Thinking about getting a feather tattoo? If so, you’re certainly not alone in your decision. Feather tattoos are one of the most common tattoo designs out there, and have been for many years.
The versatility of feather tattoos is what makes them so appealing. These tattoos can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and symbolize a variety of meanings.
Keep reading to learn all about feather tattoo meanings and the cultural influences behind them.
What Do Feather Tattoos Represent?
Feather tattoo meanings vary depending on the color and the bird it derives from. Among the most popular connotations are freedom, bravery, spirituality, and rebirth. Feather tattoos can also symbolize:
Feather Tattoos As Symbols of Freedom
Freedom is perhaps the most widely assumed feather tattoo meaning.
Feathers can symbolize the act of spreading one’s wings and taking flight, or having the courage to leave your comfort zone to explore new pursuits.
If you’re on a path to discovering your personal power, whether in work, love, self-identity, or purpose, a feather tattoo is a great way to pay homage to your journey.
For a feather tattoo meaning that symbolizes freedom, consider that of a bird that also symbolizes freedom like an albatross, canary, dove, eagle, parakeet, or robin.
Feather Tattoos as Symbols of Bravery
Having the boldness to fly high and glide gracefully throughout is a testament to fearlessness, sovereignty, and self-determination–and a feather tattoo can symbolize that.
You may get a feather tattoo to represent a time that challenged you to be brave, or to symbolize triumph in the face of adversity.
To denote bravery best, choose the feather of a bald eagle, cardinal, or bluebird.
Feather Tattoos as Symbols of Spirituality
In some cultures, birds are believed to carry messages from the other side. This belief suggests that birds have otherworldly characteristics that allow them to transcend between earth and heavens.
For this reason, feathers are often used in memorial tattoos to honor a loved one that passed. Some cultures also believe that feathers are signs sent from guardian angels.
As a tattoo, feathers can represent the notion that your loved ones are always with you. For spirituality, choose the feather of a dove, swan, crane, or hummingbird.
Feather Tattoos as Symbols of Rebirth
Many birds spend much of their lives flying and during those quests, they’re ever-constantly covering new ground and exploring new territories.
Feather tattoo meanings can represent the act of tireless self-work, transformation, new beginnings, and the push to reach new heights in one’s personal life.
The feathers of the powerful phoenix, a mythical bird, are often used to convey this theme.
For thousands of years, cultures around the world associated feathers with ideals, concepts, and beliefs.
Here are feather tattoo meanings associated with feathers used in ancient Egypt, ancient Celtic, ancient Greece, and Native American cultures.
Feathers in Ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt (around 3100 B.C.E. to 322 B.C.E.), white feathers were associated with the divine.
When a person passed away, it was believed the soul underwent a “feather test.” The belief was that a person’s soul was weighed against a white feather before they could pass on. Individuals whose souls weighed less than or the same as a feather, were believed to be pure. Individuals whose souls weighed more were thought to carry sin and wouldn’t be able to pass on.
Feathers also represented gods and goddesses. The white ostrich feather, specifically, stood for the goddess Ma’at and what she represented: justice, truth, and cosmic order.
Feathers were also used to adorn crowns and decorate the statues of deities, and create fans used by royalty.
Feathers in Ancient Celtic
Ancient Celtic (600 B.C. to 43 A.D.) regarded feathers as sacred and believed they carried mystical powers.
Similar to ancient Egypt, ancient Celtics understood feathers as being directly associated with the soul. Black raven feathers, in particular, were seen as soul carriers, and could transport people to different planes of existence. Druids, or religious leaders, wore cloaks adorned with feathers as a way to better connect with the sky gods.
During times of battle, those who fought also wore feathers on their helmets to symbolize bravery and honor.
Feathers were held in such regard, that misusing feathers or making false claims about obtaining feathers was a crime punishable by death!
Feathers in Ancient Greece
The Ancient Greeks (900 B.C.E. to 600 C.E.) were particularly fond of peacock feathers.
Hera, the goddess of families, was represented by a peacock. The ancient Greeks believed the body of a peacock never decomposed, so their feathers were seen as a symbol of immortality. There is also a story in mythology that tells of how the peacock’s feathers acquired their eye-like design.
Aside from Hera, birds were associated with many of the gods, and thus, so were their feathers. Particularly, eagles were associated with Zeus, god of the sky, and doves were associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Feathers in Native American Culture
Feathers hold an especially important place in Native American culture.
Like the cultures mentioned before, Native Americans also believe that feathers carry messages from the divine. They use feathers to send messages to the spirits of their ancestors, and feathers are also incorporated in many rituals.
Tribe chiefs and leaders wear headdresses adorned with flowers to express authority and wisdom. Eagle feathers are worn by leaders, as they believe the eagle is connected to the heavens because of how high they can fly. Feathers were also gifted to warriors who returned from battle as a symbol of their strength and bravery.
Feather Tattoo Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best placement for a feather tattoo?
There are many parts of the body where people choose to tattoo feathers, which may also depend on its meaning. However, one of the most common places to get a feather tattoo is on the ribcage or back, because it’s symbolic of spreading one’s wings.
What can you add to a feather tattoo?
Feather tattoo meanings are undoubtedly versatile because of the different birds and colors to choose from, and meanings associated with them. However, you can make your feather tattoo even more unique by incorporating different elements into your design. Some of the most common design elements featured with feather tattoos are birds, dream catchers, quill pens, infinity symbols, arrows, and crowns.
Wrapping Up Feather Tattoo Meanings
So many cultures have regarded feathers as symbolic. This tradition carries on today with the tattooing of feathers to represent different experiences, memories, and periods of life, and even as an ornamental decoration. By choosing a feather tattoo, you’ll help to carry on the treasured tradition of feathers as symbolic items.
Interested in learning about more tattoos with unique symbolic meaning? Check out our series of Tattoo Meanings blog posts!