The time for preparation is over. I have eaten. I have stripped down and am bare from the waist up. I have been washed. I have been shaved. I have stepped into the circle I have cast and taken my seat. I’ve sent words to the gods that I’ d like protection and ease and fortitude of mind and body. This ritual is a test. This is my journey to make alone.
Then the buzzing starts. “Are you ready?” I’m asked. I nod and I feel the first sting of the needle as it pierces my skin. Long strokes up and down my spine. The weight of another’s arm on my back holding me in place. The concurrent thoughts of “What the hell am I doing?” and “Oh I’ve waited so long for this, I can’t believe it’s finally happening”.
There is pain, plenty of that. It’s not terrible. I can deal with it. Some places are worse than others though. Mostly, it’s just relentless. It doesn’t subside. There’s no easing to it. Just a constant scratching. I look at the floor. I’m seeing designs that might not really be there. The music is pounding in my ears. Drums, lots of drums. I am transported to a huge bonfire deep in the redwoods. I’m dancing. He’s dancing with me. Many of us are dancing. This image is what I hold onto when the pain gets more intense. The needles feel like they are piercing me from the inside out and the buzzing never stops.
For almost six hours it is like this and then it is over. I’ve made it through the rite. I am changed from the inside out. I am marked for all to see…
That’s how I remember getting my back tattooed. It wasn’t my first tattoo. It wasn’t my last. But it was the first one that I got in sacred space. My tattooer is an incredible artist and he understands what the power and consequences are of having a god tattooed into your flesh. He knows the magic I’m weaving. He’s familiar with the songs I’m singing. He’s walked his own road and I imagine he’s met the old grey traveler a time or two himself.
Phoenix is much more heavily tattooed than I am and all of her tattoos are incredibly significant. Like me, she has favourite artists and most of them are witches or like-minded in some fashion.She too has been tattooed in sacred space. She details her experience of getting a devotional tattoo for Brigid in this book.
I don’t take my tattoos lightly and nor does Phoenix. All of ours have some special meaning and we’ve had the pleasure and fortune to be tattooed by folks that understand the imagery and intention behind our tattoos. There’s the Cernunnos type figure on my back. The goddess Ceridwen on my calf. Huginn and Muninn on my chest. Healing Buddha on my other calf. The homage to my Romany heritage on my left arm and my first tattoo, the dragon and the sword.
Phoenix has birds of prey on each shoulder, all of the runes across her upper back, the 9 realms of Yggdrasil on her thigh, an entire back piece of magical imagery including cranes and cauldrons and a phoenix rising from smoldering ashes. She has tattoos for her gods and goddesses and for herself. They make her more powerful. Truly, more powerful.
Many Pagans I know are tattooed. Maybe it must has something to do with being an outcast or the willingness to mark oneself as permanently different. I hear phrases like “I consecrated myself to Thor” or “I’m dedicated to Odin” or “I got this pentacle tattooed on me after I called myself a Witch for the first time”. All tattoos have a story.
Most good tattooers value that this art form has been practiced for many thousands of years. Excellent tattooers can tell you the history of their craft, both ancient and modern. The very best know that there’s something deeply, profound and Otherworldly about tattooing and being tattooed.
Are you tattooed? We’ d love to see pictures of your Pagan inspired tattoos and hear the stories of why you felt so compelled to wear that particular image on your body.
We appreciate great tattoos and great tattooers. Here are some places and artists we recommend being tattooed by –
- Jennifer Untalan – Owner of Valkyrie Tattoo in Pengrove, CA
- Philip Milic – Owner of Old Crow Tattoo in Oakland, CA
- Adam Lunoe – Splendid Ink – World traveler currently a tattooer at large
- Morpheus Ravenna – Banshee Arts – Berkeley, CA