How to Write an Authentic Runic Inscription

runic inscriptionIn my previous post on How to Translate Into Runes Correctly I wrote that no such thing as a correct representation of an English or Old Norse text in Norse runes can be achieved in practice. I know it sounds quite disappointing. Let’s consider what can be done about that. The practical advice I gave at the end of my text was to find a fragment of an existing Viking Age Younger Futhark inscription and use it for your tattoo, carving or engraving. I also promised to find interesting fragments of the Viking Age inscriptions for you. That’s what I plan to do, but before I post these I decided to cover some options that might seem to be totally discarded in my previous article.

First of all, if you plan to write in runes a name (your own, or names of your dear ones), you can’t find it on the Viking Age runestones, unless you are one thousand years old. My guess is you are not. That’s why I created a rune converter and wrote a guide on How to Write a Name for a Tattoo.

The algo that stands behind the converter is my attempt to achieve transliteration rules between modern English and five runic alphabets: Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, long branch and short twig Younger Futhark and staveless runes. Are these rules ideal? I don’t think so. However, I believe they are logical, I can explain them, and I offer them for free to everyone.

This explains why I say that no correct conversion into runes can exist. Conversion is based on a set of rules. There is no generally accepted set of rules between English and ancient runic alphabets. Whatever rules you apply, adherents of some other set of rules will say your inscription is incorrect.

Even if you use a fragment of an actual Viking Age inscription, you may fall into a blatant mistake: first, the fragment has to be chosen carefully, so that it makes sense; second, it has to really mean what you think it means. I plan to deal with this type of trouble in a series of posts later this year.

Now what about all other modern English words and phrases, beside the names? Shouldn’t one use them at all in a runic inscription? Why not. But you surely don’t want other people to point the finger of scorn at your tattoo or engraving and say it’s incorrect. How to avoid that?

Well, instead of the notion of correctness I suggest referring to a degree of authenticity. By authenticity I understand a supposed ability to read your inscription by someone who used the runes originally.

Case A. You write your name in the Younger Futhark (Elder Futhark) runes. If the rules on which your rendering is based are okay, a Viking Age Norseman (a Migration Period Germanic runemaster) would be able to pronounce what is represented in runes or recognize it, should he know the name already. Would such an inscription be authentic? Yes. Even though it wouldn’t be ideally correct, since Vikings (earlier Germanic people) did not have regular transliteration rules for other languages. Keep in mind that your name may contain sounds that did not exist at the period. However using similar sounds would allow pronouncing the name more or less correctly for practical purposes, like we do in English for Japanese or any other language with a very different phonological system.

Case B. You write in runes some text in a corresponding ancient language: Old Norse or Proto-Norse (even though we know quite little about it). Would such an inscription be authentic? Yes. Even though it wouldn’t be ideally correct, since Vikings (earlier Germanic people) did not have any stable spelling for runic Old Norse (Proto-Norse). It would be authentic because people living at the respective period and speaking respective language would understand what you mean, may be with some difficulty, but still understand it. Thus the practical goal would be achieved.

Case C. You encode in runes some modern English word or phrase. Ancient people would not understand that. That would not be authentic. However, authenticity is not something to be had at all costs. If your aim is to be understood, say, by peers in your community where everyone has some knowledge of the Futhark, you will achieve that. No matter what others will say about correctness or authenticity.

The practical advice at the end of this post is as follows: composing a runic inscription for a tattoo, carving or engraving, you’d better understand how authentic your variant will look, but don’t feel constrained to be authentic as described above. It is up to you to set up the amount of authenticity you wish in your inscription. And there will always be people saying your runes are incorrect, there’s no way to avoid that.

See also:

A Guide to Writing in Norse Runes
Should I Write in Runes Phonetically?

Photo courtesy Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.

50 comments… add one
  • Jason

    Hello there. I was wanting to get a tattoo in Younger Futhark of “Better to fight and fall than to live without hope” from the Volsugasaga. Could you help me out?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Jason. I don’t think Völsunga saga has these words. Can you find them in the text?

  • AOH

    Hi!
    I’m writing a book and I need some help. A huge part hinges on Viking Runes drawn in a cave, that tells a story of how the village came to be and how it ended. What I’m wondering is would it be better to tell it in runes or drawings? How would those look? How would I short hand/long hand that?

    The runes/drawings would be displayed in a museum where lead character A would be explaining the runes to lead character B, in a shorthand way?

    The book hinges on this story as it is an important factor in guiding the book.
    Any suggestions?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello. To be sure, it is up to you to decide if it’s better in runes or drawings. How they look will depend on the type of runes you choose. What do you mean by “shorthand way” of explaining runes? Right now the scope of your questions seems to be “larger than life”, so you’d better make them a bit more specific.

  • Gryg

    Hi!
    Your website is amazing and it is awesome to see someone as passioned as you :)
    I would like to write the word “art” in staveless runes, but i have some questions. Were the staveless runes used to write in old norse or in another language? And if they were used for old norse, is list or mennt the “correct” word for art?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Gryg. Both words may be translated from Old Norse as ‘art’: list is closer to ‘craft’ or ‘artifice’, mennt is closer to ‘skill’ or ‘accomplishment’. Yes, staveless runes were used for Old Norse.

  • Dean

    Hello,

    I have researched my surname ‘Wade’ extensively, but I am wondering if you have any insight into it’s origin/history. I believe it to be of Norwegian descent and am potentially looking to get a tattoo in the short twig runes, but am unsure as to the Norwegian expression be it ‘Til Valhall’ or ‘Til Valhalla’ and what the correct runes would actually look like. I ask as this is the most comprehensive website I have found and would really appreciate some knowledgeable input.

    Many thanks.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Dean. Here it is in runes:

      • Dean

        Thanks very much. What kind of runes are those?

        • Viking Rune

          Long branch Younger Futhark.

          • Dean

            Takk skal du ha

            • Dean

              Just looking at the rune translator on this site, wondering why the Younger Futhark ‘V’ in Valhal looks different to the one you have displayed here? Sorry, but I just want to be informed as this is potentially a tattoo.

              Thanks for your help.

  • Brian Clift

    hi there… ive been working on a tatoo concept and have started with the samurai code on my left and i am trying to source something equivilent in runes down my right arm… i am hoping you can help me with that, is there a code of conduct or some power script that? if not i would appreciate a better translation of the samurai code

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Brian. The closest thing to a code of conduct in Old Norse culture is probably Hávamál.

  • Gav DJ

    Hi
    I’m australian but my background is Aboriginal / French / Irish / Scottish / English and I’m curious if there’s any runes for my background for a tattoo?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Gav. English people once used runes known as Futhorc or Anglo-Saxon runes.

  • Ana

    Good afternoon! I’ve done a great deal of reading on your site today, I have been trying to find a few nice old quotes already written in runes accompanied by a loose but working translation so that I might choose something appropriate and at least mostly authentic… if you could point me towards some place on your site or elsewhere that has such phrases I would be very appreciative… I’ve been actually looking through various pages trying to find something as such but everything I find is like Romanized and it’s so hard to find them still in runes or perhaps they only exist that way…?

  • Jymmi

    Hello, I am making a blade (seax) and I am going to name it Huginns beak. I have the appropriate runes however I am not sure how the possessive works. I have read that the runes with the phonetic of (a) is possessive but I am still unsure. Huginna gron or huginn gron or something entirely different. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Jymmi.

      Grǫn (not gron) is the Old Norse word for mustache or lip (in plural the lips of a cow or bull). It is used in the sense of ‘beak’ in Höfuðlausn (Head-Ransom), 11 (attributed to Egill Skalla-Grímsson):

      Flugu hjaldr-tranar
      of hræs lanar,
      várut blóðs vanar
      benmás granar.

      Battle-cranes flew over corpse-mounds
      Not lacking blood was the wound-gull’s beak,
      Ravener tore wound, and sword-point surf
      Roared at the head-prow of the raven.

      The usual word for beak (and nose) was nef.

      Thus Old Norse for Huginn’s beak is Hugins nef. In (long branch) Younger Futhark runes:

  • Benson Cogbill

    Would very much like to correspond with you, as I am very interested in learning to write in and translate old runic languages. I understand full well your statement about no clear translatable form from tunic to English or another language for that matter. Heck, through my research I have found that for the most part add you said there was no alphabet in old Nordic culture add everything was passed down by word of mouth or pictographs. And, that the first scholars who began trying to understand what the symbols meant simply used the symbol that began with a letter sounds they could associate with their language to form a makeshift alphabet. This is also evident in the fact that a Nordic philosophy or divination rune would be a complex merger of many individual runes into one complex symbol representing the general idea of what the divination was for: ie good harvest, glory in battle, noble death, protection from Odin/Thor/frea. I am not a collage professor, not am ia scholar in any way. I am but a humble police officer, but I love knowledge as it is the only true power one can have, and I love pursuing knowledge in everything, dead our living. But, to be honest the dead languages are the most fascinating, Latin, Aramaic, runes. So much lost knowledge waiting to be discovered.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Benson. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about ancient languages and your passion. Yes, I feel the same with respect to the lost knowledge waiting to be discovered. Feel free to contact me via my Facebook page.

  • Adam

    Is there a good text, preferably available online, but maybe in a library collection, that has the Poetic Edda in the original next to an English translation? The phrase I’d like to see translated to Old Norse may already be in runes, or at least old enough to have been more easily written that way. I simply can’t locate a copy of the Eddas in the original, and it seems backwards to translate and quote a portion in the English and Icelandic translations I can find now. It would be wonderful to just return to the original, and understand the various translations to approximate an understanding of it in modern context.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Adam. The Poetic Edda is extant in the so called Codex Regius, which was written in the 13th century. So the original text of the Edda is not in runes but in the Latin alphabet. I am not aware of parallel texts presenting both Old Norse original and an English translation of the Edda either online or in print. However, each Eddaic poem is subdividied into numbered stanzas. So if you have located the poem and the stanza in the translated text, you may easily find it in the original. Note that the majority of the Old Norse texts available online are not in the Old Norse orthography but in modern Icelandic orthography.

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