The runic poems associated to Raido may use very simple words, they nevertheless explain to us why and how Raido is the rune of the shamanic journey, the process by which all wizards ride out of their bodies. This ride (“if it is performed to the perfection”) exhausts male forces in such a way that several civilizations, particularly the ancient Northern one, despise the males who perform this journey. Raido helps males and females to preserve their masculine side during these magic travels. In a long range humorous way, the social winds blow now in such a different direction that it might be more humiliating for the modern woman than for a man to lose her masculinity! Anyhow, Raido will help them to receive strength through their magical practice, instead of wasting their forces, as it seemed to have been the normal rule before Raido had been known.
Ljóðatal’s fifth verse reminds us of the importance of the sorcerer’s look, which sharply seizes the deep truth of the things and the beings it reaches. This facet of Ódhinn’s powers focuses on the warring side of the sorcerer’s look. It nevertheless applies to each part of life. This magically activated eye understands, it analyzes and synthesizes in the same breath. It also does not need to feel compassion to be able to empathize with what it watches. It means a life of interaction with the other humans, instead of the ‘normal’ solitary life in the middle of the crowd. This last feature is already a largely magical action, since no rational thinking can teach it to us. If you wish to engage your life into the magic, Raido will help you at first to find the ‘horses’ that can carry you out of your body. Then, it will help you to open your eyes to the irrational aspects of the physical world, without becoming silly as it too often happens.
Cognates: English, ride; German, Ritt (ride).
The runic word raido means ‘ride’ or ‘cart’.
The form is most often met between 175 and 700. From 400 to 700, new forms appear as and . On the continent (that is, not in Sweden nor in England) we find also .
As we shall see, each of the three runic poems brings some information on the meaning of this rune. Each of them seems to be quite straightforward: We need to see how these three pieces of information fit together in order to be able to elucidate the somewhat esoteric and hidden meaning of Raido.
Icelandic rune poem:
is the merriment of who is sitting
And a fast travel
And the weariness of the horse.
Wimmer names reið this rune. These words mean ‘a ride’, ‘a travel’, ‘a cart’ and even, in poetry, ‘a boat’. This poem describes very simply and, for once without double meanings, the main three features of Raido: Happiness of a performing a comfortable travel, speed of this travel, and tiredness for the driving force of this travel.
In the fourth line of the Icelandic rune poem, the Latin word iter means a road and a travel. The Old Norse word ræsir means ‘a noble or valuable person’. The word ræsir evokes king’s servant who hastens, as someone who is traveling.
The Latin commentary of the Þrideilur Rúna confirms this version, and sharpens some details. Reið [est] Equitatio [Reið is a travel on horse], Sedantis delectatio [delight of the sitting one] ite[r] [Note 1] præceps [travel in hurry (w. for w.: ‘head forward’)] Veredi labor. [toil of the (‘specially dedicated to traveling’) horse]. In Latin, this travel is said to be somewhat too fast and the veredus is precisely what was called a relay horse or a post horse.
Norse Rune Poem: (normalized form due to Wimmer)
, they agree [kvæða], is the worse for the horses. [rossom væsta]
Reginn forged the best of the swords.
Wimmer calls this rune ræið, a spelling variation to reið. You will notice at once that, as usually, the second verse of the poem does not seems to be connected to the first one. Once more, it is quite possible that this inconsistency proved to be an excellent protection against destruction (“Can you imagine how stupid these pagans were?”). It seems to be equally even more impossible that the skalds who produced them could have been blathering idiots unable to understand why they were using such complex poetical rules in order to convey such nonsense! I always take into account that these persons could not be but highly educated scholars, whose words were preciously saved over the centuries: let us respect them, and let us try to figure out what could have been their thought;
An analysis of the first line of the Norse Rune Poem:
We clearly see that both poems are so much insistent on the tiredness of the rider carrying horse. It is strange to observe so much attention wasted on an animal which is simply fulfilling its normal social role! Besides, we all know that a free horse just loves running. The poems thus underline that the rider’s control, more than the ride itself, exhausts the horse.
In order to understand this small mystery, we have to dip us back into a civilization of riders, and of riders who truly believed in their Gods. It may be hard for us, who live in a civilization of rationalist drivers.
You may try to speak with a modern times horse rider, who has been used to humanism and rationalism as everyone else. You will observe that his/her relation with horses brings him/her to attribute unordinary abilities to this animal. Now, if you think of a rider living in a world pervaded with Nature and mysticism, you will recognize that horse had to be respected beyond anything we can imagine today.
Besides, in the Viking civilization, riding seems to be a manly affair. As an example, the names of the eleven horses belonging to the twelve Æsir (Thórr goes on foot) are all given in the first part of the prose Edda, the Gylfaginning, they are: Sleipnir, Glaðr, Gyllir, Glenr, Skeiðbrimir, Silfrintoppr, Sinir, Gísl, Falhófnir, Gulltoppr, Léttfeti. It seems that the Goddesses did not own a horse. Freyja and Frigg own a hawk skin, not a horse. In the Siberian civilizations the horse is not the mystical animal of the men only, shamanesses ride a mystical horse as well.
In these civilizations, it is not surprising that horse riding might have been taking place in the world of the spirits as well as in the ordinary reality world. When Ódhinn rides Sleipnir, when the Siberian shaman rides a horse, they also perform a shamanic journey, called seidhr (actually: seið or seiðr) in the Nordic world. The Gylfaginning tells us that Freyja taught seidhr to the Æsir, to all of them, and Ódhinn became a master in this craft. It points out also that this shamanism is so exhausting that “perfectly practicing it is a shame for the males.” This shows us that this ride is so exhausting that males lose their virility when they practice it.
There is a contradiction here. On the one hand Ódhinn is a seidhr master, on the other one nothing indicates that he might have lost his virility. For instance, Saxo Grammaticus himself, an obvious hater of the Æsir, never hints at a possible sexual impotence of Ódhinn: Saxo describes at length the problems Ódhinn met with a woman who rejected him and describes him as a rapist, not as a man stricken with impotence. I think that this line of the runic poem solves the contradiction, it says, in a way, “Instead of exhausting yourselves, exhaust your mount!” Ódhinn gives here a seidhr lesson to human males who want to practice seidhr without losing their virility.
In conclusion, the rune Raido is shown in this line as playing the role of the rune of the physical travel and of the shamanic journey. Is it exclusively dedicated to the (male) shaman? I do not believe so. We can expect of a civilization that shames the male shamanic practice to emphasize the possible cures for the males, hence this insistence. In general, shamanesses can use a horse (or a hawk, as Freyja and Frigg) to perform their journeys and they will find help in Raido, especially the many of them who are very masculine.
Analysis of the second line of the Norse Rune Poem:
We need to explain now the meaning of this second line and its relations with the first one.
There is indeed no link between Reginn and the ordinary reality ride. It is however noticeable that a similar shortcut occurs in the poetic Edda where it reports Sigurdhr’s life, in the Saying of Reginn (Reginsmál). This last character is introduced without warning in the poem, just after it speaks of Sigurdhr’s horse:
Sigurdhr went to the horse herd and chose a horse for him, Grani was it afterwards called. Reginn ... was the cleverest man with his hands, but his height was the one of a dwarf. He was learned, vicious and well-knowledgeable in witchery. Reginn brought up Sigurdhr, taught him and loved him very much.
You see that no explanation stands between Grani and Reginn. Moreover Reginn will later forge Sigurdhr’s sword, the one he will use to kill the dragon Fáfnir. In the myth, “forged the best of the swords” for Sigurdhr:
Its edge was so sharp that, dipped in the Rhine, it cut the as if it was water a wool thread floating in the flow.
Inversely, there is indeed a link between Reginn and the non ordinary reality ride. The Edda calls him a sorcerer and a smith. As Siberians say, a smith is “of the same nest than the shamans.” All this strongly reminds us of the tight links between smiths and shamans in the Siberian people where one or two generations of smiths ‘automatically’ lead to shaman progeny. In the Viking society, this link is hinted at in a way of speech, designating the Æsir as being galdrasmiðir (galdr smiths [Note 2]). Since Ódhinn is said to know “the technique of the runes, and the one of the poems called galdrar,” the galdr is ‘forged’ in ordinary reality by putting words together following the proper grammatical rules, and in the non ordinary one, by fusing them as one long shout that will shake the grid of the supernatural.
This idea of a shamanic ride initiated by a master witch changed into a horse or a mare, or even done while ‘riding this master’ is found in the Celtic sagas of Yann and of Koadalan. We met also this theme in the Grimm tale: Ferdinand the faithful and Ferdinand the unfaithful.
As you can now see, these two lines are as disconnected in ordinary reality as they are deeply connected in the non ordinary one. The poetic Edda and the popular tales provide the key of this connection: Reginn, Sigurdhr’s master, forged his sword and was his ‘horse’ while initiating Sigurdhr to shamanism.
Sigurdhr’s story is more somber than the other tales of relations between a pupil and his magician master since, in his case, the master transfers his knowledge with the goal of forging a human weapon. In a sense, Sigurdhr himself is this “best of the swords” that Reginn forged. The long range goal of this was Reginn’s wish to get back the hoard kept by Fáfnir, and Sigurdhr was his weapon to kill Fáfnir. In other words, Reginn behaves exactly as these modern masters we call ‘gurus’ who exploit their disciples. We know that this wicked plan will fail since Sigurdhr will lick his fingers smeared with the dragon’s blood, and he will thus learn to understand the birds’ language, they will warn him of Reginn’s purpose and the pupil will put the master to death. I hope that you are now convinced that these two verses, which were at best looked upon as being absurd, fit well together in the Germanic myths. They are a short way to render this wonderful story full of mystery, tumult and magic. What is the most important for us, nevertheless, is their shamanic and runic meaning, I have been explaining.
We shall now analyze the Old English poem and its hidden meaning.
Old English Rune Poem:
Rað [ride] Riding [or travel] in the hall,
for each warrior, (makes them) soft,
and something mighty strong who sits on a strong horse for a path of miles (OE: mil paþas).
At first, notice that this “ride in the hall” is at least strange. The whole poem seems to convey something either obvious or absurd. My translation fights this senselessness, but it still needs a few explanations.
The obvious ‘rational’ meaning is that this ride in the hall points at someone who does not travel at all. The poem opposes the inactive warriors who are becoming soft in the king’s hall and these who lead an energetic life. As you see, the style of the poem is slightly moralizing, as the OERP often is. Under this stylistic cover, let us now find out which shamanic lesson is hidden: it complements the one of the Old Norse poems.
For the first line, speaking of a shamanic ride, a “ride in the hall” designates a journey be done without the help of a horse to carry you in the world of the spirits. As the Nordic seidhr, this ride softens the men and leads to this “shameful” result to make them sexually impotent. This first line is nothing but than a rephrasing of the famous sentence in the Ynglinga saga, saying that seidhr makes males so ergi (ergi qualifies any person who has been buggered, including a male homosexual or a sexually overexcited woman) that it is shameful to practice it for a karlmaðr (a virile male).
For the second line, we now understand that the opposition of a ride “inside the hall” to the one done “on a strong horse” stresses the difference between a debilitating seidhr practice, done without help, to the energizing one, done with the help of a ‘horse’. The shaman, and the shamaness as much, need a teaching to learn how to meet in the world of the spirits helpers of various strength and role who will support them. All shamans and shamanesses own a ‘strong horse’ and come back full of energy of their travels on the “path of miles” they cover in non ordinary reality
The Ljóðatal brings in another power of this rune.
Fifth verse of the Ljóðatal:
I know a fifth:
If I see an arrow flying toward us,
As strong as it can be I stop it
If my eyes caught sight of it.
The runic poems gave us a few indications on seidhr practice. Who is skilled in this practice is obviously a sorcerer and this fifth verse describes a warring application of a sorcerer’s powers. This power dwells in their eyes, bewitching, killing or healing eyes. Many texts report the sorcerer’s eye power. You may have heard of the “killing eye”, the one of Balor in the Celtic myths, of the Giant who meets Týr and Thórr in the poetic Edda, and we found it hinted at in Grimm’s tales. The Edda speaks several times of the sharp eye of the noble born who knows the runes and is thus also a sorcerer). The sagas insist on this power and one of them gives the following details about it: it would be more efficient if the sorceress shows her back, then bends over so as to watch you through her open legs, in a position we would now find more ridiculous than licentious.
Anyhow, the practice of magic implies an in-depth knowledge of the person or object that will be submitted to: a give keen look at this person or object is, in my opinion, the very first step to perform. This way of giving attention to people with a keen eye, to be interested by them, to share feelings the time of an eyelid beat, is a commendable way of life for everyone: it is the basis of everyday magic. The sorcerer will do it and can besides more deeply ‘get in’ the person by performing a kind of shamanic journey inside the person. This incursion can be accepted willingly or not, depending on the magician’s choice to live by empathy or by aggression [Note 3].
It is thus normal that Raido would be the rune of this kind of ‘travel out of the body’ of the sorcerer, since the runic poems say that this rune helps to get out of one’s body during a shamanic journey.
You may be surprised that I so casually speak of getting out of the body. In fact, I almost never met during my life someone who did not at least once get out of his/her body, even though I have mostly been in contact with rationalistic scientists. This in general is experienced once or twice during a life. Symmetrically, except my shaman friends, I almost never met someone who does not look down at this experience as being an accident, an unwelcome small crisis, which must be at once forgotten. Raido shouts to these people: “Don’t forget! Ride and travel!”
[Note 1] The manuscript only shows the word ite. It is placed at the end of the line and the last letter is obviously hidden by the folding. We can choose either a senseless item or a sensible iter.
[Note 2] Once more, I recall that the first volume of this book deals with the study of galdr. I therefore do not need to explain again what is this ‘scream-song’ going with the magic of the runes.
[Note 3] The magicians who choose to live an empathic life are called nowadays “white magicians” and the others “black” ones. I dislike this way of speech that identifies black with bad and white with good. The Pagan Siberians do the same, a bit more subtly however. A ‘white shaman’ does not deal with any destructive spirits while the ‘black shamans’ do. The black shamans thus deal with sickness, intense cold, bad hunting times, etc. In other words, they are useful while the white shamans are nice.