Literary Tattoos

Over at Publisher’s Weekly they have a great little post about the top five books that inspire the most tattoos.  I was a little surprised to see Slaughterhouse Five on the list, but not so much The Little Prince or Where the Wild Things Are. I am a big tattoo fan, and my first tattoo was also a literary one.

When I was in grad school studying for my Masters in Library and Information Science, one of my projects was to create book reviews for a pile of books from different genres.  One of the novels I was given was “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  MoA is a retelling of the Arthurian legends through the eyes of the women in the stories, primarily Morgaine (Morgan le Fae).  Rather than focusing on the political issues of Camelot, Bradley looks at the religious issues, and explores the popular notion of an early British Goddess cult that existed prior to the introduction of Christianity.  So the fall of Camelot is also a story about the fall of early Pagan Britain and the rise of Christianity.

Early in the book you see the rites of passage for boys.  Arthur is led out to the forest and he has to take down the king stag.  Then he receives a woad tattoo on his wrists from the Druids.  There is a great description of the serpent tattoos when Lady Igraine, wife of Uther, mother of Arthur sees Uther’s hands:

“It is truly his ring, Lady Igraine,” said a voice she knew, and Igraine, bending her eyes to see the ring in the torchlight, saw familiar hands, big, broad, and callused; and above them, what she had seen only in vision. Around Uther’s hairy arms, tattooed there in blue woad, writhed two serpents, one on either wrist.

In one of the culminating chapters, Morgaine, a priestess of the old religion, has discovered that a trusted male Druid has stolen some of the sacred ritual tools from the island of Avalon (the cult center) and has given them to a Christian priest “Patricius.”  Patrick, of Ireland, is then going to lead a Christian mass with these sacred objects, including among them a chalice that will be used for a communion ceremony.  Morgaine, learning of this treachery has decided to go to this public mass and stop it at all costs.  While standing in the crowd she overhears the conversations of two peasant women, talking about the priest:

“Look at the priest in his gold robes! That’s the bishop Patricius, they say he drove all the snakes out of his own country…think of that!  Do you think he fought them with sticks?”

“It’s a way of saying he drove out all the Druids…they are called serpents of wisdom,” Morgaine said.

This book really sang to me.  I fell absolutely in love with it.  I had long known that I wanted to get a tattoo, and it had taken me an incredibly long time to decide what I wanted to get.  So, when I read this, it just clicked.  I would get the twin serpents on my wrist.  I’m Pagan. My mother’s family is from England.  My dad’s family is from Ireland. I had my brother design it from an Irish funerary monument.  There are just so many deep connections that it made all the sense in the world.  I’ve had it about 12 years on now.  But the picture shown here was pretty much fresh from the shop.

The Serpents of Wisdom


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