The Mag Gallery The Hood
User Pass Stay logged in (?)
The Mag
Inside the Mag
Special Feature
Tattoo Culture
Artist Spotlight
Product Reviews
Tattoo Symbolism
Tattoos 101
Ask Toodles
Editorial Page
tribal pattern


User's Guide
Submit Product for Review
Editorial Policy

Tattoo Symbolism > View symbols

Tattoo Symbolism

An Encyclopedia of the Symbolism, Meaning and Magic Behind Popular Tattoo Designs

by AdamSkyArtist

April 8, 2005

Tattoo Symbolism

We're constantly adding new explanations behind the symbolism and meaning behind popular tattoo themes and designs that are found on Tattoodles. Many of the tattoos we get are rooted in symbolic, cultural or spiritual meaning. Let's explore...


Egyptologists believe that this holy symbol of ancient Egypt depicted never ending life through mortality and death. Often seen throughout ancient Egyptian art and hieroglyphs, it's thought that this was a symbol of the sun rising with the loop being the sun and the cross bar being the horizon and the line below showing the direction of the sun. It was also thought of being everything from a sandal strap to a penis sheath. The ankh is undisputedly a powerful symbol of the ancient world, even transposing it's self into modern religion as the Christian cross, again as another icon of life transforming it's self through death.

Ace of Spades

Ace of SpadesThe ace of spades is traditionally the fanciest card in a deck because of a British duty tax placed on playing cards beginning in 1588. British royalty discovered that there was a ready source of revenue with playing card decks particularly when there were wars to be paid for. Before 1828, duty was exacted from the wrapping on the deck but a hand stamp was put on a deck card to show that duty had been paid even if the wrapper had been discarded however; this stamp never carried the actual duty. Although any card could carry the stamp, the ace of spades was commonly used because it was usually the top card on the deck. The official stamp bore the ace of spades so essentially, the ace of spades was a blank card affixed with the stamp from the tax office. The playing card manufacturers were not allowed to create or affix their own stamp of the ace of spades. It was a capital offence to forge an ace. Tax evasion eventually became a problem as the tax on each pack became astronomically more expensive than the actual pack of playing cards and in turn, forged decks of playing cards could be purchased for a fraction of the price. To combat playing card stamp forgery, official printers created even more elaborate stamps, some resembling the artwork found on British legal tender of that time. In 1862 the tax was reduced and collected solely on the wrappers. Card makers were then free to create their own ace of spade emblem and following tradition the ace of spade remained the fanciest card in the deck but this time emblazoned with the emblem of their name.


Intended to be an easily recognizable symbol and created by the Dow Corning chemical manufacturing company in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute (U.S.), this symbol has become the international warning for danger due to biological contamination. Also popularized by the 90's punk rock band of the same name, it's become a staple of tattooing because of its striking tribal like design qualities. Interestingly enough, the symbol as a tattoo has been taken up by the international gay community as a self proclaimed statement that the wearer is HIV positive and therefore, his or her blood contains parthenogenesis harmful to those who come in contact.


Celtic Cross


celtic crossThe Celtic Cross or Ringed Cross is most commonly symbolic of Irish, Scottish or Welsh ancestry; predating the standard Christian symbol of the crucifix. It's been adapted through time by Irish Catholics as a symbol of the endlessness of God's love as shown through Christ's sacrifice on the cross. In an interesting cross over of ideals, some believe that the Celtic Cross is a combination of the symbol of the moon goddess, as a ring, interwoven with the crucifix, originated by St. Patrick as a gesture towards combining pre-Roman Pagan beliefs and Christianity into ancient Irish culture. Generally, it's thought that the Celtic pre-Christian cross was a druidic phallic symbol, later adapted by the Roman Catholic church into a symbol of Christianity to suit their needs with the gentrification of the people of Pagan Ireland.



CherubThe Hebrew word cherubim is borrowed from ancient Assyrian meaning 'to be near'. Cherubs are the care takers and custodians of God who closely pay him intimate service and are surrounded my His majesty. Originally depicted in ancient Middle Eastern art as having four faces and four sets of wings, the cherub is considered to be the winged servants that carry the throne of God. In contemporary times cherubs are most commonly depicted in religious art as Rubenesque children in flight, many times playing in pairs as typified in Raphael's Sistine Madonna. The image of the cherub as plump, winged children has also been absconded by modern artists as the Cupid with bow and arrow in hand; ready to cast its spell on unwitting lovers to be.



cherriesIn Japan, the cherry is a national symbol associated with self sacrifice, spring, rejuvenation and youth. Historically, the cherry in Japan is associated in particular relation to the samurai warrior as the red flesh of the cherry signifies his blood. In Christianity the cherry is a holy fruit of the preverbal paradise with the infant Christ sometimes depicted holding cherries. In England, it's lucky to plant a cherry tree near a home and lovers are expected to have good fortune if they meet close to a cherry tree. In modern Western culture, the cherry is symbolic of virginity or virtue. As a tattoo, cherries are often depicted in pairs as they would in nature. Other times as a tattoo, a cherry is being plucked away by a swallow, to indicate the loss of one's virginity.

Dragon (Eastern)

The Chinese or Japanese dragon's anatomy is created from a variety of eastern dragonanimal features such as the body of a snake, the scales of a carp, horns of a stag, the face of a camel, the ears of a bull, the neck of an iguana, the belly of a frog, and the talons of an eagle and the paws of a tiger with fire erupting from its limbs. Japanese legend has it that a carp spawning upstream will transform into a dragon once it traverses the dangers of a tall waterfall. Eastern dragons are quite different than their ancient Western counterparts as this dragon symbolizes benevolence and wisdom rather than creatures of destruction. In China, dragons are often pictorialized on tomb stones as the dragon is believed to control the movement of the heavens and dragons can sometimes be seen clutching a pearl; the pearl being symbolic of the understanding of the nature of the universe. Formal Eastern dragons are depicted with one hundred and seventeen scales; eighty one infused with Yang (good) and thirty six infused with Yin (bad). The dragon it's self is a manifestation of Yin Yang being that opposites are equal. There are three families of the Eastern dragon; all typified by the numbers of toes from three to five. Three toed dragons are Japanese, four toed dragons are Indonesian or Korean and five toed dragons are Chinese.

Dragon (Western)western dragon

Dragons of ancient European mythology couldn't be more opposite than their Asian cousins. These dragons are more derivative of lizards in their anatomy and have four thick legs, a long protruding neck from a thick body and large leathery bat-like wings and a wedge shaped head. European dragons are often portrayed breathing fire. Historically, the dragon is an embodiment of the devil from middle age mythology and certainly the Western dragon is a malevolent and vicious beast sometimes portrayed in some form of attack. Dragons were a beast best exploited for poaching as their blood and organs supposedly gave up many powers of protection in battle and myths abound of medieval knights conquering dragons in battle, inevitably dragon slaying caused their extinction, at least in myth. As with tattooing and spanning all forms of art and symbolism, the dragon is indicative of great power.


Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4

Article Comments

View 10 comments

Latest symbols

View all archived articles