Rune 7:

Gebo

 

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Today we'll consider Gebo, the seventh rune in the first aett. We're now almost a third of the way through the futhark! An alternative Common Germanic name for this rune is Gybu. Derivations of both names show up in later Germanic languages, such as Gothic (Giba), Anglo-Saxon (Gyfu), and Old Norse (Gyfta). Its literal meaning is "gift", and other magickal and divinatory meanings include exchange, trade, agreement, sex, blending, love, partnership, contracts (=give and take), and finally, crossroads, hence decisions.

As Gebo does not appear in the Younger Futhark(s), the only verse we have for this rune is from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. It reflects on the joy, help and honor gifts bestow, and how gifts can sustain those who have nothing else. The book Anglo-Saxon Mythology, Migration and Magic by Tony Linsell reminds us that it is often harder to receive than to give, and that even the richest welcome thanks for a gift given. Thus, the balance of Gebo is maintained, even if sincere thanks are all there is on "the other end." The book also contains some wonderful illustrations by Brian Partridge. I recommend it highly. It is published in England by Anglo-Saxon Books and the ISBN number is 1-898281-09-2.

Gift in Norse/Germanic thinking implies an exchange. This sets up a relationship between the Human and the Divine. What we ultimately offer the Gods and Goddesses is our love, devotion, and our striving to cooperate in their Work for the Greater Good. Therefore, the gifts we give them are often symbolic: a small crystal, nine pennies for the Nine Worlds (there is no inflation in Asgard), or a charged bread man.

"The true meaning of sacrifice" to quote May Morrison in the film "The Wicker Man" is that it is essentially an internal process. The human being, in working with the Divine, is transformed for the better. The noxious custom of human sacrifice came from superficial people misunderstanding this. By the way, most religions, including the earliest form of Yahweh worship, practiced human sacrifice at some point in their development. Check out the biblical book of Judges, chapter 11, verses 30-40 for an example of a human sacrifice to Yahweh. That's the seventh book of the Hebrew Scriptures (=Old Testament). Also please note that many Pagan cultures did away with human sacrifice without the intervention of monotheistic religions. Contemporary Pagans/Heathens don't do human sacrifice anymore. At most, we offer a magickally charged bread man containing some of our energy or the blood of an animal butchered for food, perhaps mixed with an offering of mead or good beer. Traces of human sacrifice remain in the Western World's current majority religion as well: "the holy sacrifice of the Mass" and "eating and drinking the body and blood" of their Deity are a symbolic human sacrifice. Going from the literal to the symbolic is in this case a very good thing! Fundamentalist Christian sexual repression, religious persecution, and abdication of individual freedom in order to grovel before Yahweh, are other manifestations of a misunderstanding of the meaning of sacrifice. Those folks are harming themselves while doing their Deity no good or real honor.

Gebo is harmony as well as crossroads. Although the shape of a rune usually has no relation to its meaning, the shape of this rune (like a capital "X"), can remind us of balance and harmony, as well as of two roads crossing. The Celtic cross is actually pre-Christian. It relates to the sun-wheel (an equal-armed cross within a circle), which some Norse practitioners relate to Odin. The relationship of Odin and Freya (often seen as Odin's second wife or mistress) is an example of balance: Odin and Freya divide equally those killed in battle. (Freya, by the way, gets first pick!) Odin taught Freya runes and she taught him seidhr (trance-type work). Again, this is the Gebo rune in action! These Two, by the way, are the Norse God and Goddess of magickal initiation. The fully trained Norse magickal practitioner in a sense becomes Odin or Freya by doing as they do!

In order to attain initiation it is necessary to pay the price of doing the necessary work, of attaining the personal growth required to pass the threshold. The initiate must discard outworn ideas and patterns of thinking and assume new and truer ones. The process must go deeper than the "merely" intellectual. This is the sacrifice of "self to Self" that Odin accomplished on Yggdrasil. Those who seek to go through symbolic locked doors without doing the requisite work can harm themselves seriously. Think of what a big power surge can do to an unprotected computer!

Gebo ties into marriage as well. The bride received keys and the groom received a hammer. Women ran the household; men the family's "external affairs." In Norse society, the sexes were fairly equal, especially in comparison with other contemporary peoples. However, sex roles were more strictly defined than today. The keys and hammer have, to me at least, sexual overtones as well.

Gebo is active in economic life as well, although not in the same way as Fehu. Raidho facilitates the exchange. Gebo works in political life as well. Germanic kings had to give as well as receive. Stingy kings were loathed by all and usually didn't stay kings for long! Greed was seen as equally bad. Kings whose "speed was spent" were sometimes among those who became human sacrifices. Land and silver and gold goodies were popular gifts to those who served them. These were actually as much payment for services rendered as gifts in the sense that most see gifts. They were means of maintaining social harmony. Thorr Sheil sees Gebo as an exchange which satisfies all parties involved, and associates Forseti and his double ax with this. To me, the blade of a double ax looks like a Gebo rune with the ends closed off!

Gebo is the rune of sexual union. The give and take of sexual union can even be used to raise magickal power. Heathens seek balance and moderation in matters sexual. Repression and obsession are equally bad and indicative of a lack of harmony. Sexual attitudes from centuries of a very un-earthy religious view imposed upon our culture have created many problems which will take much effort to resolve. The waning of traditional Christian influence has created many opportunities, including making the public re-emergence of Pagan religions possible, but will not resolve the problems automatically. Licentiousness is the flip-side of chastity and represents an extreme and ultimately destructive sort of balance, a "murky" working of Gebo if you will. Think of the 1950's and the 1960's!

Thorr Sheil points out that giving ought to be more than writing a check to an organization. Many religious organizations are better off financially than their followers! One should care for one's nearest and dearest (immediate family and close friends) before giving elsewhere. I myself have known folks that tithed to their church even though it meant that their kids didn't have health insurance or financial support for college and their own retirement was unprovided-for. This is a perversion of Gebo.

Remember the Havamal. A gift demands a gift, and it is better not to offer than to offer too much. Think of what the commercialization of Yuletide has done. Folks save all year or mess up their finances for a spending extravaganza - "Charge it!" at 21% interest a la Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble. No one but the merchants ultimately benefits. Cancelling the whole shebang would be preferable to the current mess. However, a few simple presents given in love, something perhaps that one has made, would reflect far better the spirit of Gebo.

Again, a gift demands a gift. The Earth gives to us and demands our bodies back in death. This is not done out of greed, but necessity. There is no life without death, and vice-versa. Gebo at work again! The Aesir and Vanir give abundantly to us, and demand from us in return. We help them with their work of facilitating balance, preservation and evolution in the Nine Worlds. Usually, the tasks they ask of us are things we find JOY (next month's rune!) in doing. Always, it's something that we NEED (yet another rune!) to do.

Magickally, Gebo can be used to obtain gifts or help and to facilitate love affairs. It can help with business deals too. On a more subtle level, it can help reveal insincere giving, crooked deals, and the like.

My own rune work is largely based on that of Thorr and Audrey Sheil, combined with my own personal experience and wide reading. If you like this column, you'll love the Sheil's books! As you study the Runes, you will develop a "feel" or intuition for them, and your own "slant" on their basic meanings. Enjoy and grow from your runework!

 

Jordsvin

Created by Chandonn and Jordsvin

all works used by permission of the authors

last modified 01/13/2004