Dagaz, depending on one’s perspective, is either the last or next to last rune in the Elder Futhark. Ancient inscriptions vary in whether Dagaz or Othala comes last. Modern runesters pretty much agree that either order works. Other than the twenty-third and twenty-fourth runes, the order of the Futhark is fixed. In ONE inscription, Eihwaz and Perthro switch places, but this does not effect modern runework. In yet another inscription, Fehu has eroded away and from this unfortunate natural accident arose the runic “sect” of Utharkers, which are, alas, numerous in Sweden. Their viewpoints have no historical basis.
Here are the comments of my friend and linguistic consultant, Ingeborg S. Norden, on the ordering of the last two runes of the Elder Futhark, quoted as always by her gracious permission. She took them from writings of her own; I have only changed some capitalization to confirm with my own usage:
“Many rune scholars have debated whether this rune or Dagaz should be counted as the twenty-fourth. Historical evidence exists for both versions, actually: the Anglo-Saxon rune poem places Dagaz there, but the oldest known Futhark inscription (the Kylver runestone in Sweden) has Othala last. With no way to know which ordering was originally right, the decision seems to be up to us. And I do personally favor placing Othala last, for several reasons.
First, the name of the rune literally means "inheritance" or "ancestral land": it makes good sense for the Futhark to end as it began, with another rune that symbolizes wealth and property. "Land and personal property" were often mentioned together -but still contrasted-in the old laws of Germanic countries; that would support the idea of Fehu and Othala standing at opposite ends of the rune row....
Second, placing a rune of the dead last (because death is the end of at least one lifetime) sounds logical: an inheritance can't change hands until someone dies....Third, Othala can be seen as a boundary marker or enclosure (think of property lines or a fence around someone's yard): beyond that line is unknown, unfamiliar territory....The very end of the Futhark seems like the most logical place for a rune with those aspects.”
Thanks Ingeborg! My own take on the matter is that Othala and Dagaz both work fine as the last rune, but I personally favor Othala, even though the Sheils favor Dagaz. I think it fitting that we wind up returning “home” in the end. Othala is that which is most truly “us.” However my friend Steve Wilson favors Dagaz last in that basically we go “through heritage into the light of day,” which for him is symbolic of enlightenment. Dagaz becomes Dag in Anglo-Saxon. Norse keeps the word as “dagr” but not the rune! Its sound is that of the letter “D.” Tiwaz (Tyr) in the Younger Futhark does double-duty for both “T” and “D.”
The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem preserves the only verse for Dag(az). It speaks of light, mirth, hope, and how day is useful to everyone. Day is “the ruler’s famous light.” Evidently, the Christian Deity is intended, but it could just as easily have been Odin, who made the Sun from a big spark from Muspelheim.
Its basic magickal and divinatory meanings include day, exposure, revelation, light, safety, clarity, daytime, wages, recognition, direct, knowing action, and today. In the days before clocks, the “day” was the shortest measure of time. Folks roughly told the time of day (or night) by the positions of the heavenly bodies. Each day began with the night before. Traces of this are still seen in Halloween (All Hallows Eve), Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve. Although the Sun is a constant, her action in our lives varies seasonally everywhere but near the equator. Dagaz allows us to follow the Sun’s course and thus live in harmony with nature. While necessary today, clocks are of relatively recent invention and their dominance of most people's daily lives is still more recent. The Gods, the Sheils point out, do not need clocks. Their timepiece is the Universe itself!
A key idea behind Dagaz is full awareness of our circumstances, surroundings, actions, and their consequences. Dagaz is a time for activity, expansion, and expression. Through this rune, we can work toward our goals in full awareness, free of obstacles, traps, and pitfalls. Night is a time for rest. We draw inward and cease all external activity. Both Day and Night are necessary. Rest and activity should remain in balance. In a sense, night is encompassed in Dagaz. Even though electric lights give us more flexibility in when we carry out many activities, the underlying principles remain.
Dagaz has ties with a number of runes. Sowilo is the Sun herself, but Dagaz is her passage across the sky from dawn to dusk. The Sun is the hub about which the cycle of the Day spins. Dagaz is a form of sunlight, so explore the mysteries of Sowilo in relation to this rune. Daytime is the time of activity. Things can be revealed, seen clearly and recognized for what the are. It dispels the ignorance of night and the vagueness of gloom and shadow. Dagaz is a revealer. Eihwaz, Perthro, and Laguz are good for cloaking.
Day is the human realm, while night belongs to dwarves/svartalfar, trolls, jotnar, and certain nature spirits. Not all “creatures of the night” are hostile to humans. According to tradition, daylight is deadly to nighttime spirits. Dagaz can be used to trap hostile nighttime wights. Remember that dwarf that wanted to marry Thor’s daughter. Thorr kept him talking until the Sun came up and the dwarf Alvis (Elvis!) turned to stone. Dagaz can cause what you are doing a spell for to happen within a twenty-four hour period. It can also represent an hourly or daily wage. This rune can be very literal, but also very subtle and symbolic, as can all the other runes.
Dagaz makes an environment sympathetic to humans. Day is when we do most of what we do. The light of Dagaz is external. Kenaz and Ingwaz are runes with an internal light, as it were. Dagaz shows things for what they are. A simple spell to expose a social manipulator is to put Dagaz on a photo, sketch or image of the person, where the “Third Eye” would be. Day shines over the whole world. Dagaz tends to effect an extended area. Kenaz is best to use when you wish to cast light on what is in yourself. Dagaz will shed light on your surroundings. Dagaz can also create opportunities, so make good use of it!
In the words of the Elder Edda: "Hail Day! Hail the Sons of Day!"
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson (for the translations of the Rune Poems).
The Road to Bifrost volume III: the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor and Audrey Sheil.
last modified 08/11/2004