As women began to break into the tattooing industry in the mid to late 70s, the industry started to shift. No longer something reserved for the less-desirable factions of society, tattooing took on a more feminine approach with softer lines, floral motives, and lighter colors. But, this wasn’t the only change the tattoo culture was undergoing.
Toward the end of the 1970s and into the ‘80s, tattooing took on another form. While many inked their bodies as representation of their ideals, others sought out tattoo artists who could transform their ink sessions into a spiritual ritual. Taking tattooing back to its original concept, when tribal societies incorporated their tattooing into their religious-style rituals, many artists began appeasing this new audience with a ceremonial session.
There were many tattoo artists during this time period who would integrate drumming and chanting into their tattoo sessions upon request of the customer. Famed female tattooist Pat Sinatra was one of these go-to artists, as she publicly announced a belief that tattooing could transform a person both spiritually and psychologically. She also arranged her ceremonial tattooing around phases of the moon which would coincide with Wiccan or Native American rituals. She was most recognized for her lectures entitled “The Magical Marks,” which she delivered at conventions around the country.
As more tattoo artists began to integrate these practices into their artwork, the tattooing industry became flooded with new age and self-help fanatics. Suddenly, tattooing was a method to correct any underlying psychological concerns, to overcome personal battles, and surpass trials and tribulations. Spiritualists turned to tattooing to embrace their empowerment, believing tattoos held a talismanic potential. Tattooing turned from lick ‘em and stick ‘em flash designs to each piece having an individual meaning—each design placed upon the skin had a specific connotation, even down to the physical placement of the art.
Tattooing suddenly became a way to invoke the sacred ideals which were once associated with tattooing in the early days of the practice—when tribal communities dominated the world and spiritualism held a more concrete place in the native societies. Healing tattoos became all the rage. Some artists were eager to discuss the meanings behind these designs, while others insisted clients keep their underlying reasons to themselves.
These tattoos became an outer marking of one’s individual journey—complicated, delicate, and personal. Custom work reached new heights as the classically trained artists of the ‘70s dove further into their work. No longer trace-artists and scratchers, tattooists were turning out idealistic imagery, which only drew more and more captivation for the practice.
While tattooing isn’t quite so spiritually based these days, there are significant alterations to an individual receiving a meaningful tattoo. In addition to increasing self-esteem and self-awareness, a tattoo that is representative of a feeling, a moment in time, or another intimate and private reason evokes a subjective emotion. That image is forever fixed to the concept behind it for the wearer—it can be spiritual, it can be empowering, it can be freeing. Tattoos become a static memory. The feelings these images can conjure as time goes on have often been referred to as spiritual; giving one a solid connection to the notion behind the ink and creating an interesting effect for the individual whenever they look at it.