GREAT IS THE CLAW OF THE HAWK

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Old Norse Rune Poem

In modern English.

Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen;

the wolf lives in the forest.

Dross comes from bad iron;

the reindeer often races over the frozen snow.

Giant causes anguish to women;

misfortune makes few men cheerful.

Estuary is the way of most journeys;

but a scabbard is of swords.

Riding is said to be the worst thing for horses;

Reginn forged the finest sword.

Ulcer is fatal to children;

death makes a corpse pale.

Hail is the coldest of grain;

Christ created the world of old.

Constraint gives scant choice;

a naked man is chilled by the frost.

Ice we call the broad bridge;

the blind man must be led.

Plenty is a boon to men;

I say that Frothi was generous.

Sun is the light of the world;

I bow to the divine decree.

Tyr is a one-handed god;

often has the smith to blow.

Birch has the greenest leaves of any shrub;

Loki was fortunate in his deceit.

Man is an augmentation of the dust;

great is the claw of the hawk.

A waterfall is a River which falls from a mountain-side;

but ornaments are of gold.

Yew is the greenest of trees in winter;

It is wont to crackle when it burns.

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As the Norse huddled together round the raging fire of a dark and stormy night, they drank ale and told tales of the Aesir and the All-Father, Odin. Although it was primarily a verbal culture, rich and resplendent in it`s Sagas handed down through the generations, there was also the written word. Not as we know of it, with our ordered, Latin based text, but something weird and mysterious; bound up in the mists and frozen forests of the Northmen, came the written word of the Rune. A language of marks and symbols handed down from the great halls of Asgard to the world of mortal men of Middle Earth.
They were steeped in power and mystery, a gift from the All-Father himself. Found all over the cold, winter lands of Germanic Northern Europe are rune stones, and wooden totems carved with the mysteries of the rune. As with any language, there are many branches from the original tree that Odin hung from for nine days and nine nights to learn the ways of wisdom and knowledge of all things: the root of the runic forest, or Elder Futhark, consists of 24 letters which look no more than a series of straight lines to those lacking wisdom; but from which can be woven the thread of a man`s wyrd, to be used as magic, fortune telling or as a notice board of intent or warning.
The language was complex: each letter had three meanings to decipher. The letter represented. A common word in the language that was it`s name. And the third level of meaning is open to interpretation; the Norse loved convoluted allusions, or “kennings” which could be obscure and complicated. They also loved to hear a good story well told, and you will find this tradition still active and healthy in modern Iceland where the old traditions are nurtured and treasured.

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Northern Europe is covered with runic stones, but other surviving words of our Germanic ancestors can still be found in possibly the greatest literary treasure chest of the written word in western civilization, the Sagas. He who seeks knowledge and wisdom must look to the Havamal, which spears the light of knowledge straight into the very centre of a culture which has given us so much of what we are today; it`s beliefs, practices and the whys and wherefores of a people which still stands at the very heart of the modern world view of who and what we are.
To know who you are, you need to read the Sagas, for they are the lodestone of knowledge, mystery and wonder. Why is Tolkien`s Lord of the Rings so enthralling and exhilarating a read, simply because he was a medieval scholar steeped in the power and mystery of the Sagas. The Age of the Vikings is still sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, but in so many ways there is nothing dark about those times; they were as wealthy as we are, because they loved the written and spoken word and made, possessed and appreciated great art and beauty. A runic inscription is a wonderful piece of art in itself, and can stand as a lasting testimony to their ingenuity, vision, skill and love of visual beauty as a justification for the existence of any given object. The Vikings were practical, but they also embellished that  simple practicality and made an art form from it, because all things were beautiful to them, even mundane, everyday things.
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