The Use of Runes in Creating Sacred Space

by Rodney Cox

In our relatively modern and cosmopolitan times the use of sacred space and/or casting circles in magickal practices is common place. Wicca has its circle casting, complete with quarter calls, and the Ceremonialist performs a similar ritual before working any magick. There are many ways of creating sacred space from a multitude of traditions today, and this has several purposes. The first is to set aside a place that is special or "sacred" in order to help contact and focus any magickal energies called upon during the ritual. Secondly it acts as a protective measure keeping out harmful or disruptive energies or beings. This became widespread, in my opinion, with the Renaissance magickal grimoires, which centered on calling forth various spirits to do the magician's will. Of course you needed to both protect yourself and confine the spirit so that it would not get loose to wreak havoc.

The magickal orders of the late nineteenth century made use of magickal circles as part of their rituals, and this was passed on to Wicca in the mid twentieth century. Unfortunately, there is no material showing the ancient Indo-European magicians using sacred spaces, although they were aware of the concept of enclosed sacred space. The ancient Greeks recognized good and bad daimons which the magician had to deal with. The Norse had the idea of Innangardh and Utangardh, or "inside," and "outside." The Celts were aware of the power of liminal states and places.

This points to a common IE thread where special places or states were sought out and utilized. This is more blatant in the North. Edges of forests, shores, dawn and twilight, all being in-between times and places are highly magickal and sacred to the Celts. At these times the veil between the familiar and the Otherworldly became blurred. The two most important times of the year are Beltaine and Samhain, which would be the dawn and twilight of the year, respectively. Enclosures which housed the safe and familiar kept out the chaotic and disruptive outside forces. But in the sagas, the technique of our modern circle casting is never used. But the idea is still, to me, a valid one which should be explored as much as possible in the context of the ancient practices.

Modern circles and sacred space rely much on the four directions and elements. While the four element system originated in Greece, there is no evidence that it was used as is the case today. But there is evidence that four directions may, and I use the word "may" liberally, have played some significance in magickal practices. The four elements in Greece is one example. In the Norse legends, four dwarfs hold up the sky and their names are the four cardinal points. In Irish legend the mighty Tuatha De Danann came from four cities, one of which (Murias) is said to be in the south. This can be interpreted, and realize that this is rather shaky ground, that each of the other cities were found in the other four directions.

As far as symbols go, pentagrams never make an appearance in any of the ancient IE cultures. Other symbols do however, which we can make use of, or do without. David Godwin in his book Light in Extension, which explores Greek and Hellenistic magickal practices creates a ritual where the Gods are called from each direction for protection, while no protective symbol is used at all. While he freely admits that his ritual is tied to modern practices, he admits that the directional/Deity attributions are more or less arbitrary and, "You will never find a pentagram used in any classical Greek art; therefore, we may assume that is not a common religious symbol for them as it is for us." However, as a tool, the wand seems rather universal, at least when comparing Greek, Norse and Celtic (Irish) practices. All used wands. But in terms of symbols, each culture, while all IE, developed their own. In Greece, you have, among others the lamniscate (infinity symbol - ), in the Celtic traditions, spirals and triskells, as well as knotwork, and in the Norse ways, sun symbols, and the runes.

The runes can be effectively used to create sacred space, in a manner that is still reflective of ancient practices. This is based the strong belief of "Insidedness" and "Outsidedness."

Kveldulf Gundarsson in his book, Teutonic Magic, gives us a circle rite that essentially encircles the magician in the entire Futhark as well as establishes him or her in the center of the universe, in a way shown below. The purpose is stated as to set up a holy enclosure of warding and power for the performance of a rite. Significant is the use of the term "holy enclosure," thus everything within the circle is safe, protected from disrupting and alien forces.

[Rune Circle]

The magician starts in the north and first draws a physical circle clockwise. Then, again starting in the north, one draws the first rune, which is seen as glowing red, while singing the name three times. Then the magician moves to the next location, the north-east, seeing a glowing band of red light extending from the first direction. The second rune is drawn and sung, and one continues around the circle until the north is reached again.

Thus at this point the magician is within a bright circle of red light with red runes at eight directions. Then a second circle is made and the second group of eight runes are used just as in the first step. The difference here is that each rune, and the connecting band of red light is pushed back beyond the first circle. When this is complete, the third group of eight runes are used, which are pushed back beyond the second circle. At this point the magician is surrounded by three concentric rings and all of the runes. As a side note, writing the entire Futhark was a method the ancient runemasters used to work magick. This is verified in Edred Thorsson's book Runelore, as being a valid part of the ancient rune workers, and several examples are shown.

Next, Thor's hammer, Mjollnir is called upon to ward the circle from without as well as within. Bright white light should be seen shining down from above from either a spinning swastika, or a spinning Thor's Hammer. This light fills the working area.

Then might or energy from the Upperworld and Underworld (Asgard and Hel) are called upon which meet in the Middleworld, thus establishing the magician in the center of the universe. This is similar to the actions in the Golden Dawn based Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP) where one first establishes oneself in the center of the universe with the Kabblistic Cross. When the magician is done working any magick, the energy from this circle can either be drawn into oneself or have it dissipate back into the universe. The earthly circle is retraced, counterclockwise this time, with the energy being drawn into your wand or knife.

This is a fairly modern rite that used the ancient belief that the runes contained all knowledge in them. When one surrounds oneself by the entire Futhark one is in a sense creating a separate universe to work within, as well as drawing upon the power of all the runes.

From my Reiki training, I have come to realize the importance of symbols and their use, energetically. Symbols can be used as gateways to specific energy sources. There is a technique of creating sacred space in Reiki by using the Activation symbol at the four quarters and the Om symbol in the center. Using this technique as a basis, I have designed a similar means of using the runes to create sacred space. The advantage of using runes is that the energies are accessible to everyone unlike Reiki where one must be a second level practitioner (which you need a special attunement for) before using the symbols.

Starting out you need a symbol to represent the idea of the magick circle, or sacred enclosure. I had originally felt that the -ng rune, Ingwaz (N), would be appropriate. My source was Freya Aswynn's book Leaves of Yggdrasil. She states that, "On a practical magical level, the Inguz rune can be used as an alternative form to a magical circle, for Inguz has the shape of a circle adapted to the use of carving on hard materials, and the four corners of the Inguz rune correspond to the our quarters in a normal magic circle."

Facing north, envision the Ingwaz rune at your feet in red, and as you vibrate the name of the rune three times, you would see this rune grow to the size you need it to be. This would establish your working space.

With further research, however, I must reconsider my choice for creating the working space. I would have to pick instead the O-rune, Othala (o). Both Kveldulf Gundarsson and Edred Thorsson agree that the Othala rune represents the boundary that separates the Innangardh from the Utangardh. Gundarsson states, "In ritual workings, othala shows the circle or ritual enclosure...Used with other runes, othala defines their sphere of working, particularly in those cases where the matter at hand is a boundary of some kind - magical, social, or physical. It is good as a part of wardings."

Thorsson says of this rune, "Othala is the sacred enclosure. In it is embodied the central concept of Midhgardhr and of the whole idea of "in-sideness" and "out-sidedness" so prominent in Germanic (and Indo-European) thought. The O-rune describes the ring-wall, the symbol of the enclosed land separated from all that around it and thereby made sacred (ON vé). It is a sign of the site set apart for sacred purposes, the fane or the hall. For the most part the othala force acts as a selective barrier. It prevents forces detrimental to the health of the interior form from entering, but it actually conducts beneficial energies into its interior."

Thus Othala is the better rune to use. It would be used the same way as described above.

Once the boundaries are set, each direction can be further warded. The rune I choose for this is the Z-rune, Algiz (z). This is the rune of protection as well as the bringing down of divine force. While standing in the center, face north, and draw a large red Algiz in front of you. As you vibrate its name three times, send it outward the outer edge of your circle. Turn to the next direction (clockwise) and repeat. When you return to the north you should be standing in the center of a large Othala with an Algiz at each of the corners. Alternatively, the symbol of Thor's Hammer could be used.

Next, the space must be cleansed. See a large spinning swastika or Thor's Hammer above you. As it spins, see brilliant white light coming down and filling the circle, cleansing and empowering it.

Finally, one needs to separate the circle from normal space, thus making it "between the worlds," as it were. The rune to use for this is the D-rune, Dagaz (d). All three author's sited so far agree with this. Aswynn says, "Dagaz is above and beyond all levels of being. It is both being and non-being and stands for the supreme mystery of existence...On a practical magical level, Dagaz is used on the four- or eightfold division of the quarters to designate the area outside of time and space, or 'between the worlds.' "

Gundarsson says, "Dagaz is the rune of the achievement of transcendent consciousness, in which the participant becomes one with the universe in a flash of blinding awareness. It is the moment of awakening, the eternal moment of being reached through Hegel's process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis...Ritually, dagaz represents the moment of power at sunrise and sunset."

Thorsson has his to say on this rune, "The D-rune is the process that takes place at the edges of extremes. As the day and darkness merge in the twilight and the beacons of that tide, the morning and evening stars (for which Dagaz [ON Dagr] is a name) shine into the realm of Midhgardhr...Dagaz is the 'Ódhinic Paradox' - the sudden realization (after concerted conscious effort of the will) that perceived the opposites are aspects of a third idea that contains them both (Hegel's process again - Rod). This is the mystery of hyperconsciousness central to the Ódhinic cult, the Germanic cult of consciousness. In the light of the D-rune the pathways between extremes are seen clearly. An Odian does not seek the mystery of dagaz at he center but rather at the extreme borders. This is the simultaneous, bidirectional will that is almost unique to Germanic magical lore. The search ends when the contents of the extreme borderlands fall into a vortex of single pointed wholeness in the 'center' (actually an extradimensional concept)."

What is being described by these authors is the liminal state so cherished by the Irish. All liminal states and places are found at the boundaries, or "far extremes" of varies places or times. Whether you are talking about the shoreline between land and sea, the area between field and forest, or the time between day and night, it all fits into the extradimensional vortex that Thorsson speaks of. Gundarsson speaks of the rune being the moment of power at sunrise and sunset, both of which are liminal states. The magic is not found in the center of the forest or sea, but at the edges between two disparate forces which creates a third magickal (extradimensional) force.

So the Dagaz rune is drawn in the circle and it's name is vibrated three times, with the intention that it is creating a synthesis between the mundane and Otherworld. Red light is seen radiating from this rune to fill the circle.

Thus the circle is complete. When the time comes to close down the circle, the runes, one by one, in reverse order that they were used are drawn back into the magician, and grounded out. The swastika or Thor's Hammer, depending on which one used, would not be drawn into the magician, as this is strictly an outside force invited in to cleanse the space, and not directly connected to the magician as the other runes would be

While there are no records of such magickal circles being used by the ancestors; there is enough information about their beliefs for us to extrapolate along more modern lines to come up with a method of creating sacred space that is philosophically sound if not historically accurate. This extrapolation, because it is based on what the ancients felt to be true can help us strengthen our ties to the ways of the past, even while giving us access to more modern and useful magickal techniques.