Runic Book of Days - A Guide to Living the Annual Cycle of Rune Magick by S. Kelley Harrell, 2019 Nautilus Book Award Winner
Mannaz, Soul Intent Arts
Mannaz, Soul Intent Arts
Mannaz, Soul Intent Arts
Runic Book of Days - A Guide to Living the Annual Cycle of Rune Magick by S. Kelley Harrell, 2019 Nautilus Book Award Winner

Ice – bark of rivers and roof of the wave and destruction of the doomed. Icelandic rune poem,

Runic and Heroic Poems of the Old Teutonic People by Bruce Dickins

Isa - to Transform - Runes as Verbs, Season 6, What in the Wyrd, hosted by Kelley Harrell


Traditional meaning – ice
Association – catabolic change
Pronunciation – Eess
GaldrEess, Eesuh
Element – ice
Dates – 28 November-13 December
Verb – to transform
Animistic Qualities – active stillness as an agent of change
Challenge – Active rest

Listen to What in the Wyrd Episode 117- Transforming with Isa

Traditional lore – Isa indicates enforced rest, active stillness with the implication that further input is needed for motion to be resumed.

Animistic lore – As Nauthiz follows the hardship of Hagalaz with perseverance, Isa trails with transformation. It requires that change be fully experienced and integrated before resumption of the day-to-day, in a ring-not-pass construct. 

Nauthiz as runes oracle – Embracing need

Elder Futhark runes Fehu, Ingwaz, Kenaz reversed with a white seashell on an orange background

Isa is restlessness that must portend deep change.

It makes sure that we are ready for what comes after adaptation and perseverance.

Show Transcript

Episode #117 – Transforming with Isa

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, animism, soul tending, and deathwalking, and how all of those are in relationship on my path.

In this episode of working with the runes as verbs, we’re focusing on Isa.

Isa is the last of the scathing entry runes of the second aett. I call that introductory trio the winter runes, as they are a cluster of really icy runes–literally and metaphorically. Hagalaz, hail, is our introduction to the second aett, with emphasis on harsh external change that we can’t avoid, followed by Nauthiz, which is often thought of as fire, yet contextually it situates in the cold, darkness of Earth, quite possibly of the soul. Needfire as ritual re-ignites will to persevere in the cold, through Nauthiz.

Isa is straight-up ice, frozen stillness. I often hear people break that down as rest, but Isa doesn’t evoke comfort. It’s not just hanging out doing nothing kind of stillness. It’s the quiet introspective kind, the kind of stillness that intentionally makes room for quiet introspection, probably regarding how to adapt to the impact of the disruption from Hagalaz. 

Isa is a full process: when we sit with it, we’re also examining what led us into that stillness to start with. In other words, it’s active stillness intent on addressing something difficult, and given that it’s not a wanted stillness, we’re addressing a life disruption. 

If anything, Isa is restlessness that must portend deep change. It makes sure that we are ready for what comes after adaptation and perseverance.

Isa is often associated with the state known as “ring not pass,” or ring pass-not as it’s sometimes phrased, which describes the state of humans not being able to access the transpersonal until our ego learns their place and purpose for the whole.[1] I’ll drop a source for that little tidbit in the show notes. Ring not pass can be very general, as in we can’t move to B until we’re good with A. 

There’s a lot going on there. If we break that down to, in order to heal or tend disruption, injury, or scar, or just to get access to the things we desire in life, we have to actually be ready for those things to come into our life, and we have to be ready for who we are required to become in order to heal, or fulfill our desires. 

We talk about healing a lot in soul work circles, but it’s still this shazam! treatment of healing. It’s either this nebulous thing that suddenly got miraculously better after soul work, or it’s this more philosophical, martyred, stoic acceptance of a really shitty thing in life that we’re bettered for because of the suffering. We still have a long way to go in extracting wellbeing from the binary of sick and healed. I’ve talked and written a lot about this, but those perspectives and being a disabled, chronically ill person are why I dropped the word ‘heal’ from my vocabulary,  and “sick” for the most part. It just doesn’t work. I tend.

My experience is that when we say we want or need something in our life, we have to create the circumstances within us and in our life under which that change can enter and thrive. And that is what we’re not taught how to do in American settle culture, and I think that’s what Isa holds space for us to do. We  are required to change in order for our lives to change, and we can’t do that in the stream of our everyday. We need a set-aside space on reserve to experience that full transformation.

And Isa is that process of whole transformation–start to finish. It’s the miserable catalyst that leads to us not being able to stay the same. We recognize we can’t stay where we are, or who we are. Then, Isa is the sticky restlessness of having to sit with the process we’re required to have in order to actually change. It’s the surrender to where we must go–literally and figuratively–and who we must become to recognize when we’ve finally changed. Isa is also the fragile courage that finally ushers us into the next ring, into beyond. Because once we change, we can’t stay where we were. We can’t tolerate it. We must fully transform, and that means to move out from the protective cloister, back into the fray of everyday life.

Isa. To transform. That’s our verb.

And therein lies the rub with our current dynamic, because we don’t often don’t have access to the tools or support we need to transform. We don’t get to step outside the everyday to safely transform (you could say that’s Berkana). The systems we live among don’t just not provide what we need for our life transformations, they try to stop them from happening by keeping us sick, poor, uneducated, and afraid, which are often the initiators of the traumas that we must transform from. 

And yet, transformation is natural. Right? It is part of sacred flow. If the runes are keys to humaning well, which is how I experience them, then TPTB knew we needed a rune that helps us hold space for our life transformations. 

When we talk about Isa as animists, we’re talking about honoring sacred order within us, bringing our awareness back to it so that we can see where our life traumas may have dissuaded our gaze from Flow. I’ve often mentioned sacred order within the context of the sacred seed–which in Old Norse psyche is held by ice. It was the fusion of ice rime and fire that created life as we know it, according to the Old Norse creation story. This chrysalis state is what comes to mind with Isa. It’s the understanding that everything–everything–has an inner quality of unique Self that is in direct relationship with the sacred order of All Things, and each shapes the other. Sacred order is the sense of oneness, such that our personal transformations are transformations of the collective. For that reason I posit that Isa isn’t just the reminder of that awareness of sacred order, but also the reprieve to do the work to stay in touch with that sacredness.

In this way, Isa is also about the readiness for What Comes Next. Not curiosity. Not adventure. Not martyrdom, or even dread. Actual, true, got the memo, ready to move on, What Comes Next. Because that’s why the transformation, yes? Because we can’t get to What Comes Next without it, and once we’ve transformed, it is not ours to keep to ourselves. Once we’ve transformed, there’s no Self to keep to. We are then called to move on and share that learning with our community. Like a…. Harvest, you might say? Hmm.

So when Isa comes up in your rune readings, indeed acknowledge the stillness needed, the nod to work needing to be done. Also ask yourself where you may have lost sight of sacred order and come back to where body feels it, because body is never out of sacred order. Body never lies, and it is where transformation is lived.

Thank you for listening, especially to the Runes for Change community members who make What in the Wyrd and The Weekly Rune possible with their financial support. You can receive the weekly runecast by subscribing to the community on my website, by clicking Join in the top menu. In the community we’re currently holding a monthly runes class called Runevaettir & Landvaettir, and I’m also hosting a public, online Equinox ceremony centered around making Berkana art projects together. You can get that information on the front page of my website –

I’m also counting down the weeks until my upcoming book, From Elder to Ancestor comes out. It’s out in 13 weeks (?), but it’s available for pre-order now, anywhere you buy books, online or off shelves. You can find excerpts of it in posts on my website, and I suspect in the next few weeks the Runes for Change community folx will get a glimpse of the galley for themselves.

If you have questions or insights about working with the runes, runic calendars, soul tending, or if you just want to drop me a line you can do that at Kelley@, that’s k e l l e y at soulintentarts dot com.

Learn more about me, Runic Book of Days, and my work by visiting I’m most often on Instagram @kelleysoularts. Check out previous episodes, and find detailed notes on this episode on my website, under the menu option Learn… Liveable Runelore. The transcript of this episode can be found along with the episode description.

I’m Kelley and this has been What in the Wyrd. Thank you for all the transformation you bring.


Purple text reads "Runes for Change" with a grayscale billowy tree with purple runes carved in it and an owl perched in the branches

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Transforming with Isa Introspections

  • What was prodded by Hagalaz in season, that may be what Isa now requires to be integrated?
  • When you think of active stillness, what sensations come up in Body?
  • When you think of transformation, where do you feel it?
  • How comfortable are you with stillness?


on Instagram

S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.

#beyourcommunity ~ #youareecosystem

elder well, die well, ancestor well


Elder Well

To bear your unique gift to the world.

Die Well

To leave the planet better than you found it.

Ancestor Well

So that your descendants never elder alone.