“Your Name in Runes”, by Kari Tauring – originally published by Llewellyn for Magical Almanac, July 2006. Edited for use on her website by the author, October 2015
Developing an intimate relationship with each rune in the runic alphabet of the ancient Norse/Germanic people is necessary before using them in divination, talismans, or other magical work. The word rune comes from “ru” meaning “secret.” To understand their meanings we may study available source material and accompanying texts by modern authors. Yet ultimately, the meaning of each rune must seep into each individual in a personal and intimate way for deep meaning to be fully revealed. The runes are a living and organic system that connects each user to her or his environment, life condition, and öorlog. That can not be achieved through book learning alone! One great way to begin integrating the runes in a personal way is through translating your name into runes and creating a collage of visual meanings and poetic phrasing for your name as revealed by the runes you used.
Linguistically one can trace the shapes and sounds backwards in time to the Indo-European migrations. Their shapes are thought to have derived from ancient Phoenician and Eutruscan letters. Variations appeared in Germany, Hungary, and Scandinavia where the majority of existing examples are found. Rune poems, possible mnemonic devices, were written in Icelandic, Norwegian, and Anglo-Saxon. The poetry inspired by the complexity of their meanings and the impact they have on the emotional, psychological and spiritual life of those who study and use the runes continues today. An effort by protestantism to purge Scandinavia of its heathen past made knowledge of runes and their poems extremely dangerous. However, the ancient runes and rune masters communicate with us even today as we study their poems and inscriptions on monuments and everyday objects.
I began my studies of the runes in the mid-80’s as part of my linguistics program in college. I quickly saw the complex puzzle that the runes present and the value of pursuing the mystery in my own life. Still, it was several years before I thought to translate my name into runes, being so fixed on the academics and then the divination process. Today, “Your Name In Runes” remains one of my most popular classes. While it may seem an easy and personal introduction to the runic system it carries it’s own set of complexities. We use the 24 letter “Elder Futhark” as there are more letter and meaning options. The Iron Age “Younger Futhark” has only sixteen characters.
TRANSLATING YOUR NAME
What name will we choose? Each of us has a birth name, abbreviated versions and nicknames, magical or adopted names. What you are called, what you call yourself, is the key. Choose which name you will start with then write it in “English” letters. For me it is K, A, R, I.
Now the next question arises. Should you translate letter for letter or by phoneme (letter sounds)? Either way is fine but I prefer sound for sound. As I made mention in the article about Music and Ritual, the words we speak, the sounds of the vowels and consonants create a vibration in this world and inter-dimensionally. If the A sounds more like ah, use Ansuz, the mouth of the river or the mouth of god. If the A sounds more like eh, use Ehwaz, the horse rune of complete change. There are some phonemes that are difficult such as the sh sound in the name Cheryl. I have use the s and j runes together to create the sound as well as k/c and h for a letter-by-letter translation. Ultimately, the individual must decide which runes feel most appropriate.
Use my book and chart to discover what each letter translates to, and what each rune means. For example, my name is KARI, Kenaz, Ansuz, Raidho, and Isa. Ken is torch, with the further meaning of acquired knowledge. Ansuz is the mouth of the river or the mouth of God. Raidho is the wheel and the journey and Isa is ice.
INTERPRETING YOUR NAME
The next steps are very fun and active. I use several techniques to explore these basic meanings in my “Your Name In Runes” class. Runes are much more than a phoneme, or sound holding place. They have interesting shapes and create sounds. They are a word with historical and spiritual significance. They describe the Northern environment, culture, and value system.
Word association exercises: Put a circle around the first rune in your name and the word for that rune. Now make lines of connection around the circle of associated words in a stream of consciousness, constantly referring back to the original word the first time. For example, Kenaz is torch, torch is fire, torch is handy, torch is controlled, torch is dangerous, and torch is flashlight and so on.
Next you might do a linear stream from torch as in: torch, stick, handle, tool, garden, create, divine…
Link them to your history: Think of how and when the rune appeared in your life and tell or write the stories of these incidents. Example: “I remember when my sister and I were in the Caves in Wisconsin and they had lined the walls with torches. The light that was dancing on the walls was so strange to me. It made me feel very small and young.”
Play with their lines: Take the shapes of the runes themselves and draw or paint the lines separated from one another. We may layer the runes on top of one another to see how they intersect and what new runes form out of their connections. We may draw images using the shapes in different configurations to come up with a unified image of the shapes of our names.
Shapes with the body: Try making the runes of your name with your body. Can you spell your name in a “YMCA” style dance interpretation? Can you do it alone or do you need a partner to help you create the rune, such as Manaz or Ing?
Song of the runes: Take each rune and chant or sing it slowly. You may want to use staff and stick rhythm and play with each letter on its own and then re-combine them to sing your name!
Visual art: Cull magazines, boxes of art supplies, or create drawings for the imagery of the runes that make up your name. As the collage of images, words and stories comes together in the artistic creation before you, the secrets within the relationships of one rune to the next as they appear in your very personal name begin to manifest.
Meaning in the Order: There is meaning in the individual runes but side-by-side they take on further meanings. For example, Kenaz and Ansuz together means to me that the torch of understanding will guide my pursuit to the wisdom provided by the mouth of god rune. I see the image of a match cut from a magazine ad glued next to the image of a stream and realize how quickly divine wisdom can snuff out my human understanding. I see the image of the flashlight and the deep wooded bank of the stream picture and realize that it is sometimes my wit that guides me to the deeper knowledge. I see the picture of the wheel next to the stream (Raidho) and realize that combining the wheel with the stream can grind corn! The journey of my life may take place without moving my location. The waters of the wisdom gained through Ansuz may flow through me turning fresh ideas and deepening my understanding. But then, next to Isa the ice rune the wheel may get too rigid and break in the frozen stream. Or perhaps Isa is telling me that my journey will have rest periods during which I can turn back to the fire of Kenaz and create from my newfound wisdom. And in turn, Kenaz will melt the ice.
All of the possibilities of translation and interpretation become available to us as we work the runes of our names, our family names, and the names of our cities or states. In this way we can truly learn the alphabet, not just memorize the phoneme and what a book says it means. This is how we develop personal relationships with each living rune, feel how they work in our lives, recognize them in our environment, and become friends with them in a beautiful, meaningful way.