Re: mutilation and ritual

Nedra Sue Davis (ndavis@VARUNA.ENG.LSU.EDU)
Wed, 3 Jul 1996 16:04:09 -0700

> Remember, Westerners tattoo - and we are not alone, as many cultures tattoo
> the body. However, we are (as far as I know) the only culture that tattoos
> without ceremony, symbolism and ritual.
> With all this talk of a lack of ritual, etc. in Western "tattooing," is
> there anyone out on this list who has actually gotten a tattoo or talked
> to someone who has gotten a tattoo? We seem to be approaching this
> question with an a priori view that Western tattooing has no ceremony,
> symbolism and ritual, and trying to explain why this is, when in fact, I
> would argue just that opposite might be true. If tattooing has no
> symbolism, then why
> bother with "Mother" or a loved one's name? Why get the name removed to
> make a new loved one happy - it must mean something? And as far as
> ceremony, don't Navy guys still get drunk and tattooed as expected? It
> may not elegant, but it might still qualify as ceremony.
> Just my .02.
> Marie Conrad

i am working on my masters, yes on tattoos. i have been using
Communication Science and Semiotics. i have interviewed several people
about their social background and what they say is the meaning of their
tattoo. Several people i spoke with did conduct some form of ritual, or
viewed the marking process itself as a ritual (rite of passage, rite of
pain, ect..).

One example i can think of is MAUS, a twenty yr. old i
spoke with in New Orleans. MAUS described herself as a gutter-punk, or a
squatter (someone living in the streets). She has cicatrices all up her
arms that she put there herself and filled-in w/india ink later, she
calls them her "pain lines." She said that everytime something horrible
happened to her she cut herself, it was her way to control her body. MAUS
also has a Rune (Celtic magical symbol) tattooed below her navel. She
said that this was her "center" and that the Rune was a symbol meaning
balanced. She also has a pentacle tattooed on her thigh. She had the
pentacle done by a friend that screwed up and inked it upside down, now
she said it was a pentagram (satanic symbol) and the tattoo cursed her life.

i could go on and on, but i agree with Marie Conrad, tattoos in the
"West" do have rituals and symbolism, maybe not in all cases. i have 45
interviews so far, and before the summer is out, i will have 100. so if
any one has any information about tattoos they think i should know please
post. :) thanks

Nedra Sue Davis