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The universal echo of the
sounding system that is
shaman is my final word
on tricks of elocution meant
to summon some and some
to send away until
the sunset revolutions
has her way with
certain beaux jeunes hommes
who answer
to the rune songs
that precede
cerebral paucities
opinions of complexities
the rattle drum
the rattle snake
uproot the tattle
that forsakes
and likes to think
but cannot reach
behind itself
and cannot read
the Ogham of
the mighty and forbidding
wizard’s tree until
it’s burned the inner
bark of self-impotent
self-important, self
importing culture-vulturosity
not virtuous but vulturous
and vulgar in its opulence,
its oculence, an ocu-lens
innocuous, a knock
a knock, a knock
a knock, a knock…


In recent months, I’ve posted a few examples at Oceantics of rune-singing, the ancient incantation or song-prayers, familiar to my Finnish ancestors in pre-Christian times. I haven’t said much about the posts, preferring to leave the experience to readers. However, because of our tendency and desire to interpret, thereby to increase enjoyment, I thought I’d say a few words about the craft.

Rune-singing is primarily a vibrational language that relies on a combination of sound, word play and intentionality of the shaman. Because many of us hear incantation in languages we don’t speak, we assume (seldom a good idea) that the chants are nonsensical. If you’ve had the pleasure of reading Kalevala in Finnish or in a solid translation, you’ll know that nothing could be further from the truth. The entire saga is a rune-song, an epic, pure story, layered and riddled with meanings within meaning.

When the shaman, male or female, embarks upon a rune song, she begins with intentionality. She brings it as an offering to whatever level of the vibrational (sound-based) universe she’s capable of reaching. The more skilled the shaman, the more quickly he can reach the symbiosis, sacred marriage, of physical-nonphysical, and the rattlesnake of sound comes to life.

In ancient times, which were not pre-literate but literate of a different nature, the rune-song was a one-off event, something like flamenco. You must learn the rhythms, but don’t waste your time trying to repeat what you’ve just heard—or worse, analyze it. She’s gone: allow and enjoy the transformation if you had one. If not, there will always be another.

The best way to enjoy a written rune-song is to read it aloud. Let your blood and bones feel the syllabic, multi-layered, agglutinative word play. Note, too, where the rhythms make you stumble. They’re there deliberately, not to trip you in a “haha, made you fall!” way but to knock the rational mind into different layers of thinking. Where you end up at the end of the rune-song may be somewhere pleasurable, or not. The good news is, you can read it again and be uplifted, read it again and be uplifted more…

A word about the image: I found this glorious picture of Louhi, hag of the North, at http://www.kalevalataidettakouluille.ateneum.fi. She is the “antagonista” of the Kalevala epic, shamaness of the highest degree. Don’t be fooled by her appearance. Louhi was (she is) a master of the rattle, and a good witch to have on your side when composing rune-songs.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013