Monday, 30 April 2007

Pictish Tattoo

More ink at the weekend, and so to pre-empt the inevitable question: Why ?

The look of it. There is something about spirals that draw you in and mezmorises: which is why I suppose that these patterns are so widespread in different cultures. My tattooist first assumed that this was a Maori pattern, having worked for a while in New Zealand.

The Pictish connection. Of the Celtic peoples of Britain, it was the Picts who most effectively avoided Roman-isation. Little is known of them, even whether they formed a single ethnic group. The were defined by their love of body-art and the name comes from the Roman description of them as 'the painted people' or Pictii. As in Polynesian cultures, tattooing was a mark of status, and to be unmarked was effectively to be a non-person or slave.

The next question. What is it ? Nobody is sure, but it is one of the most common Pictish symbols found carved in stones all over Scotland. It has been alternatively interpreted as a protective motif showing a spear breaking on a shield, or as a horizon bisected by the rising and setting sun. In any case it crops up everywhere, possibly as a kind of graffiti tag. The period from the fourth to the ninth century AD was one of pretty much constant conflict between a patchwork of Pictish, Saxon, Romano-British, Irish Gaelic and Norse enclaves. It is quite probable that the tag was used to mark territory after a victory in battle or maybe a raid.

And finally, just to address the idea that tattooing is some sort of macho thing: The design comes from the library of Pat Fish, a female tattooist in California who is one of the leading practitioners of Celtic body art and I had the tattoo done by a woman in an all-female studio. Oh yes, and the Picts were a matriarchal society.

So there you have it.

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