The Runes and Trees Retreat

Held at Midsummer, 21st to 23rd of June 2019 in North Norfolk, UK

The site in the evening
fire making
Building a Fire
bow drill
Fire lighting the stoneage way
fire lit
Water will soon be boiling
making a tein
Shaping a tein from Hazel wood
cutting wood
Cutting a tein using a bow saw
A teaching session
rune making
Rune making
tein for combat
Using the tein for combat
the group
Group picture
the site
Another view of the site

The Runes and Trees Retreat was an opportunity to learn about the runes and how to use them. The eighteen trees associated with the runes are a vital set of resources. Each tree has an essential purpose which may be food, fuel, shelter or providing the raw materials for building houses or ships or simply for making all manner of essential artifacts and tools. One major objective of the Rune Retreat was to get to know these trees.

On the Friday morning we went for a walk which took us from the bank of the river Glaven where Alder and Willow flourish. As we continued to walk onto slightly higher ground we passed the Oak, Ash and Hazel trees which grow a little further from the water. We crossed the river at the ford and began to climb the hill where Hawthorn, Elder, Linden and Rowan grow along the hedge lines of the fields. Further up the hill we entered a forest of magnificent Beech trees which give way to tall and straight Pines at the highest point on the hill. As we returned to the site itself we encountered the Yew and Juniper trees which grow around the big house itself. Juniper is not found naturally in Norfolk but our host uses this shrub for ornamental hedges because it is resistant to the extremes of climate which occur in North Norfolk. All of the eighteen trees associated with the runes were found in the locality. The last one to be examined was the solitary elm tree which lives in the hedge between the road and the wood bordering the river.

As well as getting to know the trees we began and ended each day with the Karl Galdre runic stances. (The Karl Galdre uses the basic sequence of the runic stances and incorporates a chant of the name of each rune as you move into the stance and again as you come out of the stance.) Even this was not actually the start of the day, at 0800hrs each morning we began with a choice of Feldenkrais practice with Venetia Crawley or cudgel training with me. Some people chose one activity for all three mornings, others swapped between the two. Then followed breakfast just before 0900hrs and we would begin the first session about 0930hrs. Following the stances we had a session of practicing each Aett of the stances in more detail. This involved practicing the stances themselves and animal exercises based on each stance and the animals associated with each rune. Each exercise is a way of working with the stance, learning the animal associations and enjoying some practical self defence training. On the Friday morning we worked through Frey's aett which covers the stag, auroch, goat, snake, rooster and dragon. On Saturday there we worked with Heimdal's aett and the animals are the ram, owl, spider, crow, polar bear, bee and horse. On Sunday morning we concluded the sequence with Tyr's aett which includes the dog, hare, cat, whale, and brown bear.

The rest of each day was taken up by mainly practical training including fire making. This included collecting and preparing wood, building a tripod with which to support a small pot over the fire and lighting the fire using a modern flint and striker. I did make it a bit easier by providing cotton wool as tinder. Nigel Smith also gave a demonstration of lighting a fire using a bow drill. This method is particularly interesting as it demonstrates how four different kinds of wood can work together to make a fire. You need Pine for where the friction actually starts the fire, Hazel for the spindle, Holly to make the block which provides the pressure from the top and Ash for the bow itself. Lighting a fire by friction is not an easy process but Nigel demonstrated that it can be done with enough skill and effort.

Over the weekend we also made rune sets with twenty four, double sided counters, so that the sixteen runes of the futhork are represented three times in the set. This means that in a three rune reading the same rune can come up more than once if that is the way the runes are picked. I gave a demonstration with a willing volunteer and encouraged others to have a go as well. On the the Sunday the main project was making simple teins. A tein is basically a short stick with one end carved to a blunt chisel point. Howard Haselton who is an experienced reflexologist gave a demonstration of using the tein for massaging the pressure points on the feet. I found myself teaching a session on how to use the tein as a close quarter weapon.

On the Friday evening we had a bonfire and a short ritual to celebrate mid summer as Baldersvaki (Balder's wake). As part of the ritual I told the story of Balder' tragic death. A death that could be blamed fairly on Balder's foolishness, Loki's mendacity or on Friggs over protective attitude towards her son. On the Saturday evening it seemed like a good idea to tell the story of Iduna and her golden apples actually in the Orchard, so that is what we did. We officially concluded the retreat with the last set of stances before a late lunch on the Sunday. However, after lunch Darren Wells led a fylgia meditation for those who were interested in discovering their fylgia or animal spirit aspect. I would particularly like to thank Darren for his assistance in administering the event. Also to Venetia for taking charge of the catering and to our hosts who so kindly allowed us to use their field, wood, barn and the other necessary facilities.

A special thanks of course needs to go to everyone who supported the retreat and who immersed themselves in the experience. Below are some comments I received from those who took part:

Very enjoyable well-organised event. Looking forward to the next one. Simon, from Kent, UK

It was a really good weekend and I learned a lot thanks again Graham. Brendan, Hertfortshire, UK

Thanks a lot for the experience of this weekend, it was a really good one and I returned with some treasures. Misha, Austria.

If you would be interested in the next event and you are not already on my email mailing list please join using the form below.

Graham Butcher, July 2019