The runes and the increase of male power

 

I gathered here a few extracts of chapter 2 of my rune book (under (re)-writing)

 

My motivation:

I am not at all a ‘feminist’. It does not mean I should be stupid. In gathering these texts, I was more motivated by the wish of fighting the idiocy of these who refuse to  see a plain truth, that the male humans won power a power fight over the female humans (who are often said to “whine over their loss”), than by a wish to take sides with anyone. It could be thought that the historical studies are convincing enough on this topic. My aim is, so to say, to complete them for the tale lovers by showing that many tales are pervaded by this progressive degradation of the female status.

 

 

Introduction: implicit meanings of myth of the town Is

 

This tale is given by Jean Markale in his Mythes de la Bretagne armoricaine, under the title ‘La Saga de Gradlon le Grand’. Out of this saga, I will dig Kristof’s story, a little boy who was able to start the destruction of Is.

Near this town, lives a kind of mentally retarded boy, Kristof, of whom it is said that he spends his time throwing stones in the sea with a crooked staff. Once, he notices that a small fish plays at swimming behind the stones he throws. He his able to corner it and to catch it. The little fish begs him to let it go, and Kristof accepts. As a reward, any wish Kristof will utter will now come to be, if he does it in the name of the little fish. Kristof had to bring back wood to his mother who wanted to cook pancakes for him. He is facing a large oak, and he asks the oak to come to him. This large oak, which has been forever in front of Is is a protection of the town during equinoxial tides. After these deeds, Kristof asks the oak to carry him back home through Is. The king’s daughter, Dahud, is among the viewers of the wonder of an oak walking through the town. Kristof sends a friendly salute to her, but she snubs him and refuses to answer the salute. He gets angry and wishes – in name of the little fish – that Dahud will become pregnant. She does and denies she had any sexual relationship. Nobody believes her, of course, and king Gradlon has to put up a magical testing by which Kristof will be acknowledged as the child’s father. He will explain everything to Gradlon, that Dahud got magically pregnant, and that she did not lie about it. This being done, Kristof vanishes form the story and no one ever heard of him again. Strangely enough, this virgin mother, once Kristof gone, becomes a symbol of sexual freedom and will pay for her vices by being drowned during Is destruction that soon follows, in spite of all Gradlon’s hard work.

 

This is a beautiful tale, loved by children, and it carries several myths. We obviously see here a magical pregnancy. Besides this striking feature, we see also a town under the protection of a magical tree, and the town is doomed once the tree gone. This magical tree recalls Norse Yggdrasil and German Irminsūl. Is relies on its tree as much as our world lies in between Yggdrasil’s roots. The tales does not make it explicit but, clearly, Kristof himself was a warlock from the start since he was able to speak and understand the little fish. After his meeting with the fish, he became a big warlock of infinite power, who will destroy what the ancient society was based upon, namely an oak, worshipped until then. This is why, due to all these hints, it seems to me that the tale describes a hero (often called a ‘solar’ hero) who puts down the old order. We shall see other examples of these in the Celtic myths.

Another example of such a ‘hero’, now a historical one, is the Christian devotee emperor Charlemagne who put down Irminsūl, the world tree of the Germanic tribes. This action is, for me, the historical side of the birth of a ‘brave new world’, a one much worse than Huxley’s, since it destroys our earth in name of humanity’s advancement.

 

Solar heroes who destroy the ancient order

 

Lancelot is another hero who destroys the ancient order, especially the Lancelot of the oldest versions of the Arthurian epics. The oldest known written version is curiously the one of Ulrich von Zatzikoven, called Lanzelet, written in Middle High German (i.e., German of the Middle Ages)  [Note 1]. Lanzelet-Lancelot is brought up by the Lady of the Lake beautifully described by von Zatzikoven:

siu hete zehen tûsint

she ruled ten thousand

vrowen in ir lande

women in her country

derkeiniu bekande

who never knew

man noch mannes gezoc.

man nor man’s pull. [meaning: man’s pressure]

 

The Lady of the Lake will tell Lancelot about his family only when he will have killed the Lady’s enemy, and he has been raised for this purpose. This enemy is called Iweret, a name meaning ‘the man of the yew’. Killing him amounts to destroy the old world, one organized around a tree, precisely a yew in Norse mythology, as we just said. Lancelot goes into the forest where he should put down Iweret. Their meeting will take place under a lime-tree (a pine-tree in some other versions) which stays ever green (diu linde ist grüene durch daz jâr: ‘this lime-tree is green all over the year’). This clearly alludes to a yew, an evergreen itself. Under the lime-tree flows a cold fountain (dar under stât ein brunne kalt : ‘under it was set a cold fountain’) that reminds us of Mímir’s fountain, source of wisdom that flows under one of Yggdrasil’s roots.

Recall also that the Norse myth of life creation claims that life started in melting ice, that is, in icy water. It is quite significant that this fountain is cold: life spouted from an ancient cold spring, a new way of life will appear from this cold water. Lancelot kills Iweret and start a new thread of the destiny of humanity.

 

Celtic Irish tales introduce a similar hero, who is also invincible as Lancelot is, Cúchulainn. In particular, the Tain Bo Cuailnge describes him as the main opponent to Queen Maeve who represents matriarchal power. She is married to King Aillil and, nevertheless, she owns her own property, she is a war chief, she is sexually free. The last his emphasized by the ritual formula she says while attempting to put a hero on her side. She proposes him loads of wealth and

my own friendly thighs, in addition of all, if needed.

Besides, she has her own champions. Each of them will fall before Cúchulainn. The war between Maeve and Cúchulainn ends with a crushing male victory:

Then Maeve had her period ... and she relieved herself. This dug three big ditches, each big enough to contain a household. This place is called since Fual Medba, the Piss of Maeve [Note 2]. Cúchulainn saw her thus, but he held his hand. He didn't want to hit her from behind. “Spare me”, Maeve said. “If I killed you there”, said Cúchulainn, “that would be plain justice”. But he spared her, because he was no woman killer.

 

It is said that shamanic power reaches a peak in menstruating shamanesses. It is then not surprising that patriarchal civilizations treat women in this state as being impure. Some American tribes go even to the point that the hunter coming back with some game goes through a special entrance, for fear that the usual one would be polluted with menstrual blood. Cúchulainn’s story, associating Maeve’s periods to her last defeat underlines that the woman in her was defeated.

I can myself testify that a faint and idiotic trace of such a belief has been present until the twentieth century: When I was a child, I ‘knew’ as everyone else did around me, that a menstruating woman could not properly prepare a mayonnaise sauce.

 

This ancient order of the world relies on an oak in the myth of Is, on Iweret (a ‘human yew’) in the early tales of Lancelot, and on a woman in Cúchulainn’s story. This shows up nicely in two of the tree runes: Ihwaz and Berkanan. Ihwaz is the Norse world tree, as well as a male power that does not oppose femininity. Berkanan is the birch, this woman-tree, a symbol of the powerful shamaness.

 

Myths explicitly illustrating the decrease of female power

 

As a caveat, I must insist on that that the Grimm tales are not specifically devoted to male dominance. I counted, for instance, seventeen of them where a man prisoner is saved by a woman, and twelve where a woman prisoner is saved by a man. It is thus obvious that, as a corpus, these tales are quite sex equalitarian. It makes it even more striking that two of these tales describe how women, dominating at first, lose their power.

 

In the tale The King of the Golden Mountain, an apprentice shaman accepts being initiated (he will be beheaded and then revived) in order to save a princess. He marries the princess and becomes the king of the golden mountain. He wishes to go back home and see his father. He gets permission and he is given help for his travel, provided he never compels his wife or their child to join him at his father’s. As you might expect, he will forget his promise and his wife has to leave the golden mountain in order to join him. She will at first hide her anger but she takes advantage of his sleep to leave him, in a pitiful state, without means for coming back to the golden mountain. He then decides to fight adversity and he tries to conquer again his kingdom. He meets three giants and, without killing them, tricks them in stealing their magic weapons. By that, he is able to go back to the golden mountain. There, he sees that the unfaithful woman is giving a feast to celebrate her new wedding day. He makes himself invisible and stands behind his wife. During the meal, he east and drinks each of his wife servings, weakening and shaming her in this way. She goes up to her room in order to cry quietly. He joins her up there and blames her unfaithfulness. This being done, he goes back to the banquet room where none in the crowd acknowledges him. He kills them all and becomes again the king of the golden mountain. The tale is silent about the future of the queen but it is clear she is not killed and she stays as his wife, the queen. So to say, in this tale, male obstinacy takes the best over female harshness. Nevertheless, that kingly legitimacy is a gift of woman to a man is never disputed. We could expect the hero to kill his wife and claim the throne for him alone. It is clear that he would not be then a legitimate king: female power is threatened, lowered but not yet destroyed.

 

The next step in the decline of female power is twice illustrated in Lancelot’s story.

 

First, you remember that he is brought up by the Lady of the Lake in a No Mans’ (males!) Land, that is, aside from the rest of the world. This state corresponds to kind of escaping the dangers of the real world, otherwise they would be afraid of external threats. The tale insists on the large amount of defences around them (including a door in diamond!) they need so that

si vorhten keinen vremden gast

they were afraid of none foreign soldier

noch deheines küneges her …

nor of any king’s army …

The lake around their city, as well, protects them form fear:

umb daz lant gie daz mer …

around the land went the lake …

dâ wârens âne vohrte.

there they were without fright. [Note 3]

That the real world is indeed aggressive is simply recognized by the enmity she shows against the terrible

… Iweret

… Iweret

von dem schœnen walde Beforet …

from the beautiful forest Beforet …

If Lancelot kills him, she promises

daz ich dirs imer lône,

that I you always reward

sô rich daz er mir habe getan;

so powerful what he to me has done (wrought);

 

Second, among all Lancelot’s seduced women, we meet one queen of Pluris. This queen is a very autonomous woman. She seems nevertheless submitted to quite a social pressure to give up her power since she has raised very high barriers to protect her from a husband (who ‘obviously’ would seize her power). As Ulrich von Zatzikoven puts it:

… ein künigîn ûf der burc was …

a queen was in the castle …

es wâren ir sinne,

it was her (own) mind

daz siu niemer man genæme ,

that no man would take her

ez enwære daz einer kæme,

unless it could happen that one comes

für ander man sô wol gemuot,

for (compared to) any other man so courageous

der an den hundert rittern guot, …

that the hundred good knights, …

daz ers alle nider stæche

eines tages …

he all of them put down

within one day …

            Lancelot will, as expected, take over the hundred knights and will conquer this woman. The story is actually somewhat more complex than that. The queen adequately falls in love with Lancelot but she does not play it fair, and retains her power. Such a manly person as Lancelot will not stand being put down by a girl, even be she a queen, and he builds up a complex plot in order to escape. They seem to score equal but, as the Lady of the Lake, she will be left alone in front of other predators. Without telling us about this, the tale describes however what happens to the presumptuous female who does not submit:

diu tôtvinster naht

the night, dark as death,

der bîtterlîchen minne

of the bitter love

diu benam ir die sinne

took away her mind

und ir varwe in dir kraft …

and her lively hue and all her ability …

 

On his side, Lancelot flees and finds back the faithful Iblis who was left at King Arthur’s court. Iblis

daz siu sô dicke tæte schîn

whose actions shine so strongly

ir wîplîche güete.

of her female perfection.

 

The tale underlines also that Lancelot is a ‘real’ man since many lack his guts. When his adventure becomes known in Arthur’s court, many wonder why he does not want to stay in Pluris:

dâ was ritter harte vil,

there were some knights with a strong wish,

die imer in dem leitspil

that who for ever in the game endured (by Lancelot)

gerne wollten sîn beliben

willingly would take pleasure

und die zît hin hân vertriben …

and who would hugely like spending time as he did …

 

It could be argued that this tell us the specific story of Lancelot, Iblis and the Queen of Pluris, but the huge success of the Arthurian epics - starting around year 1150 and still alive today – shows clearly that it carries stereotypes that are typical of our civilization. As a present times example, I have been incredibly amused by what was said by one of our socialist party leaders, Mr. Fabius, when he learned that Mrs. Royal wanted to be a candidate to the French presidency. This left-wing man, who claims, not without some right, to bring important ideas for the future of Europe, was not able to say more than: “Who will take care of the children at her home?” In speaking so, exactly as would have done Lancelot some 850 years earlier, he states that Mrs. Royal, by her wish to climb so high in the state responsibilities stops behaving as Iblis did, thus stops to “shine so strongly of her female perfection.” In England, as well, remember what was said of Mrs. Thatcher’s feminine virtues!

 

As a final deposing, here is the second Grimm tale in which females can trick some time the male power, but they are caught in the act, and forbidden to go on practicing their magic. In the tale, The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces, a king has twelve daughters who go dancing each night and damage their shoes, in spite of their father locking their room each evening. An old soldier will solve the enigma. He succeeds in fighting the charm by which the princesses put their guardians to sleep, and he follows them in a travel to an underworld. The tale speaks of a real world but we cannot but think of the shamanic journey towards the lower world [Note 4]. There, the princesses dance the whole night which explain why their shoes are worn in the morning. Their secret being known, the princesses will no longer be able to practice their art.

In this state of the affairs, the women could still practice secretly, they had still some hidden power but this last privilege was taken from them, as told by the tale.

           

The runes and this loss of female power

 

The runes are taken in the whirl of irresistible increase of male power, especially in a warring civilization as was the Viking civilization. It followed that eight runes of the ancient Germanic Futhark are lost in the Norse Futhark. I tried to see what kind of female power could be associated to these runes. They are: Gebo, Wunjo, Pertho, Algiz, Ehwaz, Ingwaz, Dagaz, Othala. We shall see later, in studying each rune why Algiz and Ingwaz disappeared for other reasons.

As for the six runes I believe to have been rejected by the Norse because they showed a kind of female power, let us see briefly why.

- Gebo is the rune of the gift, it expresses an harmonious balance between the two sexes, and should disapear from a more masculine Futhark.

- Wunjo is the rune of physical pleasure and of a happy life, two unacceptable things for a warring society.

- Pertho, if it were the rune of game, as claimed by the Old English Rune Poem, could have been kept. You will see that I understand it as being the rune of an ancient and lost female feast, and of motherhood.

- Ehwaz is the rune of the horse, and we shall explain that it represents the riding man and the riding, and also the woman-mare. It is a bit redundant when compared to Raido, and could be forgotten.

- Dagaz seems to oppose somewhat our argument since the sun rune, Sowelo, is a feminine concept (in most Germanic tongues, sun is a she, not a he) and has been kept. Dagaz, the rune of daylight is a masculine concept (day is a he) and it disappeared. As we shall see at length later, I can guess that, due to two Old English words that sounded the same (the rare ‘sun’ sigel and the overwhelmingly frequent ‘victory’ sige) Sowelo has been seen as the rune of victory, thus preciously kept on false grounds. Less shiny Dagaz was then the one put away.

- Finally, Othala is the rune of ancestral inheritance. In a civilization believing in the steady improvement of progess, our ancestry is made of uninteresting primitives. We shall see that it became a cursing rune that said :“Be as primitive as your ancestors!” a little time before it disappeared.

 

 

[Note 1]

This version was probably written around year 1200. The author himself, at the end of the tale, says that he simply rewrote in German a French book (‘ein welschez buoch’). He obtained this book from one of the hostages sent by Richard Lionheart, made prisoner by the King of Austria in 1192. A prior French version has thus been lost. I used the edition of René Pérennec, Lanzelet, ELLUG 2004. I did not always follow his excellent translation in order to give you a perhaps less fluent version but one nearer to the original. I used M. Lexer, Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch, 1869-1878.

 

[Note 2]

I am accostumed to the English translations being quite derogatory there. For instance, they would call this place, “Maeve’s cursed place.” As you can see the literal translation is more neutral.

 

[Note 3]

Notice the word vohrte twice repeated. Another thing adds to the expression of deep fright they would feel if not so much protected. The word gast itself (not yet a ‘guest’ as it will become later) usually means ‘foreign soldier’. The redundancy vremden gast says something like ‘stranger foreign soldier’. Freedom is paid by living cloistered as would be poultry protected from a vremdem fox! 

 

[Note 4]

They are three classical shamanic journeys. They are done in the lower world, the upper world, or the middle world.