[Young Heathens Page]
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
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
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
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
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!
all works used by permission of the authors