Isa – Rune of Ice and the Power of Winter

For the past several days, in my neck of the woods in North Carolina, it has been unseasonably warm. In fact, just yesterday it was about 70°, rainy and humid. I barely slept last night because of the impressively loud, torrential rain that fell literally all night long, flooding the little stream in our back yard and then some. And now this morning it is frigid cold and suddenly snowing! It is as though this powerful new moon washed away all the old energy of last year and finally brought in proper winter.

I find the cold, dark and stillness of winter to be particularly magical and I felt rather out of sync with it being so weirdly warm and muggy recently. Now, with a fine mass of delightfully fluffy snow falling outside and making gentle pitter-patters on the roof and windows, I’m feeling the energy of the season. Something I often reflect on and incorporate into my winter practices is the Norse rune “Isa” (pronounced EE-sa), literally meaning “ice”, and all it represents. It is the most simple rune, being a straight line, like the letter “I”, or an icicle.

Isa, from my handmade rune set
photo by Meredith Everwhite

If there is one element my old Norse ancestors were intimately familiar with, it is ice. In Norse cosmogony Ice and Fire came together in the great cosmic void, the Ginnungagap, to form the world and the Jötnar (YOTE-nar, plural for Jötun), or the Giants, who were the representations of the primal forces of nature and the forerunners of the first gods.

Isa is…associated with an element – the element of ice. Ice is water in its densest frozen state. Water is fluid; ice is solid and static. Isa therefore represents the principle of preservation and resistance to change. It is the counter-force to evolution, slowing down change; as such it performs a function equivalent to the principle expressed in occult terminology as “the ring pass not”. Isa is a necessarily antagonistic force whose controlling effect is essential in order to prevent evolution from running riot in unrestrained and random growth

Freya Aswynn – “Northern Mysteries and Magick”

In our modern society there is an extremely unhealthy obsession with constant “busy-ness”. There are many people who often complain, or some who even make a point of “bragging” (as though this is something to be proud of) about how little time they devote to sleep because of how very busy they are, how busy their life is, how much they have to do. Humans have forgotten how to simply be, and many are actually afraid to be still, be silent, to not be busy, to be alone with their own thoughts and feelings. How much we are missing by not tuning in to the cold, the darkness, and the silence wherein there are still surprising messages to be heard and lessons to be learned.

The cold, snow and ice of winter are formidable powers who can still stop us in our tracks, barricade us in our homes and create fifty-car pile-ups on icy highways. Winter, in places where enough of a winter exists, forces us to slow down and be still. And if we don’t, if we insist on not being in harmony with the season and the changes it brings, we are often met with disaster.

“He gave him some snowshoes” by Kay Nielsen, from “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”

In magical workings, Isa is used as an effective binding tool (as is physical ice itself) and also as a way to counter and undo magic. Isa is concerned with what “is”, with stasis, with a complete lack of change and movement, at least on the surface. Though at a level we cannot detect with the naked eye, ice is actually still a very dynamic substance, and there is much movement within ice and beneath glaciers.

Esoterically, this speaks to the kind of hidden change that occurs deep beneath the seemingly dead surface; to the seeds being conditioned deep in the frozen ground and the emotional, psychological and spiritual changes occurring within the sleeping, glass-encased (or thorn-bound) maidens of fairy tales, like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Those under such spells and in enchanted sleeps are locked in necessarily frozen states of hibernation and incubation in order to evolve into a higher self. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. As Victor Hugo once said, “There is visible labor and there is invisible labor”. We mustn’t make the mistake of underestimating, or indeed completely devaluing, invisible labor.

Snowdrop by Kay Nielsen

Life is often very overwhelming and that constant busy state, with no rest or silence, wears away at us from the inside out and retards our regenerative processes. So what then are accomplishing as we go, go, go? Nothing but our own inner, and then outer, decay.

Think of winter as a time of enchanted sleep. Allow yourself to drastically reduce your work, busy-ness and activity as much as you reasonably can. Some of the most potent and revealing journeys, meditations and healing processes I have ever had have been in winter. Though many often begrudge this time of year and the challenges it brings, it is, like all of nature and her cycles, necessary and even beneficial.

© 2022 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

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