Heathen’s Journey | Thurisaz for protection and shadow work

Time for some real talk, y’all.

There’s a reason this series is called the Heathen’s Journey – because I’m not an expert! I’m learning as I go, and one of the most important ways for me to process my learning and bring it all together is to write. But I’m also writing a progression through the runes in Futhark order, which means that when I come across one that I don’t fully know, I struggle to get all of my thoughts in enough order to share with you.

Thurisaz/Thurs is one of those runes.

This essay will be a bit shorter than the others in this series. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Thurisaz is a rune with an advanced energy that will take a while to learn. Second, because I’m still learning this rune myself and don’t want to steer you into dangerous waters with a volatile energy.

Also: I talk a lot about what the scholars are saying in this post! That’s because I’m still learning and want to rely a bit on the masters. Sorry if it becomes name soup for a bit – don’t focus too much on knowing all the people, you’ll get to know the different players in the canon the longer you read the column.

This is one to come back to, when you have a more full grasp on the other runes.

Thurisaz is the most aggressive rune we’ve looked at so far.

Connected with the battle-ready strength of Thor, Thurisaz can be interpreted as both “thorn” and as a representation of Thor’s hammer, mjolnir.

Many rune scholars think of Thurisaz as the first truly “weaponized” rune. Mjolnir has many magical purposes, but its starring role is the primary weapon the gods could use against the giants. Thor’s mother was a giant, which meant that he had a connection to them that the other gods didn’t – and he had a certain level of physical prowess the other gods lacked. The Jotun were the primary enemies of the Aesir (after their war with the Vanir was settled).

Thurisaz is inextricably connected to the Jotun themselves.

If the Gods represent order, the Jotun represent chaos. Aswynn talks about Thor as being the force that can control the chaos – and Thurisaz being the rune that is most helpful in that control. He keeps the giants in check, and in many instances is able to translate between the worlds of the giants and the Aesir. Thor was often brought into conflicts when the Gods couldn’t handle the giants in diplomatic ways.

One glance at the rune shows how it could be seen as an almost literal depiction of a thorn. There is a substantial literature around plants with thorns being used in protective hedge magic, creating barriers and supporting boundaries. Protecting hearth and home – oftentimes from “witches”. I remember walking a hedge in England while a naturalist talked about the plants chosen for hedges, and about the importance of plants that could potentially be self-protective.

But beyond that, Thurisaz is still an uncomfortable rune to deal with.

There’s a reason some rune scholars refer to this rune as being “weaponized” – its energy is dark and menacing. Even the use of this rune for warding and protection suggests the need to protect yourself, that you call on this rune in dark times. What’s more – this is a protection that returns negative energy to the sender. It is both shield and weapon. Call in Thurisaz when you’re under attack, and any damage someone would do to you will return to them with added force.

This isn’t an energy to use lightly – and I would not advise anyone to use this rune this way unless you are already an accomplished vitki.** I am extremely hesitant to work with the energy myself.

Both Aswynn and Paxson warn against working with Thurisaz before you’re ready. Aswynn refers to the potential of this rune as akin to nuclear energy or nuclear weapons: epic in scale and not meant to be placed in the wrong hands. Thorsson thinks of this rune as the directed cosmic force of destruction – not something to be trifled with. And honestly, the only reason I’m writing about this rune now is because it is next in futhark order.

Thurisaz interacts with and combats chaos on both an internal and external level – it is an advanced energy that the experienced vitki can use in shadow work and setting boundaries.

Thurisaz would be an incredibly helpful rune to call when you are drawing boundaries with an abuser. When I’ve had to draw those boundaries in the past, I’ve had to do it multiple times. They don’t believe me the first time, or come out of the woodwork right when I’m doing better. Drawing upon the protection of Thurisaz during this boundary work would sting. Use Thurisaz to draw protective magick around yourself, to disrupt the patterns of abuse. Then, after you’ve had the conversation and drawn your boundary with your abuser, and they try to come back…they’ll feel that force. Thurisaz is active defense – and it would return the toxicity to your abuser, while at the same time protecting you.

When they get a taste of that energy pushed back at them, they will be far less likely to disrespect your boundaries again.

This is an example of using Thurisaz in your own life at a small scale.

My question is, how can we work with Thurisaz through the lens of anti-oppression?

The protection magic of Thurisaz works on multiple levels. Not only does it help to create boundaries between yourself and your enemies, but you can also use it internally. Aswynn discusses this rune as being particularly useful for drawing out evil. In the Norse shamanic system, you can perform an energetically complex cutaway ritual and use the Thurisaz rune to draw toxicity away from the spirit body.

This process is either internal or external – one that you do on yourself or one that you do with your most trusted coven members.

And drawing toxicity away from your spirit self? Well. That is both personal and collective liberation.

I have a theory that you could use Thurisaz to draw toxic messages inherited from the Overculture out of your subconscious. This rune is perfect for shadow working your negative beliefs, habits, all of those things that are unhealthy. You can isolate and begin to extract toxic messages about your body, the impacts of toxic masculinity, limiting beliefs, and also examine your own privileges.

I want to use Thurisaz to examine my white privilege.

Being white means that I need to interrogate the ways that racism and white privilege have been imprinted in my life. I grew up in a household that believed in racial equality, class justice, with two strongly feminist parents, but there are still messages that I take in every day from the Overculture, messages that seep into my unconscious. 

I know what my values are: equity and justice for all. But a part of living up to these values is also understanding when I need to break the patterns of toxic whiteness that I’ve learned all my life.

White privilege has an impact on you no matter your intellectual understanding of equity, no matter how much you value racial justice. I’ve been thinking about a sort of psychic extraction process – to be able to look at the different parts of myself and magically reject those pieces that don’t mesh with my values.

This isn’t a ‘one and done’ ritual. This is something that needs to be tended to, a boundary that needs to be drawn over and over between my values and white privilege. Because the fact is: as much as I do this internal work on myself, I do still live in the ‘real world’. I am still going to be exposed to the toxic Overculture and will still need to extract the bits that stick. And using Thurisaz for this…well, it’s scary. This is a rune I need to coax into relationship, one that I need to sit with and learn, gradually, how to work with.

Perhaps at a later point I’ll share a ritual or meditation for using Thurisaz in this way, but today is not that day. Today I encourage you all to journal about this, to learn more about shadow work, to think about the ways you could call on the energy of Mjolnir or the thorn to draw boundaries and manage chaos in your lives.

**Vitki: a sorcerer and magician in Norse heathenism. Skilled in rune magic, Norse shamanism, and healing arts, the Vitki is often considered a prophet and oracle.

Aswynn, Freyja. Northern Mysteries and Magick: Runes and Feminine Powers. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1998.
Blum, Ralph. The Book of Runes. St. Martin’s Press. 1993.
Murphey, Bradley. Othil: Norce Ancestral Traditions. Thrymheim Publishing. 2006.
Paxson, Diana. Taking Up The Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Weiser Books, 2005.
The Poetic Edda (translated by Carolyne Larrington). Oxford University Press. 1996.

Painting: Wikipedia
Photos: Beth Maiden

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One comment

  1. Eve says:

    love this post. I am exploring this too. actually have realized the gifts i have gotten from two painful dark night of soul life experiences. first example when i was sexually molested when i was two years old. I ran outside afterwards in shock, collapsing at the root of a large tree in the yard. I was met by beautiful force of Nature, the Sacred Feminine that continued to mother me my whole childhood. as I had no adults around me I could really trust that way. I met the feminine nature of this rune, Which I am profoundly grateful for now. second dark night of soul experience happened when i became aware that pattern of abuse was still alive affecting current children in my biological family. and I was powerless to stop it. the whole family rose up in opposition to every step I took to protect the children. The only thing giving me relief was the shadow work this experience brought up for me personally. In hindsight I see how the tenaciousness of this life experience motivated me to do the level of the shadow work i needed to do during those years. If my life had been more pleasant i would not have been motivated to continue the work. Every time I would start to feel better and drop the inner shadow work, i would remember the children still trapped and once again I would attempt to help them, being thwarted at every move by the adults until once again i reverted to doing my own shadow work. This continued on for many years. I know the energy of this rune pretty well and now consider a trustworthy friend, not to be used. I dare not use it’s force myself. rather see it as something to work with, rather than fight it.

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