Rune Study Group: Thurisaz


I didn't find runes, runes found me... Part I

If you think the following sounds totally kooky, you're not alone - I'm right there with you. But it happened nonetheless, and it was quite powerful... forgive me if it takes a few paragraphs to get to the main point here. Skip past this first post to the second part if you're not interested in the setup but only want to read about my take on this rune.

Lately, I've been fascinated by the figure of the "Horned God." I feel very drawn to him. When it came time to carve pumpkins for Halloween, I was in the midst of pondering and studying connections between our modern holidays and their pagan forbears, and so wanted to choose a "pagan" image to celebrate the spirit of Samhain. I was drawn to the ancient 10,000 year old image of a shaman on a cave in Los Freres, France, and spent an evening adapting the image into a workable pattern for a pumpkin carving (you can see the result here and here).

Ever since, I've been haunted by the image of an antlered male figure. Last night, I kept seeing him in my mind's eye, pale lean body and bald head, deep brown eyes, majestic antlers and slender, graceful deer legs... a potent male figure constantly on the move, his "manhood" always exposed to the world... I even sketched out a picture of him, because none of the pictures I could find on Google Image Search for "horned god" or "Cernunnos" really came close to my own vision.

So, last night, in the early stages of the thirty-minute sitting meditation I try to do daily, an image of this figure flashing through the woods popped into my mind's eye. Now the type of meditation I do is not about visualization, but bare attention, always gently bringing the mind back to the breath whenever it wanders into thought. It usually takes 15-20 minutes for my mind to settle, so sometimes I just let whatever comes up take over in the first few minutes. So I gave in to the vision, let it wash over me.

I stood naked in a deep forest. The antlered, deer-legged, half-human figure emerged from the woods and gave me a lecherous ogle, then looked me in the eyes, extending his hand to me. I took it, and found myself moving swiftly alongside him through the woods. Eventually, we came upon a small one-room cottage, little more than a shack but with a chimney and fireplace. Smoke curled out of the chimney, and he led me inside.

The room was sparsely furnished with rustic, rough-hewn objects, mostly made of wood. We sat down on a tatty rug in front of a glowing, crackling fire. He pulled me down beside him and reached into a velvet bag and took a handful of something, then shook his hand and let a few stones fall to the ground. He pointed to them. They all had images scratched into them, but the only two I could make out were a shape resembling a half-assed, sloppy, pointy "P," like a flag at half mast, and another with two wavy lines like the symbol for Aquarius.

The vision dissipated and I returned to my sitting and attention to the breath. After the sitting, I came downstairs to the computer to look up the symbols I'd seen. I felt very strongly that they were "runes," though I have very little, almost no, familiarity with runes. Sure, I've seen images of runes, but I've never studied them or read their meanings. So I typed in "runes" into Google to see if I could find the images I'd seen.

The two wavy lines were not even approximated by any of the runes, but I found with certainty the "half-assed P" I had seen: Thurisaz. In reading descriptions of the rune which I obtained from three different websites (Thurisaz at, Thurisaz at, and Thurisaz at, I found two distinct meanings of the rune and the vision.


Part II

The first meaning was that this rune represents much of the same things as the Horned God, at least the Horned God of my own vision, my own inner language of image and archetype. It was as if the Horned God was giving me a sign, pointing to this rune as if to say, "I am here." I saw this rune as representing the chaotic nature of the Universe, nature in its most wild and unrelentingly brutal aspects. It is the unity of destruction with creation, the wildfire that clears out debris. It is a wildfire which also burns away some new life in the process. The consuming fire is total and has no time to discriminate between what to burn and what not to burn; it engulfs everything in its path. There is also male virility in this rune, which sows the seed then leaves, no tender cuddling after the force and violence of sex here.

The Horned God scoffs at talk of the "Peaceable Kingdom" and human visions of utopia, because he knows nature is violent and brutal. Without death and destruction, without chaos, there would be no room for growth and new life; things would stagnate. This rune points to a force of incredible, unrelenting power. But it is not power that can be easily harnessed. It is uncontrollable, and though one can benefit from it as a source of clearing the way, one will inevitably get burned in any attempt to handle it.

Such is Nature. In our attempts to tame the world, to try to force it to obey human reason through technology and civilization building, we may sometimes think we are less susceptible to this force than people in past times who lived at the mercy of the elements. But this is not true... we are part of Nature and even our most artificial and mechanical inventions are prone to its laws. Thurisaz, the Horned God, Kali, make their presence known in random killings, traffic accidents, acts of war and terrorism, and more obviously in natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. This force does not discriminate and is not about delivering the results of past karma, and will brutally mow down the "innocent" (Who is really innocent?) as well as the "guilty" (Who is really guilty?) ...Such is Nature.

The Horned God and Thurisaz though are not bearers of a quality which is totally somber and bleak. There is the dark humor of the trickster who sets things into motion just to wreak havoc and to see what happens, watching it all with a sense of glee. The Trickster often stirs chaos for its own sake, but often it is also a form of teaching. When we are knocked on our own asses or have everything ripped away from us, we can see things we did not see before, and all of a sudden see to the heart of our condition. Folly and disaster can be our greatest teachers, cutting through the bullshit that piles up around us and revealing truths that are often as brutal as the act of revelation itself.


Part III

The second, more personal meaning of the rune addressed a current situation I'm experiencing of division and conflict in a sexual relationship. The honeymoon phase of rosy-colored glasses has passed and the revelation of ugly truths - such as my intentionally being kept at a distance, and my letting myself become a doormat who demands little and receives less, then lets myself become the target for criticism - has left me feeling angry and resentful. I love this man, but I resent the hell out of him right now.

It is a long-distance relationship between two people a four-hour drive apart in which I rarely get to see him and now have experienced a total cut-off of communication as he wants some time in "solitude" (how can you need and have "solitude" in a relationship where the two individuals are not in contact that often, in person or by phone, to begin with?), and I've come to a crossroads: things can no longer continue like this. As much as I'd like this relationship to work out, I realize there must either be some changes, or it must be dissolved.

What this rune showed me is unmistakable: this is war. I can no longer be the friendly doormat. Even if I wanted to be, I am past the point where I am even capable of performing that role. Even if in the process I end up destroying a good thing as well as the debris, the fires must burn. The sword must be drawn, and the stand taken. If the one I face reaches out to me for compassion, as much as I may want to drop the sword, I must not. But while now is not the time for gentle submission, neither is it the time for childish tantrums.

The other image in the vision I have realized represents water, in this case, pointing to emotion. I must draw my strength from the pool of emotion, from its very deeps where the waters are still and stable. I must be composed and focused; if I throw a childlike fit, I will be ignored and dismissed as immature, and the focus will be put on my lack of emotional composure rather than the points of contention themselves.

Fear of ****ing up a good thing has held me back in the past. But the wildfires of nature do not skirt around the healthy things in their path to focus on the debris. Sometimes even the healthy and good must be mowed down to put an end to maladaptive cycles and unhealthy ecosystems. Every last scrap of dysfunction and imbalance must be cleared in order for the foundation of this relationship to be strong and healthy. Otherwise, it will eventually topple due to its weak foundation later on down the line. And if the relationship itself cannot stand these blazing fires, even for all the good in it, it must burn too.


Umbrae said:
Similar to taking up a thorned branch in hand; if you are skilled and use with care, you may use it well; if not, you may do damage to yourself.
This image from Umbrae has often stayed with me and how I read this rune, and seems very applicable to your situation, noby. It can hurt the one who takes up this branch, but it can also be of great use. It takes great skill, and great care, to manage this situation to avoid damage to one's self.

Your encounter with the Horned God and runes is inspirational! Thank you so much for sharing this....


You and Umbrae make eloquent points, Alissa. And I'm glad you enjoyed my story!


I love the runes. I use runes more than the tarot.


Norse Lore and Sexism

WillieHewes said:
The Nordic cultures that used the runes were very male-dominated, skytwig, so I wouldn't be surprised. (Although women were offered a role as oracles, if that makes you feel any better. And the mediators of peace.)

Willie - who knows little of runes, but more than average about Anglo-Saxon culture and its roots.

Now, we don't really know this. Indeed we have plenty of reason to think that women had a larger role in areas like battle magic, politics, etc. than in most other civilizations we think of as Western. A careful reading of Njall's saga, for example, indicates that women were far more powerful in the Norse culture than in, say, Classical Greece or Rome.

A second problem here is that we have every reason to believe that our examples of mythic tales are incomplete and that the sample is slanted more towards male dominance than the original corpus was. There are three parts to this arguement (and it depends on both the first to parts or the third.):

1) That although most of the gods appear in the stories, very few of the goddesses do and
2) We do have at least one story (of the origin of the Brisingamen) which was collected in the Renaissance and had been transformed from a story about a goddess to a story about a woman.
3) Women were *very* much a part of the magical and war traditions among the Norse, though their presence on the battlefield was far more rare. The Helgi Lays provide a very good glimpse into the role of women in these areas. In particular I would suggest reading the Lay of Helgi Hjorvarthsen and the Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane.

So given how much female-centric lore has been lost, it is probably more fair to say that the surviving stories have a male bias but this may have been a result of bias by those (mostly Christian monks) who collected the stories.


More analysis

Anyway once again, I am trying to add a bunch of traditional lore to the thread.

In the Old Icelandic Rune Poem (OIRP), we have the idea that this is the "Husband of Vardhruna."

Most authors attribute Vardhruna to be just a generic giantess, but the name is quite interesting and since no term for giantess occurrs in this poem, I would instead argue that Vardhruna would be a woman's name and translate something like "Knower of the Arcana of Warding" (I love Old Norse female names-- they are very vivid in their meanings). This points perhaps to protection magic as a major part of this rune, as if this was not obvious enough from the Old English Rune Poem (OERP) reference to it being a thorn that is painful to grasp and cruel to lie upon.

As for the phrase "Sickness of Women" which appears in both the OIRP and the Old Norse Rune Rhyme (ONRR) I don't really see this as a sexual thing. More likely this is a reference to pains of childbirth (I guess related to sex in a way), and menstrual cramps/issues, but if there is a sexual relationship to the rune, I think it would have to be from another source other than the rune poems or the etymology. As such it would be of secondary importance.

A few more points. Jacob Grimm noted that the Teutonic peoples used to plant thorn-bearing plants around holy sites, and that these thorns were believed to have a hallowing effect. This would create a link between the thorn and Thorr's hammer which was said to have a similar effect.

Finally, there is the matter of the sleep thorn found in grimoirs like The Galdrabok, and in the mythic literatiure (Volsung Saga, Sigdrifumal, and later in the German folktale of The Sleeping Beauty).

The main associateion between this rune and the giants comes, I think, from the relatively late Abecedarium Nordmanicum (title translates to "ABC's of the Norsemen") and from the reference in Skirnismal (much earlier). The Rune Poems generally don't translate the names of the runes, though the OIRP does have key phrases which tend to be different than any other translation of the rune poem ("Shadow" for Uruz, for example).

Pagan X

Be cautious in using information from the Brothers Grimm; they are now thought to have not collected their fairy tales from peasants but, in many cases, had them composed by their middle-class friends. See "One Fairy Tale Too Many".