The Ionian Runes

Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor uses Ionian runes throughout Acts of the Servant and its sequels. At the time he was writing the majority of spaers working in Scotland used Ionian runes and it is likely MacGregor was familiar with them through the ‘booth’ scryers in Edenborough.

According to modern scholarship Ionian Runes developed from the earlier Northumbrian runes in the ninth century. To this day, both systems have much in common; in particular, the Ionian Runes retain the Calc, Gar, Cweorð, and Stane runes not found in the yet earlier Anglo-Saxon runes. In common with many other religious and educational establishments, each Fellowship of Grace developed its own character and traditions and this extended to runic scripts. Despite this diversity, comparisons of runes from the Fellowships of Grace at Mannin, Iona, Tara, Lindisfarne and Tintagel, and the Écoles d’Ésotérique at Carnac and Mont Dragon in Brittany, show the essential character of the runes has changed little over the centuries and there is a clear line of descent from the Elder Futhark of Scandinavia, down to recent times.

For ease of comparison, I have shown the Ionian Runes alongside their equivalent in the Northumbrian Runes in the image below. In the majority of cases, the reader will note the differences are restricted to the name and pronunciation of the rune, while the glyph and its associations remain the same.

Ionian Runes
The following can only be an approximate guide to the meanings of the Ionian runes since I understand the exact meaning always depends on the question asked by the seeker, its sequence in the rune cast, and its interaction with the other runes in the cast. In the majority of cases, the given meaning follow those established in the Northumbrian runes and in earlier futhorcs. Italicised text indicates lines from the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, c. 8th or 9th century AD.

Note: For convenience the Old-English þ and ð are rendered as ‘th’ in the text.

Feyr: Wealth, particularly of a portable nature. Although this is often taken to mean financial wealth, it also takes in a person’s talents or skills. Wealth is a comfort to all men; yet must every man bestow it freely, if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord. Runically it embodies material and spiritual wealth and their counterparts of piety and generousness and it is one of the few runes without significant negative attributes.

The AurochArbh: Originally, this referred to the auroch, a now extinct beast similar to the European bison. The aurochs is proud and has great horns; it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns; a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle. Following the auroch’s demise, the rune became associated with the domesticated bull. Like several of the Ionian names, Ur was influenced by Scot’s Gaelic, and became Arbh, Gaelic for bull, however anyone familiar with highland cattle and highland weather will appreciate that it retains its association with strength, resilience and obduracy in the face of misfortune.

The Demon, as portrayed in the 1957 horror classic, Night of the DemonThor: Originally the giant or demon, however in early Christian times Thor transmuted to Thorn, and it is this latter concept the Anglo-Saxon rune poem reflects. The thorn is exceedingly sharp, an evil thing for any knight to touch, uncommonly severe on all who sit among them. In the Ionian Runes, Thorn reverted to its original form, perhaps in reference to the god, Thor, the hammer-wielder. Both concepts contain the idea of something unendurable that provokes anger or revenge and by extension, Thor includes the concept of possession, as when a man loses himself in rage or acts on impulse. Hence, Thor is known as the Demon or Berserker Rune and the Rune of the Red Mist.

Cicero, the greatest of the Roman oratorsOs: 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. Os is the rune of oratory and elegance in speech and at the height of his fame MacGregor frequently added this rune-mark when signing his name. Of course, elegance in speech does not imply that what is being said is correct or truthful and the appearance of Os in a rune-reading should put the seeker on alert for anything that sounds too good to be true.

The road and the journey are perhaps the most durable of life's metaphorsRathad: Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads on the back of a stout horse. This is the rune of journey making, both in the everyday sense of travelling and in the metaphysical sense of the life-journey. In rune-reading, it can refer to the practical concerns of the traveller and to issues of moral judgement and integrity. It also has the sense that even the most arduous and unpleasant of experiences will be made light of one day.

Cyn: The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame; it always burns where princes sit within. That wisdom should particularly reside in princes may seem rather quaint to us now but wisdom and enlightenment is the essence of Cyn. In rune-readings, it often implies that the seeker has not thought through a course of action or is lacking knowledge in some crucial aspect, but when it relates to events that have yet to unfold it indicates that enlightenment is near at hand.

Gyf: Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity; it furnishes help and subsistence to all broken men who are devoid of aught else. Feyrwhynne, spaewife to King David II of Scotland and one of the greatest rune-readers who ever lived, once listened to her master’s complaint that the Royal coffers were so diminished he could not pay his servants, and gave the answer that no one was so poor he had nothing to give. This is the essence of Gyf, not generosity with money or material possessions but generosity of goodwill and kindliness toward all. The tale concludes that Feyrwhynne so shamed her master that that very evening King David elected to seat his servants at high table and serve them as though he was theirs to command. What his servants thought of this arrangement is not recorded.

Wynn: Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety, and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house. Wynn should always be viewed as a companion to Gyf, since bliss without generosity tends to selfishness and complacency. A man who enjoys Wynn without Gyf will find that when the good times end, as they always do, others may be less than generous toward him. An old proverb sums this up best “Man’s true quest does not end with his contentment, but in the granting of relief and happiness to others.”

Hael: Hail is the whitest of grain; it is whirled from the vault of heaven and is tossed about by gusts of wind and then it melts into water. In meteorological terms, hail is a short-lived but immensely destructive force capable of destroying a harvest in minutes. Together with Nyd and Is, it forms a trio of runes whose negative aspects far outweigh their positive. Its presence in a rune-reading suggests a need to provide for disaster or setback but that any troubles will be temporary.

John Lewis, a cottage interiorNyd: Trouble is oppressive to the heart; yet often it proves a source of help and salvation to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes. Although the rune poem describes Nyd as ‘trouble’ it is usually understood as need or necessity, in the sense of something that cannot be avoided, rather than in the sense of physical want. In a rune-reading Nyd affirms the importance of another rune or of a course of action suggested by the runes. The rune poem explicitly states that while Nyd is troublesome, accepting the need to act upon it always tends to increased happiness and wellbeing.

Is: Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems; it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon. As ice preserves from decay so Is is the rune of stasis, and unchangingness, though rarely is it a positive influence and among its associated names we find Rockcracker and The deadly embrace. In rune-readings it implies a refusal to countenance change and a love of misery and hatred but it is also one of the most practical runes since its ability to chill and numb living flesh makes it an excellent pain reliever when used in moderation.

Gyr: refers to year, in the sense of the natural cycle, although the Anglo-Saxon rune poem only mentions summer. Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven, suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits for rich and poor alike. Specifically it concerns harvest and the fruits of harvest, the pinnacle of the natural year and forms a companion with its opposite runes, Is and Hael. In rune-readings, Gyr relates to fertility of nature and human reproduction and the successful outcome of endeavour in other fields.

Eoh: The yew is a tree with rough bark, hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots, a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate. The yew is also poisonous in nearly all its parts and Eoh has associations with death as Yggdrasil, the world tree, links the nine worlds, including the netherworld, into one cosmic whole and Eoh is the rune most closely linked to the spirit realm. In rune-readings, Eoh references the fragility of life and the inter-connectedness of the living and the dead (note the inherited land, or ‘estate’, in the rune poem) and frequently acts to bind the runes into a meaningful whole, hence one of its many alternative names Lord of the Runes. Given its association with death and the afterlife Eoh’s association with yew is highly appropriate for yew is among the longest-lived of European trees and has a habit of re-growing from a hollow centre, giving the impression of life after death.

Pereth: Commonly called the Rune of Chance, or Player’s Rune (gamblers would often have it tattooed onto their dice-hand), Pereth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall. Pereth refers to the forces of fate and chance that govern our lives and is often depicted as a dice-cup. In rune-readings it suggests the outcome of the seeker’s endeavours are finely balanced and Pereð is sometimes known as The Rune of the Gods.

Eolh: The elk. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem offers little help here. The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it. Eolh means most definitely ‘elk’ and quite what the elk-sedge is no one seems to know, however the poem does reference eolh’s defensive capabilities for not for nothing is this known as the rune of the outstretched hand, which it does indeed resemble. As the elk has never been native to the British Isles, over time this rune has become more closely associated with the stag and in particular with the rut when stags challenge for dominance over the hinds. As a rune of defence, it is one of the easiest to use in hand casting, with the thumb and little finger folded inward, and the middle fingers outstretched. In rune-readings, it implies the need for caution or preparation when facing challenges.

Sigel: The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers when they journey away over the fishes’ bath, until the courser of the deep bears them to land. A courser is a fast horse. Sigel can be regarded as similar in meaning to Da, but it is better thought of as a nurturing and healing rune for it is the sun that warms us and ripens the wheat and the sun that breaks the hold of winter. Its presence in a rune-reading implies good news or relief from setbacks, however if drawn with Is, it warns of volatile times ahead since no two runes are more opposite in meaning than Sigel and Is.

Tyr: References the Norse god, Tyr, and the Pole Star. Tyr is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails. It is the rune of constancy and steadfastness and known as the Dependable Rune or Mariner’s Rune. Ship’s compasses were traditionally decorated with this rune, though curiously it was always considered bad luck to print it on the compass card itself. In hand-casting, the middle finger is extended while the knuckles of the index and ring finger project either side of it. In a rune-reading, it usually indicates the seeker should continue on their present path.

Beithe: The birch tree. The birch is commonly the first tree to colonise open ground but has a comparatively short lifespan. It is also among the most graceful and beautiful of our trees, especially when young and it has long had associations with the brief flowering of human beauty and the short span of human life in general. Peculiarly, the Anglo-Saxon rune poem appears to confuse birch with another species of tree, perhaps the poplar for it states it— bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers, for it is generated from its leaves. Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned its lofty crown which reaches to the skies. Beithe also has a curious and ambivalent relationship with the underworld. Perhaps this is drawn from birch’s pioneering tendency or because it is associated with the hallucinogenic fungi Amanita muscaria, or “magic mushroom”, but whatever the reason Beithe is associated with all forms of underground structures, be they earth houses or natural caves and with the arts of concealment and secrecy. In rune readings, Beithe may refer to human life or suggest that matters revealed in the reading may only be of a transitory nature, but it can also refer to subtexts or hidden meanings.

Each: Horse: The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors. A steed in the pride of its hoofs, when rich men on horseback bandy words about it; and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless. Today, our choice of automobile indicates our status and character, but in ancient times, our horse and riding equipment had a similar function; thus, Each does not refer directly to the horse, but to the man, or woman, riding it. In rune-readings, Each often represents a need for support or assistance since without a horse, man is limited to what he can carry on his back and the distance he can walk on his own two feet.

Fear: Fear is one of a small number of Ionian Runes whose name has been directly translated into the Gaelic language. In the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, we find this rune described thus: The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen; yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow, since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth. Clearly, the author of the poem viewed life as a glass half empty! In rune-readings, Fear refers not only to the human individual (it is not exclusively male in orientation) but also to the ties of kinship and fellowship, and the concomitant themes of social order, morality, and lawfulness.

Loegr: Water. The ocean seems interminable to men, if they venture on the rolling bark and the waves of the sea terrify them and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle. Courser is an old term for a swift horse. Loegr is also associated with the journey to the afterlife, which invariably entails the crossing of water. On a more human level, it is also the rune of love, partly because love at its most blissful removes us to another place and partly because of love’s tempestuous nature.

Yng: The Anglo-Saxon rune poem has this to say of Yng: Yng was first seen by men among the East-Danes, till, followed by his chariot, he departed eastwards over the waves. So the Heardingas named the hero. Yng is both hero as ideal and the hero dwelling in all of us. Alas, there is no hero named Yng in any of the surviving Norse legends so we do not know what nature of hero Yng is, though some have argued he is portrayed in the hill-figure at Cerne-Abbas in Dorset. In rune-readings, Yng implies that courage will be required in any undertaking and it is sometimes associated with the male libido.

Da: Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord; it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor, and of service to all. Di has many aspects. It is the rune of clarity for it is in the light of day that matters become most plain. It can also mark the end of troubles, the end of the dark night. The writer of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem was a devout Christian and clearly believed that Da is given to man by God, however anyone who has employed runes to access the higher realities understands that Da, as a concept, exists in all of us and does not come from an outside agency.

Ethel: According to the Anglo-Saxon rune poem An estate is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity. Whereas Feyr is the rune of earned wealth and riches, Eðel refers to inherited wealth and particularly inherited lands and titles. Unlike Feyr, which is wholly positive in its attributes, Eðel is both positive and negative as inheritance often requires obligation and not everything we inherit is welcome or wholesome. The clearest expression of Ethel in Acts of the Servant is Lord MacDonald who inherits his grandfather’s title and estate on Skye (along with its economic woes) and becomes responsible for the well-being of his people.

Ac: The oak. The Anglo-Saxon poem embodies two distinct aspects of the oak: The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men. Often it traverses the gannet’s bath, and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith in honourable fashion. Thus, we have a provider of animal feed, the acorn, and timber for ships. In a rune-reading Ac implies longevity or the long-term influence of other runes drawn in the cast. It also has connotations with strength and durability and practicality since oak is the best of our native timbers for shipbuilding and construction.

Aesc: The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men. Firm on its base it offers a stubborn resistance, though attacked by many a man. Ash was frequently used for spear shafts and perhaps the second part of the poem references the defensive use of the spear where the butt is placed in the ground to make a spear-wall. Some have attempted to connect the aesc rune with Yggdrasil, the world tree of Scandinavian myth; however, descriptions of Yggdrasil suggest it is evergreen and most now accept Yggdrasil is probably a yew. In rune-readings, Aesc can refer to supple strength and, perhaps taking its reference from the winged seeds of the ash, travelling far from ones roots.

Yr: The Anglo-Saxon rune poem offers only the vaguest of descriptions: Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight; it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey. Nor can we refer to earlier poems from Scandinavia for Yr is one of the later Anglo-Saxon additions to the rune sequence. The runes themselves defy all attempts to analyse or investigate their meaning through magic (or to put it another way, you cannot turn the lantern upon itself) and all we can do is infer some meaning from their associations. In rune-readings Yr commonly refer to distance and the importance of distant events on current situations and the need to influence events at a distance. Taken together with the poem this suggests a horn, which is the author’s own preference, or a bow, though neither fits the poem’s description with any accuracy.

Ior: The Beaver. Ior is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land; it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness. Even into mediaeval times, animals were categorised according to behaviour and habitat rather than physiology and if we see the beaver in this light it makes a deal of sense to regard it as a fish. In its positive influence Ior is the rune of industry, hard work, stewardship, and good order, but in the negative, it implies subtlety and guile and it is sometimes known as the Diplomat’s Rune or The Hidden Blade, in which capacity it was often inscribed on the haft of a sgian dubh, as worn in traditional highland dress.

Ear: While Ear has the literal meaning of ‘earth’ its specific meaning is the grave and it can still be found on memorial stones and tombs, particularly in the rural north and west of Greater Britain and in much of Scotland. The Anglo-Saxon rune poem has this to say: The grave is horrible to every knight, when the corpse quickly begins to cool and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth. Prosperity declines, happiness passes away and covenants are broken. Unequivocally, Ear is the rune of death though its presence in a rune-reading need not always inspire fear, since many things die and not all deaths are to be regretted.

Cweorth: Hearth/forge, or ritual fire. This and the following runes are not included in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem. Many runologists have tried to discern a concealed order to the runes. Casual observation shows some runes describe animals, some weather and others weaponry, but as yet, no one has combined these into an intelligible whole. Such runologists have attempted to describe Cweorth, Loegr and Ear, among others, as elemental runes; however, this does not stand close examination for in each case the precise meaning refers more to certain properties of fire, water and earth rather than the substance itself. Thus, Ear is grave rather than earth, Loegr is specifically of river or ocean, not water per se and Cweorth is concerned with fire’s ability to transform other objects. Thus, the hearth warms us, the forge makes tools and weapons of iron, and ritual fire refers to the burning of aromatic resins such as amber, or with cremation. Furthermore, both Ear and Cweorth are late additions to the runes and no runologist has convincingly shown that any of the other runes is associated with air, the fourth member of the classic elements.

Stane: Literally, stone and figuratively sacrifice. In the early Celtic church it was sometimes used as an ideogram for Saint Peter, the rock upon which the church was built. Memorably, Saint Peter forswore Christ three times  during the night following the crucifixion and these acts of betrayal are reflected in the dual nature of the Stane rune, strength and the weakness of a hidden flaw. Unlike wood, which provided it is free of rot, behaves in a predictable manner, stone is liable to catastrophic failure along a flaw or fault line. In this sense, sacrifice can be seen as the admittance of a flaw, since the loss will always be hard to bear. It follows that any reading that features this rune must be treated with caution.

Calc: Chalk. Calc represents two key concepts. One is writing and in this, it provides a partner to Os, the rune of speech; the other is untrustworthiness. Before widespread literacy, writing was regarded with suspicion, largely because anything written usually concerned unpopular matters like law and taxes and, as is still the case today, anything written down may be open to numerous interpretations. This is sufficient to link the two concepts, however many have pointed to the familiar white cliffs of the south coast and observed that while chalk presents a fine spectacle, it crumbles easily. In rune-readings, Calc implies that the seeker is working from a false premise or has been misled in some key aspect.

Gar: Spear. The spear is primarily a defensive weapon, especially when dug in and presented to the enemy, and in Old Norse, garðr (pron. garther) means dwelling-place, fence or enclosure, suggesting that this rune is primarily for defence rather than attack. Spear shafts were usually made of ash wood which combines strength with a straight grain and flexibility and most runologists claim that the lines of the Anglo-Saxon poem referring to aesc, “The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men. Firm on its base it offers a stubborn resistance, though attacked by many a man,”actually refers to an ash-wood spear.

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