What does a tattoo feel like? You know that will be in your skin forever? Why the creepy skull?
These are some of the questions I’ve been asked regarding my first tattoo, which I received a few days ago. The tattoo will require one more session to complete, adding some extra detail as well as shading and color. Here I share what it was like to get a tattoo, my reasoning for getting one, and the meaning behind the tattoo itself.
What was it like?
First, I anticipated a fair amount of pain. This did not come to fruition. To me, and as described perfectly by the tattoo artist himself, the tattoo feels “as if you have a moderately bad sunburn, and someone is drawing on it with a pen”. I would not describe the tattooing process as painful, but perhaps an annoying over-stimulation of the areas attended to. The process drew some blood, as well as some endorphins. They say that once you get your first, you get addicted and want more ink. This has been my experience since receiving the tattoo.
The after-care process is critical. Right now, and for the first few weeks, I will be washing gently with handsoap and warm water once per day, applying lotion 2-3 times per day, and generally leaving it alone besides that. During this process, I have been told to expect some scabbing, flaking, peeling, and lots of itching. I am satisfied to say that the itching has not yet begun.
Why did I decide to get a tattoo?
I understand that a tattoo is considered a permanent mark on the skin, and can only be removed surgically, which may or may not be successful and will not leave the skin as it was before the tattoo. I signed a waiver (well, like 50 of them).
I’ve always wanted to get inked. I tend not to care if western (or any other) society may or may not deem tattoos to be “inappropriate”, “dirty”, or “ugly”. A tattoo is a type of body modification which allows the receiver to describe themselves visually and creatively on the canvas of their skin. It is a reflection of oneself. What is within, becomes without. I intend any tattoo I receive to have deep, personal meaning to me.
And it won’t last forever. We all die eventually. Unless, of course, we as a species clear the technological hurdles to rendering ourselves effectively immortal.
What tattoo did I get, and why?
This image is of the tattoo in its current, unfinished form. In the image, you can see a skull wearing a Native American headdress, with 2 old-style stone axes crossed below.
Does this tattoo hold specific meaning, or does it just look cool?
I will concede that it looks cool; otherwise I would not have got it in my skin. Here is the basic backstory for my tattoo.
It is believed that between 15,000-10,000 BCE, during the last ice age, humans migrated into North America in a single wave by means of traversing the Bering Strait ice bridge. This wave of migrants later split into smaller groups.
One primary group of these migrants went on to populate what would later become most of the tribes and civilizations of both North and South America. This is to include North American Tribes such as the Apache, Sioux, and Cherokee, as well as South American civilizations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans.
The reason for the skull in my tattoo is to allow the identity of the individual to remain open. Besides, if I got a real face, imagine how bizarre it would be to meet someone who looked like my tattoo…
The timing for this individual is about 10,000 BCE, at the end of the last ice age and just before the agricultural revolution. This is a time at which the human world was still hunting and gathering. Also, note that stone axes were early weapons/tools used by people of this time period.
The headdress is similar to that of the Sioux tribe, though for the sake of a tattoo representation, I found it to be a suitable addition in helping to tell the story intended while maintaining the piece’s aesthetic.
I also intend to incorporate a small bear paw print into the tattoo, perhaps “painted” like war paint on the forehead of the skull. This is to represent the Short-faced Bear, which inhabited the west side of North America until about 8,000 BCE, and may have been responsible for delaying human migration into North America by hunting humans on the Bering Strait ice bridge. This bear was estimated to be more than twice the size of a Grizzly, and around 3,500lbs in weight.
So, how does this tattoo represent me?
I, and I believe most people, feel a strong attraction to certain aspects of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This attraction is very likely due to the fact that such is the lifestyle human ancestor species exhibited since before the genus homo arose out of the African grasslands and forests.
The tribal cultures I resonate with most strongly are those of the Native Americans. Native American cultures demonstrate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and having grown up in the USA I find that they provide a close-to-home reminder of the type of lives my ancestors lived. Note, I am partially descendant from a tribe in the Shenandoah region of Virginia. I share a relatively recent (15,000 years ago) ancestor with the Mayans and Aztecs.
This tattoo reminds me of the lives my ancestors lived, and may depict a direct ancestor of myself who migrated into North America during the last ice age, hunted and gathered, and had encounters with the Short-faced bear. These were the original frontiersmen of the beautiful expanses that Louis and Clark would later uncover. These were the pioneers of the Amazon Rainforest. These were the ancestors of those who built the city of Tenochtitlan.
I feel an unrelenting gravitation toward the natural world, campfires, hiking the wilderness. Envisioning and experiencing hints of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle abridges the gap between myself and my ancestors, and helps me to better realize my own nature.
Story to be continued, in ink!