There is historical precedence for using runes as tattoos. If you are of northern European heritage, there may be a tattooed Nordman or Viking in your genetic past.
I often am asked what runes or runic charms to use as tattoos. My first advice is to try out whatever symbol you choose as a temporary tattoo first! There are several reasons for this.
Henna works well for a temporary tattoo. It is used in the middle-eastern countries to draw designs to adorn women's fingers and hands, as well as for hair dye. Powdered henna can be obtained at beauty supply stores, sometimes even in the nail-polish section of your local drugstore, or can be ordered online. It comes in several shades, from red to black. A design drawn on the skin in henna will last about two to four weeks depending on how long the paste is left on the body.
If you want a magical charm, the only ones I really recommend are the "Aegishjalmur" ("helm of awe"), or the "Vegvisir" (runic compass), which is a variant of the Aegishjalmur. These are very ancient charms and totally benign to the bearer. Algiz (Elhaz) is the primary rune in use in both, although there is a structural formula at work also. The Aegishjalmur's purpose is 'protection and irresistibility in battle'. I encourage you to read more about this charm on Brad Lucas' web page: Aegishjalmur, which explains what this charm is and how it is constructed. There are numerous variations of this charm. Here are pictures of tattoos using this symbol:
The following is Islandic singer Bjôrk's Vegvisir compass tattoo. Vegvisir means "direction sign" or "see the way". This charm helps prevent one from getting lost. It is a "brun rune" or sea charm.
There are some other aesthetically pleasing and relatively benign runic charms found on the charms page of this website. (Heed the warning above and use at your own risk.)
"Fylfot" for Good Luck is a variation of the swastika, which was a good luck charm in many cultures, all over the world, long before the Nazis perverted it into a symbol of fascism. In the form above, it's called a "fire twirl". Sometimes these are shown with three legs (a triskel) or even more than four legs, such as a "sun wheel" or "sun disk". None of the swastika variants shown on this page are Nazi swastikas. It's time to reclaim the swastika as a benevelent symbol.
Another variant is a "Thorshamar" (Thor's Hammer) symbol. On the left is an historic galdrastafur for that symbol in the swastika style. On the right is a line drawing of a Thor's Hammer pendant found in the Romersdal archeological site. Either would make an interesting tattoo. To see variations of the Thor's Hammer as pendants, visit the Ragnar's Ragweed Forge online store.
Thorshamar Thor's Hammer Pendant
Thor's Hammer Pendant
Those of the Àsatru religion who have dedicated their lives to Odin favor the Valnott. The Valnott or "death knot", the triple triangle shown below, is one of Odin's symbols. Odin's followers have a tendancy to die violently, so wear this symbol at your own risk! I do not recommend this symbol as a tattoo and include it here primarily as a warning.
The runic script shown below contains several "bindrunes". Bindrunes are monogram-like designs made up of several runes that share lines. One's initials or family name made into a pleasing bindrune would make a nice tattoo. See Oswald the Runemaker's website for sample bindrune monograms. Sometimes he'll even custom make one at no charge. Also check out Oswald s new Rune Tattoo website .
"Ek ErilaR" (I am a rune wizard)
Celtic knotwork designs make terrific tattoos. You'll find many tattoo artists already have fine-line knotwork flash (prepared designs). Celtic designs tend to be symmetrical, while the Norse designs are frequently asymmetrical.
The stylized animal and "griping beast" type of knotwork are typically Norse rather than Celtic, although you'll often find them in Celtic collections. Look for books containing knotwork pictures or drawings. You are also welcome to use any of the red designs found on the pages of this website. They are all ancient designs and copyright-free for personal use.
Here is an example adding a rune symbol to a knotwork design.
Gripping Beast Knotwork
Gripping Beast Knotwork
If you do get a tattoo, please send a JPEG to me! I'd love to see it.
Celtic design and tattoo flash can be found
online. Here are a few sites:
The World of Celtic Art is outstanding. It includes a large section on The Celtic Tattoo with links to other Celtic tattoo sites.
Henna Stencils at Tattoo-Me
Lytha Studio - Celtic Temporary Tattoos
Henna Stencils by Mehndi Skin Art
There are many excellent books on Celtic knotwork available on Amazon.com, as drawings, stencils, or as iron-on transfers, which can easily be converted into tattoo flash. I recommend the following:
H.G. Smith: Viking
Designs, ISBN: 0486404692
Adrian Meehan: The Dragon & the Griffin, The Viking Impact, ISBN:
Bev Ulsrud van Burton: Ancient Scandinavian Designs, ISBN: 0880450738
Lis Bartholm : Scandinavian Folk Design, ISBN: 0486255786
Mallory Pearce: Ready-to-Use Celtic Designs, ISBN: 0486289869
Amy Lusebrink: 159 Celtic Designs, ISBN: 0486276880
Courtney Davis: Celtic and Old Norse Designs, ISBN: 0486412296
Courtney Davis: Celtic Designs and Motifs, ISBN: 0486267180
Courtney Davis: Celtic Iron-On Transfer Patterns, ISBN: 0486260593
Co Spinhoven: Celtic Stencil Designs, ISBN: 0486264270