Religious tattoos are popular with those who have affiliations to a particular religion or faith, plus those who simply enjoy religious icons irrespective of what they might mean, but although religious tattoos can be very powerful images when drawn as a part of a tattoo design, many religious take a dim view of tattoos and some even forbade the art of tattoo completely.
However, despite the fact some of a religious persuasion find tattoos distasteful or just plain wrong, tattoos of a religious nature continue to be very popular and it is very common to see tattoos with crosses, angels, and other religious symbols as an inherent part of the design.
Where does the Church stand on tattoos?
Most Christians have no problem with tattoos and Christian symbols, in particular the cross, are a very common icon in religious tattoos. The only types of tattoos that are considered unacceptable are openly blasphemous or sacrilegious images. The Roman Catholic Church is also very accepting of religious tattoos and according to the history books small religious tattoos incorporating the name of a saint or a monogram of Christ were considered a suitable way of praising the Church.
In some cultures, tattoos were done to prevent invaders forcing the native people to convert to a new religion—tattoos of Christian crosses were inked on the fingers, hands and other prominent areas of the body as a form of protection against forced conversions to Islam during the middle Ages.
In Islam, tattoos of any kind, religious or not, are strictly forbidden, although temporary tattoos done with henna are acceptable and indeed are very common. Tattoos are also forbidden in the Church of the Latter Day Saints and Mormon elders are against tattooing since they believe that the body is a temple, inside and out. Judaism also forbids tattooing of any kind since it associates tattooing with Pagan religions. The use of tattooing in Nazi concentration camps is also an unwelcome association with the art of tattoo for the Jewish community.
What popular Christian symbols are used in religious tattoos?
The symbol of the cross is one of the most enduring of all Christian icons seen in religious tattoos and it can be seen in two different designs: those depicting Christ in the cross and an empty cross incorporated into a different design.
The image of Christ on the cross has appeared in art for centuries and remains an ever-powerful reminder of how Jesus suffered to atone for our sins. Some tattoos feature the entire cross whereas others focus more on the upper body and face of Jesus himself.
An empty cross can often appear as a very stylized design, but sometimes the image can be much more powerful as a religious tattoo when drawn in an ultra realistic style. This tattoo can be drawn as a good luck symbol. It can also be incorporated with other religious symbols from the crucifixion and resurrection.
There are also many iconic images featuring Jesus and the Virgin Mary that regularly appear as religious tattoo designs. These are often the most powerful designs as they usually feature a great deal of artistic detail and are ideal for larger tattoos across the back or chest.
Passages from the Bible are very popular with those seeking a meaningful tattoo that says it with words rather than pictures. This can a be a good choice if there is a particular piece of text that has a special meaning to you, but if you prefer not to have a large amount of script tattooed on your body, you can always have the book, chapter and verse reference as a tattoo instead.
The Bible is an endless source of inspiration for millions of people all over the world, so it is hardly surprising that well known passages appear as religious tattoos. Many of the best-loved verses and Psalms allude to love, strength and faith in God, so if you want an inspirational quote, you could do a lot worse than pick one from the Bible.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
There are also many other Christian symbols that appear in religious tattoo designs and some of the symbolism is so subtle that you might not even realize the meaning is rooted in the Christian faith. For example, the humble dove is an emblem you might see in a tattoo. On the surface it is just a bird used to signify “peace”, but when you think deeper you soon realize that the dove appears in the Bible on a number of occasions: the dove found the first dry land after the Great Floods and the Holy Spirit came to Earth as a dove when Jesus was baptized.
Ravens and lambs also have religious significance in the Christian faith, so if you want a tattoo with special Christian meaning, you could choose a design incorporating lambs, ravens, or even fish—an early symbol for the Christian faith was a simplistic fish design, which is now referred to as an XP tattoo.
What symbols from the Buddhist faith can be used in religious tattoos?
Many religious tattoos also use symbolism from the Buddhist faith, but apart from tattoos featuring Buddha himself (despite the fact Buddha did not want his image to be worshipped by his followers), what other symbols might you see in a religious tattoo with its origins in Buddhism?
The dragon is an ancient symbol of Buddhist protection and regularly features in tattoo designs from all over the world. Dragon tattoos have all kinds of special meanings apart from Buddhist and also feature heavily in Chinese style tattoos. The lion is another powerful Buddhist emblem and can signify princely qualities when incorporated into religious tattoos inspired by the Buddhist faith.
Other images you might see in Buddhist inspired religious tattoos include Buddha’s footprints signifying the path to enlightenment and Buddha’s presence in the world, the Buddha tree—a place where Buddha found spiritual enlightenment, the Dharma Wheel—the eight fold path of the correct view of Buddhism, and the Pink Lotus—a symbol for the highest level of purity in the Buddhist religion.
Religious tattoos featuring Buddhist designs can be extremely beautiful if drawn by a talented tattoo artist, so if you want an image signifying peace, enlightenment, and spiritual purity, Buddhist symbols are an excellent choice to go for, whether you embrace the Buddhist religion completely or you simply wish to take something from the unique way that Buddhists see the world.
Can Hindu designs be used in religious tattoos?
Hinduism is a fascinating religion full of wonderfully exotic imagery and color symbols. Any person practicing Hinduism would be forbidden from having tattoos anywhere on their body, but this does not stop those interested in the ideas of Hinduism or anyone who enjoys the imagery seen in Hinduism from using Hindu symbols for the purposes of a tattoo design.
Hinduism features a great many different gods, all of whom have a different meaning and story. Each Hindu god can be inspirational for a wide range of different reasons, so if you are looking for a unique tattoo design with religious undertones, you might try looking at the different Hindu gods to see which one is appropriate. Alternatively, it may be that you enjoy Eastern symbolism and imagery and feel that you have a spiritual connection with Hinduism.
Hinduism is very much about our connection with the universe, so if you want to feel at one with the world, but sometimes need a reminder of who you are and where you came from, a religious tattoos that take advantage of Hindu imagery and symbolism are the perfect choice.
The most important symbol in Hinduism is Om and it is “Om” you will hear when Hindus meditate and chant their spiritual mantras. Om is a word that is divided into three separate sounds, each of which has a different meaning: the three worlds of heaven, earth, and atmosphere, the three main Hindu gods, and the three sacred Vedic scriptures. When put together, Om is a sacred sound that Hindus believe is responsible for holding the entire world together.
Pratik is another key symbol from the Hindu religion, but due to the nature of its swastika design, it now has some unfortunate connotations with Nazism, and is therefore not a popular choice for religious tattoos. The lotus flower, also seen in Buddhism, means beauty and detachment, and when linked to Krishna, it represents divine beauty. Yantra is the symbol of cosmic development in Hinduism.
As well as the main symbols you are likely to see in Hinduism, there are many Hindu gods to choose from if you are searching for some spiritual inspiration for a religious themed tattoo.
The goddess, Krishna, is a popular choice as she represents love and divine joy. Saraswati is a goddess representing creativity and knowledge, so for intellectual and artistic types, she would be the perfect choice for a religious tattoo. Alternatively, you might prefer to use Indra, warrior god of thunder and lightning or Ram, who is the personification of all good things in men. But which ever gods you take your religious tattoos inspiration from, there is no doubt that Hinduism is full of amazing imagery and great spirituality, which is perfect for those people seeking a tattoo design a little out of the ordinary.
Angel designs in religious tattoos
Although angel tattoos are not necessarily religious tattoos, there is a strong religious theme running through the imagery of angels. Angels are a popular theme for tattoos and whatever your religious beliefs, the symbolism of an angel is a recurrent one, although it tends to be associated with Christianity rather than the Eastern religions. Angels can range from the Archangel Gabriel to the small and delicate angels used to signify remembrance and love, perhaps for someone special who passed through your life and has now moved on to better places.
In Christianity, the image of an angel is traditionally seen as a fearsome warrior with a sworn in one hand and a cross in the other. Angels come down from heaven on a crusade to fight for justice and destroy all evil: the image of St Michael slaying Satan is a particularly powerful one, although angels can also mean “messenger”: the angel Gabriel was there to tell Mary she was expecting the baby Jesus. However, many people choose to use an image of a warrior angel and this can be particularly powerful when inked across a large area such as the back or chest. If you like the idea of having an angelic protector somewhere on your body, a divine body guard to watch over you, a tattoo of an angel is a great way to find protection from evil and badness in the world.
Angel wings can be used to signify protection and strength, and many people choose a tattoo featuring angel wings as a memorial tattoo for a loved one who has passed away. Angel wings can be drawn entwined with a heart as a way of showing that someone you love is still close by and in your heart. And since the image of an angel is very much a symbol of everlasting love, an angel tattoo is the perfect choice for anyone who is keen to demonstrate their love and affection for someone special in their life.
An angel halo can also be incorporated into a religious themed tattoo and the image of a halo can be used to signify the strength of an angel. When combined with angelic wings, you have both strength and protection, and many people use this type of imagery in conjunction with names or small segments of text. Naturally, angels are also the perfect way to for honor your children in a tattoo. Angel tattoos can be inked around your children’s names to signify your love and protection forever.