Tiger Tattoos: Meaning and Symbolism
Tigers. Lords of the jungle, these majestic creatures are known as much for their strength and ferociousness as they are for their beauty and grace. Thought to have originated in China and currently the national animal of India, tigers also hold a prominent place in the mythology and folklore of many Asian regions.
Seals depicting tigers have been found in South Asia dating all the way back several thousands of years ago – all the way to the Indus Valley Civilization! Steeped in culture, history, and even art, it is no wonder that tigers are such a popular symbol across all art forms, including as tattoo designs – but what do these stunning animals really symbolize?
In Chinese symbolism, the tiger ‘is an emblem of dignity, ferocity, sternness, courage, and by itself is Yin energy‘, as well as ‘energy, royalty, generosity, and illumination‘. Tigers are also thought of as protectors of the dead, helping them find peace as they pass on.
Tigers are also often seen as a symbol of protection and is linked to the Chinese god of wealth Tsai Shen Yeh. In South Asia, the tiger is linked to Durga, the goddess of war. All these associations link the tiger to power and divinity while also highlighting the ability of humans to harness raw power and the divinity within. Traditional and tribal tattoos from these regions often feature the dragon as an important symbol.
Chinese mythology also considers the white tiger to be one of the five classical planets, Venus. The tiger is associated with the autumn season, the colour white, the cardinal direction of the west, and the element of metal. The white tiger is said to only appear when a king rules with absolute virtue and there is peace in all the lands.
Similar beliefs are held in various other parts of East Asian, including in Japan where the tiger is a popular choice for tattoos done in Irezumi, a traditional style of tattooing in Japan.
In Korea, the tiger is a guardian that drives away evil spirits and brings good luck. It is thought of as a symbol of courage.
The traditional sak yant muay thai tattoos often feature the tiger as a symbol of protection, strength, power, and fearlessness for the muay thai fighters. It is considered unlucky to get these tattoos from anyone other than a Buddhist monk using a bamboo needle and is believed that the wearer will not be blessed with the sacred powers these tattoos are thought to bring. These tattoos are usually done on the back, a placement that symbolizes protection, as in ‘someone is watching your back’, as well as leaving the past in the past.
Tiger eyes are also an extremely popular choice as a tattoo design. The ‘eye of the tiger’ became a popular phrase thanks to Survivor in the 80s, but this phrase actually has a deeper meaning – it represents impending death as the ‘eye of the tiger’ is the last thing a prey will see before its death.
But what is interesting is that the phrase doesn’t refer to the tiger’s actual eyes! It refers to the spots on the back of the tiger’s ears which become visible when the tiger pulls its ears backwards right before it ‘goes in for the kill’.
For many, tiger tattoos symbolize raw power and strength. For others, the apex predator is seen as representing freedom and independence. Tiger cubs are thought to be a perfect balance of power and innocence.
It makes sense then that tiger tattoos on the chest, biceps, and forearms are so popular! Chest placement for tattoos symbolizes love, since it is close to the heart, and power, since ancient cultures often painted the tales of their valour and victory on their chest. Forearm tattoos denote strength and toughness. Many choose these placements purely for aesthetic appeal as well, but they sure do make tiger tattoos look fierce!
In modern spirituality, the tiger is seen as a symbol of willpower, courage, and personal strength, symbolizing primal instincts, unpredictability, and the ability to trust yourself. On a deeper level, the tiger is seen as a sign of facing yourself, especially the parts of your identity and emotions that you would rather not acknowledge or express.
The stone Tiger’s Eye, which is golden brown and orange with black stripes, is thought to help its wearer overcome their anxiety and fear and find harmony and balance. It encourages you to be calm and clear, unclouded in your judgements and decisions. Tigers teach us to own our inner power and approach life calmly.
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