Reprinted from "Rainbow Wind" Magazine
Welcome to the Perthro column of Rune-of-the-Month Club. Perthro is the Rune for the sound represented by the Roman letter “P.” This is the sixth Rune of the second Aett, hence the fourteenth Rune, so we are moving right along! Perthro is the reconstructed Common Germanic name of this Rune. The Anglo-Saxons called it Peord; the Gothic name was Pairthra. The Goths were one of the first Germanic tribes to fall under the Christian yoke, and had their own alphabet (invented by their bishop, Ulfila = ”Little Wolf”), which was mostly Greek in derivation but had a few Runes thrown in as well. However, Wolfie the Turncoat, who was, fittingly either a former slave himself or at least the descendant of enslaved war captives, used the Runic names, not the Greek ones, for his new Gothic letters. A nasty process was functioning: from physical enslavement to recruitment into a spiritually enslaving religion (early Christianity, unlike some of its mellowed-out modern descendants, was NOT a laid-back or tolerant creed, be it towards Jews, Pagans or dissenting Christians, check out the New Testament writings of “saint” Paul for many illustrative examples) to taking that spiritual slavery back to one’s own people: for their own good of course! This would be more of a function of Nauthiz than of Perthro, (unless you think of the flow of a really nasty Wyrd) but seems worth pointing out. At least Bishop Wolfie (I think of the werewolf from the old “Groovy Ghoulies and Sabrina the Teenage Witch cartoon”) had the gumption to defy the Pope by being an Arian “heretic.” Maybe our modern “Gothic” youth could use Ulfila’s alphabet as a secret code, they ARE an odd sort of “fashion slave” after all! They could probably be classified as “heretics” too. Just kidding about that one! I’m in rare form today. The Gothic info is off-topic but an interesting history lesson. Thorr Sheil enjoys picking at Swedes, evidently picked it up from his Norwegian in-laws. Goths were originally from Sweden. Maybe it rubbed off on me!
The name of this Rune is shrouded in mystery, which is appropriate, since that is indeed one of its meanings. Perthro seems to mean “lot-box,” “gaming-piece,” “dice-cup,” or something of the sort. This meaning is borne out by the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, which preserves the only verse we have for this Rune, which did not continue into the Younger Futhark. However, this interpretation is far from adequate to explain the Rune. the Sheils remind us that while useful, the Rune Poems contain information as much cultural as runic. I believe that this holds particularly true for Perthro. From this poem, Edred Thorsson correctly identifies the link between this Rune and Wyrd or Fate on the basis of rampant gambling among ancient Germanic peoples and their association of that gambling with Wyrd. They’d even gamble themselves right into slavery! Maybe they needed a Twelve-Step Group, that IS a significant Norse number (12 times 2 Runes, both the Gods and Goddesses traditionally but not accurately numbered at 12 each...another joke) Kveldulf Gundarsson, Thorsson’s former student, is with him on the identification of Perthro with Wyrd. Freya Aswynn concurs, and in addition, through her own meditations also accurately hit upon “birth” as a meaning of Perthro.
This Rune REALLY shoots down the so-called “Blank Rune.” While hidden things, hence secrets, is one aspect of Perthro, it is more tied in with Wyrd. This, along with the fact that “Ansuz” is the Rune of the Gods in general, and of Odin in particular, is enough to expel the blank rune-chip from the rune-sets of every serious Runeworker! Thorr and Audrey Sheil, my own Rune teachers, identify a number of meanings for Perthro, including Well (as in the Well of Wyrd, the Well of Mimir, and the Well which is down by Niflheim or Hel. Think of scrying by looking into a bowl or cauldron of water or even a well instead of a crystal ball, see the next paragraph. Others meanings include Wyrd/Fate/Destiny (not exact synonyms, BTW), pregnancy, cauldrons and pots (think of Ran and Aegir’s brewing cauldron, or Cerridwyn’s cauldron from Welsh mythology), psychic matters (hidden things that sometimes can be brought to light), tunnels, caves and caverns, water sources, and fishing (back to Ran and Aegir). Note the recurring theme of hollow things which contain other things, often in liquid form!
Divination is also a function of Perthro. You could put rune-chips into a dice-cup, or think of the rune-pouch as the Well of Wyrd. The Sheils remind us that Wyrd is evolving constantly. Interpret the results of a Rune reading not as what is set in stone (BTW passive Fatalism is NOT what Wyrd is about), but rather as the most likely outcome given the CURRENT circumstances. Make the changes you feel appropriate (the basic three-Rune reading goes from past state or causes to current state or best action to future state or most likely outcome), then do another reading in a week or so!
In spiritual work in the Heathen tradition, Perthro can help you gain access to the Inner Worlds and the greater Religious mysteries. The Sheils also mention Mother Hulda’s realm, which was accessed via a well, and identify Hulda/Holda = “the kindly one” (their translation) with Frigga = “the beloved.” Editor’s note: the German Goddess Hulda is also known as Mother Holle. Etymologically, Hulda means “the hidden one,” appropriate for a Goddess whose realm is reached via a well. Think of Fensalir, Frigga’s Hall, which means “marsh halls” = nice and wet and sunken, and also Sokkvabekkr = ”sunken bank,” Odin and Saga’s Hall. Due to the association of Saga, Goddess of History, with Odin, and Frigga’s being the silent and all-knowing one, Thorr and Audrey Sheil identify the two Goddesses as being the same. The Sheils are usually right!
The Sheils also mention the nine nights of Odin’s Initiation upon Yggdrasil (source of his, and hence our, Rune-knowledge) and the nine months of pregnancy as being tied in with Perthro. Since Initiation is indeed a (re)birth, this makes sense to me. Magick Number Nine is very significant to Heathen mythology! How many pieces did the snake fly into when Odin struck it with NINE glory-twigs in the Anglo-Saxon NINE Herbs Charm? Right. Nine bonus points for you! Some superstitious Christians BTW are as scared of 9, which by pure coincidence in Arabic numerals looks like an upside-down 6, as they are of 6 (as in 666) itself! Wonder if it is tied in to some extent with Christianized Germanic peoples’ fear of the Old Wisdom? Just a thought, but...
Wells and suchlike (caves and caverns, think of the birth canal) are another entry into the religious mysteries of Heathenism, and of this Rune in particular. Remember all the Heathen and Celtic Pagan sacred wells and springs. They have been taken over by Catholics in places like Lourdes. Perthro is the Well of Wyrd. It’s no coincidence that Eihwaz, the World Tree Yggdrasil, is the Rune just before it in the Futhark. Occasionally the two switch places in some old inscriptions of the Elder Futhark, but they are still side-by-side. The Well and the Tree by Bauschatz is well worth reading as you investigate the Heathen Mysteries.
The Sheils mention “pear” as a possible meaning of Perthro. Pears and apples are close kin; think of Idunna’s golden apples. The Sheils equate Idunna with the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostre and the German Goddess Ostara (Spring and renewal/rebirth being connected), so think of eggs and rabbits too as related to Creation and Birth mysteries. Pears are usually yellow when ripe, it occurs to me. I think that the yellow apples in cultivation today date back to a 19th century mutation. Life-renewing fruits, the mead from Ran and Aegir’s cauldron, and the drink from Mimir’s Well for which Odin was more than willing to sacrifice an eye. You’re going to be meditating for a while!
In addition to Yggdrasil/Eihwaz, Initiation, and the Gods and Goddesses mentioned in this article, you would do well to explore the links between Perthro and Laguz (another Rune with watery overtones) and Berkano (another “birth” Rune).
While the “Havamal” reminds us that a gift looks for a gift, sometimes a gift is just that, a gift! Our Gods and Goddesses are wealthy, generous and kind. Enjoy the many gifts which flow from them to us, and strive to live as their worthy Younger Kin. That, perhaps, is the gift for which their gift looks! Through your work with Perthro, may the Mysteries of the Runes and of our Heathen Religion spring fruitfully into life within you, and may the Wyrd you weave (weaving is another of Frigga’s functions) for yourself be a good one!
Here's what Pam C. has to say about Perthro:
"Perdra is a deep well indeed."
Criticizing certain Runesters who erroneously "...take a blank stave and call it Wyrd, ignoring the cornucopia contained in Perdra."
Works consulted (lots of them this time!):
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson. This book is well worth its purchase price just for the translations of the Rune Poems - but not for much else :-(
Dictionary of Northern Mythology by Rudolf Simek (to my knowledge, he does NOT have a red nose, and the book is VERY useful).
The Germanic Invasions by Lucien Musset. Translated from the original French by Edward and Columba James.
Lost Gods of England by Brian Branston. Read this book!
Northern Mysteries and Magic by Freya Aswynn (www.llewellyn.com to order). Previously published as Leaves of Yggdrasil, although NM & M does contain some new material, particularly on Seidhr and a CD of her tape “Songs of Yggdrasil.” Very good but Freya Aswynn sounds like the Vulcan priestess Te Pao from the old Star Trek series: “Spock (with the “ck” pronounced as the “ch” in “loch”); they say thy Heathen blood runs thin - art thee Heathen or art thee Wiccan?” You can groan now, but buy the book and listen to the CD: I’m right!
The Road to Bifrost Volume III: the Runes and Holy Signs and Volume V (the Gods and Goddesses) by Thorr and Audrey Sheil. You can get to their sites from several links on my web page, or write T. Sheil, PO Box 121, Freehold NJ 07728 USA. This is their current address. The books, I believe, are $20 each; include $4 per order for postage. I highly recommend both these books. They are my top two Heathen book selections outside the Elder and Younger Eddas, of course.
Teutonic Magic by Kveldulf Gundarsson. Out of print, dammit!
The Well and the Tree by Paul C. Bauschatz. Scholarly study of Wyrd. Winifred Hodge tells me this book helped set her on the road to Heathenry.
As degreed librarian, I remind my readers that their local public library (in the USA and Canada anyway) can obtain virtually any book via Interlibrary Loan for a nominal fee in about a week and a half (nine nights?).
Suggested News Resources
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