Since humans have made tools, they have marked their skin. As you know from reading my first article on tattoo magick,”Tattoo magick: Body art for magicians,” there are symbols we can place on our skin that will work magick to bring about our will.
There I mentioned how I give myself my own tattoos by stick and poke method, and that tattoos can be done by the gun used in parlours. The method of tattooing is important, just as the method of casting can affect the results of a spell. The location on the body was something I couldn’t discuss there due to space confinements, but this can be as important as the symbol you choose or create.
Things to consider with tattoo magick
In Sigil Witchery, Laura Tempest Zakroff discusses tattooing sigils onto the skin. There are a set of questions she poses regarding tattooing a sigil, but I feel they apply to any magical tattoo (or even a mundane tattoo for that matter). I believe, as many Pagans do, that this life is just a blink of time in the existence of our soul, so I can hardly say that tattoos are permanent. Tattoos, like any action, could carry over into future lives, and should not be taken lightly. Zakroff provided the following list of things to consider when deciding on a tattoo:1
- What will the sigil do for you?
- Is this something you definitely want to have on your body forever?
- Where will it go and why?
- Can it be seen, or does it need to be hidden?
- What colour should it be?
I couldn’t have said it better!
As I recommended in my previous article, she similarly suggests choosing your tattoo artist carefully. You want to make sure that the artist has knowledge about how the work will age over time and should request photos of their work after it is healed. You want to see that the lines are strong and consistent as well, because they may end up blurry or messy eventually. Meet them, and make sure you feel comfortable with them and their workplace.((Zakroff, Sigil Witchery.))
Sigils are excellent options when it comes to a magical tattoo, as they are powerful alone. If you wish to learn more about creating sigils, I definitely recommend Sigil Witchery. I’ve read countless articles, taken three classes, and read two other books about them. Zakroffs’ methodology is unique, but more effective than any other I’ve ever tried. (And if you’re wondering, I am not making a dime off sales from her book — I would never recommend something simply because I could make money from the sales, I care far too much about you all!)
Related: Sigil magick: Down and dirty, by Donyae Coles
Related: Sigils, servitors and godforms: Part I, by Marik
Related: Fireclown’s sigilization basics for the confused, by Fireclown
Significance of tattoo location
The significance of the body part is something I can only touch upon, as personal and cultural beliefs differ. I have an infinity symbol on the inside of my wrist dedicated to my brother, the only person I have ever been able to trust, love, and rely on my whole life. I chose the location because of the saying “wearing their heart on their sleeve,” signifying that he is my heart. When you are planning your tattoo, it couldn’t hurt to check out the generally accepted meanings of certain body locations, but what’s more important is to choose the place based on what you believe it means, or adds to the meaning of the tattoo.
I checked several articles for the meanings of tattoo locations, and will share with you the most agreed upon meanings.
|Arm||Upper arm. Often a location chosen by men to show off their sculpted biceps and triceps. Arm tattoos signify strength, protection, and sometimes justice.2 |
Forearm. Again, often chosen to show off physical strength as well as bravery. If the tattoo is delicate or feminine in nature (author’s words, not mine) then it symbolizes that the person has a tough outer shell but is kind-hearted or ‘soft’ on the inside.3
|Neck||Front. The person is tough, with an open, or maybe risky and daring personality.((King, “Meaning.”)) |
Nape. Most often a location chosen by women with long hair, as they have the freedom to choose whether to leave their hair down, hiding the tattoo, or to put their hair in an up-do, leaving the art exposed.4
|Back||Back tattoos symbolize either a phase in your life or something in your past that you left behind you. Because it could easily be covered, it could give the impression that the person is mysterious or shy.5 |
Men that are confident about their bodies tend to get back tattoos (often to bring attention to their muscles).
Lower back. When on a woman it could signify that she is confident and sensually aware.6 In the US, there is a not-so-nice slang term for tattoos on the lower back of women, “tramp stamp,” which gives the impression that the woman is very open sexually, flirtatious, and confident about her body.
|Chest||Almost always indicates that the tattoo signifies something close to the heart and symbolizes something really important to the person.|
|Legs||Tattoos on the thigh often signify something of sentimental value.7 It could also symbolize stability, communication, or locomotion.8|
|Feet||A particularly painful spot, a tattoo here indicates strength, resolve, and, since we stand on our feet, stability.9|
|Ear||A tattoo behind the ear often signifies a free spirit.10|
How much it hurts
One thing that I noticed the articles explaining tattoo locations left out is the pain level. I think that whether the location is painful or not has at least some impact on the tattoo’s significance, especially when it is a magick tattoo. When you are willing to go through pain to mark magick into your skin, it adds to the power.
When getting a tattoo, you are putting ink under your skin, so it’s going to hurt no matter where it’s done. You have to either puncture, pierce, or cut through the first and second layer of skin in order to get deep enough for the ink to be permanent. There are areas of the body that are more sensitive (ribs, top of foot, groin, neck) and other areas considered less painful (shoulders, biceps, buttocks).
I have tattoos all over the place, and I say it depends on the person. I’ve got a tattoo on my ribs and one on my inner bicep — both places that are ranked high on the pain scales. I’ve found but they hurt less than my inner wrist and ankle tats, which usually thought to be more tolerable. Sorry if that’s not that helpful, but at least you won’t go in thinking it won’t hurt and be shocked with pain.
Related: Sacred tattoos: Temporary skin, permanent mark, by Xenia
Tattoo magick methods
Ok, you have the design and you know where it is going to go. So, how will you put the tattoo on to your body?
Electric tattoo machine
The most common method is the electric tattoo machine fashioned after Edison’s electric pen that was invented in the 1800s. These are ubiquitous at tattoo parlours all around the world. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to just walk into any shop and take the first appointment available. Really take your time to research the parlour, the artists, and their work. If possible, ask previous clients about their experiences.
Hand poke or stick and poke
One method that was utilized back in the days of Otzi the iceman is gaining popularity today: the hand poke. Another name for this method is the stick and poke. You stick a needle in the ink, then poke into your skin.
While there are a number of DIY stick and poke videos and blog articles, please don’t do this until you have researched the heck out of the method and practised on an orange. The fruit’s skin is roughly the same thickness as the first couple layers of human skin. You want to have the ink appear on the inside of the peel, but you don’t want to pierce the fruit. It’s not as easy as you think, so get a five-pound bag (you think I’m joking).
There are a number of articles showing how-to, and if you still aren’t sure, just shoot me a message. I currently have 13 tattoos I gave myself — all of which healed without a hitch and look great. That said, I practised a long time, and spend probably 20 hours reading up on the process before I gave myself my first one. The hand poke is the easiest method, but it is time consuming, and you can only do simple, lined based tattoos. Here are a couple articles I’d recommend checking out to begin your research endeavor:
- “How to stick and poke?” Stick & Poke Tattoos, n.d.
- Wendy Stokes, “How to do a stick and poke tattoo,” The Frisky, 9 August 2018
- Meg Zulch, “7 Stick And Poke Tattoo Mistakes To Avoid If You’re Thinking Of Taking The Adventurous Plunge,” Bustle, 31 May 2015
The tebori tattoo is taking “hand poke to the extreme.”11 This Japanese tattoo method is similar to hand poke except the tool is, well, intense.
It’s a wooden or metal rod that’s fitted with blade-like needles. There are a variety of rods that have more or less needles, allowing the horishi — the traditional tattoo artist for this method — to create much more elaborate tattoos.
Taking pain and time up to a whole new scale is the hand tap method. Have you ever used a chisel and hammer to mine rocks? Well, imagine the chisel is sharpened to a fine blade, and the rock is actually your skin. Yep, that’s how it’s done.
This is the traditional method for Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders — the L-shaped chisel is dipped into ink, placed against skin that at least one other person must stretch and hold tight, then the chisel is tapped, causing the blades to cut the skin and the ink to be pushed into the cut.
I don’t remember where I read this, but the warriors would be tattooed all over their back, arms, and even their faces. They had to lay still and silent. If they flinched or cried out the tattoo would be lift unfinished, and they would be forced to live the rest of their life ashamed, as the half-finished tattoo was a sign of weakness.
The final method I learned about in my research is the skin stitch, practised by the Inuit people of Alaska and the far north, and allegedly by Native Americans in the USA and Canada. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out which tribes specifically (I looked vigorously, as I am descended from a number of tribes between my parents and grandparents).
The skin stitch is pretty much what it sounds like: the thread is soaked in ink, then stitched through the skin. When the thread is pulled out, the ink is left behind. However, it takes a very skilled hand to do this, because the thread must be re-soaked and stitched through the same hole multiple times. It’s very painful and time consuming, and it takes years to perfect this craft.12
Now, my dear friend, you are ready to embark on the tattoo journey! When considering which tattoo method to use, please take the community of origin into consideration. The hand tap method, for example, is sacred to the South Pacific peoples, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Neither should the skin stitch, as the Native Americans used tattoos to indicate accomplishments, status, and for healing. But you will learn this, as you are going to do much more research, right? Of course you are!
During the journey it can be easy to become impatient, or to lose sight of the goal. If you lose the desire or no longer feel the need to tattoo the symbol onto your skin, don’t push it. It’s not meant to be. But if it is something that is necessary for your life’s journey, then I am certain you’ll still want it, and more than ever after taking the time to plan the location and method.
Careful crafting, my dears!
Related: Cultural appropriation and tattoos, by Donyae Coles
Related: Tattooed Tarot, reviewed by Psyche
Related: Tarot del Fuego, reviewed by Donyae Coles
- Laura Tempest Zakroff, Sigil Witchery (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2018), 120. [↩]
- Adele Nozedar, Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols (New York: HarperCollins, 2009). [↩]
- Tamiya King, “The Meaning of the Body Placement of a Tattoo” Leaf, n.d. [↩]
- Elizabeth, “Tattoo Placement and Personality” Curious Mind Magazine, 2017. [↩]
- King, “Meaning.” [↩]
- Elizabeth, “Placement.” [↩]
- Elizabeth, “Placement.” [↩]
- Nozedar, Element Encyclopedia. [↩]
- Nozedar, Element Encyclopedia. [↩]
- Elizabeth, “Placement.” [↩]
- Zach Johnston, “These Lesser-Known Tattoo Methods are Coming Back in a Big Way,” Uproxx.com, 18 July 2018. [↩]
- Johnston, “Lesser-Known Methods.” [↩]