Subtitled "Mystical, Magical, and Transformative Art You Dare to Wear"
By Lisa Barretta
New Page Books, 2018
This book looks at the meaning behind various tattoo designs, and what they say about the wearer. There is also a strong metaphysical dimension to the book: The author believes that tattoos provide a portal between our physical bodies and our spirit bodies. By 'inking' ourselves, we connect the symbolism with our spiritual selves, drawing forth inner meaning from our unconscious, past-lives, and so on. In this regard, tattoos can offer both an outlet for the inner self, and also a possible healing modality.
"Tattooing beyond the sake of vanity can initiate your own shamanic journey into your consciousness, to reveal what's hidden in the matrix of the body, mind and spirit." (p12)
The author draws upon the importance of tattooing in the spiritual lives of indigenous peoples across the globe. But this is not an anthropological study, or a study of the history of tattooing. Instead, the main interest lies in the interface between the conscious and our (collective) unconscious.
There is much in the book about Carl Jung's archetypes and symbols. Indeed, the strongest section of the book, I felt, was that relating to archetypes, and Jung's collective unconscious (chapter 5). In this regard, then, the decision to have a tattoo inked can be imbued with inner spiritual meaning and potentially profound psychological insight. Further, there can be a magical element to the tattoo - 'tattooing with intent'. It is this non-traditional spiritual threshold that Lisa Barretta wishes to cross with the reader.
Can tattoos really provide a portal to our inner selves? The author seems quite certain of this. She considers them to be 'soul prints'; they pierce our auras and interact with our subtle bodies. Like a spiritual well, they draw up energy from our inner selves. They provide the opportunity to explore our inner psyches, and to undertake a voyage of discovery through the symbols and archetypes wrapped up within the art. This can then allow healing, both through transforming scar tissue with beautiful, uplifting art, and through the inclusion of healing images like mandalas. Tattoos can also help to underscore a transformation of awareness of the self, spiritually and psychologically.
The act of tattooing provides a permanent link between our inner and outer selves, even if we later decide to have the image physically removed. These links transcend our one life, too. The link they provide can dig deeply into our unconscious, drawing from our previous lives and providing us with insight into who we once were.
"Looking at tattoos through the lens of consciousness, the desires and intentions behind body art are triggered by deep cellular memory. Tattoos serves as a window into the soul, and the images we are drawn to may be links into the subconscious, dreams, or past-life incarnations." (pp25-6)
A sceptic may consider this such an open-ended possibility that it is effectively a pseudo-scientific catch-all. If the symbolism you decide to wear is just something you consider to be pretty, and holds no particular meaning for you, then relating it to nebulous, unconscious realms of thoughts (even past-lives) removes the immediate factor of self. There's still meaning there somewhere, whether you appreciate it or not...
The author warns against a drunken excursion to a tattoo parlour: There is the potential to release the energy of our dark-sides, our shadow selves, an act which we may well live to regret. There are many archetypes swirling around within our collective unconscious, and one tends to dominate. Things can get problematic when this dominant archetype is a dark one, although acknowledging and even embracing that side of ourselves can make us whole and balanced, too (pp105-6). Tattoos can release pent-up, repressed energies from within ourselves, giving them expression when other release mechanisms are less socially acceptable.
Of course, this relies upon tattoos being socially acceptable themselves. They have certainly become more popular in recent years, almost de rigeur. As a health care professional myself, I have often seen elderly patients sporting bold tattoos from their youth which seem rather out of place, even inappropriate. The messages they convey say something about that person's history and life, which can be illuminating, if sometimes a little perplexing. That thought of permanence has always put me off from having a tattoo, although many of my friends have them (in spades, in a few cases).
"Conscious ink is about owning, accepting, and expressing yourself through your tattoos and honoring who you are." (p106)
There is much in the book not only about the choice you make of your tattoo, but who you choose to ink it onto you. There are short interviews with tattoo artists, and their clients. The images of tattoos included in the book tend to relate to these interviews, and to these relationships. Some of the claims made for the featured tattoo artwork bordered on pretentious, I'll be honest. But there were also quite profound and insightful descriptions of tattoo work that had be done for women who had endured mastectomies following breast cancer. They had bravely decided to have bold, swirling art tattooed onto their chest, and had remarkable stories to tell about the emotional impact of that transformative work for their body image and psychological healing.
The last third of the book catalogued some of the symbols used in tattooing, from various world cultures. This included sections on Wicca, astrology, mandalas, Hinduism and alchemy. It was interesting to compare the difference in meaning between comparative cultures for a given tattoo design. For instance, a dragon can mean quite different things depending upon what part of the globe you're on. There was even a short section on traditional Western tattoos - anchors, naked women, and the like, although this seemed to be just a nod to the old days (rather like those sported by my elderly patients).
More illustrations would have enhanced this final section of the book, although obviously it is not difficult to source examples of tattoo artwork on the Internet. But it certainly provided an excellent insight into the sheer breadth of tattoo art available, and would provide much food for thought for anyone thinking of having their first tattoo, or continuing their very personal collection of body art. What you have inked onto your skin, and even whereabouts on your body it goes, says a lot about you!
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 18th December 2017
Other titles by the same author:
'The Book of Transformation' by Lisa Barretta
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