Tattoos and Religion

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16-Volume Encyclopedia of Religion

In its extensive treatise on the subject, the 16-volume MacmillanEncyclopedia of Religion notes: “Tattooing resembles painting, with the face and body as canvas… In a religious context, as distinct from a purely decorative context, tattoo marks are clearly symbolic… Tattooing in preindustrial societies dominantly relates the tattooed person to a social group or totemic clan, age or sex category, secret society or warrior association… As societies grow more complex and the division of economic and social labor becomes more refined, tattooing becomes more a matter of individual choice and serves the purpose of self-expression… As the technology of the art develops (for example, the invention of the electric tattooing needle), so do the designs and colors multiply, allowing considerable scope for self-expression and making statements about the self… Contemporary tattooed men and women wear on their bodies subtle and beautiful expressions of a continuous tradition that links deity, nature and humankind.” [3]

The Encyclopedia of Religion notes the changing nature of tattooing during the last several decades: “After World War II the practice subsided, but because of the influence of the ‘counterculture’ of the late sixties, the role of electronic media in bringing the practices of other cultures into the American home, extensive tourism, a general emphasis on individuality, and improvements in the techniques of professional tattooing, there has been a marked revival in the art.”


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