Hagalaz is, in my opinion, one of the least appreciated Runes in the Futhark. Like the Tower in the Tarot deck, Hagalaz speaks to sudden changes and destruction. Hagalaz is uncomfortable, for sure, and many Heathens consider it a bad omen, but I believe that is more the nature of humanity and our dislike of change than the nature of the rune itself.
The Rune Poems
All three translations can be found on Ragweed Forge’s website. As a side note, also a great place to find heathen jewelry and weaponry.
Hail cold grainIcelandic Run Poem
and shower of sleet
and sickness of serpents.
Hail is the coldest of grain;Norwegian Rune Poem
Christ created the world of old.
Hail is the whitest of grain; It is whirled from the vault of heaven, and is tossed about by gusts of wind and then it melts into water.Old English Rune Poem
Synthesis of the Poems
All three of the existing rune poems speak of Hagalaz as Hail, but also as a grain. While both the Old English and the Norwegian poems were written post-conversion, and thus take on a Christian overtone, they both also share that this Hail is also bringing about a new beginning. Grain offers both sustenance in this year, and the seed for the year to come, promising next year’s crop.
It is only the Icelandic poem that puts a particularly dark spin on this rune. Throughout Icelandic Lore, the serpent is seen as a punishment of the wicked. Though there is no particular reference to a snake given disease, there are two instances where snakes are hung above a resting place to cause eternal torment.
The other mention is in Voluspa stanza 38:
A hall she saw standing far from the sun, on Dead-Body-Strands: its doors face north; Venom-drops flowed in through the roof-holes: That hall is plaited from serpents’ spines.Andy Orchard Translation of the Poetic Edda
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also add that Thor is prophesied to die in the final battle of Ragnarok after he is bitten by the Midgard Serpent, Loki’s child Jörmungandr.
So yes, in Norse Lore, Snakes=Bad.
Whenever I pull Hagalaz, I sigh. Why? Not because I consider it a bad rune, but because it means that a clearing out of some area of my life is about to happen.
For a farmer (or a car dealer!) a hail-storm is going to threaten your fields (lots). It falls heavily on a crop of grain. If it falls at the wrong time, it can utterly destroy an entire season’s work, which can also lead to hunger and starvation later in the year. And it wasn’t a situation where only one field or farmer would be hit. It could wipe out the fields for a whole village so that no one had extra to share with a neighbor. Definitely a hardship then, and no less an indicator of destruction now when pulled in a rune draw.
That said, I have often found that the destruction leaves a clearing for new growth. Some ecosystems, in fact, rely on the periodic destruction of the built up debris in order to let new plants grow. Not allowing fires to burn from time to time to clear out the dead plants is a large part of what fuels the wildfires that are so destructive in California.
So, the final takeaway on this?
Hagalaz means there will be change. Hard change. Probably painful change. But it also contains within itself the grain. The new beginning. The seed for what is to grow in the now barren waste. The faster the change, the sooner you can find yourself planing something even better in that space.