Tattoos as a Spiritual Rite of Passage

Posted on 31. May, 2012 by in spiritual growth, Spiritual Journey

Just look around today and you will see an increasing number of people with body markings called tattoos in English. The word, tattoo actually came from the Samoan, “tatau” and was first called by that name in English by Joseph Banks, the naturalist aboard Captain Cook’s ship the HMS Endeavor. However, tattooing is a much older art and common worldwide, especially among the native people. Recently there has been a huge revival of tattooing, and it is not uncommon to see entire arms or backs covered with this permanent ink. Jacob Meyers writing for The Huffington Post (“Religion” section) has taken this one step further and maintains that tattoos in every country are a kind of spiritual rite of passage. Here are his reasons.

Tattoos as a Spiritual Rite of Passage

Tattoos Are Road Signs Along One’s Spiritual Journey

When a tattoo is affixed to a significant spiritual, relational or existential moment, the indelible ink is even more profound and can be powerful enough to return one to that state of spirituality. Like most significant experiences in one’s life, the event of tattooing retains a place in our memory. We remember where we were and when the event occurred. Unlike these other experiences, however, tattoos retain their significance as visible reminders of an important, spiritual experience in our lives — like footprints unaffected by the tides of time. Tattoos are fixed in living memory and thus they can serve as monuments, allowing one to retrace one’s spiritual and existential pilgrimage.

Tattooing Inaugurates One Into A Community

Every tattoo has a story. A major facet of tattoo cultures is the unveiling of stories through one’s tattoos. For some cultures, like the Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand, tattoos serve to signify one’s place within society. For the Tofi people of New Guinea, a swirl on a woman’s face indicates her family lineage. In indigenous cultures, tattoos mark one’s role in a larger societal narrative.

In America, tattoos do not typically serve such societal functions, but they nevertheless inaugurate one into a community of persons who have likewise undergone this act of transformation. Through the manifestation of who you are, you communicate silently with those who are a part of this culture.

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It’s a bit alarming for me to see these huge tattoos these days despite the fact that I myself have a butterfly tattoo which joined my body long ago during my “salad days”. However, I spent 15 years in Japan where tattoos are a sign of the Yakusa, the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia. In fact, I was once thrown out of a Japanese spa due to my tattoo. I guess the Yakusa are not welcome there. What do you think of tattoos? Are they beautiful, ugly, enlightening, or disgusting? I suspect people have strong feeling about tattoos. Please leave a comment below to share with others.


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