[Young Heathens Page]
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,
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
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
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
Works consulted: At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson and The
Road to Bifrost volume III, the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor 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://home.earthlink.net/~jordsvin, which by the way has my
previous Rune articles.
all works used by permission of the authors