Once upon a time, I got a snake tattoo.
It occurred to me the other day that all but one of my tattoos are of animals and the one that isn’t is about animals. The butterfly was my “I just moved out of my parents’ house to the big city” tattoo; the spider was a reference to my writing, as Spider has been a spirit…helper, I guess is the word, with my work since I wrote my first book, The Circle Within.
I got the Sanskrit word Ahimsa on my neck the year my cat Cosmo died, both to honor his memory and to announce my intention of becoming vegan…even if it took me the rest of my damn life to get there.
When I turned 30, my BFF and I went to get tattoos together. We both wanted snakes, and both on our arms. This seems strange unless you know that we were co-priestesses of a coven, and we had become devoted to the Dark Mother, whose sacred animals included the serpent. She always appeared to me with snakes curling around Her arms, and She and I danced together in a serpentine way, and it felt right, at the time, to mark my devotion to Her on my body. So we both did, and I have loved my snake tattoo ever since.
It is a reminder of the ever changing nature of my faith – as I shed skins of old versions of myself, new skin emerges, shiny and soft, older and wiser. Given that my sun sign is the sign of transformation (Scorpio, in case you hadn’t figured that one out already), this tattoo will never lose its meaning, for I will never stop changing, never lose my need to peel away my old skins and discover a new woman beneath.
Of course, once you start getting tattoos it’s very hard to stop, so I’ve been gathering images on Pinterest of ink that I liked, to hopefully inspire me toward the two or three pieces I had in the back of my mind: I wanted something on my right arm to balance the snake on my left; I wanted a lotus surrounding the Ahimsa; and I wanted a tree on my back…oh, and I want something written in English as well, perhaps a single word inside my wrist, something like “create” or even “love.”
Even though I don’t exactly have a ton of money right now, as soon as I got my Bipolar II diagnosis I knew it was time to balance that left arm. The snake was a symbol of darkness, and while I have no problem with darkness, if I wanted to bring my life more into balance, I needed to balance the snake with something that to me symbolized light.
I found exactly what I was looking for on Pinterest: a phoenix whose wings formed a lotus blossom.
A phoenix, the bird who dies in flame and then is reborn from her own ashes…that sounds about right to me.
I knew I had to do it, and I had to do it NOW. When my BFF asked me about the meaning of the phoenix and whether it meant my life before, or what was happening now, I couldn’t articulate an answer. Something was driving me toward it, the same feeling that drove me to get the snake. I can only conclude that God wanted me to get the tattoo, and She wanted me to get it as soon as possible.
So I did.
I handed over the design to the tattoo artist, who added a few swirls and flourishes to balance it out; I told him I wanted some red on the wings to balance the red-and-black of the snake, so that’s what he did.
And it is. So. Beautiful.
It makes me wish I could remove all of my other tattoos and have this guy redo them with his incredible linework. I’ve actually been considering embellishing the snake somehow for quite a while; now that I’m not working with the Dark Goddess anymore it feels like it needs something, something to help it be part of my current life.
Of course, here’s the tricky part: when you get a tattoo for spiritual reasons, spiritual things are going to happen in your life that bring that tattoo’s energy up over and over again. You have to be ready to accept that.
Thus, I got my phoenix both to honor where I’ve been – all the deaths both big and small that have been a part of my path, all the things I’ve risen from even after my life had turned to ash – but also where I’m going, as I take the burnt-out wreck of the last year, the ashes of years of depression, the charred remains of who I used to be, and use them to incubate a stronger, healthier, happier, more successful me.
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