[Young Heathens Page]
Welcome again to the Rune-of-the-Month Club. Actually, it seems like it's
become more like the Rune-of-the-Season Club, since the last time I sat down
to write one of these, I was snowed it; and now, daytime highs are well into
the 80's! I'll try to write a bit more frequently this Summer before things
REALLY get busy for me in the Fall (I'm going back for another, more marketable,
degree). The last rune we looked at was Hagalaz. This month's rune is Nauthiz,
and next month's, Isa. Three really difficult runes in a row! It makes sense
that they are placed consecutively in the Futhark. By way of review, the
other really rough rune, in my opinion at least, is Thurisaz. Nauthiz is
the reconstructed Common Germanic name for this rune, the second rune of
the second aett. The Old Norse form is Naud, the Anglo-Saxon is Nyd, and
the Gothic form is Nauths. The phonetic value is "N." "Ng", by the way, has
its own rune which we'll be getting to much later. "Nauthiz" means "need,"
and other meanings include distress, binding, constriction, poverty, pressure,
rope, packaging, arrest, prevention, bandages, choking, strangulation, detention
and alarm. While this rune mostly has to do with unpleasant and difficult
things, it has more positive uses as well, as we'll soon see. In any case
whether they work weal or woe, there is no way to avoid dealing with the
forces embodied in this rune. For instance, belts and shoelaces are benign
manifestations of Nauthiz! So is sewing together pieces of cloth to make
While the Old Icelandic Rune Poem (which reminds us that the needy work harder
for less gain than others) and the Old Norse Rune Rhyme (which mentions the
naked freezing in the frost) both focus on the more unpleasant aspects of
Nauthiz, the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem also reminds us that it can be a help
if heeded in time. Forewarned is forearmed. Sometimes you can change what
Wyrd is bringing. Other times, you can only lessen the impact or prepare
yourself for the blow. Still, an unpleasant fact is of more use to the wise
than a pretty daydream. The runes, when rightly understood, are bluntly honest.
That's what I like about them. Beware of any author who tries to sugar-coat
As I've mentioned several times, my runework is based on that of Thorr and
Audrey Sheil. I've used Edred Thorsson's
(RUNO@aol.com; he also is now marketing his own books and I encourage you
to buy directly from the author when possible; as this gives him much more
of the profits!) book At the Well of Wyrd mostly for the texts of
the three rune poems which have come down to us. The Sheil's and Thorsson's
runework differ in a good many respects, but on this particular rune, they
are very much in agreement. Freya Aswynn and Kveldulf Gundarsson's runologies
are more or less along Thorsson's lines. Ralph Blum's is very different and
not very traditional or historical.
The Sheils suggest that the runeworker look up the meaning of the word "distress"
when studying Nauthiz. Here it is, from the Oxford Universal Dictionary,
one of the biggest and most thorough around: "Distress....1. To subject to
severe strain or pressure; to put to sore straights...2. To crush in battle...3.
To constrain by force or suffering...4. To cause pain or anxiety to; to afflict,
vex, make miserable. 5. To rob; to plunder. 6. To levy a distress upon."
You get the point. Nauthiz, like Hagalaz, applies downward pressure. However,
while Hagalaz is a stormy blast like a hailstorm, Nauthiz is a slower, more
steady force. Think of a big anaconda constricting its prey! Our ancestors
were all too familiar with the manifestations of this rune. Wars were a constant
threat, with raids, ruined crops etc. as typical results. They didn't have
bug spray or the Red Cross (Red Hammer?!?) either! Crop failure and resultant
famine were always a possibility. And watching your kids starve with seed
grain and breeding stock (which absolutely could NOT be consumed no matter
how dire the need) in the house was surely no fun! There is indeed much to
be said in favor of our own times! Nevertheless, Nauthiz is still with us
today, howbeit often in more subtle forms. Think of the working homeless;
for example. Individuals who are employed full-time but who still cannot
secure housing for themselves is a difficult contemporary problem; one which
wasn't even thought of a generation ago.
Nauthiz both binds and presses down. Poverty is terribly hard to get out
of. Folks try and try, but often just when they think they've gotten it licked,
something new gets thrown at them! When you are impoverished, even the tiniest
setback can spell disaster, since you have no reserves. While spouting much
nonsense about the virtue of poverty, contemporary Western society and its
predominant religion tend in actuality to despise the impoverished. Heathens
should not despise the poor, but we are practical folks. There is no particular
virtue in poverty (or, for that matter, in its opposite pole, excessive greed
for wealth). Heathens should strive for a balance here and elsewhere in life.
By the way, "needy" and "naughty" are often connected, although, as my very
helpful linguistic consultant Ingeborg Svea Norden reminds me, they have
different etymologies. Much crime is born of the pressure exerted by Nauthiz.
Having strong standards is helpful in difficult economic circumstances. Have
in mind BEFORE "need" strikes what you will NOT do regardless of circumstances.
Set your own personal moral/ethical standards ahead of time. While none of
this is easy or pleasant, there is no excuse for giving up. Those who keep
trying usually manage to overcome Nauthiz sooner or later, and even learn
something in the process!
Nauthiz goes beyone the purely physical. The poor live shorter lives than
those more fortunate. Their neighborhoods get less police protection and
worse services. Poor folks get no respect. They are even the victims of economic
exploitation, which can take what little bit they DO have. Stores in poor
neighborhoods often rip off folks without the means to shop elsewhere, and
rent is often surprisingly high (although references are less likely to be
required). The emotional pressures brought on or made worse by need can be
as bad as or even worse than the physical pressures.
As I mentioned before, there are positive uses for this rune. However, great
care is called for. This is NOT an "easy" or "safe" rune! In ancient times,
midwives scratched Nauthiz onto their fingernails and even the palms of their
hands to ensure a safe grip on the newborn infant (they are really slimy
when born; they don't show that on tv). Dropping an infant could be fatal,
both to the infant, and in those rougher times, to the midwife, considering
she was surrounded by the mother and baby's armed relatives! Malpractice
suits are, I suppose, the modern equivalent.
Nauthiz can also help knit broken bones. However, neither Nauthiz nor Isa
should be used for arthritis or other illnesses which inhibit movement. The
last thing you want to do in such a case is inhibit what little movement
I have heard of rituals of kindling the "Need-fire" to overcome Nauthiz.
The Need-fire is sometimes depicted as being ritually kindled by means of
friction, using a fire-drill (a bow, a stick and a piece of wood, not pulling
an alarm!) Other methods are no doubt feasible as well. Thorr Sheil, however,
reminds us that the Need-fire is ultimately kindled within ourselves. Nauthiz
can be a call to overcome difficult circumstances and be strengthened thereby.
Ever notice how many rich kids turn out to be weak people? An old saying
I have found useful says "don't pray for an easy life; pray to be a strong
person." Nauthiz, embodied in whatever is holding you down or back, can be
rammed with Uruz, hammered with Thurisaz, pushed aside by Jera, or dragged
upward by Berkano. The last two methods are the safest.
You can use Nauthiz to bind an opponent and block further attacks, be they
magickal or "mundane." However, be darn sure you are in the right and that
the NEED (can't get away from that word) is great. Wyrd does not deal very
gently with "naughty" (another related word) magicians. Got a textbook case
right across town from me. Was in and out of mental hospitals for years,
and now he has the body of a man twice his age. He's gotten SOME better since
he swore off magickal naughtiness!
Nauthiz can sometimes be used (with great care) to divert the flow of Wyrd
when it is leading to something disastrous. Add Nauthiz to the layers of
orlog in the life of the person or situation you are seeking to help, but
place it at an angle, as it were, to change the flow of events. Think of
a log (no etymological connection to "orlog" but a good memory aid anyway)
being placed into the stream of Wyrd to divert (not block entirely; no way
to do that anyway, even if that were desirable) its flow! However, even here,
nature abhors a vacuum, so you've got to place a more desirable or "positive"
rune into the gap alongside Nauthiz so Wyrd can flow through that "new" rune
and bring about the NEEDED result. It is not enough to just divert Wyrd's
flow by means of Nauthiz.
My good friend Laurel Olson, who with Diana Paxson taught me oracular seidhr
(Norse divinatory trancework) also sees Nauthiz as being tied in with magick.
Many times you can do the magick at least in part because the NEED is great!
This is, of course, no excuse for sloppy preparation and ritual work, just
a comforting bit of knowledge that an additional factor can be working in
your favor. Use your common sense. According to the Sheils, mythologically
Nidhogg, the dragon at the base of Yggdrasil, ties in with Nauthiz. Nidhogg
represents the raw urge for survival, which is often all that carries us
through the worst of times. It occurs to me that the name of the man who
survives Ragnarok is Lifthrasir,"stubborn will to live."
Nauthiz is a very lonely, isolating and alienating factor. By helping our
fellow Heathens in time of need (there's that word again!), we struggle against
Nauthiz. Anything we do, whether in our own communities or far away, to help
others, especially to help others help themselves, is a struggle against
the effects of Nauthiz.
Nauthiz brings great suffering, but can also serve to bring folks together
to help each other. Thus, it can help us to be more compassionate It can
be a great help or a great worker of woe. Learn its lessons well, and apply
them with the greatest of care.
Works consulted: At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson, published
by Samuel Weiser, Inc., Box 612, York Beach, ME 03910 and The Road to
Bifrost, Volume III The Runes and Holy Signs, written and published by
T. Sheil. Both of these books have
earned a place in the library of every serious runeworker.
all works used by permission of the authors