The Symbolism and Meaning of Cross Tattoos

The cross is a timeless symbol that has withstood the test of time. It is a popular tattoo for both men and women, and can convey a wide range of meanings that are not just religious in nature. The other great thing is that there are so many cross tattoo designs to choose from, so you can really make sure you get the one that means the most to you.

In Times of Uncertainty

For over 2,000 years, the cross has been associated with Christ and Christianity. We cannot ignore such powerful and profound symbolism and all of the deep meanings associated with it. For many people, the cross has great meaning and importance in a time of uncertainty.

Here are just some of the meanings associated with the cross:

  • Spirit and spirituality
  • Sacrifice and death
  • Rebirth and personal transformation
  • Liberation from oppression
  • Faith and devotion
  • Unconditional love and family
  • Peace

There are so many meanings associated with the cross that it would be fair to say that it can have a different meaning to each person. This powerful symbol has crossed multiple cultures and generations for many centuries and is still as powerful today as it was over 2,000 years ago.

The Generative Principle

It’s important to note that the cross held importance within early human cultures long before it was a symbol of the Christian faith. It was discovered that early crosses were used by the ancient Egyptians to monitor the height of the River Nile – that most life-giving rivers could also flood and cause death and destruction.

It is also postulated the cross itself has a sexual origin deep in our human past. One of the most powerful principles in nature is the generative principle. That male and female should unite to form new life would have been an incredibly powerful symbol for our ancestors. In this context, the cross represents the masculine generative principle in the form of a stylized phallus as the vertical. When the female horizontal is added, it forms the cross and is united.

The Importance of the Four Elements

The four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – have been of central importance in many human cultures across time. Our reality consists of these four elements and it is the life force that drives everything, including human beings, plants, and animals.

The ancient Greeks believed in the power of the four elements, and it was not so long ago that our medieval ancestors in Europe based an entire medical belief system on ensuring that the elements were brought into harmony. The thinking here was that the human system consisted of elements that were closely tied to the four elements, and that many sicknesses were due to the fact that some of them were not in balance.

The cross also represents these four elements. The four arms and points of the cross each correspond to earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water correspond to the feminine, and fire and air correspond to the masculine.

A Vision of the Crucifixion

Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross by his oppressors – the Romans. In this context, the cross is a symbol of death and oppression, but importantly, Christ died for our sins. Even as he was being nailed to the cross by the very people who feared him, Jesus Christ was still an important figurehead of spirituality, human kindness, and personal revelation.

The cross can certainly be seen in this way. It can be a symbol of freedom through death and self-sacrifice. It can be seen as a tool of oppression that was used to control the revolutionary word of God through Jesus Christ. More importantly, in this context, it is also a symbol of resurrection and transformation.

Remember this: Christ died for our sins and was killed by his oppressors, but he was resurrected and the Romans failed in their quest to silence his words. Ultimately, the Roman Empire crumbled and the word of God prevailed.

In this sense, the cross is a symbol of not just death and self-sacrifice, but also a prevailing symbol of eternal hope in the face of hardship and oppression. It is also a symbol of personal transformation too. Just as Christ was resurrected, the cross can bear witness to a personal transformative journey in individuals.

A Symbol of Sacrifice

The cross holds great importance for those who are dedicated to a cause. It may be a personal quest for change in one’s life, or a dedication to making the world a better place through work. In this context, a cross tattoo has profound meaning because it symbolizes self-sacrifice.

Much like the crucifixion, those who work hard to change the world or change themselves draw upon the power of the cross and Christ’s death and ultimate resurrection to remain strong in the face of adversity from either within or without.

The outer world may be filled with oppressors, like the Romans, but the cross allows one to draw courage and strength in the face of this hardship. Likewise, the inner world may be full of mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish and pain, but the cross conveys a message of hope that things can change for the better and personal transformation can happen.

The Cross as Masculine and Feminine Aspects

One of the reasons that the cross is suitable for both men and women is that it contains aspects of both sexes. The horizontal of the cross represents the feminine aspect. It is associated with the earth. The vertical of the cross represents the masculine and is associated with the positive, the celestial, and creative.

What Cross Will You Choose?

The cross is one of the most powerful symbols that we have. Like the circle, the cross is one of the most basic marks that humans make. These marks, whether they are on ancient cave walls, or on our bodies as tattoos, have powerful and profound meanings that resonate across time and space.

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to get a cross tattoo. You may be a Christian and want to express your devotion to the faith. Or, maybe, you are more interested in the cross as a symbol of sacrifice and self-transformation. Whatever the reasons, there are lots of cross designs to choose from. Here are some and their meanings:

The Equal Cross

Most people think of the cruciform when they think of the cross – the long vertical length with the shorter horizontal axis. But the cross of equal lengths, which looks just like a plus sign, is one of the oldest forms of this universal symbol. This version of the cross appeared in cave art many thousands of years ago.

Apart from its primitive origins and powerful association with our earliest ancestors, this version of the cross is associated with the four elements. Each element has equal importance, just as each arm of the cross is equal in length. For the ancient Chinese, this version of the cross is strongly associated with the idea of perfection


Golgotha is where Jesus Christ was crucified, and this version of the cross is strongly Christian and is associated with his sacrifice for us. Formed as a crucifix, this version of the cross rests on three steps that diminish in size as they approach the base of the cross.

The Bejeweled Cross or Cross Gemmata

This cross is decorated with precious gemstones across each axis. This is an opulent symbol of the Church, but in some designs, there are 13 gemstones. These gemstones represent the 12 apostles and Christ himself.

Evangelical Cross

This cross has arms of equal lengths, but it also features four steps, similar to the cross of Golgotha. This type of cross represents the authors of the four gospels: Marks, Mathew, John, and Luke.

The Globe and the Cross

This one dates to the Romans and Byzantine people. The Romans would use a globe with a Goddess above it to symbolize victory. The Byzantines, as a continuation of Rome, changed it and instead placed a cross above the globe. For them, this represented the dominion of God over the earth.


The cross has a history that stretches back into prehistory. It is one of the most basic marks we can make, but it has long been associated with the generative principle, with male and female, with the four elements, and with Christ.

There are, in fact, many reasons why you might want to get a cross tattoo. Certainly, there are strong associations with the Christian faith, but the cross has had and continues to have many other meanings too. It is one symbol that defies time and place, and has been a part of our collective psyche for as long as we can remember.

To have a cross tattoo is to signify your relationship not just with Christianity, faith, devotion, love, freedom, and sacrifice, but also with human beings. It is a symbol that has been profoundly important to us as a species for millennia and will continue to be so.

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