Understanding the Ancient, Authentic Art
The full moon is shining brightly above. Add to it the firelight the
burns beside you and the midnight world is uncharacteristically bright. But
then, the whole world vibrates with a new rhythm now, a new meaning. For tonight,
you’ll receive a new totem spirit, and with it a new skin-print to create
a permanent bond to connect you. This will be your largest yet, and its significance
fills you with a swelling pride.
You dare not show more than a grimace from the pain for fear that you
may prove yourself unworthy of your newest guardian. You can sense from the
excitement flowing from both your shaman and brethren that with this new guardianship
you will climb to more and greater heights.
For not just anyone can claim affinity with the majestic wonder of the
Welcome to the ancient art of authentic tribal tattoo.
While today it is possible to find some incredibly breathtaking tribal tattoo
designs, you’ll be hard pressed to experience the full, authentic art
of the tribal tattoo experience in commercial America. Now, electric guns and
high tech and high quality inks have replaced sticks, styluses, bone needles
and plant dyes of the modern tattoo’s ancient ancestors. Modern tattoo
artists have replaced the shaman and medicine folk of old.
The History of the Tribal Tattoo Design
Most likely, the very first tattoo happened on accident. All it takes is a
few rowdy primitives playing around the fire. It wouldn’t take long for
someone to fall in, get poked with a charred stick and later heal before they’d
realized that they were on to something. The news probably spread as fast as
the fires that prompted the invention. As a matter of fact, it is rumored that
the first tattoos were of the sun or flames in honor of the sun god(s).
There were three major factors that took the practice of tribal tattooing from
the realm of art and into the plane of the spiritual: Pain, Permanence and Loss
of the Life Source (blood). This mystical trio elevated the tattoo from mere
art and transformed it into a chance to draw people into a relationship with
God, a god, magic powers, or a trance or vision state.
Because body and soul were generally thought to be identical to one another,
your tattoos then existed on two planes: the physical and spiritual realms.
Many of the tribes from Borneo believed that tattoos would not only be enough
to get them to the proper spirit world, but that their tattoos also offered
them special qualifications for advantageous occupations upon their arrival.
It has been found that most (if not all) primitive tribes used some form of
body marking, be they tattoos, scarifications or the use of plain, temporary
body paints. This art prevailed worldwide until the arrival of civilization
as we know it, when the tattoo fell into a temporary loss of popularity.
Times May Change, But The Reasons Stay the Same
In ancient times, tribal tattoo art was popular for many of the same reasons
it is so alluring today. Tribal tattoos were employed for many motives.
To Identify Clans, Tribes and Families
Originally (and hence the name) tribal tattoos were employed to identify and
group tribes, clans and families together. Not only did this enable you to easily
identify one another, or recognize distant relatives, but it was generally believed
that your tattoos would allow you to find your tribe and join it again in the
afterlife. Today, fraternal orders, gangs, members of the military and other
organizations also have designed tattoos that are recognizable to their fellow
brothers and sisters.
In addition to a tribal tattoo, ancient men and women may also wear a marriage
tattoo. Not only would this serve the same function as the modern day wedding
ring (as a witness to your commitment to another), but again, would allow you
to find your spouse in the afterlife. This was understandably important when
husbands and wives would “cross the veil” several years apart from
one another. In modern times, this form of tribal tattoo is still prevalent,
and you will often see spouses and life-mates with matching tattooed armbands,
“rings”, initials, and hearts as a permanent witness to their love
Rites of Passage
Ancient adolescents approaching maturity would often come under the prick of
the tribal tattoo point before being socially accepted as an adult. A woman
who couldn’t bear the pain of a tattoo would be unfit for the impending
pain of childbirth – making her unacceptable for marriage. A young man
who couldn’t take it would be seen as unfit for battle or hunting, often
dooming him to the role of outcast. Today, many teenagers eagerly await (or
don’t wait) their eighteenth birthday and celebrate their entrance to
adulthood by getting a tattoo.
Totem Animal Guardianship
Many tribal tattoos were administered as proof of the power of certain totem
animals over the lives of those they chose to guard and bless. This was especially
true amongst Pacific Northwest Native American tribes and the Druids and Celtic
people of the British Isles. Being bestowed with a totem animal guardian was
a two-fold blessing- not only would you gain the strengths and abilities of
the totem animal, but the tattoo also served as a mysterious link between the
animal spirit and the bearer of its marks. Different animals provided different
strengths and virtues to their receiver. Today, animal tattoos are wildly popular.
Lower backs, upper backs, shoulders and arms abound which have been decorated
with gentle butterflies, fearsome dragons, and deadly scorpions in hopes that
these creatures’ merits will take hold.
Probably the most documented and understood of the magically charged tribal
tattoos was for the purpose of love spells and charms. These tattoo magicians
would mix special herbs and potent concoctions to their dyes and would apply
the tattoo to a small, generally hidden area to activate the magic. Generally,
these tattoos were kept hidden because it would be foolish for an old married
woman to go around wearing the marks of a foolish youth. Today, who doesn’t
know someone who knows someone with an ex’s name tattooed somewhere, whether
they’ve covered it or removed now or not?
The rich, spiritual folklore still survives today. Tribal tattoos are being
given in droves, to people as different from one another as night is from day.
You can find a tribal style fairy, Hawaiian themed designs, African inspired
prints, and Celtic crosses (both pagan and Christian), and even Maori facial
tribal art. But it appears that the ancient superstition still prevails. When
faced with doubts or indecision regarding tattoos, the modern tattoo artist
and administrator will tell you….
“When you should get a tattoo, the tattoo god will tell you that it is
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