Delving Deeper: The Meaning of Tattoos
Buddha is the term commonly used to refer to Siddhartha Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism. Buddha literally means "awakened" or "that which has become aware". In Buddhism a Buddha is any being that has become fully enlightened and has permanently overcome emotional states like anger, greed, and ignorance. Having achieved such awareness, a being has achieved total liberation from suffering, better known as Nirvana.
As a tattoo symbol, the cherry has come to represent feminine chastity and purity as the fruit ripens on the tree. Once plucked, however, a cherry represents the loss of innocence and virtue, symbolizing young love.
Flowers are typically associated with feminine beauty and grace. Their shape, color and scent are the perfect expression of life's invitation, the embodiment of nature and symbols of the cycle of birth, life, procreation, death and rebirth. The hibiscus flower tattoo originated on the beautiful island of Hawaii and symbolizes delicate and fragile beauty.
The heart tattoo is a universal symbol of the feminine, often used as an expression of romantic love. Heart tattoos with banners were very popular with Servicemen in WWII; tokens of their loved ones that accompanied them on perilous journeys to far-off theatres of conflict and a constant reminder of what they were fighting for. The heart is the eternal symbol of love, romance, and the very life force within all of human kind.
Koi fish, or Carp, are a fixture of Japanese tattooing and play important roles in both Chinese and Japanese myths, legends, fables and stories. In many of those stories, Koi are transformed through their efforts and perseverance, able to climb waterfalls or become dragons. The Koi represents perseverance in the face of adversity and strength of character or purpose.
The nautical star goes back at least a century or more. Before modern navigation, sailors would navigate by the stars in the night skies, in particular the North Star in the Northern Hemisphere. Sailors hoped their star tattoos would get them home safely as they sailed through the night.
Om (also Aum, Ohm)
The world's most widely recognized sacred syllable - is the most important symbol in the Hindu Dharma, for it is nothing short of Absolute Reality (Brahman) and embodies the essence of the universe. At birth, a child born into a Hindu family has the OM sign written in honey on its tongue. It appears in every Hindu temple and in the most humble of family shrines.
The tradition of Pin-Up girls started when soldiers would cut out pictures of movie stars and pin them on their wall. One of the most popular early pin-up girls was Betty Grable. Her poster was ubiquitous in the lockers of G.I.s during World War II. Pretty girls and tattoos never go out of style.
The swallow, like the bluebird, is a symbol of hope. For more than a century the swallow has been a favorite tattoo motif for sailors. It's often a sign that land is near. During migrations that can be thousands of miles in distance, swallows are known to travel far out to sea, but would alight on boats when close to land, a welcome sign for the sailor hoping for landfall. It's a tradition for sailors -- after logging 5,000 miles at sea -- to sport the swallow tattoo.
Trees have a rich symbolic history in many cultures, from the cherry trees and blossoms of Japan, to the trees that were at the center of the creation myths of the Celts and Norse in Europe. In a number of Asian and African cultures, their creation myths tell stories of men hanging from trees like fruit until they were plucked and came to life. Buddha found enlightenment in his long meditation under the branches of the Bodhi tree. Trees are powerful symbols of regeneration and rejuvenation, vivid reminders to us of the cycle of life, the hard, cold, barren months of Winter giving way to the new growth, buds, warmth, fertility and life of Spring.
A representation of Wings as a tattoo design symbolizes flight. But if we give wing to our imagination for a moment, they signify the escape from the bonds of early existence to the limitless freedom of the spirit. Wings stand for peace, love, and the link between earth and sky -- between the human and divine -- and as symbols of transcendence and liberation. Wings combined with a heart symbol is one of the most popular tattoo motifs. Heroic and spiritual, this combination has mystical and religious associations that go back thousands of years. For the Sufi mystic, the winged heart symbolizes the heart's yearning for heaven. Wings transform the gravitational pull of the earth into a spiritual 'pull' to a higher way of being.