Arrow Tattoos: What They Mean And Tattoo Inspiration

Nordic Arrow Tattoo @tatsbyandrew

Arrow tattoos have become extremely popular requests in tattoo parlours the world over during the last few decades. There are some good reasons as to why. Firstly, they are customizable – there are tons of tattoo designs you can go for with this choice – and you can place them almost anywhere on the body. Secondly, the arrow symbol has significant meaning attached to it. 

Where Does The Arrow Tattoo Originate? 

Arrows were a big part of life for many cultures over centuries. They were a tool used to hunt, protect loved ones, and fight wars with.

But, which society gave arrows the most meaningful symbolism?
One answer could be the Indigenous American tribes.

Arrow and Roses Tattoo @tattooist_giho_

Trent Aitken-Smith, author of the book, The Tattoo Dictionary in which he dives into the origins of some of the most inked tattoo designs,

“One of the strongest and longest-lasting associations is found among Native Americans. For these peoples, the arrow was a hugely important symbol that quite literally meant life – it was the tool they used to hunt for food to feed their families as well as the weapon they used to protect them. It was a symbol of war as well as peace. Within Native American cultures, the sign of two crossed arrows is used to represent an alliance, while an arrow broken in two is a sign of peace.”

The Huffington Post

Protection, war, peace, but also love. Cupid did shoot people with an arrow in the name of love after all. Before he was depicted as a chubby baby wielding a heart arrow on Valentine’s Day cards, Cupid was known to the Greeks as Eros, the god of love.

“Armed with a bow and a quiver filled with both golden arrows to arouse desire and leaden arrows to ignite aversion, Eros struck at the hearts of gods and mortals and played with their emotions,”

Minimalist Arrow Tattoo @error_geometrico

Perhaps Eros’ love-inducing arrow was the inspiration for the traditional American sailor tattoo of the heart with an arrow through it? This old school design known for its bold black lines and saturated colors was popular among sailors and soldiers. 

“Another strong contender for the popularizer behind arrow tattoos is the American Traditional style, which relies on bold symbols – and one of its most well-known designs is the heart with an arrow through it. Sailors (and later all military service members) would get arrow-and-heart designs as a way of keeping loved ones close when traveling far for deployment,”

Arrow and Feathers Tattoo

These days, an arrow tattoo can be a symbol of the past, but more modern times have resulted in more contemporary meanings for this tattoo design. 

Different Meanings Of Arrow Tattoos

An Arrow Being Pulled Back On A Bow

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So, when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming”

Paulo Coelho
Constellation Arrow Tattoo @tattooist_giho_

With this quote in mind, a tattoo of an arrow being pulled back with a bow can have significant meaning for someone who wants to be reminded that setbacks are not the end of the story. 

A Compass Arrow Tattoo

An arrow is shot forward, so an arrow tattoo can be a representation of moving forward in life. A great addition to an arrow tattoo that symbolizes moving forward is a compass. With the additional meaning that the compass brings of going in the right direction in life, this can make for a powerful tattoo. 

Compass Arrow Tattoo @jonoplank_tattoo

To read more about compass tattoos, click here

A Broken Arrow Tattoo

While the thought of a broken arrow can bring to mind defeat and bad luck, that’s actually not the case for a broken arrow tattoo. This tattoo design can actually symbolize the end of a battle. As Chronic Ink Tattoo explains,

“Most of the time, this type of tattoo represents that someone has overcome conflict with themselves, such as addiction, breaking an old habit, or growing out of a negative personality trait.”

Broken Arrow Tattoo @gregfischerart

Single Arrow Tattoo

An arrow makes for a great choice as a mini, minimalistic tattoo. A single, small arrow tattoo works well on the wrist, behind the ear, on the back of the neck, as well as the finger

This tattoo can symbolize independence and inner strength, and is a popular choice among people who have gone through a struggle and want to be reminded of their perseverance.

Simple Arrow Tattoo @studiodaveink

For more empowerment tattoo ideas, click here

Archer Tattoo

The symbol for the Sagittarius zodiac sign is the centaur or archer, and this star sign is often represented with a bow and arrow. 

“Sagittarius is the sign of the ‘archer’ pointing his bow and arrow to the heavens, but this is not your average archer – the archer that represents Sagittarius is also a centaur, half man half horse. This conjures up imagery of hunting, seeking, focusing on a target (bow and arrow) and (perhaps more importantly) of ‘man’ triumphing over his ‘lower’ animal nature (half man, half horse),”

Astrology Symbols
Feminine Arrow Tattoo

If your sun or moon sign is in Sagittarius, and you identify with this zodiac sign and meaning, an arrow tattoo could hold specific relevance to you. Also, the Sagittarius glyph or symbol is a great choice for a mini tattoo, as it’s a simple arrow with a small line through it. 

For zodiac tattoo inspiration for your star sign, click here

A Bundle Of Arrows

A bunch of five arrows represents five founding tribes of the Iroquois League, or Haudenosaunee, and symbolizes the strength of this unity. 

Beginning in around the 1500s, this league played a key role in the struggle between the French and the British in North America.

Bundle of Arrows Tattoo @tattooetinta

According to Britannica,

“Often characterized as one of the world’s oldest participatory democracies, the confederacy has persisted into the 21st century.”

As such, a tattoo of five arrows grouped together has significant meaning, so it’s important to do your research into the history of symbols before getting tattooed. 

From being a symbol of strength and resilience, to representing peace and love, there are many meanings behind one of the oldest tools of humankind: the arrow.

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