Naudiz

 

A summary of what the Norse and Anglo-Saxon texts tell us about this rune

 

I follow here the usual association between the Norns, the fate, and Naudiz. As we shall see, we should however associate the full Futhark to the Norns. You may be surprised that I have given such importance given to them. This surprise stems from how their power has certainly been slightly deflated in the Eddas by the pre-eminence of the many adventures of Ódhinn or Thórr.

Naudiz is the rune of the constraints and of what demands us to act against our own feelings. This is a frightful aspect of the Norns, and this makes of Naudiz the rune of the terrible Norns. Despite these constraints, as long as they do not kill you, these constraints bring knowledge. How would we know our universe without the constant constraint of gravity, for instance? As a present day example, everyone now seems to imagine we can evade the constraint of the speed of light being an upper limit: this constraint feeds our imaginations and its knowledge helps the evolution of our intuition about the way Nature works. This is why I associate to the Norns the whole Futhark, which is seen as a knowledge source. If it so happens that these Norns show a smiling face, then they are often called the Dísir. We shall see that the rune Pertho will be associated to the Dísir.

Thus, Naudiz, rune of necessity and destiny, is a representative of the Norns’ power in its terrifying dimensions. It reminds us that we are responsible for our lives and that our honor stands therein where we assume this responsibility.

 

We have just studied rune Hagla, which evokes how the cosmos was built while Naudiz is visibly associated to the destruction of the cosmos. Both are natural facts of primary importance for us humans, while far above our heads. All of humanity is but a tiny speck physically placed in between Hagla and Naudiz. Their being nearby each other shows from a mystical point of view that nothing exists between them; they engulf everything.

 

Explanations

 

Cognates:          German, Not (necessity, need); English, need

 

Before the year 400, the two forms:  and  were seen as equivalent. After 400, in Scandinavia was seen a tendency to prefer the form  and the runic poems even show NaudhRP for Nauð, as seen below. This tendency becomes a rule after 800 when the rune Ár of the Younger Futhark takes the form  (and the form ArNorv in the runic poems): it then becomes very important to make the difference between Nauð, , and Ár, , as exemplified on the later runic stones.

 

Icelandic rune poem:

naudNorvare the throes of the bondwoman [the servant]

and the load of a choice [þungr kostr: the heaviness of being responsible]

and a tiring work.

opera [work] niflungr [Nibelung]

 

Wimmer calls this rune nauð (necessity, servitude), as well as the Norse rune, carved in the same shape. This text is understandable by itself and requires only a few explanations.

Firstly, we already met a ‘bondwoman’ in the verse of Ljóðatal which we associated to rune Wunjo. The Old Norse word then used is man, which carries several meanings and I chose to pick up the one considered as an insult, the one of a woman free in her desires. Now, the word used is þýr, meaning a kind of slave without any sexual innuendos. This first line describes the horror of being a slave, a fate that seems even worse for a woman.

The second line stresses the importance of being willing to take charge of our responsabilities, without trying to someone else, which as it becomes a habit nowadays as exemplified by the justice actions taken at the first occasion by people who only want to mask their own stupid behavior. I do not believe this attitude to be so new, and this second line shows that feeling responsible has always been something humans try to avoid. This second verse underlines as well that feeling responsible is no easy behavior.

It is also obvious that one feature of the ancient Northern civilization is a strong admiration for those who act, and deeply despising of the idle ones. This is still visible in the German language that calls faul both the lazy and the rotten. Therefore, the third line cannot be understood as lauding laziness. In the context of the other lines (and, as we shall see, of the Latin commentaries), it rather recalls the dreadfulness of forced work, of a work done under duress.

The Old Norse Niflungr became the German Nibelungen. Not only the splendid and dreadful Nibelungen saga is a good example of an inescapable fate, but its name itself gives depth to the notion of fate in the ancient Germanic civilization. A bit of etymology will enlighten the meaning of niflungr, thus the one of Nibelung. Old Norse nifl means ‘mist, fog’ as the German Nebel. This is why we usually give the meaning of ‘the gloomy ones’ to the Niflungr and the Nibelungen. Unfortunately for this interpretation, it so happens that ancient forms of this word can be met in the Eddic poems, wherein it is spelled hniflungr, a word linked to the root hnefi meaning either ‘fist, sword’, ‘the first man played in a tafl game’ [Note 1], or the name of a sea God. Thus, these names evoke either a weapon, the first person put into danger in an attack, or a God, but nothing gloomy at all. The meaning I believe to be right is a Nibelung as the first man of the kingly power, the most active of the soldiers. The one who carries this load carries the weight of his fate. From this point of view, the niflungr is similar to bondwoman overwhelmed with her duties, he is a leader burdened by too many responsibilities. As anyone exhausted by too much work, they exemplify the ties by which the Norns hinder our freedom.

 

The Latin commentary in Þrideilur Rúna gives its Old Norse name to this rune Naúd [Note 2] and says:

Naüd calamitas: [Naúd disaster:] Mancipÿ opella. [labor of the what is owned = work of the one being owned, the slave] adversa sors: [unhappy fate:] periculosus labor. [dangerous work.]

 

The Latin word calamitas especially applies to whatever may damage the harvest, and this commentary alludes to a farming disaster. We could expect Hagla to be the rune associated to such disasters (remember that Hagla is an algida seges [a cold field of corn]). Since Naudiz plays this role, we can guess that the farming disasters due to hail must have been far more rare than the ones due to a late frost.

 

Norse rune poem:

naudNorvleaves scant choice.

nøktan kælt í froste

(Usual translation: Naked, he is cold in the frost.

Personal translation: naudNorcooled the naked one during frost)

 

Analysis of the first line

The Old Norse word neppr that qualifies our choice can be translated by scant, but with the full English meaning of this word, that is (Webster): “2. to fail to give full measure of …4. to treat in an inadequate manner.”

The constraining necessity of Naudiz is once more underlined. Let us attempt an optimistic look at it: Our choices are scant, they however exist. This means that the Norns’ necessity, though within a very restrained pattern, still leaves some free choice. This can be understood as describing a random pattern – which enables some freedom – with strong probabilistic constraints that strongly reduce the possibility of free choice. I see in this simple line an alternative in between a strict Darwinism that claims the supremacy of randomness, and this fancy theory of an Intelligent Design that demands a divine intelligence hidden behind each of the tiniest manifestations of Nature – in particular that of which the importance is vastly overrated in our civilization, viz. the destiny of humanity. The rune poem seems much more germane than the other hypotheses because it does not prevent the divinity to have some goal, nor does it forbid the divinity to draw from randomness [Note 3].

As for our individual destiny, what I have said is ever more obvious. Only an idiot can believe himself to be totally free, being unconscious of the influence of the many constraints that genetics and life events have on his life. Inversely, the hypochondriac alone can believe he is haunted by scores of demons that, as would sicknesses, manipulate his life. There exist, however, terrible fates such as those of victims of genocides who truly have escape from of their torturers and who have to endure a particularly ruthless Naudiz.

 

Analysis of the second line: nøktan kælt í froste

 

The usual translation, as usual, looks for the dullest and provides quite a flat description of this necessity, that is, “necessity is destitution that leaves us freezing in the cold.” As we shall now see, a few changes in this translation will be enough to give back to this line its nobility and harshness.

A first point is that the verb kæla is quite surprising here since it does not mean to freeze but to cool. The point here is not ‘to freeze in the frost’ but ‘to cool in the frost’ as if the being to be cooled was still too warm. Besides, the grammar is a bit odd here. The verb kælt is a transitive one - that is: it is used as ‘A cooled B’, not just ‘A cooled’ - A performs the action to cool, it is the subject of ‘to cool’, called a nominative in the tongues with a declension. B is the object of the action of cooling, it called an accusative in the tongues with a declension. It follows that two words are obviously missing in this line. One of the missing words must be a nominative (who/what is the subject of the verb kælt?), the second is an accusative (who/what is cooled?) because the ending ‘*an’ of the adjective nøktan is a canonical masculine accusative form, thus the noun qualified by this adjective is absent. In order to solve this riddle, academics introduced a ‘he’ nominative and made of nøktan a qualifier of ‘he’, thus leaving aside the probable accusative case of nøktan. This solution is obviously disputable and I suppose that the missing nominative is the rune itself, nauð, and I introduce a ‘him’ or a ‘whoever’ which is qualified by nøktan. My translation which follows gives: nauð cools ‘whoever’ naked during frost. I still have to prove that this translation makes sense, and to explain what this cooling might mean, and who is cooled in this way.

- Why cooling?

  ‘Whoever’ is naked freezes obviously in the cold but if this individual is strong, then there is still inside him (or her, of course), something which retains some warmth as long as he is still living. This spark of warm life we keep in the worse circumstances, well, Naudiz is here to cool it further so as to complete our freezing. In other words, Naudiz completes the work of chilling caused by the departure of physical life. When we are already drowning but still hoping to get out, instead of offering us a helping hand, Naudiz rather pushes our head further under the water. We can say that destiny gives us a bit of a boost when we receive unexpected help, but Naudiz is this kind of destiny that gives us ‘a bit of a knock’. It is hard to express a worse misery, though said in a subtle way, as this one expressing the magic of Naudiz.

 

 - Who is cooled?

  We at once think of a human being whose death is a terminal cooling and which is of a central interest to us. Nordic mythology however points even more strongly to the famous ragnarök [Note 4], meaning Gods’ destiny , taking place after a “huge winter” as told by the Völuspá. During ragnarök, the Gods themselves are “naked during frost.” They nevertheless fight a proud last fight, they preserve some warmth. Their destiny will take charge of cooling them for good. They are submitted to Naudiz, a power that overwhelms them as it overwhelms the whole universe.

  Another interesting point of Northern mythology is what happens to the tree of the world, Yggdrasil during the ragnarök, and which is never made explicit in the texts we are left with. Several poems insist on the fact that Yggdrasil cannot be destroyed by iron nor fire, but there is no mention of cold. Völuspá tells us that, after ragnarök, there will be a kind of Christian paradise full of greenery in which lives a new generation of men and gods. The use of the word nøktan in the rune poem suggests a more pessimistic version of the ragnarök. The word nøktan is an irregular form, the nominative of which is nøkviðr, meaning, as we said, ‘naked, bare’ and which is visibly made of the composition nøk-viðr, evoking a leafless tree since viðr means tree. We are more used saying “naked as a baby” while Old Norse people seemed to have rather said “naked as a leafless tree.” The rune poem thus calls to mind a more terrible ending of the ragnarök, where Yggdrasil itself has been ‘cooled’, that is, the whole universe returns to its previous frozen state it came out from. Naudiz annihilates Fehu. I do not know which one is the true version of what would happen, I only notice that modern astrophysics are not very optimistic about the final state of our universe!

 

The English rune poem follows lines similar to the other two poems but it ends as if it wanted to teach us about to act decently.

 

 

Naudh3

nøktan kælt í froste

 

OERP:

nydNÿð [Necessity (or duty, hardship, trouble - or also possibly: desire, longing)] is distress on the chest and often strife of the servant.

It becomes help and healing for the children if they listen soon enough.

 

Life’s harshness is shown as a challenge that brings salvation as long it is accepted soon enough. The poem obviously has a Christian taint which explains why it looks like a Sunday preaching. We however can guess that the primitive text would say something about accepting the Norns decrees. No one can escape one’s destiny but this old Germanic civilization would claim that accepting destiny – and even simply having a destiny - is an essential feature of being human. In modern language, this means that we are not ‘submitted’ to a destiny higher than ourselves, but that living the human life also means observing and understanding the hints pointing at our own destiny, thus behaving accordingly. As you might notice, this contradicts with the modern standards that insist on building one’s own destiny, instead of acknowledging one. Without claiming any poetic worth, I can then guess that the original poem would look like:

A pitiless Nÿð stresses our hearts, harshness for the servants,

Reward of the children of men who bow to the Norns’ decree.

 

We meet here the Norns who carry the power to impose necessity upon humans, Gods and even Yggdrasil, according to my interpretation.. The Norns live in the shade of a bower made with Yggdrasil’s boughs, nearby the fountain Urdhr, as Völuspá tells us:

Verse 19

Ask veit ek standa,

An ash-tree I know it stands

heitir Yggdrasill,

it is named Yggdrasill,

hár batmr, ausinn

high tree, sprinkled

hvíta auri;

with white mud

þaðan koma döggvar

therefrom come the dews

þærs í dala falla,

that fall on the dale,

stendur æ yfir grænn

it stands always green, above

Urðarbrunni.

the source of Urdhr.

 

Verse 20

Þaðan koma meyjar

Therefrom come the maids

margs vitandi

much knowing

þrjár ór þeim sal [ou sæ],

three, their dwelling [or ‘out of the sea that’]

er und þolli stendr;

stands under the tree;

Urð hétu eina,

Urdh is named one,

aðra Verðandi,

the other Verdhandi,

- skáru á skíði,

- they notched (scored) wood -

Skuld ina þriðju.

Skuld is the third.

Þær lög lögðu,

they set up the laws

þær líf kuru

they decided on the lives

alda börnum,

of the children of time (‘the children of man’)

örlög seggja.

they promulgate fate.

 

When we use Rask’s early version (1818 – kept by Gering 1904-1922), the four first lines of verse 20 mean “Three very knowledgeable maids come from there, their dwelling stands under the tree.” This takes place because these linguists read the last word of line 3 as sal. Inversely, most modern scholars accept Möbius’ (1860) emendation , and they understand: “Three very knowledgeable maids come from there, out of the sea which is under the tree.” This emendation is scholarly satisfying as far as it provides a link with the well-known myth of Anadyomen Venus (‘Venus coming out of the waves’). Nevertheless, Urdhr is not a sea, it can hardly ‘stand’ (this is why stendr (‘stands’), is then translated by ‘is’, while a sea should lie rather than stand). It is also very important to state their dwelling place, as it is done for each of the important deities. Möbius’ emendation is therefore very disputable.

The seventh line is usually understood as the Norns scoring a tablet of wood. I do not see why it should be a tablet (a skíð is a piece of wood, not an especially flat one, or a ski - only in this meaning it has to be flat). It is however clear that at least Urdh and Verdhandi have runic knowledge. This is emphasized by the statement that they are margs vitandi, since knowledge is very often understood as ‘knowledge of magic’ in the Old Norse literature.

The last two lines of verse 20 mean: “they promulgate the fate of the children of time.” The word alda is a plural genitive of öld, meaning ‘age, epoch’ and, thus obviously, ‘time’. The usual rendering by “the children of men” is very anthropomorphic while the Norns seem to control everything taking place in time, humans, animals, plants et even the Norse Gods whose time is finite and finishes with their Ranarök.

We shall discuss again of this ‘ash-tree’ later with rune Ihwaz.

 

This describes the three “much knowing” maids of fate, the Norns. Understanding destiny is also understanding how time flows over, and this relies on the mental images we use in order to represent the flow of time. I have to warn you at once that I will not follow the classical scheme of the three Norns symbols of the ‘past, present and future’. I will rather speak of them as controlling three other concepts I call ‘overbearing seed, realization and completion’. Analyzing their names helps to better understand what is the ‘runic time’, the mystical time cited in the rune poems, as opposed to what we are used to calling time. There is an obvious link between my interpretation and the classical one. This ‘onverbearing seed’ absolutely needs to germinate, as a debt you owe is due to something that happened in your past. When it germinates, it realizes its potentialities as the load of debt is realized while you repay it during a kind of long lasting present time. At a personal level, you also realize at this stage that you are bearing this germ inside you. Finally when the growth will be achieved, in the future, it has completed its destiny, as the effect of a debt is fully reached once it is completed. However, this strict time dependent view of an accomplishment is an over simplification and tends to forget its overbearing aspect, similar to the one of a debt. You can compare my interpretation to an academic canonical one given in [Note 5] and see that my purely grammatical arguments follow the same lines as the academics’, if they are slightly more detailed.

Skuld is the Norn of the overbearing seed and is usually said to symbolize the future. Starting with the ‘seed’ is quite normal while it would be strange to start with the future! The word skuld means a debt and the bondage in payment of a debt. This meaning applies also to the family links that are of compelling nature and skuldarfólk (‘the folk you owe skuld to’) denotes the near family. As we shall see, the other Norn names are defined by a verb; it is therefore important to analyze also the link of skuld with the verb skulu which means both ‘shall’ and ‘will’. This verb is highly irregular which insures us that skuld has to be linked to a present plural. The form skult (you shall/will) is the nearest to the Norn’s name. Most certainly, skuld means: “(this is what) you shall/will (do).” This strongly hints at a kind of seed for your future actions. The innuendo brought by the noun skuld, a debt, is that this germ is not inert, it matters indeed that it germinates or not. As the refunding of a debt is forebearing, this seed, sooner or later, has to germinate. You have received an inheritance of your parents, it can be possessions, knowledge or genes, and this does not fully belong to you, it is a due you have to refund, to carry and bear. This debt carries the seed of what your destiny will lead you to achieve. 

Verðandi is the Norn of the realization and is usually said to symbolize the present. The verb verða (to become) in spite being also very irregular, shows a completely regular present participle which is the name of this Norn. Verðandi is thus ‘what is becoming’, what is in the process of achievement. As already daid, it means also that a seed in you wakes up and that you become aware of it, you realize the existence of this seed.

Urð is the Norn of the completion and is usually said to symbolize the past. The noun urðr means ‘destiny’ which provides us no precision about the exact meaning of this Norn’s name. In opposition, the verb verða becomes urðu (they became) in the past tense. This name designates what happened, what started as a seed (a debt, for example), what evolved into a growing thing (refunding the debt) and what is now is completed (the debt is paid back).

We should comprehend that what seems obvious to us, that is, the existence of a past, a present and a future, is actually a cultural phenomenon, a concept not shared by several primitive peoples. It happens that this old idea blossomed under Einstein’s influence who bases his relativity theory on the idea that time is nothing but one more coordinate of our universe, of the same nature as the more obvious space coordinates. It is therefore customary that time can be sliced as we are used to doing for space. This is certainly a good representation of the physical universe and I would not dream of criticizing the value of relativity in describing our physical universe. Now, it looks to me like a silly rationalist way of thinking to believe that this theory is valid for the mental universe, since it amounts to apply concepts built in one field to a completely different field. Urdhr tells us that anyone who did not carry out anything (“in his past,” as we say) has really no “past” at all, nothing upon which to base his life. Verdhandi goes further by telling us that anyone who is not in the process of carrying out something cannot even claim to exist. These two Norns very clearly say what they call existing: in place of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, they claim an ago ergo sum (I act therefore I exist), by which existence is not obtained by thinking but by acting. Combining the two Norns sayings we obtain a Northern definition for existence which is: “I acted therefore I was, I act therefore I am.” As for the ‘future’, it is what has to be, that is, it is decided by the actions we carried out and by those being carried out. As the Norse poem says, it is our þungr kostr, the weight, the price of what we have been and for what are responsible.

Writing these words, I feel how much our language pushes us dissecting time, and my own speech naturally carries the concept of chunks of time, despite my best efforts not to. In the runic view of our destiny, time cannot be put into chunks. This obviously expresses the trite idea that each of these ‘chunks’ is linked to all the others, and that our ‘future’ is based on our ‘past’. It also expresses the idea our ‘past’ is intertwined to our future, that our actions constitute an unbreakable whole, as if time did not exist at all, as if our (mystical) life would be all gathered in one ‘point of time’. Once more, I claim that I do not reject that Science is describing worthwhile relations in our physical world. I only claim that there exists another universe, a mystical one, upon which these laws do not apply. I also try to show how the runes and the runic poems describe this universe much better than rational thinking does. Imagine a physical ‘temporal thread’ that runs in a straight line. Imagine it winding into a ball which is now squeezed in one single point: there is our mystical time. When science fiction wants to explain to its readers what it calls “hyperspace” in which fast travel between stars becomes possible, it describes such a curved space-time that some of these ‘curves’ are in contact with each other and this enables space travel. As much as this idea is nice but inappropriate in our physical universe, it is exactly what the runic poems and the Edda tell us about our inner universe. Our physical life lasts something like a hundred years, but in our mystical life, we are dead as soon as we are delivered. We have to handle and live with this fact, that is our Naudiz.

Skuld is called a carver of runes, which leads me to think that she is the Norn of the þungr kostr and, being an ancient power, she could be the one who actually invented the runes. The Norns, as representative of destiny and of a heavy and restrained fate, are obviously and specifically linked to Naudiz, but their presence runs along the whole Futhark. Writing a whole Futhark, as we find some engraved in very early runic inscriptions, would then be an invocation to the Norns – to the “powerful Norns,” as the Eddic poems tend to qualify them. This hypothesis is not confirmed by any precise citation, but it fits with the whole of the texts evoking the Norns.

 

The Ljóðatal does not seems to be related to the other poems because, so I argue, there is a trifling if not wrong translation of its last line.

Eighth verse of The Ljóðatal:

I know an eighth,

one useful to learn

when hatred grows

in the heart of the war leaders’ sons

these I wear [one against the others] out quickly by [forcing them] paying wergeld.

[classical translation: I placate their bickering]

 

In my translation, I do not forget that, in spite of indeed meaning ‘to placate, to improve’ the verb bæta also means: to pay contribution, a wergild, as decided by the clan meeting (the þing). In other words, this bæta suggests that quarrels are not quailed by sweet words, but by forcing the rowdy warriors to face their responsibility, to face their þungr kostr, as Naudiz asks them to. Ansuz, the rune of speech breaks chains, but Naudiz, the rune of necessity, appeases the minds. This goes against our civilization of rationality where words cannot act on physical objects, and where it is appeasing speeches that bring quiet. In a civilization of action, Naudiz is the one to bring peace.

 

          Notes

 

[1] Tafl is a kind Norse chess. We shall see more of it when studying rune Pertho.

 

[2] Notice that in this version, the ‘accented u’, ú and the ‘ü’ denote here the inverse of modern usage, that is, it is now rendered by a usual ‘u’.

 

[3] My personal belief on this topic is as follows. ‘My’ Gods should be more intelligent and more knowledgeable than me, and the divinities are certainly able to understand probability theory better than the best mathematicians. Even at my own modest level of knowledge of this theory, I am able to see how a probability law can become – in the long run – an (almost) compulsory constraint: it IS a (very!) ‘intelligent design’ by itself. As opposed to famous Einstein’s statement, I do claim that “Gods play dice,” with this addition: “and they have plenty of time to throw their dice very often.”

 

[4] Here, I must confess that some hair splitting is necessary. The word here written as rök which means ‘destiny, judgment’ is actually written r-‘tailed o’-k, while famous Wagner’s (Gods’) twilight is written røkk, which sounds like the same word. We see how a ‘tiny’ difference, one which we usually even oversee by writing as ‘ö’ both ‘tailed o’ and ‘ø’, completely changes the meaning of the word.

 

[5] Some may want to know where this understanding of the words comes from. In his splendid translation of Gylfaginning, a French specialist, F.-X. Dillmann, provides the following explanations:The first, must certainly be linked to the verb « verda » (to become) the plural passed tense shows the same sound; in this hypothesis, Urdhr could be the personification of the past destiny. The second, Verdhandi corresponds very precisely to the present gerund of the same verb « verda » and can therefore be interpreted as a personification of present destiny. As for the third, Skuld, it is an obvious derivative of the verb ‘skulu’ (must), which implicitly holds the notion of future; thus the name Skuld could be the personification of the forthcoming destiny.”

Note that I refuse to follow the normalization of the name Urdh (ON Urð) into the noun urdhr (ON urðr) since they bear different meanings.