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Rune Study: Kenaz

I have recently decided to study the Runes again, and as a personal process for studying I find it helpful to write about what I have learned. I'm no expert on the Runes, just a student and enthusiast who wants to improve my skills with reading the runes and using them for Magick or Divination. Join me if you want!

KENAZ: Torch, Ulcer


"The torch is known to every living man by its pale,

bright flame;

it always burns where princes sit within."


"disease fatal to children

and painful spot

and abode of mortification."

At first I had trouble reconciling these two very different interpretations of the Kenaz Rune. Many books and websites that I found seem to favor the "Torch" meaning and a more positive overall view of Kenaz. But both the Icelandic and Norwegian versions of the Rune Poems have the "Ulcer" meaning and seem a bit more negative.

Torch: Illumination, Quest for Knowledge

I began with the "Torch" interpretation, finding that this Rune relates to the illumination of knowledge. First it is the knowledge of Fire - which can be dangerous if it is not handled properly. However, once you learn to safely handle fire, you can use it to make a torch which can help illuminate the darkness - thus uncovering more hidden knowledge and advancing your understanding of the world around you. Therefore Kenaz can relate to the attainment of knowledge, illumination of the mind, shining a light in the darkness to find more knowledge. This rune can represent a quest for knowledge, or the act of shedding light on a matter.

The quest for knowledge itself is not something one can do recklessly or without caution; just like the use of a torch or fire to create light is not something to be done carelessly. Fire is still dangerous and must be applied with care and caution. Additionally, knowledge itself can be dangerous if it is not applied carefully and used responsibly. So even while the torch offers us illumination and knowledge, it does come with its own dangers. With knowledge comes power and with power comes responsibility - and I interpret the poem's line about "princes sit within" to perhaps relate to the power that comes with the knowledge of the torch. Having the torch gives you power, like a prince. But will you use the torch to better understand the world around you, or will you use it to set fires and burn down the village?

Ulcer: Pain tells us to pay attention; learning lessons from pain

So what about Ulcer? How is a Torch like an Ulcer? First of all I noticed that in the Icelandic and Nordic rune poems, they specifically mention that Ulcer is fatal to children. Yet they do not suggest it is fatal to adults. This indicates that with some level of maturity, Ulcer is not as dangerous. In this sense I see a connection with the Torch Fire: we must be mature enough and have learned how to properly wield the fire in order to use it safely. Fire is dangerous in the hands of children, who might not have the strength, self awareness, and caution to know how to carry the fire without accidentally burning themselves or others.

Even for an adult though, an Ulcer is painful. It is some kind of sore or wound that causes a burning sensation. It might not kill you, but it is unpleasant. As I thought about this I realized: Pain is a Warning. Pain is the body's way of giving a signal that something is wrong. Pain itself illuminates a problem that needs attention. As adults, we are better at recognizing the warning signs of our body, we can generally notice the pain and tend to the problem before things get bad. Stomach pains might indicate a need to change our diet. A sore or cut or burn on our skin requires care and cleaning so that it does not get infected. The pain is a signal that uncovers a problem, just like a torch might reveal some hidden thing. Once we have the knowledge of what is wrong, we can then take action to repair or fix the problem - this is problem solving abilities that children might not have. A child might not express or show their pain to others, because they are afraid of more pain when a caregiver tends to the wound by cleaning it. They might hide the pain or wound and then it becomes infected. However, when one has practical knowledge and understanding of their body's needs, they know that cleaning the wound (while painful) is necessary to prevent infection.

Pain is one way that our body gets our attention, and then once we see or notice something we can apply our knowledge to take appropriate steps. The Ulcer then is the painful sore that acts like a torch: it illuminates our path. The painful sore spot sends us on a quest for knowledge; people begin seeking answers because there is a problem that they need to solve. People do not usually shine a torch into a dark cave out of boredom, they usually have some kind of need to explore that cave. They need shelter or a warm dry place to tend to their pain. They are looking for medicine or clean water, or for someone else to teach them how to tend to this wound.

We learn to light the torch and seek enlightenment because the pain (ulcer) has alerted us to some problem, and sent us on a quest for knowledge. The torch itself might cause a wound if we are not careful and mature in how we handle it - sometimes the seeking of knowledge itself is dangerous so we must proceed with maturity and caution.

What do you think? Do you tend to interpret Kenaz as Torch, or Ulcer? Or do you see a connection between both?


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