Tattoos have been a part of the lives of Native American people for centuries but have also become increasingly popular with people outside of indigenous communities. Why? It could be because of their strong spiritual connections and highly sacred meanings. It could also be due to the raw beauty of Native American art. So, whether you are seeking protection from evil with an intricate dreamcatcher tattoo, for wisdom from the portrait of an Indian chief or for strength from a buffalo tattoo, Native American tattoos are loaded with symbolism!
Originally used to identify different tribal groups, Native American tattoos were also thought to grant special powers to those members who adorned them. Some of these tattoos were predetermined symbols of their tribes, but many would choose a specific animal whose strength they wanted to emulate. Indigenous beliefs explain that each person has an animal spirit to which he or she identifies and longs to portray. This animal spirit remains with them for life, as does their tattoo. Here are a few of the most popular animals chosen as Native American tattoos and the traits they represent.
Bears: Guardians of the world; willpower; powerful strength; courage; instinctive-ness
Buffalo: Great strength; abundance; sacredness; gratitude
Bull: One who rushes into things without properly preparing; ability to see into the past; fertility
Caribou: Mobility; nomadic
Coyote: One who can recognize mistakes; intelligence; mischief
Deer: Peace; gentleness; one who is graceful; innocence
Eagle: Intelligence; connection to the creator; freedom; sacrifice; takes risks
Lion: Strength; family; courage; a protector
Lizard: Vision; self-protection; conservation; one with hidden defenses
Snake: Impulsiveness; transformation; wisdom; rebirth
Wolf: Loyalty; spirituality; success; intuition; perseverance
Different types and different combinations of bird feathers have important ceremonial and religious importance in Native American culture. Owls, for example, are mainly associated with death or prophecy but can also represent life when combined with a hawk feather. The feathers of blue jays and other vibrantly colored birds are believed to have medicinal powers and are common feathers used by medicine men. With the eagle being regarded as the “Great Spirit,” their feathers receive the greatest honor.
Feathers also reveal the rank of a tribe member and the level of his bravery. In the past, when a member committed an act of bravery he would be rewarded with a feather. The earning of one’s first feather symbolized his place as an adult within the tribe. Eventually, he would wear only one or two of his most prized feathers into battle, saving the others for special ceremonies or until he earned approximately 30 feathers and could begin to create a headdress. Completing a full headdress meant he had shown high levels of bravery and was honorable enough to be elected chief of the tribe. These are a few of the reasons why many of today’s most popular Native American tattoos are feather tattoos.
Totem Pole Tattoos
Totem poles are another popular Native American tattoo design. Symbolizing a tribe, clan, family or individual, they usually include animal designs that act as guardian spirits.
One of the most popular Native American tattoo designs is the Kokopelli tattoo – a man playing a flute that represents fertility. It is believed he brings “seeds” to each town he visits and hypnotizes the women with his music.
Dreamcatchers are handmade crafts from Native American tribes people. They are traditionally made of a wooden hoop (from willow branches), a sinew web, dangling feathers and gems or beads. Dreamcatchers typically consist of eight points where the inner web meets the wooden circle symbolizing the eight legs of the spider – the spider representing creative energy (feminine), learning and wisdom. The feathers are included to add protection from spirit guides in the form of particular birds. When hung near a bed or an area designated for sleeping, they are believed to catch bad dreams in the web and allow only good dreams to filter through.
View hundreds of Native American tattoos and feather tattoos NOW!