The prevailing form of the word depicts a rune representing the mouth of rivers, a god, or Óðinn himself. But, to peer into the deeper layer of Ansuz comes from the words that assisted in its reconstruction.
It’s first recorded instance was by Alcuin, the Gothic word Aza, which gives us the word Ahsa; an axis, beam or pillar. The root Ahs, gives the meaning of an ear of grain. This root also holds a myriad divergences. The most notable, is in its initial meaning as mind or intellect. This yields the following words, all relating to the soundness of mind in Gothic:
• ahei – sense
• ahjan – mean
• ahma – spirit
• ahmeins – intelligence
• ahmeins – spiritual
Branching off from the h₂eḱs or hᵉéḱs root in Proto-Indo-European, the axis plays a key role in the religious dynamic of the Germanic element. As the objects of worship, these godpoles are imbued with the power of mediation between the divine and man – the axis mundi.
Jordanes, the scribe of Getica, held that the semi-divines worshiped by the Thervingi were hailed as the Anses, and engendered their people – they were the ancestors. Jordanes was also at one point a pagan, as he describes that he was not learned prior to his conversion. Thus, likely held some intimate understanding to the practices and customs.
Note, his name means horse-warrior.
Diving deeper towards the cultural cognates of term Anses, I found the following:
Avestan – aŋhū, and ahura.
Sanskrit – ásu, and ásura.
Uralic – asera
Tocharian – ās
Hittite – hass
All of these denominations are of lordship, and of a creative, life-giving essence. These words when reconstructed, turn to the Proto-Indo-European h₂énsus or hᵉénsus. The particle of h₂éns- or hᵉéns, means to beget.
The sequence shown below details how the word may have shifted:
hᵉénsus > hᵉánsus > ánsus > ānsus > ansuz
Some reconstruct this as Ansaz, which may have been used in a singular nominative sense. But that may have developed from hᵉénsóus, which would then lead to Ansauz, the singular genitive form.
Ansuz turns to AnsuR in Proto-Norse, after the split between different Germanic dialects. Gothic retains the more archaic Northwestern Indo-European sound structure; it is more common to see (-s) over (-z) or (-R), as a suffix. A possibility for the (-R) shift is the similar pattern displayed by the plural form of the word h₂n̥suró, or hᵉán̥suró. This may have added to the shift in their form, and I think the words with (-R) originated with the plural form and eventually dropped the (-ó), which would listed as:
Hᵉénsuró > hᵉánsuró > ánsuró > ānsur > ansuR
This may have also had a hand in the language shift, in addition to the grammatischer wechsel of Karl Verner.
In Scandinavia, these tongues would shift once more, and remove the (n) from the word, giving way to the form As, or as the Scandinavians retained Áss, Óss and in Æsir – commonly defined as pillars, beams, or masts. Óss holds the meaning of a river mouth, or an estuary leading to the ocean.
These would play a pivotal role in the culture of the Germanic people of the late era, especially within the history of the settlements of Iceland. Men like Ingólfur Arnason, and Þórólf Mostrarskegg, and the sagas surrounding them detail an incredible amount of piety, and attention to old custom.
Heaving their öndvegissúlur into the sea, to guide them where they would build their settlements. They would travel with the very dirt under their ancient temples, to establish a new sacred space for themselves. Even a new afterlife would be fashioned for their ancestors and descendants, from the local environment, dwelling and feasting in the center of Helgafell.
Ingolf takes possession of Iceland by Johan Peter Raadsig, 1850.
Quite similar in use to the bolvan/bałwan of Slavic peoples, these idols depicted the gods, heroes of old – or great chiefs who displayed martial ability.
The axis poles of the Germanic tribes, likely shared this commonality at the beginning stage of their demarcation from the Northwestern Indo-European branch. Eventually they started to display more centralized deities, such as the tribunal of Óðinn, Þórr and Freyr.
Both Óðinn and Freyr have a marked distinction of fathering royal lines in both Scandinavia and England, receiving reverence as fathers of both kings and lords. Ancestral ties from both these figures would have been highly prized – and praised.
Other developments in the Anglo-Saxon runes hold that there was a shift in meaning likely due to the local environment, being shrouded in oak and ash trees; ac and æsc respectively. Both have slightly different, but related roots; oak from a mix of the hᵉéyǵ root, and the hᵉéḱs root, and ash from the hᵉéhós root.
But what does this mean exactly for the definition of Ansuz?
This gives a different context to what the rune itself means, from a standpoint of origins. It allows for the information gleaned to be applied in a realistic form, rather than a fantastical one.
Three major points for practical use:
1. As offerings, we should give them grain – to feed them, nourish them. This will ensure that we can gain insight, soundness of mind from them, allowing them to bestow their spirit upon us.
2. The Pillars should be erected, and depicted with imagery of these Ancestors – the Gods. Further, these idols should be fashioned from the oak or ash trees. These are the pillars of the world; holding the up firmament, showing us the way onwards to our First Fathers.
3. Fresh water should be given to them, from the mouth of a river or a small lake. To wash these idols in water from these places, is to remind them of home – and purify them for their journey back into flesh.
These Ancestors were once at the forefront of our mind at all times when dealing with things socially, and were given copious amounts of sacrifices and gifts. They had their place on high, as they were the ones who made us. They were the ones who paved the way for our children, and thus importance is quite clear.
Most of the rune poems associated detail an overwhelming emphasis on core concepts such as ancestry, asylum, death and remembrance.
The following translations are based on the aforementioned etymology of Ansuz:
ᚬ Óss er flæstra færða fǫr;
en skalpr er sværða.
The Pillar is the flow moving, faring;
but also the scalp of the sword.
ᚬ Óss er aldingautr
ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.
The Pillar is the Old Pourer of Sacrifices,
Lord of the Ancestor-yard;
and wise of the Slain-stones.
ᚩ Os byþ ordfruma ælere spræce,
wisdomes wraþu ond witena frofur
and eorla gehwam eadnys ond tohiht.
The Pillar be the chief of all speech;
wisdoms wrath, and wise-man’s sheath,
and each Lord’s old-age and thought.
ᚪ Ac byþ on eorþan elda bearnum
flæsces fodor, fereþ gelome
ofer ganotes bæþ; garsecg fandaþ
hwæþer ac hæbbe æþele treowe.
The Pillar be on earth the elder bairn,
Flesh fodder, fowl fares often over the lake;
The Spear-man proved where the Pillar has noble trow.
ᚫ Æsc biþ oferheah, eldum dyre
stiþ on staþule, stede rihte hylt,
ðeah him feohtan on firas monige.
Pillar be over on high,
Dear elders hard on the foundation,
Placed right on the wood,
However many men fought him on Mona.
The Norwegian shows a sense of neutrality, or reverence in the presence of an idol – hence the Pillar being the scalp, or scabbard of the sword. A man must put his weapons away in front of the idol, because it is imbued with the power of his Ancestors. Sacred grounds were areas of law, and no blood must be shed there unless it was an ordained sacrifice.
The Icelandic gives a direct proclamation that the Pillar is an elder priest, who was once the guide of the people. In death, he joins the rest of the Ancestors. He, being one who knew the tales of the slain, written in stone.
The first Anglo-Saxon poem again details the neutrality of the sacred space. But it furthers that idea with adherence to customs of speech; words were binding, and this Pillar is where the most crucial of bonds must be spoken. If one was lacking in wisdom, it could mean their reputation – and their life. This is certainly why it is said to be associated with the old age of Lords, and on the thought on their mind. You will be remembered for your words.
With the second, the Pillar is signified as being the elder children of the group. The old ones who have left us in their deaths, but will return again in the flesh. This new flesh will be flattened by the meat of fowl, and become strong spearmen. They will prove their nobility and become great – as only the most noble become worthy of being placed on the high Pillar within the Ancestor-yard.
The third poem, reiterates the importance of reputation. A man who fought with many men on the Isle of Mona, or Anglesey, joins the Ancestor-yard for his deeds. Beloved elders are placed right on the wood of the Pillar – becoming the foundation for the next generation.
There are so many layers to this concept, but the crux is simple and effective.
Remember your Traditions.
Remember your Ancestors.
Remember your Gods.