Heathen’s Journey | Wunjo & the sacred rebellion of joy

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash

Let’s talk about radical joy.

Wunjo is the last rune of the first aett. It contains all of the optimism of our journey with the runes so far, and a promise of more to come. Wunjo is also a deceptively simple rune, but there are a great many lessons embedded here.

I know so many people who come to tarot or divination for the purpose of laying bare their pain, of dealing explicitly with difficult and even traumatic situations. Or sometimes, we turn to divination to help us find a new direction. We may feel aimless, or we may have too many ideas and not be sure what to prioritize or even what steps to take.

Typically people don’t seek answers if they are fully content.

And yet, how do we know when it’s ok to stop striving? How do we know when we’ve reached happiness?

What is the shape of joy?

This post was difficult to write. Because the meaning of this rune is fairly simple – joy, happiness – there isn’t actually that much written about it. There aren’t wildly divergent ideas about the rune, not as much chatter about “does it mean this or that.” Outside of the academic pagan discussion, it’s important to me that we talk about this rune emotionally. I’ve been dealing with the themes of Wunjo all year.

Joy is personal. Yes, it is an emotion that is contagious – you can share it with others, but ultimately we all have our own definition of what joy looks like.

A lot of people (myself included) often think of happiness like “I’ll know it when I see it.” But – what does happiness feel like?

We can plan our creative projects, our careers, our relationships, always striving for that feeling. Society prescribes certain life tracks. These are often culturally determined. I know that growing up, I felt like all around me there were examples of people who had careers, staying in the same job for decades, with a loving spouse, children, owning a home, going on tropical vacations … the whole kit. There’s a whole lot of privilege in the assumption that this is an ideal life.

I think about that life, and I feel suffocated. There are some aspects of it that I can easily see myself loving – particularly a loving spouse, and going on vacations (though probably not tropical). But having one job for decades? I can’t stomach that. I don’t care if that makes other people happy, but I want to stay far away from that lifestyle personally. And I know many people who can’t fathom wanting children, but I also know other people who yearn for children and don’t feel complete without them.

Joy isn’t replicable, it’s not an equation.

Family + Friends + Sunshine = Happy

We all know it doesn’t work that way. We may be taught this is how we’re “supposed” to operate – that life is one progression from milestone to milestone – but the truth is that it’s much more twisty turny than that.

Sequestering yourself into a vision of what “should” make you happy is a pretty sure-fire way to feel terrible.

This last year has been one of reclaiming my own joy. Whether that joy was stolen from me by my abusers, the oppressive overculture, or even my own ideas of what “should” make me happy, this has been a full year of exploring what truly makes me happy. I’ve been referring to this as my “year of the Devil” or the “prodigal year.” Over and over in my tarot practice, I have drawn or noticed the Devil card. And yes, the Devil often means an unhealthy relationship with pleasure, but for me, the Devil is drawing me out, showing me what I really want, showing me what makes me happy.

The Devil tarot card Wild Unknown
The Devil tarot card Wild Unknown

I recently read a book on theology and history of the Left Hand Path (Satanism is a part of the Left Hand Path, but there’s so much more to it), and while I am very far from being a true student of the Left Hand Path, I could appreciate some aspects. In particular, I have long felt in my bones that if we worship nature as divine, then we are a part of nature – and if God is nature, then so is Satan. The Left Hand Path is about lifting up as sacred the counter-narratives, and also about recognizing that being happy is just as sacred as working through trauma.

In a strange way, the Devil has led me back into the hopes and dreams of that little girl I once was. The Devil has showed me what makes me happy, and I’ve begun to indulge my inner child with all the hopes and dreams she had for me.

Write professionally? Check and expanding it. Witch? Hella check. Art? Well, I’m building up my skills.

Taking myself out for frou-frou coffee and reading silly fiction might seem unnecessary, but I’ve learned that these things ARE important. It’s these things that feed my inner child, that nourish the self I’ve buried deep under societal expectations and norms.

Joy is a radical feeling for queer people and people of color.

In a society that has long profited on our trauma and our pain, a society that benefits from us keeping our heads down and not making waves, our joy is a sacred rebellion.

Part of the system of capitalism is the false idea that you are always wanting, that there is always more you should be buying. It’s a system built around the myth of lack, that you lack the goods necessary to be happy. “Buy this thing – unlock happiness” is a classic marketing ploy, if not the only marketing ploy.

Finding innate happiness, without the STUFF, is an act of rebellion.

And if you are a woman, trans, queer, a person of color? Your smile has them shaking in their boots.

When Wunjo comes up, let yourself indulge. Set yourself up for happiness – whatever that looks like for you. Find time every day to indulge in something that is purely joyful, and purely for you. I find this also means that you may need some space – find blank spots in your schedule and indulge in something. Buy yourself that decadent chocolate truffle. Bathe in a sun spot with your cat. Go for a walk around your neighborhood. Read your favorite book from childhood.

Wunjo is here because you are enough, we are enough, and you need to celebrate yourself.

And that concludes our tour through the first aett of the Elder Futhark.

Looking back on this first aett, it feels like the desires and fullness of the Inner Child. Perhaps beyond logic, the eight runes I’ve written about over the last year cover big moods, sometimes simple, but all inherent to ourselves. You could argue that all of the runes, no matter the aett, represent a central truth or essence, but this first aett feels to me most connected to our identity, rather than an interaction with the world around us or a reckoning with major life events.

This first aett is one of divine creation – it is the development we all go through as children, learning to be adults and learning to stand in our own autonomy. The second aett covers the runes of destruction, the challenge we all face as we set out on our mythic journeys. The third aett feels the most mundane in some ways, but I feel this third aett as being a sacred connection and language for connecting with our ancestors and the divine, of making the mundane sacred again.

In a way, this aett is also building skills for our journey through the next runes:

Fehu: The ability to recognize your own prosperity.

Uruz: Strength and determination

Thurisaz: Protect yourself, manage conflict

Ansuz: Communicate with the Gods and the ancestors

Raido: The ability to divine your path and the courage to move forward

Kenaz: Knowledge and information gathering

Gebo: Reciprocity and gifts

Wunjo: The joy to carry you through dark times

It feels right to end our tour of the runes here, because we have come fully through the aett of creation. I will continue to write deep dives of each rune, likely on a monthly basis, on my own website: northernlightswitch.org.

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