A good way to start figuring out what tattoo you want to get is by searching something that has meaning to you.
Don't get us wrong, getting a tattoo with no meaning is completely okay! However, if you can find a tattoo you like that means something to you, it's is like a bonus.
To help you find tattoo ideas with meaning, we've put together a list with some of the most popular tattoos, and a description of their different meanings.
Keep in mind that tattoo meanings may vary from one culture to another - even from groups of people within the same culture -. Consequently, the ultimate list with all tattoo meanings doesn't exist. In this post, we've gathered the most relevant meanings in the western culture, and also in some eastern cultures.
We hope the following list will help you find the meaning of that tattoo you've wanted for so long.
List of Tattoo Ideas With Meaning
- ALL-SEEING EYE TATTOO MEANING
The all-seeing eye is one of those motifs that has its origins in ancient history but which, through time, has been appropriated by various groups so that now its associations evoke mixed reactions.
Different meanings for the all-seeing eye in tattooing:
- Reference to the gods and their omnipresence, as well as a symbol of divine providence.
- It's also seen as a sign os wisdom.
- Lastly, and due to its connection with masonry symbolism, the all-seeing eye is represented as a symbol of power and control.
- ANCHOR TATTOO MEANING
The anchor was a very popular tattoo in the early days of tattooing and can be found on many.
Due to its simplicity and its popularity, the anchor can be open to a wide range of interpretations.
Different anchor tattoo meanings:
- A symbol of strength, stability, and loyalty, it is not hard to see why it is such a popular image.
- The anchor can be also used as a religious symbol, a sign of the wearer’s strength in their chosen faith, or simply as a reminder to always remain grounded, no matter how stormy life may become.
- ANGEL TATTOO MEANING
Ever since humans first developed a sense of their individual place within the greater order of life and death, angels have played a central role in culture and, therefore, art.
Different anchor tattoo meanings:
- Angels represent everything that we cannot attain as mortal beings. Typically, angels are thought of as messengers between humankind and the gods, or as beings who act as our protectors or guardians.
- Angels can also be represented as a symbol of faith, especially in cultures where Christianity is the dominant religion.
- In many cultures, people get an angel when losing a loved one. This "angel" will always stay there, protecting them from above.
- ANIME/MANGA TATTOO MEANINGS
In recent years, anime tattoos are getting more and more popular. Because of their stylistic simplicity, anime designs are easily transferable to the medium of tattooing.
But what is anime?
Anime is a Japanese cinematic art form that is entirely created using hand-drawn or computer-generated animation. Some of the most popular animes in western cultures are Dragon Ball, Naruto or One Piece to name a few.
Though the term “anime” is used in Japan to cover all forms of film animation from around the world, covering Western as well as Eastern films, in the West anime refers specifically to movies animated in Japan.
- Typically, people that get anime tattoos do it for specific reasons mostly related to a specific show.
- For others, getting an anime tattoo is a symbol of belonging to a certain group -Japanese culture, cosplay enthusiasts, etc.-
- ARROW TATTOO MEANING
As a simple, yet striking, image, the arrow remains a powerful symbol however it is viewed or interpreted. The arrow has multiple interpretations throughout the different cultures across the world.
Different arrow tattoo meanings:
- For the Native Americans the arrow was an element key to their culture, as it was basically one of their main tools to protect and provide, and it was very important for their survival. The arrow was also a symbol of war as well as peace.
- Another meaning within Native American cultures is the sign of two crossed arrows as a symbol of alliance, while an arrow broken in two is a sign of peace.
- In other cultures, the arrows are also often seen as a representation of passion, affection, or love.
- For some people, arrow tattoos symbolize the strength to find your way in life.
- BAT TATTOO MEANING
Bats are probably one of the most misrepresented creatures in the animal kingdom. They are associated with the dark and the occult, and they were traditionally considered to be the familiars of witches, demons, and vampires.
Among some of the meanings for bat tattoos we can find the following:
- There are some positive associations with bats: in China they are symbols of good fortune, long life, wealth, and prosperity while Native Americans associate them with rebirth.
- In some cultures however, bats are seen as the souls of the dead - the Madagascans viewing them specifically as the souls of criminals -.
- BEAR TATTOO MEANING
The folklore associated with bears is among the most ancient, dating back to Paleolithic times, from which there is surviving evidence of bear clans.
Bear tattoos and their most popular meanings:
- In Native American cultures, the bear is said to be the keeper of dreams, perhaps because the animal hibernates once a year.
- The Viking had the bear as a symbol of strength and fury, and would often dress themselves in bear skins, eating hallucinogenic mushrooms to work themselves into a frenzy before entering into battle.
- In many cultures, the bear is revered as a noble creature, with human-like treats.
- The bear is also seen as a symbol for protection, due to the ferocity that bears display when protecting their cubs.
- BEE TATTOO MEANING
There are few insects in the animal kingdom that are looked on as favourably and positively as the bee. These hard work little animals are widely represented in the tattoo artistry. Let's take a look at the meanings that are often associated with.
Main bee tattoo meanings:
- Hard work, willpower, resilience.
- In some ancient cultures like the egyptians they were seen as the messenger between the mortals and the gods, as well as a symbol of eloquence and intelligence.
- BIRD TATTOO MEANING
Often depicted as a symbol of freedom, birds are one of the most popular tattoos in modern cultures. One of the reasons of their popularity is their variety of shape, size, and colour, that makes the bird adaptable to a wide range of personal associations.
- As mentioned, birds mainly represent freedom, courage, or even travel.
- For some people birds are seen as a symbol of liberation from a traumatic experience or overcoming a situation that has oppressed them.
- BULLDOG TATTOO MEANING
The bulldog as an image is seen as a symbol of national pride and heritage in England and the United Kingdom, frequently associated with Winston Churchill and the British defense from Nazi Germany.
The bulldog is also linked to the United States and its military, as well as being a common symbol for sports.
- BUTTERFLY TATTOO MEANING
Because of its seemingly near-miraculous ability to change its form completely, the butterfly has always been prominent in folklore and mythology, as well as in tattoos.
Among the main tattoo meanings for butterflies we find the following:
- Symbol of transformation, renewal, and resurrection.
- The ancient greeks believed that butterflies were an earthly representation of the soul.
- Nowadays, because of the variety of colours and forms they can take, butterflies are often chosen purely for their aesthetic appeal.
Read also: Butterfly tattoos: meaning & inspiration
- CANDLES TATTOO MEANING
Candles are a popular choice since the very early days of tattooing. As many other options on this list, a tattoo candle can have multiple meanings from culture to culture:
- One of the most widely spread meanings is the candle as a symbol of finding our way in the dark, or even just a light in our darkest moments.
- In ancient times, candles play an important role helping sailors and explorers finding -literally- their way; therefore, they were powerful symbols.
- Candles have also been associated with religious rites and sacred places, and therefore are linked to spirituality .
- CAT TATTOO MEANING
Cats have always been prominent in the folklore and mythology, and it's one of the most popular motifs in tattooing. Of course, there can be many variations: for some people, a cat tattoo can simply be a done as a memory for a deceased pet.
Among all the multiple meanings behind a cat tattoo, we find the following:
- Symbol of good luck. In the early days of sailing cats played an important role on board ships, where they were kept to kill vermin such as rats, which had the potential to spread disease and ruin the cargo.
- Cats are known for having a unique personality. Sometimes, they showcase personality traits that are perceived as negative (mischievous, independent, skittish), and other times they showcase very positive traits (graceful, comical). This duality makes cats very appealing to different types of people that want to express themselves through a tattoo.
- CHURCH TATTOO MEANING
Setting aside any strong religious reasons for someone choosing to get a church-themed tattoo, in the Russian prison system a tattoo of a church has rather more secular connotations. For these inmates, the church stands for time served and whether or not that sentence has been completed.
- The number of spires on the church can either represent the number of years being served or the number of times the criminal has been to prison.
- Often, once a sentence has been served, a cross is placed on top or across the top. The spires show that the individuals’ debt to society has been paid. In some cases, the church is replaced with a fortress or mosque.
- COMPASS TATTOO MEANING
Compass tattoos are also one of the most popular motifs in tattooing. The compass comes in many forms and interpretations, but one of the most popular is the North Star compass, based on the idea that it was the North Star that would always guide sailors home, no matter where they were in the world.
There are many interpretations in terms of meaning for compass tattoos:
- Direction, guidance, consistency, and following one's convictions.
- Sailors would often get a tattoo of a compass for these very reasons, a token of good luck and protection.
- CROW TATTOO MEANING
Despite the general belief that crows mean bad luck or a bad omen, crows are a symbol for positive things, too.
Many cultures look on the crow as one of the keepers of sacred and ancient law, and these intelligent birds are often associated with magic and life mysteries.
In tattooing, there are different meanings associated with crows:
- Representation of change and transformation.
- Crows are often depicted as watchful creatures that have a sharp and powerful foresight. People that have a strong vision and will to thrive often see the crow as a mean to express that idea on their skin.
- In Native American cultures, the crow is seen as a sign of good luck, intelligence and wisdom.
- DAGGER TATTOO MEANING
The dagger has quite contradictory meanings in tattooing. Because of its small size and ability to be hidden, it is considered as one of the most personal weapons, as the person wielding has to be in near physical contact with his or her target.
Due to the intimacy of this weapon, dagger tattoos have the following meanings:
- Treachery and duplicity, as it can become a weapon of betrayal and deception.
- It can also be seen as a symbol of bravery, as fighting closely to your opponents is seen as more dangerous than shooting from the distance, for example.
- DHARMA TATTOO MEANING
The Dharma Wheel, also known as the Dharma chakra or Wheel of Dharma, is a symbol that represents the sacred teachings of Buddhism. This symbol also shows up in Hinduism and Jainism, but it is most popular among Buddhists.
A dharma wheel (often tattooed as a chariot wheel) has three basic parts – the hub, the spokes, and the rim.
As a sacred image, the Dharma wheel helps symbolize the Buddhist faith and relays the Buddha’s teachings. Each spoke on the wheel is representative of the teaching of Buddha.
The meaning behind the Dharma tattoo typically comes from the teachings. There are eight teachings in total:
- While there are different interpretations of the eight teachings, the spokes typically represent mindfulness, right attention, right meditation, right view, right intention, right speech, right livelihood. In short, the Wheel of Dharma shows the path to Buddhist enlightenment.
The dharma wheel is usually very colourful and is often depicted alongside other symbols of Buddhism, such as the lotus flower and deer.
- DOVE TATTOO MEANING
Stereotypically, the dove is seen as a symbol of peace, love, and purity. It is deeply associated with Christ and Christianity, and its appearance in the Bible is always within the context of a message from God or the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Dove tattoos come in all shapes and sizes, and when you have the image of this bird inked on your body, you can create a wide array of designs.
Of course, dove tattoos can symbolize many different things:
- Typically, though, doves are thought to be a symbol of peace and positivity.
- Couples might also get a tattoo of a dove to express their devotion to one another. Male doves are known to mate with one partner for the rest of their life. So, many people view doves as a symbol of unwavering love and devotion.
- There are some religious and mythological meanings surrounding doves. In Greek mythology, doves flew the chariot of the goddess of love. And, Christians thought doves represented Jesus and his message of peace and love.
- Native Americans had a completely different meaning for doves and thought that these birds helped transform the spirits of the dead.
- DRAGON TATTOO MEANING
There are very few world cultures that have not revered, or feared, dragons in their mythology or legends.
Dragons have been popular in art and literature, but to the Japanese the dragon (ryu) is not the fire-breathing terror of the European or Western imagination. For the Japanese, the dragon symbolizes wisdom and strength, as well as being the protector and guardian of human beings on the earthly plane.
Dragons in the West were envisioned as reptilians with wings and four limbs, while in the East they were wingless and snakelike. Within the Asian culture of tattooing, dragons can vary greatly from artist to artist and often their faces will be a combination of many different animals, while still retaining the wingless and snakelike body.
Another important aspect of Asian dragons is that they will often be depicted clutching a sphere, jewel, or orb (the closed lotus form) in one of their claws. This is meant to represent the essence of the universe that the dragon is able to control and manipulate, and it is a motif that can often be seen in Buddhist temples.
Though Chinese and Japanese dragons can seem similar, one of the ways of telling them apart is by their claws: Chinese dragons usually have five claws while Japanese have just three. Because dragons have been so strongly linked with Japan and China, in the naval context a dragon tattoo was used to represent a sailor who had served in Asia.
Dragons are also featured in the mythology of the British Isles, most notably in the legend of Saint George and the Dragon, and is thus a popular choice as a means of showing patriotism and heritage; the red Welsh Dragon serves a similar function.
The colour of a dragon, whether it has horns or not, and what form it takes, all have various meanings, and it is therefore important to know such details when choosing a design.
If you want to know everything about dragon tattoos and their meanings, check out this blog post: Dragon Tattoos: Meanings & Inspiration
- EAGLE TATTOO MEANING
Eagles are another popular bird that people have tattooed on their skin.
Whenever the symbol of the eagle is used, it is to show power or dominance. But not only is it a sign of brute strength, but also of knowledge and foresight, and the power that comes with those, too.
This bird has several different interpretations, as well:
- Eagles are a universal symbol of wisdom, power, and spiritual health. This is why you will see the symbol of an eagle throughout many different cultures and time periods.
- In Ancient Greece, Zeus the leader of the gods was often depicted as an eagle. He was a powerful and masculine god, and the eagle symbolized these attributes.
- Americans also use the symbol of the eagle for a similar purpose. Eagles mean power and strength in the United States, and this image is printed on the constitution and even the dollar bill.
In Freemasonry, a double-headed eagle is used as a sign of the union of opposites.
- EYE TATTOO MEANING
A popular image in both the artistic and the tattooing worlds, eye tattoos are a choice for many people who are attracted by its simple beauty and arcane meanings.
Eye tattoo meanings vary a lot depending on the culture you are in, and your own personal history:
- For many people, eyes represent spirituality. In fact, some Indian and Buddhists religions believe that the symbol of the eye, or the third eye as they call it, represents spiritual awakening and enlightenment.
- Other religious and spiritual practices also believe that the eye is a symbol of spiritual wisdom and their God’s omnipotence.
- For other people, though, eye tattoos can have a more personal meaning. Eyes are the window to the soul and can represent human emotions.
- This image can also make people feel like their dead loved ones are looking out for them.
- The Eye of Horus (sometimes referred to as the Eye of Ra) was a symbol of protection and good health and it is found everywhere in Egyptian art. One of the most popular theories surrounding the design is that it was a visual representation of ancient Egyptian fractions, running from the right hand side of the eye (representing ½) through to the eyebrow (1/8) and the teardrop (1/64).
- FEATHER TATTOO MEANING
Admired as much for their beauty as for what they symbolize, feathers have long been a popular design choice in tattooing.
Typically, feather tattoos symbolize the attributes we usually associate with birds – freedom of mind and heart; our flight through life, and the wings to reach spiritual enlightenment.
However, feather tattoos tend to represent many different things for people:
- Feathers are light and free and often symbolize freedom and a carefree attitude.
- Feathers have held a darker meaning in the past. Native Americans saw feathers as something spiritual and sacred. They used it in their rituals and thought that feathers were connected to the spiritual world and the spirit of the bird. Eagle feathers were given, as a great honour, to warriors who showed the most bravery and courage, and a headdress adorned with such feathers was thus a record of their achievements.
- FOX TATTOO MEANING
Many different countries around the world use the symbol of the fox. Overall, the imagery of the fox usually means power, playfulness, and wisdom.
In tattoing, foxes symbolize many different personality traits:
- Foxes can be a representation of cunning, mystery, and wisdom.
- In Asian mythology, foxes are revered. For instance, the Chinese view foxes as a symbol of good luck. Foxes are mythical creatures in Chinese folklore, and nine-tailed foxes were viewed as mythical creatures that endowed wisdom on humans.
- In Japan, foxes are also seen as a symbol of luck and have mythical status. The nine-tailed fox, or Kitsune as they say in Japanese, brings good harvest and is currently used by businesses to bring prosperity.
- Other cultures have less positive views on foxes, seeing foxes as bad luck or an omen. Romans and Norse mythology see foxes as tricksters.
- Because of their curiosity, intelligence, and lack of fear, these beautiful animals have, more often than not, also acquired a negative symbolism – in the Middle Ages they were seen as creatures of the devil and were even burned at the stake.
- FU DOG TATTOO MEANING
The Fu dog is another Eastern symbol that comes from China. Temples all over Asia are guarded by sculptures known in the West as “fu dogs”. However, these creatures are not dogs at all, but lions - Lions of Buddha, to be precise.
Different fu dog tattoo meanings:
- The Fu dog offers protection to those who use this symbol. And people have this animal, also known as the lion dog, tattooed or placed around their home or businesses as statues or in artworks.
- It is thought in the East that the Fu dog can protect you from harm and is found in prominent places like temples, government buildings, hospitals. This dog is also placed in pairs to promote happiness and tranquility.
- The male fu dog is also often tattooed with a sphere at its feet, symbolizing its role as protector of Heaven. The female’s fu dog are typically tattooed with its feet resting on a young cub, symbolic of its role as protector of the Earth.
Because of these qualities of strength, protection, and courage, fu dogs are popular motifs not only in Japanese tattoo culture but also in Western tattooing.
- GANESHA TATTOO MEANING
Ganesha is one of the most popular and revered deities in Hindu religion and culture.
Millions of people worship Ganesha, and pray to this Indian god for protection, prosperity, and help during challenging times.
- Ganesha is a god of prosperity and luck, so some people believe that their lives will improve when the image of this god is around them or on their skin.
- Tattooing the image of this god on your body is the ultimate symbol of devotion to Ganesha. And, a tattoo of this god will represent your spirituality and faith.
- Usually, Ganesha is depicted with bowls of food at his feet, a sign that the entire world is at our feet if we want it, as well as a mouse- a reminder that, though desires are good, we must master them.
- GRIM REAPER / DEATH TATTOO MEANING
A skeletal, hooded figure carrying a huge scythe, the Grim Reaper has come to represent death throughout the world.
The Grim Reaper or tattoos associated with death can seem morbid. But these types of tattoos have powerful meaning to people:
- Usually, as the grim reaper is the avatar of death, people will have this image tattooed on them to remind them of their mortality. Everyone dies, this is not a fact we can escape from. And, some people choose to confront this reality by having the symbol of death or the grim reaper inked on their body or placed in their home.
- Death can also be symbolized with skulls and skeletons, as well as gravestones. So, there are a variety of tattoos that can represent these ideas.
- For the ancient Greeks he was seen merely as the opposite of life, much as in the tarot, where the Death card seen not as an omen of actual death but as a sign of an end, of a great change of transformation.
- HAMSA TATTOO MEANING
Hamsa tattoos are another religious symbol that can display religious meaning. The word “hamsa” derives from the Arabic word for five, khamsa.
The Hamsa hands are also called the hands of God, and this image has been around for thousands of years - it dates back as far as ancient Mesopotamia and Phoenicia.
- People who get this tattoo have it inked on their bodies as protection against evil.
- Judaism and Islam have also used this symbol to improve spirituality and protection against evil forces.
- It is also believed that if the fingers are spread this will ward off evil, whereas if the fingers are closed good luck will come.
- HANNYA MASK / ONI DEMON TATTOO MEANING
One of the core principles of Japanese tattoos is that they should be big and frightening. They must be visible from a distance and have the ability to scare anyone who sees them.
Therefore, oni, or horned demons or trolls, are one of the most popular Japanese tattoo designs. Though their facial features will change from artist to artist, oni are almost always shown with horns and often coloured pink, red, or bluish-grey.
- Oni is a type of male Japanese demon that represents evil and negative emotions.
- Hannya on the other hand is a female demon that represents jealousy and anger. Hannya masks are a representation of this demon and are used in Japanese plays and literature. Someone might have this demon tattooed on them to display their fierceness and strength.
- A red Hannya mask in particular shows that someone has a dark side or that they might feel like a demon on the inside. Red Oni masks represent something similar.
- However, Hannya and Oni masks aren’t all bad, and some people in Japan use this mask to ward off other evils and gain luck.
- HOLD FAST TATTOO MEANING
The tattoo with the words “hold fast” has nautical origins.
To old-school saliors who lived a life aboard ship, often in rough seas, the term “Hold Fast” was an expression of life or death.
Sailors used to get this tattoo put on their bodies to represent their strength so that they could hold on to ship ropes and riggings and not fall to their death.
- Today, sailors still get this tattoo - especially on their hands. But other people also get this tattoo even if they are not sailors.
- “Hold fast” tattoos help people remind them of their inner strength and resilience during challenging moments in their life. It is a reminder that you can hold fast onto life.
- ICARUS TATTOO MEANING
Icarus tattoos represent a story from Greek mythology.
Icarus flew with wax wings to the sun, even as his father warned him not to fly too high or low. But Icarus did not listen, and his ambitions were too great, so he ended up drowning in the sea as his wax wings melted.
- The story of Icarus represents pride and hubris and is a warning against arrogance. The symbol of Icarus is meant to represent human limitations and arrogance. It means we should be ambitious, but we need to have balance in our life to stay healthy and happy.
- The story of Icarus can also be seen as a symbol of strength over adversity and reaching for one’s dreams, of power, cunning, and bravery.
- INFINITY SYMBOL TATTOO MEANING
Infinity tattoos became mainstream thanks to the power of social media.
The infinity symbol has long been used as a religious symbol in one form or another. However, it was the English mathematician John Wallis who credited with first using it as a mathematical symbol, in 1655.
- Infinity tattoos tend to symbolize eternity and rebirth.
- The infinity symbol has no end and wraps around in a continuous loop. In short, this image shows the journey of our lives and the limitless possibilities that are out there for us.
- The infinity symbol is also known to represent snakes. In particular, the snake Ouroboros from mythology, who eats his own tail, can be used in an infinity tattoo. As this snake wraps around itself like an infinity symbol and represents the continuous cycle of life and death.
- JESUS CHRIST TATTOO MEANING
Jesus is well known throughout the world, not just as a religious figure, but as a cultural one.
- Jesus is a part of the Christian religion and getting a picture of Jesus inked on your skin is a powerful reminder of the Christian faith.
- Jesus is a peace-loving, wise, and loving figure. People often associate him positivity and redemption. In addition, getting a Jesus tattoo can be a reminder of Christ’s love for humanity.
- The image of Jesus Christ has figured prolifically in tattooing down the centuries. Along with the Virgin Mary, tattoos of Jesus have been not only proudly worn as a symbol of religious faith, but also as a sign of hope, inspiration, and strength.
- Christian sailors would often get a portrait of Jesus, or in some instances the Crucifixion, tattooed onto their backs in the hope that, should they face a lashing while at sea, the person administering the punishment would be more lenient when faced with the image of the Saviour.
- In the Russian prison system, a tattooed image of Jesus on the cross was intended to show that the wearer was a “Prince of Thieves”.
- KOI FISH TATTOO MEANING
A fish native to Central and East Asia, the koi carp can be seen in many traditional Japanese tattoos. Koi are associated with masculine characteristics such as strength and bravery, as well as being symbols of determination and the desire to succeed. According to legend, the koi in China would attempt to swim upstream, against the current of the Yellow River, and finally faced a waterfall known as the Dragon’s Gate. Very few would even make it to that point and any that succeeded in climbing the waterfall would be rewarded by being turned into a golden dragon. For this reason, most koi tattoos will be placed on the body so that they are swimming “upstream” (that is, the wearer’s body). As with all Japanese tattoos, the secondary attributes of the motif are important: for this reason, colour and placement, for example, should be considered when choosing the koi as a design.
- LION TATTOO MEANING
The king of the beasts, the lion has always been a popular motif in folklore, art, and tattoo design. Whether rendered realistically or stylized, the lion represents strength, courage, fearlessness, and wisdom. Many cultures feature lions in their texts, both sacred and secular, and carvings and paintings of them can be seen all over the world. Lions feature heavily in the heraldry of royalty, once again linking the lion to its place at the apex of the power hierarchy. Lions are also associated with inner strength – symbolizing how we can reign over our emotions and actions.
- LOTUS FLOWER TATTOO MEANING
Not only is the lotus flower admired for its beauty, but, especially among Eastern cultures, is also laden with significance. In Hindi culture, the lotus is associated with divine beauty and purity, its unfurled leaves suggesting a spiritual awakening or expansion of the soul through meditation and insight. In Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes purity of the body, mind, and spirit, floating on the muddy waters of attachment and desire. The Buddhist lotus flower is depicted with eight petals (whereas in Hinduism it has many more), symbolizing the Noble Eightfold Path, a core principle of the Buddha’s teachings. The colour of the lotus flower is important, too, as different colours represent different qualities or states of being. A red lotus, for instance, is related to love and compassion. In addition, the form of the lotus, whether open, closed, or partially closed, also has different meanings relating to one’s spiritual state.
- MANDALA TATTOO MEANING
Its name originating from the Sanskrit word for “circle”, the mandala is, in Indian religions, a sspiritual and ritual symbol of the universe. The basic design of a mandala originally comprised a square with four T-shaped “gates” and, inside the square, a circle containing a centre point, although today this core idea is open to a wide range of variations and personal touches. Most mandala designs seek to achieve a geometric, or radial balance, both across the entire form as well an in the intricate patterns used to decorate them. In modern times, the term “mandala” has come to be used to describe any diagram, chart or patter that serves as a visual metaphor for the universe or cosmos. In many religions, a mandala is used as a meditation aid, as a way of focusing the mind. Many see the mandala as not only a reflection of the universe, but also as a symbol of the self and its place in the order of things.
- MANEKI-NEKO TATTOO MEANING
In traditional Japanese folklore, a cat washing its face meant that a viositor would soon arrive or else that it would soon rain, which in turn would entice a visitor through the door, out of the wet weather. This belief gave rise to the popular figurine known as a maneki-neko -depicting a white cat waving its paw- often worn as a good luck charm or, in larger form and made out of ceramic or plastic, displayed outside a shop. Though many Westerners believe that a maneki-neko is merely waving at them, it is actually beckoning them inside, as the translation of the name suggests (“beckoning cat”), no doubt to spend their hard-earned cash. A maneki-neko is most often shown as white, but different-coloured cats attract different things -white summons good luck, while gold brings money- and what the cat wears around its neck will depend on what the owner would like most in their life. Often, the cat is depicted holding a coin, another symbol for good fortune and monetary wealth. The higher the beckoning paw is held, the more prosperity the cat attracts, which has resulted in some maneki-neko having very long arms.
- MOON TATTOO MEANING
The brightest and biggest celestial body in the night sky, the moon has played central role in myth and legend- and in human consciousness- since the very dawn of humanity. Because it appears during the hours of darkness, the moon is closely associated with mystery, magic, and witchcraft. Unlike the sun, whose image remains static, the moon waxes and wanes, changing shape as time passes, and therefore reminds us of the cycle of life and how, even though things are constant, they are also ever-changing. In some cultures, the moo is feared but at the same time respected-a symbol of power and death- while in others, it is seen as a symbol of life, birth, and rebirth. In modern mythology, the moon is associated with madness and evil (we have only to think of the pop-cultural obsession with werewolves, who traditionally underwent their transformation with each full moon), although it is also linked closely with love and magic. Whatever we associate with the moon, it remains a powerful symbol, summoning up deep emotions from the human psyche.
- OWL TATTOO MEANING
Across cultures and down through history, people have regarded owls with a combination of curiosity, awe, and fear. In early folklore, the owl was associated with positive characteristics such as wisdom, helpfulness, and even the gift of prophecy, and in Greek mythology was the companion of Athena, goddess of wisdom. However, as time moved on, the owl began to take on darker connotations, associated with witches and dark lonely places, and feared as a creature of darkness. In the Middle Ages, people thought that if you saw an owl, death was near. In Cameroon, Central Africa, the owl does not even have a proper name, but it’s referred to superstitiously as “the bird that makes you afraid”. Today, the owl continues to carry this ambivalent reputation, seen both as a creature of wisdom and of darkness.
- PANTHER / JAGUAR TATTOO MEANING
The panther – solitary, graceful, nocturnal, powerful- is a powerful symbol in several mythologies. To Native peoples of North and South America, the black-coated jaguar (the only species of panther found in the continent) is a powerful totem, imbued with great magic and power. For the Tucano people of the north west Amazon, the roar of the jaguar was the roar of thunder, and eclipses were caused when the jaguar swallowed the sun. In Chinese mythology, the panther was seen as feminine, as a seductress, mother, and warrior. In medieval times, it was believed that the panther, after feasting, would sleep in a cave for three days, after which it would awaken and roar. Its roar released a sweet smell that would attract any creature that smelt it and the panther would feast again, after which it would return to its cave to repeat the cycle.
- PHOENIX TATTOO MEANING
The story of the phoenix is familiar to most: a mythological bird that, after a long life, bursts into flames, only to rise from the ashes stronger and more beautiful than ever.
Because of this, the phoenix has long been associated with life, death, and rebirth.
- The earliest known representation of the phoenix is in ancient Egypt (in the form of the heron-like Bennu-bird) and it can be traced through most civilizations and in many religions, though sometimes with differing interpretations.
- In ancient Roman times it was stamped onto coins to symbolize the endurance of the empire, while in China the phoenix was seen as a symbol of marriage.
Whether depicted as a beautiful bird in flames or rising renewed from its ashes, it remains a powerful symbol of endurance, triumph, and rebirth.
Read also: Phoenix Tattoo Meanings You Didn't Know
- ROSE TATTOO MEANING
Of all the symbols for love, the rose must be the most universal and powerful. The simple beauty of the flower has touched the human heart since ancient times, when it was closely associated with goddesses such as Aphrodite/Venus and Isis.
A rose bush was said to have grown from the spoiled blood of Adonis, Aphrodite’s slain love, as well as from the goddess’s tears, and was thus a symbol of undying love.
- In Christianity, the five rose petals symbolized Christ’s five wounds, and a rose bush was said to have grown on the site of the Crucifixion. The rose was also closely associated with the Virgin Mary: in Catholicism, the sequence of prayers to the Mother of God is known as the rosary (“cronw of roses”).
- The rose also appears in the tarot, most notably on the cards for The Fool, the Magician, Strength and Death. These four cards, among other interpretations, are symbolic of transformation, mysticism, and illumination.
- In England, the rose is the national flower, dating back to the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509), when he combined the red and white rose to form the Tudor Rose, to show unity between the houses of York and Lancaster after the Wars of the Roses.
The rose is a flower that has long held the imagination -on the surface a powerful symbol of passion and love, but rich with deeper, esoteric connotations as well.
- SACRED HEART TATTOO MEANING
The Sacred heart is a striking motif that has its roots in Christianity but is now widely tattooed purely for its aesthetic beauty. Veneration of the Sacred Heart, which symbolizes Jesus’ love for humanity, was first promoted by the Parisian nun Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (12647-90), after a series of visions in which she reported that Jesus had pulled back his robes to reveal his heart and told her to devote her life to the Heart of Christ. Iconographically, the Sacred heart is usually encircled with a crown of thorns and surrounded by flames and a divine light. A later, related motif was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in which a heart is shown pierced by swords, representing the Seven Sorrows. The Sacred Heart has evolved into many different forms over the years and is still a very popular theme in tattooing.
- SEMICOLON TATTOO MEANING
A relatively new symbol in tattooing, and what could be considered a fad or fashion tattoo, the semicolon gained popularity after 2013 when the SemiColon Project was launched in the United States. The SemiColon Project is a charity that was set up to help people who are suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, its name deriving from its ethos: “A semicolon represents a sentence that the author could have ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” A social media campaign encouraging supporters to draw a semicolon on themselves and then to post the image on a social media site quickly caught on and soon people were opting for a more permanent way of showing their support by getting a semicolon tattoo. This, in turn, led to the formation of the Semicolon Tattoo Project. The global reach of social media and the ease with which ideas like this can go viral have meant that many similar tattoos have gained popularity since the semicolon first came to prominence.
- SHIP OR "HOMEWARD BOUND" TATTOO MEANING
There is probably no other tattoo as iconic for a sailor as that of a fully rigged ship sailing the Seven Seas, usually worn as a full back or chest piece. Often, the design would include a banner coiled around the top or bottom of the ship, with “Homeward Bound” written across it. As well as being a proud visual emblem of the wearer’s profession, it was also considered a good luck image, the words urging the sailor to return to his home port, safe and sound, after a long journey at sea. In other sailor folklore, a fully rigged ship tattoo was earned only once the sailor had rounded Cape horn, at the southern tip of South America, as this was considered one of the most dangerous routes to sail.
- SKULL TATTOO MEANING
While the skull universally represents death and decay, a life passed, it can also have more positive connotations. We cannot help but look upon the skull and not retain a sense of our own existence and our place in the world; think of Hamlet and his famous soliloquy to Yorik. In outlaw cultures, scuh as those of pirates and biker gangs, the skull has traditionally been used as a sign of rebellion, as well as ameans to strike fear into the hearts of those who view this powerful image. In art, it has sometimes been used to represent secret knowledge or the truth, as in its anamorphic presentation in Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors (1533). Today, we still use the skull and crossbones as a symbol warning of poisonous substances. The skull represents both death and life – it quite literally hides knowledge but in the end reveals the truth.
Sugar skull meaning
Every year, from 31 October to 2 November, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead – the Día de los Muertos. This ancient annual festival was a chance for people to celebrate life, death, and rebirth, and to commemorate and honour their ancestors who they believe returned to earth at this time to visit them. A colourful, joyous time, the Day of the Dead is not supposed to be morbid or even associated with death; rather, it is seen as a celebration of the past. One of the best-known traditions of the festival is to offer the dead brightly decorated skulls made out of clay or sugar. As a motif, this has been adopted as a tattoo and has spread out to the rest of the world.
- SNAKE TATTOO MEANING
To fully cover the symbolism and mythology of the snake would probably take up a book on its own.
It is one of the oldest and most powerful symbols in human civilization and can be found in nearly every culture and mythology. Around the world, and through history, the snake has come to represent many different ideas -from the duality of good and evil to fertility and secret knowledge.
Because a snake is able to shed its skin, it is also seen as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. Some religions revere the snakes as a representation of a deity, while other religions, such as Christianity, view the snake as an evil entity bent on bringing ill fortune, sin, and chaos to the world.
Ultimately, the snake is a powerful symbol in the human psyche and, therefore, a popular design choice for tattooing.
Read more: Snake Tattoos: What Do They Really Mean?
- SPIDER WEB TATTOO MEANING
Over the years, the spider web has become a popular tattoo far beyond the world of convicts, criminals, and prisoners, but within the walls of the prison the spider web has very significant meanings and is one of the very oldest prison code tattoos.
At the most basic level, the tattoo represents an inmate doing time and was traditionally positioned on the wearer’s elbow(s): the prisoner has been sitting around with their elbows on a table for so long that spiders have made their homes there.
In some prison subcultures, the number of concentric circles within the web represents the years spent behind bars. Within the Russian prison system, a plain web indicates the wearer is a thief, while having a spider in the web means that the inmate is a drug addict.
In this last instance, the tattoo is usually located on the hand, between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes, a spider-web tattoo is used to show that the wearer has committed murder while in prison.
- SUN TATTOO MEANING
Worshipped as long as there has been human life on earth, the sun is a universally revered symbol and motif the world over. There is not a culture or religion on earth that does not look to the bright yellow star the daytime sky and not associate it with life, energy, strength, and rebirth. It is the all-powerful source of everything that lives on the planet, a guide to travellers, and a means to tell the passing of time. Numerous mythologies bear witness to the central place the sun has played in belief and religion – from the ancient Egyptian Ra to the ancient Greek Helios, and right through to modern spirituality, where the sun is seen as a personification of life, that which sustains the world, and which makes existence on earth possible. The sun is the start of a new day, it brings light where there has been darkness, promises growth, change, and transformation… And of course, once an object has settled itself so deeply in our psyche, it isn’t long before is reflected in our art, whether that’s on your skin or off.
- STAG TATTOO MEANING
In Celtic mythology, the white stag is a sign that the other world is near, that a spiritual quest is about to begin, or that a profound change is about to occur for the person who has witnessed it. In Arthurian legends, a white stag, quite often appears when the knights set off on their adventures. In Christianity, the Roman soldier saint Eustace saw a vision of a white stag with a cross between his antlers while out hunting, and thus the motif became a symbol of Christ. An enduring symbol in mythology, the white hart has continued to feature in more modern writings, as in the CS Lewis children’s novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) and in JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels, where the young magician hero has a “patronus” (protector spirit) in the form of a white stag.
- SWALLOW TATTOO MEANING
One of the most iconic nautical tattoos, the swallow, has been used by sailors to show their experience on the sea. Though many different legends circulate about the origins of the motif, the most common belief is that it represents having travelled over 5.000 nautical miles; having two swallows, naturally enough, represented 10.000 nautical miles. Another belief is based on the fact that the swallow always returns home to nest; therefore, having a swallow tattoo was a form of talisman for a sailor: they, too, would eventually return safely to their home port after a long journey. Often, a sailor would get one swallow on his outward journey and another once safely back home. Another legend states that, if a sailor died at sea, birds would carry his soul to heaven – another reason to have this important symbol by one constantly. The swallow was traditionally tattooed on the chest, hand, or neck.
- SWORD TATTOO MEANING
The motif of the sword instantly evokes ideas of protection, courage, and strength; we think of the knight in shining armor going into battle to save the land or to rescue a persecuted maiden. Many warrior peoples such as the Saxons viewed the sword as an extension of their being -to relinquish it was not only to be dishonoured but to lose one’s identity. However, the sword also has plenty of metaphysical and philosophical associations as well, no doubt in some part linked to these surface meanings. In alchemy, the sword is a symbol of purification, piercing the spiritual soul of man, while in Buddhism the sword is used to cut away the earthly bonds of man so that he may receive enlightenment. Swords are seen as powerful talismans, given to folklore heroes so that they can carry out their quests: the young Arthur wins Excalibur and thus asserts his right to be king, while the Greek hero Perseus is given a sword by his father Zeus, so that he can kill the monstruous Medusa.
- TIGER TATTOO MEANING
It is easy to see why tigers are such a popular choice when getting a tattoo. They are the largest of all cats and their physical presence instantly invokes strength, beauty, and sensuality. In China, the tiger is considered the ultimate land animal, surpassing even the lion as the king of the beasts. The tiger is also associated with wealth, courage, and long life, but it is also, somewhat paradoxically, seen as the protector of the dead. Tigers are considered one of the four sacred animals in China, the universe being held in balance by five tigers of different colours, each one representing an element and a season, with the fifth being born of the sun, to rule the others. In India, the tiger is seen as having supernatural powers, able to fight dragons, create rain, and prevent children from having nightmares. A creation myth in Korea centres on a fight between a tiger and a bear as they vie for the right to become human. The tiger fails, fleeing into the forest, while the bear wins and becomes the first woman, the ancestress of the Korean people.
- TREE OF LIFE TATTOO MEANING
The Tree of Life is a global archetype that can be found in biology, mythology, religion, and philosophy. In a biological context, the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82) used it as a metaphor for the evolution of all things on earth, while many religions use it to show the connectivity between the world we live in and other, spiritual planes. As far back in history as ancient Egypt and ancient Iran, the Tree of Life was used to show how the universe, and all living beings in it, came into existence. In Buddhism, Buddha received his enlightenment while resting under the Bodhi tree. In Norse mythology, the immense ash tree Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds. In the Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is representative of different unconnected nodes, or principles, that are the core of Jewish mysticism.
- TURTLE TATTOO MEANING
In Polynesian culture, a turtle represents the link between this life and the next. Because turtles can move freely from land to water, the Polynesians believe that the turtle will help them move to their final resting place. In Hawaiian mythology, a turtle guided a turtle guided the first indigenous people to the islands and therefore is revered as a navigator. The Hawaiians also believed that their guardian spirits would take the shape of animals and that they would often assume the form of a turtle to protect children playing near the sea. Turtles are found in many of the islanders’ artworks and tattoos, often incorporated into bigger designs or with a basic outline containing many intricate shapes and patterns. In the world of seafaring tattoos, a shell-back (turtle) tattoo shows that the wearer has crossed the Equator.
- VALKYRIE TATTOO MEANING
In norse mythology, the valkyries were a host of female spirits who roamed battlefields deciding who woulæd live and who would die. Having made their choice, they would then conduct the fallen warriors to Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain, to present to the god Odin. Because it was believed that Valkyries only chose the best warriors to be taken to Valhalla, it was an honour to die bravely in battle. In Norse stories, Valkyries were sometimes shown as the lovers of heroes or as the daughters of royalty, and were often depicted on horseback or accompanied by ravens, or sometimes in the guise of flying swans. Valkyries were considered brave and great warriors, able to regenerate themselves when wounded in battle.
- WATCH TATTOO MEANING
Since the early 2000s, watches have been a very popular design in tattooing. More often that not, the watch/watches are chosen by people who wish to remember and commemorate an important time in their life. For instance, many watch tattoos will show a memorable time, such t as the time a child was born, or will use the hands of the watch to indicate an important date, such as the death of a significant other. Many such designs also incorporate other objects that give some further indication of the nature of what is being commemorated: for example, handprints for a new baby or the loved one’s favourite flowers.
- WOLF TATTOO MEANING
The image of a wolf often has a deep ambivalence: suggesting both the aggressive, “animal” side of nature, and the loving protectiveness of the pack. In the novel Steppenwolf (1927) by the German-born Swiss writer Herman Hesse (1877-1962), the protagonist is a homeless loner, wandering the city, unsure whether he is a wolf with a higher spiritual nature or a wild animal like the “wolf of the steppes”. A wolf is seen as a proud, powerful beast who is capable of both great love and great violence. On the one hand, it is a guardian, protecting its family and those it loves, and, on the other hand, a devil-like trickster who ruthlessly hunts at night. In fairy tales, the wolf is manipulative, cunning, and resourceful, but warriors use the wolf as a symbol of ingenuity, strength, courage, and power. Our ambivalent attitude to the wolf comes to the fore in the werewolf -by day a normal man, by night a savage beast.
- YING AND YANG TATTOO MEANING
There have been many different Chinese philosophies through the ages, but one of the most consistent and enduring ideas has been that of yin and yang. As a symbol, its power lies in the way that it so effortlessly encapsulates a concept that has so many complex layers. Whatever idea is attributed to it, its basic, overriding definition is that of completeness – two separate and opposing attributes that combine to form a single whole. Its very popularity as a symbol is due to its simplicity and openness to interpretation, ranging from the connections between the masculine (yang) and the feminine (yin) to the relationship between evil (yang) and good (yin). In its basic form, it shows that opposite forces are forever in pursuit of balance and that, within each separate part, there is a smaller component of its opposite.
As you can see, there's so many options when it comes to getting a meaningful tattoo - and we've only taken into consideration their meanings!
Although many tattoos represent or mean something to some people, ultimately you should have a tattoo that means something for you - and if it doesn't have any special meaning is okay, too.
We hope this list of tattoo meanings helps you find the perfect one for you!