The Sacred Symbolism of Tattoos

I noticed recently that many people are getting tattooed and feel the urge to capture symbols and also choose sacred symbols.  Tattoos basically have been around since the dawn of humanity and each tattoo is a bit like a talisman or spell to transform energy. Suddenly we are in a time where even the most unlikely people seem to be drawn to the ancient desire to be tattooed

Throughout history, tattoos have played an important symbolic role in many cultures.  The imprinting of ink on skin has been used to denote status, display cultural allegiances, as shown by many modern Māoris who mark their faces with the traditional moko, and to evoke a relationship with the divine, as in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand where people still wear the yantra tattoo for protection.

Tattooing has a long history.  The body of the man nicknamed “Ötzi the Iceman”, dates back to around 3300 BC and is marked with 57 tattoos that supposedly show areas on the body that can be used in the treatment of arthritis.  Some religions and cultures explicitly forbid tattoos – for example, they are frowned upon in the Torah, in the writings of Islam and by the Mormon church. 

Anthropologist Professor John Rush has researched extensively into body marking and concludes in part that the actual process of tattooing itself has a spiritual significance as it forces the person being tattooed to move beyond the physical pain to enter a different realm.

Discovering the symbolism of any artwork that you are attracted to can be a fascinating and revealing process and absolutely worth doing because of the spiritual and psychic energy contained within iconography and imagery used.  After much thought and research, I have recently undergone a tattoo of a peacock and I feel as if it has created a literal shift in my energy and I love it! 

I have a real life peacock called Oberon who I feel a special bond with, he just makes me happy! So the image of a peacock was playing on my mind and when I turned to researching it, I was delighted to see that one of my favourite symbologists, Avia Venifica, had written that, alongside it’s meanings linked with sensuality, immortality and generosity, a peacock tattoo Avia says,’The peacock is a symbol of expansive consciousness in Buddhism’,  something incredibly meaningful to me, and it is also the symbol of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of compassion and forgiveness. Kwan Yin urges us to forgive others and also ourselves and is a constant call to me to be compassionate and loving.

It would be impossible to capture all of the potential meanings and symbolisms of the vast range of tattoo that you can get in one article, but here are a few of the most often chosen tattoos and their symbolic meaning.

Snakes/Serpents – alchemical symbols of renewal and healing.  The Ouroboros or Uroborus is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail.  Often linked with Gnosticism, and Hermeticism, it signifies eternal return.  Psychologist Carl Jung believes it has an archetypal significance. 

Butterflies – delicate and beautiful, butterfly tattoos are most often chosen by women and represent transformation, joy and fragility.

Dragons – symbolic of power, magic and mystery, often found in Chinese tradition but also in many other legends.

Celtic knots – the entwining intricate designs are said to mirror the winding path to the soul itself.

Anchors – anchors are symbols of stability, salvation and good luck.  Often worn by people with an association with the sea itself, such as pirates and sailors, this was an ancient tradition that the Royal Navy itself continued to permit, along with the piercing of one ear that would allow a sailor who had fallen overboard to be hooked back safely onto ship.

Skulls  – Linked with notions of death and mortality, these are also majorly powerful symbols of protection in African, Australian and Native American cultures.

Hearts – symbolising passion, love, and the life force.

Loads of love,

Michele x

If you want to read more about the symbolism of tattoos, there is no better place to start than Avia Venifica’s site!

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