‘A tattoo is a permanent affirmation that should be taken in a serious and sacred way,’ said my tattoo artist, Gary Mooney. ‘Whether you know it or not, it will influence your path the rest of your life.’
For all its recent popularity, a tattoo is more than an adornment or a fashion statement. The entire process—the idea, designing, placement and receiving—is like an initiation. Something is evoked. When approached with clear intention and reverence, one can’t help but be transformed.
From the Inuit peoples of Alaska to the Mayans of South America, from the thousands of men and women gathering at temples in Thailand to the current mainstream renaissance, tattooing has always carried a powerful message.
Historically, the Egyptians developed the technique and spread it to Crete, Greece, Persia, and Arabia. Four thousand years ago, tattooing followed the Silk Road to China and Japan. In 1991 a 5,200 year old mummy was found between Austria and Italy with over 57 tattoos—lines and dots thought to be used for healing as their placement corresponded to acupuncture meridians. The ‘Ice Maiden’ discovered in the Altai Mountains in 1993 is 2,400 years old. She has tattoos of mythical creatures including elk with twisting horns that turn into flowers.
The elaborate tattoos of the Polynesian cultures are an initiation and feature geometric designs, curves and dots which can cover the whole body. Following James Cook’s expedition to Tahiti in 1769, the islanders’ term ‘tattau,’ (to hit or strike), or possibly ‘tatu’ (to make a mark) gave us the western term ‘tattoo.’ The art then became fashionable among Europeans, (after being banned by Pope Adrian I in the 6th century AD) particularly so with sailors and coal-miners, occupations carrying high risk. Their tattoos of anchors and miner’s lamps were considered to have amulet-like protection.
After going underground for almost a century, the art of tattooing has reemerged in mainstream western culture. More and more people are getting ‘ink’ for personal and significant reasons. For me, each tattoo represents a change in my life, an expansion of awareness, a shifting perspective. They are expressions of reverence for the images and ideals associated with them—marks of initiation on life’s journey, a connection with my spirituality.
As my artist says, ‘Getting a tattoo is a discipline involving physical, psychological and spiritual awareness. If any one of these elements is taken out of context, then the wholeness and true quality of the image is lost.’–Gary Mooney
Does anyone have a tattoo story or image to share? Questions? (like . . . is it painful? The answer was too long to fit into the post!) Comments most welcome.
Kim Falconer is the author of The Spell of Rosette (Quantum Enchantment Book 1), which was published in January by HarperVoyager. Kim lives in Byron Bay and runs the website Falcon’s Astrology as well as a website dedicated to the Quantum Enchantment series.