Tattoos and piercings are full of symbology – what we get and where we get it is often laden with hidden meaning, making it all the more personal. You can define yourself and your core values with a symbol tattoo, and there’s a lot of body jewelry out there that also features common symbols you can adorn yourself with.
Let’s do a rundown of some of the most common symbols in tattoos and body jewelry:
This symbol has its root in Hinduism, and the meanings can vary, but the modern western take on it has been its association with yoga. In yoga, om is a symbol of spiritual balance – arguably, of ‘oneness’
In recent years, there have been so many om tattoos that have surfaced, and as yoga becomes a bigger part of western culture, the om symbol is becoming even more popular.
Lately, semicolon tattoos are becoming increasingly popular, and those not in the know may be scratching their heads wondering what the hell it’s all about.
The semicolon tattoos are part of a movement of people that are seeking to increase awareness and acceptance of mental illnesses. The idea originally stemmed from Project Semicolon.
Basically, the semicolon is a punctuation mark that is used to continue a sentence that the writer could have ended, but chose to continue instead. It’s symbolic of the struggle that those with mental illnesses suffer from, in that they could have chosen to end their own life, but continued their story instead.
This ancient Egyptian symbol has been found throughout the world and history, and is one of the oldest symbols in religion. The ankh is symbolic of life, and you will frequently see it being carried in ancient Egyptian art by Egyptian gods.
One of my personal favorite symbols, the ankh makes for some beautiful tattoos, and there’s a lot of really gorgeous jewelry out there too. Wearing an ankh is a celebration of life, so wear yours with pride.
This symbol is Irish in origin and has its meaning in friendship, loyalty, and love. The original promise ring, the Claddagh ring consists of two hands holding a heart with a crown on it. Aside from the symbology rooted in relationships, the Claddagh has also become a symbol of Irish pride, and many use it to showcase their heritage as well.
Few symbols are more controversial than the pentacle, but this simple symbol, despite the muddled history surrounding it, has a pretty innocent meaning. The pentacle is most often found in pagan and Wiccan culture, and is often used as a symbol of protection or identity.
The pentacle is a five-pointed star, with one point oriented up, enclosed in a circle. The five points are generally considered to symbolize the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. This ancient and powerful symbol has its roots in nearly every ancient culture and religion in history, and many find the tattoos and jewelry with this symbol to be empowering to their sense of personal identity.
Another ancient symbol, the spiral is a simple one with big meanings. Spirals generally represent the cyclical nature of the world, particularly with life and rebirth. Spirals also indicate the progress of the human spirit, the evolution of the soul in a forward motion towards oneness and inner peace.
The Hamsa is a palm-shaped symbol that has its origins in Middle Eastern culture, though some theorize it may have originally started in ancient Egyptian culture. The Hamsa is a popular symbol in tattoos and body jewelry, and can be as simple or as ornate as you prefer.
It symbolizes protection, and is often included with the “evil eye”. Many also consider the hamsa a symbol of strength. The material the hamsa is made of is also important to the strength and meaning of this symbol.
Which bring us to our next symbol:
The evil eye is a pervasive symbol throughout history, and one that represents protection from the malice of others. In many cultures throughout history, it was believed that an angry glare could actually curse you if you were unaware, so the evil eye was created as a means of protection.
Evil eyes are a very common symbol, and frequently make their appearances in symbolic art and jewelry, and it’s shockingly beautiful. Check out FreshTrends’ evil eye jewelry collection here.
The Fleur de Lis has its origins throughout European history, but particularly in French culture. Originally considered a symbol of purity and light with its use in Christian art, the symbol is now more indicative of heritage, culture, and royalty than it is of anything spiritual.
Fleur de Lis tattoos are incredibly popular, and the jewelry always has a sense of elegance to it as well.
I feel like the tree of life is the most popular symbol of the past year. This symbol has its roots in pagan culture, and is the symbol of the connection between life’s beginnings. The nourishment of the roots, the reach of the branches and leaves towards light, and the growth and strength of the tree of light is a metaphor for our own existence.
The tree of life has history in nearly every major religion in the world, and the mythology surrounding it is fascinating. The tattoos though? The tattoos are to die for.
This symbol has its roots in Taoism, and is the perfect way to illustrate the balance between light and dark. Another of my favorites, this symbol has deep existential meaning, and the artistic variations you can do with it make it all the more personal.
Mandalas are spiritual symbols from Hinduism and Buddhism. Ornate and endlessly varied in their design, these beautiful geometric designs symbolize the universe, and their endless complexity. Mandalas are very common henna tattoos, and many westerners are taking to incorporating these designs into their own body art.
What I love most about mandalas is that there is no hard and fast way to create one; the universe manifests itself in different ways to different people, so the one you create can be uniquely yours.
Chinese characters are beautiful without even trying, at least to those of us that never grew up seeing them. As one of the most complex languages in the world, Chinese not one to be trifled with – be sure to verify the meaning of the symbol you want to get with several sources before you go etching any into your body.
Rather than just represent a letter or syllable, many Hànzi symbols represent entire words,though over time, this is becoming less and less common in modern Chinese. The traditional written Chinese language is much more elaborate than the simplified modern version, so if you want to get a Chinese character tattoo, consider checking out the old-style Hànzi characters.
Few symbols are more ancient and controversial than that of the cross. In modern times of course, the cross is seen as a symbol indicative of Christianity, and Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for his people and God.
In ancient times however, the cross was more symbolic of death, in an era when grisly crucifixions were their most practical and common use. In ancient paleolithic times, it’s believed that the cross was actually indicative of the four cardinal points and astrological phenomena.
Whatever the cross means to you, it’s a beautiful symbol, rich in its history, and diverse in its ability to adapt to the individual.
The trinity knot – also known as the triquetra – has varied meanings across culture. In Catholicism, the triquetra is a symbol of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
However, in Pagan culture, the Celtic trinity knot is believed to symbolize earth, air, and water, and often the life cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Depending on who you talk to about the meaning, it’s plain as day what the symbol means, but ultimately, it’s up to the wearer to decide what this symbol means to them.
Symbology is a rich topic on its own, and one that has long fascinated me. History gets muddled and murky in these waters, and time passes and stories change, but ultimately, symbols have the power we give them.