While Stieg Larsson’s first book might have brought dragon tattoos to the forefront of the American conscious, these mystical creatures have been popular with tattoo enthusiasts and artists for many years. I recently asked some of my online friends to share their own tattoos, and explain why they chose to share their skin – permanently – with a dragon.
A note: I think we’ve got some of the best, most enthusiastic and respectful readers in the world here at Unbound Worlds. Remember that it takes a great deal of courage to put your naked skin on display for the world to gawk at. If you comment, please be considerate of their feelings. I’ve been on the receiving end of nasty comments about my own tattoos and body, and I know It can be hurtful.
With that said, let’s take a look at some tattoos!
I grew up in a right-wing, nearly cultish branch of an already conservative, fringe religion. Evil always waited around the corner, ready to snatch up the careless and wicked. The symbol of that evil was the dragon: ravening, cunning, ruthless and the incarnation of evil. Such an atmosphere breeds intense fear.
Realizing that fear is the response to something that is beyond human control and understanding, I became fascinated with dragons about the same time that I began studying Eastern thought. Power, wisdom, intelligence, rising above the animal instinct to take ruthless control of one’s own mind, path and reactions, or losing control and becoming a monster.
At a rough time in my life, still moving through too much fear and regret, I took my idea to a local artist. Two dragons. One red Asian, one green Western, a blend of the thoughts and philosophies I’d drawn from. I had no images, the execution of them was in his hands. The level of trust was immense!
He drew them freehand on my back, following the muscles, the movements. The dragons move with me, taking their own life. Getting tattooed is introspective, a time to consider and meditate on why I’m going through this. Many cultures believe that tattoos have spiritual significance, and mine certainly do. I see them in the mirror, visual reminders of my philosophy and choice.
The dragons are a coping mechanism, a representation of my spirituality and lifestyle, a reminder and a warning.
Why dragons? That’s an interesting question and one that’s deeply personal for me. I suppose on the one hand, it’s not surprising that a geek like me would have this fascination with dragons, after all, I’m a D&D player and a fantasy reader, so in one respect, it comes with the territory. But when I was making the decision to get a tattoo, I wanted my dragon for a deeper reason than simply because they’re cool.
Dragons have always been an important personal symbol to me. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I have something of an eclectic spiritual nature and I’ve studied different traditions from different cultures. I almost regard dragons as a personal “totem” of sorts, in that they embody virtues that I aspire towards in my own life. Dragons are an ultimate symbol of power and strength, as well as individuality; I favor the western dragon because it connects more closely to my heritage than the eastern ones do.
Finally, as an aspiring novelist, I find that dragons are fascinating creatures in storytelling because they’re traditionally the ultimate villain. While I don’t see myself as a villain in my own life, when it comes to my writing, it’s always the villain that interests me the most. Villains are the reason stories take place, while heroes are just the resolution. I like the fact that the dragon is regarded as the deadliest adversary and to me, it embodies a certain spirit of storytelling that is of deep importance to me. We make dragons as a way of communicating the human spirit, a way of articulating how we face forces in the world beyond our control. That we triumph over dragons is a testament to the potential of the human soul.
As far as why I chose the design that I did, well, I must have looked at a few hundred different pieces of art before settling on this one. I wanted something that embodied the western dragon, but wasn’t exactly the same… something that was instantly recognizable as a dragon, but also a little bit unique, something that I could identify as being mine. I settled on this particular dragon because his posture and poise was something that I’d never seen anywhere else; he’s standing on two legs, and almost resembles a half-dragon in some respects. That felt like me; obviously, the dragon is a symbol that I aspire towards in my life, but it’s not entirely what I am. Also, I wanted an image that was both fierce and beautiful; it may not show up completely in the pictures, but all of the scales are individually done, and in the right light, he’s quite beautiful (in my humble opinion.) But everything else about him, from his claws, to his tail, to his facial expression… everything about him communicates his strength.
I wanted a dragon tattoo for about 10 years before I actually had it done (several years ago). The dragon symbolizes the rough patches in my life. Instead of crying woe is me or allowing those things to consume me, I embraced them. They, in part, made me who I am. The dragon tattoo serves as an affirmation of that fact. I looked for years for the perfect Celtic dragon. One day on eBay, I saw a textile bag with this design and knew it was the one. I purchased the bag, took it with me to the tattoo shop, and they replicated the design.
JLCoburn and wife.
I drew the tattoo after we’d already been through rough spots in the beginning of our relationship but were certain it was still what we wanted. We wanted it to be like a brand, minus the white hot metal against flesh, so I went with something almost tribal. As for the dragon, it is a creature of power. Always growing. Always improving. It takes someone more powerful acting against one to disrupt that. I’m sure a few of their other traits can describe me personally but this tattoo was primarily about our relationship. The similarity to the Ouroboros is intended, as we strive to recreate and improve on our relationship. The dip in the back shows the recreation is never a smooth one.
Mean Willie Green
The last couple of tattoos I had gotten were black, so I wanted some color; the dragon I always thought of as a protector symbol, and we all need someone looking out for us at times. This image looked somewhat menacing – a downward swooping enflamed dragon skeleton, and I liked the blue/green flames versus the standard yellow/red flames. To get all semiotic, I guess it signifies the concept of a fighting partner/guardian, which I am pretty keen on – I like independence, but cherish a special protector.
I’ve loved dragons ever since discovering a copy of Bruce Coville’s Jeremy
Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher when I was in fourth or fifth grade; after that I devoured the Pern chronicles and just about everything else I could get my hands on. Books about dragons are pretty much what made me want to be a writer one day, which is bizarre to think about, as I’ve yet to write anything with a dragon in it. Anywho, back on topic, my first dragon bling was actually this awesome pewter necklace of a dragon holding a mystical orb that I wore through early high school. While I’ve retired that, this tattoo is a pretty rad surrogate. It’s of a dragonish little demon called Beelphazoar, from Edward Gorey’s “The Disrespectful Summons.” I got it at Scapegoat Tattoo, an all-vegan tattoo shop in Portland, Oregon! I noticed wee Beelphazoar while reading one of the Amphigorey compilations, and given that he combined two long-time loves of mine–dragonish things and Edward Gorey–I decided to have this particular mark inked upon my wrist.