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Tattoo Ideas: Symbols and their Meanings

Updated on November 3, 2013
The infinity sign is just one of many popular symbol tattoos
The infinity sign is just one of many popular symbol tattoos

My very first tattoo at age 18 was a teeny tiny black star on my stomach. I picked a tattoo parlor at random, endured the minimal pain, and now, twelve years later, that little star is a tasteful black smudge. As I got older, I learned to select more reputable tattoo parlors with better artists, and time after time I found myself going back to get more star tattoos.

Why is it that our minds adhere to a specific symbol above all others? For me, the stars and the constellations always held fascination. Travelers obeyed the stars long before there were maps or GPS devices; a star guided the Three Kings to Bethlehem, helped navigators plot their course. I'd spent many hours of my childhood lying in my back yard and gazing at the stars, so maybe this is why I ended up with 13 star tattoos.

Here are some other meaningful symbol tattoos that have grown in popularity over the years.

Infinity Symbol

The infinity symbol is depicted as a sideways numeral 8. It means "without limit" or "without end". Although traditionally a mathematical symbol, the infinity sign has been reclaimed by romantics to signify love without end, constantly recurring. This is best illustrated in the picture below of a married couple who each have the infinity symbol on the same place on their hands.

Infinity Tattoos

Translation:  "I love you from the earth to the heavens. I love you like a sideways 8."
Translation: "I love you from the earth to the heavens. I love you like a sideways 8."

Triquetra Symbol

The three interlocking triangles of the triquetra (sometimes drawn with a circle in the center) are symbolic of the unity of soul, heart and mind. Triquetra, in Latin, means "three cornered". The number 3 has long been a sacred and powerful number, i.e. the Holy Trinity in Christianity (the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit). It is commonly used today in the Pagan religion and Celtic art. You may remember it from the TV show "Charmed", where the three sisters used it to refer to "the power of three". I personally remember it from the day my mom called me with a great idea: she wanted me, my sister, and herself to all get a triquetra tattoo. I thought it sounded awesome! I was living out of state at the time, but was planning a trip home soon. I said that we could all go together at that time, but I guess the power of the tattoo was too alluring, because my mom and sister went and got theirs before I arrived! I never did end up getting mine :(

Triquetra Tattoos

The standard yin and yang symbol tattoo
The standard yin and yang symbol tattoo

Yin and Yang Symbol

The yin and yang is an ancient Chinese symbol used to illustrate the balance of nature. Many dualities exist in nature--hot and cold, up and down, fire and water, rain and sun--and although seemingly opposite and contradictory, these forces actually work in tandem. We could not have one without the other. Light cannot exist without first experiencing darkness, and humans could not recognize what is good unless they have known what is bad. Although classically a black and white symbol, the yin and yang has many artistic interpretations and can be drawn in a million different and unique ways.

"Yang is the initiating impulse, which divides and delineates; yin is the responsive impulse, which nurtures and reunites. Without yang nothing would come into being; without yin all that comes into being would die." --Twin Souls by Patricia Joudry and Maurie D. Pressman

Yin and Yang Tattoos

Ankh (ankh cross) Symbol

The Ankh symbol, sometimes called an Ankh Cross, is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph that meant "eternal life" or "the symbol of life". The ankh is often depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings. It appears at the fingertips of a god or goddess in pictures of deities of the afterlife, leaving some scholars to theorize that the ankh could also be symbolic of conception. The ankh is frequently seen with two other hieroglyphs: djed (meaning stability) and was (meaning strength).

Ankh Tattoos

Mobius Strip Symbol

Take a strip of paper, twist it in half, then glue the ends together and you've got a Mobius Strip. Per Wikipedia's explanation in layman's terms, "If an ant were to crawl along the length of this strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed the entire length of the strip (on both sides of the original paper) without ever crossing an edge." The film "Inception", starring Ellen Page and Leonardo DiCaprio, is an excellent example of a mobius strip. Not only do the characters employ the use of mobius strips when creating the buildings in their dreamworld, but the dreamworld itself is one big mobius strip. It is, essentially, an optical illusion; it may look like something is 2- or 3-dimensional, but there is in fact only one surface with one side.

Mobius Strip Tattoos

Artist M.C. Escher's rendering of ants on a mobius strip
Artist M.C. Escher's rendering of ants on a mobius strip

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    • profile image

      Dan 17 months ago

      The third mobius tattoo is incorrect which is unfortunate. It's a difficult image to try and draw though so it's understandable.

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      Racquel 3 years ago

      Thanks I really needed to know about the infinity tat and the meaning before I actually got it...... Thanks

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      simmone 4 years ago

      I have just had my first tat of the charmed symbol i love it i want more!

    • becauseilive profile image

      becauseilive 5 years ago from N.J.

      Thanks andycool! I appreciate your kind words :)

    • profile image

      andycool 5 years ago

      Symbol tattoos are highly meaningful tattoo arts and signify deeper meanings about life! This article will guide tattoo enthusiasts in choosing their favorite symbol tattoo designs and encourage people to ink more such tattoos. Great contribution to the tattoo world as always by you. Thanks for sharing!