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The Meanings Behind Common Tattoo Symbols and Designs

Acient Egyptian, West African and Native Indian Cultural Symbols

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When I started this research on the subject of symbols, the first thing I looked into was ancient history. I am most fascinated by the symbols used in different cultures as ways of telling stories, recording events and basic communication. When you study Egyptian hieroglyphs, very little is told about the artist that drew them. But without the artists, the pictoral historians, we would know virtually nothing about these cultures.

The same is true today. One day, our modern society will be studied as ancient history. And the symbols used in our lives today will intrigue and teach the future generations. Look upon these symbols with new eyes, and appreciate them for their depth, beauty and significance. If one of them inspires you as the perfect design for a tattoo, you can be assured you have chosen something very special.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

    Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
    If you really want to go on a historical expedition, start digging here. This online Egyptology lesson is only for the very serious. This complicated but beautiful form of ancient writing will help you to understand much more than symbolism.

Celtic Symbolism

Adinkra/West African Symbols

    Adinkra Symbology
    About's guide to African History, Alistair Boddy-Evans, describes Adinkra as "a cotton cloth produced in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire which has traditional Akan symbols stamped upon it." However, as he points out, they are much more than pictures. Discover what these simple yet beautiful designs mean to the people that use them.
Native American/Indian/Aboriginal/Tribal
    Native American Symbol Dictionary
    Here is a very nice collection of basic drawings used by ancient Native Americans. These items are commonly found on pottery, in jewelry and on clothing.

    Sacred Symbols & Their Meanings
    This page is extremely informative and covers many aspects of tribal beliefs. Here you will find symbols and meanings of the Great Circle of Life, the representation of the ritual pipe, the significance of plants, animals, people and trees and much more. A really excellent resource.

    Sacred Stones
    These stones are not ancient, they are not part of any sacred ritual, and they've only been around for a few years and were created by one individual with a vision. However, it is interesting and it might inspire you with ideas if you are looking for something to symbolize a oneness with nature.

Nautical History

    Pirate Flags
    Even pirates are part of our history! Pirate symbols still inspire many a tattoo today. The "Jolly Roger" is the most famous, but there were other symbols also used to deceive or threaten their victims.

Family Crest & Coat of Arms Symbols

    Common Symbols List
    No pictures, but the names of the symbols are given along with their meanings. See how a coat of arms can tell the story of family history.


Next Page > Part 4: Pride Symbols, Chinese/Kanji, and Common Tattoo Meanings

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