Heathen’s Journey | Kenaz lights the torch

Kenaz, the fire of knowledge, the burning desire to seek the truth.

We left off with Raidho, our forward momentum and the willpower to travel the spirit realms. Kenaz is the tool we need, the torch we carry in darkness. Kenaz is a rune of opposites, but also of careful balance.

While the fire can warm the home and light up dark nights, it can also burn your cozy house to the ground. If the flame is too weak, it won’t produce enough warmth, but if it is too great, it will destroy all in its path. Kenaz is all of these things at once.

Fire to create spaces of truth

Fire was important to my ancestors – particularly in the long winter months. I can imagine them, huddled through the long Northern European winters, with only a few hours of daylight (if that). Fire was essential. It was the only way to keep warm, to stay alive.

A fire in the dark winter’s months meant safety. It meant warmth – it could literally make the difference between life and death, a way to stave off hypothermia. Fire was a way to cook food, to work against starvation. Fire can also be used in healing: Cauterizing wounds cleanses them, clarifies them. In the difficult life of the ancient world, cauterization would have been an essential use for a hearth and a knife.

Fire was also where the transmission of stories happened. From tall tales of trickster Loki’s antics to grumbling about the day, I feel that kindred with my ancestors around a fire. When I read the Völuspá (The Seeress’ Prophecy) I can see the ancient one standing over a fire as she tells the tale of creation and destruction of the world.

“Brand from brand kindles until it’s burned
Spark kindles from spark,
Man becomes wise by speaking to men,
But gets dull, staying dumb.”

(Hávamál : 57)

Kenaz then is not only the fire that keeps us warm, it is also what creates a home for us.

In the Nordic sagas there are references to consecrating land using fire. A torch was used to ward camps and homes against attack. Someone would carry the torch around the camp, marking the camp and warding from spiritual and physical attack. A fire in the hearth makes a home warm, but it can also be used to light the torch that wards the home.

Kenaz creates warmth, but it also protects you.

In many magical and occult traditions, you should draw a circle to create sacred space. In Wicca, this looks like cleansing and charging the space, calling the corners, calling the god/desses. In other traditions this looks like burning sage, burning incense. Many traditions use fire as a marker of sacred space. I know that I’ve never really had an altar that didn’t feature a candle in the center.

Those who follow the Norse path will carry a candle throughout the home to cleanse the space, to protect the space, to cast “circle”. Kenaz is a rune representing all of this – it is our relationship with fire.

Circle also creates spaces of truth. It creates spaces designated for speaking with your gods, spaces for self-reflection, spaces for finding your spiritual truth. Kenaz, then, is the alchemist of your space – transforming its energy to something higher. It makes sense, then, that Kenaz can also serve as one way to transition between the realms of life and death.

Fire and the gateway between realms

The more I study the runes, the more I feel them each as individual spirits. They have their own stories to tell, and while there is a deep tradition for what the runes mean, they also have different personalities for different vitkar.* Working with the runes means cultivating a relationship with them.

In the comments on one of my previous posts, Rebecca summed this up beautifully: “My understanding of the runes is as individual spirits themselves, ones that Odin was the first to know, and he paved the way for us to know them. The Tarot, on the other hand, I do not experience as a collection of separate spirits individual to the cards, but as a single spirit per deck, attached to the design of the deck instead of the individual physical deck, and in a much quieter way.”

There is a connection between the element of fire and memory of our ancestors. There are many recorded burial rites of the Norse, but cremation stands out. Whether burned in effigy, on a pyre, or setting their ship aflame, fire played a role in the funerary rites of my ancestors. Fire initiates the transition of the dead to the spirit realm, and many believe that it was a fire ritual that initiated the new king or the new vitki* to their role of leadership. Kenaz is the mystery of regeneration through death or sacrifice.

Kenaz also then represents the reincarnation of our ancestors. The funeral pyre is a gateway for the soul, a way to release the soul from the trappings of their body and into the spirit realm. This release of the spirit is necessary for it to be born again in a new form.

But the funeral pyre isn’t only for the dead: it is also a necessary witness for the living.

Through the service we are able to release our own attachments to our dead loved ones. We see them transform before our eyes into ash. There is no body that could be reanimated and come back in our loved ones’ old form – it is a complete release from the physical form their soul used in the lifetime we knew them.

And still it’s a cycle.

All of this talk of funeral pyres and death and spirits is only one aspect of Kenaz – and one half of its association with reincarnation. Kenaz can also represent human passion, lust, sexual love – all emotions within the realm of the Goddess Freyja.

This is the second part of reincarnation – the re-homing of the soul into a new body. And this comes from the creative passions of people. This comes from the human urge to continue to grow, to change, to keep the collective story of humanity moving forward.

Well, that is all very grand, but often life is generated in lustful moments in the back seats of cars, the bathrooms at clubs, the convenient meeting places of people who just want to fuck. And still, the spark of Kenaz is there with them. 

The power of truth to destroy evil

Kenaz is also directly linked to knowledge and truth. When we say something “came to light,” we are inadvertently making that connection between fire/light and truth.

Some rune scholars like to think of Kenaz as a metaphorical light of truth, a torch.

I’ve been thinking of holy rage lately. The world is a trash fire. I keep taking daily actions but it feels like my country is in free fall toward fascism. June saw the truth of detainment camps at the US Southern Border come to light, and that’s really just another bad thing in a string of horrible things. It feels like there’s so much wrong at this point that we can’t fix unless there is true revolution.

Fire is necessary. Fire is destructive. Fire is cleansing.

As the forest and the prairie need regular fires to clean out the old growth and make way for new, so does the fire of truth need to purge purge purge. Kenaz is both truth and mystery – the process of death for regeneration.

I keep hoping that as the truth comes out we will see a change in the trajectory. But there is so much injustice to air, there is so much that needs to be illuminated, and so much that needs death. What we need is the transformative fire of the funeral pyre – that transmutation, between states, to make room for new growth. The only thing that gives me hope is the sense that these times are the final death throes of the old, unjust ways – that this is the desperate clawing of

Kenaz at ragnarok is not gentle illumination of pretty poems and truisms. It is the consuming fire that will take it all down, for even the gods are corrupt.

Kenaz is the fire that burns down the facade, leaving behind truth. Kenaz is the light in the darkness, the ace-in-the-hole, the pawn about to check the king. Kenaz is the light of truth that shines when journalists take on corrupt politics. Kenaz is the fire that spits from the mouth of the human rights lawyer, winning case after case for their immigrant clients.

Use the energy of Kenaz in these times to find the inner strength necessary to resist, to revolt.

*Vitkar: plural of vitki, sorcerers/magicians in the Norse tradition who are experts in the tradition of runes

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One comment

  1. Sam says:

    I love these posts so much. As a heathen-leaning witch, I always enjoy seeing new perspectives – especially on runes, as I’m learning those right now! I hadn’t consciously thought of them as each a separate spirit, but when you put it like that, it all clicked that that’s how I “feel” them too. 🙂

    Also, I’m curious – the second paragraph down after “fire is necessary, fire is destructive, fire is cleansing” the paragraph ends with “that this is the desperate clawing of ” and that’s it! What is it clawing at?! I MUST KNOW! :p

    Anyway, thanks for existing, folx! 😀

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