Most religions today condemn the use of tattoos but Are there any old religions/mythologies where people would get tattood to get closer to or for their god?

The majority of Sunni Muslims believe tattooing is a sin, because it involves changing the natural creation of God, inflicting unnecessary pain in the process.

Some Christians take issue with tattooing, upholding the Hebrew prohibition. The Hebrew prohibition is based on interpretingQ

Leviticus 19:28

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you

Tattoos are generally forbidden in Judaism based on the Torah (Leviticus 19:28):

"You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord."

I know that the Kmer people used Yantra tattooing and that this practice was taken over by Buddhist monks.

Southeast Asia has a tradition of protective tattoos known as sak yant or yantra tattoos that incorporate Buddhist symbols and images, as well as protective mantras or sutra verses in antique Khmer script.

These tattoos are sometimes applied by Buddhist monks or practitioners of indigenous spiritual traditions. Traditionally, tattoos that included images of the Buddha or other religious figures were only applied to certain parts of the body, and sometimes required commitment on the part of the recipient to observe the Five Precepts or other traditional customs.

In Hinduism Mehndi tattoos are made of henna and are not permanent.

Tattoos are allowed culturally and religiously, although contemporary tattoos is uncommon among traditional Hindus. Historical roots date back to the practice of Mehndi using Henna.

Ötzi is Europe's oldest known natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans.

Ötzi had a total of 61 tattoos (or Soot tattoos), consisting of 19 groups of black lines ranging from 1 to 3 mm in thickness and 7 to 40 mm long. These include groups of parallel lines running along the longitudinal axis of his body and to both sides of the lumbar spine, as well as a cruciform mark behind the right knee and on the right ankle, and parallel lines around the left wrist. The greatest concentration of markings is found on his legs, which together exhibit 12 groups of lines. A microscopic examination of samples collected from these tattoos revealed that they were created from pigment manufactured out of fireplace ash or soot.

Radiological examination of Ötzi's bones showed "age-conditioned or strain-induced degeneration" corresponding to many tattooed areas, including osteochondrosis and slight spondylosis in the lumbar spine and wear-and-tear degeneration in the knee and especially in the ankle joints.

It has been speculated that these tattoos may have been related to pain relief treatments similar to acupressure or acupuncture. If so, this is at least 2,000 years before their previously known earliest use in China (c. 1000 BCE). Recent research into archaeological evidence for ancient tattooing has confirmed that Ötzi is the oldest tattooed human mummy yet discovered.

source 1 source 2

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    According to one interpretation of Genesis 4:15, Cain's "mark" was a tattoo. Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 2:52
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    Would Maori Ta Moko suit you? They have the legend of Mataora that suggest that the tattoos are a way to show love, particularly, the first Ta Moko tattoo were made by/on Mataora to show his love to the princess of the underworld, called Niwareka. Which we could consider as a divinity. Also, those tattoos are considered as sacred. You can also tatto your spiritual guardian, the Manaia. I'll make an answer if you feel it's close enough to the subject
    – Calaom
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 11:48
  • @Calaom this is definitely acceptable.
    – Tom Sol
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 12:57
  • No doubt, among other reasons, people got/get tattoos to worship/invoke their god(s). But what god(s) would he/she/they be? Had a friend years ago who got tattoos because they were cathartic - the pain and bloodletting made him feel better. He would use money to have a tattoo when gas and food were a problem to secure. Here's a site that details many reasons. If you can see past the strong Christian bias, there's interesting info: av1611.org/tattoos/pagan.html
    – tblue
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 4:11

1 Answer 1


The Maori and their tattoos, the Ta Moko and Kiri Tuhi

I'll start by saying that the Ta Moko is well represented of course in the Maori folklore and traditions.

For the mythology:

The legend of Mataora

A less historical explanation of the origin of Maori tattoo can be found in the local legend which suggests that ta moko, the Maori tattoo, came from the underworld, called Uetonga. The legend states that there was a young warrior called Mataora, who fell in love with the princess of the underworld, called Niwareka. Niwareka came above ground to marry Mataora.

However, Mataora mistreated Niwareka, which in turn, made her return to the underworld. Mataora, sick with guilt about the way he treated his wife pursued her to the underworld, only to be greeted by her relatives who laughed at his ragged appearance and smudged face paint.

Mataora apologized before Niwareka’s family, and this act won Niwareka back. Before returning above ground, it was said that Niwareka’s father, the king of the underworld taught Mataora the art of ta moko. Mataora brought back these skills to his people and that was how the Maori came to have their distinct type of tattoo.

The Ta Moko seems to have been offered to the Maoris by the king of the underworld where dwells many gods and powerful entities. So we can consider that this art was given by a godlike entity (Don't know much about the Maori lore yet, but can improve this part later).

The Kiri Tuhi contain your personnal "Mythology"

Part of the tattoo represents all your life and the people that took part in it:

How you tell your story in KIRITUHI TATTOO otherwise known as TA MOKO maori traditional

Kiri means Skin and Tuhi means Art, we generally tattoo the body and arm areas on our customers so it will be defined as Kiri Tuhi rather than Ta Moko was reserved for the face only.

All Maori design is made up of a number of essential design elements.

Main Manawa Lines are the skin looking lines in your maori tattoo, MANAWA is the Maori word for Heart and represents Your Life, your Life Journey and your time spent on Earth.

Main Korus coming off the Manawa Lines are used represent people and people groups . Korus are based off the tiny new growth shoots on the New Zealand Fern plant and represent New Life and New Beginnings.

When you add every koru off your Manawa line you can be adding the important people in your life journey , Mothers , Fathers, Grandparents, Children , siblings , Loved ones friends family and so on.

In a culture where the ancesters are so important, you could consider this as if each of the Maoris having a Kiri Tuhi were living records of their own family mythology/ancestry.

Maori tattos are a rite

The culture of the Maori tattoo is very complex. As any religion would have very detailed rites, the Maori tattoos are a rite:

Maori tattoo is very sacred

Due to the sacred nature of the Maori tattoo, those who were undergoing the process, and those involved in the process, could not eat with their hands or talk to anyone aside from the other people being tattooed. Those who were receiving tattoos made it a point to not cry out in pain, because to do so was a sign of weakness. Being able to withstand the pain was very important in terms of pride for Maori people.

There were other rules and regulations around being tattooed, particularly while undergoing a facial work. Many Maori had to abstain from sexual intimacy while undergoing the rite, and had to avoid all solid foods. In order to meet these requirements, the person was fed from a wooden funnel to prevent foodstuffs from contaminating the swollen skin. A person would be fed in this manner until the facial wounds had fully healed.

Because the face was often bleeding and very swollen, the leaves of the karaka tree were often used as a balm that was applied after the session had finished, to hasten the healing process. The tattooing was often accompanied by music, singing and chanting to help soothe the pain.

Maori tattoos gave a higher social status

There I just show how positive this was seen to wear tattoos:

Only people of rank or status were allowed to have, and could afford to have, tattoos. A person who did not have any high-ranking social status, such as a slave, could not have a face tattoo. Those who had the means to get a tattoo but did not were seen as people of lower social status.

The Maori facial tattoo was not only seen as a sign of rank though, but was also used as a kind of identification card. For men, their face tattoo showed their accomplishments, status, position, ancestry and marital status. It is considered highly insulting to be unable to recognise a person’s power and position by his moko.

There is many designs with particular significations and some of them really suit the question here:

  • The design of Nga Hau E Wha, that pay respect to god for what he gave us:

This tattoo design is a representation of the four corners of the earth and nga hau e wha – the four winds. Tawhirimatea and Tangaroa are two Maori gods or Atua have the power to destroy anything in their path and they have done so on many occasions. No matter what your beliefs in life may be, this still applies to all mankind. It’s all about respecting what God has given us, regardless of how big or small you are. Aotearoa, is a place for all people of all races and creeds. Tamanuitera represents new growth and warmth and Hei Matua is strength and prosperity in whatever you desire to do and koru is a continuation of all of these things.

  • The design of Pikorua, that symbolizes life:

The term pikorua is Maori for the growth and joining together of two different things e.g. the earth and the sea.

Some iwi (tribes) believed it wasTangaroa and Papatuanuku who were together in the beginning. Maori people believe that we came from Mother Earth and one day we go back to her, as the tattoo design depicts all rivers eventually lead to the ocean. So it is believed that in life, we all take different paths and there are many different bends that we all end up in the same place. This Maori tattoo is a representation of life and journey that it takes.

  • The design of Manaia:

The manaia is known as a spiritual guardian, and carrier of supernatural powers. Traditionally depicted as a bird like figure with the head of a bird, body of a man and the tail of a fish it acts as a provider and protector over the sky, earth and sea. Likened to a bird sitting on your shoulder, looking after ones spirit, and guiding the spirit where it is supposed to go when the time comes.

My biggest source is from a tattoo shop website

  • may be worth noting that Maori tattoos are not unique in this, but illustrative of trends common across most Polynesian (and many other Austronesian) cultures
    – Tristan
    Commented Apr 15 at 12:45

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