I have, for many years, considered getting a tattoo. I knew that, if I got one, it would have to be a rune. And because runes play so deep a part of my spirituality, I could not trust just anyone with doing the art. It would invariably have an impact on my own spiritual life. So I needed someone I could trust.
Unfortunately, I never really met anyone I got to know well enough who also did tattoos. So I sat on the impulse for over a decade.
Earlier this year, I saw an episode of Flashforward where a woman had a Japanese character tattooed on her wrist. It occurred to me then that I should get a rune tattooed on my wrist.
But I still needed someone to do it, and I needed a design. At first I thought I would have just a simple character, but I realized I should get something a bit more unique. I did look at designs online, and I found one or two I liked, but I wasn't sure I wanted the runes I was finding (including Eihwaz, the rune for defense). I liked them, but I wasn't sure.
Earlier this week, I finally decided I needed to get a rune tattooed. It was time, and I had to do it. But I still needed a design. When I began thinking about it a couple of months ago, a friend had offered her services. This is a good friend from the online adoption community I'm a part of.
I told Devon what I wanted. The rune for the Self, Mannaz, seemed the only real choice for the tattoo. I showed her a picture and told her what it meant. Then I gave her almost no direction in designing a stylized version of the rune.
Here is how Ralph Blum describes Mannaz in his work The Book of Runes, which I have used as a resource for more than twenty years. The following are the opening and closing paragraphs from Mannaz's entry (in the upright position):
The starting point is the self. Its essence is water. Only clarity, willingness to change, is effective now. A correct relationship to your self is primary, for from it flow all possible correct relationships with others and with the Divine. . . .
If you take the Rune of the Self and cut it down the middle, you will see the Rune for Joy with its mirror image. There is a subtle caution here against carelessness. The dancing acrobatic energy of balancing is called for now - the Self is required to balance the self. Nothing in excess was the second phrase written over the gateway to the temple at Delphi. The first counsel was Know thyself.
With almost no guidance, but for a few comments on early drafts, here is the final piece of artwork that Devon came up with for me.
There is a lot of meaning in this for me. The first thing I noted in her original draft was the wooden look of the various stems of the rune. It seemed natural, made of twigs, and that look really appealed to me. That is preserved in the final artwork.
More, though, on the first draft, she already had the wrapped joints. I couldn't exactly say at the time why they appealed to me, but I can now. It looks to me as though the rune is actually several parts joined together with twine. I do think that does wonderful job representing the different parts of myself, bound together, but not fully united as a single whole. My Self is made of various elements. Notice, too, that the central wrapping binds together Wunjo, Joy, with its mirror opposite, as Blum suggests in his entry. Devon didn't know this when she created the piece, but her bindings were perfect.
She then mentioned to me that she was thinking of adding roots but worried that it could be offensive in some way. It was the whole adoptees not having roots thing that she was thinking of, I believe. But I liked the idea. My Self, cobbled together as it is, still has roots. So I encouraged Devon to add them, to see what they looked like.
She added roots to both the top and the bottom, but we agreed that it was a bit too much. She took them off the top, and I knew she was on to something. A couple of changes to the proportions of the legs and the width of the rune, and you see the final product.
When she sent me the picture above, it was a text message on my phone. And I knew immediately that she had given me the design I had long wanted. It was perfect. She had gotten everything so perfectly... I was in awe. I immediately wanted to show everyone. Heck, I wanted to go out and get the tattoo that day.
But I had to wait. She needed to hook her scanner up so that she could send me a clean copy. That happened Thursday. But I was too busy with other things Thursday to go to the tattoo parlor. So Friday, I went almost as soon as it opened at noon.
I guess Friday the 13th was good day for tattoos. The parlor was packed. I went up to the counter and showed them the artwork Devon had created for me. The guy thought that going smaller would lose too much detail. But a woman behind the counter immediately took an interest and set up and appointment with me for later in the afternoon.
I left for a few hours to pass the time. I was anxious to get the work done, but I managed to wait. Barely.
When I returned to 46 & 2 Tattoo, Stephanie had me fill out some paperwork and then ushered me into her chair. We discussed how it should go on my wrist, and she convinced me that, rather than going up or down the arm, it should be sideways, so that I could look at it upright, and also show it to others.
She shaved my arm and placed the ink trace on my arm. After discussing the process, I sat down and she got to work. It didn't hurt much at all. I don't know if I have a high tolerance or if I have few nerves on the inside of my wrist, but it was an easy twenty-five minutes.
As she worked, she talked to me. She asked me if my mom knew that I was getting this today. She said that she asks everyone, no matter how old they are. I said that she didn't. Then I remembered I had mentioned it to my biological mother, so I said that, actually, she did. And then, in a fit of the weirdness that happens to me as an adoptee, I explained that I have two mothers, and one of them knew.
She then said, much to my surprise, that she was an adoptee, too.
Seriously. I mean, come on. There is a way this whole thing was unreal. She talked to me about my search and reunion. She asked me about my relationships with all my different families. She mentioned that she was from Kansas (one of two states that never sealed records) and had gotten her information five years ago, but had yet to actually search.
I knew, somehow, that this was right. In Devon, I had found the perfect person to design my tattoo. And in Stephanie, I had the perfect person to actually ink it into my skin. Sometimes, the universe will have its way with or without our planning.
I know you're probably wondering by now, so here it is...
Now I really want to take excellent care of this. I want it to look good for years to come. I think the lines are even sharper in person than in this picture, but this gives you a pretty good idea what it looks like.
I cannot stop looking at it. It's a beautiful piece. Thank you to Stephanie for doing an amazing job. And thank you especially to Devon for designing exactly what I wanted.