Relationships between runes: knowing and learning

In a previous article I talked about the need, when considering the runes, including readings, to not just consider each rune in and of itself, but also to consider the relationship between runes.   Another very close relationship is:





Turning to the Anglo Saxon Rune Poem:


The mouth is the source of all language,a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,
a blessing and a joy to every knight.


kenazThe torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame;it always burns where princes sit within.
On their face, there appears to be no simple relationship between these two runes.  However, consistently we see interpretations that indicate that the latter rune represents knowledge.[1][2]

To me, the reason for this interpretation comes from the concept of the torch we see in the latter poem, and the “torch of knowledge.”

So we’ve got two runes that point to knowledge, one which talks about wisdom, and the other which talks about knowledge directly.   What’s the relationship between the two?

ansuzFor me, as I think of the mouth, I tend to think of declarative statements which we just know to be true.  Examples include “The sky is blue.”   This knowledge While certainly achievable through study, is more likely an experiential process.  I tend to think of the former rune as the rune of “inspiration.”   I go out side, I look up and say “oh the sky is blue.”   Or I go outside, I am not wearing a jacket, and I say “It is cold outside.”   The former rune is about inspiration.

kenaz On the other hand, as we consider the flame, and the torch, this is something that needs attention, and needs work.   So I think of this knowledge as knowledge that is gained through study and hard work.

A colleague and I taught a class called “The philosopher and the mystic: Approaches to religion.”   In many ways these two runes describe that relationship.   The Mystic typically gains their belief structure based upon some form of ecstatic experience.   The philosopher gains their belief through study and examination.

Now this isn’t to say that either of these is better than the other, they are just different. Either approach is valid, based upon the individual.

If we turn back to the rune poems, we can learn more as well.

ansuzOne of the things about knowledge gained through a mystical experience is that ultimately, if we accept it, it can be quite comforting.   Being in a position where you can say “The Gods have told me….” can serve as a comfort.   Take the the Judeo-Christian Ten commandments,   Moses’ acquisition of the Ten commandments was clearly an ecstatic process, where they weren’t there, and then suddenly he had them in his hands.   For over two millennium billions of individuals have accepted these rules, without every asking why.


If we think of the torch, it provides light, and it provides warmth, I’m reminded of the concept of understanding through creating an illumination, something I did early on in my Heathen experience.   Also this type of knowledge is much easier to share with other and have them understand, because you can take them through the same steps of understanding that you came to.   This is unlike knowledge through an ecstatic experience, where its unlikely we can replicate that experience in someone else.

However, this knowledge does have another side to it.   What if that torch is dropped, or the flame goes out of control?   Then it becomes a fire, and burns down our house.   As I think about this type of knowledge I think of it as a knowledge where we are tearing down our conceptions about something and rebuilding them based upon our study.   This torch has a destructive (albeit also constructive) component to it that we don’t always see with inspirational knowledge.






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