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Mannaz (pronounced MAHN-nahz) was used to represent the m sound in runic writing in all the Germanic languages. The name means man. Although the Germanic word, like its modern descendant, implies male sex, it is interesting to note that none of the rune poems contrast man and woman when speaking about this rune, instead offering words that seem to apply to human beings generally. The Icelandic Rune Poem reads

delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.

Human beings are social creatures. We are defined as much by our culture as by our biology, and live in a network of relationships and responsibilities. The symmetrical shape of this rune suggests the reciprocal nature of our relationships with each other, and our interdependency.

We are also ambitious creatures, often striving to reshape the earth and its other living beings to suit our needs and aspirations. We are builders, clearers of fields, makers of tools, herders of animals. Although land creatures, we have also learned to travel by sea and, more recently, even by air.

There is something satisfying about the directness and simplicity of this rune, which refers to man - humanity or a person - without regard to social station or interpersonal role. Whereas the tarot is brimming with kings, queens, knights, and ecclesiastical personages, in the runes, man simply takes his place generically among the horse and elk, the birch and yew, joy and need, as an unremarkable component in the order of things.

This rune makes us pause and wonder what it really means to be a man or a woman. Is it about our relationships with others? Is it about what we make and do? Is it about finding our niche among other living things in the world? As the psalmist put it, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?"

When this rune appears in your divination work, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I express my humanity?
  • How am I connected with others?
  • What is my role?
  • How am I distinctive?
  • How does the human species fit into the natural order?

It is easy for us modern people to become quite focused on our individual pursuits. For our ancestors, struggling to carve a life together in a natural world that was largely untamed and unprocessed, our collective identity was much more present in our awareness. The clan, the tribe, the people . . . needing each other to make a human niche amongst the plants and animals and natural forces that surrounded us. The mannaz rune directs us to look at ourselves this way, as part of a community or species, to see how our individual distinctiveness is part of the distinctiveness of humanity as a whole.

The rune draws us back to basics of body and tribe, of selfhood and interdependence. It is what we are after the self-indulgent trappings of the modern life are stripped away.

The mannaz rune can be used magically to help anchor yourself in the social or natural order, to fit your identity into a larger plan, or to stabilize important relationships. It can also help us express our distinctively human potential or reinforce the unity of body, mind, and spirit in your being.

Rune Lore is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2008 Tom Waters