Over term ‘tattoo’ embarking on Europe falls to

Over the past century
the art of tattoos and tattooing has emerged from the underbelly of society and
hit mainstream culture. Humanity has always been discovering ways in which to
express our ideals, our beliefs, and our values, or in certain cases, a lack
thereof, tattoos have been one of the prime approaches to this self-expression.


The origins of the word
‘Tattoo’ seems to vary although most sources state that it comes from a
Tahitian word tatu which means ‘to mark something.’ Responsibility for the term
‘tattoo’ embarking on Europe falls to Captain James Cook after returning from
his first voyage on the Pacific in the 1700s. Amongst his travels he explored
the ancient art after first witnessing the practice in Tahiti.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now


The western world has
adopted many perceptions on body art throughout the past century, our first
traceable relationship with tattoos dates back to at least the 5th-century BCE
where European tribes such as the Thracians, Picts, and Celts, used tattoos as
a mark of pride and heroism. “A fifth-century B.C. Greek vase (fig.1) depicts a
tattooed Thracian maenad, a female follower of the god Dionysus, killing the
musician Orpheus as punishment for abandoning Dionysus to worship the sun god,
Apollo.” The Thracian maenads were true followers of their god Dionysus much
like other tribes to their own gods and as such carried out barbaric acts to
strayers of their beliefs. This being the origin of Greece and Rome’s distaste
of tattoos. Herodotus, a Greek historian described the tribes as bloodthirsty
savages which adapted to a use of ‘decorating the flesh’ for punitive purposes
in Greek and Rome. They would forcibly mark slaves and prisoners of war with
derogatory symbols as a mark of shame. This perception on tattoos did not
change in the fall of the Roman Empire, in fact as the Christian church spread
across Europe the tattooing traditions were forbidden by Pope Hadrian the first
in 787 AD. This resulted in the ancient Pagan practices being forced into
hiding, resulting in the near extinction of Western tattoo culture. Though in
the years following, Pagans still believed that tattoos were a rite of passage,
marking a person’s journey into adulthood. This is not too dissimilar to our
modern tradition, as the law in the UK states that you must be at the age of 18
to get a tattoo. “…highest among those ages 18 to 29 (38 percent), leading the
researchers to conclude that “tattoos have become something of a trademark for


Many centuries after
the ancient attitudes discussed, tattoo culture returned to Europe in a whole
new light. This mostly began with the telling’s of Captain James Cook who, even
though, the idea of tattooing was still being repressed by the Christian faith,
spread tales of his adventures where he came across these mysterious tribes who
were wearers of these elaborate marks on the skin. These tales began to
intrigue and inspire people on his return to England. “emboldened by this
response, Cook returned from his second expedition in 1774 with a young man
from the Polynesian island of Raiatea in tow. Omai, real name Mai, stayed in
England for two years, and was exhibited to members of London’s high society
and featured heavily in the popular press, which devoted copious column inches
to the curious lines inked on the back of his hands.” With this, society’s
perception on body art once again changed and began to grow an increasing
fascination with the popularity amongst seamen who seemingly took direct inspiration
from the men who were upon Cooks voyage. Those of which, who had gotten tattoos
themselves amongst their expedition on the South Pacific Ocean aboard the HMS























Tattoos were also used
for holistic purposes as an attempt at healing, the ink would often represent
gods and goddesses which they believed would makes their life’s more
prosperous. For example a representation of the god Lenus was believed to aid
in spiritual healing as Lenus was
a Celtic healing god. In modern tattoo culture this has been adapted into body
art sometimes being used as a tool for remembrance or in memoriam to a person
or place, I feel as though sharing that symbolic relationship with our tattoos
can help in personal development for example in one of the shoots I recently
executed the model had a more personal connection to his ink. He explained that
the owl across his chest (fig.2) with the quote ‘Through Pain Comes Strength’
was a deeply meaningful tattoo for him. He said he got it because of his
history with self-harming due to depression, he is still currently suffering
with depression but has past the self-harming so he felt that the tattoo helps
him somehow because it reminds him that through all that he may go through he
knows that eventually he will come out better off. He continued to explain that
he was not ashamed of his past but getting the tattoo permanently will always
remind him that whether he is still going through the depression or not that he
has gone through this dark time in his life but can come out and the tattoo
also reminds him to stay optimistic.


I too have a few
tattoos that represent members of my family, the first being a symbol in honor
of my granddad Keith who we recently lost. The art itself shows a collection of
stars and I chose to get this on my shoulder. The main aspect of the image
though is the shooting star which represents the night my family lost him this
is because he was very passionate about astronomy and on the same night one of
his friends, Mark Thompson (an astronomer, television presenter and writer) accidently
captured a shooting star in one of his photographs (fig.3) he had spent that
night trying to capture. So, the image taken has become a symbol for the family
in honor of him and as such I chose to have this very personal imagery tattooed.
This is not my only tattoo in memoriam of a lost family member the other is for
my grandad Phillip which is of a collection of feathers that portrays his love
of the native American culture, although the imagery is not so direct they are
still my way of honoring his memory. 
Others include the matching tattoos me and my mum share, presenting the
memories from my childhood such as the rose from Beauty and the Beast which was
and still is one of our favourite films. My most recent though is a collection
of flowers, each one representing my brothers and sisters.