Runic Compass

I have spent an extraordinary amount of time over the years thinking about the proper order in which the runes are presented. I have held that it is this order which holds the key to the logic and meaning of the runes as a single, unified system.

There are at least 24 runes organized in three sections of 8. (I don’t know if this is why this division is referred to as Aetts, but it has the virtue in English of being easy to remember.) Most representations organize the runes beginning with feoh, ur,  thorn, etc., but this order obscures their meaning. My great insight about the runes is that the annual cycle begins with isa, located 23½ degrees before the Winter Solstice—corresponding to the tilt of the earth on its axis. The runes are an earth-based system.

In total, the runes are a way of describing the “seasons” of a complete cycle of transformation and rebirth which corresponds with the earth’s annual cycle around the sun. They describe the wisdom that is required for success at each specific stage of the cycle.

The Regenerative Aett

regen 3

The Regenerative Aett is characterized through its entire length by the transformational quality of Wind-Water. The essential quality of Wind-Water is turbulence and instability. Water may be stormy and frothy, or be transformed into storm clouds tossed by wind currents. Wind-Water may be ice in one form or boiling steam and vapor in another. Sometimes you can see it and sometimes it’s invisible. Whatever its physical form, Wind-Water is a persistent, relentless force that is continuously changing.

The psychological climate of the Regenerative Aett is one of uncertainty, fear, and hope. The atomic bomb scare and McCarthyism of the early 1950s, and the 9/11 attacks and today’s subsequent “War on Terror”—and both periods’ threats to our freedoms—are characteristic of the early Regenerative phase of the cycle. By the end of the Regenerative Aett the volatility of the earlier portion will seem to stabilize for a while as wages, prices, and interest rates rise, as will social and political expectations, consumption, borrowing, and risk-taking.

The runes of the Regenerative Aett are:

runic regenerative

Isa    Jera    Eoh   Peorth   Elhaz    Sigel    Tyr   Beorc

The Creative Aett

creat 2

The Creative Aett is characterized by the transformational qualities of Wood in its first half and Fire in its second half. The essential quality of Wood is birth and the springing forth of new life. The newborn, at first small and fragile like a new shoot, mobilizes tremendous energy for swift growth. The essential quality of Fire is movement towards a state of complete wakefulness and vitality that we might associate with an entity being in its “young adult” prime. If you refer to the circular cycle chart, you will see that the beginning of the Fire phase corresponds to full yang.

The psychological climate of the Creative Aett is one of hope, excitement, and elation resulting from progressive growth and new opportunities. As anyone can attest who has lived through northern winters, the beginning of the Creative Aett is also a time for breathing a sigh of relief. Yet, at the same time (and maybe paradoxically so), it is also a time of increased stress. Growth, and new growth especially, is an inherently stressful phenomenon. Growth always entails change, and hence, “growing pains.”

The annual cycle of a single year is but one cycle within a longer cycle of 54-56 years. It is this longer cycle which provides a more meaningful organizing principle which encompasses these same three “seasons.” It is within this longer cycle that historical economists can make sense of larger trends including social movements, war, and economic ups-and-downs.

For example, within the context of the 54-56 year cycle, the Creative phase is characterized by rising wages, prices, and interest rates, as well as social and political expectations, consumption, borrowing, and risk-taking. Politically, the Creative phase is characterized by growing idealism and pressure for social change as the cycle progresses towards full Yang. The “Camelot” years of the Kennedy Administration, the Civil Rights Movement, the hippie revolution, and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” were characteristic events of the Creative phase.

Then, like water being raised to a slow boil, the heat and ferment reached a point where energy was released as war. (The Civil War, World War I, and the Vietnam War were all full Yang wars.) Anyone who, like me, lived through the Vietnam War years can remember how frenzied, emotive, and energy-charged those years were. It was exciting (and I even now nostalgically yearn for the passionate “high” of the times); yet, it also seemed as if the country were going to blow apart. The nation had not been so divided since the Civil War—which, it will be recalled, was the full-Yang war two economic waves earlier.

At full Yang (around 1975), economic and technological saturation reached their zenith, as did consumption, borrowing, and risk-taking. Wages, prices, and interest rates went as high as they could, and then growth stagnated while inflation continued unabated—but most people didn’t notice at first until the economy hit the wall. This phenomenon was known in the ’70s as “stagflation,” and was accompanied by an energy crisis with long lines at gasoline pumps. I was working at the time at an art museum and my job, dependent on contributions and the museum’s investments, was eliminated. This was the first “bump in the road” which signaled the beginning of an economic downwave which continued through the year 2000.

In the previous long wave, conditions similar to these were also present in post-WWI Europe and, to a lesser extent, in “Roaring Twenties” America. In Germany, which had just lost the war, people were taking wheelbarrows full of inflated currency to the store to buy a loaf of bread. In America, the most unscathed of the victorious powers, factory workers were being paid enough wages to buy the cars and other consumer goods they were manufacturing. There are winners and losers in every economic season.

It is up to us to prepare for the coming seasons and position ourselves to benefit from whatever is going to happen, with or without us. Knowledge of the runes will help you identify where we are in the cycle and the wisdom appropriate to create the greatest advantages for ourselves and others.

The runes of the Creative Aett are:

runic creative

Ehwaz    Mannaz   Laguz   Ing  Odal  Dagaz  Feoh  Uruz


The Degenerative Aett

degen 4

The choice of “Degenerative” as a moniker for this Aett is to some degree unfortunate because our prejudices can color this entire phase of the cycle in a pessimistic cast. Our culture glorifies youth, resists aging, and fears death so much that few of us even think about the prospect of death, rebirth, and renewal. The word degenerative stirs our deepest cultural biases.

However, it is important to bear in mind that the designations “Regenerative,” “Creative,” and “Degenerative” are derived from measurement of the rate of growth in any phenomenon being observed. It is normal for anything with a life cycle—an organism, product, or social trend—to experience a slowing rate of growth as it ages.

The fact of the matter is that three-quarters of the Degenerative Phase is characterized by possibly the most pleasant and rewarding conditions of any cycle phase. The Degenerative Phase is the least stressful of any phase. Whether describing agricultural, economic, product, or biological cycles, the beginning and middle of the Degenerative Phase is a time of ripening, maturity, harvest, profit-taking, fat, and plenty—a season to enjoy and savor the fruits of growth.

The Degenerative phase is a time corresponding to late summer and fall. A business cycle, like the agricultural cycle in summer, is in the harvest season. Degenerative Phase businesses tend to be successful, centrally-controlled, and conservative, guided by the belief that you don’t tamper with something that is working well—you are allowed only to fine-tune the business and improve its functions. Output is at maximum, and the summer of a technology sees the largest number of successful products. Prices and profits are maximized and inflation in the general economy increases. It is a period of ease, plenty, and rising income.

But comfort usually leads to boredom and decadence. In the context of the 54-56 year cycle, business organizations become bureaucratic, uncreative, risk-averse and soft. In ways large and small, businesses coast rather than strive. Companies settle for process innovations and incremental improvements (as opposed to basic innovations and revolutionary improvements). In so doing, they fail to prepare for the changes looming ahead and become vulnerable to new competitors and conditions. Even as the first reverses begin to occur, they fail to recognize the evidence or its significance.

There is an important lesson to be remembered here. Human beings are creatures of habit, lazy, and have a natural tendency to act as if present conditions will last forever. Aggregated into organizations or in the economy as a whole, this tendency is mutually reinforced and takes on the force of “common knowledge,” “expert opinion,” and “authoritative judgments.” Perception always lags reality. Inertia trumps initiative and change. “The crowd is always wrong.” Most people change only when they are forced to.

In a 1962 book called Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers formalized a theory about the adoption of innovations over time which states that adopters of any innovation or new idea can be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%) based on a bell curve. This same model applies to the general population’s recognition of new information and willingness to make behavioral changes.

diffusion of innovations

Some of the characteristics of each population category include:

Innovators – venturesome, educated, attend to multiple information sources, exhibit a greater propensity to take risk

Early Adopters – social leaders, popular, educated, influential with peers; they are most influential as change agents

Early Majority – deliberate, many informal social contacts

Late Majority – skeptical, traditional, lower socio-economic status

Laggards – neighbors and friends are main information sources, fear of loss and debt

As summer moves to autumn, there are reverses in fortune, in business most often manifested as loss of market share. There is a natural tendency for organizations to indulge in denial, blame, and panic—in that order. These are the hallmarks of the fall season.

When the facts can no longer be denied, organizations are forced to act. The usual rescue efforts include belt-tightening programs, face-lifting efforts, and a concentration on “core competencies.” A back-to-basics approach, however, usually leads to shrinking operations. Aging products are divested and sales and service efforts are concentrated on strategic customers and accounts—the low hanging fruits. Organizations are reorganized and staff is laid off. Cost-savings, at first a healthy development, becomes management’s knee-jerk response to worsening corporate fortunes.

Halfway through the Degenerative Phase—at the point that the cycle crosses the midpoint line—some “trigger” event occurs and there is a financial crash as in the years 1873, 1929, and 1987.

Thereafter, the psychology of fear snowballs. The economy experiences recession, high inflation, and a rush to liquidity. Deteriorating trends soon create a state of chaos in which erratic behavior emerges as a mechanism to explore new directions picked practically at random. The observation has been made, for example, that Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” consisted of many experimental government programs that very often competed with, and were at odds with, one another. No one knew what the solution to the Great Depression might be—they were casting about for any solutions which might work. Conditions seemed to improve until the economy entered hagel and nyd, at which time there was a secondary depression in 1937-38.

It is interesting to note that the severity of conditions in the downwave of the cycle tends to alternate from one long cycle to the next. The Great Depression of the 1930s was especially severe, while the recessions of the 1870s and 1980s were less so. The next depression, beginning around 2045, will likely be a killer and (because the world financial markets have become so integrated) will be worldwide. There will be no place to hide. I’m glad I’ll miss it.

The runes of the Degenerative Aett are:

runic degenerative

Thorn   As   Rad    Ken    Gyfu    Wyn     Hagal    Nyd

If you are younger than I—and since you will probably not miss it—it is up to you to prepare. That depression will come as surely as one season follows another. The runes will help you to tap into the wisdom necessary to prosper in any season.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Fortunes performing “Seasons In The Sun”


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