Mannaz is the fourth rune of the third aett. Its name is the reconstructed Common germanic for “man” in the sense of “human being.” Although it follows closely after Berkano, a very female rune, Ingwaz is Berkano’s polar opposite in terms of matters of gender. Mannaz became Man in Anglo-Saxon, and thus on into Modern English. It became Mannar or Madhr in Old Norse.
All three Rune Poems refer to the relationship between Humanity and dust or Earth. The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, reminds us that the “lord” decrees that human flesh must go to Earth (shades of the Adam and Eve story?). The Old Norse Rune Rhyme and the Old Icelandic Rune Poem are more upbeat, referring to humanity as “the increase of dust.” Our own myths see us as having evolved from inert matter, specifically from tree trunks, which of course grow from the Earth.
Stanza 47 of the Havamal (Hollander translation) reminds us that “man is cheered by man.” This is echoed in both the Old English Rune Poem “Man is in his mirth, dear to his kinsman” (Edred Thorsson translation) and The Old Icelandic Rune Poem “Man is the joy of man” (same translation). Humans are social creatures. Nevertheless, Mannaz is more a rune of self-examination than of social life. Gebo, Wunjo, and to an extent Sowilo embody our more pleasant human relationships. Tiwaz expresses the more combative side of them.
Some folks make the mistake of worrying too much about what others think of them, thinking that others may be right in thinking ill of them, and as a result never get to know themselves, or develop a strong sense of self. I used to be like that. I got better, and am happier and better off for it. Backbone development, as expressed in the rune Uruz, is a great aid in the spiritual journey of self-discovery. We should be grounded in what is at the core of our being, rather than let things like gender, occupation, hobbies, nationality, or even religion define us in an absolute sense. All of these things are important, but there are levels of the Human Being that go beyond this. Most of us were not born to Heathenism, but have chosen this path. Still, we remain ourselves through all the changes life brings us; some chosen, some not. Most of us Heathens believe in some form(s) of Rebirth. Truly, there is more to the Self than the current edition! Those interested in studying the aspects that make up the human being in Heathenism should consult Our Troth (linked from my webpage), Teutonic Religion by Kveldulf Gundarsson (sadly, out of print), or A Book of Troth by Edred Thorsson.
Once a person has a clear and balanced sense of Self, he or she can begin to develop, grow and evolve, an important Heathen goal in my opinion. Over the (Pagan) Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece were written the words “Know Thyself.” I think this is a worthy goal for Heathens today as well. A well-integrated, self-aware person will do far better as a part of a community. Odin’s sacrifice of “myself to myself” can be seen as a function of Mannaz. He certainly grew in wisdom, knowledge and self-confidence, expressed in his actions. “From a word to a word I was led to a word; from a deed to another deed.” One word of caution here; while a healthy sense of Self is good, it is best seasoned with a dose of “humility” in its etymological, non-Christian sense; that is, a closeness to Earth, a down-to-Earthness as it were. A bit of judicious bragging at sumbel is great; being a braggart or stuffed shirt is not. Those who build up themselves at others’ expense are not liked or respected; not now, not a thousand years ago!
Meanings of this rune include Mankind/Humanity, self, identity, strengths, weaknesses, frailties and shortcomings, or an individual person. In his book Germania, Tacitus, an ancient Roman writer, states that the Germans traced their origin to one “Mannus” i.e. Mannaz. Later myths see humanity as created by Odin and his two brothers, and later improved by the addition of divine DNA, as it were, from Heimdallr/Rig. Myths seek to explain the origin of humanity. They should not be read literally, as many Evangelical Christians today misread theirs. Mannaz is more direct. The questions it asks each of us include: “What is Man? What is Woman? What and who am I?”
There are many aspects of the Self. Some are in polarities. Every person has both male and female aspects of the personality. Jung called these the animus and anima. Strengths and weaknesses are another example. We play many roles. Each demands different aspects of our personal makeup in different proportions. An individual’s work behavior might not make for a peaceful home if displayed there. The trick is not to get lost in these roles, “and to thine own self be true.” This inner, changeless Self is a unique and beautiful thing. This is our inner, personal, Yggdrasil. Mannaz is the paradox of the inner self with the personality woven about the unique core. Mannaz strikes a balance and makes corrections and adjustments, enabling us to live our lives in balance. By coming to terms with the Inner Self, we can come to understand how it is expressed externally. Mannaz is the rune by which you can balance your personal attributes and also determine your own place in your family, society, world and Universe.
This rune has initiatory overtones. Remember Odin’s quests for knowledge. It is both question and answer. We learn to know ourselves both by introspection and observation of how we interact with the people, places and things around us. The spiritual journey, the “road to Bifrost,” begins here. Elhaz and Eihwaz, seen as two poles, can shed further light on this mystery. In the Younger Futhark, Elhaz dropped out and Mannaz changed form. The stave for Mannaz/Madhr in the Younger Futhark looks like the Elhaz rune! Remember that there is a spark of the Divine in the Human. Think of the gifts given Humanity by Odin and his brothers, and that we can be seen as Rig’s children. Elhaz as a rune of hallowing brings Asgard down to Midgard.
This rune has a relationship to its immediate predecessor, Ehwaz. While Ehwaz journeys in search of truth, Mannaz looks within. Each of us will find different answers to the question “Who am I?” These answers will evolve and grow over time. Religion should be an aid to answering this question, not something that distracts us from it. Our religion values individuality, after all!
As your life unfolds, are you coming to know, face and deal with productively your strengths and weaknesses? Are you seeking to understand your Inner Self? Only you can answer this question! May Mannaz bring you growing insights!
At the Well of Wyrd by Edred Thorsson (for the translations of the Rune Poems).
Germania by Tacitus (originally published in 98 C.E.)!
The Poetic Edda. Trans. Lee Hollander.
The Road to Bifrost volume III: the Runes and Holy Signs by Thor and Audrey Sheil.
last modified 08/11/2004