Tattooing the Runes
Runes hold magick, meaning, and a multitude of mysteries. It seems only natural to me that many would find themselves contemplating incorporating these symbols into tattoo designs. Before creating a runic design to be permanently etched into your flesh… here are a few thoughts.
Firstly, let’s address the unsavory aspect of runic tattoos…many white supremacist groups utilize the runic alphabet in racist and hate related tattoos. The most common runes used on their own and tied to racist usage are Algiz / Elhaz (protection), Othala (ancestral lands), Sowilo (victory), Teiwaz (Tyr, God of War and Justice).
These runes are listed as potential hate symbols on adl.org, an anti-hate organization.
Image credit: Serendipity Wyrd
Choosing to be tattooed with runes (especially the four specifically mentioned) can result in assumptions relating to racism and white supremacy. I share this information so you can make an informed decision on whether to proceed with a runic tattoo. Despite the risk of someone assuming I have ties to white supremacy… I choose to go ahead with my devotional tattoo for Odin/Loki which includes the Elder Futhark.
My devotional tattoo dedicated to my study of the runes, Odin and Loki.
lder Futhark, when we talk about “runes” did you know there are multiple runic alphabets? The most common are the Elder Futhark, the oldest example used from about the 2nd – 8th century CE, the Younger Futhark, a reduced set of the runes used around the 9th centry CE, and the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, used until the 11th/12th century CE.
The Elder Futhark is the collection of rune staves that are generally what us witchy types mean when we say “runes”. They are a grouping of 24 symbols that can act as a substitution alphabet with our roman alphabet if you double up Kenaz for both C and K, and Wunjo for both V and W. I have not worked with the Younger Futhark which is comprised of only 16 runes. The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc contains the Elder Futhark along with additional variations of vowel sounds.
Three “rune poems” exist giving us the historical basis for understanding the meanings of the individual runes. The Norwegian and Icelandic poems have 16 stanzas and correspond to the Younger Futhark. The Anglo-Saxon poem contains 29 stanzas, the first 24 correspond to the Elder Futhark.
These rune poems give us historical snapshots of the meanings in 3 different cultural and historical times… but the runes carry additional mystery and meaning beyond the few bits of historical data we have so meanings for each rune do vary among readers and people who have studied and worked with the runes. While each rune has an associated word, phrase, or meaning found in the poems these meanings can be expanded upon through meditation and working with the runes.
Using runes in a tattooed design is Gebo in action…
Gebo is the rune all about gifts and sacrifice. The balance of gift-giving is an important consideration for those following a Norse outlook. A gift begets a gift according to the Hávamál – a poem found in the Poetic Edda known as the “Words of the High One” assumed to be the words of Odin.
Which is why I think the runes like becoming part of these flesh pierced images… after all, in the Havamal stanza 145 we are reminded of the steps needed to understand and use the runes. An argument could certainly be made for a tattoo following the 8 steps listed for activating or using the runes. Modern Heathen thought encourages the use of blood to “tint” their runes. The process of a tattoo incorporates the tinting, automatically.
Image credit: Serendipity Wyrd
Knowest how one shall write, | knowest how one shall rede?
Knowest how one shall tint, | knowest how one makes trial?
Knowest how one shall ask, | knowest how one shall offer?
Knowest how one shall send, | knowest how one shall sacrifice?
With all the background concerns and historical info out of the way… let’s discuss how to actually use choose runes for a tattoo…
You can use the runes as a substitution alphabet and spell out the words / concepts you want to evoke. As an example, let’s assume the person seeking a tattoo wants to use the runes to promote “luck” “good luck” and /or “success”. When doing this, you may consider omitting any runes that are doubled as would be the case in all three words/phrases. There are many academic papers written on whether and why doubled runes were avoided or omitted.
After performing the transliteration between the roman and runic alphabets, you can choose to leave the runes as is and incorporate that into a design, use the word in runes as the entirety of the tattoo… or you could combine the runes into a bind rune or sigil. Bind runes and sigils are a complex topic deserving their own article. Check out the video I made on sigil creation for a brief introduction on the topic.
You could also only focus on the runes that carry that particular message… again leaving them separated or combining into a bind rune.
Fehu ~ the initial word that always comes to mind for me with Fehu is “abundance”. Being in a place of “abundance”, having an “abundance” of a resource is generally a component of success. Luck could also contribute to obtaining “abundance”.
Jera ~ keywords: year, harvest, seasons, cycles. The general sense Jera often carries for me is a sense of completion, a cycle that has come to fruition. This energy could also lend itself towards the concept of “success” even that “success” isn’t one of Jera’s immediate keywords.
Perthro ~ a very mysterious rune without a clearly defined definition in the poems. Perthro is the lot or dice cup, the vessel used to hold the lots that will be cast, therefore Perthro speaks to us of the gamble. Luck is associated with gambling. Perthro also is associated with feminine mysteries, if I wanted to utilize a runic energy to assist with the conception of life or child birth… I’d use Perthro to pull in luck in that way.
Algiz / Elhaz ~ Protection is the primary message of this rune. While it doesn’t carry “success” or “good luck” as a specific message, you could include Algiz to “lock in” or protect the success or good luck you seek.
Sowilo ~ I would absolutely include Sowilo when focusing on luck or success. Sowilo generally speaks to me of victory and therefore success. It tends to carry very positive overtones, in my opinion. Sowilo is the sun… the source of light and warmth – a necessary component to growth. Just be mindful that this is one of the “racist” runes and I definitely would NOT use Sowilo doubled – you run the risk of creating the symbol used by the Schutzstaffel (SS – the paramilitary organization which operated under Adolf Hilter and the Nazi party).
Berkano ~ Again, not a rune directly associated with luck or success. Berkano is birth, the birch tree, growth, Goddess. This rune carries all the energy of the nurturing Goddess. You could definitely reach out to incorporate energies from this rune to lean into good luck and success.
Wondering what the runes have to say to you? Get a reading from me!