Life and Death

The Rune Poem stanzas Wealth and Human have so much in common they ought to be a matched set, except they already have their own partners, The Grave, and Need. Here are Wealth and Human repeating themselves:

Wealth: Sceal ðeah manna gehwylc (though each of us must).
Human: Sceal þeah anra gehwylc (though each and every one must).

And look at how many words they share: byþgehwylcum/gehwylc, sceal, wile/wyle, ðeah/þeahdrihtne/dryhten, dome/domes, 7 not counting pronouns. The name of the Human rune, manna, appears in the Wealth stanza so let’s count that one too: 8 words in common is a large number, especially when you consider that the Wealth stanza has only 18 words and the Human stanza has 23 if you include ꝥ, which isn’t a whole word but a grammalogue for the word “that.”

What are these words and what do they mean?

Mann means person, manna is the genitive plural of mann: of humans, of people.

Byþ. Is. Well, to be precise Byþ means a mash up of is was and ever shall be, when you take into account what the meaning of the word “is” is. Byþ starts almost every stanza. 

Gehwylc shows up three times in the Wealth and Human stanzas. Hwylc/hwilc means which, the ge– prefix sometimes acts like a preposition meaning together or with, and sometimes it shifts the meaning of the word from literal to figurative. Here gehwyilc means each, as in all the people, everybody, nobody is exempt.

ðeah/þeah: þ and ð both make the th sound. Though. 

Sceal is shall but with more of an obligation and a duty: must. 

Wile/wyle means will: what you want or intend to do if you are willing.

Drihtne/Dryhten means God. It also means the ruler, the lord, the boss. Here it means the big boss. One of them.

Dome/domes is a tough one. It means doom, but what does that mean? Fate. Judgement. That’s what it means most of the time. It can mean a legal judgement, like an ordinance or a sentence, but when God is involved, doesn’t matter who, it takes on a flavor of finality. How will the gods judge us? How will they decide our fate? Dom sometimes means will, what is a deity’s will? Whatever it is we must comply, each and every one of us. Bring in the partners of Wealth and Human, Need and The Grave, and you can see why: we will all go to our graves so we had better distribute our wealth as far as possible and possible too, to alleviate need and ensure our collective survival. The act of giving ensures as well a person’s honor and dignity, ideas which are also covered by the word dom. For the rune carvers the distribution of wealth is what gives us worth and makes us human. It is important. It is a matter of life and death.