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Swallow tattoos are rich with history and symbolism all over the world. For thousands of people over the centuries, the little bird can be linked to health, wealth, loyalty, and the rigors of long-distance travel.
The Swallow tattoo is cool and trendy nowadays, just as other bird tattoos and old school designs such as the nautical star tattoo. Swallow tattoos are often combined with stars, flowers or a banner with text. Popular body parts to wear a swallow tattoo are the hip, lower back and shoulders.
A Sailor's Tattoo
The swallow, as well as bluebirds and sparrows, has always had a symbolic meaning for sailors because, before modern navigation technology, these birds were usually the first sign that land was near. A swallow tattoo for a sailor reflected his hope of coming home safely.
Another fact is that swallows return home every year, no matter where they are. Every year, Mission San Juan Capistrano in California plays host to this wonder of nature. A flock of the tiny birds numbering in the tens or even hundreds of thousands descends upon the mission in a grand display of the workings of migration.
The swallow is a bird that chooses a mate for life. Therefore a swallow tattoo is also a symbol for love and loyalty to the family.
Other symbolic meanings in the same line:
- The return home after a struggle
- A hardship survived
- A victory gained.
The origins of the swallow tattoo go back to a ship namedThe Swallow. At one time, the crew of the ship had a mutiny. In order to recognize each other, the 7 mutineers who started the mutiny had a swallow tattooed on their chest.
After that, the swallow tattoo was the tattoo design for sailors to show off their sailing experience. Every five thousand nautical miles (5750 miles or 9250 km), a sailor traditionally has a swallow tattooed onto his chest:
- Travelling over sea in the early years was a dangerous and difficult undertaking, so a sailor with one or two swallow tattoos was considered very experienced and therefore trustworthy and valuable.
- Legend has it that if the sailor does not survive his travels, and ends up drowning, the birds alight upon his soul and carry him from the murky waters, into Heaven's grasp...certainly a haunting image.
- Other occasions sailors used to get swallow tattoos:
- After sailing all 7 seas.
- After sailing around the horns (the bottom of Africa and South America).
- 1 swallow tattoo after crossing the equator and another one when coming back.
Other Meanings of Swallow Tattoos
- In some cultures, the first swallow of spring is a very fortunate sight because it is an omen of financial success. To ensure wealth through the year, one must rub two coins together while watching the bird.
- A tattoo of 2 swallows represents freedom. It is a popular tattoo design amongst people who are just released from prison.
- A swallow tattoo on the fists does symbolize that the person who wears it is a good fighter (in the UK). The tattoo is supposed to give you fast hands in a fight.
- Sometimes a swallow can also be seen in gang tattoos.
- In the context of prison tattoos, swallow tattoos, as wells as bluebird and sparrow tattoos (jailbirds), are also a symbol of white supremacy for some people.
The swallow tattoo and other old-school tattoos are trendy again, especially in some scenes, such as the rockabilly scene. Swallow tattoos are a popular design amongst rockabilly girls and other retro chicks, just as nautical stars and cherry tattoos. This is due to the fact that these old school tattoos were common during the prime time of rockabilly music. A good example of the tattoo designs typical for that time is the work of tattoo artist Sailor Jerry, who had his tattoo parlour in Honolulu's Chinatown. Sailor Jerry's pupil, Ed Hardy, is known for this traditional style as well.
A symbol of hope for the return home, of loyalty to one's family and home, of freedom, the swallow is a beautiful choice for a tattoo, whether or not you plan on spending your days out at sea. As with all anamorphic, you can decide how to explain the meaning behind your skin art, each has his or her own symbolic interpretation.
Celebrities With a Swallow Tattoo
- Robbie Williams: this celebrity has a tattoo of 2 swallows on his abdomen.
- Marc Almond: singer from the British band Soft Cell, has a swallow tattoo on his neck.
- Marianne Faithfull: singer with swallow tattoo on her left hand.
- Christina Applegate: Married With Children actress, has a swallow tattoo on her abdomen.
- Mark McGrath: singer from the band Sugar Ray, has a red swallow on his right shoulder and a blue swallow on his left.
- Rachel Perry: VH1 host with two swallows on her abdomen.
- Johnny Depp: has a swallow tattoo on his right arm. He's full of tattoos, you couldn't find a better actor for the role of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
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