by John A. Rush © 2009, 2013
Many reasons are offered as to “why tattoo.” I grew during a time when tattooing was considered the act of bad boys, criminals, and sailors. Brief histories of tattooing reveal, however, that tattooing has a wider distribution and depth than usually appreciated, with the most secure evidence coming from the Upper Paleolithic (30-12,000 BCE —before current era) in Europe . But undoubtedly the ritual practices go back before the age of modern humans (see Rush 2005). The original practices were connected to ideas and concepts of life, death, magical protective charms or specific identity with the monsters in their waking life and in their dreams. These monsters were those powerful predators who provided food in the form of carcasses but ate them on a regular basis. Life and death; the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, life eats life.
All tattooing is potentially spiritual in the sense of movement along a path toward illumination. And what is that path? “Know thy self!” The tattooing ritual and the associated pain can be used to get in touch with you, not as a mechanism to see how much pain you can stand, but to use the pain as a vehicle of release. At some point in the tattooing process you realize that the pain is an illusion. The pain is there but you can intensify or diminish the experience All events in your mind are subject to interpretation, and when your interpretation alters its significance to you alters as well.
Tattooing and scarification are age old traditions and serve many purposes from that of identifying criminals, group identity, rites of passage, emotional/spiritual cleansing, memory of a loved one, and so on. The following represents a mythic/ spiritual statement divided into several mythic themes all of which have as there core life, death, and return. This page displays mainly the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, or Going forth into the Day. The stories told through these tattoos (Egyptian, Chinese, Tibetan, Celtic, etc.) are all interrelated and show common themes of life, death, and return (or residence in another place). But there are other symbols and references that suggest culture contact.
Hieroglyphs (medu netcher) are sacred and are thought to have a magical life of their own. Pharaoh needed food, supplies, and instruction for traversing the Gates of the Underworld, to fight the serpent Apophis, and emerge, from the vagina of the sky-goddess Nut, as the morning sun in the East. The original texts were carved on the walls of tombs (Pyramid Texts), eventually painted on coffins (Coffin Texts), and then the Books of the Dead or the Netherworld texts painted on papyrus. What is to follow are the Ass Texts. The publications that speak to these images are, Spiritual Tattoo (North Atlantic Books, 2005) and, The Twelve Gates (in press).
For a closer look at tattooing and body modification see, Spiritual Tattoo, by John A. Rush. North Atlantic Books (2005). Click here to review publication.