Supporting Meanings: Illumination, forge, creativity, initiation, knowledge through experience, healing
Ancient Meanings: According to Diana Paxson, the Anglo-Saxon rune poem is the one that associates kenaz with the meaning torch. In that poem, the torch is a blindingly bright light that burns most often where royalty lay. In the Norse and Icelandic poems, however, it means a sore like an ulcer that leads to the death of children. Kveldulf Gundarsson has suggested the two meanings can be reconciled by noting that a typical way to clear dead bodies was to burn them in a funeral pyre.
Modern Meanings: Modern interpretations largely ignore the fatal sores of children and focus upon the earlier Anglo-Saxon association with fire and specifically the torch. Torches were not only used to light great halls, but to light the way into ritual. Therefore, the rune could signify both physical and spiritual enlightenment. Edred Thorsson connects kenaz with the forge’s fire and makes it a rune of creativity and craftsmanship and all things that are shaped over fire. Kveldulf Gundarsson similarly interprets kenaz as the initiatory forge where a shaman or king is purified and transformed: initiation takes place in the forge of the smith or the forge of the earth goddess. All this makes kenaz a rune of unmaking for the sake of remaking. Freya Aswynn nods to the relationship of the name kenaz to the Germanic verb kennen, “to know.” This suggests that the rune is a torch of knowledge. Fire is also associtated with sexuality through body heat, so kenaz is sex, vitality, stamina, recovery from illness, primal fire, life force, etc. Finally, kenaz can be a source of healing, as the heat of a sore drives out the infection.
My Take-Away of the Meanings: Kenaz is the controlled fire of man; we use it to bring light to a special purpose. It is also a will which, when applied to another thing, tempers it down and makes it malleable, which allows us to transform it into something new. This tempering connects it to initiation, for when we are initiated we are molded into something new. That also connects it to human sexuality, which allows us to come together to create something new. Thurizaz was also connected to sexuality, but very specifically male potency. I like to think of kenaz as more of a female complement. It has more of a gestational, building energy than a simple inseminating fertility.
Paxson’s Kenaz Work: To get in touch with the torch rune, why not make a torch? You will need a piece of pinewood, a handful of kindling, some scraps of natural cotton or linen fabric, a role of jute twine, and some kind of tar or pitch. (Make sure it is not explosive, just flammable, and make sure its smoke is not poisonous.) Split the end of the wood and wind the fabric between the split halves, binding kindling in the weave. Stick it all together with liberal amounts of pitch as you go along. Alternately, make your own candles. A simple kit can be purchased at a craft store. Candle or torch, sign your tool with kenaz at various stages in construction and visualize the brilliance and effect of its future light.