I got a tattoo yesterday. It was the first, and as far as I’m concerned, the only one I’ll get. Loads of people have asked me if I think I’ll get addicted, but I honestly don’t think I will. It was £50, which is good value if you consider the fact that I could easily spend that on a pair of shoes or a dress that I’d only have for a year or so at the most.
I’d been thinking about getting a tattoo for three years, with an idea of what image I wanted (an owl) for two of those years, and a definite, final design for the last eight months; so the chances that I’ll just randomly decide to get a second without thinking it through are very slim.
The image I picked is a coin design from ancient Greece (5th Century) that features an owl at the centre with AQE (an abbreviation in ancient Greek meaning “of the Athenians”) and an olive branch, the sacred tree of Athena and one of the largest products of trade for the Greeks.
I did a hell of a lot of research into the design and found out a lot about the history of the coin. The use of coins for propaganda was a Greek invention- without newspapers or other mass media outlets they were a way of sending out a political message. The first coin (a very similar design to my version), was a commemorative decadrachm issued by Athens following the Greek victory in the Persian Wars. On these coins the owl of Athens was seen with outstretched wings and holding a spray of olive leaves- the olive tree being Athena’s sacred plant and also a symbol of peace and prosperity. The message was that Athens was powerful and victorious, but also peace-loving.
I’m a total obsessive when it comes to myth, folklore and legend. It’s fascinating how a single image can represent so many different things in cultures across the world- and the owl is one of the most iconic examples.
The owl was the sacred animal of the Greek goddess Athena, as well as her Roman counterpart Minerva. Both served as the patroness of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas consider the owl to be the Night Eagle because it’s silent and deadly in flight, and is a solitary bird with all-seeing eyes. The owl is generally regarded as a bird of sorcerers because of its association with darkness.
In the Navajo belief system, the owl is the envoy of the supernatural world and earth-bound spirits. The Pawnee understand the owl as the Chief of the Night and believe that it affords protection. The Cherokee honour the bird as sacred because of its night-time vision, and wish to draw that power for themselves.
Possibly the most famous myth dealing with the owl is in the Celtic/Welsh story of Bloudeuwedd, contained in the Mabinogi. Lleu, a central character of the story, has a wife created for him by the magician Gwydion, because his mother swore that he would never marry an ordinary woman. Bloudeuwedd tricks Lleu into divulging the secret to his own mortality, convincing him to even demonstrate how he could be killed. In the process, Bloudeuwedd then kills Lleu, who avenges his death by turning her into an owl, from which she receives her namesake in Gaelic.
In the culture of the Uto-Aztec tribe, the Hopi, taboos surround owls, which are associated with sorcery and other evils. The Aztecs and Mayans, along with other Natives of Mesoamerica, considered the owl a symbol of death and destruction, and the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtli, was often depicted with owls. There’s an old saying in Mexico still in use: “Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere” (“When the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies”). The Popol Vuh, a Mayan religious text, describes owls as messengers of Xibalba (the Mayan “Place of Fright”). In Hinduism, an owl is the vahana (mount) of the goddess Lakshmi.
So yeah, it’s not like I didn’t put any thought into what I was getting permanently inked on to my skin. I was chatting with the tattooist (Ami) during the whole inking process, and she told me about some of the best and worst tattoos she’d done.
A whole load of celebrities have tattoos that I’d consider pretty darn silly. David Beckham (enough said) managed to get his wife’s name misspelled in Hindi on his left arm in 2000, while Johnny Depp got “Winona [Ryder] forever”- changing it to “Wino forever” after their split. Danny Dyer (again, enough said) has “Danny” written in Thai on his wrist, which is just utterly ridiculous. Firstly, why would you tattoo your own name on your body- in case you forget it? Then there’s the fact that it’s in another language- one that I very much doubt Mr Dyer is fluent in. If he was hit by a car in Thailand then perhaps it might come in handy for identification methods, but then it could just as easily be interpreted as being his son, father, brother, friend or boyfriend. It might not even mean “Danny” in Thai. It could mean “soup”. Poor Danny will never know that every time he goes to Thailand people are viewing him as a walking advert for Heinz.
My belief is that you’re best sticking to family names if you seriously want to dedicate part of your body to someone you’re very close to, though actually, some people even seem to get this wrong. I’ve heard of one case of “Nan” being written on the upper thigh- a bit of a put-off for any future sexual exploits, no? Another was the death-dates of grandparents on the wrist… with space left below for the other “pair”. That’s just outright disturbing. Then there are the clichés- stars (don’t even get me started), hearts, quotes from songs that no one will have heard of in a couple of years (I eagerly await the day someone tells me they have a tattoo with lyrics by JLS), and phrases written in fancy italics that are so elaborate you can’t actually read them.
Ami, the tattooist at State of Art, told me the worst thing for them is when someone comes in and decides on the day what they want to get.
“Think,” she said. “This is an image you’ll have for the rest of your life. It’s not worth getting something and then regretting it a couple of years later.”
– Research. Don’t just pick a generic design you saw on the internet or copy your favourite celebrity. Find one that means something personal and that you won’t regret.
– Think about where you want to get the tattoo. Despite a rise in popularity and relaxed attitude towards them, potential employers might not appreciate them as much as you do. Discreet is best, so avoid the facial area at all costs.
– Shop around. Find the place with the best reputation and check out the work they’ve already done. Go there beforehand and talk to the tattooist so they can help you perfect your design.
– Listen to the advice your tattooist gives you! Make sure you keep the tattoo clean after you get it, and apply Bepanthen to stop irritation and infection.
So do any of you readers have tattoos? Do you love or regret them? Let us know!