From the Samurais of Japan to the Vikings that sailed across the oceans and the fabled Knights of the Round Table, the sword has accompanied conquests, protected people, and cut it’s way through many tales for thousands of years.
As time went on, swords were replaced by bayonets which were replaced by guns, and now swords have moved from being a warrior’s tool to a symbol.
While it can be easy to assume that sword tattoos are a symbol of masculine strength and power, because of the many cultures and stories across the world that swords have been woven into, the meaning of sword tattoos can take many routes.
A sword can take on a deeply personal meaning, and represent bravery and overcoming obstacles.
Also, there are many meaningful elements you can add to a sword tattoo design that will take the symbolism of your tattoo to a different level.
The Katana Of Ancient Japan
The Samurai were the warriors of Japan and were revered throughout Japanese history. While today their influence is still greatly seen in Japanese culture, there are no more Samurai. With the 19th century came the US navy and the ruling power of the country was given back to a former imperial family. Samurai were no longer allowed to wear their swords, or katana, in public.
The way of the Samurai was about so much more than the katana and fighting. As Inside Japan explains,
“Not only were the samurai skilful warriors, but they were also expected to be highly cultured and literate; to be skilled in the harmony of fighting and learning. An ancient saying aspired to by warriors was bun bu ryo do: ‘the pen and sword in accord’, and it was common for samurai to enjoy calligraphy, tea ceremony, poetry and music, and to study.”
Samurai conduct or “the way of the warrior” was called bushido. This philosophy was all about honour, bravery, selflessness, and duty.
Taking into account the rich and interesting history of the Samurai culture, today a katana tattoo can represent immense discipline, courage, and can be a tribute to the painstaking effort and learning it takes to reach another level in life. Afterall, Samurai training began in childhood and included physical and spiritual preparation.
Sword And Heart
One of the most popular elements to include with a sword (or dagger) tattoo is a heart. A dagger going through the heart is a tattoo that is often featured in traditional American tattoo design with strong black lines and saturated colors.
While this design is definitely eye-catching, what does it mean?
The origin of this tattoo can be traced back to Christianity. As Tattoodo explains, this symbol has been used to depict Mary’s divine love and pain.
“In religious symbolism the dagger through the heart depicting the Catholic Sacred Heart of Mary is viewed as the embodiment of Mary’s pain at the crucifixion of her son Jesus.”
The symbol of three swords piercing a heart is also a card in a tarot deck. Each card in a tarot deck has its own symbolism and story, and a practitioner reading your cards is, supposedly, able to see elements of your past, present, and future.
If you pull the Three Swords card it can mean grief, but also the releasing of pain.
“The Three of Swords shows a heart pierced by three swords, representing the pain inflicted by words, actions and intent on the emotional and physical self. The dark clouds gathering in the background mirror this pain but offer the hope that, just as the storm clouds will disappear, so too will the pain and hurt you are experiencing,”Biddy Tarot
A sword and heart tattoo can represent your Catholic faith, or pain that you’ve experienced that has shaped you.
To learn more about heart tattoos, click here.
Sword And Rose
The rose is one of the most popular flower tattoos, and can represent passion, beauty, and love.
But, what happens to the meaning of a rose tattoo when you stab a sword through it?
“The sword and the rose tattoo is a symbol of duality. If the sword is not through the rose, the tattoo means balance in life. If the sword pierces the rose, it refers to opposites attracting or rebellion of youth,”Tatt Mag
You can play up this duality through colors by opting for a saturated, colorful rose with a grey and black sword tattoo design, taking inspiration from traditional American tattoos.
When it comes to the color of the rose, different shades have different meanings. Blue roses represent mystery, lavender roses enchantment, while the ever-popular red rose means true love and desire.
To learn more about rose tattoos, click here.
Sword And Snake
Another favored element to add to a sword tattoo is a snake coiled around the blade.
Snakes can symbolize many different things according to the culture in which they’re slithering.
In some Native American tribes, a snake can represent healing and transformation, perhaps because of their ability to shed their skin, whereas in Christian doctrine it is commonly thought that it was a snake that tempted Eve into eating the apple and being the cause of having to leave the Garden of Eden.
Snakes can also symbolize rebirth and the continuous cycle of life. As Tattoo Stylist says,
“The Ouroboros (an image of a snake eating its own tail) is an ancient symbol that originated in Egypt and can represent the circle of life and death and rebirth. It symbolizes the changing seasons of life and the cyclical nature of the universe.”
Further to a more positive take on the symbolism of snakes, these reptiles can also represent fertility and creativity.
A snake and sword coming together in a tattoo can create a striking design with deep meaning. As The Trend Spotter suggests,
“Snakes symbolize life force, fertility, and wisdom, while swords represent courage, strength, and protection. Together they can mean protecting life, wise courage, or even worldly struggles if the blade pierces the snake.”
To learn more about snake tattoos, click here.
Placement Of Sword Tattoos
The placement of a sword tattoo depends largely on the design you’re getting inked. Obviously, a large design needs a large surface area.
Swords are generally straight, so to not impact the look of the tattoo, choose a placement where the design won’t get warped or wrap around too much. For example, the ankle bone can result in a very bumpy sword.
The forearm can be a great tattoo placement choice, as it’s a flat, straight surface without bones that will hamper the tattoo needle.
Always take some time to chat with your tattoo artist – they will be able to give you advice on your chosen tattoo design and whether your placement choice will work.
There are many tales that include and even revolve around swords. They have a powerful symbolism attached to them that can make you think of strength, power, and courage. If you want a permanent reminder of these traits, a sword could be the perfect inspiration for your next piece of body art.
To learn more about tattoo placement, click here.