I was sat in a taxi discussing tattoos with the driver, and he compared the process to childbirth; you go through all the pain, creating what is essentially an inkwell wound, and then a few months later you decide you want another one. With eight tattoos gracing my limbs, I have to admit he was pretty spot on with that analogy.
I have a tendency to jokingly refer to the act of being tattooed a “rite of passage” in my family. All but one of the mass horde of adults has ink on their skin, and most of us had our first when we were fresh into the land of legality. My mother has, I think, the same amount as me, but where hers are small – a rose above the protruding point of her ankle bone, a diamond on her wrist – mine cover whole areas like landmarks on maps, stretching national parks.
At the end of November, to be specific it was the 23rd, I spent the day at a studio finally getting my second Mucha-inspired thigh piece: Persephone, a twin to my two-year-old Artemis. It was a five-hour session, broken up with breaks, and the longest I have ever sat. A few days later, as I sat flicking through compliments over my new tattoo, I pondered on the idea of writing this post about why I have the tattoos I do – which is to say their meanings: my instagram followers agreed on it, and here I am.
Here (finally) are the meanings behind my tattoos, in order of inking.
Les Misérables, the musical, quote:
2015. I had been two days into my eighteenth year (my birthday is the 6th July) when I made the decision for my first tattoo; my mother and aunt told me to go with a small design, in case I couldn’t take the pain … I took their – valid – points, and graced the entire inside of of my lower right arm with a quote from my favourite musical. My eighteenth birthday present had been to see Les Misérables at the West End, and I fell harder in love with the musical.
The outline above the quote it taken directly from the film poster, and is supposed to represent the barricade – albeit it, I’ll admit, doesn’t look quite like a barricade. Hmm … anyway … My favourite character is Enjolras, so it seemed only fitting for my first tattoo to be one of his lines:
Let others rise to take our place, until the earth is free.
I adore the message, the notion that we must pass the mantle of seeking freedom onto the younger generations in order to continue progression. Les Misérables is a tale of hope even in the face of sheer adversity, that despite hardship there will always be love, kindness, and the ability to change fate and person. It is redemption and finding not only oneself but also family.
(I totally forgot it was Enjolras’ final words until I saw the musical again a month later, and cried.)
Les Misérables, the book, quote:
Can you tell I was obsessed with Les Misérables back in 2015? I mean, I still adore it but the obsessive nature has mellowed into a six-year long place of comfort.
Now, don’t come and yell at me but, despite having a book quote, I have yet to actually read the entirety of the book. Honestly, the size of it terrifies me. It’s a brick. I have, however, read the majority of the parts set around the June rebellion of 1832, as I love Les Amis de l’ABC. If I remember correctly, the quote I had tattooed exists within the 1832 parts.
In August of 2015 I went back to tattoo studio to have “to die of love, is to live by it”. It is a partial to this passage:
You who suffer because you love, love still more. To die of love, is to live by it.
It’s easily one of my favourite quotes of all time. For me, it represents what I mentioned in the piece behind my first tattoo: there will always be love. For me, it means that dying of love means that you have strove to surround yourself with it throughout your life, to remember that it is an intangible but powerful force that transcends every obstacle and hardship.
the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis:
You might be aware that I am completely obsessed with Greek mythology. If you’re not aware: I am completely obsessed with Greek mythology. What began as a fleeting interest in my childhood grew into infatuation during my college years, when I studied classical civilisation as an a-level. In my first lesson of classics, my teacher told us to research one god/goddess and write up a little biography – I chose Artemis, and the rest is history.
Artemis has this great and inspiring strength to her. She asked of her father, Zeus, that she never be married and instead live as a maiden with her huntresses as she hunted and resided in the mountains, to which he complied. There’s such power to be had in defying societal expectations and being unapologetically you. I always find her to be a symbol of freedom, and having an idea of her tattooed reminds me of that.
I call this one my “Noah” tattoo.
In 2015, I read The Raven Boys for the first time and fell irrevocably in love with the characters, the setting and the story itself. I talk a lot on my instagram (and now twitter, too) about how much The Raven Cycle means to me: I found it at a time that I didn’t realise I needed it; it has helped me understand myself, and shaped me.
Ley lines themselves are apparent alignment paths between places of significance, especially though that are of spiritual significance. Having the design from The Raven Cycle on my skin was one the easiest decisions: without spoiling anything, Noah kind of gets his strength from proximity to the Henrietta ley line.
As such, having the ley line permanently by my side is a wonderful reminder of strength and versatility. Whenever I’m having a difficult moment or day, whenever I feel untethered or lost, I hold my right hand over my ley lines and it never fails to ground me. And perhaps it’s a pure coincidence or fancy, but ever since I got my ley lines I feel closer to earth and its organic magic.
safe as life:
A tattoo dedicated to Richard Campbell Gansey III. The design is simple: a bee above a quote. I wanted something minimalist for Gansey, a character that I never appreciated enough the first (and second) time I read the series but irrevocably adore now.
“Is this thing safe?”
“Safe as life,” Gansey replied.
My original idea for “excelsior”, as per Gansey’s famous catchphrase. However, I chose “safe as life” as a reminder to myself to not allow my fears and doubts to inhibit my ability to not merely exist, but live. There’s this poignant and beautiful scene in The Raven Boys where Gansey is discussing his fatal allergy to bees (and wasps and hornets) to Blue in a setting that is likely teeming with the creatures that could kill him (as Blue reminds him). To this, Gansey replied: “It is what it is. It’s this or live in a bubble.”
Gansey’s strive to live despite the adversities he faces is, I think, a perfect example for all of us.
AKA my Adam tattoo. Except for a few things that I wanted (a twist on the traditional tarot card design, plants, and a the blindfold across his eyes) I gave my tattoo artist complete full reign on the design. He created something beautiful, and something that beautifully fits Adam and his role in the series.
There are so many layers to this tattoo. I love the contrast between the two figures, as though they stand on a playing card. On one side you have the magician, Adam; he holds the scroll and is the pragmatic side. On the other side you have the demon and its corruption in The Raven King; the demon holds the sword, the weapon. But the infinity symbol is on Adam’s side: he has the true power.
But why the Magician tarot? Aside from that that is Adam’s nickname, his role, it came from his journey in The Dream Thieves:
“Your power, Adam, isn’t about other people. It isn’t about other things.”
The above and “Adam had never been powerful in his life” are two lines that have always stuck out to me; you see, of all the fictional characters, Adam Parrish and his development is one that is very dear to my heart and soul. I identify with many aspects of his journey, specifically the idea of powerful vs powerless.
I am not shy in talking about my mental health. I am not shy about discussing the days when my mind fights so hard to work against me, rather than with me. I am not shy about discussing that, some days, I feel so genuinely powerless. Deciding on the Magician tarot to symbolise Adam was an easy choice. It is both a symbol for him and his story, in that he is known as the Magician, and also so much more: it is a reminder that, even when I feel lost and powerless, I remain powerful because I am here. I exist. I’m alive, because I bleed. There is power in breathing and being who you are in the world, unapologetically.
I am my own magician. But I don’t think I would have realised that without Adam Parrish.
This is the sole tattoo that has no complex meaning. The beauty of tattoos is that they don’t have to have a complex meaning. I merely love foxes. For years I wanted one on my skin, somewhere, anywhere. And then about halfway through last year I saw that Rebecca had drawn up four mini animal portraits, one of which was a fox – I knew I had to have it and messaged her straight away to have it on my calf.
His name is Frederick and I love him very much.
the Greek goddess of springtime and the queen of the underworld, Persephone:
Femininity and strength are not, and should not be seen as, mutually exclusive. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice one in order to gain recognition for the other. Persephone has always been one of my favourite goddesses, a true inspiration, as she embodies being fierce and feminine simultaneously. She’s springtime, and she’s also the queen of Hades – what a beautiful dichotomy. She is known as “dread Persephone” and, in some traditions, it was forbidden to speak her name – how powerful is that?
The problem with having a large tattoo on one thigh is that, personally, I needed to match the aesthetics – I couldn’t have a Persephone wildly different from Artemis. When I found Rachael had taken up residency in the same studio I where I had tattooed the Magician tarot, I sent her an email straight away. I find that her style of work matches my Artemis, whilst simultaneously being unique.
As I stated right up at the beginning, she’s the companion thigh piece to my Artemis. I’m a great love of the art noveau movement, with Mucha taking the place of favourite painter, and both tattoos tie together with Mucha-inspired vectors and an emphasis on the natural form. I feel as though the essence of Persephone is captured in this tattoo: the delicacy of the petals, her unwavering stare
Persephone was another tattoo that I let my artist take free rein on, with the only additions by me being the pomegranate. You can’t have Persephone without the pomegranate, am I right?
So, there we have it! I love having meanings behind my tattoos, why I chose them and how they reflect a moment in my life.
Do you have tattoos? How many? Do they have stories behind them?
Until the next time – happy reading!