The design. Yes, that's a rune in the center. It's a bindrune using the Elder Futhark. It combines the first initials of my, Kristin's, and Julia's names. It's a spell to reinforce the integrity of our family unit, and to set the intention that no matter what happens in the future, the three of us will always be a family. When our next child is born, I'll add a fourth intial and have the whole rune tattooed over in a reinscription of the spell in my flesh.
When I first conceived of this tattoo design nearly 2 years ago, it was just going to be the tattoo surrounded by a wreath of scandinavian knotwork (scandinavian knotwork is very similar to celtic knotwork except not quite so symmetrical). I was also wanting a vegvisir, a scandinavian compass. But, I was feeling lost. And I realized that as much I as resonate with runes and my scandinavian heritage, when it comes to finding my way around, I don't grab a vegvisir, I grab a good old fashioned compass. And if I'm tracing or studying a map, I don't look for a vegvisir, I look for the compass rose.
It struck me, that what I needed was a compass, not a vegvisir, with my bindrune in the center to ground me.
I did some poking around and I found out that compass rose tattoos are fairly common, and (in my opinion) mostly not my style. Then I found a design for a compass rose that was not a tattoo design, but a crossstitch design. And this is where it's so important to have a good tattoo artist and to trust them (says the girl who only has ONE tattoo) because I took this design in (it's HUGE, btw) with my rune and told her that I wanted the rune in the center of the compass rose so that my family would serve as the grounding principal around which I navigate (instead of the cross in the needlework) and could she make it all look pretty without having it take over my back?
As for the color... the original needlework piece is red and blue and yellow. I love the color blue, but don't resonate so much with red and yellow. However, I was so in love with the original design, that I loved the red. So I left it as the main color of the tattoo (I later learned that if you're wanting to reconnect with your body, red is the perfect color for that) thinking that I'm watery enough as it is to need a little fire to balance me out. And since I had 3 of the 4 elemental colors represented, I asked her to add some green in the center to represent the fourth element of earth and to strengthen the grounding element of the spell. Then she went and added white in, something I didn't know she was going to do, but which was perfect, as white represents the 5th element of Spirit, and to have that 5th element radiating down the spines of the stars feels so completely perfect to me, that I can't believe I didn't think of it myself. Again, it's important to have a good artist.
I talked a little with her about what the tattoo symbolized, but not a whole lot as I'm not used to sharing the workings of my magic with people. I just think she was so in tune with what I needed and what the design was calling for that it all worked out.
Finally, about the pain. I've been told (possibly even here) that tattoos are addictive. What I think is that the fear of the pain of tattoos keeps people from getting them, and then once you go through that pain it no longer has a hold on you and so you get more. I know that the fear of the pain has held me back from getting a tattoo for years. No longer. Yes. It hurt. But I chose that pain. So many things have pained me in my life. I didn't choose any of that pain, and thus the pain becomes part of the victimization, and often the easiest part of the victimization to focus on. In this way, the pain is used to forget the more difficult-to-absorb violations and changes. But pain is also the mark of any transformation. It's our body's call and response to inertia. A problem arises when we need a transformation, but are too afraid of the pain transformation necessarily involves. When pain becomes a barrier rather than a signal, then you're stuck and all pain translates to wounds.
I knew this intellectually and spiritually, but still I was nervous. As the last few weeks passed by, I was sensitive to any talk of tattoos. So I was very grateful to come across this blogpost in which the author speaks of the pain of her tattoos. I was glad to read it because while I was consciously taking my tattoo on as a spell, I was thinking that I'd have to do that despite the pain of the process. I'm not normally into pain, so it hadn't occured to me that I could use the pain as prayer without conceptualizing it as penance.
But, having said that, it didn't hurt nearly as much as I had thought it would. And it was never more than I could handle. Towards the end, around my shoulder blades (but not near my spine, strangely) I could feel the pain radiating down my arms, but never excruciatingly so. If I'd been in a doctor's or dentist's office I probably would have whined and asked for pain killers. But then that pain is a doing-to pain, rather than a doing-with pain the way a tattoo is.
In practical terms, I barely felt the pain at first. Short stokes were nearly painless. On longer strokes it felt like a nail scratching me. As my skin got more sensitized and inflamed, the pain got more intense. When she was doing the color and shading, it felt more like a burn. The radiating pain was like little electrical shocks or like a mild hitting-your-funny-bone feeling.
So yes, it hurt. But I used that pain for what it is: a bright flaring signal from my body. I patched into it and let that transmission carry my message deep into my bones and blood and nerves, as well as out into the ether.