Category Archives: Twist

The Middle

If you have just found this Alphabet Book, this is not the beginning, this is the middle. You are in the middle. One might say you have no choice in this, none of us do, the middle is all we have between past and future, it is our only contact with reality. If you must have beginnings and endings, and some of us insist on on such things, well, find them in the middle, find them right here in the now, the only now we have, where every forward motion recapitulates a past one, spiral like and self similar. The Old English Rune Poem knows this well. Look at the material: magical letters, powerful, speaking auguries of the future from the lips of the gods, curing and protecting whatever they are carved into, evoking magic wherever they go. You can’t just line this stuff up in any old order. There’s an arrangement to … More

Stanza 15: Helix

seccard hæfþ         oftust on fenne.
wexeð on wature.         wundaþ grimme.
blode breneð         beorna gehwylcne
ðe him ænigne         onfeng gedeð

This sword has a dwelling place most often in the marsh
It waxes in water, wounds severe
The blood of a person’s pustules burns,
For anyone who does grab hold of it.


Translating Eolhx

This is a stanza about a plant; this is clear from the context and from the word secg, which means a sedge or reed. It also means a person, poetically, and a sword. In Beowulf it is a sword: ac wit on niht sculon secge ofersittan, gif he gesecean dear wig ofer wæpen (but we two are obliged to abstain from the sword in the night, if he dare seek battle without a weapon.) I translate secg as sword to enhance the riddling nature of the stanza. Of all the plants, a sharp sedge is the most sword like. It’s got edges like razors and will cut you just like that. This one in particular will give you grim wounds, with burning bloody blisters. Stay away, don’t grab hold of it. Like the thorn, this plant wants you to bleed.

This sedge lives in the fen. The stanza says fenne,More

How to See the Pair in the Middle

The rune carvers thought in pairs. They had a whole pronoun classification for the two that are also one, so it is no surprise to find pairs in the Rune Poem, matched thematically: the end to the beginning, then the next two, reflecting each other in pairs to the middle. With an odd number of runes the middle one stands alone. This is Eolhx, the fifteenth of twenty nine runes in the poem, the only one without an opposing pair, though there may be a pair built into it, more than one. To see it, you must do two things:

1. Center yourself in a landscape or on water with a nice view of the horizon, east and west.

2. Count the days and choose the beginning or end of the middle one as your moment. Choose both. The start or end of a day is up for debate in any case, the rune … More




The answer to this stanza riddle is the word eolhx, meaning unclear. We know this is the name of the rune because this word appears in the only copy we have of the Rune Poem, printed in 1705 from the only surviving manuscript copy, which burned to ashes in a fire 26 years later. Was the word eolhx included in the burnt manuscript? We’ll never know.

Eolhx appears nowhere else in Old English writing, so whatever it means, we have no clues apart from its Rune Poem stanza riddle. What is this word eolhx? There are two compound words that begin with the same letters as eolhx, eolh, we can look at them: eolhsand (amber) and eolhstede (a shelter or a temple). Sand means sand or gravel and stede is a place, a site for something, or to stand, a stand. Eolh must be something valuable; amber was … More


Turn back, don’t you see? Look where you are. Look at that evil plant spiraling all around this place, sharp, dangerous, don’t grab it no matter how unstable this marshy ground, this quicksand bog will drag you down. Turn around, leave this fen. What are you doing in this home of exiles and monsters, there is nothing here for you. Is there? Who are you? Leave twisted creature.  I should leave. I’ll leave. I will turn back and go the way I came.


X is for

X doesn’t start much in modern English, limiting our alphabet poets to a poor choice between xylophone and X-ray. This is why English speaking toddlers know so much about internal medicine. To branch out a bit sometimes our abecedarists will pick a short word ending in or containing X, because here we have options like axe and fox, words whose spellings have not changed since the time of the Rune Poem. In Old English, X starts no words, nothing, and it ends only a very few. This posed a conundrum for the Rune Poem poet as the runes came before the poem, and one of them signified the letter X. This is one of the clues we have that the runes might have originated with the Etruscans: the Etruscan X looks identical to the Old English rune for X: ᛉ. X is in the mix, so they had to find a word to represent it. … More

Rune Casting: Eolhx

You’ll be mired in it. You’ll twist yourself up trying to get out of a quagmire and end up bogged down in quicksand. Sinking. Don’t grab over your head for something to pull yourself out with, that’s a sharp edged sword rotating just above. Turn around, you are facing the wrong direction. See that? There’s your path out. Go back the way you came and see it all again from the other side.


Solve for X. X = a stand in for consonant clusters: sounds like ks for word endings and when it appears after stressed vowels. It is an unvoiced ks when it comes before a t, voiced as gz for before stressed vowels, and kzh for the middle of words. It can also sound like Z at the beginning of a word, K in the middle, and sometimes remains silent for word endings. Why such a multiplicity of work for such an underused letter? X = unknown.

Grow a line up from the ground, let it twine to either side. Here’s a twist: give it antlers.