What exactly do we mean when we talk about sacred tattoos? What are the most popular designs and symbols in this area? Detailed explanations provided by La Bête Humaine, complete with an illustration gallery!
What is a sacred tattoo?
A sacred tattoo refers to a form of tattoo that conveys a deep, often spiritual meaning for the wearer. It is generally tied to faith, beliefs, values, or a connection to the divine or the sacred.
Sacred tattoos can incorporate symbols, icons, texts, or specific images that directly link to the individual's spirituality. However, these tattoos are not limited to one or more recognized religions; for many, a sacred tattoo symbolizes a connection with the universe or nature or some other philosophical concept.
In essence, a sacred tattoo is an external expression of an inner truth or profound conviction, made visible through the art of tattooing.
Baybay Blondy, guest tattoo artist at La Bête Humaine and an expert in sacred tattooing, shares her personal definition. "From my own approach, the sacred is a way to create an initiation into personal development", she says. "It's used in a ritualistic manner, employing symbols with a high vibrational rate to establish an energetic bridge for the wearer. A sacred tattoo is about using rituals and precise symbols as a gateway to an initiatory rite practiced by ancestral communities."
Tattoos common to multiple countries and cultures
"Sacred tattooing is prevalent in all traditions where talismans are used", explains Baybay. Derived from the Arabic word 'tlowdotilasm', which comes from the Greek word 'telesma' meaning "religious rite", the term refers to an object or image ritually prepared to bestow magical or protective qualities.
Examples? Let's mention the Berbers in North Africa, Tibet, Indonesia... and countless other regions worldwide. "In some communities, scarification is used instead of tattooing", adds the artist.
Why choose a sacred tattoo?
Symbolic meaning? Aesthetic desire? A combination of both? When asked about the most common motivations, Baybay Blondy answers, "Most of my clients often seek to explore a theme, an experience, or an idea that needs to be transcended." Her approach? "To guide them through the symbolism and the research I've conducted on it until the final piece."
Popular motifs and symbols in sacred tattooing
The rule is simple: any design or symbol aimed at elevating the spirit through ritual falls under the domain of sacred tattoos. Here are a few examples!
Already mentioned above, the talisman is an object or image laden with esoteric and magical significance. In tattooing, it is often used as a symbol of protection or power. The bearer of a talisman tattoo might seek to channel a particular force or shield themselves from negative energies.
From the Old Norse 'runar' meaning "secret writing", the term refers to the graphical signs of the oldest Germanic script. While runes fell into obscurity in the 15th century, we still have around 4,000 inscriptions on stone and metal.
Runes had – and still have – a magical aspect; their use was restricted to leaders, who claimed to be descendants of the god Odin, god of War, Wisdom, and Poetry.
A sigil refers to an object marked with a seal or an imprint resembling a seal. In tattooing, a sigil involves instilling energy into a seal from a statement; thus, it embodies the intention or desire of the wearer.
The golden ratio
Over the centuries, a vast literature has been devoted to the golden ratio. To some, this number appears as a principle of universal harmony governing both the microcosm and the macrocosm or as the key to an absolute concept of beauty — a concept which has been applied by painters in the "construction" of the pictorial surface, somewhat in the way architects have sometimes used it for their plans and elevations...
The flower of life
The flower of life refers to a geometric pattern made up of multiple evenly spaced overlapping circles. It's regarded as a symbol of creation and illustrates the connections between all forms of life.
Originating from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the mandala is a sacred symbol representing the universe and serves as a meditation tool. A mandala tattoo might embody balance, harmony, and the connection between the self and the cosmos.
The om symbolizes the primordial sound of the universe. An om tattoo can convey a connection to the universe and spirituality.
The animal totem
In many indigenous cultures, the animal totem is a spiritual symbol representing a specific quality or trait. It shows a connection with nature and the unique attributes of the chosen animal.
"As for me, I've developed a concept related to the tarot by creating talismans that trace ancestral geometry linked to primal shapes", claims tattoo artist Baybay Blondy. "More broadly, a symbol primarily serves to mend what has been separated", she continues.
"It highlights memory, meaning, healing, and evolution. From a tattooing perspective, the symbol is inked into the matter, into the body; the idea of evolution is then attainable through the ritual act. We bring the concept of the symbol into the matter, and that's how we connect with ourselves".
Styles suitable for sacred tattoos
By definition, any tattoo style can be adapted for a sacred tattoo. But in practice, some schools of thought are more specifically explored for these designs. A non-exhaustive list includes:
As the name suggests, this style uses geometric shapes and is often employed to create mandalas, chakra symbols, or other symmetrical designs related to spirituality.
Dotwork, or pointillism tattooing, refers to a style that uses a dotting technique to create complex patterns and images. Instead of drawing continuous lines, the artist uses a series of dots which can be arranged with varying density to create light and shadow effects, giving the tattoo a unique dimension and texture. "Dotwork is frequently used in the practice of sacred geometry and fractal tattoos", notes Baybay.
Fat line tattoos utilize thick lines to clearly define shapes and contours. For Baybay Blondy, "it’s particularly well-suited for ethnic tattoos."
Blackwork is characterized by the almost exclusive use of black ink, with an almost anecdotal amount of gray shading. It pairs especially well with certain graphic or ornamental pieces.
Getting a sacred tattoo: how-to guide
From the first contact, via email or Instagram, to the final touch of ink, how does Baybay Blondy craft her sacred tattoos? She explains: "The consultation with the person is the foundation of the process to understand their request and guide them towards a talisman, a symbolic tattoo, or an ornamental one."
"Then comes the creative and research part around the design", the artist continues. "The client is often called back once the drawing is complete to explain how I’ve symbolized their theme so we can discuss it and they can visualize it. The client always has the right to make changes to the proposed visual", she reminds.
And on the big day? Step by step:
- The artist carefully shaves any potential hair or fuzz in the tattoo area then disinfects it.
- After printing the stencil, the artist will align this transfer onto your skin. In the case of a freehand tattoo, she will draw your tattoo directly on your skin with a marker.
- Everything’s ready: your tattoo artist brings out her inks and tattoo machine and begins tattooing!
- When your session is complete, you’ll apply all the usual tattoo aftercare: cleaning with an antiseptic solution, applying ointment, etc.
- Touch-ups may be necessary after any tattoo. If so, you’ll return to see your tattoo artist, generally a month after the initial session!
La Bête Humaine: practical information
Our tattoo studio is open every day except Sunday in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. To submit your project and book your session with one of our resident or guest artists, you can:
All visuals used to illustrate this article are from the work of Baybay Blondy: a big thank you to her!