Tattoo musings

I’ve always wanted a tattoo – and when I say ‘always’ I mean “since long before it became acceptable for women to have tattoos.”  It’s that history thing again.  Being English, with a mother from Yorkshire and a father from the Welsh borders, it’s highly unlikely that I don’t have a mix of Saxon, Viking and Celtic blood – and all of those peoples traditionally wore tattoos.  I don’t know why other people want them, but for me it’s a way of connecting to my roots, honouring my ancestors, that kind of thing.

My dad got tattooed when he was in the Army and regretted it ever after.  (I always thought that his tattoos were cool, myself.)  On the hottest of days he wouldn’t wear shorts or short sleeved tops because he wanted to keep them covered up.  That cautionary tale has kept me from taking the plunge myself.   What if I did get one and then regret it?

But I’m getting older now, so the question is turning into What if I don’t get one and then regret that for the rest of my life? If I get one and then wish I hadn’t, I really don’t have as long to live with it as I used to.  I want to be the kind of person who has tattoos, not the kind of person who always wanted tattoos but never summoned up the nerve to get them done.

So, I’ve promised myself that when I hit my target weight on this diet, I will get a tattoo as a reward.  Judging from the way the diet’s going, that will be some time in April, which doesn’t give me very long to choose something I can live with as part of my own body until I die.

I started off by browsing tattoo flash sites, which was depressing.  All the tattoos for men are too big for me, and all the tattoos for women are, for want of a better word, too girly.  I’m really not the kind of person who wants to decorate themselves with stars and flowers.  I like tribal tattoos, but which tribe are we talking about?  Probably not mine.  I had thought I wanted a compass-rose, but I couldn’t find a good one, and surely there were symbols that meant more to me than that?

Eventually I looked up the history of tattooing and discovered that:

The Council of Northumberland in 787 makes it clear that the Fathers of the Church distinguished between profane tattoos and Christian tattoos. They wrote: “When an individual undergoes the ordeal of tattooing for the sake of God, he is greatly praised. But one who submits himself to be tattooed for superstitious reasons in the manner of the heathens will derive no benefit there from.”

Which confirmed to me that my ancestors made a practice of tattooing themselves, and made me think.  I was converted to Christianity by reading the Anglo-Saxon version of the scriptures, and particularly by a poem about the last judgment, written by a man called Cynewulf.  It would be nice to honour him by getting a tattoo that the fathers of the English church would have approved of.

That sent me off looking for Saxon religious symbols, and I immediately thought of vine-scroll.  An intertwining grape vine inhabited by small animals and birds was used a lot in Saxon art to represent Jesus (because of the bit in the Bible where it says “I am the vine and you are the branches.”)  Great, I thought.  Now I know what to look for, it’ll be easy.

Is it heck!  Trying to find designs using “vine-scroll” brings up all the feminine designs I didn’t like.  Trying to find designs using “Saxon tattoos” brings up a few designs based on early metalwork, none of which are remotely Christian.  Eventually I realized that to find Saxon designs I had to search under “Celtic” which grieves my geeky historical accuracy side no end.  But even then, I didn’t turn up any inhabited vine scroll.

In a way this is a good thing – it means if I can get a nice armband of inhabited vine scroll, not many other people will have anything like it.  But it makes getting it a lot harder.

Eventually I found a drawing of the Bewcastle cross, which has some spectacular vine scroll up the sides:

and then attempted with my less than adequate Gimp skills to turn that into an armband design.  I’m hampered somewhat by not knowing what size my arm is going to be in April, and even more by not knowing how much is possible in terms of complexity v size.  Still, I think this gives an idea, and perhaps I’ll be able to discuss it with the tattoo artist once I find one, and ask them to adapt it into something that would work.

Of course, that looks like a major undertaking, and I have the lowest pain threshold in the world.  So I’m now thinking that perhaps I should get something small and simple first, to test myself out, like a very basic black cross.  Heh, I’d heard that, once you started, you tended to get more than one, but I seem to have persuaded myself into two from the word go 🙂

I’ve been looking up the local tattoo parlours on the internet, and the one that seemed to have the most consistent good word of mouth is Tattoo Crazy in March.  So on Friday I drove up there to look it over.  It certainly seems very clean, and the lady on the desk was friendly and happy to show off her full sleeve tattoo which she’d had done there (and which was lovely.)  So all I need now is to lose the 1stone 5lbs I’ve still got to go before I hit my target weight.  I wish I could do that faster, dammit!  I want to get this done now!

Colour or black and white on the vine-scroll, incidentally?  I was thinking black only, but having seen her coloured one, I’m now thinking colour would be nicer.  What do you think?

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Dianne T.
Dianne T.
13 years ago

Alex, I think your plan for a tattoo is wonderful. I would do it in color personally. I have thought of getting one across my lower back, except I am cruising for a surgery on a disc at some point in the not too distant future! This design would really mean something to you and is carefully thought out.

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