Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interview with Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir of the Ásatrúarfélagið, Part Two

KS - How did you learn to work with the runes?

JH - When I was a kid, I started seeing the runes everywhere, and I didn’t know anything about runes. I didn’t know that there were runes. I used to see them in stones and in mountains. They were just here. It wasn’t until I was about sixteen or seventeen that I found the runes, really - what they were - because people were not working with the runes then, at that time.

Harðardóttir and Hilmarsson at Þingvellir (June 24, 2010)

I started reading about them and trying to find out what they meant. I could see that it was different, depending on who was telling the story. Some of it, I thought was very stupid, but some things were good. Of course, with runes - I’m not Odin, and I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, but I’ve been working with this since I was very young. I feel now that I can tell people about it.

I have found something with my readings from Hávamál and Völuspá and Sigrdrífumál and Loddfáfnismál and everything that I’ve read through my life. This relates to that, and it also relates to what I’m doing with runes. I found my truth in it. Maybe somebody who reads my book will say, “This is not right. I know better.” Then it’s good. Then I really hope that he or she does.

I want this to be with the people, because this is a part of our heritage, and it’s also a part of our spirit. It must not be forgotten, and it must not be blended with tarot and zodiac signs and aroma oils and whatever it is. These are runes, and they come from the gods, and they come from the Nine Worlds, and we’re supposed to work with them like that.

KS - Do you feel that there is a direct connection between today’s runic practice and that of ancient times, or are contemporary practitioners actually recreating the 19th-century mysticism of writers like Guido von List?

JH - I’m afraid, yeah. I’m afraid that it’s blending a bit.

Here in Iceland, it’s very understandable. In the old days, runes were something bad. They were part of this old heathenry, Dark Ages, and whatever. They were not to be used, and they were not to be talked about. They almost got lost, even if they were being used by a lot of people. They were kind of hidden - like the children of Eve - but they never got lost. The runes were for writing, and they were also magic symbols. If they had just been something to write with, they would have been dead a long time ago. They were also these magic symbols, and that’s why they lived.

Icelanders are very much into new things, as you’ve probably gathered by being here. We got all these things from the East, like tarot. It’s something that’s okay to use. It’s something positive. Then you start blending the runes into that, and then you suddenly have a package of something that you can use to tell fortunes, and it has runes in it. Now you have books with runes and how to read them. You have runestones and papers on how to read the runes, and it’s mostly always like tarot. For example, they say it matters if it’s upside down or whatever. It has nothing to do with that, because runes are just runes. They just have this meaning.

In the old days - in heathenry - we didn’t believe in this linearity. Life doesn’t start here, then go here and end here. It’s a circle, and everything is both bad and good. It’s just like our gods. It’s the same with runes. Everything has its good and bad side. There are different characters in this one rune.

We believe that it’s yours to decide, which part you take. We don’t believe that life comes to you, and you know before you’re born how your life is going to be. It’s your own choice, you see. You can break your leg, and you can lie down and cry for three weeks and do nothing and sit in a wheelchair for the rest of your life, because you feel sorry for yourself. Or you can try walking and doing something about it. It’s always a choice, and that’s something that we cannot forget with runes.

KS - Do you think that the runes are a way to reflect on things that are happening in your life and see what the choices are? Are they a means of concentrating your thoughts on the choices you’re going to make?

JH - That’s exactly what I think. I don’t really believe in things that can tell people’s fortune like that. You can take a rune - it is supposed to make you think. You can get into trouble. What are you going to do when you get into trouble?

Runes are just tokens. It’s so easy. It’s like everything in this heathen business. They are just like the gods. They are just tokens of powers within yourself and within the land. You will certainly stumble upon something in your life that you don’t know what to do with. Then you have two choices. The runes are just something to make you think.

KS - So they’re more like a form of meditation and reflection.

JH - Really, yes they are. That’s what I believe.

I think it’s kind of dangerous, when people come for a rune reading, telling them, “This is going to happen to you. This is going to turn out. You will meet a dark, beautiful, tall man, and you will live happily ever after.” I don’t believe in things like that. I think it’s dangerous, because some people do believe in that.

You can make people think. That is always good. You cannot make the choices for anyone, but you can make them think.

KS - And see what their choices are.

JH - Yes. That’s what it’s all about, this lifestyle.

Heiðinn, that’s the word that we use. It is the same as heiður, which means clear. We say, “Heiður himinn” - the sky is clear. You should keep a clear head. Don’t let anybody tell you what to do, don’t let anybody rule you. Think, yourself. That’s it.

KS - In Hávamál, Odin discusses the mystical properties of the runes. Do you think that it is possible to know which specific runes are being discussed there and elsewhere in the Poetic Edda?

JH - This is the wonderful thing about it. You don’t really know. That’s what makes you think. That’s what’s good for every person, every human being - thinking. What did he mean by that? It’s all in that. It’s all in making you think. Odin was a trickster. You’re not supposed to know. Think whatever you like.

KS - In his 1984 dissertation Runes and Magic, Stephen Flowers argues that a great number of ancient runic monuments contain magical inscriptions. He’s not very convincing.

JH - I read it, too. I don’t agree with him.

I think that using the runes is something very personal. That’s something that I haven’t written anything about yet. It’s in my book that’s in my computer. Whether it will ever get done...

The public in Iceland was using runes, and they only used a few of them. They believed in the runes, and you shouldn’t do just anything with them. They believed in the powers. Then there were the magicians, like Egill [Skallagrímsson], for example. Then there were the healers that were using the runes, and the midwives. The runes were used in so many ways. It was very personal. You cannot go and find some magical inscription. You just can’t find that. It’s all within the mind, I think, but they are powerful.


Unknown said...

A very interesting interview. She mentions a books she's written. Is there a link to it?

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried said...

You can find the book from this bookseller - - but the book, the bookseller, the website, and the currency are all in Icelandic!

Larisa Hunter said...

the link to the book did not work, can you give the title of the book?

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried said...

I just tested the link, and it went to the Icelandic bookstore. Try cutting and pasting the link again. Jóhanna recently finished translating her book into English - hopefully it will be available soon!

Karen P. Foster said...

This is a very insightful conversation. Thank you for sharing it. I am relatively new to the Runes, but I very much appreciate and respect Johanna's perspective on them and how they are (or should be) used.

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