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.

Tattoo Gallery:

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.

Ancient Egypt:

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).

Plate 1 – I experienced a great deal of pain with this front piece (picture taken immediately after session).The composite Ma’at, Isis, and Hathor is to be found in the right upper quadrant between Thoth on her right and the Sage plant to her back. In the upper center frame is a representation of the struggle between Chaos (Seth—to the left of the sage plant) and order (Horus–to the right of the papyrus plant emanating from the head of the Djed pillar of Osiris). Seth and Horus are pulling at the vital organs of the body, the heart (they are standing on the heart) and the trachea (nefer), with the nefer symbolizing the concepts of “goodness,” “beauty, “youth,” and so on as in Nefertiti. The symbolism is the necessary struggle of good and evil and life and death (The Contendings of Horus and Seth). Note Ammut on the lower right next to the pillar and Thoth on the far upper right. At the top of the windpipe is a cartouche, within which is the ka sign (the arms uplifted) with two mushrooms on top (Amanita muscaria) In this sense, the mushrooms represent the ba in this now composite image. Notice how the ink leaves a raised area that subsides as the scab forms and as the scab sloughs off. Pieces of the mushroom likewise slough off and this may be the allusion to leprosy in Exodus 4:6-7
Plate 2 – Isis is seated under the Eye of Horus in the center of the pyramid. On her head is the throne upon which the pharaoh (Osiris) sits. To her right is Osiris as the djed pillar, the “backbone” or the stabilizer of life and death. To the right of Osiris is Nephthys. On her head is a basket and house structure; she is the mistress of the house. The meaning here is complex. Seth is on the far right with his hand extended in honor. He has the head of a Seth animal, which no one as yet has positively identified. He caries a straight staff symbolizing power while most of the other gods of goddesses carry a was scepter, which has a Seth head on the top and a fork on the bottom. Anubis, on the left of the pyramid, holds a was scepter. Above Osiris is a protective scarab (my son, Jason). Also notice the sky goddess Nut with Re in his boat traveling through her night sky during the day and then swallowed in the evening.
Plate 3 – The Opening of the Mouth ceremony (left upper quadrant). Before the deceased (encased within the coffin) can function in the dream or reach the quantum state, the mouth has to be “opened” so that the brain energy (logic) is available and magical words can be spoken. This allows him to reassemble his body and communicate with the gods, goddesses, and demons as he traverses the Twelve Gates. Notice Anubis holding the coffin while mourners, helpers anointing the deceased and holding a magic wand (hippo tooth) to the deceased’s mouth, while the Leopard-skin chief cuts away all that impedes speech, for “in the beginning was the word and the word (the power) was with God.”
Plate 4 – Note the ka and ba images under the right side of the scales, the mourners in the upper right, with the author waiting for Thoth (between Anubis and the composite Ma’at, Hathor, and Isis) to record the results. As you can see the heart is a little lighter than the feather (or of equal balance). “John knows the secrets of the gates and the true names of the gods. Heart against Ma’at (John knows Ma’at) John goes forth. Thoth is his witness.” Also notice the cat, Bastet, the protective image of Sekhmet. This is also an image of my Abyssinian, Baby. The ka is the small figure right under the scarab and to the right of the balance beam of the scale. The Ba is the bird-headed figure just underneath. Notice the protective scarab (Greg, youngest son) above the heart. Note the background of papyrus. Ammut is the composite monster (crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus) in the lower quadrant right below the composite Ma’at, Hathor, Isis. The hieroglyphs say, “Ammut will not get John.”

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.