Tattoos, Symbols, and Personal Significance

Tattoos, Symbols, and Personal Significance November 11, 2019

Two days ago I celebrated my 25th birthday. To mark this important milestone, I finally got my first ever tattoo. I call it the Crone Tree. I love the wisdom in its twisted bark.

I want to discuss with you tattoos and their significance.

Mine has a lot, and I always love tattoos more when there are stories and symbolism behind them. So, for me, I started wanting to get a tattoo a few years ago. 
So, before I explain my tattoo and it’s meaning, I need to put it into perspective for you. Growing up, I was super judgmental and had a massive superiority complex (this is unfortunately kinda a given when you’re a radical traddy Catholic homeschooler). Anyway, I really strongly looked down on people with piercings (other than a single hole in each of their ears—that is, if they were women), tattoos, colorful hair, loud makeup. Anything that did not fit into my hyper anti-feminist, pro-life, uber conservative American Catholic worldview. (This of course applied to feminists, LGBTQ people, vegetarians, pacifists, anyone who seemed liberal, etc.)
Then, right before I went to college, this started to change. For the first time, I formed close friendships with people outside my homogeneous white Catholic homeschooler circle. Some of my good friends were tatted up and dyed their hair bright, unnatural shades of green and orange and painted their eyeliner on thick. I began recognizing that my old prejudices were damaging—really damaging, as well as illogical. I realized that there is nothing inherently immoral in things like dying your hair blue. So, to solidify this newfound awareness, I asked a friend dye my hair like peacock feathers. Not only was it a way to explore new morally-neutral avenues of self-expression, but it also served a kind of physical sign of penitence, to remind myself that I’m definitely not somehow superior to people who dye their hair unnatural colors.

This process of growth and change has continued for the past 6 years.

Before my junior year of college, I got my cartilage pierced with 3 holes, first because I wanted it, and second as another physical sign of penitence/reminder to get over my superiority complex and stop looking down on other people, regardless the reason. And eventually I embraced my identity as Catholic, yes, but also as an intersectional feminist, democratic socialist, witch, and bisexual.
Getting a tattoo was the natural and inevitable next step in this process, especially since I’d always judged people with tattoos as particularly low during my adolescence.
About 2 years ago I started considering this possibility more seriously, and as I pondered what symbol I wanted, I chose a tree. I knew I wanted something that held a lot of meaning for me and always would, and a tree filled those stipulations better than anything else.

I grew up in Pennsylvania, deep in the forested Appalachian mountains.

As I’ve explored more of this country and others during these past few years, I’ve found that I never feel at a home in a place without forests. It seems so lonely and bereft to me. I feel implicitly safe when I am around large, leafy, protective trees—whether in the middle of the afternoon or the darkest witching hour of the night. You see, I don’t do well with sunlight—it burns my skin quickly, I overheat, it hurts my overly-light-sensitive eyes. So I’ve always kept to the trees, to their kind shade. Growing up, when we would visit our homeschooler friends, I’d often escape away to wander in the trees after something upset me. And I found peace there.

These are all important reasons why the symbol of a tree is so dear to me. But perhaps the most significant reason I wanted an image of a tree permanently etched into my skin is that I’ve always found God’s presence more in the trees than I ever did in a church.

There in the woods I found a God who was so much safer, freer, open to mystery. Who wanted my presence, my singing, my laughter, my curiosity—who didn’t glare at me from the Sanctuary demanding austerity, self-hatred, silence.
The cyclical nature of trees and their lives reflects this even further for me. It symbolizes what I’ve experienced in my own life, especially my spiritual life, of the process of sanctity and becoming a more genuine, loving person is cyclical, never linear. For this reason, my favorite time of year is autumn, when everything is dying but is so gloriously alive and loud and stunning. And then, even in winter, when all looks dead and barren, there is a mirror life of roots that are unseen and growing and thriving, still so alive, in the dirt.

That is why I chose a tree, and why I chose to position it at the bottom of my inner left ankle.

It is like I can feel those inked roots reaching down into the dirt beneath me and rooting me, holding me safe in the midst of all the disillusionment and grief I’ve wrestled with in my personal life and in my faith these past three years. This tree reminds me that even at my darkest and most barren moments, God is there in my roots, working mysteries and graces. So I can remind myself even in my coldest winter, Spring will yet come with its blossoms. When my faith seems utterly dead and my hope is gone . . .
God is there working, in the roots of my tree.
P.S. I want to thank my Uncle Michael, who so kindly and unexpectantly sent me money for this tattoo for my birthday. He certainly didn’t need to, but I’m so glad I get to forever connect him and his kindness to it.
About Marie Kopp
Millennial, Woman, and Catholic, despite not decently fitting into any of those boxes. Lover of Platypuses and all things nonsensical. You can read more about the author here.
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