The Scarlet Letter
Volume VI, Number 1 | March 2001
The Magick of Tattoos
by Sr. Lillith Avalon, Sr. Tzaddi, Fr. Xaos, Sr. Isis & Fr. NSNVS,
Fr. Paradoxos Alpha, and Fr. Xephyr
I have three tattoos on my body. They are all custom designs that were created with strong magickal intent and all three correspond to formal initiation events. Tattoos overall have an interesting energy about them because I experience them as physically painful and permanent initiations. The way for me to pass these initiations is to transmute the pain into some other experience so that it can be tolerated and my focus maintained on the intent of the work.
My first tattoo is a crescent silver blue moon with wispy silver grey clouds floating across it and three teardrops of blood dripping down like raindrops. This tattoo is on my left breast to symbolize my heart’s devotion to the path of magick and my breast’s nourishment of personal development. I had the ink done in my early 20’s shortly after I took my First Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition and formally took the title Witch. The crescent moon emphasizes new beginnings and the Lunar orientation of my magick at that time, the three blood teardrops, the three phases of the Goddess, and the clouds are the inspiration of dreams and intuition.
An interesting technical point about this tattoo is that is has no black outlines. The outlines of the design were needled into my skin with water to give raised pink line then the colors were filled in. The water outline was absorbed into my skin and healed up leaving the soft colors to blend gently into my skin at the edges. This tattoo encompasses all the phases of water from the moon’s influence of tides, to the blood of my heart and monthly cycle, to nourishing snow and rain in potential in the clouds.
My second tattoo of an athame (dagger) with a ruby set at the end of the handle is on my upper right arm. I wield my active magickal tools with my right hand, thus the placement of this tattoo. I acquired this ink shortly after my Second Degree in Wicca where I was granted the title Priestess. This is primarily an air symbol but also encompasses the fire of will with which metal objects are forged and magickal tools are wielded. The ruby harkens back to red blood but goes further in that it is a solidified form of passion and will with fire flashing deep within the jewel. The blade has strong black outlines and emphasis lines in contrast with my moon tattoo that has none.
Not long after getting this tattoo I discovered that my physical athame was no longer a ‘necessary’ tool for my personal magickal work. The energy and intent of athame is now an integrated part of my body and the adage “the power is in the Witch, not in the tools” came home to me full force.
The third and largest of my tattoos is over my breastbone. It is a stylized ankh with ‘ironwork’ flourishes, green shaded fill ink, a purple crowning jewel for spirit, and a pink and red rose in the center. It is a feminine Rosy Cross with the looped ankh top and the symbolism of male and female energy conjoined in the cross point with a blooming rose.
This tattoo is about the earth element for me. It symbolizes attainment, renewed devotion, green growth and bright sweet- smelling results of my love and work as an initiate of a magickal and fraternal tradition. Ever since I got this tattoo I have experienced my heart chakra as more open, available and energized. Joy comes to me more easily and stays with me longer.
The story of this tattoo begins when I was age 12. I read a book called Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm, a Plains Indian (I think Cheyenne). The book introduced me to nature-based religion, which I was practicing in a childish but sincere fashion at the time. The book has beautiful color plates of shields, and it elaborates on the spiritual meanings of the Medicine Wheel.
When I was 12, I knew I couldn’t be an Indian—I was (and am) a suburban White girl. I did know that I could adopt the symbolism of the Medicine Wheel without disrespecting its source, and I decided the way to do it would be through getting tattoos. I was a pretty profound kid, and I knew the only thing that is permanently mine for the duration of my life is my body. I also knew I would face many temptations to deviate from the Red Road, the life path of a deeply spiritual person. I figured tattoos would stay with me for the duration and be a constant reminder that I was dedicated to spirit.
I am wearing my Medicine Wheel. I got the first part when I was 18; it’s the eagle on my right shoulder. The second part was the outline of a black bear; the bear is under the mountains you see on my left deltoid. The third and fourth parts I got together: a mouse on my left ankle and a buffalo on my left cheek. They make a cross; also a circle. Is it any wonder the Order wasn’t a big surprise?
Anyway, they’ve been reworked. The symbolism has changed, as I have changed. So let’s get to this specific tattoo. You see a red dragon, which is my Mayan birth sign (I didn’t know that when I got the red dragon) over a mountain. Fire over earth, the sustenance of my physical life. Surrounding this is a coil of DNA; this is the biological sign of the spiral of manifestation and the energies associated with that manifesting force. The hand with the spiral is the Shaman’s hand of conscious healing and conscious manifestation. You’ll notice that the DNA splits off, and one end goes to an ovum which is about to accept a sperm, the genesis of change. The other end wraps under my arm to a little spirit person who holds the sperm; the spirit’s other hand also has a spiral in it.
The explanation of all this can get very detailed; as with any art form, I’d like to leave some of the interpretation up to the observer. However, this tattoo reminds me that I am constantly creating my life at both a spiritual and a cellular level. What I am working on is becoming more aware of this process at a detailed level so I am better able to control it.
There isn’t any real difference between the changer and the changed, since God and Man are One. I am tattooed and I am my tattoos, if ya know what I mean!
On Jan. 28th 1995 e.v. I was initiated a Minerval of the M.'.M.'.M.'. and was inked, for the first time, just hours before. At that time I worked a graveyard shift at 7-11. I met many interesting people one of whom was our brother Chris Piss. Another person I met was this dude named Brian who was acquainted with an apprenticing tattoo artist. I shared enthusiasm for body art and modification with Brian. He called the afternoon before my zero, asked me if I was ready for my first tattoo, and assured me it wouldn’t cost a dime. I was ready, he came over, we had a smoke and we were on our way to Singapore John’s. I photocopied the mark of the beast from the cover of The Magick of Thelema by Lon Milo Duquette. The whole session took less than an hour.
At that time I had little comprehension of what I was doing. I was 18 years old, accepted the law when I was sixteen, but the mark over my breast had little meaning to me other than a bible reference. Now, as I’ve grown in understanding, its meaning is more profound to me. The mark is meaningful coincidence and has aided in perfecting this body as a living talisman. Suffice to state the obvious, each of us have accomplished the miracle of incarnation via the union of sperm and ovum. And here is no end. My son Felix is gestating in his mother’s womb as I write this. As he grows, so too does my knowledge and conversation.
Sr. Isis and Fr. NSNVS
We were discussing new tattoos and we wanted a symbol of our love bond that was not a name or something common (i.e.: flash. We agreed that handprints would be a very personal mark and then we filled in the additional symbols that we wanted.
The symbols in the tattoos are: Isis’ right thigh has NSNVS’ left hand (he is left handed) and in that hand print is a seven rayed Sun. NSNVS’ left thigh has Isis’ right hand (she is right handed) and a moon, a seven-rayed star, and the hieroglyph for her motto (Isis) on the middle finger. “For he is ever a sun and she a moon.”
We also have a tradition for our re-marriage every year. We always join my left and her right hand and bind them together when we wed, and the tattoos reflect this.
Isis says: “I never realized how big NSNVS’ hands were until I had one tattooed on me! My only consolation is that I have big hands for a girl!” Also it was very cold and we were very tired when we received these due to a guerrilla initiation weekend. Getting the tattoos was a very centering experience. We cannot say we recommend getting fresh ink when it is that cold, or right before doing initiations...but that is left as a mystery for the reader.
We see all of our tattoos as talismans. We got these less than 18 hours before her Third Degree, and it held a lot of death symbolism for her, and I initiated her to Third, so she was in my hands, and her hand on me spoke of the lunar mysteries and reminded me of Hecate. Plus it is always a reminder of our bond as a dyad and the strength and skill that unites and brings forth ecstasy. These tattoos are a deep and colorful reminder of our love and the healing touch that we have for each other.
We had planned to get our hands tattooed on each other for at least a year, and then it all came together with a blinding synchronicity, which included a talented artist willing to work outside of his studio. We were 9000 feet up on a mountain outside of Denver at Ad Astra Encampment and it was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside with a foot of snow. Out of nowhere Fr. Derek pops up and wants to ink us...so of course we said yes and knew immediately that we had to get our handprints. Problem, no transfer paper - so we used green food dye and colored our hands, then we grabbed each other’s thigh where we wanted the tattoo. Fr. Derek tattooed right over the dye. He has a very light touch and a gift for color. Neither of us wished for a standard black outlined tattoo and we are very pleased with the results.
Frater Paradoxos Alpha
The heart tattoo is my fourth. All of them have been associated with my magical aspiration in one manner or another. I got my first tattoo on the Autumnal Equinox of IVo. The artist for that one was my Minerval intitiator.
My heart tattoo design is based on Martin Luther’s personal seal, which has also served as an emblem of the Lutheran Church. I was baptised and indoctrinated in Lutheranism as a child, and my modification of the Lutheran symbols is partly an effort to transcend and include them—to move beyond their limitations without abandoning their utility.
I changed the traditional five-petalled rose to one of seven petals, to refer to Babalon and other septenary powers. I also added a Hebrew motto to the cross: AIN ELOHIM. (“There is no god.” —Psalms 14 and 53) The intersection of the words at the letter yod shifted the original Latin Cross into a Cross of Saint Peter. Each Hebrew letter has taken on an individual signification within the overall talismanic design, alluding to correspondences in the Tarot and the Holy Books of Thelema.
The sentiment behind the entire tattoo is largely summarized by the speech of the Priest on the Second Step in the Gnostic Mass: “I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life; yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death. I am alone; there is no God where I am.” It also serves as a radical thesis affixed permanently to the heart’s door of this “other” temple of my body.
My first encounter with Crowley, indeed, the very first book I purchased by Crowley, was a confusing text entitled The Book of Lies. I studied the poetry within and tried to grasp as much of the essence and mystery as I could, and much of my early Kabalistic study can be traced to this period. This will be important later, so keep it in mind.
In an earlier, but soon related, study of history, I began to investigate the language and culture of Ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphs were used as the divine writing of the priests and pharaohs, and the gods themselves formed the individual symbols. The manner in which ideas could be symbolized, spelled out, and generalized in this holy language guaranteed that others could easily grasp unfamiliar ideas and words.
Complex ideas can be rendered in hieroglyphs using a combination of visual metaphors, visual and linguistic puns, and the “complex idea” determinative sign for good measure. The cyclical nature of birth and death, sunrise and sunset, flood and drought – these were not lost on the Egyptians. When time came to find an ideograph for the idea of “becoming” or “coming into being,” they chose an ideograph which already represented the concept of “to roll,” and which was based on a creature for which rolling was the visible part of what it did. The invisible thing the creature did accounted for the reason it also became used as the hieroglyph for “to become” and “to come into being.”
For the Egyptians, the dung beetle was made of fire and was holy to the sun because dung beetles were most active during the hottest part of the day when everything else seeks for shade and cool water. This beetle is known today for its tasteful habit of injecting its eggs into balls of whatever dung might be handy. The humorous sight of this small insect pushing along a sizable ball typically much larger than itself was so common in Ancient Egypt that an image of the beetle was enough to conjure the idea of “to roll.” At the time, no one knew how these bugs reproduced: they just burrowed out of the ground in the heat of the day, so it was assumed that they spontaneously generated. Its mysterious nature, along with its association to the sun, was symbolized by the Scarab rolling the Sun across the heavens.
Upon this information fully entering my consciousness, I remembered a particularly frustrating chapter from The Book of Lies–Chapter 16: The Stag Beetle. The title refers to our friend the dung beetle of Egyptian mysticism. Try to think of it as a rural expressway exit ramp into enlightenment, just be sure to watch for oncoming traffic.
Since these elements composed some of my first and strongest ties to the path that has led me into this brotherhood of Thelema, I felt that it was appropriate to include the Scarab in a tattoo that I had designed in honor of my First Degree initiation. I combined the classic image of the Scarab pushing the Sun across the sky with the triskelion, a symbol I associate with my primary deity, whom I also credit for connecting me with the Order.
The image is complex, combining several different archetypes, and holding a myriad of meanings. It translates to “I am He who Becomes.” It represents that even the smallest can become great. It demonstrates success through persistence, and that manifestation comes in cycles. It ties the Sun to the Moon and thereby shows the path to power. It pantomimes, “Let the good times roll.” It acknowledges me as a worshipper of the Sun: a lifetime devotee to that single most obvious object of worship, our Father, and our Lord.