Big tattoo convention here in town over the weekend… brought some fun and interesting memories back to me. (But let me say here that if I was thinking about a tattoo, I would NOT be going to get one in an atmosphere like this…) As we were booking our honeymoon trip to Tahiti, we became aware of a fellow who had gotten a lot of attention for his tribal tattoos there at the resort we were planning to stay. Previously, we had mentioned that it would be fun to get a tattoo, and I had mentioned to Val several times before that I have always wanted a tattoo, and it would be fun to have something that is meaningful to the both of us.

We read lots of reviews and comments about this guy who had moved to the Tahiti islands from France to practice his art. Tattoo was actually first practiced in French Polynesia, and we felt like it would be a nice souvenir and addition to our whole experience there. We didn’t want to get just ANYTHING, so we set about looking for designs and wanted to find something that meant something to the both of us.

I had looked at many designs over the years, and knew that what I would eventually get would need to have symbolic meaning of many things in my life. I had also seen images of the Aztec sun calendar, and liked the roundness of the image, and the rich imagery, so I set about customizing that type of image for myself. At the same time, I was looking for something a little more dainty and feminine for Val, but we also wanted that to be something that had an equal array of meaning. What we ended up with for me was a sun image, with a yin/yang image in the center, with 8 “rays” emanating from its center, to represent each of the 8 kids we have between us. There is also a circular ring surrounding the image with its own meaning to us.

For Val, we had found a few images of butterflies, which fit the feminine direction, but felt that what we had seen was very much along the lines of fantasy/fairy-type designs, and it didn’t really match with her personality, so I also began to make drawings on that as well. What we came up with for her was a design that definitely falls within the tribal design realm, but has a butterfly shape for sure. On the inside of the design there are 8 tribal scroll patterns, again to represent each of our 8 kids. The two antennae represent each of us, and there is a long tail that ends in a small heart.

We got both of these on our lower backs, on the last full day that we were there – you can’t go in the water after you get a tattoo, as it is essentially an open wound, and the chance for infection is significant. Val’s is monochromatic, black, and so took a relatively short time. Mine took 3 hours.

This is a photo of the “studio” where we got our tattoos done – it was a great experience – but it was painful. When you get a tattoo on an area where bones are close to the surface, it feels like you are being branded rather than tattooed. It was a great experience though, and I wouldn’t trade it at all. The tattoo artist has a web site that is here:

Over time, we have been very happy with the tattoos and have found them a nice addition to the bond that we share together. If we have any regrets, it would probably be that they are not easy to see, on our backs like that.

Which brings me to the set of second tattoos we got about 18 months ago:

Since we don’t really see our original ones very easily or often, we both thought it would be nice to get something that is a little more visible, but yet not obtrusive at all. We do live in a pretty conservative state. But nonetheless, we did want to get something that is a little more easy for us, and maybe others, to see from time to time. Additionally, in the time that had passed since our first ones, we (or at least *I*) have felt from time to time, that on one hand I should have let the tattoo artist, Lovisa, just go to town and do what he does best – create. I have looked at his other work, and now think that I would be very happy with some of his stylized work, notwithstanding the deeper meanings of the ones that we do have. I have looked at LOTS of tattoos, and lots of artists, and frankly, this guy is head and shoulders above what I see out there.

Anyway, we started to look around at some other designs that might mean something to us, and that might be something we could translate into an attractive tattoo. Val decided to get a small version of the one I drew for my back, on her lower leg, and I still had not decided what to get. I had toyed around with some text, and stuff like that, but had decided that if I was going to do that, I would want it in some sort of circle, with an image of some sort on the inside. No images I was coming up with made any sense to me, and I just kept looking.

One of the text things I was working with at the time was the saying, AMOR VINCIT OMNIA. Translated from the Latin, it means “Love Conquers All”. Sometimes it is expressed as Omni Vincit Amor, or, “all is conquered by love.” This whole idea appeals to me, and I started doing some reading about the phrase and where it had come from. My research led me to a Roman poet named Virgil, who first wrote the phrase in 38 BC in a poem called Eclogues X. His complete phrase was omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori, or “love conquers all; let us too, yield to love.

Well, that’s all great and everything, but how do you translate that to something that would work well for a tattoo? I was also hoping to find some sort of symbology that would take me there, as opposed to just having the words tattooed on my arm. In my research of the phrase I also came up with some information from a Geoffrey Chaucer poem, Canterbury Tales, wherein he talks about a woman who wears something on her sleeve:
A string of beads and gauded all with green; And therefrom hung a brooch of golden sheen

Whereon there was first written a crowned "A,"And under, Amor vincit omnia.

This interested me and as I did some other research I managed to find a symbol that has come to represent that sentiment.

This image was actually produced in the 1600s by the literate nobility in Europe who enjoyed wordplay, puns, anagrams, and “picture-puzzles”. They were composed and sent to friends as riddles to be solved by the recipient, and the “answer” to the riddle was then sent back to the sender to see if it was a correct interpretation of the riddle. It later became a symbol of love and devotion, and a brooch from this period (image in the middle) is actually in the Guildhall Museum in London today. The “Crowned-A” symbol has been adopted into coats-of-arms by nobility etc, since then, most recently by Albert II, current King of the Belgians, born in 1934.

So this was the answer to my own personal riddle of what I could get as a tattoo that would represent this sentiment of love and devotion, while not have to spell it out for the world to read. It has personal meaning to me now, as much as it did when I first discovered it, and I treasure it to this day.

As far as the actual symbology goes, one can see the following in the image:

The Latin Letter “A”
The crown, for “conquer”
The Heart in the middle

This image has also been rendered as a large heart encased in a growing tree, to imply the steady and continuous growth and survivability of love over all the elements, etc. As in, love overcomes all elements and hardship.

I traced the image on the left, and got it all done as varying shades of black, with the exception of a blood-red heart in the middle. It now resides on my left shoulder.

Not that I really NEED it, but I often think about it, and it reminds me, especially on my hardest days, what my purpose is, and where my life is focused. We have daily pursuits, and we seem to have to work hard to survive, and as we do that, we can become too near-sighted. It helps to take pause and reflect on the true meanings of life, and that love is one of those things we leave in our wake that actually lasts beyond our passing. Indeed, it survives life itself.


Anonymous said...

hi i'm from croatia. i also have a tattoo "amor vincit omnia" on my left ankle. so it is great. and i wonder about some symbols, i ve just cross read your page, i am wondering about strange letter "M" that comes to me in my head ol the time. thats weard.
nice blabbering you have. bye. :-)

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing=D I've been thinking about getting one that says that for a while but not knowing how & where it came from has been stopping me. I didn't want to get a meaningless tat so thanks again for looking that up & posting =)

Hannah said...

im getting "Amor Vincit Omnia" on my foot in like 2 hours. This is something that has very deep meaning to me and i am happy to see that it does for other people as well :]

Claire Cramer said...

Wow, that symbol is just perfect! Loved this post and reading about the research you did.