The transition from ritual to art
Tattooing and body piercing have gone from being a deep and spiritual experience
with deep signifigance to being a decorative fashion that anyone can have done.
Tattoos and other body modifications were once shrouded in mystery and part of sacred rituals. Only persons of great power and status were awarded these symbols. Through the ages, tattoos have gone from being part of a secret, spiritual ritual, to being a commonly available personal art form. The days of having to hide a tattoo in public are long gone and they have gained acceptance as an expression of one's personality or beliefs.
Tattooing and body piercing have been a part of Human culture since before recorded history. There are prehistoric cave paintings in many cultures that show body modification. Most often, spiritual leaders were the ones with these modifications. Tattooing has been used to denote rank and to attract and hold spiritual power. There has always been a mysticism associated with tattoos. It began as a way to show who had the powers or what rank they held.
"For centuries, humans have used tattoos for a myriad of reasons - for magical protection, to relieve pain, for vengeance and to declare victory over an enemy. Historically, tattoos were created to beautify, shock, or humiliate and they could proclaim valor, religious belief, group solidarity, or personal independence. Tattoos are now part of everyday society with over 60% of all North Americans aged 18 to 30 years old having at least one tattoo." (Tattoo Museum, 2009)
Tattooing has gone from being strictly a ritual with deep cultural, religious, or spiritual significance to a more superficial, decorative acceptance in the 18th Century. Sailors and other travelers brought it back and openly displayed it as decorative body art, rather than with the original meanings.
"Show me a man with a tattoo and I will show you a man with an interesting history." (Jack London, 1883)
Since it began before recorded history, details of the early evolution of body modifications are not documented. What is believed to be the oldest known tattoo was found on a mummy known as Oetzi, an Iceman dated to be at least 5300 years old. (History of Tattoos, 2009), in recent centuries, with travelers and explorers bringing back influences from other cultures, it has been adopted and spread. Widespread public acceptance of tattooing and body piercing has grown rapidly since the late 19th century. Tattooing has gone from being something done by a few special people for very deep reasons to being a decorative fashion that anyone could have.