Need is the only choice – North weather coldest. Swedish rune poem, translated by Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen
Traditional meaning – need
Association – the ritual of needfire
Pronunciation – Nod-thiz
Galdr – Now, Nowdth, Nowdthee, Nyd, Not
Element – ice and fire
Dates – 13-28 November
Verb – to persevere
Animistic Qualities – capacity to engage ecosystem as community during hard times
Challenge – To consider what needs are filled by not changing
Traditional lore – Nauthiz indicates a time of scarcity and dire need.
Animistic lore – Nauthiz follows the hardship of Hagalaz, bringing the reality that survival is not always easy. With that understanding this rune presents ritual as the means of reaching beyond the mundane into the ecstasy of ecosystem–the Nature Spirits we live among–for support and community when all else seems bleak. This reminder that we are ever-connected with place and to stay active in that relationship brings hope and wise application of our agency.
Nauthiz as runes oracle – Embracing need
Nauthiz represents the perseverance that reminds us we need our ecosystemsand their capacity to help meet our needs lies in the intimacy of our rituals with place.
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 Nauthiz.
I wouldn’t say people dread getting Nauthiz in their runecasts, but they’re not thrilled about it, either. It’s one of the wintry runes opening the second aett, and it has this subtle pause effect, as all three of those icy runes do, each in their own way.
Nauthiz follows Hagalaz, which is hardship that can’t be avoided. It’s an ill-fitting place where even if you see the crisis coming your best efforts can’t dodge it; all you can do is adapt. And in that adaptation, you come out changed. Hagalaz initiates the hot mess middle of the Elder Futhark. You come out of it bearing Scar, which brings grief, maybe changed identity, changed relationship to place. It’s a big deal, and Nauthiz as the followup to that significant speed bump into the second aett is, too, though in different ways.
Let’s do a catch up: We spend the first aett figuring out how to function as a fit soul in form. We’ve had to explore our relationship to ecosystem. We’ve had to learn that we have agency and how to hold it in a way that tends the planet, not just our own butts. We learned our agency isn’t in a vacuum. It affects others, though we haven’t really had to test its impact. We’ve even experienced the joy that can occur from humaning well. All of that is challenging in its own way, but it’s training wheels for the second aett. In the last episode we talked about the second aett as the plot twist of the Elder Futhark, and by the time we reach Nauthiz, we know we have to work to accomplish what we came here to do.
With Hagalaz we’ve endured hardship. Like, really hard, broke-our-lives-in-two-in-a-way-that-can’t-go-back, schism. We’ve had to gain resilience. We had to adapt. What’s the next logical progression from such a state?
Enter, Nauthiz, of the galdr Now, Nowdth, Nowdthee, Nyd, Not.
I could make an argument for several verbs that speak Nauthiz language, such as to take right action, to engage (particularly the elements/ecosystem), though the one I feel in my bones is to persevere.
Nauthiz gets put forward as need and constraint, which are on pointe terms, though they don’t convey what dynamics of lived Nauthiz could look like in everyday life interactions. We’re not in a culture that is taught to identify need, often doesn’t value community as a means of meeting needs, and doesn’t help us understand how to work with constraint around those.
I think of Nauthiz in those terms as understanding our needs enough to set boundaries and follow through, which is a big task in American settler culture. Maybe anywhere, because we’re not supposed to have to do that alone.
For eleven years ish in The Weekly Rune we’ve talked about the origins of Nauthiz as needfire quite a bit. We typically read about this ritual as the lighting of a ceremonial fire, the smoke of which the Ancestors would run themselves and livestock through to ward off disease and possession. It was done throughout Europe, even up til the late 1800s in some places. It may still be done in some places.
I recently published an article on my blog called Googling the Demon- The Animistic Soma Checklist. In that article I talk about how utterly practical, historic pagan rituals get put forward as uncivilized superstition (or worse–they are demonized). And start me not on how AI is perpetuating that kind of harmful and inaccurate perspective as fact with total disregard of the history, as if the Internet wasn’t already doing that.
If you look up needfire it will say something like it was a firewalking ritual (which is a completely different thing originating in India, BTW) believed to “ward off evil,” or “purify farmland and cattle.” And really, both of those are pretty awesome things in my book. I see no reason to judge those as lesser. Cultures across an entire continent engaged this ritual in the transition to winter. That’s something to pay attention to. So let’s look at needfire in a more animistic light.
Needfire wasn’t just lighting up and making wishes to fill needs. It wasn’t hopefully stumbling through hot coals (that didn’t hit the west until the 1970s). Also, and it wasn’t a tiny campfire, but a big bonfire. Needfire was first the extinguishing of all other fire in the community, all hearths and workspaces, then working from a ritualistically lit fire by rubbing sticks together, as in the Swedish words Nödeld (needfire), Vrideld (twisted fire–as in the rotating of sticks to create friction), or the German notfeuer (rubbed fire). Setting this fire didn’t just involve doing so with the hope of the community’s needs being met, it literally involved rubbing of sticks to light it, as the ritual. Needfire was a community-wide ritual that involved collaboration, planning and labor to make a fire grand enough to hold the needs of the community for the winter. It involved keeping the fire smoldering with green wood and local medicinal plants so that it generated sacred smoked to pass through. Needfire was the ritual act of offering intentions for the flames to consume, with the eco-relational assurance of needs being met.
What drives the needfire is making lighting a fire alchemical medicine. It is what synergizes the mundane practice of snuffing all other fire to kindle this one to purify community and cattle, with the bonds forged with land spirits to fortify that protection. Yes, it’s burning herbs that kill germs. It’s also reinforcing relationship to ecosystem as family, and to each other as family, after the shit show of Hagalaz.
I mean, that seems like something that should stay in the seasonal ritual rotation, yes? It seems like a balm to help us persevere in dark times, which are assured, literally every winter in the north, every human experience in form. And yes we need skills, knowledge to cope with what the darkness brings, what radical Hagalaz-style change does to our lives. We also need community–human-person, and other-than-human person. Nauthiz represents that perseverance and it reminds us that we need our ecosystems. And the capacity for those relationships to deliver on our needs, to help us manage our constraints as we regroup after Hagalaz, lies in the intimacy of our rituals with place.
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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@ soulintentarts.com, 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 soulntintentarts.com. 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 needfire you bring.
Persevering with Nauthiz Introspections
- How can you perform your own needfire this season?
- Name your three most pressing needs.
- With what Nature Spirits of your ecosystem are you in closest relationship?
- With what elements?
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
To bear your unique gift to the world.
To leave the planet better than you found it.
So that your descendants never elder alone.