Today, most tattoos are individual decisions, therefore custom-made and unique, which is good, because with your tattoo you are visibly wearing a piece of your lifestory on your skin.

Nevertheless, there are a few motifs that are used again and again, albeit in individual designs. The symbolism of these motifs is clear. Below are these motifs and their meanings. Perhaps you will find some inspiration here…

A lion

Wild mane, defined muscles and a straightforward look: the lion is the king of animals, which can be seen immediately. It stands for strength and courage. If you wear a lion as a tattoo motif, people will also associate its characteristics with you. However, a lion radiates even more, depending on the culture it comes from (and which is defined by the tattoo style):

  • Strength and power
  • Glory, honour and victory
  • Grace
  • Justice
  • Wisdom and intelligence
  • Family and loyalty

Actually, it is rather a tame kitten after all, no matter how wild your tattoo motif looks.

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Children enjoy colouring mandalas, and so do some adults. The dot-symmetrical images radiate peace and harmony, which is why creating mandalas is considered a source of relaxation and harmony.

The word “mandala” comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. The term describes a sacred circle around which everything revolves, i.e. a kind of centre. Mandalas are considered a meditation aid in Hinduism and Buddhism. The symmetrical arrangement is intended to create the calm that is necessary for meditation.

Not all mandalas are round, there are also triangular and square or polygonal variants. Numbers and incorporated motifs make up the meaning of these tattoo motifs:

  • A circle stands for the entire universe or for the soul.
  • A triangle combines positive and negative elements.
  • A square stands for the four cardinal points, but it can also express strength.
  • 1 stands for the one and only God (in monotheism) or for man as an individual.
  • 5 stands for love and an inner centre.
  • 8 symbolizes harmony and balance.
  • An eye stands for the Buddhist God’s eye, and alternatively for the inner self.
  • In Hinduism, a wheel stands for the recurring course of the world, for fate, but also for motivation and vigour.
  • A flower expresses grace.


Anchors as tattoo motifs come from seafaring, since the tattoo was the identifying motif of sailors who crossed the Atlantic. Today, the anchor symbolizes hope, faith and home. It gives strength and support. In addition, the anchor can provide the support you want in difficult times, but it can also stand for the person you hope will provide this support.

If you have a longing for the sea and adventure, the anchor is also your motif. However, it also symbolizes the hope of finding a safe haven or returning to it.


In the age of navigation apps and smartphones, you no longer need a compass, but compasses are still popular as tattoo motifs. This motif also comes from seafaring. For sailors, a compass tattoo was a kind of talisman. The compass was supposed to protect them in difficult waters and rough seas and show them the way home. Even today, the compass is still a symbol that suggests protection and safety, direction and orientation.

In addition, the compass can of course stand for love to the sea and symbolize home. Many people also associate the compass with luck. While the compass as a navigation device always points north (with the exception of Jack Sparrow’s compass, of course), the compass on your skin points to what is important to you. This can be the north, as well as it can be another tattoo motif, your heart, your head or whatever. Even the most popular tattoo motifs are still individual motifs to which you give meaning to their personal composition and orientation.


A rose is one of the most frequently engraved tattoo motifs worldwide. Roses are timeless, always elegant and yet playful. In the past this motif stood for femininity; sailors used to have roses engraved to remember their wives, girlfriends or mothers who were far away, thus always having their loved ones with them, at least symbolically.

Today, roses have many meanings, depending on their colour:

  • White roses stand for innocence, purity and loyalty.
  • Black roses symbolize survival in difficult times and indicate courage and rebellion.
  • Yellow: friendship, happiness, warmth, optimism.
  • Red: love, passion, sensuality.
  • Orange: hope, optimism, respect, gratitude.
  • Pink: beauty, elegance, youth.
  • Blue: the unattainable, dreams, fascination, little secrets.

In addition to its colour, the exact design of the rose is decisive. Roses with thorns indicate painful times, while the wilted rose stands for transience, and not just as a tattoo motif. In contrast, a rose with leaves symbolizes new life and happiness, as well as protection for loved ones.


Skulls are a true classic. They have been a reminder of transience and death in art for many centuries, and they have exactly the same meaning as a tattoo motif. If you have had to say goodbye to a loved one or have had to fight for your survival, a skull is your motif.

However, a skull can also stand for a positive change in your life, since it shows the past, which no longer plays a role in your life and which you have overcome. In this respect, a skull is always a lucky charm that gives you strength.

Nevertheless, in some social groups, a “skull” tattoo is also seen as a symbol of a wild and perhaps dangerous lifestyle.

The Viking

Viking tattoos are actually sailor tattoos, because the fruitless men from the north were just that. Still, the tattoo scene does not only know the Viking himself as a tattoo motif, but also the entire Viking culture. Now we know that Norsemen themselves were also tattooed. The best-known and most popular tattoo motifs from this culture are

  • The tree Yggdrasil: the tree of life connects the nine existing worlds to each other. It refers to faith and the interconnectedness of worlds.
  • Troll cross: Northmen were actually afraid of crosses. The troll cross is a twisted piece of metal that served as protection against bad things and black magic.
  • Valkyries: warrior women decided in battle who should survive and who should die. As a tattoo motif, they stand for power and control.
  • Thor: the god of thunder holding a hammer is the protector of mankind. As a tattoo motif, both Thor and his hammer stand for a protector.
  • Aegishjalmur: the helmet of reverence is an eight-armed figure that is supposed to represent a trident. The tattoo stands for protection and strength.
  • Odin: this god stands for healing, death and knowledge. He is often symbolized by three interlocking drinking horns.
  • Vegvísir: this is the compass of the Vikings. It stands for orientation.

Flower motifs

Flowers are a gift from nature, and we all like to give them as gifts. Originally, beautiful blossoms symbolized youth and beauty. Today, flowers as tattoo motifs stand for a connection with nature, playfulness and creativity. The current trend is to assign a flower to each birth month. Notice that there are different systems, and the flowers have different additional meanings depending on the system!

  • January: carnations (love, friendship)
  • February: violets (mindfulness, loyalty, modesty)
  • March: daffodils (new beginnings, courage, politeness)
  • April: daisies (happiness, simplicity)
  • May: Lilies of the valley (chaste love, humility)
  • June: roses
  • July: delphiniums (enthusiasm, open-heartedness, lightness)
  • August: gladioluses (honesty, strong character)
  • September: asters (wisdom, courage)
  • October: marigolds (sympathy, compassion)
  • November: chrysanthemums (optimism, loyalty, happiness)
  • December: poinsettias (desire to celebrate, success)


Hearts, of course, always stand for love and affection. But what about a broken heart? That heart symbolizes sadness, pain and loss. On the other hand, a winged heart stands for freedom and independence, whereas a Celtic heart (a tribal style heart) symbolizes unity and strength. A bleeding heart shows loneliness and hurt, a burning heart passion.

When a burning heart is combined with an anchor and a cross, you have a triad of faith, love and hope on your skin. This motif is also known as the “sailor’s grave” and is a real classic.

A heart with a lock connects lovers, with the counterpart usually carrying a key. Couples often have one half of the heart engraved, in which case they are probably in a long-distance relationship. A heart with a dagger symbolizes conflict, but also courage and bravery. On the other hand, an anatomical heart symbolizes endurance and strength.


Being mystical creatures, dragons appear in both Norse and Asian mythologies. In the West, dragons are often seen as evil, whereas in Asia they are life savers and essential for natural balance. However, as a tattoo motif, dragons have grown beyond themselves, so to speak, as they have taken on many other meanings over the centuries:

  • The individual’s struggle with himself
  • Lucky charm
  • Guardians of treasures and/or secrets
  • Jealousy
  • Revenge
  • Power
  • Strength
  • Protection
  • Family
  • A long life

The last three meanings are inspired by Japanese dragons, which, incidentally, are water creatures and in mythology they are regarded as the antagonist to a tiger (fire and desert).

Grand pianos

Wings belong to angels and birds, but a wing alone often appears as a tattoo motif. A tattoo like this can stand for very different things:

  • Loss (often after the death of a loved one)
  • Freedom and independence
  • Superiority
  • Strength
  • Courage
  • Peace
  • The divine (according to Christian culture)

If a symbol is incorporated between two wings, the meaning of the tattoo results from the interplay of all the motifs.


Apparently, a punctuation mark as a tattoo motif should be only worn by linguists. No, not at all! A semicolon symbolizes the self-determined course of life and gives people hope in extreme situations like no other symbol. It is so small and inconspicuous that it can be worn on almost any part of the body.


Triangles are the most popular tattoo motifs today. A triangle stands for the elements, with their point facing downwards and they symbolize fire and energy. If the edge is pointing downwards, it stands for air and time. For Harry Potter fans, a triangle has a meaning that you had better take from books yourself.

As a Christian motif, a triangle is a symbol of the Trinity of God. Apart from this, it can also express the past, present and future. A triad of mind, body and soul is also represented by a triangle.