the yew is an evergreen. Both these poems hint at the fact that this tree burns well and gives off much heat (but, I remind you, beware of the fumes). The Old Icelandic Rune Poem refers to a yew bow. Like the OERP, it mentions the hardness of yew wood. A yew bow is "Farbauti of the arrow." From an arrow's perspective, a bow is indeed a Giant (Jotun). Farbauti is a Jotun, Loki's father no less! Yggdrasil is one big Tree!
According to the Sheils, Eihwaz is related to Elhaz/Algiz as an opposite pole, but also to Perthro. Eihwaz it the bow and Elhaz (Elk=Moose) is the prey. Eihwaz is the Tree, and Perthro is the Well. Note that Perthro and Elhaz follow Eihwaz in the Futhark.
Eihwaz as Yggdrasil holds up the Nine Worlds. The spine holds up the human (Mannaz, another Rune, but let's not get ahead of ourselves). The spine is here related to Eihwaz, the Sheils state. This model of macrocosm and microcosm is somewhat related to the human being being created in the image of the Divine (Ansuz). As energies and wights travel via Yggdrasil, you can channel magick via the spine.
The darker side of Eihwaz has given rise to some nasty but very practical German magickal sigils, such as the Todt (Death) Rune/Wolf's Hook, Wolf/Todt Cross, and (calm down, Ingeborg), the "Swede Trap." The first one, I believe, takes the form of Eihwaz reversed (I don't recommend "reversed Rune" meanings for Rune readings, by the way). The Wolf/Todt Cross is a swastika made of reversed Eihwaz Runes. The Swede Trap is a specialized form that looks like a short and wide capital "N" bisected in the middle by Isa. The meaning of these is essentially "leave or die." These can be used as a warning, a mind game to control others ("lesser black magick"), or aggressively as an attack, depending on the will of the wizard channeled through them. Use these, if at all, at your own risk.
May Eihwaz lead you into greater balance, an inner comprehension of the mysteries of life and death, and help you to travel safely and productively between the Worlds.
Works consulted: At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson and The Road to Bifrost volume III, the Runes and Holy Signs by Thorr and Audrey Sheil. Thorsson's book can be ordered from your local bookstore. To obtain the Sheils' book (and many other equally outstanding ones), check out the links to their sites from my web page, http://users.aol.com/jordsvin/kindred/kindred.htm, which by the way has my previous Rune articles.
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Suggested Web Resources
- Eihwaz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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