When I returned to get my tattoo finished, I brought this phenomena up with Phil, the tattoo artist at Rising Tide. He said that he commonly hears similar stories of huge shifts in people’s lives and mentalities after being tattooed. I had begun to describe what I experienced in my life after being tattooed as feeling like some sort of initiation or rite of passage. Hearing that other people experienced a similar sensation made me curious about the role of tattooing through human history, and it’s seemingly latent potential for unlocking spiritual growth.
Many ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, Persians, and Chinese, engaged in tattooing for spiritual purposes. Evidence of tattooing has been found as early as the Neolithic times- instruments that were most likely used for tattooing have been discovered at several archeological sites in Europe that were made from sharp bone needles and red ochre, which was used as the pigment to dye the skin. Ötzi the Iceman, a natural mummy dating from the fourth to fifth millennium BC who was preserved in a glacier in the Ötz valley in the Alps, had approximately 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines on his lower spine, behind his left knee, and on his right ankle. These tattoos were thought to be healing related because their placements correspond with acupuncture points.
Another well-preserved mummy, The Man of Pazyryk, a Scythian chieftain, has detailed tattoos of fish, monsters, dots and lines that are over 2,500 years old (shown below).
Many indigenous cultures throughout time and across the world have recognized the spiritual import of tattooing, and although I still don’t understand exactly how a simple physical act crosses over into the spiritual realm in such a profound way, my own experience states that it certainly does.
The significance of my tattoo, the flower Datura Solanaceae, also known as Moonflower or Jimson Weed, is multifarious. Regarded as a sacred plant by indigenous cultures in widespread places including North America, Central America, South America and Asia, Datura is a ceremonial, medicinal, and psychedelic flower that is as powerful as it is beautiful. Often associated with a dark feminine spirit, each Datura flower blooms once in the evening, releasing a potent citrus scent that is said to affect one’s dreams if inhaled before sleep. The famous American artist Georgia O’Keefe, one of my role models, paid homage to this plant in many of her paintings.
I grew up with Datura blooming in my yard, teaching me about the secret life of plants and imprinting it’s translucent and eerie beauty onto my psyche. The journey of turning that mental imprint into a physical one has been a shockingly transformative experience. I hope you enjoy the short video I put together to share the adventure!