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Okunmamış 04-11-2008, 02:28 PM   #1
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Religious Tattoo Overview
The early Christian and Moslem era brought a temporary halt to widespread tattooing in Europe and the Middle East. In the Old Testament of the Bible, the book of Leviticus states, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord." The problem, it seems, was one of religious competition. The rites of tattooing were a trade mark of the earlier religions in Palestine. When the early Jews tried to ban the marks of their religious competitors (the Arabs and Christians) they crippled the art of tattooing through two millennia. The edict against tattooing gained the favour of Rome and the power of Islam, because the Old Testament is revered by both the Christians and the Moslems.

Jerusalem Cross


As might be expected this powerful ban could not completely eradicate tattooing from either Europe or the Middle East. Tattooing worked its way back into these religions, by way of their holy pilgrims. In the Middle Ages, people would leave their European villages on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The only way to prove that you had actually been to the Holy Land was to return with a tattoo from the Coptic priests. They practiced their tattoo art outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Most pilgrims got a simple cross tattoo, but some of the more adventurous ones returned with images of St. George's victory over the dragon, the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, or Peter and the crowing cock. The tattoo designs were kept on woodblocks and the work was rough, but it was the only proof available, that a pilgrim had actually visited the Holy Land.

Moslem pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina also received commemorative tattoos. These Moslem pilgrims believed that, by being cremated at death, they would be purified by fire, before entering paradise.

Arab Religious Tattoos
Evidence of tattooing in Southwestern Asia was discovered in 1930 when painted figurines about 6,000 years old were found in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Sir Leonard Woolley who discovered them wrote: “On the shoulders of all (the figurines), both back and front, there are marks which in the painted figures are in black, the others rendered by small attached lumps of clay; these I take to be coarse tattooing, like cicatrices of some modern tribes of savages.”

Many 19th century travelers to Southwestern Asia described Arab tattooing. In 1827 J.S. Buckingham wrote:

There are artists in Baghdad, whose profession it is to decorate the forms of ladies with the newest patterns of wreaths, zones and girdles, for the bosom or the waist; and as this operation must occupy considerable time, many “sittings”, as an English portrait painter would express it, they must possess abundant opportunity for studying, in perfection, the beauties of the female form.

There is very little information published in English on Arab tattooing. The most complete work is Henry Field’s Body Marking in Southwestern Asia, a survey that includes tattooing, branding, and the use of henna and kohl. His information was collected as a result of travels in Egypt, Syria, Iran, the Caucasus and the area around the Persian Gulf. He believed that tattooing originated as part of religious rituals.

The Beduoin (nomadic) people and Gypsies (Nawar) seem to be the main influence on tattoo designs of both Arabic and non Arabic tribes. Bedouin women were the most heavily tattooed of and were most likely tattooed by the Nawar. The Nawar tattooed people from Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran and Iraq right up until the start of the 20th century.

Traditionally tattooing in Southwestern Asia was practiced by woman, and the methods were kept secret.

Tattooing was a widespread practice in Iraq during the 1930’s. Tattooing is known colloquially as daqq or dagg, from a root meaning to strike or knock, it is tattooing by puncture. Tattooing is a custom which was already showing signs of disappearing in the cities.

Tattooing was rarely done by the upper classes, and is despised by city-dwellers of the lower classes as well.

In Iraq, tattooing was divided into two kinds: ornamental or decorative. Generally designs were simple and crude in form. Curative tattooing was done at the location of the pain or injury, where beautification tattooing (lil-hila) is more extensive and elaborate.

Curative tattooing was commonly used for sprains but was also used to cure headaches and eye diseases. The tattooing is applied to the temple or forehead near the eye. Tattooing is also used for a cure for local skin infection and pain and against rheumatism.

Magical or Old-Wives Tattooing

There was tattooing that was thought to have magical powers and could induce pregnancy (usually a single dot or a small design consisting of three to five dots, applied below the navel, on the back or just above the buttocks.) A dot on the end of a child’s nose ensured that the child’s life will be extended. Some women had a circle of dots tattooed in the shape of a triangle on their palm to ensure that they would keep her husband’s devotion.

Jewish Religious Tattoos
There is a passage in the Old Testament that prohibits tattooing and scarification. In the King James translation, Leviticus 19:28 states: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you.” Other historical records and biblical passages indicate that ancient Hebrews practiced religious tattooing.


Ancient Semitic God Baal

As evidence of tattooing among Semites, Scutt and Gotch report that the sun god Baal required his worshipers to mark their hands with “divine tokens in a mystic attempt to acquire strength.” Scutt, R.W.B. and Gotch, C. 1986, Art, Sex and Symbol. London: Cornwall Books, p.64

According to a biblical scholar William McClure Thomson, Moses “either instituted such a custom (tattooing) or appropriated one already existing to a religious purpose. Thomson quotes Exodus 9 & 16: “And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, this is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I cam forth out of Egypt; and it shall be for a sign unto thee upon my hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes.” Thomas theorizes that Moses borrowed tattooing from the Arabs who tattooed magical symbols on their hands and foreheads.

According to Thomson, the prohibition in Leviticus referred only to heathen tattooing which related to idols and superstition, and not to “Moses-approved” tattooing.

During the first quarter of the 20th century, European Jews rarely tattooed their bodies. Many felt that is was against their religion and beliefs to mark their skin and this made the holocaust tattooing a even greater atrocity that would haunt survivors for the rest of their lives.

Christian Religious Tattoos

In the 4th century AD, Saint Basil the Great, one of the most distinguished doctors of the Church, admonished the faithful: “No man shall let his hair grow long or tattoo himself as do the heathen, those apostles of Satan who make themselves despicable by indulging in lewd and lascivious thoughts. Do not associate with those who mark themselves with thorns and needles so that their blood flows to the earth. Guard yourselves against all unchaste persons, so that it cannot be said of you that in your hearts you lie with harlots”

An edict issued by the Council of Northumberland in 787 makes it clear that the Fathers of Church distinguished between profane tattoos and Christian tattoos. They wrote: “When an individual undergoes the ordeal of tattooing for the sake of God, he is greatly praised. But one who submits himself to be tattooed for superstitious reasons in the manner of the heathens will derive no benefit there from.” The heathen tattooing referred to by the Council was the traditional tattooing of the native Britons, which was still practiced at the time.



Medieval crusaders who reached the Holy Land had crosses tattooed on their arms as souvenirs of their travels, and it is likely the custom that continued throughout the Middle Ages.

One of the oldest souvenir religious tattoos is referenced in a manuscript written in 1612 by William Lithgow on writing about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land:

Early on the morrow there came a fellow to us, one Elias Areacheros, a Christian habitour at Bethlehem, and perveierfor the Friars; who did ingrave on our severall Armes upon Christ’s Sepulchur the name of Jesus, and the Holy Crosse; being our owne option, and desire; here is the Modell thereof. But I deciphered , and subjoined below mine, the four incorporate Crowns of King James, with this Inscription. In the lower circle of the Crowne, Viva Jacobus Rex; returning to the fellow two Piasters for his reward.

Several accounts of tattooing in Palestine can be found in travel journals of Christian pilgrims and the practice continued well into the twentieth century. In 1956, a professional tattooist, Jacob Razzouk was using tattoo designs carved on woodblocks that had been handed down from father to son in his family since the seventeenth century. The blocks he used were copied and published in Carswell’s book Coptic Tattoo Designs, printed in a limited edition of 200 copies in 1956. The book contains reproductions of 184 prints together with descriptions of the traditions and symbolism associated with each design. There are only two definite dates in the collection of woodblocks and one is Armenian and dates to 1749 and the other is Resurrection one dating to 1912.

Kaynak: vanishingtattoo.com
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