Archive for November, 2020

A Rune for Samhain

Over the past year, my friend Darcy Blahut and I have been continuing to work away on our “prairie rune” project. Starting from a bioregional adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc, or rune alphabet poem, we have been sharing reflections in poetry and prose as a way of gently unfolding some of the spiritual-cultural-linguistic mysteries hidden within each rune.
As the year-wheel turns through Samhain into the dark half of the year, and the season of the beloved dead is upon us, I thought I would offer our take on “mann” … the rune of death and life.

Mann: Human

Each person, in joy, is dear to their kin,
though all depart one from another;
for the divine doom of Life
is that the poor flesh must rest in the Earth.

Just days ago, I dug a small grave in the backyard and buried our young kitten. Panther was vibrant, naughty, and full of life; he feared nothing, but perhaps should have respected the growl of the neighbours’ dog a wee bit more. Though he was only with us for a few months, Panther had made a place for himself in our family, and my heart hurt dearly in his early departure from us.

Though the rune of Mann refers obviously to the human creature, as an animist I believe that personhood extends far beyond homo sapiens, and embraces kith and kin of fur and feather, and all our relations. Mann speaks of the joy of belonging, and the sharp grief of death. The Old English original points toward the “will of the Lord” as the agency of doom, but I tend to view it as a bit less fatalistic, and certainly less vindictive. We all know that in this dispensation of the world, life and death are intimately and necessarily intertwined. Human or otherkind, the poor flesh must indeed come to rest in the earth. Somehow, the bitter pangs of death, and the departure of one from another, make the joy of life and companionship so much more sweet. As age sets in, we hopefully learn to value more dearly the gift of our kin.

Scripture puts it best in the faithful realism of Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3: 1-4). The mysteries of Mann, of life and death, of joy and grief, are woven deeply in the tapestry of our souls. And as I tossed the final spadefuls of soil on Panther’s cold corpse, my heart intoned the words of the funeral liturgy: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . . yet even at the grave, we make our hymn: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Amen.”


Mann? And joyous mann? at that.
What are we, if not questioning?—
our Mind an ever-growing spring
from the cold earth.

Though do not question happiness,
or peace which from between neighbours grows,
our tongues for the birds—
windsome the song of us—clouds,
suffering and grief:

That yes—we do—but know not why;
that no—we do not suffer it alone.

And so, whether glad or not—our tidings bring;
we are gift the same, and from Her—
hearts and brows, heavy as stone—sing.

We sing until that smallest crack at dawn finds solace,
then begin again.

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