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Death / Underworld
TATTOO DESIGNS & SYMBOLS - DEATH TATTOOS
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- Of all the things that we can be sure of in life, the only thing
we can know with absolute certainty is that we will die. Death is
inevitable. From the moment of birth we all begin the long, or
perhaps tragically short, march towards death. We will all leave
this mortal coil. We will all, regardless of social status or rank,
Kings and peasants alike, be consumed by fire and flame or by worms
There is no one single tattoo design or symbol that represents
Death, unless of course you count the literal - tattoo designs that
spell out the word Death in one language or another. And it could
well be argued that nearly all tattooing explores some symbolic
reference to Death. The opposite state of Death is of course, Life.
And most tattooing, both ancient and modern, explores some aspect of
the duality of Life and Death.
Death is a universally shared experience, part of the human
condition and yet the diversity of beliefs about death among the
worlds many cultures is extraordinarily wide-ranging.
The classic symbols of Death have been,
which represent the aftermath of Life, the
the Devil, who at the moment of Death comes to
collect your Soul, Angels and
which some believe will escort you to Heaven, an afterlife or Spirit
World, or any of the many agents of Death, those animals, creatures
and objects that we have come to associate with the termination of
These tattoo symbols have all represented Death at various times,
and in many different cultures -
Spiders - all whose poisonous bite could end your life,
Sharks and any number of
other apex predators and Mythic creatures who could eat you if they
so chose, Lightning,
Swords, and other instruments of destruction, war,
plague, pestilence and disease. Think of the Four Horsemen of the
Modern symbols that can symbolize Death can be hypodermic needles,
or pills, signifying death from an overdose of drugs. Bio-Hazard and
Radiation and Poison Symbols can also symbolize Death.
In those cultures who are not monotheist, which is the belief that
there is only one God or Supreme Being; such as modern Christianity,
Judaism and Islam for instance; the polytheist cultures have many
Gods and Goddesses and Divine Beings, in which there is almost
always a God or Goddess who is the agent of Death and the collector
of Souls. Here is but a small sampling:
Among all the ancient Egyptian gods Anubis is the one who was chosen
to be the God of Death and Dying. He was also considered to be the
God of the Underworld. Anubis had the body of a human and the Head
of a Jackal. But it was Osiris, husband of Isis, who was the Goddess
of Life, who eventually became the God of Death and Re-Birth.
The Buddhist Lord of the Dead, Yama, has five skulls around his
head, signifying the conquest of anger, greed, pride, envy and
Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death, wears a necklace of skulls and a
skirt of severed arms.
The Aztec god of death was Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the
Hades was the Greek God of the Underworld, but not Death. That was
the job of Thanatos, who was the God of Death. Interestingly,
Thanatos was the brother of Hypnosm, who was the God of Sleep.
For the Romans, Mars started out as the God of Fertility and Growth
and the Earth-God, and over time became the God of War, and from
there is it was short step to becoming the God of Death.
Odin, chief among the Norse Gods, and similar to the Greek Zeus, and
Roman Jupiter, was the Ruler of Aesir. Odin was the God of War,
Poetry, Wisdom, and Death. It was Odin who sent Valkyries, beautiful
winged women, to gather the most heroic Viking warriors slain in
battle to fill the mighty banquet Hall, Valhalla.
Interestingly, many tattoo designs and symbols that feature or
represent Death in some way, also represent Life, re-birth and the
idea of resurrection, reincarnation and the endless cycle of Life
and Death in the Universe. This is the
aspect of Life and Death, Death and Life.
The Phoenix is a classic symbol in this regard.
Despite a fiery death, the Phoenix rises again our of its own ashes,
re-born to live again and after Death begin a new cycle of Life.
A similar symbol of Death, Destruction and Re-Birth would be
which has several meanings. The first, is the symbolism of the
serpent devouring and consuming its own tail, literally eating
itself. This symbolizes the cyclical Nature of the Universe:
creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The Ouroboros eats
its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal.
This secondary symbolism is an echo of the concept of infinity, of
cycles without end. A Universe without boundaries or limits.
In the end, each of us must choose our own symbol for Death. And a
tattoo design and symbol for Death is not necessarily a morbid one,
but one that reminds us to live in the moment and treasure every
breath of Life we enjoy.
In fact, given human nature and our tendencies towards superstition,
such tattoos are often seen as powerful amulets and talismans
against Death itself!
And when Death does inevitably come, there are many cultures that
believe that being heavily tattooed is the best way for an
individual to ensure your safe passage to the Other Side!
inspired by some great images and photos in our Death / Gods of the Underworld Tattoo Inspiration Gallery
Religious Tattoos, Memorial Tattoos
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