When we think about tattoos most people picture the traditional sailor, covered from head to toe with old fashioned ink - anchors, naked women and sailing imagery. Many of the traditional tattoos that sailors had have meanings and superstitions behind them.
|Pig and chicken tattoos were believed |
to prevent drowning.
- A pig and a chicken tattoo on the feet would keep you from drowning if your ship went down. This was believed because the wooden pig and chicken crates would float when the rest of the ship sank, meaning that these animals were often the only survivors of wrecks.
- A tattoo of the North Star would unsure that you always found your way home.
- Sailors would have a cross tattooed on each wrist and ankle to unsure that they would get a Christian burial if they were washed ashore - even if they were washed ashore in several pieces!
- A tattoo of an anchor meant that a sailor had crossed the Atlantic.
- 'Hold Fast' was commonly tattooed on the knuckles as this was thought to give sailors a good, strong grip.
- A sailor would get a sparrow tattooed for every 5000 nautical miles they had travelled. However, a dagger through a sparrow symbolised a lost comrade.
|Tattoos of 'Hold Fast' would ensure a strong grip.|
In some rural and Bedouin areas of Iraq tattoos are used as a form of folk-medicine called 'Dakkah'. This treatment involves a specialist putting tattoos on the pain centres of a patients body - including the face/head for headaches, and the back and limbs for backache or joint pain.
The meaning behind having a teardrop tattooed below the eye is extremely well known - it shows that the person has committed a murder. However, this tattoo is also common within gangs and an unfilled teardrop can mean the death of a friend. This teardrop is only filled in when the person has avenged their loss.
In Russia images of Lenin and Stalin were traditionally tattooed on the chest, as it was believed that firing squads were forbidden to shoot at an image of their leaders. And Russian prisoners often get an image of a spider in a web tattooed on their shoulder - if the spider is climbing up the web it means the person is committed to a life of crime, and if its climbing down it means they are trying to break free of the criminal lifestyle. In Russian prisons a man with no tattoos at all has absolutely no social status.
|In the Hindu religion henna tattoos are applied during the wedding preparations.|
Many religions include tattoos and in Thailand Buddhist Monks also work as tattoo artists during an annual March festival. The tattoos they apply are intended to work as amulets which keep evil away or bring strength to their wearers. A traditional Buddhist tattoo is the Lotus flower, which symbolises purity and can be any colour except blue. Hindus (the Brahmins) traditionally had a series of lines or circles tattooed on the forehead, cheeks or chest to show their servitude to God and some temple girls received tattoos of sacred symbols on their shoulders and breasts to unsure the salvation of their souls. Henna is used within the Hindu religion to decorate hands and feet with semi-permenant tattoos, and traditional Hindu wedding preparations include applying henna tattoos on the bride and groom-to-be. The darker the henna ends up the deeper their love in marriage will be.
This is an endlessly fascinating subject and something which I will definitely be looking into in more depth in the future. My next aim is to find some fairy tales which feature tattoos.
If anyone has some interesting tattoo meanings or stories I would love to hear them! What pieces of tattoo folklore do you know?