When Europeans brought African slaves into the Americas, those slaves also brought their religion. People from the Kingdom of Dahomey practiced something called Vodun, which evolved into many different associated religions in the New World which we collectively call voodoo. Voodoo is most well-known for its use of voodoo dolls. Along with that, some magic symbols associated with it that work well for voodoo tattoos. Let’s go into a little more detail about this expansive religion that has found its home in the American south and the islands of the Gulf of Mexico.
Related Article: Day of the Dead Tattoo Designs
Voodoo Doll Tattoo
Voodoo dolls come from the Louisiana form of voodoo. The cultures of the Mississippi river–mainly, the French–heavily influenced the beliefs. However, the original practice of making dolls to ward off evil spirits or place a curse goes back before the religion crossed the seas. In the Congo Basin area of Africa, families sometimes make something called a nkisi. This statue houses a spiritual enemy. The plural for nkisi is minkisi, in case you’re wondering. Neighboring tribes likely utilized a similar tradition before the slave trade and colonization of Africa butchered their customs.
The voodoo doll as we know it today is a symbol of curses and pain. First, you imbue it with a hair of your enemy, or maybe something physical that has great significance to them. Once that is done, you can stab the doll with needles to inflict pain or illness in the associated place. It follows that this can be done for healing as well as pain. Although the purpose of the voodoo doll has greatly expanded from its original duty, they have found a special place in the hearts of tattooers. Tattooers are constantly getting stuck with needles, just like voodoo dolls, so getting a voodoo tattoo only makes sense.
Voodoo Doll Tattoos : Symbols
When getting a voodoo tattoo, you might want to opt to get some of the more magical components. These voodoo symbols are much more common in Haitian voodoo. Many artists create designs specifically meant for magic effects. The one above depicts a variant of something called a Legba. These Legba represent a connection between our world and the spirit world, and communication between the two often starts there. There are also symbols dedicated to fire, blacksmithing, warriors, politics, and power.
The presence of both beneficial spirits made up of all of your predecessors as well as negative spirits which lead their own lives is a common voodoo belief. Tattoos are often thought to be imbued with a magical power, so there are even some symbols meant to protect the user from the possession of evil spirits or call on help from those Ancestors. The guardian of this knowledge is Gran Bwa, who is a spirit associated with Mapou trees. He also guards all things involving magic, secrets, and healing.
Voodoo tattoos and concepts represent more than just one culture and religion. There were hundreds of tribes in northern Africa when the American slave trade began. Each one of those tribes had very distinct traditions. Even the conglomeration of different traditions that we call Voodoo has several distinct types. When getting a voodoo tattoo, you are ultimately the one who decides its significance and meaning. It is a representation of yourself and your spirituality, and whatever meaning you give to it is the meaning that will stick.