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

Continued from page 2…

Rock of Agesrock of ages

Augustus M. Toplady in 1830 penned this famous poem that begins Rock of Ages, Cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flood; Be of sin the double cure; Save from wrath and make me pure... The Rock of Ages is almost always pictorialized in tattooing as a cross on a mound in the middle of a torrent of water with a shipwrecked lass clinging to the rock for her life. Symbolically and spiritually, the Rock of Ages describes the work of Christ as the only hope for salvation from the judgment of his sins. An unsubstantiated story says the lyrics were inspired when Toplady took shelter from a storm under a rocky over-hang near England's Cheddar Gorge; he reportedly wrote the words on a playing card.


The term 'rosary' means a garland of roses; a flower associated with the Virgin Mary. The rosary is a tool of devotion towards the Virgin Mary, using the rosary to recite a set number of specific prayers; the Apostles' Creed; Our Father; Hail Mary and Glory Be. Using the rosary in association with these prayers is a form of Christian mediation. Catholics (and some Protestants) recite twelve prayers that make up the decade of the rosary and mediate upon the mystery of associated with that decade. As a tattoo, the rosary usually symbolizes devotion to the Virgin Mary and association with traditional Catholicism.

Sacred Heartsacred heart

One of Catholicism's most renowned symbols, the sacred heart of Jesus is an embellishment of the unconditional compassion Jesus has towards humanity. The sacred heart is displayed usually as a fairly anatomically correct organ with fire billowing from a ventricle at the top; blood dripping from a wound below to depict the wound Jesus suffered after dieing on the cross; wrapped in his thorny crown and radiating holy light to punctuate His divinity. The sacred heart has been a staple of classical Catholic artwork for centuries and at some unknown time, was carried over into tattooing. The sacred heart is sometimes depicted in more simple terms such as a bottle like vessel but always with a lick of flame protruding from a spout at the top. An alternative to the sacred heart is the immaculate heart of Mary which is depicted as a burning heart but without the bleeding wound and roses circumventing the heart instead of thorns. The immaculate heart is a testament to the purity of the mother of God within her immaculate conception.


An important druidic icon and spiritual plant for the ancient Celts, the word shamrock come from the Irish word seamrog, meaning clover. The shamrock was later utilized as a symbol of the Holy Trinity for Irish Catholics due to the three leaved portions of the plant. The shamrock is also attributed to St. Patrick, Ireland's patron saint who was represented killing a snake with a crucifix type weapon with a shamrock affixed to the hilt. Although it's now synonymous as an emblem belonging to Ireland, it should not be confused with the four leafed clover which is considered a lucky charm. Four leafed clovers are a mutation of the standard three leafed plant and to find a four leafed clover is a rare and 'lucky' find indeed.

Spider Webspider web

Commonly depicted on the elbows, the spider web tattoo displays an agonizing passage of time, as if the wearer's elbows have rested on the table for so long, they're collecting webs. For some, a new rung is added to the web for every passing year of incarceration. The spider web is truly a jail house inspired tattoo design due to its technical simplicity in application. With the spider web, there need not be a great deal of shading or color, just straight forward lines projecting away from a center point, making it an ideal tattoo to apply with the most rudimentary of equipment. The spider web can sometimes be an indication that the wearer has killed someone but this is more commonly depicted with an actual spider within the web.


The sun is one of man's oldest and most important symbols transposing cultures and time throughout human history. Most every religious belief begins with worshiping the power of the sun as bringer of life and prosperity, energy and light. The sun is the destroyer of darkness and the enabler of all life on the planet. In tattooing, the sun is sometimes represented along with the moon, showing the duality of the cosmos being light and darkness or Yin and Yang; opposites being equal.

Swallow/ Swiftswallow

This small bird, growing no more than six inches is pictorialized as a tattoo usually with a blue back and a red or pink belly. Swallows are a maritime tattoo associated with coming home safely to port when returning from a sea voyage; the first sign of land can be these small birds circling the ship. As another sea faring tattoo, it would sometimes mean the wearer completed an oceanic journey of five thousand miles. Swallow tattoos are traditionally seen in pairs and is commonly depicted on the chest, opposing each other on each pectoral muscle. A swift is another insect catcher that has a very similar shape to a swallow. When tattooed on the back of hands it means 'fast' hands, as in a fight.


Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4

Article Comments

View 10 comments

Latest symbols

View all archived articles