Modern Contemplation of the Runes: Isa


Ice be over-cold, unmeasurably slippery;
glisteneth clear as glass, to gems likest;
a floor by frost wrought, fair to be seen.

Continuing our series examining modern pagan life via the Elder Futhark, we move on to the eleventh rune, Isa. As with the others, the rune-poem above gives us a place to start.

The ancient and modern sources treat this rune as something to be justifiably concerned about: Ice can appear stable, even though it may not be. Ice can appear safe to walk on, but could easily turn into an embarassing or even dangerous fall. Ice is of course cold, which is great if the problem is overheating but not good at all if the problem is being cold already. Modern interpreters note, however, that ice is also one of the more solid and stable elements of the Elder Futhark, and that stability and cooling down could be exactly what is needed.

The problem this rune can present, more metaphorically, is that of being in a rut. While stability can be a useful and important aspect of your life, allowing you to focus on other things, it can also limit you to the familiar patterns even if they are not working well for you. Keeping balance between ice of Isa and the fire of Kenaz is important on the cosmic scale of Norse myth in the creation of Ginnungagap, and also important on the personal scale of maintaining motion while not losing one's footing. This article will focus on extracting oneself when your life seems frozen in place in a way you would rather it wasn't.

How to Recognize a Rut

The simplest way to recognize the problem: If several months go by, and nothing about your life has changed in any substantial way, you are stuck in a rut.

This is not to say that every aspect of your life has to change, but something should have changed: Maybe you changed jobs or got a raise and/or promotion. Maybe you saved up a bunch of money, which is giving you a degree of financial freedom you haven't had before. Maybe you got to know somebody who could become a dear friend. Maybe you found a lover. Maybe you got out of a bad relationship with somebody. Maybe you gave birth to a child. Maybe you started on a new hobby, or dropped off of a hobby that wasn't making you happy anymore. Maybe you learned a new skill.

The key point, though, is that if you keep doing what you've been doing, you will wake up a decade later with your life exactly as it is now.

This situation tends to arise in one of 3 ways:

  1. Complacency: You love how your life is right now. You enjoy or at least tolerate your work. You love the friends and family around you. You enjoy your home, and your surroundings. Your contentment means that you don't really want anything to change, so you keep doing what you've been doing.
  2. Fear: You are uncomfortable with your life as it stands now. But you don't see a viable alternative: There is no clear alternative to your current job, so you keep doing it because otherwise you'll starve. The people around you are hurting you, but there's no place to run to. Your home is a disaster, but you can't afford to leave it. These kinds of situations keep you stuck because you see no other way forward that wouldn't be more awful.
  3. Exhaustion: You hate many aspects of your life. You see alternatives available. But you lack the strength to actually change what you know needs to be changed. This is because those very things that need to change are exhausting you: Your job works you 80+ hours per week, your loved ones are a constant source of stress rather than support, and so forth.

Regardless of which kind of rut you are in, you need to recognize that you are stuck in one. While the "complacency" rut has considerably less urgency than the "fear" rut or the "exhaustion" rut, it still can be limiting your growth.

Extracting Yourself

Getting out of a rut depends a bit on what sort of rut it is, but what is required more than anything else is courage. Your situation right now is not completely working for you, but it's working well enough that your survival appears to be ensured by simply sticking with your routine. That means that making any kind of change will require intense bravery and effort.

Conveniently, the "rut" metaphor works well to explain the process for getting out: Imagine a vehicle stuck in the snow, spinning its tires.

Step 1: Stop and Take Stock

When you discover you are in a rut, your instincts may be to push harder, grind harder, and otherwise try to power your way out of it. The thing is, if you do, and you aren't properly prepared, odds are you'll just dig yourself deeper into the muck and it will be that much harder to get out.

So instead you need to consider other aspects of your situation, like:

  • Can you go back to how things were pre-rut more easily than you can move forward?
  • Can you go a different direction more easily than what you planned?
  • Do you have anything at hand that might help you get traction?
  • Can you get some friends or even total strangers to help you get out?

The idea of this is that by the time you are done, you will at least know what it is you are trying to accomplish.

Magic to consider focusing on in this stage would put attention towards vision and creativity. A rune that might help with this is Laguz (emphasizing possibility).

Step 2: Check Your Engine

If you're going to get out of the rut, you will be more likely to succeed if you are relying on systems in good working order. That will mean that everything you are trying to accomplish happen more easily. This step will be the most challenging if the source of your rut is exhaustion, because at this point you already have to create enough change to recharge your batteries.

Some things to pay attention to:

  • Are you basically healthy right now?
  • Are you easily able to move? If not, what besides your rut is preventing you from doing so?
  • Have you had enough rest?

Problems here will require that you stop whatever else you are doing to fix it. For instance, if you are overworked and sick, this will involve going to a doctor and taking time off for medical treatment.

Magic to consider focusing on in this stage would put attention towards health and protection. A rune that might help with this is Thurisaz.

Step 3: Begin Motion

At this stage, the goal is to move in any direction at all, so that you can gather the momentum you need to escape the trap you are in. There is no wrong direction to travel in, this is just about getting anything at all to change, even in a small way.

This is the stage where courage becomes paramount. This step is likely to involve asserting yourself and making demands. Things you have been quietly accepting are no longer going to be acceptable to you. This will stir the pot, potentially upset the apple cart, and will leave those around you confused and possibly angered by your actions.

The confusion will largely center around the question of why you didn't act before now if you were so dissatisfied. This is a red herring: You do not have to prove that the status quo is not working for you.

Magic to consider focusing on in this stage would put attention towards self-expression and protection. A rune that might help with this is Ansuz.

Step 4: Extract Yourself

Now that you have some motion, you burst out of what has kept you stuck. The momentum carries you away from what was holding you back. You have left the abusive home situation, you quit the terrible job, you cut off those who simply take advantage of you, and so forth. You probably do not know what you are doing next, but you at the very least have taken definitive steps to no longer keep doing what you had been doing.

This is a matter of sheer force of will and the courage to take the risk that it might not all work out as well as you hope. It is imperative at this stage to do it anyways.

Magic to consider focusing on in this stage could include sheer strength or destroying that which no longer works. Runes that might help with this are Uruz and Hagilaz.

Step 5: Keep Going

You are now out of the rut. And it is scary, because you might not know where you're going. The key thing is that you have to continue moving until you are completely away and will not fall back into that which held you for so long. Don't look back. Don't allow yourself to take back whatever you just made the effort to escape. That partner that is begging you to come back, the boss that tries to stop you from quitting, that friend who keeps calling you, you just have to ignore for now.

You are not completely done with your escape, you are not off of the ice, until you have truly put that previous life behind you.

Magic to consider focusing on in this stage is about new beginnings. A rune that might help with this is Dagaz.

So Now What?

After extracting yourself from the rut, your next goal is to plan for what you will do next. During this transition, you will find yourself making changes much more easily. There may be multiple paths to take. You might be wrong. Just remember that you should not go back, even if you can.

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