2 - Tending with Fehu
I'm Kelley Harrell, author, animist, and creator of The Weekly Rune. Soul Intent Arts is my soul tending practice, and you are listening to What in the Wyrd--my podcast in which I talk about runes, actionable animism, soul tending, and how all of those intersect through sacred activism on my path.
As ever I want to lead with props to the runes, they keep me between the lines, mostly, the Ancestors, and to everyone who listens to the podcast. I appreciate your kind notes and comments about it and hearing about your experiences of the runes. That's what it's all about for me, and I'm happy to share this space with you.
I also want to thank my Patreon supporters, who make the sharing of my runework through the podcast and the runecast possible with their financial support. If you have benefitted from the runecast, the podcast, or the ton of free articles on the runes, animism, and soul tending on my website, you can show your support through buying my books--which you can find at soul intent arts dot com or elsewhere online--by making a one-time contribution through Paypal or Square, or by contributing regularly through Patreon. Just go to patreon.com and search for kelley harrell. You can also subscribe to the paid version of The Weekly Rune there.
And thank you for that.
The Weekly Rune has been published, and if you're not sure what it is, it's a runecast with the spirits of place that I've done for years focused on the runic calendar and the current half-month rune, situated into place with the elements, directions, season, and bone allies.
If you're not sure what a half-month is or what runic calendar I work with, listen to the early episodes of What in the Wyrd, or just go read The Weekly Rune. It's explained fully at the beginning of every runecast.
Introducing the Runes as Verbs
In the previous episode I introduced this season being based on the runes as verbs, and talked about my purpose for framing them in this light, and my goals in going in this direction with the podcast.
As an animist, it’s not all about the nouns, but also the relationship between the nouns. And that relationship is also its own life force. Through it we find how we are connected to the runes and engage them, which means we’re essentially talking about action.
So, on that, I want to talk about some reactions to Runic Book of Days, the whole runic calendar thing, and even about this podcast, which is that they’re not reflective enough of academia, or the runic cultural context. I think this is a place where a lot of divergence is happening, which as someone who’s studied this for 30 years, is a really cool thing. There’s a whole school of people who insist the runes are just an alphabet, another that insists they’re only for divination, some who swear runic calendars aren’t a thing, that the runes can only mean a specific thing as indicated in the 1980s, that they shouldn’t be spoken, that they should only be spoken, that they’re only for certain cultures to use… you get where I’m going. There’s a lot of gatekeeping the runes. This isn’t new.
What i want to clarify is that I’ve been there done that, and that’s WHY I never set out for my work to function as primers on the runes. I want to talk about the conversation that happens AFTER the primers and the divination. I’ve been pretty upfront about that. I’ve written about their academic aspects and cultural overlay, particularly in the patreon runecasts. I’m not going to rehash it every week in the runecast or in every podcast episode. And frankly, there are good resources on that, really good ones nowadays. My relationship with the runes is about how to make them actionable, now. I’ve always openly supported that folx go where they need to with the runes, bottom line, and I still do. I want to talk about why I go where I go with them, which is as ancient life forces that we are still in relationship with as keys for to how to human well now.
We can talk about “Berkano/Berkana/Beorc meaning birch,” all day. We can even debate that it doesn’t mean birch, depending on what edda you’re reading. It’s all well and good. But what I want to know is what about evergreen is relevant for my life now, and why did my Ancestors feel that certain trees were important enough to function as a character in an alphabet, and to mythologize that alphabet as a symbol from a way of being that was rapidly dying out. I would want to know what their relationship was to the runes at that pivotal time, and how they captured that relationship by enlivening the runes as a human experience of their cosmology. And in experiencing the runes as alive, I would want to know how I’m expected to carry that mythology forward in a way that sustains how humans move among critical planetary relationships, in our pivotal present.
If we’re going with this whole the runes are still relevant idea, then how do we live them? What makes them livable, and not just as a philosophy, but in how we move among and make choices in our lives? We do that by finding the action point. We find the verbs.
Don’t get me wrong. As a lifelong logophile and writer, I know words are fraught, maybe even especially the nouns. We give priority to certain nouns. We capitalize some but not others. We take away the agency of certain people based on the nouns we call them. We pin down nouns and take them out of collective context (which is relationship), we take them out of context by giving them articles. So series six of What in the Wyrd, I was … just curious what would happen if we could change that thought process about the runes. What if we stopped thinking of them as nouns and considered them as verbs. Not what they are, but what they do, which when lived, is in direct relationship with what we do.
That’s animism. That’s a big, old long relationship. As animists honoring how we are in direct relationship with the world around us, runelore becomes not just representative of concepts we can live with, but ways of being we can live through. This distinction with the runes is the difference between nouns and verbs: the runes don't just demonstrate a quality, but through intentional relationship with them they impart guidance on how to embody them as an experience. This is wyrdweaving at its deepest potential.
So that said, I’m not going into every base nuance of the runes. There are a ton of resources on that. I’ve already touched on them in my own book and runecasts. What I will do is create a page on my website from each podcast episode in this series, with some notes and prompts about each rune as a verb. So you can find that at https://www.soulintentarts.com/livable-runelore/.
In The Weekly Rune I work primarily with Nigel Pennick’s calculation of runic calendar. There are other runic calenders, so go with the one that works for you. The verbs can still apply.
So let’s go.
The way I approach the runes in season is that they share with us progressive concepts, that as we move through them, evolve conceptually, sort of like steps.
Fehu is the first step. Fehu is the first rune of the Futhark. There are some orderings that place it second, after Uruz, and frankly I can see the argument for both. For continuity’s sake, in series 6 we’re viewing Fehu as the first rune of the Futhark.
When we break it down into galdr, we have Fehu - fee, feehoo, feh, fehhoo, fay fayhoo
The rune literally means Cattle, But cattle, of course, aren't self-sufficient. The fact that they are domesticated makes them reliant on humans for their care and feeding.
Through that association we move to this less-specific concept that is part of Fehu, which is: Wealth. Good ole wealth. Money, or cattle, which was the currency of the day.
Its presence, the presence of Fehu when it would come up in peoples’ divinations, I guess, the presence of it implied Good fortune, or good luck. The emphasis was always on goodness, having, having what’s needed.
So, Fehu isn’t just having wealth. And this is a nuance that gets left out when we just talk about Fehu as a noun. It represents Assets that require tending. They require regular attention. Cattle have to be fed, and to do that requires cultivating a space that can feed them and rotating them through other supportive food spaces to maintain ecological balance. They have to have water, and to be protected. Cattle don’t just do what cattle do, which happens to be to generate wealth, to nourish, to feed. It takes effort for them to be beneficial to us. It takes effort for us to benefit them.
They are Assets.
Assets do not take care of themselves.
We. humans, must be present and active in their wellbeing.
And being present and active in their wellbeing assumes that we have the skill to do so. I know about as much about taking care of cattle as I do the actual stock market, to be honest, but that’s our current equivalence. Wealth - money. So inversely, if you don’t know what you’re doing with your assets, you will lose them.
To learn how to take care of them, we have to first understand them. Specifically, we have to understand their value. That nuance of Fehu gets lost, because if you don’t understand the value of something, you can’t take good care of it. You can’t make more of it. You can’t share it with others. You can’t be in a balanced relationship with it.
Again, Birch. If we just stopped at birch, or in this case, cattle, we don’t understand that this noun comes with real, lived and livable dynamics, the success of which has everything to do with WHAT WE DO. It has to do with our verbs.
The verb that i associate with Fehu is to tend - to take care of, ongoing. Tending doesn’t usurp the power of the asset to do what it inherently does. It creates and holds the space for the asset to do what it does. I can’t shove grass into a cow. But I can provide healthy grass for it to access when it’s hungry. Tending doesn’t overshadow the agency of the wealth. It holds the space for wealth to grow. It holds space for the asset’s own agency. In that light tending doesn’t just maintain stasis, it continuously evaluates how to organically adjust to what’s better for everyone in the relationship. Tending is interdependent. The welfare of all involved determines wealth.
If Fehu is about tending, why is it the first rune? What about Tending is so important that it should come first in the Elder Futhark traditional ordering? Who knows, right? Who knows. My guess is this:
As animists, we have to be in really good relationship with why we’re here. Like, literally, why we came here to be humans. What if Fehu is that first check point? If Fehu is the place that souls come into form, which is the most significant relationship of our lives, that 100%, without exception requires our active participation to stay healthy and viable?
That means that Fehu is about being human. It means and the absolute thing that we have to tend the most is being alive, staying alive, staying a soul in form
To be a soul in form is to tend. Every thing we do is tending our existence here.
Tending is the very basis of our existence. Not just of ourselves, but of our communities, of the space around us.
The whole reason we come into form as humans is to be custodians to this planet. That is, to take care of, or Fehu, this planet. Why?
In the grander scheme of things, again, I don’t know. But I can say that given the way science works here, given physics and the way that humans have evolved, who and what we are gives us THE MOST agency of any other creature on this planet. So, yes, boulders, mountains are amazing souls in form, with agency. They move, the reshape themselves and the spaces around them. They resonate with the vibrations that are around them. Most of the time over thousands of years. The UN global average life expectancy of a human--I think this is as of 2019, so I don’t know if it takes into consideration COVID numbers-- is 73-ish. Humans live to be on average globally, 73 and some change. We don’t have that long, but we have the most agency, so much to do here, in the least amount of time.
I think that’s why we are the custodians of Earth.
When you think about that, when you approach Fehu in that animistic way, when you understand that what we value the most, above anything else in all of everything--is the act of being alive, being a human-spirit, you come to understand that it’s not just for ourselves. It’s not just to live it up on party Earth and take what we want from nature and screw everybody else.That is not tending.Tending is interdependence, and the cornerstone of animism. Our job as human-persons to tend the wealth of everything around us. It’s to Fehu the crap out of everything we touch.
Fehu is tending our assets to the best of our agency, to create wealth for the relationships we most impact. The act of Fehu is interdependence.
Thank you for listening. If you have questions or insights about working with the runes as verbs, or in season, or however you feel called to work with them, or you just want to drop me a line you can do that at Kelley that's k e l l e y at soulintentarts.com.
Also check out earlier episodes by downloading them from all various podcast platforms--it’s all over the place. And you can learn more about me, Runic Book of Days, and my work by visiting soulntintentarts.com or on Instagram @kelleysoularts.
I'm Kelley and this has been What in the Wyrd. Thank you for returning with me to season six.