Monday, June 7, 2010


Depending on which rune-verse you study, you may come up with some very divergent ideas about this rune. The most popular interpretation today is inspired by the Old English verse, which describes Kenaz as a "torch," a fire which burns "clear and bright" and which brings illumination to those within the hall.  But Norwegian and Icelandic verses describe this rune as a "sore" and connect it with death.  One reading seems to bring enlightenment: another disease and ruin.  As is often the case, there are great mysteries hidden within this paradox - and great power for those who can reconcile the seeming opposites.

It is no coincidence that initiation rituals frequently involve a ceremonial death and rebirth. The transformation from outsider to dedicant involves deep change within the individual's interior and exterior life.  Initiation does not just provide access to the Mysteries: it grants membership in a social group and entails new rights and responsibilities. The person who leaves the initiatory chamber may be very different than the person who went in. This change can be disorienting and traumatic: in putting aside childish things you put aside a way of life which had its joys as well as its miseries.  Kenaz reminds us that wisdom comes with a price and that every fire must be fed.

The fire of Kenaz is not one that can easily be snuffed out. If you try to contain it, it will break free and burn its way through you like an ulcer eating its way through your skin.  Those who have experienced "shaman sickness" - the mental and physical upheaval that can take place when the Gods reinvent Their chosen clergy to better suit Their purposes - know all too well how painful the process of enlightenment can be.  The sores with which Norwegian and Icelandic poets identified Kenaz also served to mark their bearers as a people set apart - not as cool, dangerous magicians but as diseased lepers shunned by decent folk. Wisdom does not always bring profit to the wise: those who think otherwise are encouraged to read H.G. Wells' classic short story, "The Country of the Blind."

But if it is channeled Kenaz can become the fire of inspiration. Kenaz is connected with smithing, the transformation of raw ore into weapons, armor and artwork. It can also be the flame which purifies, cauterizing wounds and burning away impurities. Like the Christian legend of the Holy Spirit descending as fire, Kenaz can enflame you with new ardor and zeal. If you are suffering from ennui or feel that you have "lost the spark" in your job or your relationship, Kenaz can rekindle those old flames and remind you why you once felt so passionate.  It is not the blinding mystical inspiration of Wunjo: Kenaz is a much more practical rune.  It provides a way out of the darkness or an elegant solution to a problem: it concerns itself less with the ways of the Gods and more with the ways of our world.

Yet despite this (another paradox!) Kenaz is intimately connected to the Divine. It is the creative fire which Prometheus stole from heaven and brought to the mortals: it is the place where Spirit and Matter meet, like the meeting of Fire and Ice which created the Nine Worlds of Norse legend.  It makes the mundane holy and the sacred useful.  Kenaz is the spark of divinity which burns within each of us, that light which reminds us of where we have come from and where we are going, the flame which is fueled by our bodies and our lives.  It is the fire which strips away the dross from us and makes us something greater: it is the light which illuminates the truth and sanctifies that which is profane.