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Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned,

felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum

mære morstapa; þæt is modig ƿuht.

The aurochs is proud and has great horns;

it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;

a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

You are a hunter in the Bronze Age, somewhere in the murk of a floodplain forest in what is today’s Germany. Around you is a party made up of hunting-age men from your tribe, in your hand you hold the haft of a spear. All of you are strong, agile, and know the terrain and the behaviour of your chosen prey the way only men who eke out an arduous living killing for subsistence can. 

Your comrade taps your shoulder and points silently, directing your line of sight to the object of the pursuit that has taken you hours away from the village of roundhouses you inhabit. A herd of aurochs, coats shiny in the autumn sun, their massive bodies beginning to fatten for the winter, stand grazing in the low, damp grass beneath a copse of oak trees that have grown together in the moist earth. 

You all stand watching with bated breath. Right on cue, one begins to wander away from the others, tempted by some patch of vegetation that will lead it dangerously far from the herd. The eldest man gives a signal, and your party breaks from the tangle of trees behind which you were hiding. The animals scatter, but your strategy has the outlier trapped, and before it can make a move, the sound of the stampede on the waterlogged ground has left the clearing otherwise empty. The beast is surrounded, its hocks dark and eyes wild as it swings its horned head in defiance. 

Maybe you kill it. Maybe your leather turnshoe slips in the mud and you end up under the hooves of 900 odd kilos of angry steak. Maybe the wild eyes turn your way and one of those wide horns comes by and hooks you under the jaw. Breaking it, slicing you open, killing you. You lose your teeth before you lose your life. You gain some esteem on the way out. It might turn out a lot of ways. 

For the people of prehistoric Northern Europe, the rune *Ūruz ᚢ had a dual symbolic interpretation: the aurochs and the element of water, though primarily we believe that it represented the former, a local species of wild cattle. What is significant about the meaning of this rune is the particular nature of this animal as a phenomenon, and how their value can be contrasted with other similar symbols.

The rune *Fehu ᚠ, which was discussed in detail last week, represents domestic cattle: the proverbial bird in the hand. Cattle were tantamount to wealth, and even deified, in many pre-modern societies (compare the common Indo-European theme of the sacred cow in Hindu religious tradition). What sets the docile, productive animal represented by this rune from the wild aurochs is its predictability, its almost guaranteed return.

If you look after your *Fehu, if you’re able to maintain your livestock, your nest egg, your investments, barring an act of God, you are expected to cash out. Not so for wild *Ūruz, whose unpredictable nature means that any attempt to control it might result in abject failure, or worse – death. But while *Fehu’s extremely low risk correlates with a high level of return, so too does the high risk associated with *Ūruz mean that you might come back empty handed.

 *Ūruz is the proverbial bird in the bush, available freely with 0 guarantee to any man willing to test his mettle against the unknown. While many over the years have recognised this rune’s symbolic association with strength, what needs to be acknowledged is that the personal strength that *Ūruz can be seen to represent must be understood as a reciprocal force against the external strength that one is expected to surmont. Essentially, when faced with an immovable object, one has no choice other than to become an unstoppable force. 

*Ūruz is the obstacle, the hulking form of a wild and unpredictable animal preparing to charge wild-eyed at and through you, but, by the same token, he who wishes to best the bull must become like him too. It is also the raising of the stakes, the allyship of good fortune, and the never-to-be-underestimated element of grit that separates the weekend ham n’ eggers from those who take their place in the winners’ circle. 

From the Minoans at Knossos and their bull-leapers, to rodeo athletes in rural Ontario, Canada, we see now where *Ūruz’ elemental symbolism as an aspect of water can be understood. As the bull rider plunges out of the chute in one of the most ancient sports still practiced, he becomes himself an aspect of water incarnate, contorting with the movements of the enraged animal between his chaps as he waits in physical meditation for his eight seconds to be up.

*Ūruz is the wild animal, it is the weight on the bar, it is the wild-eyed and rank investment in an uncertain future, the risky gamble with hooves – and while its impenetrable countenance can inspire an equally taurine outlook in the man wishing to get the better of it, one must also remember the flexible aspect of water, that which takes its place in the form of the container its been given, conforming not out of submission but in the quiet way that leads brooks over the side of mountains.

Standing above the spillway of a dam with three friends after a rodeo, drinking buckskins in the dark as we shot the shit on a cool evening this past weekend, somebody remarked at the stillness of the water before it tumbled over the precipice, roiling into the gorge with the thundering bass that reminded me so much of the hooves of a colossal group of cattle. The water is patient, the water knows that it must take on the form of its course, contorting with it as it waits for the inevitable drop in elevation – its aurochs – before returning with an imitatory vengeance as it tumbles over (or out of) the “chute”. 

If you want to bet big, if you want to earn big, if your *Fehu is fed and taken care of but you still hunger for the flavour of game and the thrill of the hunt, the spark in the unknown that might lead you to failure face down in the arena as much as it might lead you to success, then learn from both aspects: in *Ūruz find the wisdom of reciprocal strength, but also the pliability to ride the bull as it bucks once they pull the gate, moving with the situation as it vacillates beyond what you can understand.

It’s the only way to make it to eight.

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