This started last spring and then somewhat dissipated over the summer – tattoo machinations. Sometime around March or April I started thinking of getting a tattoo of an ouroboros on my shoulder. I actually became pretty obsessed, spending hours over a period of a couple of months looking at every picture I could find of various ouroboroses (or ouroboroi, whichever you prefer, both are correct). None escaped my scrutiny. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mesoamerica, Native American, Norse, and a few more were assessed and reassessed for their pros and cons. One day I’d really lean toward a Norse design, only to waffle a couple of days later. This is what ultimately killed the obsession – my feeling like a teen with a new crush every week became tiring and then downright tedious.
However, it’s started again so I guess I’m back to eating my own tail. What is it about tattoos? I decided to do some research.
We humans have been playing around with self-adornment since we became self-aware. We file teeth, stretch necks, lips and earlobes, polk holes through various body parts, and yes, tattoo, only to name a few. While in Bolzano, Italy, I visited the 5,000+ year old Ice Man. Apparently scientists found tattoos on old Oetzi and theorized that they may have “telegraphed identity or magical thinking, or worked to relieve, physically or psychosomatically, his local aches and pains”. Hmm. I definitely can relate to the first part of that. I know very well when I am experiencing magical thinking and I quite enjoy it! Life would not be near as much fun if we humans lacked the ability to magically think. I’d go so far as to say that the very fact that we grasp the concept of past, present and future, and of our impending death absolutely requires that we magically think! What lies beyond the mist?
Seems like almost everyone is sporting a tattoo these days. Socio economic and social status do not qualify as a defining factor. The desire to enhance our bodies through tattooing has become mainstream. Why is that?
We attached power to tattoos, and not only within the symbolism of the design itself. The very act of getting a tattoo comes along with a “being different” mentality. We stand apart from the crowd. We’re fierce. We’re not afraid of making our mark. Many tattoos are close to erotic areas of the body, luring in mates or countering subconscious fears of getting old. Many symbols – certainly the Ouroboros – convey immortality, repetition through the ages and the order of the cosmos. I am wise and unafraid, hence my tail-eating serpent. I have had a glimpse of the beyond and embrace it. Is that what I am attempting to say through my symbol of choice? Makes sense that these are messages I would wish to reinforce in my psyche. Terror management specialists in social psychology have shown that people unconsciously honor symbols of immortality. That should come as no surprise, though. The symbols themselves seem to be immortal, shedding old skin and growing a new one as history marches on. The symbols for many of today’s major religions have pagan roots, with nature and its elements being the original inspiration. Remember the opening scene of Da Vinci Code? The professor’s slide show is pretty accurate.
Certainly the very act of submitting to the tattoo artist’s needle is in and of itself a rite of passage. We are making a choice and we’re willing to endure the process and stand by our bold statement (at least that’s the belief at the time). We’re attempting to cross paths with, if not answer, the big questions – who are we, what are we doing here, and where do we go when we die? Maybe tattoos are like the magician’s wand or cloak, or the warrior’s combat gear and weapons. We feel better equipped, stronger, more capable, more fierce…more in tune with our primal selves.
So back to me and my tattoo waffling.Bringing the psychology of tattoos into the light a bit more probably won’t be the final rub. I’ve always been drawn to all magical and mystical, from my choice of reading materials as a kid (fairy tales from around the world, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, on and on) to my taste in art and music. Things rich in symbolism just appeal to me. They help me to feel connected with the elements, a part of the cosmic dance. When a symbol helps conjure up that feeling of comfort and oneness, it usually ends up in my toolbox of archetypes.
So for now, I’m going to carefully track the ebbs and flows of my tattoo thoughts. Do changing seasons affect it? (It would appear so.) Monthly cycle of the moon? My celestial sign? Relationships with others? Travel? All of the above? At the very least it’s turning out to be a useful tool for learning a bit more about what lies beneath, and therefor another path for self-awareness. Keep you posted!