Supporting Meanings: Creation, destruction, microcosm in macrocosm, pattern
Ancient Meanings: According to Diana Paxson, the old Germanic hagalaz, the Old English haegl, and the Old Norse hagall all mean the same thing: a hailstone, an old kenning for which is “ice egg” or seed of ice. This is an image which is reflected in all the rune poems where hagalaz is variously described as “the whitest of grain”, “cold grain,” and “the coldest grain”. The Anglo-Saxon poem views hail with an edge of optimism: it eventually melts into water, which–of course–feeds the land. The Icelandingcpoem, however, views it with more destruction and pairs it with biting sleet and “sickness of serpents.” The Norwegian rune poem says only “Christ created the primaeval world” after noting that hail is the coldest grain, which apparently connects creation with ice. Hagalaz might then be the seed of ice, or the primal crystal around which all the rest formed.
Modern Meanings: Edred Thorssonsays that hagalaz is the cosmic ice egg, or the stuff from which the world was made. Its sting is like fire, and so it is both the cosmic harmony of fire and ice. Osborn and Longland stress hagalaz’s qualities of contradiction and transformation: it is both solid and liquid and changes between the two. Kveldulf Gundarssonnotes that the six-sided matrix of an ice crystal is the same as that of a perfect quartz, so it can be a “seed-pattern of shaping” and for focusing and controlling energy much as quartz is. Freya Aswynn views Hagalaz as an underworld rune and connects it with the goddess Hella and her eponymous realm. In this interpretation, hagalaz is connected with Holle, the mother of winter, who shakes snowflakes from her feather bed. It also connects hagalaz to Urdh, the past. Aswynn also connects hagalaz to the Old Dutch word haegtessa, or the witch hag, who had weather-working powers. At any rate, the contradictions are fascination. For all the talk of hail being a seed of creation, rural peoples know it is a destructive phenomenon, for it can flatten crops and doom communities to sudden famine. Hagalaz is as two-faced as the goddess Hella, whose realm was both freezing Hell and the glorious Summerlands. Paxson remarks that death and rebirth are inextricably linked in Norse theology, and the pattern of hagalaz shows us the road to destruction or renewal.
My Take-Away of the Meanings: Hagalaz is a double-edged sword. It can be cold destruction and battery, or it can be a seed of generation–constructive energy coalesced.
Paxson’s Interpretation and Use: Many of the Rune authors feel that when hagalaz is used in magic, it indicates some sort of disruption. Aswynn says it brings blight and destruction and thwarts preparations for change. Sibly sees it as a rune of disaster, unless it appears with jera, where its meaning is more likely to be that of the seed. Peterson says hagalaz indicates the disruptive forces of nature or predicts setbacks beyond one’s control, which means the querant needs to understand what is happening in order to take mitigating actions. Willis says that hagalaz’s appearance means one should live within the limitations of nature and accept those events which are beyond human control. Paxon concludes by noting that for her, the rune signals “Watch out, change is coming” and that for all hagalaz’s potential for chaos, it has many possibilities for new beginnings and can indicated something that may change from harmful to helpful depending on changing perceptions.
Paxson’s Practice for Hagalaz: The most direct way to make contact with Hagalaz’s forces is to experience a hailstorm. This isn’t to say you have to wait to study hagalaz until a hailstorm crops up, or even that you should go outside when one occurs. (Indeed, this does have the potential to be fatal, depending on how large the hail is and whether or not the storm precedes something like a tornado!) Instead, spend time remembering what it was like the last time you were in one–the clatter or the stones as they struck the roof and the ground, the rips of leaves as they crashed through trees. The stings they left as they struck your skin. If you have a hailstone available for examination, view it under a magnifying glass or microscope. Contemplating the 6-fold nature of snowflakes might also be useful here. Despite their destructiveness, hailstones are part of a larger pattern and they are themselves microcosms of a pattern. What are the patterns of your life, and how do you relate to the energies of the 6 directions?