Re: mutilation and ritual

Chuck Coker (cjcoker@CRIS.COM)
Fri, 5 Jul 1996 09:30:06 -0700

Marie K Conrad wrote:
> >>>> 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?

Yes, there is at least one person on this list with a tattoo--me. Anthro
people might even enjoy it. It is a neadertal man facing off against a cave
bear with a spear in hand. The bear is standing on its hind legs, towering
over the man at about twice his height.

> 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.

Regarding ceremony, symbolism and ritual: While there was no ceremony performed
during the actual tattooing, a lot of thought (symbolism) went into the design.
(I designed it myself.) Although a tattoo might be able to be removed by cosmetic
surgery, I consider it to be a life-long mark, so the design was not taken lightly.

> a loved one's name?

My youngest son has a Cherokee-language name that translates as "Standing Bear".
I am of Cherokee descent--the Bear Clan. Being interested in anthropology,
the anthro theme was important, too.

My wife has a tattoo of an evolutionary nature: An elephant is grazing on bushes
beneath a tree while the upturned trunk extends into a giraffe's neck with the
giraffe eating leaves at the top of the tree. (Where evolution failed ... (-: I
designed that one, too, for her.)

The biker community has a lot of Harley-Davidson logo and other H-D tattoos. (I
am a biker, but I don't have an H-D tattoo.) I would consider the H-D tattoos
symbolic of the "real" biker lifestyle, as opposed to the yuppie status symbol
seeking H-D owners.

There are many Marine Corps, Army, Navy, etc. tattoos--symbols of the wearers
identity? I have Marine Corps friends that often quote, "Once a Marine, always
a Marine." Would this not be a clan identity of sorts?

What about ex-cons with a tear-drop tattoo under the eye for each year in jail?
This is surely symbolic.

I am sure there are many other examples out there.

Chuck Coker