Supporting Meanings: Danger, bridge, stillness in motion
Ancient Meanings: According to Diana Paxson, the Anglo-Saxon rune poem presents isa or ice as the picture “of an element whose very beauty makes it more perilous, with the hard clarity of crystal. It’s qualities are all in the extreme–overcold, immeasureably slippery. Ice is dangerous, but ‘fair to be seen.'” In the Norse and Icelandic poems, the images are harsher. The Norwegian poem picks up the image of a slippery floor, but makes it a bridge–very trecherous when iced–or worse an ice bridge over a crevasse in a glacier. And not only must you be careful of yourself–you must lead the ‘helpless blind.’ The icelandic poem paints a still harsher picture. There, ice encases natural features–specifically water that should be flowing. It covers rivers as bark covers a tree trunk; the ice flose roof the tossing waves. Hávamál images reflect the Old Norse attitude to ice. In verse 90, women’s love is compared to riding on ice with a young horse that has not been shod with winter shoes. The surface is motionless, but those who are above can slide to destruction if they are not careful. Ice is also included in the list of things that must not be trusted until they have been done with. However, it is to be noted that even the most slippery ice may be successfully crossed, and–in days gone by–ice actually improved transportation since boats need not be relied upon to cross rivers, wide lakes, and various inlets.
Modern Meanings: Edred Thorsson extrapolate’s ice’s physical characteristics to create a metaphysical situation in which isa is the primal ice that was melted to reveal the world. Therefore, isa is antimatter, gravity, inertia, entropy–the inertia and stillness that attracts the active force of melting fire. Isa is also the center of the hailstone: it holds together ego awareness and provides a psychic bonding that can help an individual survive stress. Kveldulf Gundarsson backs Thorsson up. Gundarsson calls isa the elemental rune if Niflheim and gives it the qualities of solidity, contraction, stillness, calmness, and unchangeability. He suggests that the broad bridge is the bridge to the Underworld and is extremely low and easy to attain. But he cautions against thinking that the ice shield is sufficient against all danger: if it breaks, you will drop into the lethal waters below. Freya Aswynn believes that ice acted as an evolutionary ‘hardening measure’ for the Northern peoples. This may be pushing matters, but it should be noted that environmental extremes have similar effects on society–it limits the size of social groups, but strengthens ties within them. It should be noted that the Eskimos, who have lived more intimately with ice than any other human group, have a peaceful and cooperative culture. Osborn and Longland interpret the Anglo-Saxon poem to mean that isa represents that which is static: beautiful, but useless; the wealth that is not shared. Paxon comments that Primal Ice can be good or evil depending on whether or not it is part of a balanced process, for action and inertia must exist in balanced tension for inner and outer health. She also notes that isa can represent the inner stillness that is one goal of mediation and that one interacts with isa on two levels: the outer treacherous surface that acts as a shield or barrier, and the inner view of ultimate integrity and the core of stillness.
My Take-Away of the Meanings: Isa can provide connections, but it does so by first imposing a trial. If one develops the flexibility to walk upon the ice, you can be a part of it and be one with its inner stillness–but a stillness in motion.
Paxson’s Interpretation and Use: In a reading, isa indicates the progress of the matter under consideration will be ‘frozen’ for the present but may ‘defrost’ later. It may also mean that something is frozen beyond thawing. Aswynn points out that on its own, isa is inert and simply preserves. It is the “I”, the ego, the core of personality and the will, so she suggests using it in focusing, concentrating the will, and protecting one’s center. As such, it is useful in magical shielding and protection and can help cool a tense situation down. It can balance thurisaz, but requires the balancing energy of kaunaz or sowilo to change. In divination, it can indicate a frustrating situation with no change in sight. Gundarsson notes that it can magically be used to bind active forces, either of growth or disintegration. It can calm confusion or hysteria and numb pain, but in excess can cause barrenness, paralyzing fear, dullness or obsession. It can be the clarity of a cold anger–which is more dangerous than fiery rage–but it is brittle, and one should be aware of the energy that will be released when the ice breaks. It can also be used to invoke physical cold.
Paxson’s Practice for Living Isa: Isa is the ice rune, carrying all the connotations that implies. To understand it, one must explore the implications for good or for ill of stillness, inertia, and rest. It is also, by extension, a rune of winter. To understand it, one may meditation upon the function of winter in temperate climates, killing some, but also protecting and allowing the hidden seeds time to germinate and the soil time to rest.