What is the Meaning of Feather Tattoos
Feathers are very common designs in the art of tattooing. As an image, they are striking, captivating and versatile. There are many different types of birds with different shapes and sizes of feather. They can be colorful or stark and as a tattoo, can often move with the contours of a body. But feathers have been attracting the eye of almost every civilization throughout history, being integral in personal stories as well as those of larger communities.
The meaning behind feather tattoos is often a representation of freedom. However, this oneHOWTO article on what is the meaning of feather tattoos shows us that it can be much more. Color, type of bird and personal symbolism can all be important in the meaning of feather tattoos.
Feather tattoos meaning freedom
Tattoos of feathers can include a different meaning for every single tattoo, but certainly the first to be highlighted is that associated with the concept of freedom. Feathers belong to birds and these are particularly perceived as free animals because of their ability to fly. And so, someone with a single or multiple feather tattoo affirms his or her decision to live freely or to seek freedom.
Feathers meaning freedom is why it is quite common to see many people with feather tattoos while traveling or backpacking. Birds are the ancient travellers and feather tattoos represent this element of wanderlust. Even more so, feather tattoos can represent the search for something better or different. A search which only freedom can allow. A love of freedom is not the only reason why people get tattoos of birds as there are many other meanings behind bird tattoos also.
Feather tattoos as a symbol of ideas
But these designs do not only represent freedom or the desire to obtain it, they are also closely linked with the world of ideas. Feather tattoos also evoke the element of air. They logically require air to move freely. This is why if you saw a feather on the field of battle, it was thought to be a sign of a dead soul moving through the air.
Do you remember how people used to write with quill and parchment? The quill was made out of feather. This is why it is also the meaning for ideas, intellectuality and the ability to communicate what we think. This is an ideal depiction for those who work in the field of communication or who must manifest written eloquence in their profession. Many people choose to represent this with a feather tattoo depicting a feather (or quill) beside an ink bottle.
Feather tattoos and Religion
There are many designs of feathers and sometimes the meaning of the feather tattoo may vary. As ancient cultures also gave a meaning to feathers, the drawing style of the feather will also vary in its meaning.
Native American feather
If you opt for feathers of an indigenous or shaman type, then it could be you are expressing a direct relationship to the spiritual world. Amongst Native American communities, Chiefs wore feathers to express their celestial wisdom. It also represented the power of the gods of thunder, air and wind.
The chief is a sage advisor and strong leader. To do this, one needs to have trust, honor, power, freedom and wisdom. All of these traits are represented by feathers. A feather tattoo is an extension of this. As the bird flies closer to the sun, so do spiritual leaders have closer contact to the gods. The feathers in a chief's headdress show that they are close to the spiritual elements of nature.
It was not only the chiefs who wore feathers. It was a common practice for warriors to wear them. Feather tattoos might represent bravery, just as Native Americans wore them either in their hair or on a staff. They would be rewarded with a feather after "counting coup". Counting coup was a process where warriors would recount their exploits during battle. You could only count coup if there was risk of serious injury or death. If you were to risk your life, but depart battle unscathed you would get a feather to show your bravery. If you were injured in the attempt, then the feather would be painted red to represent this.
Feathers are also present on dream catchers (dream catchers are a common type of feather tattoo), which are thought to protect you from nightmares.
The Egyptians also related the feather to the sky gods. One such god was Shu, the father of earth and the god of air. He was often depicted in hieroglyphics as wearing a feather in his hair. The ostrich feather, in particular, was worn in pictures of the goddess Ma'at, who was daughter to the sun god Ra. Ma'at was the goddess of truth and justice. In some depictions, the feather is used in a balance of scales with the heart of a deceased person being weighed against a feather. If the heart was light as a feather, then it was not filled with heavy impurities and they would have a better after life. Feather tattoos, particularly ostrich feather tattoos, often connote this symbolism.
Christian feather symbolism
Feathers are important to Christian symbolism as birds are very important to it. They represent the spirit and its closeness to god. One of the most famous stories in the Bible is that of god flooding the earth and Noah seeing the vision of a dove. This shows hope, peace and faith. Angels are also common tattoos and are often depicted as having wings. A feather of an angel's wing is a common type of feather tattoo
Bird and feather symbolism are also present in Islam and the Qur'an. The prophet Muhammed was even saved from capture by birds in the Qur'an. However, you may not see many Muslims with a feather tattoo as it is considered by many, perhaps most, to be haram meaning it is forbidden.
The feather as a Celtic symbol was worn to invoke the sky gods. The god Morrigan (also The Morrígan or Morrígu) was depicted wearing a cloak made out of crow feathers. This cloak would turn her into a crow so that she could fly over battle and manipulate it. This represents a different or more informed point of view to get higher reason. Feather tattoos can have a similar meaning and often represent an aspirational point of view.
Getting tattoos is a personal decision and the meaning behind your feather tattoo can be your own. However, as there is a history of cultural misappropriation with symbolism of different nations and traditions, if you get a feather tattoo or similar, you may want to be careful that it is not culturally insensitive.
Feather meaning depending on the bird
At the time of choosing your feather tattoo it is also possible to choose a meaning depending on the animal the feather belongs to. Let's take a look at the most popular bird feathers:
Eagle feather tattoo
Tattoos of eagle feathers symbolize courage and strength, as well as the strength of ideas and the conviction to keep them. It is precisely this animal's feather which was worn the most by Native American chiefs. It was believed that they had a special connection to the gods, precisely why their Great Spirit was shaped like an eagle. This is mainly because the eagle flew so high in the sky, high above like the gods themselves.
The eagle tattoo has a similar meaning to that of the Ying and Yang in Chinese culture. One of its sides is white and the other is dark, representing balance between darkness and light.
Owl feather tattoo
Those who opt for tattoos with owl feathers honor intelligence and culture, as the owl was the symbol of Athena in Greek mythology, the goddess of wisdom. Owls are not only noted for their intelligence on earth, but also their closeness to the sky belies their spiritual wisdom. An owl feather tattoo might be worn by someone who has a spiritual bent.
Owls, however, like many feathers, have two sides. In those who believe in magic, there are often dark owls and lights owls representing the two opposing magical sides. You might have an owl feather tattoo to represent one or the other, depending on your nature.
Peacock feather tattoo
The peacock feather is a symbol of beauty and royalty, as this animal has been related to royalty for centuries, even though it has commonly been related to bad luck too. They are also displayed as a way to attract a mate. If you have a peacock feather, it could be that you are a show off or have a flashy style which attracts attention from others. If you want to learn more meanings, take a look at our article on what peacock feathers symbolize.
Hawk feather tattoo
Similar to the symbolism of eagle tattoos, hawks are known for their bravery and valor. They are also vigilant against danger. This is why people will say to watching something ‘like a hawk’. You might want to get a hawk feather tattoo if you are someone who sees yourself as being vigilant against something. Whether this is fighting a particular cause about which you are passionate or even being vigilant against your own demons, a hawk feather tattoo might be for you.
Colored feather tattoo meanings
If you are thinking about what does a feather tattoo symbolize, you may have not thought about the color of the feather. Feather tattoos can have different meanings depending on their color. We take a look at some of these feather colors to help it all make sense:
White feather tattoo
Doves, the symbol of peace, have white feathers. As with all things white, this color feather tattoo is linked to purity, marriage and sanctity.
Red feather tattoo
Like with roses, red feathers symbolize passion. It is also a sign of strength and re-surfacing from the ashes, like the legendary phoenix bird.
Yellow feather tattoo
Yellow feathers are highly linked to intelligence, as it is connected to mental alertness, to being focused and being present in the moment.
Blue feather tattoo
Blue is always connected to the sky, so emphasizing the connection with celestial meanings by adding blue to your tattoo is the right option. It symbolizes inspiration and peace too.
Multicolor feather tattoo
Multicolor feather tattoos are also becoming popular. These use the watercolor or splash color tattoos which have become very popular in recent years. There aren't many traditional representations of these multicolored feather tattoos, they are more a trend than anything. But this doesn't mean you can't apply meaning. For example, multicolored objects often represent LGBT+ communities.
Feather tattoos and other symbols
One of the aesthetic reasons why many people get feather tattoos is because they go well with other images. As owl feather tattoos are so popular, you might likely see them with a depiction of the moon or a tree. These images have their own unique symbolism, so it is possible to combine symbols for a more personal representation.
Feather tattoos are also often seen with birds emanating from the feather. This is similar to the Celtic god Morrígan who turned into a bird. The feather tattoo which turns into birds can be a good representation for those who like to travel or for those who have been undergoing a dramatic change in their life.
Part of this aesthetic is that the feather tattoo itself can allow for interesting designs. Many people choose to have their feather tattoos filled with patterns to make them look visually pleasing or to have extra symbolism added to them.
Where to get a feather tattoo
Where you get your feather tattoo won't necessarily say much about its meaning, but the shape of feather tattoos means they might be better suited to some places over others. Here are some of the most common places to get a feather tattoo:
Feather tattoo behind the ear
The curve of the neck up to the head can be a great pace to get a father tattoo inked. It follows the shape very well and some people like it because it can be essentially hidden behind the ear if you have longhair. This makes it a little more personal.
Feather tattoo on wrist
A feather tattoo on the wrist has also become very popular recently. These are usually discreet and quite small. The appeal is mainly because they are suitable for someone who wants to admire it themselves, but don't want a big tattoo either.
Forearm feather tattoo
Forearms are a good place to get a feather tattoo. The main reason is because they are a straight strip of skin which can be well-suited to a shape like a feather. They have also been made popular by certain celebrities such as Dave Grohl who has feather tattoos on his forearms.
Back feather tattoo
A feather tattoo on the back is seen as being quite feminine (although this doesn't exclude any gender getting a feather back tattoo). Peacock feather tattoos are particularly popular back tattoos because of how they curve up the back, but also because this is where they are placed on peacocks.
So all in all, we could say feathers have a very celestial and spiritual background, and depict freedom and your relationship with your most spiritual side.
If you want to know more about tattoos you may be interested in reading our article on the inspirational quote tattoos.
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